Italian job…2015-04-11th-18th

Day 1: As always our trip started from Vilnius. We got some LPG and snacks and hit the road to our first location. We have a coffee brake and soon we reach our first location the area with the European bisons. I was not very optimistic because the temperature was already 19°C and such hairy creatures must be relaxing in the shade of the forest. So we continue to the first hotel in Biržai. After we arrive and arrange the dinner we headed straight to the mighty Biržai forest. We headed to tje northern part an area I called “woodpecker street.” But unfortunately we found the place perfect for the species we looking for but all the birds we looking for were not here… big disappointment. …but we kept searching. We drove about 4 km more to the next place were we found white-backed previously but also lots other species but no what we were looking for.
We finally gave up and decided to drove slowly to the hotel by the roads through the forest. We stop for a Hazel grouse. Soon we found another pair. But against the light and not enough close. Difficult with photographers. Had to agree. Desperately need something to fix the false start of the trip. A Black woodpecker show up and as it flew over another surprise. An Ural Owl called quite near, nice and loud…but no trace of it on both forest clearings. A pair of Common Teals also refused to pose. Only Common Snipe and Green Sandpiper pose on the top of a dead tree and even this was to far.
Let’s hope morning will fix the shame of the first day… we were late for lunch so left the shoping for the last 15 minutes before shop close… I really hope next morning will be more successful.

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Unexpected Biržai adventures with Fanny and Jean-Sebastien (06-08III2015)

Day 1
I was participating in BirdID Workshop in Vilnius, where I met our guests from Belgium, we had a very pleasant time and as they took tickets for Sunday 8th of March I agreed to join them on 2 day trip to North Lithuania. We arrange a rental car from previous night and after a crazy night with other workshop participants from Serbia, Norway and Latvia, we came back from the city at 3:30 a.m.
I slept for about 2 hours and soon it was time to go down for breakfast with Fanny and Jean-Sebastien, after that I just needed to check out. And here we go, after a labyrinth through the Vilnius streets we finally were on the way North and after arriving to my parents in law town, I left my car and join my Belgium guests. It was time to hit the road, we drove 50 km, to the area where I was planning to show them European bisons on the way back, but we were happy to found them in our way. They were resting in the fields next to the road, about 26 individuals, and on opposite side of the road we observed a single Common Crane (Grus grus). Time was running quick so we headed towards the hotel in Biržai town. We checked in and grab binoculars and telescopes and headed to the forest, at first we some Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) and Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) in the fields, we first check the south part of the forest as I was more familiar with it, but there was a wind so it was difficult to hear any birds, but during our walks we saw our second Crane (Grus grus) and different kinds of tits. The sky was vocalized by the song of the returning Skylarks and displaying pair or even flocks of Siskins (Carduelis spinus). A pair of Common Cross-bills perch next to the road. The forest was becoming again alive and the fresh snow was melting and flooding the forest. The noise of the water drops making another noise that was not letting us hear the drumming or pecking of the species of woodpeckers we were looking for.
At last we got the song of the Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) and soon it was joined by the typical calls of the Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes). Common Buzzard was soaring above the forest clearing. It was getting dark and we were getting tired so soon we gave up and after a dinner we get the needed rest. I got call from my friend and local area expert Armandas to arrange the next morning plans. He decided to start early and as we could have breakfast just at 8 a.m., we would join him afterwards.
Day 2:
I woke up at 7 a.m. and check the forecast as it was fog outside, we had a fresh 3-5cm of snow, but at was warmer than previous day the fog covered the fields, anyway we had the first singing Yellowhammer and a big flock of Goldfinches, we were driving carefully so it took us more than an hour to reach the North part of the forest and meet Armandas N. there. He took as to the first area were by his words it is very good birding area in spring. And it took us just few minutes to find first rarity – a male White-backed Woodpecker, it was the first one I ever seen so clear and only the bad weather reduce the experience. Soon we had from both sides of the trail Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers. We walk back to the car and drove a bit further to found the place I called the “Woodpecker Street” as for few minutes we had already a pair of White-backed, a Middle and Great Spotted, Black and Grey-headed woodpeckers pecking, calling, drumming and foraging, what a fantastic place. We continue exploring the forest and soon we find a gathering of 20 plus Bullfinches. We turn to the left and for all our surprise we saw a pack of 12-15 Red Deers crossing the road, we took some photos and even managed to reach the animals down to 50-70 m if I remember correct. After only 10 minutes we spotted two Red Deers males with their second calendar year stags. More photos and one more walk starting with new subspecies of the Eurasian Nuthatch for our guests. Nutcracker’s calls in the distant and sad view of one more patch of the forest marked for clearing by the forest workers. On a way back to the car we cross the the flight-way of mixed flock of tits including white-headed Long-tailed Tits, a Song Thrush nest from last year also was good to see. It was time to had a sandwich brake before we continue our search, and after this short brake everything changed for good. Our sharp eyed driver from Belgium – Jean-Sebastien spotted it, just 5 m above the ground on a full frame distance from my place it was the first Ural Owl for the year and it was the Lifer for Jean-Sebastien. We enjoyed the view and took some photos, but soon we continue as the owl was too skittish… We drove along the main road when suddenly the Hazel Grouse flew over the road, we stopped and try to hear it’s typical “flute solo”, but without success to see it any more. We continued by the road when Fanny spotted something interesting and for our all surprise when we drove few meters backwards on the eye-level we had a tiny cute Pygmy Owl staring at us. Soon it start a duet with his partner, a more mild voice female spent more time with us as we decide to had an extra meal by the road. While everybody were enjoying the Pygmy Owl we had the first migrating Grey Heron over the forest. After some driving through the forest we found a fresh tracks of the most wanted mammals of the trip – a pair of Wolfs passed recently by the road and a Lynx tracks on the corner of the crossroad.
We decided to follow the tracks of the wolfs in the cover of the dark forest. But soon a excitement moment, a pair of eyes blink on our headlights, unfortunately it was just a fox. We drove and found more and more wolf tracks, but no trace from those secret predators. We had some of road adventures, but Jean-Sebastien make a good job to bring us back on a safety road along the forest and we headed towards the North part of the forest. Just in the beginning of the road we spotted recently awaken pair of Racoon Dogs.
We continue through the darkness of the forest and as my guests jokes, it was time for me to show them some birds. And here it was my chance to shine… I spotted another Ural Owl sitting by the road, unbelievable view from just few meters. No Lynx and Grey Wolf, but what a day so many exciting observations. We thanks Armandas for the help and it was time to go back for some rest, as we planed a early start and it was a long journey to the airport for my guests.
Day 3:
We managed to get up early and had an early breakfast. We checked-out and headed to the south part of the forest. On the way we had few Roe Deers and as we need to find Three-toed Woodpecker and Hazel Grouse, for a better view we drove southbound. The weather was improving, but the wind was too strong. We got back to the area where the Hazel Grouse flew yesterday, and after short time and false alarm from the not full song of the Goldcrest in the windy conditions we got a blink of second a view of a male Hazel Hen. But it was time to check the woodpecker site from my previous trip, but wind was terrible noise maker. We had a pair of Common Crossbills, making the unheard noise, but Jean-Sebastien spotted something in a distance…I took a record-shot and it was a Hazel Grouse crossing the snowy forest road. We run to take the car and pick Fanny on the way. We get to the site and soon for our surprise a pair of Hazel Hens were singing in duet. We had a great view at female, but the male was more shy and keep position away from our view. We were 45 min. behind the schedule to departure, so we headed towards Kėdainiai, were I left my car. We had two new species by the way a pair of Grey Partridge and Golden Plover in the fields. We soon get to the European Bison territory, but all we found was Common Cranes, this time two of them. We arrive on time in Kėdainiai and after saying good bye and exchanging some nice words it was time for Jean-Sebastien and Fanny to departure to Vilnius Airport…
It was really enjoyable to spent this weekend with you and hope to see you again in Lithuania again, Bon Voyage… :-)

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Jan and Anita in Lithuania “part II”

My friends Jan and Anita contact me and we agreed that they will visit Lithuania again in February during their holiday.  They arrived on the 14th of February and after 50 minutes delay of flight me and Povilas Bagdonas took them from Vilnius airport. Left them at the hotel and Povilas at his sister’s home and go to have rest before the trip begin.
Day 1
As we arrange last evening we met at the lobby at 9 a.m. We took the highway to Ukmergė and had first observation of flock of Common Linnets. The weather was improving, but as there is no snow we had very less birds for the season. The European bisons also were back to the forest. And we stop at the gas station for some quick lunch. I arrange short photo hide session by the local friend Kastytis Vainauskas. The guest had great fun with many birds and close encounters with grey-headed, middle and great spotted woodpeckers. After 1 1/2 hours we just came back to the car and Jan and Anita show up too… we drove 31 km to meet my friend A. Stakė and he join us to a loop trip on the icy forest roads of his ranger station. But unfortunately the wind was not calming down so we didn’t herd or saw any of the target species. We drove back after sun set and have a cup of tea and home made cheese and honey.
But it was time to get to the hotel. We drove 93 km to Biržai and our hotel was waiting for us after checking in we drove to the town for dinner. We just sat when the waitress bring us the bad news that the kitchen is not working since it was 21:00. A quick stop at pizzeria and it was time to have some rest as we start early tomorrow.
“The Ditch guys” day 2
We had early breakfast and as our local guide Armandas was a bit late we went to the car and wait for him. He arrived and we sit in the car and headed to the gas station for refilling the LPG tank. And soon got the Biržai forest and the route 66 was hell of the ice roads with some luck we were looking at a male White-backed Woodpecker. At the frozen snow was all kind of tracks starting with illusive Lynx, big bad Wolf gang and early badger. As we got the car back on the icy forest roads we moved to other area where we were looking for last trip successful search for Tree-toed woodpecker, but unfortunately this winter morning was not the expected and all we got was 5-6 Wild boars that fly over the snowy road. We search the patch but only red squirrel was spotted before we went back to the car. A flock of Common Crossbills calling from the tree tops. Red deer and more other animal’s tracks were everywhere. We also checked the opposite site of the area, but only male Great Spotted woodpecker almost made me believe it is the rarer relative pecking til I got him in my binoculars. After we all got back to the car it was lunch time. With careful speed of 15-20 km/h we were looking forward to get safely out of the forest. At least the Biržai forest was showing much more wildlife in compare with yesterday’s area. Wind was still a limiting factor. We drove to the last night restaurant that we were late for dinner. Jan got the opportunity to get some photos of Fieldfares in the middle of the crossroad. But today we were lucky and got big lunch and even me and Jan had deserts.
After lunch we visit the local geological attraction a group of sink holes. It was getting late so we decided to drove back to the icy forest roads and try to find some owls before it become too dark. We drove again very slowly as it was extremely slippery. We struggle finding any birds but we met the Owl expert Saulius Skuja. He and his assistant demonstrate us the Ural Owl’s nest box. We split and after unsuccessful search we were heading back for dinner. We took different route but suddenly we spotted a car and two silhouettes. It was the owl team and they had great news for us – 10 min ago they heard a Pygmy Owl and just few minutes later it was calling from a top of the tree above the road where we were waiting. What a nice end of this intensive day. Everybody were tired so we arrange dinner at the hotel. We discussed the plan for tomorrow and left for some deserved rest. Tomorrow morning another try in the forest and after lunch heading to Palanga and Kintai. Good night…
Day 3
An early breakfast, our guests finally find out why there alarm clock was not ringing – it was using Dutch time… But after yesterday extreme birding we decided to start earlier and check the south part of the forest. We had just 3 hours to explore, and as the forest roads were pitch iced, we were moving safely at 15-20 km/h… This has been not only better for the safety of the trip, but also has advantage for the birding success… As soon as we enter the forest we got two new species for the trip a pair of Nutcrackers were displaying at their territory and soon our local guide Armandas and the rest were listening to the call of Hazel Grouse just next to the road, very hight pitched whistling sound, that is difficult to catch for some birders. Anyway time was running fast at next stop we walked in to a patch with hope to find some more woodpeckers. Soon we heard a en-longed pecking from the near by forest, we get closer, there was a very skittish Three-toed woodpecker, so some of us managed only to hear it, as we were getting closer it flushed deep in the forest. Anyway it was great to hear it and to know it is still in the forest, we came back to the car and check one more familiar site. Here last year we got nice photos of a male Three-toed Woodpecker, unfortunately this year only we got here was a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, a flock of Yellowhammers, and few Greenfinches. As we wanted to get back to the hotel by 12 to check-out, we start moving towards the edge of the forest, we stopped here and there, we slide once or twice but I was keeping the situation and the car on the road. We got back to the hotel and check-out and after crazy drive after flying Armandas we visit his bird-feeder, many Eurasian Tree-sparrows, Greenfinches and Great Tits… But it was time to hit the road as we had long drive towards next location – Kintai Fishponds. We were running out of gas and there was time for lunch, so after we got to Šiauliai we stopped by the first gas-station, and ate spongy baguettes and buy some drinks. We drove to Palanga, left the car and as we promise to be at the hotel before 18 o’clock we had to check the sea really quick, unfortunately the wind was very unpleasant and there was no trace from the Steller’s Eider. What a shame, but at least we saw some birds – Long-tailed Ducks, Goosanders, Great Crested Grebe and Goldeneyes. We rush back to the car and we were about to make it at 18 o’clock, but then the train stop us and we lost at least 5 minutes. Anyway, we managed to get only 7-10 minutes and Adomas our host was waiting for us. Jan and Anita got the most luxury apartment in the hotel and we let them prepare and it was time to go for dinner, we took my wife and have fantastic dinner. Just my poor friend Povilas went to have some rest, as he had tired from this long trip… I hope we will have luck with the weather tomorrow and I will write more in the evening. Good night.
Day 4
As the breakfast was late today, we decided to make early start and get back at 10 a.m. for the breakfast. So at 7 a.m. me and Povilas drove to the hotel and we took Jan and Anita. Early start at the forest was good idea, especially for wildlife watching, we first had a wild boar, than two Roe Deers, and even two Fallow Deers too. But the weather was not as previous days, we had 100 percent cloudy skies and severe icy wind. So birding was not at the highest level as I was expecting to be at this time of the year. We barely found one Great Spotted Woodpecker and only Siskins were all over the place we stopped in several places. But all we heard was the noise of the bending trees. We spotted few more woodpeckers, some Great tits and as the time was running we get back to the fish-ponds where on the ice there were more than 20 White-tailed Eagles and few gulls, Hooded Crows and Ravens. Jan and Anita were so excited, as they claim they never seen so many “flying doors” and so close… :-) We get back just on time for breakfast. A Common Buzzard landed on the tree beside the hotel. After this enjoyable morning meal we drove to Minija settlement, where we found a flock of 32 Gray-lagged Geese at the pasture. A Great Grey Shrike was sitting on the wires and an adult White-tailed Eagle was resting at the it’s favourite Oak tree. Here we stop for some shots.
We headed towards Šilutė as the LPG tank was almost empty again. We stopped to check the White-throated Dipper and to refill. We drove to the other Dipper area, but the changing weather and high water level push the Dippers away. So all we got here was singing Wren at the edge of the reservoir. Time was running fast and we drove to Susgalviai where a mixed flock of Whooper and Mute Swans were feeding at the ice free patches on the flooded meadow. Soon we got lucky as a family of Whooper Swans landed just next to the roadside. Jan took some decent photos and after all it was good to be here. Only the road to Žalgiris was still flooded so we drove back to Pagryniai and then we were getting to the biggest island of Lithuania – Rusnė. Here the situation was not very exciting, we stopped at Uostadvaris observation tower, but the wind almost blow me off my legs, so we moved forward. We had some Roe Deers and even a fascinating moment when a Great Grey Shrike caught a big rodent in front of us. It was difficult to fly in this wind but also carrying a mice that size was real challenge. We stopped for a beaver nest photos, some more Swans at Rupkalviai and also a short walk in Žalgiris forest bring us to a very calm Roe Deer, that let us get to less than 200m without any signs of distraction. It was time for early dinner as we decided earlier to skip the lunch and we try new restaurant the Povilas recommended and it was really worth it. Later we had a desert and coffee in the bakery. The day was really nothing spectacular, but anyway I try my best to visit the best sites and I hope to see Jan and Anita again in spring again… Tomorrow will be the biggest challenge for me as a driver as we having early start and me and Povilas have to get back the same day from Vilnius in the late evening. So the last day adventures will be shared in Friday… Good night to everybody.
Day 5
As my friend Povilas said, mother nature was sad that Jan and Anita had to go, but anyway we try our best and we get there at 8 a.m. and make a short session with the White-tailed Eagles for an hour before the breakfast. It was dark and raining at first look. We had at least 10 birds on different ponds. Soon the light condition become reasonable so I took my camera from the backpack and join Jan for burst shoot of the eagles. Even the light was so magical we must go back for breakfast. The masterpiece made by Agnė were very appreciate by my guests, so they even promise to comeback only for this special breakfast in future, so after check-out we put everything in the car, at the entrance we had a good number of Bullfinches and after Jan took some photos, we continue our journey through Kintai forest. a band of 10-12 Fallow deers were the highlight of the morning. We checked also Dreverna fields but with no success to find something more special than flock of Goldfinches and Hooded Crows. Turning towards the Parking we spotted two Hawfinches and first “spring” guest – a Common Starling. We stop for a while at gas-station for restroom and snacks for me and Jan. At the gates of the port we had severe waves and many Common and Herring Gulls, Long-tailed Ducks. A Goosander and Three Cormorants cross the sea north and south. We later had the chance to take some few hundreds shots of Long-tailed duck in close to the shore of the lagoon. Time was flying so we couldn’t stay more than this, I was driving all the way to the airport and it was time to say goodbye for our guests. Thanks Jan and Anita, I really hope you enjoyed the trip and even there were some issues – like bad weather and wind…Ural owl didn’t show. But I really hope to see you again and hope you got a great time and next time we will be together again. Another successful trip finished and it is time to have a rest. Cheers,

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“Lady Gaga” photo quest

It was just 8:00 a.m., when the alarm clock woke me up. I dress up quickly and I went to the car. Povilas Bagdonas was walking towards me. We stop here and there as weather was fantastic and many Common Buzzards were posing aling the road. So after about 45 min we were walking towards Palanga pier. Will be she still there or she flew back North it was just question of time to find the answer.  Baltic sea was calm like cup of tea. From distance we can recognise a flock of Long-tailed ducks Clangula hyemalis but soon we spoted the star of the day – Lady gaga. What a fantastic outfit. Velvet brown coat with white mirrors on the side. I wish I could touch her but taking photos of Stelller’s Eider Polysticta stelerii definitely worth the trip to Palanga. I got some photos but still quite a distance. I had a photography request so I had to go back for some lenses so we left the scenery and drove back home. … The end ;-)

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Kerkini Lake Pelican Workshop 2015

Day 1
Our adventure started with a early start. The Klaipėda team got the shuttle bus to Vilnius Airport and as I stay in Vilnius from previous day I woke up at 3:47 a.m.
I got a taxi we ordered from previous evening and here we are all sitting in the Caffè and smiling-Zita, Dalia, Saulius and Gediminas. There are no direct flights from Vilnius to Sofia so we first flew to Frankfurt, Germany and here we saw our first birds for the trip -three Carrion Crows (Corvus corone) at the airport.
Next flight was good, but we got all the seats shuffled through the airplane. Anyway I got very chatting seat mates. They were competing who to talk to me…
We had very fancy cabin crew too. And the time flow by quick.
Finally I saw snowy mountain tops and bloody Vragdebna airport…
We were delighted to be taken on a free shuttle service to the rental company. Soon I realized that it was too goos to be true. … my credit card was declined and they asked 1 1/2 deposit if I pay cash. So I couldn’t do that… then Zita was able to make the deposit with her bank card. That was pretty stressful…
We cross the city center and headed towards Greek border and we must been driving for 20 minutes when I decide to use my rear screen wiper blade. I was telling the rental manager that it was broken but she didn’t mark it on our protocol.  So I had to call them… they were so nice to try explaining me that maybe it was frozen. It flew away so another stressful situation. …
We drove by some road side sellers and after all we stopped to buy 1,5 l rakia, 2 l red wine and jar of hot peppers.
The next stop was a construction site for landscape photos. …
We struggle to find our polish friends Basia and her husband. They did arrive with a car from Poland last Saturday.
We roam around the town and I couldn’t reach them by phone. But finally she called and said where they were waiting for us at gas station… We were delighted to get alive as drivers on this road are completely nuts. We finally reached the border and soon we were lost again as the road sat-nav was dead end.
But after about 25 km we finally found what we were looking for the Chrysochorafa but the hotel was nicely hidden in the heart of the town center square.
Nikos meet us and after short chat he lead the local restaurant. We were very hungry so we get Greece salads and Lake ‘fried’ fish… We chat with Nikos and we planned the next morning. This remind me it is time to rest. Good night….
Day 2:
As it was first day of the workshop we decided to start early. 6:30 breakfast and we drove to the fishermen bay. The morning light was just magical. We spent some time to get photos of the first Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) at magical light of the sunrise. The weather was just perfect, as the clouds in front of the rising sun making the light unbelievable great…

We were waiting for the fish so we can get in the boats. The group was too big so we had to rent two, and split to 4 and 3 photographers. I was with my guests from Poland Basia and Jazek from Katowice. We had so much good backgrounds and opportunities for different shots so we didn’t understood when first hour passed. So after all we asked for one more hour. Our boat captain was very professional and he was even speaking my native Bulgarian language. So he tell me about his experience with some of my professional wildlife photography celebrities.

Soon the cards were filled with lots of photos and weather was getting worst. Even start raining in one moment. We had to get back on the shore soon. Basia has a smile from ear to ear. She even got a chance to feed the pelicans few times. On the shore everybody were smiling and playing with fishermen 8 puppies. After the workshop’s participants enjoy all the glory of the morning we head back to the hotel to download the photos. We drove to the settlement watching the roofs for Little Owls (Athene noctua) which were vocalizing all previous night and early morning. And just on the corner of the central square I did spot one hiding in the shadows of the roof. We grab the lunch boxes. .. I need to say, I had to say Nikos keeps surprising me with the professional level of service and I never work with better host in my career. Thanks Nikos and all his family for the taking care about us.
Afternoon was planned to visit the lake embankment and make pick-nick at Mandraki settlement surroundings. We saw many birds in the north part including Spotted Eagle, Spoonbills, Flamingos, Shellducks. And even 25 Common cranes. This some of the highlights of the day. I will add full list of the workshop’s checklist in the end of the trip day by day…

We drove all the way to the end of the embankment and drove to Mandraki village. Here we had very good picnic lunch and after some birding we got new Lifer for Basia – Cetti’s warbler (Cettia cetti).
We decided to make a round trip back to the hotel before dinner. At west embankment we found lots of Pochards and even 3 white storks were wintering.
It was still cloudy so it got dark pretty fast. We drove by the bay from the morning and exiting by the successful first day came back to the hotel. My friends Vladi and Asya also spent second part of the day with us and join us on the dinner table. Lots of jokes and big smiles what a better way to see the result of the successful workshop. Already exited for one more day with the boats and the pelicans all the participants went to have a rest as we will start even earlier tomorrow. Breakfast at 6 a.m. and get in the boats as earlier as possible. Let’s hope sunny morning and maybe White Pelicans will join the show. It is already time for rest. So that is it for today and greetings from the magical lake of Kerkini. …
Day 3:

The early start with fabulous breakfast and still perfect day we started at 6:50 a.m. at Tomas fishing boat bay… As we were 9 today with my buddies Asya and Vladi. We had to split the group and in one boat got Basia, Jazek and my friends and in the other – me and the four Lithuanians. It was amazing morning, and the weather and and scenarios view make us more happy that we were here and now… Tomas was my boater today again. He really know what he is doing. And we had two more fascinating hours with the pelicans. We get close to the roosting place and took photos of the birds on the shore. Some of them were ringed and wing-tagged. The weather was just perfect. The mist over the lake make the light even better. We get out of the lake and made a group photo. I gave freedom for hour and took a walk myself. We spent this time laying on the ground hoping for miracle, because we were not covered at all. But I heard a familiar song it was a male Cirl Bunting a lifer for my guests from Poland. … and one more Lifer show up for them a magnificent male Sardinian Warbler. We spent some time observing it and try to get clear shot because it was all the time hidden in the thick bushes and it finally got it.

It was time to have break, lunch and download the photos from the cards. After few hours break we get in to the car and headed to the embankment for some more birding and photography opportunities review. Had few chances for flamingos. And we saw many other birds, but not close enough. After some driving we got to the buffaloes (domesticated) and everybody choose a free location to try taking some decent shots. So me and Basia stayed next to the car and talk about birds and after it became very dark we head back to the hotel for dinner. Nikos called to save table for us, as today my good friend the best wildlife photographer from Bulgaria – Bogdan Boev. We had an amazing day and very good food. So see you tomorrow as I need a shower and rest as tomorrow is our last full day here.
Day 4:
We were expecting bad weather so I had to think about plan B for today. Early breakfast anyway and after short rain showers we decided to try found the Rock Nuthatch. I red in the book about the place, but I was worried, because it was my first time in area so far away from the lake. But with keen instructions of Nikos we got there with not much trouble. Only one wrong turn because of the lack of road signs. But soon we climb to a beautiful scenery of the river gorge with many Oriental Plane trees and shrubs. I decided to make a hike to the query. We soon reach the river valley and first interesting bird was a shy White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus and following the stream we got to this amazing waterfall, but we lost the Dipper.The valley was boiling of birds. And we found few orchids. But of course there were only the green parts.
We climb in the query and I started looking for the Rock Nuthatch but no body was even thought what I was just about to find. The nuthatch was very shy. I got it and try to show to everyone.

I was distracted by Black Readstart and soon we found a Blue Rock Thrush and the discovery of the trip outstanding winter Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria which was the Birthday present for my friend Basia. How we later understood the Wallcreeper is the first observation of the species. After all me.and Jazek went to get the cars and took the rest of the group. We drove back and sit down together and made picnic lunch. We laugh a lot and had great time. We drove further high and stopped by the river to check for Dipper again. We found only Grey Wagtail, Middle Spotted woodpecker and a single Mistle Thrush was seen in the area. It started to rain so we sit in the cars and drove to top of the hill an active query so we turned around and drove back to the town and the supermarket. We were very happy and as it was raining stronger and stronger.

But anyway me, Dalia and Zita decided to go in the heavy rain to try to take dramatic photos. It almost worked out. We cam back wet till bones but very happy with the successful day. Latter the weather improved and we rook some landscape photos of surrounding mountains.

We had a rest until dinner. Later George the local birder came to say congratulations for the discovery and we prepared a surprise for Basia as it was her BIRTHDAY DAY today. I bought a book from the reception. And all the rest of the group signed it too and I wrote a short congratulations text. We became really good team in this workshop. For dinner we sat all together and I played Happy Birthday Song and gave our surprise present to Basia. We had amazing good service and food. Nikos made our stay here unforgettable. After the starter we got traditional Greek musaka and cup cakes with different jam filling. It was getting late and everybody went to bed. Tomorrow we were planning early breakfast and final pelican photo session. Good night and wait for my final day update.
Day 5
Last morning we traditionally start with 6:30 breakfast and after departure of my trip best friends from Poland we drove to the pelican bay. The place was unrecognizable. Flooded only the highest places formed a group of islands. I put my wading boots and we went to greet Tomas – our best boat captain. He gave us a bag of fish and we prepare for last photo session with them.

In this time arrive other group with photographers led by my colleague Emil Enchev. I need to speak with him so my friends did one more fascinating session. But meanwhile Victor Vassilev – good old friend ornithologist arrive with another buddy Sergey Zlatkov from Shumen. They brought another 7-8 kg of fish, so I got lucky. We had very short session, but of course better than nothing. All morning the Cirl bunting was singing. About 10:30 we decided to drove back to pack. We thank to our host Nikos and say goodbye to Tomas and hit the road to the hotel. We wanted to use the time so we drove to embankment. We saw Common Cranes and geese again. But unfortunately the floods doesn’t allow us to reach flamingos and we couldn’t find the LWfG. We try Struma river embankment too. Took some photos of Spoonbills with landscape.

And soon it was time to leave the fantastic area of Lake Kerkini. We knew there was heavy snow fall in Sofia so we wanted to get to the hotel on time. At Kresna gorge we stopped to observe 8 Griffon vultures.

We bought some more rakia by the roadside again. At Dupnitca already some snow remind us that is anyway still winter. This time trip was much more fast and relaxed soon we reach Sofia and after some tricky sat-nav turns we finally got to the hotel.
We met at the lobby at 19:45 and have last dinner with some traditional Bulgarian meals, Shopska salad and wine. The desert was so nice that Dalia fell from her chair… we laugh all the time. It was really nice trip I am looking forward to hear feedback from you guys: Zita, Dalia, Saulius, Gediminas, Basia and Jazek… Thank you for choosing me to be your guide it was really pleasure and I hope you will join me again to more locations in future. I will miss you Basia and Jazek.
The end…

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Two White-throated Dipper’s day :-)

We haven’t got any exciting observations for a while, so we decided to travel around with Povilas Bagdonas. He show me one of the best spots for White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) it is a small river called Švekšnalė. We drove there yesterday, it took as few minutes as the Dipper was just behind the old water mill building. It flew downstream, so we decided to come back another day.

Today was even more exciting day as the bird was much more relaxed with our presence and let us take some photos too. We were also better prepared, no comments about the weather forecast, but anyway we had fantastic day. On a way back we saw Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor), few Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) and one Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) too. We were heading back home, when Povilas spotted something from the bridge, we were just talking maybe we should check the river too… And there it goes, a second White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) in Šilutė at Šyša river. What a fantastic day – two rivers, two dippers.

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Mid-winter waterbirds count 2015

I moved to the new area, so this year I was planning join a new team for MwWbC, but instead I had to organize the count this year here, as the local leader was working this weekend.

Saturday 17th JAN 2015
First morning we start early, as the road was already flooded, we must cross the gap on special trailer pulled by tractor. Great fun, but it takes some time. We go straight to Uostadvaris observation tower to start the count, but the problem was there was nothing to count and the weather was miserable rain, fog and visibility under 300m. We were luck to see 3 White tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) on the ice on the Curonian lagoon and the call of small flock of Bearded Reedlings from the reedbeds beneath. We wait here until became a little bit brighter, but as the rain was increasing we decide to move forward to other locations. On the way down from the observation tower my team mate Povilas Bagdonas spotted a pair of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) which were the only waterbirds seen this morning. We check Atmata river and Uostadvaris lighthouse area, but it was completely empty. Skirvytes river also didn’t give any results either, just few gulls flew over and White-tailed eagles calling in the fog. We check the Bevardis river too, but instead birds we found a border patrol which stopped us for passport control as Rusne Island is in border area with Russia. After quick stop and answering the question were are you “rolling” they give back documents and we continue back to the town. Short stop by flooded meadows where some gulls were seen, we took the next trailer back to the mainland. The rain was still for a while, but visibility still less than 300m we visit Šilutė wastewater treatment plant, but the only birds we found there were two immature Mute Swans in the flooded meadow near by. In Šilutė at Šyša river we checked several places, few Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) near the bridge to Rusnė, and hyperactive Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius) and the first for this year Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) breeding call. At Šilutė yacht port was empty and we head to the last spot near Šilutė Hospital, where 118 Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were found around the river shore line. So after this we finish the first day with more or less disappointing result, because of the bad weather.

made by Boris Belchev (Google Tracks)

made by Boris Belchev (Google Tracks)

Sunday 18th JAN 2015

Second morning we planned to start from 8 a.m., but as it was too dark we stop for a coffee and donut, put some fuel and with the sunrise we were ready to start our 15 km hike. We left the car at the new bus station on the parking-lot and start our journey with a Sparrowhawk and few Blackbirds on the way to the Baltic sea. We walk along the river so there were many Mallards and even two leucistic. We can hear the sea from a distance, so we were ready for the worst, but it was nice shiny day starting with first spot on our way and first birds to be counted.

We chose to count for 15-20 min every 1000 m. So we have many Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis), Velvet (Melanitta fusca) and Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra), Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus), Red-(Gavia stellata) and Black-throated Loons (Gavia arctica), Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula), few Goosanders (Mergus merganser), 2 Mallards and one Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) over the rough sea. We chose safe guard points or just climb on the sand dunes to be able to count the birds behind the waves. We found one drown Red-throated Loon at the shore and took it so we can bring it later to the Tadas Ivanauskas Zoology Museum in Kaunas to be used for their needs.

We had an interesting observation, but the photos didn’t come out good enough to say is it really  the rarity we saw, so I was a bit disappointed, but it is always difficult to prove rare bird observation even in good weather like that day we had it was just to far away from the shore. Anyway it was great fun and despite the pain in my knees I would say I am ready for more hiking, just maybe without my tripod… :-)


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Rain, sun, dust shower and hail…and the joy of being a birder :-)

I wake up earlier this morning as I was so excited to be back at the best place in Lithuania… The Dumpiai landfill. Yes I know, I’m nuts about birds and especially Gulls. SO I jumped in the car and after 40-45 minutes I was sitting in the car waiting for good old Vytautas Eigirdas which was planning to ring some gulls. A Common Buzzard attacked by the corvids landed on the hill side of the landfill. I spent last 4-5 years observing gulls, but never been before in the “heart of the Lithuanian Gull Mecca” – Dumpiai landfill, the place where in the winter of 2008 for first time in WP was found Slaty-backed Gull (Larus schistisagus). Unfortunately today neither winter, neither the rare gull were seen…
As he arrive with his 4×4 car we hop in and drove to the peak of the landfill. He prepare some traps ready to catch alive and safely some gulls, and meanwhile I set up my photo gear and start scanning the mash of few thousand gulls. Maybe 7-8 thousands of them were present during the day here. Soon I already had 10 unique plastic rings, but I was planning to keep position and don’t get messy…but after a while I change my mind and I join Vytautas at the pile of waste. Soon I lost the number of rings I got…

The ringer was having fun too, he almost lost his eye, but just his quick reaction let him pass with a scar on the face as a gull he caught was too close to his face. Time was running fast I was doubting shall I stay more and I was keep asking him how long he will be. Soon I spotted a White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) sitting on the top of a pile of rubbish and another one, I point my camera to take photo of this stork when I saw something familiar, two color bill, dark eye and lack of color on the primaries, I took a good look and said to Vytautas, to check the storks and the Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) even closer to us. We took few shots and soon the bird flew away and we didn’t see it till the end of the day. This observation took off my “breaks” and soon I forgot the plan to give up and go home. The number of rings was growing, but as I was not writing them down, I left the trill to explode back home in front of my desk.

We found few interesting gulls like those Caspian (Larus cachinnans) and Yellow-legged Herring gulls (Larus argentatus type omissus), and this 2cy LBBG/HG individual, which was looking very suspicious. I was so happy that I was packed and equipped properly as soon it’s started to rain and on top of this a rubbish truck spill out a cloud of stinky dust, that did cover me and my photo-gear from legs to head and even think is some of this dust in my eyes…or I just need to be sleeping in 3:22 a.m.

Anyway, I clean it somehow and continued to look for my lobby – ringed gulls. A Great Gray Shrike flew over. So it suddenly become very dark I was even experimenting with long exposure and low ISO, I was finding 6LAX over and over again. So I was ready to go finally. I stop for short chat with very friendly worker, when hail tiny in size make Vytautas also pack quickly. So this was the end of this amazing day. He gave a lift to my car at the gates and cookies to refill my empty stomach.And after entering all the data, all the keywords and choosing the best shots I am proud to present you my latest treasure here…

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Spring morning in mid January 2015 WHAT???

Today I had beautiful morning, I try to not spent the sunny mornings in front of the PC, so I grab my binoculars and backpack and escape from home for few hours, I was thinking about few hours in the forest at first. But as it was not looking to stay sunny for long time and as I saw the Rupkalviai flooded meadows were much more occupied then previous day I turn to the opposite direction and spent few minutes here and there observing the birds and their behavior. Some time is more worth doing this instead of chasing rarities which are usually miles away. We sometimes forgetting that there is much more happening around us. It was great fun watching the gulls feeding around me by dropping head first in the water of melted areas near the shore, or the pair of Hooded Crows (Corvus cornix) wading by the shore line and “pranking” on each other…

After checking few other places I drove to the place, where last time I found the White-tailed Eagles, but all I found was a Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) finishing his daily meal (a rodent). I check a road by river Atmata till village of Šyša, but unfortunately it is really just mid January. I saw a two Ravens (Corvus corax), Magpie (Pica pica) and Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) on the way back and also 11 Yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella) on the wires just out of Šilutė. Quick decision was made to check the other side of Šyša river and it was looking completely empty and I was turning around when five Greylag Geese (Anser anser) flew over me, another not so exciting day but it will be much more interesting in couple of months from now.

Thank you for being with me again and tomorrow will be “Gulls at the LANDFILL” day, so much more exciting story is coming up, so stay tuned with Alcedo Wildlife Blog tomorrow evening…Good night

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Sea watching 2015

After 90 min I managed to get to Palanga as after yesterday’s storm roads this morning were in terrible conditions. I got to the pier about 10 a.m. so it took me 2 hours to start birding. I was very happy to see at least some birds. Red-throated Divers (Gavia stellata) and later Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica) were diving in the rough sea. A male Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) and 15 Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) warm me up… Soon I spotted a Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)  in winter plumage. Few more Velvet Scoters (Melanitta fusca), both divers and ducks were seen until 11 a.m. But it was time for take the chance to visit the other location.  Melnragė near gates of Klaipėda sea port is known as a great spot for sea birds in winter. Let’s hope it is today.

It would be totally disappointing, but in such warm winter it is not so surprisingly slow on wintering sea ducks. I manage to spot few birds like Black-throated Diver, Great Cormorant, Long-tailed Duck and many gulls (Larus marinus, L.argentatus, L. cachinnans, L.canus and Chr. ridibundus). The most exciting species, show up in last moment as weather become terrible, I decided to went back to the car.  And then the “saver of the day” an adult Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) :-D That’s all folks. …For today.

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