Lithuania: Fall Migration at Nemunas delta 
Monday 10 September to Tuesday 19 September 2018
With Boris Belchev as leader 

The Nemunas river delta is a vast region rich in wildlife.  Every autumn, countless millions of breeding birds empty out of the northern forests and fells for southern climes.  Located at the very tip, Ventės ragas acts like a very narrow delivery end of an enormous funnel.  Consequently, it has long been regarded as one of Europe’s premier bird ringing sites, and indeed the flight of birds there is one of the great natural spectacles on the planet.  With migration already well underway in July, beginning with species on long-distance journeys to the equator or beyond, and continuing practically unabated through November, it is difficult to recommend a time to visit Nemunas Delta.  Our tour aims for a transition period between movements of a diverse host of African migrants, including shorebirds, flycatchers, pipits, and warblers,  and the staggering later-season flights of doves, finches, Corvids, tits, and thrushes bound for continental Europe. This is also an excellent time for raptors, for which Nemunas Delta is arguably one of the best site in all of Eastern Europe. When the conditions are right, the sky is an ever-shifting gallery of kites, hawks, buzzards’ harriers and falcons.  And there is a good chance for rarities as well – just as Ventės ragas funnels Northern Europe’s breeding birds, it is also bottleneck for any stray that might have wandered into the region.   

We’ll keep a close eye on the weather (which is very often glorious and autumnal), and plan our days accordingly.  On days of heavy migration, we will never tire of the gardens, pastures, and coastal forests right around Ventė settlement.  If conditions seem safe to leave, we’ll venture short distances off the Ventės ragas peninsula to search for sparse local breeders like Black Woodpecker and Bearded Reedling, and visit good locations for shorebirds, gulls, and terns, always to return to our home base in village Mingė (Lithuanian Venice), and to lodgings in a beautiful guesthouses on the shore of Minija river.  With excellent food, a gorgeous setting, a strong community of local fishermen, and world-class birding at a relaxed pace, Nemunas delta is the place for anyone wishing to increase their experience with European birds identification, or, perhaps, simply with the wonders of bird migration.  

Day 1:  Our tour begins this evening in the lobby of our hotel near Minija River, with an introduction of the week’s activities, followed by dinner.
Day 2:  We’ll start out after an early breakfast and take the bridge to Rusnė.  If the weather looks good for migration, we’ll likely head straight to the heart of the Nemunas Delta to get some birding in before lunch.  After lunch we’ll head to Ventės ragas peninsula with Curonian lagoon.  Our accommodations are within walking distance of good birding, including a large area of cow pastures that can be excellent for shorebirds, pipits, and wagtails, among others.  The trees right around town are often good for small flocks of migrant warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers.  We’ll determine where the activity is and spend the rest of the day getting immersed in the local birdlife.
Day 3-7:  From our home base in the village, all the wonders of the Nemunas Delta will be within easy reach.  Our daily itinerary will hinge on the weather and the magnitude of bird migration.  Most mornings we’ll be out at first light near the famous ringing station.  On days of heavy migration, the sky can be filled with an unceasing passage of wagtails, pipits, finches, Corvids, doves, and, as the morning increases, raptors.  Many of these birds will stop in the trees and shrubs near the point, offering excellent views, others will continue on across the Shore to Russia and Poland.  Our mornings at the point will allow us to assess the day’s migration, and determine how we’ll spend the rest of the day.  When the weather is right, the birds keep coming, and we’ll want to spend as much time as we can birding the lagoon shoreline, marshy forest, and meadows around the point, while always keeping an eye to the sky.  We’ll also take pleasant walks through a forested area.  Here, when the raptors are on the move, one can sit down and watch a stream of Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Goshawks, 4 species of Harriers, Eurasian Kestrels, Eurasian Hobbies, Honey and Common Buzzards, all the while noting warblers, tits, and other songbirds flitting through the Alder and pines.  We’ll often take picnic lunches in such strategic and enjoyable spots.
While it is the prospect of staying put and letting the birds come to us which is the great appeal of spending a week at Nemunas delta in the height of fall migration, we’ll take some time to visit local areas of interest off the peninsula.  One such is Kniaupo Bay, just east of Ventė, which can be excellent for gulls, waterfowl and shorebirds, while the nearby Fishponds and Kintai forest, is often good for migrants as well as resident birds including Black Woodpecker.  We’ll also visit Lake Krokų and Aukštumalė Raised Bog, where we’ll hope to find more birds, including Common Crane, Common Kingfisher, and Bearded Reedling.  Other times we may venture along the Curonian lagoon coastline in search of shorebirds, terns, and gulls.  And with help of the ringing station ringers we will be updated of any rarities that may turn up in the zig-zag traps. 
Regardless of whether we remain at Ventės ragas or venture further afield, our days promise to be filled with first-rate birding, fresh air, good meals, optional downtime, and minimal time on the road.  All nights in Mingė.
Day 8: After morning birding, we’ll make our way towards airport sometime after lunch.  Depending on how we’ve fared, we may decide to do some birding somewhere along the way.  We’ll take dinner and stay at the city of your departure in Vilnius, Kaunas or Klaipėda.
Day 9:  The tour concludes this day with flights home out of Palanga, Kaunas or Vilnius airport.  

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