Sunday, 30 March 2008

Country Profile: Lithuania

Lithuania (Lietuva) is a fully-fledged Republic. The capital is Vilnius. The unit of currency is the litas (LTL), with the Euro due soon. Lithuania is bordered to the north by Latvia, to the east and south-east by Belarussia and to the south-west by Poland and Kaliningrad (Russia). To the west there is 99 km of Baltic Sea coast, the shortest coastline of the three Baltic States. The country is divided into four main regions Zemaitija (in the north-west), Aukštaitija (in the north-east), Dzukija (in the south-east) and Suvalkija (in the south-west). Lithuania is full of good birding sites. If you are staying in a provincial town like Panevezys, Siauliai or Kaunas there is always a forest or bog or stretch of farmland with a White Stork nest nearby. Even the capital Vilnius has good birding right on its doorstep. If you find yourself on the coast, perhaps in the lively seaside resort of Palanga or the bustling port of Klaipeda, then the birding possibilities nearby are first-class. Just south of here is the fascinating Curonian Spit, a stretch of coastline that few outside the Baltics have heard of, but a place which should be on every Euro-birder's list of destinations to visit. At the southern end of the spit are high sand-dunes at Nida.
The national bird of Lithuania is the White Stork and it is a very appropriate species as Lithuania's 13,000 pairs constitute the highest density of the species anywhere in its breeding range. All in all, wetland birds seem to be doing well with Common Bittern (800-1000 pairs) and Black Tern (2000-4000 pairs) good examples. Not as numerous, but perhaps more significant, are the populations of two of Europe's rarest wetland birds: Great Snipe and Aquatic Warbler. Between 200-300 pairs of Great Snipe are thought to occur mostly in the delta of the River Nemunas and the river flood-plains in the east and south-east. There is a small but important population of the threatened Aquatic Warbler with 250-300 singing males estimated each year. Corncrake is another species that has suffered in western Europe but which is doing well in Lithuania. Diurnal raptors are, of course, less common but Common Buzzard is widespread, Lesser Spotted Eagle is locally common and White-tailed Eagle increasing in number (40-50 pairs). Lithuania's Baltic waters also host a few flocks of Steller's Eider ever winter. Away from the wetlands there is a very good range of woodland birds. Nine out of ten of Europe's Woodpeckers breed (only Syrian is absent). Black, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers are not uncommon in suitable habitat. Over 500 pairs of Black Stork are thought to breed, an impressive figure, and Hazel Grouse and Red-breasted Flycatcher are fairly widespread. Besides rare and threatened birds there are also several species which, though they have declined in other parts of Europe, are still common and widespread in Lithuania. These include Woodlark, Barred and Grasshopper Warblers, Wryneck, Yellowhammer and Common Rosefinch. Though not quite as common White-tailed Eagle, Black Grouse, Ural, Tengmalm's and Pygmy Owls, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Nutcracker and Icterine and Greenish Warblers can also be seen with a little effort and by visiting at the right time. Lithuania's coastline is part of a major migration route for wildfowl, waders, raptors, seabirds and songbirds. In some years as many as 100,000 birds are trapped and ringed on the coast.

No comments: