Friday, 14 March 2008

Destinations: Curonian Spit - Lithuania

Lithuania's coastline is just 99 km long but it is lined with superb habitats. It is sandy, rather than rocky, and dominated by the Curonian Spit (Kursiu nerija) where there are dunes, scrubland and pinewoods. This strip of sandy beaches and dunes separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea and continues south from Lithuania into the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The Lithuanian stretch is about 50 km long and varies in width between 3.8 km (at Cape Bulvikis 4 km northeast of Nida) and just 380 m (near Sarkuva). The main woodland cover is pine, with some spruce, fir, larch, birch and alder, and there is scrub and grassy meadows and heathlands. The spit is a migration bottleneck, mainly in autumn, and in peak periods tens of thousands of pigeons, doves and songbirds pass this way, including various wagtails and pipits, Bluethroat, Siskin, Bullfinch and Lapland and Snow Buntings. The most numerous species (100s of 1000s) are Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Robin, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wren, Goldcrest, Chaffinch and Brambling. The spit is also the kind of place where "anything can turn up" and rarities for Lithuania here have included Azure Tit and Siberian Accentor. In various periods there are good numbers of storks, 3 species of swan, Tundra and Taiga Bean, Greater White-fronted, Barnacle and dark-bellied Brent Geese, Greater Scaup, Common and Velvet Scoters, Common Goldeneye, Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, Little Gull and Sandwich, Common, Arctic, Little and Black Terns. Raptors include Honey, Common and Rough-legged Buzzards, Merlin and Hen and Montagu's Harriers. The spit is also home to a good range of breeding birds, with Common Shelduck, White-tailed Eagle, Black Kite, Hobby, Corncrake, Spotted and Little Crakes, Dunlin, Greater Ringed Plover, Nightjar, Wryneck, Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Woodlark, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Tree, Meadow and Tawny Pipits, Serin, Greenish Warbler and Common Rosefinch all here. Herring, Yellow-legged, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Greater Black-backed Gulls are around most of the year. Smiltyne lies at the very northern tip of the spit and Nida at the south. Regular car-ferries run from the mainland at Klaipeda to Smiltyne and take 10 minutes. The spit is a national park (Kursiu Nerija Nacionalinis Parkas) and there is a fee to enter.

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