Saturday, 10 January 2009

Destinations: Dzukija NP - Lithuania

Dzukija is the largest National Park in Lithuania covering some 50,000 ha. It lies on a large rolling sandy plain along the River Nemunas and is mostly blanketed in pine forests, though there are also areas with mixed forests, dunes, lakes, bogs, waterways, pastures, hay-fields and fertile farmland. It is a tranquil area where life seems to go on as it has done for ages with many locals farming in a traditional manner. This all makes for good habitat and a rich fauna. Residents include Capercaillie, Hazel and Black Grouse, Osprey, White-tailed Eagle, Grey-headed, Black, Lesser Spotted, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Crested Tit, Eagle, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owls, Willow and Crested Tits, Bullfinch, Hawfinch, Siskin and Nutcracker, though some of these will only be seen after a few boreal birding skills have been employed. Spring and summer visitors include both storks, Honey Buzzard, Lesser Spotted and Short-toed Eagles, Spotted Crake, Corncrake, Common Crane, Green Sandpiper, Wryneck, Roller, Hoopoe, Nightjar, Woodlark, Thrush Nightingale, Citrine Wagtail, Tawny Pipit, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Greenish Warbler. With the exception of winter proper, all year round for the woodpeckers. Spring for the grouse, owls and songbirds. The area is in the very south, in Alytus county. About 130 km south-west of Vilnius and 100 km south of Kaunas. Several roads cut through the NP including one to the old town of Merkine in the north and one in the south to Marcinkonys. There are small information centres in Marcinkonys (the park HQ is also here) and Merkine. Two areas of the NP, the River Skroblus Valley and the Cepkeliai Bog are strictly protected and cannot be visited except with a warden. The rest of the area can be explored on minor roads, forest tracks and nature trails. The 13 km long Zackagiris Nature Trail (Zackagirio gamtinis takes) runs from the Marcinkonys information centre southwards through old forest.

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