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Bird-watching is becoming increasingly popular in Latvia: nature lovers go out into the wild in order to observe birds. Latvia lends itself well to such an activity, since as a country with a seacoast, many lakes, rivers, vast forests and floodplain meadows, it is suitable for many species of migrating birds.
Altogether, 344 bird species have been registered in Latvia. Furthermore, a bird migration route crosses Latvia; in autumn, many birds from Scandinavia and Northern Russia head across our country towards Southern Europe and return in spring. Therefore, it is spring and autumn, the time of bird migrations, that are suited best for bird-watching. That is when the Latvian territory is traversed by numerous different species and you only need a bit of luck and skill to identify the bird you have seen.
One of the best birding locations is Pape on the Kurzeme coast, 40 kilometres from Liepāja. An observation tower has been built here and there is also an ornithological station with professional researchers who capture and mark the birds. In Pape, you will be able to observe swans, bitterns, marsh harriers, common kestrels, various species of warblers. Also, some rare species have been sighted here such as the Northern gannet, the storm petrel and, in 1988, even the glossy ibis (information on overnight accommodation and other useful details are available from the Pape nature park).
For observing marine birds, Cape Kolka, Mērsrags and Salacgrīva are good spots; many interesting aquatic birds can be sighted in the Sātiņi ponds near Saldus, at Lake Zebrus near Dobele, at lakes Engure and Kaņieris, at the Nagļi fish ponds near Lake Lubāna. Or perhaps on a quiet, unhurried walk in the Latvian forests or the many nature parks or reserves? Maybe catch a glimpse of their strongest birds? You will be able to hear and see many birds: woodpeckers, tits and other small songbirds. In a meadow, you might just be lucky to hear the corn crake, a rare bird in Europe. If lucky, a more attentive eye may notice a rare species in Riga.
In order to enjoy the exciting hobby that is bird-watching, you do not even have to wander far away from Riga. Many winged creatures can be viewed at the Mangaļsala jetty – Riga’s marine gateway – where the Daugava flows into the sea, as well as in Salaspils at the National Botanical Gardens (these can be reached conveniently by train).
When bird-watching, you never know what surprises may be in store. Last year, a great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) paid a visit to the Sēme parish; the exotic bird was also seen in Ventspils on the roof of a multi-storey residential building. Also last year, a cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) reached as far as Vidzeme, raiding the nests of white storks (Ciconia ciconia) which are very common in Latvia. In the autumn, when the birds nesting in Latvia take off, it is possible to observe huge colonies of storks on their way south.
The Ornithological Society organises free annual bird-watching tours and even competitions: at the latest one, Torņu cīņas (Tower Battle) in May 2010, 235 bird-lovers took part, and the winning team sighted 96 species in 24 hours at the Dviete nature park. Further information about Latvian bird-watching sites can be found here.
Watch a lesser spotted eagle (Aquilapomarina) with the help of a surveillance camera at www.pomarina.lv