Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The West London Connection With The National Bird of Latvia

The bird I was most hoping to see on our long weekend in Latvia was the White Stork.

We were there for Vince and Daiga's wedding. Vince, who's no bird watcher, had reliably informed us that the Storks would still be around in August.

They're like our Swallows to the Latvians. Their arrival from Africa in the spring signals the end of the bitterly cold Baltic winter and the start of longer and warmer days. People tempt them into their villages, farms and gardens by erecting columns with wide platforms at the top - ready-made for the welcome visitors to build their massive nests out of piles of sticks.

And the birds don't disappoint. They seem to like being near people and happily raise their young very close to farms and houses - very often on the top of pylons. Daiga told us that many people thought it was very lucky to have one nesting close by.
We got our first glimpse of them on the two-hour bus ride from Riga to Talsi. The first one was only ten minutes from the centre of the capital - strutting around in a bit of greenery near a shopping centre.

And as the packed bus sped along the arrow-straight road lined with mile after mile of pine and silver birch trees, the Stork numbers kept on rising.

So you'd think they'd be a shoo-in to be the nation's national bird. But bizarrely, they're not.

That honour goes to the slender, graceful, yet comparatively humble White Wagtail - another summer visitor virtually identical to the Pied Wagtail familiar to everyone who's ever been to a playground or shopping centre in England.

The national bird of Latvia

I snapped this young one in the fabulous Laumu Dabas country park near Talsi where the wedding celebrations took place. It was chosen as the national bird in 1960 by the International Bird Protection Council. Fair enough - it's  a nice bird. Not as striking as the bandit-masked Red Backed Shrike or the charismatic Spotted Flycatcher, which were both showing well at the weekend, but very cheerful and eye-catching nonetheless.

Young Spotted Flycatcher. Old wooden Tortoise.
And when it calls it sounds like it's shouting, "Chiswick, Chiswick", over and over again. A little bit of West London in the bright and sunny heart of Latvia.

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