Lithuania: A Baltic Sea holiday
By Marguerite Tarzia and Julius Morkunas, 12 July 2016
If you’ve already island hopped through Greece, Spain and Italy, then why not head for the Baltic coast for a different sort of holiday? While we can’t guarantee that the ‘Baltic Beach escape’ will be the next on trend thing to do during the summer, there’s wildlife, beautiful views and originality on your side! The Baltic Sea coastline is shared by nine countries, offering different food, culture, languages and scenery. What more could you want on a holiday?
It is easy to travel between Baltic countries by ferry. This gives you the opportunity to spot seabirds and harbour porpoises as you travel from one country to another. It will also give you an appreciation for the quantity of ship traffic in this enclosed sea, which is one of the highest in the world.
Plenty of seabirds to see
The most spectacular time to visit the Baltic for seabirds is in autumn and winter, when migrating seabirds such as the Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Common Eider arrive to feed just off the coasts of the southern Baltic countries.
Despite its global importance for seabirds during winter, you can still get your seabird fix during your summer break! If you are lucky you might see some of the resident auk species, such as the Razorbill and Common Guillemot. If passing by the Swedish island of Gothland, look out for the small island of Stora Karlso, where up to 10,000 pairs of Common Guillemot breed during the summer.
A number of tern species can also be found breeding along the Baltic coast, such as the Caspian Tern, the Common Tern and the Sandwich Tern. The Caspian Tern breeds mostly along the Swedish and Finnish coasts and is considered regionally vulnerable due to its small population size and predation by invasive species (fox, mink) and gulls.
If you enjoy Great Cormorant colonies, visit the Curonian Spit in Lithuania. There are approximately 3.000 pairs of birds nesting high up in pine trees alongside some of largest sand dunes in Europe. You will hear and smell them before you see them!
Watch out for lots of ships and climate change
The Baltic Sea has become increasingly busy, with shipping of goods and people and development of energy infrastructure. There are a number of potential impacts to seabirds from this high density traffic, including chronic oil pollution and the risk of oil spills, and disturbance to the birds’ foraging grounds. Not to mention the possibility of more invasive marine species being introduced to the Baltic Sea, leading to ecosystem-wide changes in fish and benthic communities (those living at the lowest levels of the sea)! We need to better understand the cumulative impact of all these activities on the birds and other marine species.
Meanwhile, the Baltic Sea ecosystem is already changing: climate change and eutrophication (caused by pollution from land/agriculture) are altering food supplies for seabirds and their available habitat. As warmer winters reduce the sea ice, seabirds are moving to different parts of the Baltic Sea, including further north. This makes monitoring their population numbers even more challenging.
As you pack up your beach lilos and head home, migrating seaducks will be preparing to take your place along the coast. At the same time, the fishing communities dotted along the coast start preparing for their winter fishing season. Many of the fishermen are looking to catch Atlantic Cod and Pike Perch.
This sometimes spells bad news for seabirds in the Baltic Sea, as it is a particularly problematic region for accidental capture of seabirds in fishing gear, especially in nets. It is currently estimated that up to 76,000 birds are caught by nets in the Baltic Sea each year.
The good news is that through our Seabird Task Force, fishermen and our team are working together on possible solutions to this problem. You can see more about the experimental panels that we have been attaching to nets on our website.
Tips from a local: Julius Morkunas
“The Curonian Spit in Lithuania is definitely worth visiting, even if you only have one or two days to spend along the coast. It is a great place to see the Tawny Pipit: you can see while on the beach or walking in the sand dunes. In August you can find Little Gulls and Black Terns hunting in the waves. Autumn is also a great time to visit the Curonian Spit: hundreds of thousands birds pass through it as they migrate.
Šventoji is another great beach, where just a few minutes away is a meadow with breeding Citrine Wagtails, cranes, Black Storks, Marsh Sandpiper and harriers. Just take binoculars and go through the grassland to the east of the beach.
Also, don’t forget to look closely at the ground under your feet; you could find some bits of amber.”