Latvia – week 1

Posted on May 4, 2014

Well, I’ve been living in Riga for a week now, and have spent 3 days exploring the field site, so I thought it was worth posting an update.

RIGA

The city is really nice and the walk from my apartment to the bus station takes me through the parks along the city canal. There are tree sparrows mixed in with the house sparrows, the crows wear hoods, and I’ve even seen an urban goshawk. The language is a bit baffling, but people speak enough English for me to get by. And at least the alphabet is basically the same.

My walk to work

My walk to work

Old Riga

Old Riga

THE FOREST

The main field site is a 40 minute bus ride from the city centre, situated on an ancient sand dune system (I think). The soil is poor and dry so the Scots pine forest, which dominates the landscape, is open enough to drive a minibus through. Unfortunately I have to make do with a bicycle, which doesn’t work very well on the sandy tracks (particularly with only 1 pedal). The understory is mostly moss and lichen, with some Ericaceous dwarf shrubs too. Where the forest has been cleared for timber, military training or by fire, there’s sandy heath scattered with pine saplings. All of this makes for good foraging, if you’re a Roller (I assume so anyway – in July we’ll be finding out with radio tags).

Burn site

Burn site

Sandy tracks make cycling hard

Sandy tracks make for difficult cycling

In the wetter parts of the forest, fir/spruce/birch start to fill out the understory. I had the misfortune of getting completely lost in some of this dense forest on Friday, and ended up carrying my bike through the mire towards the sound of passing train, throwing it over a ditch and finally collapsing in relief on the railway embankment, with my bike on top of me.

The forest is pretty weird really. At times I catch myself feeling like I’m out in the wilderness, but then round the next corner I’m confronted with a go-karting course, an abandoned military warehouse (they’re really spooky), a block of soviet-era flats (equally spooky) or an improvised landfill site (there’s quite a lot of litter, but always bizarre items – a TV remote here, a car seat there, and I daren’t imagine what’s in the suitcases). I find myself sneaking around all the time (I’m not sure whether I’m hiding from wolves, fly tippers or the ghosts of Soviet soldiers), and was mortified when my phone went off whilst I was next to one of the old military buildings. How many horror-movie characters have the Nokia theme tune to blame for their premature & violent deaths?! Anyway, I digress..

Thought this could be a wolf. It was quite big, and no human tracks in sight. But it's not big enough I don't think, and I don't think wolves are too common in this part of Latvia

I thought this could be a wolf. It was quite big, with no human tracks in sight. But I don’t think it’s big enough, and wolves aren’t too common in this part of Latvia.

WILDLIFE

The wildlife is excellent, so here’s a list of some of the more interesting things I’ve seen so far (*s next to things I’ve never seen before): Green Hairstreak*, Roe Deer, Eurasian Beaver* (traces of), Sand Lizard*, Goldeneye (with ducklings! very cute), Hobby, BuzzardStock Dove, Common Cuckoo, Hoopoe, Grey-Headed Woodpecker*, Wryneck*, Woodlark, Tree Pipit (I’d probably have happily called these Syklarks & Meadow Pipits back home…), White Wagtail (the national bird of Latvia), Common Redstart, Wheatear, Fieldfare (more common than Blackbirds!), Pied Flycatcher, Crested Tit*, JayRaven, Bullfinch & Hawfinch*.

Nightingale was also on my list, but from the rangemaps I see that they don’t exist here. Instead, it must be Thrush Nightingale*. Pay attention Tom!

Things I’m missing (apart from photos of all the above): some more mammals, some snakes, some grouse/capercaillie, some more raptors, some owls, black woodpecker, nutcracker.

THE ROLLER

And of course, the Roller. None of been seen in Latvia yet, but it’s quite chilly, and there are very few insects, so not very surprising. Give it a week or so! For now I’m concentrating on finding all the nestboxes and cracking on with landuse mapping.

Oil beetle = Roller food?

Oil beetle = Roller food?

Nestbox, with anti-marten protection

Nestbox, with anti-marten protection

More next weekend, maybe.