During a short break to the Latvian capital Riga I managed to squeeze in a days birdwatching with two local birdwatchers contacted through birdingpal.org. I was met at my hotel in central Riga at 7am and took the hire car I picked the evening before (holidayautos.co.uk were the cheapest)from the airport, the bus to the airport from town costs 20p and takes 20 mins. We drove to Mersrags, one of the best seawatching sites in Latvia as the presence of an old Russian lookout tower indicated, there were good numbers of the usual seaducks, grebes and divers as well as many long tailed ducks, but nothing out of the ordinary. We followed the coast stopping at several sites much of the same although a smew was added to the list along with a red fox along the roadside. A quick stop for a cup of tea and we headed to the Kemeri National Park to try for woodpeckers. We tried down a frozen track not far from the visitor centre, there were plenty of crested tits showing quite well, and a great spotted woodpecker and a many jays amongst the common woodland birds. We headed for the visitor centre and went through the flooded woods on a raised boardwalk. The only bird of note was nuthatch of the eastern form almost pure white on the underside, a very striking bird. We walked through the wood and only a great spotted woodpecker present.
The Latvian bird news service (actually a small group of birders who pass news around) buzzed with a sighting of 4 stellars eiders at Akmenrags but it was to far away from where were given the daylight left.
We tried another area of the national park at Odini and had a great grey shrike hovering over a field, in the woods we could hear a grey headed woodpecker but it would not show itself. A beaver dived off the ice in the large drainage ditch back into its dam. We had one more stop Dole island just south of Riga.
A walk round the open woodland / park quickly produced a middle spotted woodpecker, and shortly after another (perhaps the same one). Two black woodpeckers were calling, and eventually one was located it flew round and gave excellent views. The light was fading and I dropped off my guides and dropped the car back the airport.
The only other birds of note were the eastern race jackdaws, many were present in Riga amongst the hooded crows (try the canal park) there are also western jackdaws and hybrids as this is a cross over area.
Many Thanks to Agris Celmins and Maija Sidorenko for showing me around, they recommend spring for a visit with greater, lesser spotted and white tailed eagles, river, blyth's reed and aquatic warblers, black storks, marsh sandpipers, owls, 8 woodpeckers, hazel grouse, little crake, corncrake, crane, citrine wagtail to name but a few.General notes, Latvia is cheap for food, drink, petrol, accomodation, car hire was not very cheap
For all bird information in Latvia including Birdnews and sites to visit check out www.putni.lv/index_eng.htm