Given a four day layover between meetings in Warsaw and in Kaliningrad, I took the opportunity to spend some birding time in Rybachy (55o 10’N 20o 50’E), a small fishing village on the Curonian Spit about 50km north of the city of Kaliningrad. I chose Rybachy because of the geography. Located midway on the Russian portion of the Curonian Spit, on the eastern shore of the Baltic, it appeared to have great birding potential for fall migration. I was unable to find any birding information on the internet, although there is a long-established bird observatory and ringing station in the town. So, even though this was a short visit, covering very little territory and with somewhat adverse weather, I thought it worthwhile to share my notes.
My results were mixed. With a stiff west breeze off the Baltic for my first two days, landbirding was difficult. Further, the Curonian lagoon, although connected to the Baltic via a narrow channel, is not tidal so I found no shorebird habitat near Rybachy. It was early in the season for any seabird movement on the Baltic, hence two mornings of seawatching from a nice vantage point were absolutely fruitless. From my western hemisphere point of view, landbirding difficulties are further exacerbated by the extreme skittishness of eastern European passerines. Hence, I really only had one great day of birding, my final day when the winds died during the night and large numbers of passerines were evident in the morning. Birds seemed to be everywhere that morning, and seemed somewhat less skittish without the wind.
I also include notes from some birding I was able to do around the grounds of the hotel I stayed in while in meetings in Kaliningrad.
Entry: As of 2006, Russia requires an entry visa. Additionally, one is required to register with a hotel within three days of entry of the country, and not all hotels provide registry so some advance planning is required in order to get the necessary stamp on the paperwork that accompanies the visa. The international terminal at Kaliningrad is unsavory and lacks basic services such as ATM and car rental, again, advance planning is important. I was told that arranging to be picked up is a very good idea. Depending on a taxi from the terminal, which is about 16km out of Kaliningrad may be risky.
Resources: The Lonely Planet Guide for Russia and Belarus provides some very useful info on Kaliningrad Oblask. Based on their advice, I contacted Baltma Tours in advance (www.baltma.ru) and through them arranged for two nights at Postoyaly dvor, the local hotel in Rybachy and a car and driver to transport me from the Kaliningrad airport to Rybachy and back. I worked with Marina at Baltma, between my small amount of German and her small amount of English the arrangements proved satisfactory (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accommodations: - Rybachy is well described in Lonely Planet. Postoyaly Dvor was clean, fairly quiet, staff were friendly and helpful although English was very limited. Breakfast was substantial, served from 0900-1100. Dinners there were also quite good and reasonable. Few other dining options exist in town. No sources of cash in the village, so come with rubles.
The Hotel Kaliningrad is located along the main highway heading east from Kaliningrad, just east of the police control station. It is on the shoreline of a small lake, with grebes, coots and a few ducks. Although the surroundings appear to be developing rapidly, there were some brushy areas for birding. The Hotel has good rooms, is quite quiet, and has most amenities except ATM.
Rybachy Birding sites:
1) Biological station grounds. The headquarters of Biological Station Rybachy, located at the south edge of town along the lagoon, mostly a low area of willows and reeds, with mist net lanes for trails. One elevated hide, on lagoon shore at end of southernmost net lane, offered good views over lagoon and reed beds. Grounds seemed to be a habitat island. Open daily from 0900 to 1800, I didn't try earlier or later, but the gate latch seemed inoperable. Few staff present, adroit at removing birds from nets, but not friendly. Efficient though, as there was a high percentage of banded birds in the village. Small, but informative exhibit on the history and achievements of the station, is worth a few minutes.
2) Agricultural areas south of the village, extend for 2+ km, mostly pasture and hayfields, some unkempt allotment gardens. One main farm track through middle, starts near water tower, can follow south to lake. Maybe largest ag area on peninsula. Lake itself fairly large, but relatively birdless.
3) Baltic beach west of Postoyaly Dvor - dirt road leads west about a km to a communication tower, radar station and small campground, all adjacent to the beach. Road itself offered forest birding, pine, spruce and mixed, some w/ open understory and some quite shrubby. A boardwalk on the dune offered sea watching possibilities, but nothing moving on either morning I watched.
4) Town shoreline and harbor entrance – difficult to access, but with a little poking around one can find spots to check the harbor entrance which has large numbers of gulls and cormorants roosting.
9/9 - Flew into Kalingrad on LOT Polish Air from Warsaw in the AM, empty plane and a very run down airport. After clearing Customs, and grabbing my bag from another passenger, who proceeded to then try to grab a woman's bag, I met my driver and we headed north. Weather was very breezy from the west. Birded along the lagoon and at the Ornithological Institute.
9/10 - Walked to ocean beach at first light, very windy on the Baltic from the west. Good passerine flocks along road, and not too windy away from beach. Breakfast at 0900, quite good. Birded along the lagoon shore to the observatory, then south of town in the ag areas to a large lake, round that and back up the west side of the lake along the main road. Cloudy and breezy.
9/11 - Up before light, 0600, and walked to the beach before birding light. Calm and clear, with strong moonlight, but heard no migrants. Many alarm notes in the brush and birds on the road though. Nothing moving over the Baltic either. Beach had a ton of wagtails and an ad. Yellow-legged Gull w/ Herring and Common. Returning, had large numbers of passerines along the road, and numbers of swallows migrating overhead, and a young Red Deer crossing the road. Big breakfast at the hotel at 0900, then off to the institute grounds for birding from 0945 to 1215. Also had large numbers of passerines, particularly robin, good diversity as well, Back to the hotel via the edge of the ag lands. Picked up at 1400 for transfer to Hotel Baltica, on the main highway at the east edge of town.
List from Rybachy – 9-11 Sep
Great Crested Grebe – Seen daily, max 20
Great Cormorant – Seen daily, max 120
Gray Heron – Seen daily, max 5
Mute Swan – 4 on the lake
Greater White-fronted Goose – Two flying south over the lagoon
Eurasian Wigeon – Two flying south over the lagoon
Eurasian Teal – 7 on the lake
Mallard – Seen daily, max 5
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – Seen daily, max 5
Eurasian Buzzard – One over the ag lands south of town
Eurasian Kestrel – Seen daily, max 3
Eurasian Hobby – Seen two of three days, max 2
Common Moorhen – Seen two of three days, max 2
Jack Snipe –One flushed out of the wet areas at the Biological Station
Common Snipe – Two flushed out of wet pasture south of town
Common Sandpiper – One in the town harbor entrance
Common Gull – Seen daily, max 40
Great Black-backed Gull – Seen daily, max 50
European Herring Gull – Seen daily, max 20
Yellow-legged Gull – One adult "cachinnans" on the Baltic beach with Herring and Common Gulls.
Black-headed Gull – Seen daily, max 150
Caspian Tern – Three foraging over the lagoon off the harbor entrance
Common Tern – Ten flying south over the lagoon.
Common Wood-Pigeon – Three birds seen one day
Common Swift – Two birds seen with large numbers of swallows.
Common Kingfisher – One at the biological station
Great Spotted Woodpecker – Four seen
Sky Lark – Ten+ in the open ag lands
Barn Swallow – Seen daily, max 500
Common House-Martin – Seen daily, max 30
White Wagtail – Seen daily, max 80
Yellow Wagtail – Two in the ag lands south of town
Tree Pipit – Two seen
Meadow Pipit – Seen daily, max 10
Goldcrest – Seen daily, max 3
Winter Wren – Seen two of three days, max 5
Eurasian Blackbird – Seen two of three days, max 30
Fieldfare – Two migrating south
Song Thrush – Two migrating south
Grasshopper Warbler – One on the grounds of the biological station
Sedge Warbler – Seen two of three days, max 2
Eurasian Reed-Warbler - Seen two of three days, max 2
Willow Warbler – Seen daily, max 15
Common Chiffchaff – Seen daily, max 5
Greenish Warbler – One on the grounds of the biological station
Blackcap – Seen daily, max 25
Garden Warbler – Seen two of three days, max 4
Lesser Whitethroat – Seen daily, max 3
Spotted Flycatcher – Seen daily, max 30
European Pied Flycatcher – Seen daily, max 10
European Robin – Seen two of three days, max 150
Black Redstart – Seen daily, max 4
Common Redstart – Seen daily, max 17
Whinchat – A loose aggregation of ten in a weedy field south of town
Northern Wheatear – Seen daily, max 100
Marsh Tit – Seen two of three days, max 8
Coal Tit – Two seen one day
Great Tit – Seen daily, max 25
Blue Tit – Seen daily, max 40
Eurasian Nuthatch – Seen two of three days, max 3
Eurasian Treecreeper – Seen two of three days, max 1
Red-backed Shrike – Five in the fields south of town
Eurasian Jay – Seen two of three days, max 5
Eurasian Magpie – Two seen one day
Eurasian Jackdaw – Seen daily, max 30
Carrion Crow – Seen daily, max 60
Common Raven – Two seen one day over the outer beach
European Starling – Seen daily, max 30
Yellowhammer – Seen two of three days, max 20
Reed Bunting – One in the fields south of town
Chaffinch – Seen daily, max 70
Common Rosefinch – Two seen one day
Red Crossbill – Seen two of three days, max 40
European Greenfinch – Twelve in the open areas south of tiwb
Eurasian Siskin – Two seen one day
European Goldfinch – Seen two of three days, max 8
Eurasian Linnet – Seen two of three days, max 6
European Serin – One seen
Eurasian Bullfinch – Two seen one day
House Sparrow – Seen daily, max 15
List from Hotel Kaliningrad 12-15 September
Great Crested Grebe, 12 including several chicks on lake
Gray Heron – two
Mallard – five
Northern Shoveler – six
Common Pochard - three
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – one migrant
Northern Goshawk – one migrant
Eurasian Buzzard – four migrants
Common Moorhen – one on lake
Eurasian Coot - fifteen
Eurasian Curlew – one migrant
Common Gull - ten
Great Black-backed Gull - one
European Herring Gull - three
Black-headed Gull – up to 60
White-winged Tern – one winter ad. Over lake
Black Tern – one winter ad.
Common Wood-Pigeon - five
Common Kingfisher - one
Great Spotted Woodpecker - one
Sand Martin – one migrant
Barn Swallow – 1500 migrants seen on the 12th
Common House-Martin - two
White Wagtail - fifteen
Dunnock - one
Eurasian Blackbird - one
Common Chiffchaff – up to fifteen daily
Blackcap – five
Spotted Flycatcher - two
European Robin - five
Black Redstart - three
Common Redstart - one
Marsh Tit - one
Great Tit - eight
Blue Tit - five
Eurasian Magpie – one
Eurasian Jackdaw - sixty
Rook – thirty
Carrion Crow - two
European Starling – up to 400 seen daily
Chaffinch – ten
European Goldfinch - five
House Sparrow - abundant
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – abundant