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Birding in 2020, Coronavirus et al, an East European View

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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 13:46   #1
Jos Stratford
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Birding in 2020, Coronavirus et al, an East European View

Inspired by the thread by 3ItalianBirders and fully expecting a lockdown in Lithuania, with its resultant severe restrictions of movement and thus birding, I have decided to document the evolution of the Coronavirus outbreak from the perspective of a birder living in Lithuania, eastern Europe.


INTRODUCTION

2020 had started in pretty stylish manner, an excellent trip to New Zealand continuing into New Year and a short trip to Israel in mid-February. However, clouds were already developing - even as I passed through Shanghai on route back from New Zealand on 11 January, media reports were growing by the day of a new Coronaviras spreading rapidly in Wuhan, a city I had never even heard of. Fast forward to the Israel trip, talk was of an impending pandemic, Israeli border officials were none too impressed with the Chinese entry stamps in my passport. Still, at that stage, it did seem a localized disease, hitting Asia badly, but leaving Europe largely unscathed.

Well, we all know that changed in fairly short space! Late to the party, Lithuania recorded it's first case on 28 February, a lady returning from Italy. Relative calm in the country, no measures or restrictions were put in place, bar increased surveillance at airports. Meanwhile, in a winter that never really happened in Lithuania, the first signs of springs were emerging, Cranes were back early, yodelling cries echoing across the meadows, skeins of White-fronted and Bean Geese started their annual spring fly-over, Skylarks appeared and filled the skies with welcome song.

On 10 March, two more cases, also returnees from Italy, a State of Emergency was declared. The government started to stir, another two cases on the 12th kicked them into action and then there was no stopping them! As cases rose by two or three a day, then six or seven each day, schools were closed for at least five weeks and announcements that further measures would follow. Pretty much an open secret that the government would order a shutdown as soon as any internal transmissions were reported.
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 13:48   #2
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All well and calm...
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 13:50   #3
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STAGE ONE - RISE OF THE VIRUS IN LITHUANIA.

The early stages of the infection in Lithuania saw first restrictions on day-to-day life, it was time for difficult decisions. Inevitably, it seemed, Lithuania was following the path of other nations in Europe, perhaps three weeks behind, but heading for bad times nevertheless. As cases appeared, at least there was a silver lining to the month of March - it is the beginning of the spring migration season, birds arriving back in the country in growing numbers, plus early season butterflies take to the wing.

4-15 March, five new cases of Coronavirus, total now 12 - low by European standards, but Lithuania announces closure of borders, foreigners banned from entry, citizens and residents forbidden to leave the country. Feeling somewhat appropriate, a cold northerly wind whipped the country creating a winter we never had. On my land, Whooper Swans in a snowstorm, White-fronted Geese going over, incoming migrants battling on, Starlings, Lapwings and Wood Pigeons in the main, but also early White Wagtails. Skylarks singing, all's well on the land.

Fearing an Italian style lockdown, and a resultant loss of work and reason to stay in the city, I however was putting plans in place - to abandon the comfort of city life and its associated hot showers, WiFi and electricity. I was well aware that weeks or months confined to home in a city potentially engulfed by a virus would drive me bonkers, better I trade comfort for sanity and take my chances on my land.
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 13:53   #4
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So, an introduction to Jos's Quarantine Centre! Otherwise known as the simple cabins on my land:

Annex 1 - the Meadow Cabin. Completed just in time! First photo is early construction in September 2019, the second photo is when nearly finished in March 2020. Mod cons, not many: gas heater, gas ring, battery-powered lights, newly installed bed, no electricity. Stunning views over expanses of meadows, Pygmy Owl roosting in nestbox above, yodelling Cranes a guaranteed alarm call.
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 13:54   #5
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Annex 2 - the Forest Cabin.

I built this a number of years ago - rather nice, though a roof needing a little repair and occasional visits by mice. Mod cons, even less: gas heater, bed, also no electricity. Overlooks my feeding station, home to White-backed Woodpeckers et al, regular Black Woodpeckers just yonder, occasional visits by Red Squirrels, Badger sett 10 metres to the left.
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 13:55   #6
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Well at least I can get some relaxing vicarious birding done reading this thread - and what a breath of fresh air, thank you!
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 13:57   #7
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Where to live during a Coronaviras lockdown?

City or Sticks? And just in case anyone is questioning my sanity for trading a fairly luxurious city flat for self-built cabins that lack just about every creature comfort, let's take a look at the criteria that swung my decision:

View from residences:

photo 1 - one block from Gedimino Prospectas, the mainstreet in the centre of Vilnius. Looks nicer on a sunny day, looks much nicer in spring and summer! Nice view for potentially many months?

photo 2 - 35 hectares of prime wildlife habitat, all my private property and thus not subject to lockdown and safe from Coronavorus. Amazing flood forest, regenerating scrub, traditional meadows. A pretty relaxing place in an otherwise stressful situation?
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 14:03   #8
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Birding highlights:

City: Tree Sparrows and regular Great Tits at a balcony feeder, occasional Marsh Tits and a Nuthatch. Come spring, Black Redstarts on rooftops, Swifts in the eaves, perhaps Pied Flycatchers in the trees.

Labanoras: with a mix of habitats, from flood forest to flower meadows, coupled with a location between major lake systems, my 35 hectares have proved exceptionally productive over the years, a grand total of 180 species. Amongst the highlights, breeding Cranes, breeding White Storks, visiting Black Storks, Pygmy Owl, breeding Grey Herons, Great White Egrets and Bitterns, regular Corncrakes, occasional Little Crakes, plus eight species of woodpecker and 17 species of raptors, including White-tailed and Lesser Spotted Eagles.

So, my question was really would I prefer my neighbour to be that in photo 1 or photo 2? But actualy a void question as Tree Sparrows also breed in the nests of the White Storks at Labanoras!
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 14:06   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Deb Burhinus View Post
Well at least I can get some relaxing vicarious birding done reading this thread - and what a breath of fresh air, thank you!
I hope it brings a little enjoyment - it is with a bit of a heavy heart that I write this thread though, what is coming is clear. In the city, I feel the tension and negativity, on my land I am free.
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 14:24   #10
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Trial Run

So it was, my first nights in the cabin - and darn cold it was, a frosty minus five greeting me on the 15th. Still, in unbroken sunshine, assorted woodpeckers drumming, cronks of newly arrived Grey Herons heading back to the colony just off my land, plus the first Goldeneyes back on territory, more White-fronted and Bean Geese migrating over, one White-tailed Eagle hanging about. On the mammal front, six Roe Deer and a Fox ambling across the meadow

Most heartwarming though, my first butterfly of the year in Lithuania - despite temperatures of just 3 C, one brave Brimstone on the wing!



City Days

16 March. Six new cases of Coronavirus in the country, general feeling of unease in the country, government of Poland blocking the return of Lithuanians at their borders. Within the country however, no panic buying, food shops fully stocked, no shortages of anything. Lithuania introduces a NATIONWIDE QUARANTINE - all bars, restaurants, entertainment and non-food shops to close, companies to organise distance working, restrictions on public transport. No full lockdown as yet.

17-20 March. Back in the city, total chaos in most companies, all trying to scramble towards some solution to the new reality. 31 new cases of Coronavirus, the highest daily rates yet, total now 48. With a certain amount of irony, I was impressed to find the post office open to enable me to collect my new book about what I can see on the trip I can't go on - a planned trip to southern Spain on 28 March now nothing more than a fantasy. Municipality vehicles touring the city broadcasting messages in Lithuanian and English to get off the streets, little doubt a lockdown is not far away.

On the positive side, although I do lose quite a chunk of my work, a pleasing amount has moved online, I will survive. Nice quiet streets too, cheap pertol and, in increasing temperatures, two more Brimstones this day on a rough patch of land behind a now deserted shopping centre.
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 14:30   #11
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First weekend view. Cabin is just visible as a dark blob against the tree line to the left of the picture.
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 14:38   #12
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Aha! I was thinking only two days ago “ How is Jos going to top up the feeders if he’s locked down in Vilnius?”
Keep it coming lad!
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 16:01   #13
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Well at least I can get some relaxing vicarious birding done reading this thread - and what a breath of fresh air, thank you!
My thoughts exactly!
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Old Friday 20th March 2020, 22:04   #14
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This may prove to be essential reading!
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Old Sunday 22nd March 2020, 19:47   #15
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21-22 March. Bitterns, Eagles and Rising Cases.

Virus taking hold in the country, a sharp rise in the number of cases – the number jumped to 69 by the end Friday, then rocketed to 129 this weekend. First domestic transmissions confirmed in recent days, plus several doctors and nurses infected, first death in the country - a lady that seems to have contracted the disease while in hospital. Contagion occurring within the Lithuanian military.

A crisp morning on the 21st at Labanoras, a deep booming echoing out from reeds, Bittern back from winter retreat! All's well with the world at that moment - always heartwarming to hear this beautiful sound, I never fail to feel honoured indeed to have them breeding on my land. So too the return of Great White Egrets, three settling on a floodpool in the afternoon - a newly colonising species in Lithuania, six pairs joined the Grey Heron colony last year, hoping for similar this season.

Chilly northerly winds curtailed significant bird migration across the weekend, but dribs and drabs did arrive, first Chaffinches et al, plus a very nice pair of Woodlarks, these immediately locating themselves in a nice patch of habitat and settling in with their spiralling display flight - has bred before, hopefully will this year. And then, just to top off the weekend, three superb adult White-tailed Eagles in display above my cabin.

The next days are critical in a Lithuanian context - the clear spread of domestic Corona cases, especially centering around a hospital in Ukmerge and involving both medical staff and patients, may prompt the government to order a full lockdown. I guess the tally of cases this week will tell the tale of how this crisis is going to unfold in this country.
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Old Sunday 22nd March 2020, 19:48   #16
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Back in Vilnius now - even if no lockdown, probably departing the city on Tuesday or Wednesday.
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Old Sunday 22nd March 2020, 19:55   #17
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That's great news re the Great Egrets.

Good luck Jos - stay safe lad.
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Old Sunday 22nd March 2020, 20:25   #18
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First real signs of spring flowers this weekend too, all of these seen:
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Old Monday 23rd March 2020, 05:44   #19
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Looking forward to birding vicariously

Things are only just starting to move here in Blighty with the first serious arrivals on Portland Bill - a site i use as a barometer with species recorded there expected (technically) 3-5 days later. The cool winds meant that my average Wheatear arrival date of 18th March came and went although a male was recorded a few miles away.

Thankfully i did not commit any funds to my planned visit to Eilat as my accommodation arrangements were the usual ad hoc affair but i believe birders have lost both flight and hotel money as Israel did not cancel flights but imposed restrictions upon arrival. Likewise a week in Albania returning the second week via Naples and Verona Flights now cancelled and monies returned - at the end of the day they are only holidays.

I will enjoy ‘visiting Vilnius vicariously virtually’

Good birding -

Laurie -
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Old Monday 23rd March 2020, 08:36   #20
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I know where I’d rather be! Did you say there were two cabins????
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Old Monday 23rd March 2020, 11:30   #21
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I know where I’d rather be! Did you say there were two cabins????
There are indeed, you are welcome. Er, good luck getting across the intervening borders :)

Forecast over next days in non-stop sunshine, temperature rising to a pleasant 14 C by week's end. Moving into my cabin permanently from Tuesday evening, predicting a good few days to kick things off.
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Old Monday 23rd March 2020, 11:54   #22
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I would certainly be in cousins cabin in Finland in the woods right now... brings back great memories of summers hidden away...
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Old Wednesday 25th March 2020, 04:45   #23
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Great reading. Just looked at the flowers + one that is labelled violet is Hepatica nobilis. Yellow is Coltsfoot + the pinkish one Pulmonaria, think P. officinalis.

Stay safe as much as any of us can at the moment.
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Old Wednesday 25th March 2020, 16:58   #24
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Great reading. Just looked at the flowers + one that is labelled violet is Hepatica nobilis. Yellow is Coltsfoot + the pinkish one Pulmonaria, think P. officinalis.

Stay safe as much as any of us can at the moment.
Thanks, the 'violet' is a direct translation from Lithuanian. Hepatica far better label, many thanks.
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Old Wednesday 25th March 2020, 17:02   #25
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25 March.

Coronavirus cases rising by 30 or 40 a day, then 65 today. A total of 274 confirmed cases now. Three more deaths this day, two again associated with an outbreak in Ukmerge hospital. Large numbers of Lithuanians returning from higher risk countries, a pretty shambolic state of affairs. Many returnees floating quarantine requirements, then a relatively poor response by the government - after the horse had bolted, the government opened compulsory quarantine centres …then promptly put two persons per room and allowed movement within the centre. Good one, perfect virus factory!

From my side, I decided it was time to leave Vilnius and move semi-permanently to Labanoras - if no lockdown, I will continue to pop back to the city every few days. Minus 5 C, a distinct crunch to the grass when I arrived in Labanoras late at night, one very vocal Tawny Owl welcoming me.

A cold night, but a beautiful morning on the 25th - Cranes calling on a frost-etched landscape, Buzzards mewing in the still morning air. As sun brought warmth, I took a wander to meadow pools - yet more signs of spring with the arrival of incoming migrants, two pairs of Teal and one Green Sandpiper the best of the day, a return of Black-headed Gulls too, plus several Linnets.

Not a bad day, and with temperatures set to rise in the next say or two, more good things to come.


Photo: Tawny Owls in my nestbox a few years back, hopefully last night's songster will be back in the box this season.
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