What makes Latvia special?

David Collins writes about Latvia's appeal.

Fuerteventura with Honeyguide leader David Collins has been fully booked for many weeks, but you can still travel with him to Latvia
“What is it that makes a destination an outstanding place for a wildlife holiday? Having travelled extensively in both Europe and beyond in search of birds and other wildlife, I have come to the conclusion that, for me, there are three things that have to come together. Firstly, the place itself has to have a sense of magic about it - something to make me feel I am in a special kind of place. Then it has to have a selection of birds that are both interesting and common enough to see fairly easily. And last but not least, there has to be a sense that something unexpected might be just round the corner.
"Latvia ticks all three boxes. It is not always easy to capture exactly what it is about a place that makes it feel really special, but I felt it immediately in Latvia. Latvia is at the western margin of the vast boreal forest of Asia, the largest forest on earth. But whereas much of that vast forest zone is inhospitable and rather difficult to access, Latvia is welcoming and straightforward. So you get all the excitement of the great forest without the downsides. True, there are farmed areas as well, but the forests in the area of Latvia that Honeyguide visits seem endless. And Latvia is civilised but not spoilt. The roads are good but there isn’t much on them, so there is a real sense of peace.
The part of Latvia we visit has large coastal wetlands. The wildlife is partly Scandinavian in feel, partly eastern and partly continental - perhaps this white stork qualifies for all of these (photos by David Collins). This is a return to Latvia for David having paid a private visit in 2014 (report here). 
Green hairstreaks
"The birds include a wide selection of boreal woodpeckers and other birds, as well as the more typical eastern European species. Perhaps more than anywhere else I have been, it is important to be looking both down and up as often as possible! Down at the woodland flowers and up to look for of migrant birds heading up the west coast of Latvia towards Scandinavia, including birds of prey. The combination of forest, wetland and sea means that there are always plenty of different birds to see and it is one of those places where there is always a sense that the unexpected is likely.
"Perhaps you will chance on a hawfinch or a bluethroat at close range, a golden eagle will fly low over the forest, or there will suddenly be a male capercaillie standing in the middle of the road. All of those things happened to me when I was there a few years back, but perhaps it was the elk that stole the show. We were driving slowly along one of the endless forest tracks and had just seen a hazel grouse. Suddenly we realised there was a huge bull elk watching us from among the trees close to the track. We watched it watching us for some minutes before it made its way slowly off into the forest.”


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