Hel. Sea, sands, graas.
The Baltic Sea is probably the closest to us East Bohemian. Not so emotionally, but as the distance, if we count it from us, from Eastern Bohemia. This is not to say that the southern coast of the Baltic Sea are not beautiful. On the contrary. It is very close to the atmosphere of my love Arctic seas from Scandinavia or Svalbard. Especially when you go to him in February, like us. Specifically, we were headed to the Hel Peninsula.
The ports on the Helian Peninsula host very nice visitors from the far north in the winter months. They are Long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis), very striking and contrastingly colored ducks. There are thousands of them right in the port, but also on the high seas or at the mouth of the Vistula River. You will notice their presence long before you see them among the sea waves. From a distance you can hear their melodic, penetrating, but gentle allure, which they constantly hear. Males boast long, black, tail lips. Often only heads with with a black and red beak peek out from behind the waves and these striking tail feathers.
Seaside ports are in themselves a very interesting place, especially for land rats, which we certainly are. Despite this, the industrial environment is very willing for birds to stay here, for whatever reason. It certainly provides them, like ships, with protection from storms and strong winds. It probably protects them from predators here, because, for example, such a sea eagle does not venture into port traffic. Last but not least, it is a source of food. It’s not just an opportunity to make a living from fishing. Many species of small fish also find refuge in the calm waters of the harbor and become easy prey for birds.
But the Long-tailed ducks are not the only Baltic jewels we can find here. Many bird species can be seen at sea level in some way associated with salt or fresh water. It is a bit unusual to see Mute swans (Cygnus olor), well known to us from our Czech ponds, walking along the sea beach or wading the waters of the Helian Gulf. And of course the seagulls. I can’t imagine staying on the seashore without the cries of seagulls. We observed several species. Herring gull (Larus argentatus), Yellow-legged gull (Larus fuscus), Great black.backed gull (Larus marinus), Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), Common gull (Larus canus). Even Black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus), once a common species in our inland waters, look much more romantic above the stormy sea than above the surface of a rural pond.
The waters of the Baltic have chosen many other species of northern ducks as their wintering grounds, which come to the Czech Republic only exceptionally. Very frequent visitors were mainly Velvet scooter (Melanitta fusca), Common scooter (Melanittanigra perspicilata), Scaup (Aythya marila), Red breasted merganser (Mergus serrator). Substantially rarer were species such as the Smew (Mergellus albellus), Razorbill (Alca torda), Red throated loon (Gavia stellata), Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus), Greylag goose (Anser anser), Bean goose (Anser fabalis), White fronted goose (Anser albifrons) and Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis). At a great distance, we were lucky enough to observe a great rarity, a visitor from another continent – the Surf scooter (Melanita perspicillata) from North America.
However, the north winds carried other visitors to the sandy beaches of the Baltic. Right on the sand at the very edge of the foaming waves around the mouth of the Vistula River, a flock of Snow bunting (Plectophenax nivalis) ran and flew among the seaweeds, shells and washed-out pieces of wood. It is as if they are looking for pieces of amber, which the Baltic Sea is spreading in large numbers along the coast these days. Apparently it was a very rich food site, because in an effort to get the best picture, we disturbed them several times, but they always returned only a few meters back to the same place.
While in our country in eastern Bohemia it was cold in February and temperatures ranged between minus five to minus ten degrees Celsius, on the shores of the Hel Peninsula, spring was spoken. Not only the flow, but also the singing of many species of birds. The weather in the spring of April was also recorded. It was clear for a while, overcast for a while, then cloudy for a while. The only steady was a constant wind that saturates the air with sea salt. This is why all the towns on the Baltic coast of the Hel Peninsula are spa resorts. Restaurants, guesthouses, cafes, souvenir shops. It is difficult to catch birds here in a purely natural environment. However, industrial wildlife also has its charm.
And especially with amber. There is an old legend about it on the southern coast of the Baltic. In ancient times, Princess Jurata once lived on the seabed in her amber castle. Perkun was ordered by the sea god to punish the fisherman Kastytis, who caught too many fish from the sea. However, when she saw the fisherman, she fell hopelessly in love with him. God Perkun did not tolerate that she fell in love with a mortal. He unleashed a terrible storm to kill Kastytis. Jurata still managed to save the fisherman, but Perkun punished her to a rock on the seabed as punishment and smashed her amber lock with lightning. Since then, the name “Kastytis” can be heard in every thunder rolling over the sea. And to this day, pieces of a ruined castle – pieces of amber – are washed up on the Baltic coast.