ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2007 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 53, No 4 - Winter 2007
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas

Book Review

E. J. Barnes, Birds of the Baltic: An Ornithological Travelogue. Drowned Town Press, 2005.

This unique peek into bird watching across the Baltic States is done in an accessible comic book format, complete with a light yet compelling narrative. The characters visit the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) on vacation, and their first stop is Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius. During their tour around Gedimino Pilis (Grand Duke Gediminas’s Castle), the female character spots unusual birds gathering around she likens to “crows with gray vests.” To her, these birds resemble mockingbirds, although they are not indigenous. Their distinct mannerisms, namely the repetitious bobbing of their tails, sets them apart from other birds. This little bobbing-tailed bird perplexes the travelers for the remainder of their trip through the Baltic region. She asks a Lithuanian innkeeper, who does not seem to know; then, when in Latvia, asks a Latvian tour guide. “Lapwing” is suggested along the way. Finally, an English-speaking Estonian tour guide, who happens to have on her person a multi-language nature guide, solves the case of the mystery bird – it is a white wagtail. 

The illustrations in this comic book are pleasant and tell the story clearly, to this reviewer’s liking, without many explanations. A point of interest worthy of note: a stop in Tartu, Estonia, that highlights the ceremony of Midsummer’s Eve, or, Jannipaev. Once a pagan sun holiday, it became Christianized as St. John’s Day, a time for men named John (Janis, Jons) to wear wreaths of oak leaves upon their heads. “You stay up all night and go hunting in the woods for a fern blossom. This is really an excuse for spending the night drinking with your friends 73 around the bonfire and rolling in the bushes with your sweetie. It is, after all, a fertility ritual.” This is a fun little comic with heart, as much of an ornithological lesson as a charming documentation of a lively trip through the Baltic States. 

Lina ramona Vitkauskas