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

This unique peek into bird watching across the Baltics is done in an accessible, comic book format, complete with light-yet- compelling narrative. The characters visit the Baltics for vacation (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), and their first stop is the Lithuania’s captial, Vilnius. During their tour around Gediminas’ Pilis (Grand Duke Gediminas’ Castle), the female character spots unusual birds gathering around which she likens to “crows with gray vests”. These birds seem to resemble mockingbirds to her, although they are not indigenous. Their distinct mannerisms set them apart from other birds, namely the repetitious bobbing of their tails. This little bobbing-tailed bird perplexes the travelers for the remainder of their trip through the Baltics.

She asks a Lithuanian inn-keeper who does not seem to know, then, when in Latvia, asks a Latvian tour guide. A “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 are pleasant and clearly tell the story, even to this reviewer’s liking, without many explanations. Points of interest most notable necessitating the monologue: a stop in Estonia, Tartu, which highlights a 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 fern blossom. This is really an excuse for spending the night drinking with your friends 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 orinthological lesson as it is a charming documentation of a trip to the Baltics.

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