Q: Kestutis Zelnys, what was your first reaction when you heard about the plan to fly the whole of the Bewick’s migration route from Arctic Russia to the UK.
A: I follow all kinds of expeditions through the media and my first thought when I heard about this, was “Wow, this involves Lithuania!” I already have experience with a Lithuanian bird charity, using my “Raven” trike to count birds during the winter. I love to fly over sites where birds are nesting, at a respective distance of course, and monitor their numbers just out of personal interest. Also, when I’m flying in thermals I often come across storks and eagles, especially white tailed eagles. It’s a really special moment when they join me and we circle together. I love nature and this kind of project is of real interest to me.
Q: Flight of the Swans aims to highlight how important it is for countries right across Europe and Russia to collaborate. How do you think Lithuanians will respond to the expedition?
A: Swans, storks and cranes and other small birds are highly respected in Lithuania. Nobody would hurt them. It’s only ducks that are occasionally hunted. The additional focus on the dangers these birds face, created by Flight of the Swans, will be of great interest.
Q: How do you think Flight of the Swans will help raise interest amongst Lithuanians?
A: Swans receive lots of support from ordinary people in Lithuania ... I’d say too much on occasions. Sometimes, they feed them in winter and this can discourage the birds from migrating onwards. Swans even get frozen on the ice, if it covers all open water sources. Then the emergency services have to get involved to collect and recover them.
Q: What are the challenges of flying in your country?
A: Lithuania’s landscape is generally flat, with lots of grass and crops; so emergency landings are not a problem, as long as we choose routes that avoid woods and lakes. There are lots of small airfields, dotted around the country, so it is relatively easy to get support if needed. Some power lines have markers to help birds avoid them and it's important to look out for these when making a low pass, or in the case of an emergency landing.
Q: Can you describe the landscapes that we will cross?
A: The landscape in Lithuania is generally flat. A third of the country is wooded and there are over two thousand lakes in the eastern part. The most beautiful places are near the Baltic Sea, especially around the Kurland Peninsula where there are huge sand dunes.
Q: Why have you offered to help out with Flight of the Swans?
A: I fly a weight shift trike, similar to a microlight and there is an unwritten rule among the microlight community that you offer help and support to any microlight pilot that is flying in your area. So when a close friend and fellow micro-light pilot Robert Keene, who is involved in the project, asked for some advice on landing places in Lithuania, it was a great honour to be able to offer my help to such a magnificent project
Q: What part of the expedition are you most excited about?
A: For me, the most important aspect of this flight is for Sacha and her accompanying pilots and ground support to complete the flight safely. So I’ll be very excited and relieved when they finally reach their destination. But of course I’m looking forward to meeting Sacha in person, shaking her hand and offering my sincere thanks for the huge amount of work she is putting in to save wildlife. Good luck and all Gods support to the expedition.
While in Lithuania, Sacha will also be joined by fellow paramotorist Ricardas Matickas.
Ricardas, why did you get involved with this project?
Flight of the Swans is a fantastic idea. Birds are our “wing brothers” and this project will send a really clear message to all Lithuanians about the dangers Bewick’s face and the support they need from all countries along the flyway.
What are you looking forward to most and what will be the greatest challenge?
Lithuania is a great place for flying and I’m looking forward to crossing our woods, rivers and lakes with Sacha. The biggest challenge we will face is the weather, as it can be extremely challenging at this time of year. As winter closes in, the temperature drops, the snow falls and the wind can get quite strong.