Terrain shapes and bedrock
According to COUNTRYAAH, Latvia is mainly a flat area with a rolling landscape rising to the east. Some more hilly areas occur, among which the Vidzeme heights in the middle part are highest; Gaizin Mountains reach 311 m asl It is moraine hills, partly drum lines, that provide the lively relief. The Latgale heights in the far south-east are another higher moraine landscape (289 m above sea level), which is sea-rich. The Kurzeme heights in the southwest are divided by Vantaa’s wide river valley.
As a continuation to the south of the wide Gulf of Riga, the Riga-Jelgavas plain, a former ice lake bottom with marshes, moors and dunes in the north and fertile soil in the south, is spreading. Other smaller plains are along the straight coasts which are usually sandy but in their places have abrasion steeples in the moraine, mainly in the north within the border with Estonia and south of Ventspils.
The bedrock in Latvia consists of rocks formed during paleozoic with sandstone in the north as well as limestone and dolomite in the south and southwest. The soil is mostly pod sun, but calcareous south of the Gulf of Riga.
Among Latvia’s many rivers that flow into the Baltic Sea, Daugava is marked by the tributaries Aiviekste, Gauja and Venta. Among the lakes, Lake Lubāna is noticed in a stream between the Vidzeme and Latgale heights.
Latvia has a maritime-influenced, warm-temperate climate in the far west, while the eastern, inner parts have a more continental, cold-tempered climate. The humidity is high, which gives a large amount of cloud; only 30-40 days have predominantly sunshine during the year. The rainfall amounts to 600 mm per year in the lowlands, 700–800 mm in the higher parts of the country. The rainfall falls mainly during late summer and autumn; August is the rainiest month. The average temperature in June is about 17 °C and in January −2 °C on the coast and −7 °C in the interior, temporarily considerably colder. The frost-free period lasts 125–155 days per year.
Plant-and animal life
Latvia is a lowland area with many smaller lakes and rivers. The entire 50-mile coast is dominated by sandy beaches, here and there with dunes, and the country lacks coastal islands.
Although forests cover just over half of the land area and mosses and marshes occupy a tenth, Latvia gives a much less wild impression than neighboring Estonia, mainly due to relatively large, small-scale agricultural settlements. However, the agricultural landscape with open meadows, rivers and forest groves is becoming increasingly rare as agriculture is shut down and with an aging population in the countryside.
In 2010, Latvia had four national parks: Gauja, K̦emeri, Slītere and Rāzna, of which Gauja is the largest. In total, there are nearly 700 protected natural areas, corresponding to about 18 percent of the area.
At the bottom of the southwest corner of Latvia lies the bird lake Pape, one of the country’s most famous natural areas. The lake is actually a lagoon of the Baltic Sea and is covered in large parts by leaf reed and ag. To preserve the open meadows, an old horse breed (conic) and a primitive type of cattle have been introduced. A great fence for the wise has also been set up. Among the breeding birds can be seen pipe drum, brown marsh and smaller marsh, but Pape is primarily known as an important site for moving birds and bats. Where the lake meets the sea there is a narrow nose of sand dunes where each autumn about 1 million migratory birds of many species gather. A bird station has been set up and every season many thousands of birds are ringed, but also bats. In the month of August/September, an estimated 8,000 to 45,000 moving bats pass. The most common species is witch bats, which move to France and the Benelux countries for wintering.
In the northwestern corner of Latvia, where the Latvian west coast turns into the Gulf of Riga, lies the national park Slītere. The area is relatively untouched and includes sandy beaches, dunes, forests, mosses and marshes as well as smaller lakes and streams. Wolves, lynx, moose, dormouse and birch mouse is typical, and this is one of the largest colonies of gray seals. Springs, cranes, blackbirds, sparrow, nightcrawlers, fieldpiper and smaller flycatchers are among the most renowned bird species. In Slītere old pines thrivesmedbock, a beetle found in Sweden only on Fårö and Gotska Sandön. Among the kelp and amphibians, there are more and more rare marsh turtles in Europe, as well as hazelnut and stink toad. The National Park is also the only plant site in Latvia for forest grains (Hordelymus europaeus) and trumpet trains (Juncus subnodulosus). At the northernmost point of the national park, Kolka, autumn and our many moving ducks and geese pass with algae, black, mountain duck, white-tailed goose, smallmouth and sable pigas most common species. In the Gulf of Riga, up to 80,000 birds are also wintering.
Within the southwestern part of the Gulf of Riga lies the Engure coastal lagoon, the largest and most important bird lake in Latvia. Large parts of the lake’s surface are occupied by leaf reed, saplings and species in the genus Kaveldun, which creates good protection for many bird species, such as gray-tailed dolphin, black-tailed dolphin, tube drum, egret, brown marsh, small swamp, small-spotted swamp, dwarf gull and black tern. In the surrounding forests, both sea eagles and mountain owls nest.
A couple of miles west of the capital Riga lies the national park Kemeri with a piece of typical Latvian landscape that includes mosses, marshes, lakes, forests and meadows. Among the birds are the osprey, black stork, pipe drum, crane, heather whistle, white-backed woodpecker, medium woodpecker and gray woodpecker. The plants include marshmallows, guckus shoes and frame bulbs. In the forests and wetlands, wolf, wild boar, deer, elk and beaver occur.
Just northeast of Riga is another Latvian national park, Gauja. The Gauja River, which has given its name to the national park, flows through the Vidzema Plateau in the central part of the country before it opens into the Gulf of Riga. In the sandstone slopes along the river there are caves with the country’s second-largest wintering spot for dust bats. In the tributaries, there are still river pearl mussels and the fish fauna is rich with species such as river neon-eyed, brook neon-eyed, stonefish, rhinoceros, salmon and grayling (Latvia’s only occurrence). Crayfishhas some of its few occurrences in the national park. In the nutrient-poor lakes, plants like stiff bream grass (Isoëtes lacustris), walnut flowers and beach dew thrive, and on the mosses and marshes, swamp and the orchid gulyxne grow. Within the national park itself, black stork and white stork nest. Upstream along the river in the protected area of Ziemel̦gauja is one of Latvia’s best double- pitched rooms, as well as good occurrences of barley grain, owl, medium wood and white-backed woodpecker.
In eastern Latvia there are a number of valuable river systems and wetland areas such as Bērzpils, Pededze, Kuja and Teici (with Latvia’s largest high bog) with an interesting bird fauna (including larger screams and smaller screams, double- billed eagle, owl and crane). Here also lies the country’s largest lake, Lubāns. Although the lake is regulated to prevent flooding of the surrounding farmlands are still a lot of birds with nesting Horned Grebe, Bittern, Little Bittern, whooper swan, osprey, eagles, little gull, black tern, beard tern, corncrake and resting Bewick’s swan and smew during migration times.