crane migration and rutting elk in this unspoilt corner of Europe




"Thank you for sending your tour report for Estonia, plus a CD. Both good reminders of some excellent birding.

Great Snipe and Nutcracker were my own favourites..".....  Mrs W, Edinburgh


''Just a very brief thank you note for an excellent weeks birding. The accommodation was first class, as was the company, the

over all organisation and the birds seen. Even the leader was first rate (but don't tell him I said so).'' .... Mr M, N. Yorks


''Thank you so much for ensuring we had a really rewarding holiday, great birding, lots of help and venues for birding and hospitality really good.

I think it was one of my best holidays. I enjoyed what we saw of Estonia and found it really interesting listening to Rein's anecdotes

about life in Estonia as well as the Natural History which was superb.'' .... Mrs M, Sheffield


''Thank you very much for looking after us all in Estonia. It was a great holiday, everything from the flights and minibuses to the birds and the food in between.''.... Mrs P, Sheffield.







click here for a pdf version of this destination write-up  -  easier to print  -  no photos



Estonia is one of our favourite places to visit and this year we are offering an autumn tour to some of the best sites it  has to offer. It will be a two centre holiday during which we will visit some of the country’s prime spots for bird migration.


Matsalu Bay is perhaps the most important site on the East Atlantic/Baltic flyway. In the autumn it becomes a staging post for thousands of Common Cranes. Countless numbers of wildfowl are on migration too, including Barnacle Geese, White-fronted Geese and Tundra Bean Geese. These large concentrations of wildfowl inevitably attract raptors and this is a great place to see White-tailed Eagles. Both Marsh and Hen Harriers hunt the marshes and meadows where we have also seen the rarer Pallid Harrier.


The Gulf of Finland is the narrow eastern arm of the Baltic Sea which lies between Estonia and the southern tip of Finland. The massive autumn migration of hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese and swans and tens of thousands of waders and divers is concentrated in this narrow waterway. This is a spectacle which every birdwatcher should experience as a multitude of waterfowl take the flyway from their breeding grounds in the Russian Arctic to their wintering grounds in Europe.


Estonia still retains some 50% forest cover, a good proportion of which consists of old growth forest. Amongst the forest and bogs we will look for Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Black Grouse and, of course, Nutcracker. This typically elusive woodland species becomes more confiding in the autumn. Woodpeckers are good indicators of forest bird diversity and we should encounter several resident species including Black, White-backed and Three-toed.


There are over 500 Brown Bears and an estimated 12,000 Elk still roaming around in Estonia. Autumn is the time for rutting Elk and they become easier to observe when they have their minds on other things! A highlight of the trip will be the opportunity to make an overnight stay in a bear observation hide. Here we have the chance to see, at close quarters, one of Europe’s most impressive mammals, the Brown Bear.





Having arrived in Tallinn we will transfer to our hotel in Rakvere in north-eastern Estonia for a stay of three nights. The forests of the surrounding Alutaguse are proving to be exceptional for watching woodpeckers and grouse as well as for mammal activity. The list of woodpeckers here is impressive and we should see Black, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers. At this time of year Jays and Nutcrackers will be in evidence as they gather food for their winter stores. Capercaillie is a majestic inhabitant of the Western Taiga forest and Hazel Grouse is common. Where there are clearings in the forest, Black Grouse feed out in the open. Along forest tracks the tell-tale signs of passing bears and elk are very obvious.


Crested Tits are a common bird here as is the distinctive borealis race of Willow Tit. Northern Long-tailed Tits with their striking white heads form roving parties through the woods. As the leaves start turning and autumn takes its hold, we will witness the start of the passerine migration from the Baltic. At its peak thousands of common birds, Starlings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Goldcrests, Chaffinches and Bramblings depart for warmer climes.


Other possibilities here include birds of prey such as Goshawk and Golden Eagle, whilst Lesser Spotted Eagles will be moving south. Night birds are always a challenge. However, towards dusk we may encounter Nightjar or exceptionally a Ural Owl. For those who wish, there will be the opportunity to make an overnight stay in a bear observation hide. Here we have a chance to see, at close quarters, one of Europe’s most impressive mammals, the Brown Bear. Raccoon Dog and Red Fox are also regular visitors to the feeding station in front of the observation hide.



On day four we will head westwards to our second hotel, near Haapsalu. It is well situated for visits to Estonia’s premier reserve, Matsalu Bay, as well as for watching migrants moving through the Gulf of Finland.


Matsalu is a Ramsar site and one of the most important wetlands in Northern Europe; a vast coastal bay where forests give way to water meadows, extensive reedbeds and a large but shallow lagoon. The bay provides a staging post for thousands of migrating wildfowl, in particular Bewick’s Swans, Barnacle Geese and Eurasian White-fronted Geese. Amongst them we could also find Tundra Bean Geese or the odd vagrant such as a Red-breasted or Lesser White-fronted Goose. Up to 20,000 Common Cranes gather around the bay and the sights and sounds of their roosting flights is an unforgettable wildlife experience.


We have two days to explore Matsalu. This is the mating season of the Elk which is abundant in the extensive forests. There are several places we know where we can observe these huge creatures grazing in wet meadows. Along the winding rivers we may also spot European Beaver as they emerge later in the day.


On one day we will visit the coast to look for migrating birds passing the north-west tip of Estonia. A staggering one million Long-tailed Ducks pass Spithami and Poosaspea on migration. Velvet and Common Scoters, Goldeneye, Common Eider, and Black-throated and Red-throated Divers all pass through in favourable winds. Migration can be unpredictable, but has the potential to provide surprises. We could hope to see a White-billed Diver or perhaps even a Steller’s Eider or two.


This is also a good place to observe migrating birds of prey as this is the narrowest crossing point in the Baltic. During one of our visits to the area we recorded fourteen species of raptor including Rough-legged Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Osprey, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Black Kite and Pallid Harrier.


The headland here is also an exceptional place to witness passerine migration. This may be in the form of visible migration, when thousands of songbirds can be seen passing overhead. It can also involve grounded migrants that are resting and replenishing their fat reserves before continuing their journey. In the dune slacks and meadows we will search for migrants such as thrushes, flycatchers and warblers. These also attract the attentions of passing Sparrowhawks and Merlins or, if we are lucky, a splendid Great Grey Shrike.


A half hour drive from Haapsalu will take us to the forest bogs of Leidisso. Although forest birds are usually rather shy, we will have a second opportunity to look for Nutcrackers, woodpeckers and Hazel Grouse. This area also harbours Elk and we have made regular sightings of Pine Marten here. Late flying butterflies can be found in the autumn sunshine such as the attractive Camberwell Beauty.


On day eight we will be head back to Tallinn for our flight home. Alternatively, why not extend your stay and spend a couple of days and nights in Tallinn? We can arrange for your accommodation in the heart of the city. The Old Town and other attractions can easily be visited on foot.



On our previous visits we have enjoyed beautiful autumnal weather, with warm days and clear skies. However, this is not guaranteed, and changeable weather with cooler temperatures and rain are possible. Breakfast will be taken at about 8am. Optional pre-breakfast walks will be possible in the vicinity of the hotels. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field and short/medium length walks on the flat will be undertaken regularly. There are no uphill walks.



Full-board accommodation is provided with three nights at the Westenbergh Hotel in Rakvere and four nights at a lovely rural hotel near Haapsalu. Rooms are of a very good standard with en suite facilities. Lunch will usually be taken at a local restaurant, with the occasional picnic. There is an option for one night in the bear observation hide at Alutaguse, with food and bedding provided. We will keep our rooms in Rakvere, so no need to pack and unpack. The hide is fitted with comfortable bunk beds and a toilet.



All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full board accommodation (starting with dinner on 17th, ending with lunch on 24th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-bus, reserve entrance fees and international flights.



Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.



Return flights from Manchester to Tallinn using the scheduled services of Ryanair. Outbound flight departs mid-morning, with return landing late afternoon.




7 nights:


Principal leader:


Local guide:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

4th June 2016):


Full Cost:





17th to 24th September 2016


John McLoughlin


Margus Pensa


7 clients with one leader or

12 clients with two leaders


£1590 per person sharing

(£210 single supplement)


£1690 per person sharing


£300 per person


A ground only price is available. Please contact our office.





Ural Owls are sometimes found with the help of our local guides.




Elk will be rutting at the time of our visit.



Common Cranes migrating south.



Black Woodpeckers are fairly conspicuous at this time of year.



Nutcrackers are easier to find in the autumn.







click here to see the photographs in our Estonia Album



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