late spring in the northern forests and orchid meadows




"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 has become a firm favourite in the Bird Holidays calendar. Having completed an incredible 18 successful tours to this small and beautiful country we are still enthralled by the surprises it has to offer.


More than half the country is still covered in forest and woodlands and much of the rest is made up of extensive wetlands and slow flowing rivers. Where the forests and the marshes end there are numerous small farmsteads. Here the photogenic buildings of all shapes and hues blend into the backdrop of overgrown gardens and wildflower meadows.


The timing of our visit is important. All the summer visitors will have arrived and the forest meadows will be full of orchids and other wildflowers. Our daily excursions are designed to take advantage of this abundance of nature. The air is crisp and clear, full of the scents of the pine, spruce and birch trees which dominate the Siberian-like forests. The Baltic summer may be fleeting but experiences an explosion of life. Long evenings are filled with colourful sunsets, with the calls of Corncrakes standing out amongst vibrant birdsong.


Amongst the forest and bogs we should expect to find some great birds including Ural Owl, Capercaillie, Hazelhen, Black Stork and Lesser Spotted Eagle. Woodpeckers are good indicators of forest health and we should encounter all the resident species. The late spring migrants will have arrived, such as Greenish, Barred, River, Marsh and Blythís Reed Warblers. Estonia's wetlands are situated on the Baltic flyway and are used as a brief stopover for migrants en route to Siberia. All in all this tour will be a wildlife spectacular, a celebration of north-eastern Europe in spring.






On arrival in Tallinn, the countryís capital, we will head south east towards Tartu. A country hotel will be our base for the first three nights of the tour. In the plain of the Emajogi River we will check the marshes for Great White Egrets, Common Cranes, Garganey and Red-necked Grebes which all breed here. The old polders of Soviet times have been reclaimed by nature and provide home to a host of wetland birds. Black Terns and Little Gulls nest on rafts of floating vegetation. Bitterns boom from the extensive reedbeds, whilst the wet meadows resound to the rasping calls of Corncrakes. At dusk they are joined by Spotted Crakes and reeling Saviís Warblers. Over the last 15 years we have seen Citrine Wagtail increase from being a rarity to become a regular breeding species. Marsh Sandpipers also breed here now, and are beautiful in their summer plumage. At times the flocks of feeding Black Terns are joined by their graceful cousins the White-winged Black Tern.


Breeding White-backed Woodpeckers and Penduline Tits are found in the riparian woodland. The latter will be feeding young in their intricate nests suspended from riverside trees. Honey Buzzards display over the forest clearings. Sightings of Osprey and Lesser Spotted Eagle can also be expected. The Black Stork is a rare breeding bird but one or two pairs occur in the surrounding forest. Black Woodpeckers will be active feeding their hungry young. The verdant woodlands echo to the trilling of Wood Warblers and the distinctive songs of both Pied and Red-breasted Flycatchers.

Along the back roads amongst the colourful hamlets singing Blythís Reed Warblers favour the overgrown gardens. Marsh Warblers prefer the weedy field edges whilst River Warblers can be found alongside the meandering streams. A tranquil picnic spot beside an old mill allows us to reflect on a bygone age.


In the evening we will look for lekking Great Snipe which gather in the water meadows where their jousting reaches a climax as dusk falls. This site has also proved to be a good place to observe nocturnal mammals such as Badger, Beaver and Wild Boar. Nightjars and Woodcock are common in the forest near our hotel and there is always the possibility of seeing Ural Owl.



On day four we will head west towards Estoniaís premier wetland reserve, Matsalu Bay. It was made into a national park just over a decade ago. Our base for the next four nights will be another quiet and comfortable country hotel.

Matsalu is one of the most important wetlands in Northern Europe. At its heart is an open coastal bay where the forest gives way to water-meadows and vast reedbeds. In spring the shallow lagoon becomes a vital staging ground for migrant waterfowl. This is a natural paradise for birdwatchers and boasts some 175 breeding species of bird. White-tailed Eagles hunt nervous wildfowl whilst Marsh Harriers quarter the reeds. Displaying Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits join the lekking Ruff in the wet meadows.


In the coastal bays colourful Arctic bound waders feed voraciously in the shallows. Jet black Spotted Redshanks occur alongside two toned Grey Plovers. We shall seek out Broad-billed Sandpipers amongst the tundra bound Ringed Plovers. Temminckís Stints shuffle around the meadow pools whilst displaying Dunlins buzz overhead. One evening we will take a boat trip along a slow moving river to look for Beavers and reedbed birds. Great Reed Warblers are abundant as are Saviís Warblers and we may also spot the occasional Bluethroat.


In the surrounding woodlands and gardens colonies of noisy Fieldfares raise their young. Wrynecks too are common, along with Thrush Nightingales, Icterine Warblers and Hawfinches. Barred Warblers and Red-backed Shrikes nest amongst the juniper scrub. The weedy meadows are full of Whinchats, whilst Common Rosefinches whistle their greetings from roadside copses.


Attractive woodland flowers and orchids will be in full bloom whilst many butterflies and dragonflies will have taken wing. We shall visit the ancient forest meadows around the bay to look for them. Some 36 species of orchids can be found in Estonia. The highlight will be a day trip to Saaremaa Island to witness the astonishing spectacle of fields full of glorious Lady Slipper Orchids.


A short drive from Matsalu Bay will take us to the forested area of Leidissoo. Many of the best birds here are either uncommon or rather shy, so a certain amount of luck will be required to see them. Black Grouse and Capercaillie should be more reliable as they leave their traditional lek sites in the morning. Three-toed Woodpeckers and Nutcrackers nest in the old growth forest where Hazel Grouse too, can be found. Crested Tits and Common Crossbills call from the pines whilst the forest echoes to the sound of feverish Cuckoos.


Estonia is one of the few European countries to retain healthy populations of European Beaver, Brown Bear and European Elk. All are naturally shy and difficult to see, but we have seen all three on previous tours.


On day eight we will head back to Tallinn for our flight home.



Estonia in June can be a mix of warm sunny days and cooler nights, but occasionally it may be rainy. Breakfast will be taken at about 7.30 am. 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 near Tartu and four nights near Haapsalu, both at lovely rural hotels. Both are of good standard and all rooms have en suite facilities. Lunches will be taken at local restaurants along with the occasional picnic..



All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation (starting with lunch on 6th, ending with lunch on 13th), local transport by mini-bus, ferry to Saaremaa Island, reserve entrance fees, boat trip, international flights.



Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.



Return flights from London Gatwick to Tallinn using the scheduled services of Easyjet. Outbound flight departs early morning, with return landing late afternoon. Flights from Manchester can be arranged for a supplement, but may require an overnight in Tallinn.





7 nights:


Principal leader:


Local guide:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

21st February 2016):


Full Cost:





6th to 13th June 2016


John McLoughlin


Margus Pensa


12 clients with one leader

and a local guide


£1590 per person sharing

(£210 single supplement)


£1690 per person sharing


£300 per person


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





Corncrakes give their rasping calls from every wildflower  meadow



A singing male Red-breasted Flycatcher

Old Manor houses are a feature of the Estonian countryside

Penduline Tits nest in riverside willows

The majestic White Stork returns each spring to breed again in their stick nests


A male Red-spotted Bluethroat is a migrant here.

A gorgeous Swallowtail butterfly



 click here to see the photographs in our Estonia Album


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