"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 no fewer than 20 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 Blyth’s 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 we will head west towards Estonia’s premier wetland reserve, Matsalu Bay. It was made into a national park just over a decade ago. Our base for the first four nights will be a quiet and comfortable country hotel.
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. Temminck’s 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 Savi’s 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.
Breeding White-backed Woodpeckers are found in the riparian woodland. 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 Blyth’s Reed Warblers favour the overgrown gardens. Marsh Warblers prefer the weedy field edges whilst River Warblers can be found alongside the meandering streams.
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 may be found close to 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.
Estonia has a long, indented and diverse coastline, with more than 1000 offshore islands. The largest of these is Saaremaa Island which is located in the Baltic Sea to the west of the mainland. The abundance of natural habitats on the island is reflected in its array of impressive flora and fauna.
Saaremaa is reached by ferry, a half hour ride from the coastal town of Virtsu. The ferry docks at Kuivastu on Muhu Island, which is connected to Saaremaa by a causeway. We will have lunch on Muhu, and take time to explore the unique coastal alvar habitats.
We shall stay for two nights on the edge of Vilsandi National Park. Interesting breeding birds here include Corncrake, Caspian Tern, European Nightjar, Woodlark, Red-backed Shrike and Barred Warbler.
Attractive woodland flowers including various orchids will be in full bloom whilst many butterflies and dragonflies will have taken wing. We shall visit the ancient forest meadows around the bays to look for them. Some 36 species of orchids can be found in Estonia. The highlight will be to witness the spectacle of wooded meadows full of glorious Lady Slipper Orchids in bloom.
We will also explore the town of Kuressaare, especially its moated castle. The surrounding woodland here holds many species of bird including Collared Flycatcher.
On day seven we will head back to Tallinn, allowing time to look round the 13th Century old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, before our last night in the country. The next day there will be just a short drive back to the airport for our flight home.
CLIMATE AND PACE
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.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided with four nights at Tuulingu Guesthouse, Matsalu Bay, two nights at Loona Manor House, Saaremaa and one night at the Vane Wiru Hotel, Tallinn. The first two are lovely rural hotels and all are of good standard with en suite facilities.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 27th, ending with dinner on 2nd), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini-bus, ferry to Saaremaa Island, reserve entrance fees, boat trip, and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
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 extra night in Tallinn.
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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