Estonia ........ 4th to 10th May 2018
This exciting new spring tour focuses on Estonia’s breeding birds and spectacular migration, visiting the most rewarding birdwatching areas. This smallest and northernmost Baltic country lies on the crossroads of the Eastern Atlantic migratory flyway: Estonia is locked between the Finnish Gulf, the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea and Lake Peipsi near the Russian border. Geographically the Estonian waters and coastline are stepping-stones along the flyway between breeding and wintering areas for millions of Arctic waterbirds, making birdwatching in Estonia fabulous at this time of year.
Thousands of ducks & geese fill the sky and the woods are full of singing warblers and flycatchers. Seven species of Woodpecker can be found in the forests, including Black, Three-toed & White-backed. Early morning drives along gravel tracks can turn up Hazel Hen, Black Grouse and Capercaillie. Flower-filled meadows have Montagu’s Harriers and croaking Corncrakes while the marshes are home to Citrine Wagtails, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers. One of the top tour highlights will be the visit to the best area for lekking Great Snipe. Honey Buzzard, Golden, White-tailed, Lesser Spotted & Greater Spotted Eagles, Red-throated & Black-throated Divers, Common Cranes, Black Storks, Wood Sandpipers, Ruffs, Ural Owls, Wrynecks, Golden Orioles, Bluethroats, Thrush Nightingales, Red-backed Shrikes, Blyth’s Reed & Icterine Warblers, Citrine Wagtails, Penduline Tits, Hawfinches and Common Rosefinches all add to the excitement.
Day 1: Morning Flight from the UK to Tallinn. On Arrival we’ll be met by our local co-leader and then drive to the Hiiumaa Island – the second biggest island of Estonia. We stop en route at Haapsalu to see breeding Slavonian Grebes at the lake. We should be able to see here also our first White-tailed Eagles, Caspian Terns and Garganeys. We continue our birding from the ferry and can expect to encounter nice flocks of Greater Scaup mixed with Long-tailed Ducks and Velvet Scoters.
Overnight - Hiiumaa Island
Cape Ristna and Käina Bay
Day 2: Our first morning in the field is spent at Cape Ristna. It is the best place in Estonia to witness arctic waterfowl spring migrations which peaks just at that time of the year. We will see flocks of Common and Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Red- and Black-throated Divers and some Arctic Skuas passing the seawatching point. We might spot here very last flocks of Steller´s Eiders heading to the breeding grounds or an uncommon, but annual migrant – Yellow-billed Loon. Daily counts can be tens of thousands of waterfowls passing in just few hours time. Beside seaduck we may spot late Rough-legged Buzzards here while the nearby meadows are perfect to look for red-spotted Bluethroats, Red-backed Shrikes and many other species.
After lunch and short rest at the guesthouse we continue birding around Käina bay. This lake with reedbeds and coastal meadows hold good breeding populations of Bitterns, Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits.
Overnight - Hiiumaa Island
Tahkuna & Matsalu National Park
Day 3: We will make short birding at Cape Tahkuna in the morning and will take ferry to the mainland around mid-day. After lunch at Haapsalu we will head to the nearby park to look for White-backed Woodpecker, Wryneck, Hawfinch and Icterine Warbler. After that we will reach the Matsalu National Park which is the oldest Ramsar area in Estonia. At times of peak passage over a million diving ducks have been estimated along the coast here, whilst counts of wild swans and Barnacle Geese regularly number tens of thousands. Selection of waders also takes advantage of the rich feeding grounds; Ruff, in particular, sometimes occurring in great abundance, the males resplendent in breeding finery. Before the evening meal at our hotel at Pärnu we stop en route at the wooded meadow to look for Grey-headed and White-backed Woodpeckers.
Overnight a- Pärnu
Soometsa & Audru
Day 4: Today we will travel out in the very early morning and visit old grown coniferous and mixed forests in order to experience the spring calling of resident Black-, Grey-headed, Three-toed and White-backed Woodpeckers as well as listen the mating calls of Hazel Grouse. We will end our morning session with a delicious picnic lunch at Häädemeeste village.
Before heading for the rest to our hotel we will make stop at Pikla fish bonds. It’s a perfect spot to look for Bearded Reedlings, Savi’s and Great Reed Warblers. Usually few Penduline Tits are also presented here. The coast nearby is stopover site for few arctic waders with some Grey Plovers and Red Knots in breeding plumage.
After a short break we make few hours birding at Audru polder. This is good area to see flocks of the Little Gulls at close range while other nice birds here include breeding Citrine Wagtails, Red-necked Grebes and Garganeys. Overnight - Pärnu
Soomaa National Park & Ilmatsalu
Day 5: After breakfast we will drive to Soomaa National Park where we will spend whole morning. It is the national park which consists of five large swaps surrounded by primeval forests. It is perfect place to fill gaps of the target woodland birds. We will here loads of Cuckoos and Wood Warblers and it will be our best chance to encounter Capercaillies at quiet forest tracks. Winding rivers and meadows are perfect hunting places for the Lesser Spotted Eagles and sometimes Black Storks could be seen here as well. After lunch we will drive to Tartu area where we take a little walk at Ilmatsalu fish ponds area. Here we will see breeding Penduline Tits as well as Black Terns and Thrush Nightingales. Overnight - Tartu.
Järvselja, Aardla & KarEvere
Day 6: Today we will travel out in the early morning and enjoy birdwatching in one of the oldest protected areas in Estonia, Järvselja forest, to see selection of woodpeckers and other forest bird species. Although the size of the primeval forest area of Järvselja is not remarkable it still has significant value. In 1924 it was decided to maintain a part of the intact forest area as a sample of virgin forest. Within a small area the diversity of the woodland is very high. In the southeastern part the most impressive trees grow. They include up to 40 m-high and over 200 years-old giant spruces. Also some huge birches, aspens, lindens, ashes and maples can be seen here. In some places moving around is complicated due to the debris and old tree trunks lying on the ground, therefore a special wooden track has been constructed in the primeval forest quarter.
Afternoon, our itinerary takes us to the vast expanses of Aardla wetlands near a Tartu town. This area with lakes and ponds usually holds a good selection of water birds and we will be hoping for a few surprises. We will hope to find a wonderful diversity of species including Black Stork, both Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Ruffs, Penduline Tit, Citrine Wagtail etc. After a dinner we visit an area known as one of the best spots for Great Snipe in the Baltic before we will drive to our accommodation. (Overnight - Tartu).
Tallinn Old Town Guided Tour & departure
Day 7: We will return to Tallinn by late morning and have a pleasant guided tour of Tallinn Old Town. Tallinn was made a UNESCO World heritage Site in 1997 due to the medieval city centre, the finest in northern Europe, with cobbled streets & buildings that date back to the 15th century. We have some free time for shopping before driving to the Tallinn Airport to catch our return flight to the UK.
Tour ref: AA1802
Single Room Supplement: £180
Leaders: Tarvo Valker & Neil Glenn
Max. Group: 12 plus 2 Leaders
Includes: Economy class return flights (UK-Tallinn-UK), accommodation, meals, transportation in Estonia, entrance fees to reserves and national parks and services of leaders.
Excludes: Travel Insurance, drinks and items of a personal nature.