Estonia - Mammals & Birds - Spring & Autumn
AT A GLANCE
Bird & mammal tour:
mammals, coast, forests & floodplains.
Tallinn (Estonia) – W Estonia – Central Estonia – NE Estonia - Tallinn
a multitude of north central European birds including wildfowl, eagles, woodpeckers, Great Snipe and Citrine Wagtail(both spring only). Potential mammals include Racoon Dog, Siberian Flying Squirrel(spring only), European Beaver, Brown Bear and a chance of Lynx and Wolf.
European spring & autumn, cool to warm.
comfortable hotels and guesthouses, travel by minibus, all rooms with private facilities. Walking mainly on good level tracks.
We ran our first mammals and birds tour to Estonia in 2011 and are now pleased to offer a revised, fully-inclusive holiday exploring coastal marshes, vast floodplains, mires, bogs and primeval forests, where we will search for mammals including Racoon Dog, European Beaver, Wild Boar, Elk, Siberian Flying Squirrel and Brown Bears and enjoy plenty of good birds as well. We have a chance of seeing one of the more elusive residents such as Wolf and Lynx too. Even if we don´t see these animals, we will have plenty of fun deciphering the many mammal tracks we find along the way. Our 2011 trip by the way, did see Lynx, as well as Flying Squirrels, Raccoon Dogs, American Mink, European Beaver, Brown Bear and much more. (see trip report on our website).
In 2014 we once again enjoyed Flying Squirrels, Raccoon Dogs, Bears and a multitude of birds.
Estonian forests are renowned in Europe for their healthy populations of mammals with around 700-800 Lynx, over 150 Wolves, 500-600 Brown Bears and almost 20 000 Beavers – tremendous numbers for such a small country. In all, sixty-four species of mammals have been recorded in Estonia including several European rarities, the most endangered examples being the European Mink (mainly on offshore islands), several species of dormouse and the Siberian Flying Squirrel.
At this time of year avian spring migration is in full swing with water birds returning to their Arctic breeding grounds via Estonia’s coastal marshes. Inland most of the summer visitors are back and starting to breed so our timing and itinerary offers the best of both worlds.
We can now offer Autumn departures of this trip, with a different, but still very impressive suite of potential birds on offer, and most of the mammals which are found in spring too. See the itinerary tab above for full details.
We use the best local, English-speaking guides for these tours.
Potential species (selection only):
Mammals: Racoon Dog, Red Fox, Elk (Moose), Roe Deer, Siberian Flying Squirrel (at dusk 80% guaranteed), Wild Boar (90%), Brown Bear (90%), European Beaver (95%), tracks and droppings of Lynx and Wolves (100%, or even the animals themselves if we are lucky!)
Birds: Bittern, Black Stork, peak spring migration of geese, ducks and waders, Golden Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Hazelhen, Corncrake, Great Snipe, lekking Ruff, White-winged Black Tern,White-backed Woodpecker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Ural Owl, Citrine Wagtail, Savi´s Warbler, Penduline Tit, Golden Oriole etc.
Mammals: Racoon Dog, Red Fox, Elk, Roe Deer, Wild Boar (90%), Brown Bear (90%), European Beaver (in th dusk 90%), tracks and droppings of Lynx and Wolves (100%, or even the animals themselves if you are lucky!)
Birds: Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, hundreds (or thousands) of Common Cranes, White-fronted Geese and Bean Geese, thousands of Barnacle Geese, peak autumn migration of songbirds, waders and waterfowls, Ural Owl, Pygmy Owl, Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Black Grouse, White-backed Woodpecker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Black Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-browed Warbler (probably), Nutcracker, Crested Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Tit, Lapland Bunting etc.
Short itinerary (full itinerary in itinerary tab above)
Day 1 Depart London Gatwick 1035 Arrive Tallinn 1525,transfer to Western Estonia
Day 2 Matsalu National Park.
Day 3 Leidissoo & Põõsaspea, Beaver boat trip.
Day 4 Central Estonia, Elk and Wild Boar safari
Day 5 Toosikannu and Mordama
Day 6 Transfer to North-East Estonia; Bear Hide
Day 7 Birding & tracking; alternative overnight in Bear Hide
Day 8 Return to Tallinn, city tour. Depart Tallinn 1600 Arrive London Gatwick 1655.
1 Tallinn, to West-Estonia
We will pick you up from Tallinn Airport and drive to West-Estonia. We make some birding stops at Taebla and Oru fields (or Vihterpalu forests) before check-in and enjoy dinner at a restaurant (Roosta Holiday Village).
Following our coastal pursuit of migratory and staging waterbirds we reach Matsalu National Park. This is the most famous bird area in Estonia, known as one of the most important breeding and stop-over areas for waterfowl and shorebirds in the whole of Northern Europe. Over 40 sq km, this reserve consists of large open floodplains and coastal meadows, riparian and coastal woodlands, river delta and marshlands and shallow Matsalu Bay with 3,000 hectares of reedbeds, numerous islands and seven birdwatching towers around it. This makes this reserve wonderful as migratory staging place for vast numbers of coastal and waterbirds. Matsalu Bay is typically covered with the white spots of about 10,000 Whooper and Bewick Swans, tens of thousands of Goldeneye, Pochard, Wigeon, Teal and waders. Also, several thousand Barnacle, Bean, Greylag and White-fronted Geese harvest the grass of local meadows and fields. The Matsalu area is also well known as an autumn Common Crane staging area. As many as 20,000 birds gather around the bay and feed in the adjacent fields (peak time is mid-September!).
We will drive to the Puise Peninsula in the early morning and explore a variety of Põgari-Sassi coastal habitats. We also visit Haeska watchtower. The record for the highest day list of bird species in Northern Europe was achieved from this tower in May – 128 species by nightfall. After lunch we drive around in more agricultural landscape where we hope to see flocks of migratory birds - including hundreds of Bramblings, Chaffinches and Waxwings. Besides passerine migration we hope to improve our bird list with several raptors, such as Rough-legged Buzzard etc. When it gets darker, we shall watch from viewing platforms and while enjoying the geese or late Cranes we’ll also look out for White-tailed Eagles, harriers – and Elk. Dinner at the local guesthouse (Roosta Holiday Village).
3 Poosaspea & Haapsalu
We will start from the most north-easterly point, Cape Põõsaspea. This small north-stretching spit is situated at the migratory crossroads where masses of waterbirds coming from the gulfs of Bothnia and Finland meet. Cape Põõsaspea is the best place for autumn passage waterbirds. During one season, nearly 2.5 million Arctic-breeding wildfowl passed this narrow bottleneck, with daily totals sometimes exceeding 100,000. The biggest daily counts here include 8,400 Velvet Scoter, 6,000 Greater Scaup, and over 2,000 Red-throated and Black-throated Divers. Around 300,000 Long-tailed Duck pass the point during the first two weeks of October. Rare waterbirds seen from this location include White-billed Diver, King Eider, Grey Phalarope and Little Auk. Rare or scarce passerines have included Desert Wheatear and Yellow-browed and Dusky Warblers.
After a lunch at Roosta, we will visit Haapsalu town, nearby. This region has many shallow sheltered bays, coastal lagoons, marshlands and reedbeds. The spectacular view from the coastal promenade over Haapsalu Bay can deliver tens of thousands of Goldeneye, Coot, Greater Scaup, Tufted Duck, Wigeon and other wildlfowl, including Smew. Regular distractions include White-tailed Eagles, and Common Cranes, swans, waders and other exciting birds are all present. Later in the afternoon we will take a boat ride through the vast reed-beds in Matsalu, the largest expance on the Baltic coast. Dusk is the time that Beavers leave their lodges to spend an industrious night felling riverside trees and saplings. A little quiet patience is required here, but with luck you are likely to see several individuals going about their nightly construction work and swimming about, with backround sounds by thousands of geese and ducks. We eat our dinner in the boat or at a restaurant (Roosta Holiday Village).
4 Central Estonia
We will move to central Estonia in the late morning. After a break at the guesthouse and lunch we drive around in more agricultural landscape where we hope to see flocks of migratory birds - including hundreds of Bramblings, Chaffinches and Waxwings. Beside passerine migration we hope to improve our bird list with several raptors, such as Rough-legged Buzzard etc. When it gets darker, we will enjoy a mammal safari searching for Elk, Wild Boar, Roe and Red Deer. An open vehicle will help us to get good views of the different mammal species. The area is a mixture of old forest, open clearings and fields. The safari trip passes several feeding stations for Elk and Wild Boar where both mammals can be seen regularly. We also try to get sightings of another nocturnal mammal - Raccoon Dog. Woodlands near our guesthouse hold habitat for little, angry looking Pygmy Owl and stunning Ural Owl (Toosikannu Holiday Village).
5 Toosikannu & Mordama
As woodlands around Toosikannu hold a nice mixture of deciduous as well as coniferous trees then a morning birding is remarkably good for finding several interesting forest birds. Grey- headed, White-backed and Black Woodpeckers, Hazel Hen and Nutcracker are all frequently encountered here. After that we will head to a more agricultural landscape there several interesting birds can be found, such as Great Grey Shrike etc. After a refreshing lunch in a local tourism farm (or restaurant), we will head to a polder area at nearby Pärnu town. Audru is a well known stopover site for thousands of geese. Bean Geese are regular migrants and even Red- breasted Goose are found annualy in this area. Just nearby there is a breeding site for another highlight woodpecker - Middle Spotted Woodpecker. We will return to the guesthouse late afternoon (Toosikannu Holiday Village).
6 North-East Estonia; Brown Bear Hide
After the early breakfast, we will move to one of the most densely forested corners of Estonia - it is similar in appearance to taiga and is called Alutaguse. A large storm in 2001, and forest cuttings after that, have changed the look of this landscape a lot. New forest is the best place to find Roe Deer and Elk who in turn are targets for carnivores. Alutaguse is situated near the Russian border and forms a solid natural landscape through to St.Peterburg Oblast ́s forests and bogs. That ́s why Alutaguse is an area with huge number of Brown Bears and now – after hundreds of years – is also the heart of Estonian "bear culture". There are numerous real-life stories of young bears in human villages but local people still manage to take it with humor and live side by side with bears.
After lunch we have a rest at the guesthouse, then later in the afternoon the local specialist will guide us through the forest (1 km) to the Bear Hide. The wooden hide is cozy, with comfortable seats and viewing slots at the front and beds at the back so you can sleep in the very darkest part of the night or catch a nap. At the far end is a separate dry toilet (wet napkins/tissues provided). Brown Bear can appear at any time during the night (sometimes even before). Racoon Dogs and sometimes even Wolves occasionally visit the feeding place. Last autumn 6 - 10 Brown Bears appeared regularly at this site plus 6 - 8 Racoon Dogs making for some thrilling viewing. We eat a packed dinner at the hide (Bear Hide/Matsu Guesthouse).
7 North-East Estonia – forests (back up Bear Hide night)
You will remain in the hide during the early morning then enjoy some birdwatching on our way back to the hotel. We will visit Western Taiga type forest in order to experience the autumn calling season of resident Black, Grey-headed, Three-toed and White-backed Woodpeckers as well as listen for the calls of Hazel Grouse. We may see Capercaillie and Black Grouse, as well as forest tits, Crossbills and other passerines. Sometimes single Golden Eagles and Buzzards also appear. After breakfast at the guesthouse we’ll catch up on sleep and enjoy lunch. In the afternoon, a local specialist will share with you his knowledge of tracking of Wolves, Lynx and Brown Bear. You will spend the rest of today exploring on foot and by vehicle in one of the Estonian ́s best known Brown Bear regions where you have a slim chance of seeing one of these more elusive residents. Even if you don ́t see any of animals, you will have plenty of fun deciphering the many mammal tracks you find along the way! Later in the evening, we will have an owling session before we return to the hotel or if people are keen to we could have another overnight at the bear hide (Matsu Guesthouse and/or Bear Hide).
8 Tallin and homeward
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 cobble-stone streets & buildings that date back to the 15th century. We have some free time for shopping before we will drive to the airport to catch your homeward flight...
Please note: All itineraries are subject to weather, local conditions and final approval by the relevant authorities.
Dates: Spring 11th – 18th May 2018 Autumn 29th September – 6th October 2017 & 14th – 21st September 2018.
Leaders: Kaarel Vohandu and other local guides.
£1799 per person sharing a twin room
£199 Single supplement
Deposit £350 per person
Group size: 4-7.
Price includes: Return economy class flights London Gatwick -Tallinn, all airport taxes, transfers to and from hotels, accommodation on a full board basis (breakfast, lunch and evening meal) in twin-bedded rooms with private facilities, services of local leader, bird & mammal excursions as itinerary, pre-tour information pack including a day by day bird and mammal checklist.
Flights maybe available from other UK airports, supplements may apply, please ask.
Price excludes: Travel insurance, drinks, tips to local guide and bus driver and items of a personal nature.
Birds - number of species expected (approx.): 140+ Mammals – 15+
Spring: 11th – 18th May 2018
Autumn: 29th September – 6th October 2017 & 14th – 21st September 2018.