ESTONIA May 19th to 22nd
Dave and I met up with Richard (Dave’s brother) and Tony at Stanstead Airport and after a two hour flight we arrived late morning at Tallin, Estonia on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea for our short birding break to this small country. Estonia has a varied landscape of lakes, ponds, streams, marshes, meadows as well as being heavily forested plus a coastal area of sheltered bays, islands and islets.
Richard and Tony had been to Estonia in April last year so new the ropes and it was not long before the hire car was heading south for Tartu with shouts of what’s that every kilometer and the overcast conditions that had greeted us on landing was soon replaced by sunshine which stayed with us for the rest of the break.
Having already seen roadside Hooded Crow, Fieldfare, Crane, White Stork, Marsh and Montague’s Harrier our first stop too stretch our legs was alongside the shore of Lake Paunkula Veehoidla where we enjoyed Hobby, Crane, Whooper Swan, Lesser-spotted Eagle, Grasshopper Warbler, White Wagtail, Wigeon, Thrush Nightingale and Common Sandpiper.
We continued on till we reached Jurikula near Purmani Alam-Pedja a flood plain next to the river alive with bird song where we had Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Thrush Nightingale, Garden Warbler and Yellow Wagtail in just a short walk. Also present were 3 calling Corncrakes that sounded close but were probably miles away and the lush flower meadows held Brimstone, Peacock, Green-veined White butterflies and Treble Line, Red Twin-spot Carpet moths.
Common Rosefinch by Richard Cox
Arrived at the hotel Kantrey on the outskirts of Tartu early evening so once cleaned rested and fed we were out again to Karevere for the Great Snipe lek. We had two flying around in front of us on our arrival at 9pm and one on the deck scoped in good light at 9:30pm as it walked through the grassy marsh in front of us with others heard as the light faded. While watching the Great Snipe there were 3 Green Sandpiper singing, Hobby hunting and the now usual Fieldfare, Thrush Nightingale, White Stork and Crane. Animals included 5 adult with a total of 21 young Wild Boar and 2 Roe Deer while the woodland ride produced Woodcock and 3 Noctule size bats.
Though day light was at 4am we decided 5:30am was earlier enough to be up for a pre breakfast look at the extensive wetlands around Aardla which was full of activity with Red-necked Grebe, Whooper Swan, Garganey, Citrine Wagtail, Blue-headed Wagtail, 20 Yellow Wagtail, Marsh Harrier, 40 Black Tern, 68 White-winged Black Tern, 30 Little Gull, 3 Raven, Wood Sandpiper and an immature White-tailed Eagle which caused chaos as it finished off a meal on the ground before flying off. Plenty of commoner species present so we could have stayed longer but wanted to look at the fishponds at Ilmatsalu before heading west for the coast so it was back to the hotel for breakfast.
On arrival at the fishponds 3 Great White Egret flew over as we walked the birding trail which was full off warblers singing. Highlights here had to be the nesting Penduline Tits with there amazing hanging nest with its double entrance, 4 Lesser-spotted Eagle, immature White-tailed Eagle being mobbed by a Black-tailed Godwit, Great Reed Warbler and other species included Thrush Nightingale, Whinchat, Garganey, Common Rosefinch. Good for butterflies here with 10 species seen including Green Hairstreak and Map.
Penduline Tit by Richard Cox
Continuing our journey west we checked out Parnu cemetery finding many Spotted Flycatchers, Pied Flycatcher, Nuthatch, Redstart, and what turned out to be the first of very few sightings of Blue Tit and Robin on the trip.
Finally arrived at hotel Altmoisa less than a kilometer from Tuuru Bay on the west coast which was impressive and it wasn’t long before we found out they served good food and beer. Late evening stroll to Tuura Bay along the boardwalk produced Barnacle Geese, Grey Plover, Curlew, Goosander and Greylag new for the trip but the star was the immature male Moose wandering towards us through the coastal brush.
Early morning walk to Tuura Bay with Marsh Harrier hunting the field next to the hotel and last nights Moose in scrub opposite the hotel entrance. The coastal marsh and scrub were full of Whinchat, Linnet, Thrush Nightingale, Common Rosefinch and Whitethroat with at least 3 Cuckoo’s in the area. The bay its self had many Goosander, Grey Plover and a party of Little Stint, 49 Barnacle Goose while across the bay over the distant marsh and forest there were at least 6 White-tailed Eagles including an adult.
More good food then out to a search the bays and bushes of a headland near the villages of Puise & Puisenina with 100+ Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Garganey, 10 Whooper Swan, Grey-headed Wagtail, 2 Honey Buzzard, White-tailed Sea Eagle, Raven, Jay, Common Rosefinch, Thrush Nightingale to mention a few. Also Large Tortoiseshell and Map butterfly’s seen.
We then headed for the village of Vonnu on one of the many tracks in the surrounding forest and at a stop near Rohense we found Redstart, Pied flycatcher, Icterine Warbler, Wood Warbler, Marsh Tit and Wood White.
The village pond at Vonnu was visited twice with Wryneck, Slavonian Grebe, pair Garganey, 10 Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Sparrow, Sparrowhawk, grey phase Tawny Owl, Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Corncrake, Fieldfare, Pied Flycatcher and Common Rosefinch.
The reason for two visits to Vonnu was so we could break off for tea and cakes in the nearby town of Haapsalu which were superb before visiting the local sewage works with Yellow Wagtail, Reed Warbler, Water Rail, Hooded Crow and Raven.
Our evening walk gave us a singing Greenish Warbler plus 50 Barnacle and 10 Greylag Geese heading for Tuula Bay.
Our last early morning walk before breakfast around the hotel area brought us Great Grey Shrike, Black Grouse calling, Grasshopper Warbler, Wryneck, Icterine Warbler, Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Whinchat, Wheatear and Common Rosefinch among the usual fare.
Once fed and the car packed we still had a few sites we wanted to visit before heading back to the airport for our evening flight with the first being Purksi an extremely large reed bed where we had booming Bittern, Hobby, nesting Black-necked Grebe, Garganey, Pochard, Red-necked Grebe, Crane, White Stork, Great Reed Warbler, Reed Warbler, Little Gull, Snipe, Savi's Warbler and 3 raptors soaring in the distance and stayed on one that flew closer showing its headlights – Booted Eagle some way off its normal range.
Haversi gave us a summer plumage Black-throated Diver, Hobby, Common Scoter and Red-backed Shrike and as we tried to find our way back to the main road a possible Grey-headed Woodpecker flew off the forest floor and promptly disappeared.
Dirhami harbour had 4 Long-tailed Duck while off shore there good numbers of duck heading west, mainly Common Scoter and Eider although the adjacent pinewood was quiet accept for Green Hairstreak, Swallow-tail and a large fritillary species before we moved on to the other side of the bay at Spithami which had hundreds of Eider, 30 Velvet Scoter flying past close in and many rafts of Common Scoter also Tree Pipit, Artic Tern, Goldeneye and Montagu's Harrier feet away from the car.
Our next stop along a forest track at Spithami - Rannakula added Crested Tit and Golden Eagle to our list.
Our flight back gave us time to tot the totals up and we had managed to see or hear 149 species of bird, 14 butterflys including Camberwell Beauty, 7 species of moth, 6 species of dragonfly and 5 species of animal so it was a well worth trip with many thanks to Richard for driving but not his jokes and Tony for navigating us down some memorable tracks safely and his knowledge of bird songs.