Estonia 2017 General Tips

Estonia is a small Baltic country which borders Latvia to the South and Finland to the North. Its Western Coast borders the Baltic Sea.

In 2016 the population was an incredible 1.32 Million.

Its size is probably 1/3 of that of England but with only 1.32 Million inhabitants is very sparsely populated and I’m guessing most of those live in Tallinn.

The whole Western area of the Country is incredibly flat, and we never saw any hills what so ever.

How best to describe Estonia ……….. Take Norfolk, multiply it by 10, remove 90% of its populous and go back in time 100 years and this is the real Estonia.

It obviously suffered greatly under Soviet rule, and the language is 95% Finnish.

Farming practices are old and only small amount of Spraying was seen. Fields range from small meadows to huge plains. The Huge plains only have Common species like Lapwing and Skylark, with the occasional Raptor, whilst the small meadows appear to be more fruitful.

If you think that there is a bird sat on every tree, there isn’t. It can be hard work and like this country don’t try searching for Conifer specialities (Capercaillie etc) without help.

Owls are not possible without help and unless you are truly lucky, you’ll not see any.

Woodpeckers again, you need help but probably April time may be more productive.

The Estonians don’t appear to have much money so there are no Restaurants outside the Towns. You will have to resort to Service Stations for food. Most people speak good English so communication is easy.

There are some really nice Restaurants in Haapsalu, with a Chinese, Pizza place and the pick of the bunch, which is called “Karme Kuulik” which is the first Restaurant on the Right hand side as you enter the cobbled square. The food is excellent and for 40 Euros 2 people could have a great meal and drinks, so its relatively cheap as well as good food.

Petrol is the same number as per in the uk, but its in Euro’s not £’s, so cheaper.

Car Hire is relatively easy and cheapish. Driving on the Roads is easy as most of them are totally empty. I would advise adding a “Sat-Nav” option though as there don’t seem to be any really good road maps ( I tried Amazon etc but couldn’t find anything suitable).

The Roads are either good or Forest Tracks and sometimes you think you are going way off track, only to discover that the tarmac starts again in another 3 miles further along.

Mosquito’s are a real problem. Once the Temperature increased don’t venture into the forests on an evening or you will get eaten alive.

The Temperatures ranged from 12 – 25 Degrees C and if the wind changed the temperature responded to this, quite quickly. We had barely any rain on our 10 day stay, and the grounds and meadows were very dry, so its obviously been dry for a long period.

There is good Wi-Fi within the towns and at the Hotel.

A lot of the properties within the Countryside are Wooden, in need of modernisation and generally with asbestos roofing. Lots of adjoining sheds and barns are in a state of disrepair with roofs long since past their best.

 

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Saturday 13th May 2017

This is a Blog about a birding trip to Estonia.

With no direct Flights out of the North of England to Estonia, we chose flights which were from Durham Tees Valley via Amsterdam and onto Tallinn.

Durham Tees Valley is one of the smallest airports around with only 3 KLM flights per day to/from Amsterdam. You can literally park within 20M of the departure gate and there are no worries about which gate etc as there is only one open at any one time. You do have to pay a premium for using this airport, currently £6 per person.

The shock on departing at Schipol, with Gates galore and no real idea of where we needed to be was all a bit frantic, however we had a hour to spare, so all went well. You need an hour to get across the Airport, anything less and you are going to struggle.

We flew with Lot, which is a Polish Airline, but everything was on time and we arrived at Tallinn around 5pm.

We hired a small car and had quiet a wait to get it resolved due to booking vouchers and the like, but eventually we took delivery of a Volkswagen Polo, which looked only a year old.

Driving out of Tallinn with an old road map and no Sat-Nav was a bit of a challenge, however we were soon heading south towards Haeska where our accommodation had been booked.

Soon the roads cleared to only us on the road and the first thing we saw were Hooded Crow, White Stork and Cuckoo. The Storks nest on pre constructed towers, which appear to be used annually.

The drive on long straight roads with no one else on didn’t take to long and we arrived at Haeska around 8pm.

It remained light until 22.30, however please note Estonia is 2 hours in front of BST so it’s not actually that late.

Managed a walk out before dark and you can see the Baltic Sea from the Hotel.

 

White Stork – Common Breeding bird

 

This is how busy the roads are. Driving in Estonia is easy

 

Sunday 14th May 2017

Throughout the night the constant call of Thrush Nightingale kept up its song, and at first it was great to here but it never stopped all holiday.

So up early and a walk into the Hotel grounds. These gardens are to die for. Over 4 Acres of old deciduous trees full of holes and a bird box on at least 50% of the trees. The current owner obviously has a love of birds, as all the books within the Hotel are Estonian/Finnish “Collins type” ID guides. Within the constraints of the Hotel Garden I counted well over 30 species, probably more over the week, and if you never left the garden you would have a great holiday.

The floor of the gardens are covered in Wild flowers which are just beginning to appear, another month and I’m guessing the meadows will be at there peak.

A walk pre breakfast produced Thrush Nightingale, Wryneck, Robin, Starling, Fieldfare, Nuthatch, and plenty of commoner species. Lots of calls which I wasn’t sure of so I did record a few to sort out later.

Unfortunately the Starlings have colonised many of the holes which Woodpeckers could be using, so a little disappointing not to see what should be a perfect wood for these birds.

At breakfast the dining room was full of Finish, Dutch and Brit birders all chatting and sharing information on what was where and details of maps and bird ID guides were passed around the tables. This begs the question that if you took the birders away there would be no one else staying in the Hotel.

After a typically Nordic breakfast we gathered all the gear and walked the 500M to the Haeska tower. The walk took well over an hour as the Sea Meadows were full of Ruff, Wheatears, Redshank, White Fronted Geese and Barnacle Geese. The Barnacle Geese were right at the end of their migration North and Skein after Skein of the Geese were moving North. Large flocks on the marsh of over 5000 birds were present and when they all took off the noise was incredible. The Ruff were in full breeding plumage and to see these normally drab looking birds in white, black, russet and a mixture of all was great to see.

When we finally arrived at the Haeska tower, which is a wooden 4 story tower, with views over the salt marsh and the Baltic Sea, the area covered is massive. Over 48610 Hectares with Views as far as the eye can see of reed beds and Tundra type grasses, meant this is the reason why Arctic birds stop of here. I’m assuming EU money has paid for all this as there are signs dotted all over the place,  and its impossible to put the size into perspective, however take RSPB Minsmere and multiply it by 10 and thats the area to view.

One of the first birds seen was White Tailed Sea Eagle, which is by far the commonest Raptor in Estonia. The Eagle scattered the Geese and then the waders, but this happened all morning with at least 5 Eagles seen.

Also visible were Arctic, Common, Sandwich and Little Terns, Yellow Wagtail, Ringed Plover plus usual selection of Commoner Gulls.

There is a local cafe which sells Coffee and cake right next door so you want for nothing.

After lunch we headed for Haapsalu which has a beautiful medieval castle in its centre and all the local bars back on to its majestic walls.

From the Castle Gates Wood Warbler, Redstart, Wheatear and Chaffinch which were everywhere.

We walked down to Haapsulu promenade and saw lots of Artic Terns, Gooseander and Mute Swans and continuing along to the lake which borders the harbour.  Within the lake 2 Stunning Slavonian Grebes, Tufted Ducks and Great Crested Grebes and the now obligatory White Tailed Eagle or 4 over the old town.

Finding food in Estonia is fine within the Towns, but move away and there are none whatsoever, so be warned, if you see a restaurant and its open go in as there may not be another for some time, if even at all.

Back to the Hotel and another walk around the gardens produced Wryneck, Redwing, Fieldfare and the local Thrush Nightingale.
It became apparent that Swifts have returned to the area today and brought with them Spotted Flycatchers which now took advantage of the incredible gardens and at least 6 birds were present this evening.

The song of the Fieldfare is totally different from the “tack, tack, tack” we hear in our winter visitors and once tuned in its obvious, as the birds nest within the Gardens and are virtually all over the place.

Haeska Manor Hotel Gardens

 

Haeska Manor Hotel Gardens

 

Haeska Manor Hotel from the stunning Gardens

 

Large Flocks of Barnacle Geese moving North

 

View across the Marsh from Haeska Tower

 

Ruff

 

Ruff

 

Ruff

 

White Tailed Eagle and Grey Heron

 

White Tailed Eagle, Hooded Crow and Grey Heron

 

A stunning pair of Slavonian Grebes from the Lake in Haapsalu which epitomises the beauty of Estonia.

 

Both birds came right up to the shore to investigate, Slavonian Grebes at their breeding best

 

White Fronted Geese

 

Haapsalu Castle

 

This bird I’ve struggled to identify. To Start with I was convinced it was Lesser Whitethroat, then I changed my mind, changed it again and ended up still with Lesser Whitethroat. If you have any thoughts, please let me know.

Monday 15th May 2017

Puise and the surrounding area

Woke up to drizzle and light rain, which subsequently stopped after Breakfast and the day brighten up to be a cool but gorgeous day.

Within the Hotel garden White Backed Woodpecker, Wryneck, Pied Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, Thrush Nightingale and Spotted Flycatcher were all seen. Walking down to Haeska Tower and the surrounding area, with Barnacle Geese still moving North, White Tailed Sea Eagle, Hooded Crow, Raven, Arctic Terns, White Fronted Geese and lots of Ruff. We spent the whole morning at the Tower and its such a magical place there is always  something new to see. This morning it was Little Terns that put in an appearance, and the first sightings of Elk on the far side of the Marsh.

After lunch we headed off to Puise, which is a migration hotspot. Passing thousands of Barnacle Geese on the way. We arrived at the point to find a few Finish birders who were obsessed with counting the Barnacles. They already had over 60 Thousand past by mid afternoon and the numbers were increasing.

On the Baltic Sea large rafts of Scaup were seen and on the shore line Yellow Wagtails, Linnets, Ringed Plovers and Redshank. Arctic Terns were hunting close in the tiny harbour, diving for tiny fish and the range of Yellow Wagtails were nice to see, particularly the Blue Headed race.

Tiny freshwater ponds on the road back were full of Wood Sandpiper and Yellow Wagtails. These were passage birds and probably heading to the Arctic Breeding Grounds.

Returning from Haapsalu we called in at an area near the Sewerage Works and heard the first of many Savi’s Warbler, reeling in the reeds. Also present were Marsh Harrier and White Tailed Sea Eagle.

Back towards the Hotel and checked out a very tiny pond which allegedly held a pair of Slavonian Grebes. However, there were only Goosanders on the lake and met 3 birders from Driffield who we had a good chat with.

An evening walk on to the Sea Meadows again produced large flocks of Barnacle Geese, White Fronted Geese, Ruff and a few Common Cranes. There are no hedges in Estonia, assuming the cold stops them growing, however all the fields have borders with Electric Fences and ditches. These ditches were literally full of Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Curlew, Dunlin and Common Sandpiper and unlike in this country they only fly off a few Metres and land again.

The evening light is always brilliantly bright and clear, so if you like photography evenings are easily the best time as the colours are stunning.

 

White Backed Woodpecker in the Hotel Garden

 

White Backed Woodpecker

 

White Backed Woodpecker

 

2 Common Cranes flying over the Salt Marsh to Roost

 

Distant Shot of an Elk

 

The Baltic Sea

 

Icterine Warbler

 

Lesser Whitethroat. Quiet accommodating and photogenic, unlike our birds which skulk in the Hedge

 

Scaup in huge Rafts ready to move North

 

Ruff

 

Meadow Pipit

 

♂ Marsh Harrier

 

Both ♂ and ♀ Linnets

 

 

The Windmill on the road to Puise. From a bygone era.

 

Yellowhammer, which are quite common in Estonia

 

Thrush Nightingale which were everywhere in Estonia

 

Yellow (Blue Headed) Wagtail and Pied (White) Wagtail

 

White Fronted Geese and Ruff

 

Wood Sandpiper

Tuesday 16th May 2017

Matsalu and surrounding area

Tuesday was undoubtedly the best day of the trip, and a visit to Matsalu National Park, which is directly opposite Haeska area, but at least a 30 minute drive. The Park has a Visitor area with English speaking staff and an Information centre all focused on Birds and Nature. We watched a lovely video on the Birds of Estonia across the year and is well worth watching.

Various school trips with different age Estonian children were visiting the Park and hopefully they appreciate just what a jewel they have here.

There is a lovely 5Km circular walk, which takes in the Tower and the meadows. Today the temperature was starting to increase and suddenly sun-tan lotion was needed.

Starting out White Storks were seen nesting on the Buildings and then we followed the trail which passed along the small river. Over 100 Wood, Green and Common Sandpiper were flitting up and down the River, whilst the meadows were full of Yellow Wagtails.

On reaching the Tower and climbing up to the top you are presented with a massive Reed Bed, the likes of which I’ve never seen before and suddenly the Reed Bed specialities started to appear.

Marsh Harriers were everywhere and then the local beauties, the Montagu’s Harriers appeared. These birds, although a little distant hunted across all the Marsh and 2 males and females put on a real show. Raptor wise Kestrel and White Tailed Sea Eagle were also present and a single Corncrake and Bearded Tit was heard.

After lunch we walked through the meadows back to the Centre and White Stork, Cuckoo, Willow Tit, Common Crane, a female Monties direct over our heads and the stunning ♂ Blue Throat.

This area alone you could spend days in as its such a stunning place.

Adult ♂ Bluethroat. A stunning looking bird and truly memorable

 

Adult ♂ Bluethroat

 

Adult ♂ Bluethroat

 

Adult ♂ Bluethroat

 

Probably one of my favourite birds and one that is still relatively common in Estonia, the enigmatic ♀ Montagu’s Harrier

 

Lapwings were not as happy as me to see the Montys

 

♀ Montagu’s Harrier

 

Last of the Barnacle Geese heading North at Sunset

 

Wood Sandpiper

Wednesday 17th May 2017

Poosi, Lao and surrounding area

Wednesday was probably the coldest day of our holiday here, but it was dry and good visibility. We drove off to Lao hoping to find Citrine Wagtail in some small ponds which I’d got some older information on. We found the ponds but only Slavonian Grebe and Goosander were seen and no Wagtails at all.

Onto Lao, which is a tiny ferry village and finally managed to see Long Tailed Duck (the only one I saw all holiday) and Common Scoter on the sea. Wader wise Spotted and Common Redshank and Ringed Plover.

After lunch we called in on a large open area of Water which promised so much. However it totally failed to deliver as only Great Reed Warbler was heard. The only Grebes were Great Crested and despite scanning the whole lake, no Osprey or any other Raptor were seen.

Called in at Matsalu Meadow Tower and lots of White Tailed Eagle, Common Crane, Hooded Crow and 2 Great White Egret were seen.

The evening was a little damp and walking down to the meadows, still had good numbers of Ruff and different Sandpipers, but noticeably the Geese numbers were down from Thousands to only a handful, so the Migration North was now almost complete.

Common Crane

 

Great White Egrets

 

Hooded Crows are everywhere and very common

 

♂ Marsh Harrier, very common on the Reed Beds

 

♂ Marsh Harrier

 

The Stunning ♂ Montagu’s Harrier. Quite easy to see hunting over the Reed Beds or Meadows

 

Slavonian Grebe from the Pools

 

Wryneck – A breeding bird from the Hotel Garden

 

Thursday 18th May 2017

Nova and surrounding area

Temperatures were now starting to warm up and low cloud started to burn off from late morning.

A visit to Nova area was particularly quiet as the area is only reached via poor roads deep in conifer forests.

As per back home these conifer forests don’t support too many species and to be honest was not worth the drive up there. I did see Chaffinch, Siskin and Crossbill, and thought I saw a Black Woodpecker fly in front of the car, but the specialities of the forest remain deeply hidden.

We did manage a walk around the stunning Castle in Haapsalu, where Wood Warblers sing in the old trees around the perimeter and Wheatear breed in the Stone walls. This 13th Century Castle is a wonderful place and is in very good condition. It is the centre of the town of Haapsalu and is easily reached from the town centre as it dominates the town.

Back at the hotel and an evening walk to Haeska Tower showed only a few Barnacle Geese, Common Crane, White Tailed Eagle, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Arctic Tern.

Common Crane

 

Grey Plover

 

Haeska Area, viewing across the Salt Marsh from the Tower at Dusk

 

♀ Montagu’s Harrier

 

2 Whooper Swans that hadn’t yet moved North to breed

 

Mute Swans

 

Wood Sandpiper. Interestingly the bird at the rear, although identical to Wood Sandpiper has a slightly curved bill.

 

Haapsalu Castle

 

Haapsalu Castle

 

Haapsalu Castle

 

Haapsalu Castle

 

White Tailed Eagle

 

White Tailed Eagle – Commonest Raptor in Estonia

 

White Tailed Eagle pursued by a Great Black Backed Gull

 

Lesser Spotted Eagle

 

 

Friday 19th May 2017

Parnu and surrounding area

The weather has now changed from warm to hot and temperatures of 24 Degrees were the norm.

A visit to Parnu and the surrounding area resulting in getting lost in Parnu and heading back on the route we started out on. We came across a huge Reed Bed east of Parnu, but this was really disappointing as only 1 White Tailed Sea Eagle a few Black Headed Gulls and lots of Grey Heron were all that were seen.

We ended up at the large metal Tower at Matsalu. You can’t help thinking of this tower being used as something more sinister in the Soviet times as it looks many years old.

We were rewarded with a ♂ Montagu’s Harrier hunting over the local meadow for at least 15 minutes allowing a close view of this majestic bird.

One thing I noticed was there is a lot of fishing going on in the area and quite strangely some of the Fishermen had obviously got caught of the local uninsulated overhead power lines. Assuming they were High Voltage and a wet line I’d like to know how they managed to still be here?

Back to the birding and lots of Yellow Wagtail and Whinchat in the area, with Common Crane, Savi’s Warbler and White Stork close to the River.

On the way back to the Hotel we saw a Lesser Spotted Eagle perched on an Electricity Pole. The Finish birders who claim Lesser Spotted Eagle is a garden tick, confirm that both Lesser and Spotted Eagles inter breed, therefore identification is impossible.

The evening visit to the Haeska Tower did produce 3 Caspian Terns and 2 Whooper Swans, but were very distant and only scope views were used to identify them.

 

Common Buzzard

 

High Voltage and wet fishing line. Not a great combination. No Health & Safety here !

 

Fisherman’s Hut

 

This picture gives the impression that the ♂ Montagu’s Harrier is a bulky large bird. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Its narrow wings and bouncy flight makes it appear like a large Kestrel.

 

♂ Montagu’s Harrier

 

♂ Montagu’s Harrier

 

View from Tower over looking Forest, East of Parnu

 

Blue Headed Wagtail

 

White Stork

 

On an Evening all the Ruffs would congregate in the centre of the Meadow