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Estonia – easy birding of the Baltic spring

A week on the Baltic, during the peak of the north-bound bird migration.

This holiday is timed to catch the best of the north-bound bird migration, through one of the busiest flyways in Europe. Thousands of geese, cranes, sea ducks, waders and passerines head north and east along the Estonian coastline, stopping to feed in the sheltered bays and coastal forests. The summer visitors will be arriving to breed in Estonia’s forests and marshes. Birds like Thrush Nightingale, Citrine Wagtail, Common Rosefinch and Icterine Warblers should all be arriving and setting up territories.

As well as the returning and north-bound migrants, we will also be looking for some of the resident bird species of the extensive forests and wetlands of Estonia. All nine species of northern Europe’s woodpeckers will be drumming and calling; quietly driving the forest tracks may bring us encounters with Capercaillie and Hazel Grouse; Whitetailed Eagles hunt along the coastal wetlands; and we will listen out for calling owls in the evenings.

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We will visit a Black Grouse lek, and (conditions permitting) spend an evening at the display grounds of Great Snipe, where we will try to catch a glimpse of their bizarre courtship dance at dusk.

We will also be paying attention to the mammals of Estonia: Elk feed on the meadows of Matsalu National Park, where European Beavers are common amongst the wooded waterways, while Grey Seal and Baltic Ringed Seals haul out at favoured spots around Hiiumaa island. Our holiday ends with a guided tour of the attractive medieval city of Tallinn, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Wildlife Travel Danube Delta 2018

Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.

Dates

26 April – 3 May 2020

Leader

Mike Symes

Price

£1,770

Single Room Supplement – £140

Included

Return flights from London Gatwick to Estonia. Local transport on excursions as specified in the itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation, all meals.

Not included

Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.

Group size

Minimum 6, maximum 14.

Day 1 – Our flight takes us to Tallinn from where we travel to western Estonia and the extensive coastal meadows and floodplain forest and wetlands of Matsalu National Park.

Day 2 An early start to visit a Black Grouse lekking ground, before we spend the morning visiting the Põõsaspea Peninsula, one of the best spots in Estonia to observe the migration of Arctic waterfowl, passerine and raptors as they make their way north up to Finland and Arctic Russia. After lunch, we head to Silma reserve, a complex of coastal meadows, lagoons and reedbeds.

Day 3 Today is spent exploring the meadows and marshes of Matsalu. From the viewing towers, we watch cranes and geese gather before their last push on to the north, paying particular attention to the goose flocks just in case the rare Lesser White-fronted Goose is present. This evening we take a boat trip on the Kasari River, where we hope to see both Daubenton’s and Pond Bats hawking low over the water and where the antics of the local European Beavers should entertain us before we return for a late dinner.

Day 4 We take a day trip across to Hiiumaa island. From the ferry, we look out for migrating seaducks: Common and Velvet Scoters and Long-tailed Duck sometimes pass in enormous numbers. These waters are also home to the southernmost population of the otherwise-Arctic-dwelling Ringed Seal. We will visit Käina Bay, a great feeding and nesting spot for various wildfowl and waders, which may draw in a passing White-tailed Eagle.

Day 5 We bid farewell to Haapsalu and drive south towards Soomaa National Park. Along the way we spend time in good habitats for Lesser Spotted Eagle and Montagu’s Harriers. Sooma includes the largest intact peat bog system in Europe, along with areas of forest, and it is here that we will look for Pygmy and Ural Owls this evening.

Day 6 We  spend today exploring the bogs and marshes of Soomaa, home to nesting Wood Sandpiper, Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Whooper Swans and Common Cranes. At our feet we will find Cranberry, Bog Bilberry, Cloudberry and the sweetly smelling Labrador Tea. A system of boardwalks and raised towers take us through this threatened habitat.

Day 7 We head west a little way today, to visit the area of Pikla. Here we listen for booming Bitterns, reeling Savi’s Warbler and the wooden song of Thrush Nightingale. Penduline Tits nest amongst the reeds and willows, while other migrants in the trees and marshes could include the smart Citrine Wagtail. In the evening we will visit the display grounds of the Great Snipe. These shy birds gather together to lek, the males performing a strange chestpuffing, wing-flapping display and clicking song as dusk falls, and we will do our best to be able to watch and/or listen to the display before it gets too dark.

Day 8 – This morning we make our way back to Tallinn for  a tour of the attractive old town before our flight home.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders. 

All rooms have en-suite facilities. Meals provided during the stay will have an emphasis on local cuisine. Lunches will be a mixture of picnics and café/restaurants. Requests for special diets can be accommodated.

Transport will be by small bus or smaller ’people carrier’-type vehicles if necessary. The boat trip is by punt-like open, traditional wooden fishing boat.

The group flights are with Easyjet from London Gatwick.

26 April Depart London Gatwick 12.10, arrive Tallinn 17.00
3 May Depart Tallinn 17.35, arrive London Gatwick 18.35

Estonia is two hours ahead of the UK

It is also possible to travel to Tallinn from Manchester, flying with Lufthansa via Frankfurt. Ask us for details and costs.

You must have a valid passport for this trip (recommended valid for at least six months after the end of the holiday). Visas are not required by holders of British and European Union Passports. For holders of other passports it is essential that you check with the Estonian  embassy or consulate and obtain the necessary documents prior to travel.

The weather should be spring like, between 5 and 15 degrees, although significantly colder or warmer conditions are always a possibility, along with rain, wind or even snow.

On most days, we are out and about for much of the day, albeit walking a relatively slow pace and making several stops each day. It is necessary to walk on rougher ground and up some slopes, although none of the walking is strenuous. Walking boots are essential. There are steps at our hotels, with no lift, as well as up/down into the vehicles and boats. One or two early starts and/or late finishes may be necessary, to maximise our chances of seeing the special wildlife that we have come to Estonia to enjoy.