Estonia – spring wildlife of the Baltic

Late spring on the Baltic is a busy time, with birds courting and the meadows bursting into flower.

This holiday is timed to catch the best displays of one of Europe’s most flamboyant wild flowers, the spectacular Lady’s Slipper Orchid. Other early orchids that we will be seeking out will include Military, Early Purple, Bird’s Nest and Burnt-tip Orchids, Red and Sword-leaved Helleborine.

Along the coast, waders and wildfowl will all be heading north, while the summer visitors, birds like Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Citrine Wagtail, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Common Rosefinch. should all be encountered as they set up their territories and get on with the busy, short-lived breeding season in Estonia’s forests and marshes.

As well as the returning and north-bound migrants, we will 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 Hen; White-tailed Eagles hunt along the coastal wetlands; and we will listen out for calling owls and churring Nightjars in the evenings.

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Along the way, we will also be paying attention to the large mammals of Estonia – Elk and Roe Deer feed on the floodplain meadows of Matsalu National Park, where European Beavers are common along the wooded waterways. The forests of Estonia are famously one of the best places to spot European Lynx, although we would have to be very lucky to have such a sighting. We are more likely to come across Pine Marten, Red Squirrel or the endearing Raccoon Dog.

Dates

25 May – 1 June 2018

Leader

Charlie Rugeroni with local guides

Price

£1,675
Single Room Supplement – £160

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.

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 – Walking out from the hotel, we will explore the nature trails around Altmoisa, where Military Orchid will be in full bloom. Nearby, we head to Silma reserve, a complex of coastal meadows, lagoons and reedbeds where Bearded Tits, Slavonian Grebes, Little Gull and Black Tern will be amongst our targets.

Day 3 – Today will be spent exploring the meadows and marshes of Matsalu, the most famous wetland complex in Estonia. This evening we will take a boat trip on the Kasari River, where we may see both Daubenton’s and Pond Bats hawking low over the water, with plentiful signs of the local European Beavers along the banks, and a good chance of seeing Elk out in the meadows.

Day 4 – This morning we will drive to a species-rich wooded meadow in Laelatu where Lady Slippers, Red and Sword-leaved Helleborine abound, while the nearby broadleaved forest of Puhtu is home to Early Purple Orchid and Bird-nest Orchid.

Day 5 – We will spend the day in the westernmost part of Saaremaa known for limestone cliffs, scenic views, orchids and other rare plants, and encounters with interesting birds. Sõrve peninsula acts as a bottleneck for birds in migration time and hosts an almost permanently manned bird-station, which we will visit to learn more about the birdlife of the area.

Day 6 – Saaremaa is home to the amazing meteorite crater field in Kaali, which we will visit this morning. We will also visit Laidevahe nature reserve, a diverse RAMSAR-listed wetland with lots of inlets, coastal lagoons, reedbeds and coastal and wooded meadows where Osprey, Caspian Tern and Red-necked Grebe are a common sight.

Day 7 – Early in the morning we will visit Nigula Nature reserve – a beautiful bog with mineral islands covered with old-growth forests and bog pools. It is an excellent place for many waders, raptors and grouse. In the afternoon we will visit Soometsa-Rannametsa nature reserve, where amongst the coniferous forests, bogs and heathland we will look for Black Stork, Lesser Spotted Eagle and the spectacular Capercaillie.

Day 8 – We will head west a little way this morning, to visit the fish ponds at Pikla. Here we will listen for booming Bitterns and the wooden song of Thrush Nightingale, while Penduline Tits nest amongst the reeds. Then all too soon, it is time to make our way back to Tallinn for 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 with bath and/or shower.

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 ferry to Saaremaa is a passenger/car ferry. The boat trip on the Kasari River will be by small, open, traditional wooden fishing boat.

The group flights are with Easyjet from London Gatwick.

25 May depart London Gatwick 11.00, arrive Tallinn 15.50
2 June depart Tallinn 16.20, arrive London Gatwick 17.20

It may also be possible to fly to Tallinn from Manchester with Lufthansa via Frankfurt – check with us for options and costs.

Estonia is two hours ahead of UK time.

If you hold a British passport, you do not currently need a visa to travel to Estonia. If you do not have a UK passport, please check with your local consulate.

The weather should be spring like; between 10 and 20 degrees. We hope for dry weather, but rain, wind or cold weather and even snow are always a possibility at this time of year.

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.

Some early starts and/or late finishes may be necessary, to maximise our chances to see the wildlife.