Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Estonia Trip Report, April 2011

Estonia April 12th-19th 2011, Jim Bradley. ice_bear1@hotmail.com

Ice at the ferry crossing


Exploring the ancient forest



Red-breasted Goose at Audru



Pick the bones out of that!


Great-grey Shrike near Spithami.






Introduction.

Estonia is a place of real wilderness, yet easy to explore with the possibility of some cracking birds. Recent literature from both Gerard Gorman and Dave Gosney means that there is now plenty of useful information on birding Estonia, yet this country remains relatively unknown compared to other eastern European states such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Steller’s Eider, Owls and Woodpeckers in early Spring, Citrine Wagtail, Great Snipe, Great Spotted Eagle, Black Stork and Greenish Warbler in May and beyond are just some of the birds you may encounter.


We used Estonian Nature Tours http://www.naturetours.ee/ to help plan and guide our trip. We are a young couple, so did not fancy being part of a tour bus scenario, and were keen to do most of the birding ourselves. We used a guide for one and a half days courtesy of the above company, who in turn arranged a hire car and our accommodation. In hindsight, we could probably have made arrangements independently, but this gave us piece of mind and both guides were very good. Estonian Nature Tours were excellent when it came to planning the trip and organising potential places to stay and birding sites to visit.


Books and DVDs:

'Birding in Eastern Europe' Gerard Gorman

'Finding Birds in Estonia' Dave Gosney. This is a book and DVD pack, both of which are excellent and highly recommended. We used this guide every day without fail.


Logistics.


Flights.

Easyjet fly from Stansted to Tallin, and we booked our tickets January 2011 for around £120 for the pair.


Car Hire.

Estonian Nature Tours organised a Honda Jazz for us at 215 Euros for 6 days. Main roads are tarred and usually free of traffic. Minor roads are what we in the UK would class as a dirt track and need to be driven with some caution. Small settlements and cities are well signposted, and the maximum drive time between large cities was around 2 hours; Estonia is a small country and easy to navigate. However, driving in Tallin is another matter. Signposting is sudden and lanes open and close without one realising.

Petrol is around half the price of what we pay in the U.K (£1.35/LITRE) and stations are common, as are ATM’s. Some stations are self service where you pop in your card before starting, and some are pay at the counter.

We bought a michelin road map from ebay before the trip for around a fiver, and this turned out to be a shrewd purchase in hindsight.


Guided Birding.

Looking back, I am glad we had paid for the guides but that is not to say you have to use a guide to bird in Estonia. We used one guide on the island of Saaremaa from 15.00 to 22.00 in order to secure Steller’s Eider and hopefully some Owls. We used another near Tartu from 06.00 to 18.00 for the forest brding, chiefly in search of woodpeckers. Their local knowledge and expertise was a real help and we enjoyed their company.


Food and Drink.

It would be difficult to be a vegetarian in Estonia. We ate plenty of meat here, even for Breakfast! The various places we stayed at provided a substantial breakfast, often enough to see us through until dinner. This consisted of porridge, cold cuts, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, eggs, bacon, bread and juice. Main meals we ate included pork and beef dishes, chicken and fish. Nothing out of the ordinary as far as we were concerned, and we were well looked after. We both agreed we never ate a bad meal, and some were very good. They like their soup, too. Food was between a third and a half cheaper than what we are used to in the UK, depending on where we ate.



Detailed Itinaray .


Day one- arrival and journey to Roosta Holiday village, near Spithami.

After navigating our way out of Tallin, the roads to our destination on the west coast were fairly good and we were able to stop at a few locations for birds. One route, we saw White Stork, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Black Woodpecker and Common Crane- this all from the car.
At Dirhami, a small fishing port, the bay held large numbers of both Long-tailed Duck and Red-breasted Merganser. Suprisingly no Divers were seen, but a supporting cast of 50+ Goldeneye, singing Woodlark and White Wagtail made up for their absence. I can safely say I have never seen so many LT Duck in one place!

Spithami, futher north, is supposedly a good sea watching point. By the time we had arrived, mist had turned to fog and little could be seen. A few migrants were on the spit, including Wheatear, Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Redwing.

The road (track) from Spithami to the main road held some goodies though; 6+ Common Buzzard were circling, and in amongst the group were 2 Rough-legged Buzzard. We stopped awhile to watch this magnificent spectacle, and it was a good job we did for a Great Grey Shrike made itself known to us, landing on wires.

At Roosta Village itself, we were ideally placed for an evening walk along the beach. Cranes were heard, Woodlark again singing and Goldeneye were at sea. 3 Heron flew past as the sun set, and walking back to our cabin a flock of Bean Geese announced themselves overhead.

Great start, great spot!


Day 2 Roosta- Saareemaa.

We had to meet our first guide at our hotel, west of Kurressaare, at 15:00. We opted to head straight for our hotel, have a sleep, then head out. This meant missing out on Matsalu Bay and Sutlepa Meri, but the former would be visited the following day when time allowed.

Similar birds seen from the car including Hooded Crow, White Stork, Fieldfare and Redwing.

The ferry at Virtsu was a straightforward affair, we arrived around half an hour before departure, queued for a short time, drove on and headed to the top deck.
The ferry journey takes around 30 minutes, and was easily one of the best experiences of the trip. Much of the bay was still iced over, but the patches of water that were clear (around the midway point of the journey) held 100's of both Long-tailed Duck and Greater Scaup. There seemed to be a greater variety of birds on the return leg, including Common Scoter, Smew and Common Eider.

Our guide Veljo met us at the Saaremaa Hotel and we took our car out to the coast. Sorve is a usual hotspot for Steller's Eider, but Veljo directed us to Undva instead. Here we enjoyed good views of c.220 Steller's Eider. It almost goes without saying, but, what a bird! A White-tailed Eagle was calling distantly, and grounded migrants on the beach included Brambling, Meadow Pipit and Yellowhammer.

The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent in the area searching likely looking spots. We came across a flooded field which held c40 Common Crane (an unusually large flock for the time of year, commented Veljo) Barnacle, White-fronted, Taiga Bean and Greylag Goose, drumming Snipe, Whooper Swan, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Pintail and more Buzzard. Classic Estonia. A Black Woodpecker flew in front of the car.

As darkness fell, we tried playback to entice a Pygmy Owl closer. We did hear calling, but no views. Veljo was desperate for us to see something, so we trekked deeper into the forest for Tengmalms. Again no luck, but we did see a couple of roding Woodcock.

We thanked Veljo, who had been not only a great guide but great company, and hit the sack for the night.


Day 3- Saaremaa to Parnu.

Before heading south we stopped at Matsalu Bay and Keemu bird tower on the south side. This was a great spot and we regretted not having time for the northern shore. We saw 2 White-tailed Sea Eagle on the ice, 100's of Whooper Swan, Great-crested Grebe, Wigeon, Barnacle and Taiga Bean Geese. A Herony was a nice sight soon after leaving the tower at Keemu. More classic Estonian birding near Lihula. A flooded field held 4 species of Goose, Whooper Swan and Crane. We pulled up and took a few photos.

Tuhu Soo, mentioned in Dave Gosney's guide, would no doubt be a great site but was totally flooded when we visited due to the snow melting.

Before Parnu, we stopped on the coast near Audru. Amongst the 1000's of White-fronted and Barnacle Geese, we found the bird of the trip- a Red-breasted Goose! We even obtained a few pictures. The hedges and scrub here held Mealy Redpoll, Siskin, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Thrushes. No sign of any Penduline Tit, which can apparently be found here. Maybe we were a little early for breeding activity.


Day 4 Nigula and surrounds.

Headed to 'Gosney's Magic corner' first thing. The snow meant some tracks were inacessible, but we did manage a Hazel Hen, flushed from the path we were walking down. A Grey-headed Woodpecker responded to playback and gave good views. Curlew called and Snipe drummed.

Near Massiauru, were came across our second Great Grey Shrike of the trip, 2 Wood Sandpiper, Wheatear and 2 White Stork's nest.

Nigula Bog itself was a little disappointing. The main boardwalk was covered in snow and the water frozen over. The (by now) usual species were seen, and of note was a calling Middle-spotted Woodpecker heard near the reserve centre.


Day 5 Parnu- Trofee Lodge.

First and only wet day of the trip. Little birding done but we did hear our first Ravens of the trip. Even more pools opening up by the side of the road holding swans and geese.

Trofee lodge was probably our favourite place to stay, although if you have any issues with hunting it might not be the best place for you!


Day 6- Birding around Tartu.

A slow start caused by mist and cold temperatures. Despite the excellent local knowledge of our guide Ivar, we only managed to hear Black and Three-toed Woodpecker at a flooded riverside site near Puurmani. 35 Mealy Redpoll and a Common Sandpiper were the only other birds of note here.

The sun was slow in appearing, perhaps putting pay to any early morning woodpecker activity. Instead, we happened across a Ural Owl on a nest near Laeva. A welcome bird before lunch. We did stop at the Great Snipe lek site at Karevare, but were a little early in the season. No Snipe were seen, but we did see a pair of Common Sandpiper.

The afternoon was some of the best birding we had here, mainly thanks to Ivar. We stopped at a forest track between Laaniste and Joepara, near the river Peravalla. By now the day was much brighter. We had 2 Wood Sandpiper on territory and Ivar spotted a Lynx footprint in the snow. Then, jackpot. White-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker seen well, the former observed at the nest. Just as we clocked the Three-toed, a Tengmalm's Owl began calling from deeper in the forest; this was 16:25!! Pairs of both Firecrest and Northern Treecreeper then put on a show, and Ivar saw a Nutcracker nearby. Northern Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Goldcrest were other birds of note. What a wealth of species! We were all thrilled, and felt rewarded after many hours walking and searching.


Day 7- Back to Tallin.

The drive back produced the expected Geese, White Storks, Swans, Buzzards and a single White-tailed Sea Eagle.

Tallin is a fantastic city and well worth leaving some time to explore here. We ambled round the cobbled side streets, drank beer and wine, and reminisced on an awesome week in the Estonian wilderness.

4 comments:

  1. Amazing beauty and A perfect place for trekking . I read whole blog and really I m impressed. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Brings back memories of a very good trip there some years back, but I found it a nightmare trying to find places ,especially having to map read and drive.
    A very nice read , I would love to go back.
    Brian

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  3. Thanks for your comments Brian. Im desperate to get back out there soon.

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  4. Excellent tour and all the details about are perfect .Thank you for sharing your story .it will help a lot .
    Ilana

    ReplyDelete