Estonia is the smallest of the three Baltic states and with a population of only 1.3m, the least populated. Almost half the country is forest with large peat bogs and areas of low intensity agriculture making up much of the rest of the countryside. Approximately 10% of the country is protected in some way through a network of national parks and nature reserves. Unsurprisingly it is a country rich in wildlife with good populations of European brown bear, wolf, lynx, elk and beaver. Almost 400 bird species have been recorded, some in enormous numbers thanks to Estonia’s position on the East Baltic migration flyway – in some places up to one million birds have been recorded passing through in one day.
This tour is timed to coincide with the peak autumn migration when thousands of wildfowl, raptors and other birds are passing through Estonia on their way south. We will explore a a selection of forests, peat bogs, wetlands and of course the Baltic coast, both on foot and by boat to give us the best opportunities of seeing a good selection of species. There will also be opportunities to search for beaver and elk. Accommodation will be a mixture of comfortable hotels and rural guesthouses in the heart of the Estonian countryside, There will also be opportunities to explore the cities of Parnu and Tallinn.
Katie Lloyd & Tim Coleshaw
The climate of Estonia is temperate, with cool summers and cold winters.
Temperatures in September are likely to be between 10-15◦ C. Rainfall averages 700mm or 28 inches per annum distributed fairly evenly through the year.
Easy. Whilst we will explore on foot for part of each day, all of the visits are fairly level and only one walk (8km) will be greater than 5km. Depending on the weather some walks may be damp underfoot.
Arrive in Tallinn. Depending on the arrival time of your flight there may be time to explore the historic Old Town of Tallinn in the afternoon. Evening meal at one of Tallinn’s most popular restaurants. Overnight at a comfortable hotel in Tallinn.
Leaving Tallinn we will head west along the coast visiting some of the headlands where large numbers of sea duck will be passing through at this time of year. Likely species will include greater scaup, long-tailed duck, velvet scoter and common eider. After lunch in Haapsalu we will continue round the coast visiting headlands and bays, eventually arriving at Parnu where we will overnight in a hotel.
This morning we will continue down the coast towards the Latvian border and the Kabli bird station. This is sited at one of the most important concentration points for migrating birds, particularly passerines, and each autumn many thousands of birds are caught here in mist nets and a Heligoland trap and ringed. We will hopefully have an opportunity to meet the ringers and see some of the birds at close quarters. After lunch we will move on to Nigula bog which is a good site for common crane, soaring raptors and several species of woodpecker. In late afternoon we will move on to our overnight accommodation at a farm guest house on the edge of Soomaa National Park where you also have the option of taking a Russian sauna!
Soomaa (the land of mires) is a national park of enormous, pristine peat bogs separated by forests and meandering rivers. Birds present in this area include hazel hen, black grouse and western capercaillie although these can be hard to find in the middle of the day. Mammals include brown bear, wolf and lynx which are all shy and rarely spotted but we will have a good chance of seeing evidence of elk and beaver, On our 1st day in Soomaa we will spend most of our day on foot, exploring the forests and river valleys. We will see what an important role beaver play in shaping a landscape for the benefit of other wildlife and should see a good variety of forest birds. After dinner at our guest house there will be an optional evening trip looking for owls and nocturnal mammals.
On our 2nd day in Soomaa we will be joined by a local guide and will hear about the history and culture of the area. We will be taken on a bog-shoe walk across part of the largest peat bog in Estonia (bog shoes will be provided!) where we will see many plant species which are either rare or absent in the UK, including bog rosemary and marsh Labrador tea. If the weather is good we should also have a good chance of seeing lesser spotted or golden eagles.
After a “wilderness lunch” we will take to canoes for the remainder of the afternoon, exploring the rivers that meander through meadows and forests, with more chances of observing beaver activity.
Days 6 & 7 will be spent visiting a series of sites around Matsalu Bay. The combination of shallow bays, reedbeds, damp meadows and its position on the Baltic flyway makes this one of the best areas for birds anywhere in Europe. At the time of our visit, the main autumn migration will be in full swing with large numbers of duck, waders and geese in the vicinity. Other local specialities include citrine wagtail and white-tailed eagle.
On Day 6 we will return to Parnu for a couple of hours of free time before continuing to the southern shores of Matsalu Bay. We will explore a number of trails and observation towers before taking a boat excursion on the Kasari river where should have good views of beaver in addition to large numbers of birds in the bay. Our accommodation for the night will be a guesthouse at Haeska on the north side of the bay.
Our final day in the field will be spent on the north side of Matsalu Bay, starting with an observation tower right next to our accommodation. White-tailed eagle are almost guaranteed today along with large numbers of migrating ducks and geese. Our final evening of the tour will be spent at Haapsalu where we will have our last evening meal at a traditional Estonian restaurant.
Return to Tallinn airport for your flight home. If you would like more time to explore Tallinn, Wildtracks can book you a hotel room for additional nights.
Katie Lloyd & Tim Coleshaw
Wildlife we may see includes golden eagle, mountain hare, snow bunting, black grouse, ptarmigan, crossbill, crested tit, pine marten, red squirrel, red deer, bottlenose dolphin and otter.