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 landscape 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.
Estonia is also rich in history having been ruled at various times by the Germans, Swedes and Russians before gaining independence in 1991.
This tour will provide a great introduction to the culture and wildlife of Estonia. We will explore the Old Town of Tallinn which is one of the best preserved medieval walled cities in Europe, the pretty port of Haapsalu and the stunning island of Saaremaa which provides a glimpse into Estonia’s rural past. We will also venture into the unspoilt Estonian countryside to explore forests, vast peat bogs, meadows and wetlands and see a good variety of its flora and fauna. There will be opportunities to meet Estonian farmers and naturalists and stay in small guest houses which will give you a real flavour of the traditional Estonian way of life. At this time of year summer migrant birds will be back, meadows will be filled with flowers and long daylight hours will allow us to watch wildlife late into the evenings, a perfect time to visit this fascinating country.
Kate Gamez & Tim Coleshaw
The climate of Estonia is temperate, with cool summers and cold winters.
Temperatures in June are likely to be between 15-20 ◦ C. Rainfall averages 700mm or 28 inches per annum distributed fairly evenly through the year.
Easy/Moderate. 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 and the bog tour will involve walking over uneven terrain. Some of the streets in Tallinn are quite steep and the visit to the tower of St Olav’s church (optional) involves 258 steps.
Arrive in Tallinn. Depending on the arrival time of your flight there may be time to explore the Tallinn area in the afternoon. Evening meal at one of Tallinn’s most popular restaurants. Overnight at a comfortable hotel in a quiet quarter of the Old Town.
Our first morning in Estonia will be spent exploring exploring the magnificent Old Town of Tallinn, including visits to Toompea Hill and St Olav’s church (258 steps to the top!) which gives stunning views of the city. After lunch we will board our minibus and head south from Tallinn to Soomaa National Park in SW Estonia (journey time 2 hrs) where we will be based for the next couple of days. Our accommodation will be a farm guest house with 3 shared bathrooms on the edge of the national park where you also have the option of taking a Russian sauna! After dinner there will be an optional evening excursion to look and listen for nightjar, corncrake, thrush nightingale and owls.
We will spend the next two days exploring the huge wilderness of Soomaa National Park, including forests, meadows, rivers and vast, pristine peat bogs. Wolf, bear and lynx are all found in the area but rarely seen; more likely are elk and beaver. We will spend one of days in Soomaa exploring the forests and meadows, searching for some of the typical animals, birds and plants of the area which should include several species of woodpecker, raptors, flowers such as Siberian iris and globeflower and lots of evidence of beaver activity. The other day will be spent with local guides exploring the huge peat bogs which characterise the area, partly on foot and partly by canoe. Bog plants that we will see will include many species which are either rare or absent in the UK, including bog rosemary and marsh Labrador tea and if the sun is out we should see a number of dragonfly species.. 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. More likely are common crane, white stork and corncrake with good chances of soaring raptors if the weather is good. Dinner will at our farm guesthouse both evenings.
This morning we will travel back north to Virstu (1 hr 20mins) where we will spend time at an Estonian speciality – a wooded meadow. Wooded meadows, where clearings in woodland are mown for hay were once widespread in Europe and are the precursors of our hay meadows of today. Nowadays they have virtually disappeared from Europe but most of the remaining examples are found in western Estonia. Of these, Laelatu is one of the best with over 400 species of flowering plants recorded, including lady’s slipper orchid and sword-leaved helleborine, both of which should be in flower at this time.
After a picnic lunch at Laelatu we will take the short ferry crossing to Saaremaa, the largest of Estonia’s 1200 islands where we will spend the next day. The limestone soils of Saaremaa support many rare and interesting wild flowers and the picturesque countryside is rich in cultural history. In addition to visiting sites of wildlife interest we will also call at the Kaali meteorite craters, the historic windmills at Angla and the interesting town of Kuressaare, near which will spend the night.
The following day we will continue to explore Saaremaa before catching the mid-afternoon ferry back to the mainland and making our way along the south side of Matsalu Bay where day will be rounded off with a boat trip on the Kasari river where we will see beaver activity and with any luck, the beavers themselves (on previous visits we have had them swimming around our boat). The boat excursion will also provide the chance of seeing a variety of seabirds, marsh harrier and hopefully the sound of booming bittern. Overnight at Haeska guest house on the north side of Matsalu Bay.
Day 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 spring migration will have passed through but there will still be large numbers of duck, waders etc in the vicinity. During the day we will visit a number of trails and observation towers along the north shore of Matsalu Bay looking for species including common crane, ruff, black-tailed godwit, corncrake and white-tailed and lesser spotted eagles. We will spend the afternoon in the pretty port of Haapsalu which has a dramatic castle, historic weather-boarded houses and a wealth of boutique shops and small cafes. Our last evening meal of the tour will also be in Haapsalu at a traditional Estonian restaurant before returning to Haeska for our final night.
After breakfast we will return to Tallinn airport for your flight home.
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.