Estonia is the smallest of the three former Soviet Republics which were known collectively as the ‘Baltic States’. Always the most prosperous of the trio, the country has enjoyed moderate financial growth since gaining independence in 1991, and accession to the European Community in 2004 was a natural progression for a nation anxious to once again become part of Western Europe. The topography of Estonia consists predominantly of low-lying marshes, rivers and forests, through which are scattered over 1,500 lakes, whilst its western border is set by a deeply indented Baltic coastline, along which lie countless islands of varying sizes.
The credentials of Estonia as a major European birdwatching destination have been firmly established by the successes of our March tours. Participants have returned from these holidays full of enthusiasm, not just for the superlative birdwatching but also for the hospitality of our Estonian hosts who take great pride in sharing with visitors both the natural history and the gastronomic delights of their country! Late March is an excellent time to visit, with nesting activity for some species having already begun. As the days lengthen and the icy grip of winter is melted by the increasing warmth of the sun in late March, rafts of Steller’s Eider begin to congregate in their favourite bays, the males noisily displaying to an audience of seemingly indifferent females. As many as a thousand birds may be seen in one of the largest concentrations of this rare duck in European waters. Another significant attraction at the end of March is the relative ease with which the resident woodpeckers can be found in forests that have yet to attain their summer canopy of leaves, plus the chances of observing Black Grouse and Capercaillie.
We begin our visit with a flight from London to Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, followed by a road transfer to the Baltic coast where we stay for two nights. Before enjoying the first of many splendid meals, we will have the chance to listen for the night sounds of the taiga forest close to our hotel — in particular for the calls of both Ural and Pygmy Owls. At dawn the following day, the bubbling cries of lekking Black Grouse provide an accompaniment to a morning visit to their display ground. Nearby we will listen for the bizarre vocalisations of Capercaillie in the forests and may also find shy Hazelhens to complete a trio of Estonian grouse. Later we travel along the Baltic coast, where tens of thousands of wildfowl congregate, and explore the Poosaspea Peninsula, a narrow spit of land which affords excellent opportunities to scan bobbing rafts of seaduck including many Long-tailed Ducks.
Next, we take a ferry across to Saaremaa Island, the largest of the many islands that stud the Estonian coastline, and travel to a favoured inlet where, each winter, several hundred Steller’s Eiders collect. These rare seaducks will be our main objective but the waters around Saaremaa are also frequented by scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and other maritime species. The flocks of eider form an impressive spectacle and there are very few locations in Europe where so many can be seen in one locality; and the large congregations frequently attract the attention of vigilant White-tailed Eagles!
The Parnu region of the country will be the focus of our last full day in Estonia. Here we will be concentrating on a mix of coniferous and broad-leaved forests which, in early spring, resound with the drumming and calls of woodpeckers. Black, Grey-headed, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker will be of particular interest but, as well as the woodpecker representatives, we will also be looking for other residents such as Nutcracker, Crested Tit and Hazelhen. A remarkable six days in Estonia will end with a short tour of ancient Tallinn before we return to the airport for our return flight to London.
I was particularly impressed by the enthusiasm, good humour and expertise of both David Morris and Mati Kose and by their diligence in ensuring that, whenever possible, every tour member had the opportunity to see all the species encountered.
I especially appreciated the standard of accommodation and the location of Roosta Lodge and the quality of our meals was higher than I had expected throughout.
The leaders were both brilliant, very professional and knowledgeable, but also extremely nice and patient with everyone and everything.
A.O. & M.H.
The arrangements you made for our pre-tour stay in Tallinn worked very well and also the arrangement to pick us up from the hotel was very helpful.
Both guides were highly knowledgeable and engaging individuals.
Mati’s local knowledge helped locate the wildlife I hoped to see. The work he has done was inspiring. The accommodation in Roosta was excellent and I would love to return there.
I have travelled with David previously and it was a pleasure to do so again. He managed to enthuse me about things (flowers) that have not interested me as much as previously.
He is also very good at pointing out anything of interest with quick direction.
The knowledge of both guides was excellent and their enthusiasm contagious.
Both resorts were very good and after long days, in sometimes very poor weather, they were a pleasure to return to.
The various places we stopped for lunch offered a good insight into Estonian living and culture and the tour of Tallinn on the final day was very interesting.
Mati was superb, great local contacts ensured us stunning Steller's views and a surprise White-billed Diver. Thoroughly enjoyed the trip and the company of other participants.
We had wonderful views of dancing cranes on a shimmering lake, with a huge assortment of ducks and swans around them and the forests in the background. By finishing off with a guided tour of Tallinn we felt we had been shown what an interesting destination Estonia was. Thanks to all concerned.