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Autumn Migration Spectacle Itinerary

Day 1

You will be picked up from Tallinn Airport by our Estonian guide and myself, and driven to Haapsalu in western Estonia.  The journey will take us through open farmland where we should see our first Common Cranes and some raptors.  

We will reach our accommodation in time for our evening meal.  We will stay three nights in a hotel conveniently situated within walking distance from the shore.

Day 2

Today, we will embark on our tour of Matsalu National Park, regarded as one of the most important stop-over areas for waterbirds in the whole of Northern Europe.  The reserve comprises an array of different habitats, including  open floodplain, coastal meadow, riparian and coastal woodlands, river delta, marshland, reedbed and the open water of Matsalu Bay itself. Thousands of geese and ducks can be seen on the loodplains, the coastal meadows are crowded with Branta species and the bay is alive with swans, coots and diving ducks.  Here, up to 20,000 Common Cranes gather around the bay and forage in the adjacent fields.  The sight of a massive flock of Cranes will provide an ever-lasting impression.  There are seven viewing towers around the park and we will visit the  impressive Haeska watching tower, where we will be able to observe large numbers of wildfowl.

Later in the day, our tour will take us to the Puise Peninsula, where we will explore a variety of coastal habitats.  

Day 3

After breakfast, we will drive to Põõsaspea, the most north-easterly point of the country and the best place to observe the Arctic waterbird migration. This narrow spit is situated at a migratory crossroad, where masses of waterbirds from the Bothnian and Finnish Bays meet on their journey south.  Tens of thousands of Long-Tailed Ducks, Common Scoters and different geese species can be seen during the peak of migration. Up to a couple of thousand Black- and Red-Throated Divers can be observed daily, and seasonal rarities such as White-billed Diver and Stellers’s Eider have been regularly recorded here.

After a nice picnic-lunch at a local farm, we will visit the Silma Nature Reserve and adjucent coast.  This region has many shallow bays, coastal lagoons, marshlands and reedbeds, which serve as an important resting place for numerous waterbirds.  We will then move back to Haapsalu.  From the coastal promenade a lovely view stretches over Haapsalu Bay, where flocks of Goldeneye, Coot, Scaup and Tufted Duck congregate. 

A dinner at the promenade restaurant, often interupted by White-tailed Eagle or a flock of cranes and swans flying over, will conclude our day. 

Day 4

After breakfast, we will take a ferry to Hiiumaa Island.  It’s difficult to find anywhere a more picturesque island than Hiiumaa, with its long sandy beaches, deeply forested interior and sleepy villages.  The island is also known for its wealth of lighthouses.

Our first destination will be Tahkuna, the northernmost point of the island.  Here, close to the impressive cast-iron lighthouse, we will spend some time sea-watching. 

After lunch at a local guest house, we will drive to the south eastern part of Hiiumaa, where we will visit the Käina-Kassari nature reserve.  Here, we will explore its impressive array of habitats, including juniper stands, wooded meadows and alvars (thin topsoil on a limestone base which is unique to this part of the Baltic coast).  Huge numbers of duck, particulary Wigeon and Coot, and raptors, including White-tailed Eagle, Hen and Marsh Harriers will be the most likely species seen here.

Later in the day, we will work our way down to the southern most point of the island, where we will catch the ferry to Saaremaa Island, the largest island on the Estonian coast. Windmills, houses with thatched roofs, stone walls and the famous home-brewed beer are considered to be symbols of Saaremaa.  We will stay for the next two nights in an attractive hotel.

Day 5

We will spend the whole day exploring the Saaremaa Island.  In the morning, we will target the Sõrve Peninsula and Sääre spit. This is over 50 km long, a narrow peninsula recognised as the best in the country for seeing skuas, waders and diving ducks. The Sõrve is also famous for its frequent sightings of rare birds.  Migrant birds of prey can be seen here in good numbers, especially Sparrowhawk, buzzards, harriers, falcons and Lesser-Spotted Eagle and passerines, which at the peak of their migration, can attain significant numbers.  To watch the passage of thousands of Chaffinches, Bramblings or Siskins from the top of an old Soviet military concrete fortification is quite a memorable  experience.  We will also visit one of the bird observatories here, where we will get the chance to see some species at close range.

In the afternoon, we travel to the Vilsandi National Park, an international bird sanctuary most famous for several thousands pairs of nesting Common Eider.  

A lovely dinner at the manorhouse will  conclude the day for us, before we drive back to the hotel.

Day 6

In the morning, we will pay a short visit to the Sõrve bird observatory and continue birding along the Loode coast and Lõu Bay.   

Later, we will visit the biggest in Europe meteorite crater,  formed some 4000 years ago. 

After lunch, we will take the ferry back to the mainland and move to Pärnu, following the bird migration towards the south western part of the country.  If time allows, we will visit the Luitemaa Nature Reserve (otherwise we will go there the next day).  This is a flat coastal area with large meadows, post-glacial coastal dunes and bogs.   We will visit a tower here looking over the famous Tolkuse peat-bog.  The striking colour of peat mosses provide the idylic location for thousands of cranes and geese migrating through the area.  

Day 7

Today, we will visit the Kabli bird station on the Baltic coast near the Latvian border.  This the oldest Estonian bird station, where, since 1969, about half a million birds have been caught in 18m high Heligoland traps (funnelled bird traps) and ringed.  To have the best experience of the spectacle of mass migration, we will arrive here at sunrise.  We will have good chance to have a close look at the continental race of the Long-tailed Tit, Willow Tit, Crested Tit, Nuthatch and other woodland passerines.  The Ural, Tengmalms, Pygmy and Short-Eared Owls are often trapped here at night.

In the afternoon, we will visit old growth coniferous and mixed forest to search for the resident woodpeckers, including Black, Grey-headed, Three-toed and White-backed, as well as the Hazel Grouse.

Day 8 

After breakfast, we will depart for Tallinn.  If time allows, we will explore the old part of the city and have our lunch before leaving for the airport. 

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Baltic Coast in Estonia

Tajga Forest in Estonia

Aardla marshes

Barnacle Geese in migration

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese

birdwatching on the coast in Estonia

Parnu river in Estonia

Picnic lunch in Estonia

tajga forest in Estonia

Great Grey owl

Common Toad

sunset on the river