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Birdwatching in spring itinerary

Day 1

You will be picked up from Tallinn airport by our Estonian guide and myself, and driven to Roosta in western Estonia.  The journey will take us through open farmland where we should spot our first 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

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 flyway, where masses of waterbirds from the Bothnian and Finnish Bays meet on their journey south.  At this time of the year, we should be able to see big numbers of Long-Tailed Ducks, Common and Velvet Scoters, Barnacle Goose, Red-throated and Black-throated Divers. 

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 important resting place for numerous waterbirds.   Little Gulls, Black Terns, Beared Tit, singing Savi’s, Sedge and Reed Warblers, and calling Water Rail and Bittern will be the most likely species encountered and heard.  We will then move back to the coastal town of Haapsalu, where, from the bird tower, we will admire a lovely view over Haapsalu Bay.  Here, we should also see several White-tailed Eagles, Goosanders, Gadwalls, Great Crested Grebes and many waders.

After our evening meal, we will venture into the night for some owl hunting.  Ural and Eagle Owls are more likely to be heard and if we are really lucky, we will see them hunting for small mammals at the forest edge.

Day 3

In the morning we will explore wetland and heathland forest habitats, where lekking Black Grouse should provide exciting entertainment.  Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Wryneck and woodpeckers will also be our target birds here. 

After lunch, we will move to the northern shore of Matsalu BayEn route we will be making several stops to view cranes, geese, harriers and possibly Lesser Spotted Eagles.  In the meadows, we should find a good selection of breeding ducks and waders, including Whimbrel, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Ruff and Dunlin.  A scan from a watch-tower should produce several species of wildfowl.  The record for the highest day list of bird species in Northern Europe was achieved in this region.

In the afternoon, we will drive to the Puise Peninsula and explore a variety coastal habitats at Põgari-Sassi.  The day will come to close with a fantastic picnic-dinner at a local farm.

Day 4

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.   This is also the oldest Ramsar site (a status given for the site which holds regularly 20,000 or more waders or 1% of the flyway population) in Estonia. 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. One hundred and seventy breeding birds have been recorded here, including species such as Red-necked Grebe, Bittern, Osprey, White-tailed Eagle and Caspian Tern.   We will climb observation towers to scan over the marshes and also take a boat ride through the vast reed-beds, the largest expanse on the Baltic coast.  The boat ride should provide close encounters with ducks, waders, Little Gulls, Montagu’s Harriers and Sea Eagles. 

Before moving to Pärnu in late afternoon, we will make a stop to look for breeding Citrine Wagtail.  We will stay two nights in a lovely hotel situated within walking distance to the beach. 

Day 5

We will have an early start today and travel to an old growth coniferous and mixed forest in search for resident Black, Gray-headed, Three-toed, White-backed and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, as well as listen the mating calls of Hazel Grouse.

After lunch at a local farm, we will visit the Häädemeeste coastal dune system and 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.   In the bird station, there is good chance to have a close look at some woodland passerines.  We will make several stops on the way and possible attractions include breeding Slavonian Grebes.

After our evening meal, for those most keen, a hunt for a Pigmy Owl will be laid on.   

Day 6

We will leave the coast behind today and embark on our journey inland to Tartu.  En route, we will have a short visit to Tolkuse bog.   From the observation tower, placed strategically on top of the highest dune, spectacular view stretches over the flat expanse of the bog.  Another rewarding stop will be the Lake Vortsjarv with its large meadow system.  It is the second largest lake in Estonia and a Natura 2000 site, where thousands of waterbirds and waders should be performing for us.  These include flocks of Bean, White-fronted and Greylag Geese and at least 10 species of waders, including Ruff, Curlew, Greenshank, Redshank, Wood Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper, all in breeding plumage.

We should reach Tartu in the afternoon and hopefully there will be enough time before dinner to have a little wander in the nearby mixed pine and deciduous forests.  Here, we will look out for breeding Ural Owl, Black Woodpecker, Hazel Grouse and Crested Tit.  Beavers abound in the area and if we are lucky, several stops and scans over the marshes and the river should produce a glimpse of them. 

Day 7

We will travel today to the remote and wild region of Alam-Pedja.  A mixure of floodplains, winding rivers, marshes and forests, should provide a good selection of birds, including Black Stork, both Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Penduline Tit, Corncrake, and Icterine, Marsh and Barred Warblers.

After lunch, we will visit a vast wetland near Aardla. This area, with lakes and ponds, usually holds a good selection of waterbirds, including Red-necked Grebe and Wood Sandpiper.  There will also be another chance to view breeding Citrine Wagtails in their yellow glory. 

Our accommodation for the next two nights is a comfortable hotel near Tartu. 

Day 8

We will leave Tartu after breakfast and head for Tallinn.  It all depends on our scheduled flights, but the itinerary includes lunch at Tallinn old town before heading for the airport. 

Tour Report 2012; 2014

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Matsalu national park

Aardla marshes

Aardla marshes in Estonia

Whitefront and barnacle geese

Common crane

White stork


Rough-legged buzzard

beavers ride at Matsalu national park

Toramaa forest

Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell