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Day 1 - 8th May
Everyone met nice and early at Heathrow for our flight to Helsinki. Arriving slightly late we had no connection time at all and went straight onto our next plane which took us the short journey to Tallinn in Estonia. The twenty minute flight passed over the Baltic Sea and its many scattered little islands. On arrival we were met by our guide Ari and soon had our luggage loaded onto the minibus. We then started out on our 100km drive towards our hotel in Haapsalu. Our first stop along the way, beside a little pond, not only allowed us to stretch our legs, but we also soon found Fieldfare, Common Starlings, a Woodlark, Common Linnet and then a very obliging Eurasian Wryneck which posed as it sang from a half dead tree beside us. A Goosander then flew over and both White Wagtail and European Pied Flycatcher were seen. Moving on a Black Redstart was spotted singing from a tree top beside the shops where we picked up some snacks. Two White Storks were later seen circling low over some trees and then we stopped and had a good search of an area reminiscent of the English Brecklands. Common Buzzard was soon found followed by a male Montagu's Harrier and then later a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Ravens, Yellowhammer, Eurasian Hobby and then a pair of Montagu's Harriers. Leaving here we continued on to our hotel in the attractive town of Haapsalu.
Day 2 - 9th May
We were up early this morning for a little pre breakfast birding, setting off after coffee for the coast at Port Dirhami. Just before arriving there, we found a close male Merlin sat on a telegraph wire and a few White-fronted Geese in a ploughed field. Having arrived at the coast we walked out to the beach to view the sea. It was a sheer delight to see so many wildfowl. The sea was teeming with Long-tailed Duck and we estimated that within the couple of hours we were there we must have seen 10,000 or more. Divers were also common and groups of Red-throated Divers regularly went past with lesser numbers of Black-throated. Amongst the Mute Swans two Tundra and a few Whooper Swans were found, while on the sea there were Common Scoter, Common Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers, a couple of Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye and several small flocks of Velvet Scoter. Arctic Terns flew back and forth and then a single dark phase Arctic Skua was seen flying past. Common Sandpiper and White Wagtail patrolled the beach and it was good to see three Goosander flying alongside a group of Red-breasted Merganser. It was not the number of species but the sheer number of ducks seen that made this area so special. Two Eurasian Hobbies then flew in off the sea and over our heads, before we returned to the hotel for breakfast. Getting into the minibus afterwards a low flying Lesser Spotted Eagle gave excellent views above us. We then drove to an area of woodland where a Montagu's Harrier was spotted quartering some fields. In the woods a Wood Warbler was found and several butterfly species were noted including Map Butterfly,
Comma, Peacock and a Camberwell Beauty. Leaving the wood we continued on to an area beside another beach. On the water amongst the rocks nine adult Little Gulls were found, along with a few Black-headed Gulls a single Eurasian Curlew and Common Sandpiper. A small group of Common Cranes flew over the tree tops and then a Eurasian Sparrowhawk came zipping past in front of us and snatched an unlucky European Greenfinch from the air. Just before leaving a Blue-headed Wagtail was seen by everyone. Moving on via many unmarked narrow roads and tracks we eventually arrived at the edge of Sutlepa Lake, where we ate our picnic and then set off for a short walk to the water's edge, soon scoping Spotted Redshanks and many Ruff, including a few in breeding plumage. We then found Wood Sandpipers and a distant White-tailed Eagle stood on a rock. There were thousands of White-fronted Goose and amongst these were hundreds of Barnacle Geese. Small numbers of duck included Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Common Shelduck and four Northern Pintail. A very obliging male Western Marsh Harrier was spotted and then the first of what ended up to be thirteen White-tailed Eagles, all in the air together! A couple of huge Caspian Terns flew past and a lone Common Crane circled high above. We then watched a Dunlin in display flight right in front of us and just before leaving a few of us saw a pair of Garganey and some Gadwall. Time to leave and we headed back to Haapsalu and the lake that was just a few kilometres from our hotel. It was rather windy at first but we climbed a tower hide and scoped the bay that stretched out in front of us. A few Common Teal were spotted amongst the Eurasian Wigeon and Gadwall, and up to twenty Great Crested Grebes were found. As we were leaving in the minibus a White-tailed Eagle was seen and this time gave much closer views than the birds seen earlier. We just had to get out and enjoy looking at this immense raptor circling around and around. Superb!
Day 3 - 10th May
After breakfast we set off to look at another area of the bay, and driving out to a view point soon had scopes trained over the water. There were Greater Scaup as far as the eye could see, and scattered amongst these were Tufted Duck, a few Long-tailed Duck , Common Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers, and a couple of groups of Common Scoter flew past. Several Red-throated Divers then passed overhead as did a flock of fifty Velvet Scoters. On the shore line and edges of the islands we found Common Ringed Plover and Ruddy Turnstone, while the grassy fields held Yellow Wagtails, Common Skylark and Meadow Pipit. We then walked across the road to view the other bay seeing Little Tern, Grey Plovers, Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler along the way. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk disappeared into some reeds and then we came across a close flock of Barnacle Geese. Checking all the scrub along the roadside we eventually came across a Thrush Nightingale which was sat out in the open singing from a telephone wire. We hung around and saw it superbly in the nearby bushes, and in the same spot a Mealy Redpoll was seen. We then moved on to another area of the bay with yet another observation tower. Getting out of the minibus a Common Snipe was spotted sitting on a telegraph wire and in the distance flocks of geese were seen. At the tower there were excellent views of thousands of Barnacle Geese which all took flight when a White-tailed Eagle flew low amongst them before landing on a rock. There were Temminck's Stint, Spotted Redshank and a couple of Black-tailed Godwit, as well as a single drake Garganey. This idyllic spot also held all three swan
species and butterflies including Wood White Butterfly and a pair of noisy Eurasian Wrynecks, one of which showed well sat in a tree. Leaving here we then drove to a woodland where a very convenient table and bench were set up in the forest, just in time for our picnic. While here we got to see several Green Hairstreaks and a couple of very confiding Camberwell Beauty.
A Red-breasted Flycatcher and Willow Tit were then heard, while Wood Warblers and a Common Crossbill showed themselves. Driving to an area of woodland along the edge of open grassland, a short walk soon had us training our optics on the fresh hole of a White-backed Woodpecker. It wasn't long before the male stuck his head out and had a good look around. Eventually the bird came out and showed well, working its way up the nearby trees. Just a stroll away we found a Black Woodpecker's nest in a large open tree and shortly after the male was seen to fly off and land, where we then got scope views. A Grey-headed Woodpecker was then heard and eventually we all had scope views of the male sat in a bare tree top. Not bad! - three good woodpecker species all within a hundred yards! Leaving the woodland just before the rain started we headed towards the coast again. A Montagu's Harrier showed well as it hunted the fields beside us and then we came to another area with a tower. A few of the group went up while the rest of us sheltered from the light rain below. Flocks of White-fronted Geese included one Taiga Bean Goose and nearby there were Barnacle Geese and a couple of Greylags. Ruff were difficult to see amongst the long grass and Common Goldeneye were plentiful. We needed to try and find the big flock of Barnacle Geese so we drove to an area of fields, and sure enough there they were, tens of thousands of them, and a real spectacle especially when they all took flight. Malcolm spotted a single Red-breasted Goose hiding amongst them but it was in a dip and disappeared from view before the rest of the group could see it. Unfortunately despite intensive searching we never relocated it. The sound and sight of all these Barnacle Geese was simply superb and made a great end to the day. As we returned to the hotel, a single Common Crane stood out in an open field was well worth the stop.
Day 4 - 11th May
Our day started with a ferry that would take us to Saaremaa Island . Once onboard we went up top and ordered ourselves a hot drink just before setting off on the twenty minute crossing. Some stayed in the warm, while others went outside to see what they could find. Arctic and Common Terns fed in the boat's wake, and Long-tailed Ducks were everywhere. We also saw Common Eiders, Greater Scaup and a few Sandwich Terns. Later a pale phase Arctic Skua flew past, as well as three Black-throated Divers. Once on the island we set off on the drive to the very south tip. A stop along the way overlooking a lake produced several Little Gulls, a Red-necked Grebe and three Black Terns. Continuing our journey on to the tip and the area around the lighthouse, we got out of the minibus and within a few minutes found an Ortolan Bunting, followed by a Bluethroat and then a female European Serin. A further search of the few scattered bushes and grass that led out to the sand spit, produced Common Whitethroat, another Bluethroat, several Northern Wheatears, and in a small garden, two Common Redstarts. Looking out to sea we found Long-tailed Ducks and Common Eider, while a Common Crane flew over. Walking inland a little we searched a small area of reeds and found another two Bluethroats, including one male in full breeding plumage. Deciding to have our picnic lunch here, we had just started tucking into our sandwiches when Malcolm spotted a superb Caspian Tern which flew past us very close, giving exceptional views. After finishing our picnic we drove around the coastal road, stopping and searching each bay in turn. Two colourful looking Slavonian Grebes were found on the sea, while in a small sandy bay we spotted two Little Ringed Plovers amongst some Common Ringed Plovers. On another beach there was a flock of Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, and hiding amongst the rocks we found three Garganey. With a long drive ahead of us we headed back towards the ferry and the return crossing. A short stop along the way gave us the chance to look at crater in the ground which was caused by a meteorite. It was then onto our next hotel which was set on the beach on the coast of southern Estonia.
Day 5 - 12th May
Out early before breakfast, it was incredibly cold and we drove first to the ringing station area and had a quick look along the shore line. A Grey Plover sat on a rock and a few ducks at sea consisted mainly of Long-tailed Ducks and Common Goldeneye. Leaving here we headed into the national park woodland. Driving past a grassy field a Black Grouse was spotted but soon flew off with another bird close behind. Some careful searching then found another two birds, including one that was displaying. It was still very cold and little was moving as we made our way along a small track right to the very edge of the old forest. The first birds we found were four Hawfinches seen feeding in a small bush, and while watching these a Black Woodpecker flew over calling. We then took a slow walk into the forest where a Red-breasted Flycatcher was heard, several European Pied Flycatchers were seen and later we got to see a Long-tailed Tit of the white headed northern race. After a short walk in another area of woodland we got excellent views of a Grey-headed Woodpecker. Following a welcome breakfast we drove to some nearby fish ponds. These ponds were very overgrown with little open water and extensive reed beds. From a new unfinished observation tower we spotted several Great Reed Warblers singing from the reed tops, some Garganey were seen and the distinctive reeling song of a Savi's Warbler was occasionally heard. A White-tailed Eagle was then spotted as well as Western Marsh Harriers, a very high flying Common Crane and some flighty Bearded Tits. We went to another unfinished tower and watched Arctic Terns, Common Goldeneyes, lots of Great Cormorants, a Peregrine and several flocks of Ruff. As we left the ponds a Bluethroat dived into the reed edge. Next we drove to Pernu and had a look at an area of roadside pools.
Yellow and White Wagtails were found there along with several Little Ringed Plovers and nine Temminck's Stints, which we had excellent views of as they fed on the edge of some puddles. Down by the beach we set ourselves up and had our picnic lunch. Sedge Warblers sang from nearby reeds while on the sea Arctic Terns flew back and forth. We then spentA difficult afternoon was then spent, specifically trying to locate Hazelhen. After walking through woodlands and searching rides between forests we were unsuccessful, which proves just how hard this species can be. After a drive to the border we then returned to the hotel.
Day 6 - 13th May
After breakfast we headed into the forest reserve. A Redwing was seen along the edge of a small field as we arrived at our parking spot. In the woods Willow Tits showed well but there was no sight or sound of any woodpeckers. We did hear a Hazelhen and after a frustratingly long time had to concede defeat, with just a few brief flying views as one crossed the track several times. Leaving here we continued towards our next destination but first visited Saamaa National Park. A stop beside an observation tower produced views of a very close Lesser Spotted Eagle and a very distant Common Cuckoo on a tree top. We then visited the information centre where a very welcome cup of coffee was enjoyed. This very well organised centre had plenty to look at and was full of interesting information. After our look around we drove into the park. Searching a suitable area of woodland failed to produce any woodpeckers again, but as we drove along another quiet track a female Capercailie was seen stood at the edge for a good five minutes or so. It was a little hazy but we got pretty good scope views before she slowly walked across the track and into the wood. At our lunch stop beside some open fields a bear footprint was seen in the mud. While eating our picnic a Lesser Spotted Eagle flew over, two Common Cranes were also seen and up to three Corncrakes were heard giving their distinctive rasping calls. One was even seen sticking its head above the grass. Another Lesser Spotted Eagle was found, while several White Storks were seen circling in the air together. Leaving here we continued on to our country hotel. We decided to have an early evening meal so we could have an evening visit to a Great Snipe lek. On arrival at the special reserve we set ourselves up with scopes trained on the grassy fields, and were not disappointed as several Great Snipe were spotted sat in the grass with just their heads on show. As time went on they started to become more active. A Woodcock "roded" the hillside, Whinchats sang and then a Common Grasshopper Warbler started singing from a patch of bushes. Several of us watched the Common Grasshopper Warbler very close while the rest enjoyed an excellent display of up to ten Great Snipe at their lek, strutting their stuff.
Day 7 - 14th May
There was a leisurely breakfast this morning before setting off to some nearby ponds. As we drove down a small track to the edge of the first pond there were several Wood Sandpipers and good numbers of Little Gulls. As we got out of the minibus to look around the Wood Sandpipers took flight and numbered twenty or more. In amongst the dead trees at the back of the pond we found Northern Pintail, a Garganey and Common Teal, while a Common Pochard was seen flying off. Two Black Terns were then watched hawking insects from the water's surface and a few Ruff were spotted. Behind us on the track we had driven in on, we found a couple of Citrine Wagtails.
We slowly walked towards them and ended up seeing four or five birds included a couple of stunning males that were as bright as you're ever likely to see. After great views of these birds we crossed the main road and searched a few more small ponds. Dragonflies were more plentiful than birds and Four-spotted Chasers and Downy Emeralds were noted. As we were about to leave a Northern Goshawk flew over and showed very well while being mobbed by a Hooded Crow. Moving on we checked out another couple of pools. A small weedy island on one, held a flock of summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks, three Common Greenshanks and a Common Sandpiper, and as we watched everything took off as the same Northern Goshawk seen earlier dashed low across the pool. Leaving this spot we made a quick stop when a pair of Grey Partridges walked across the track in front of us and then showed very well just a few feet away. Our next stop was along a track overlooking the very first pond that we had looked at. A search here found a slightly elusive Red-necked Grebe and an increase in Black Terns, with around twenty being seen. It was also noticed that there was a vast increase in Common Swifts with hundreds of birds appearing from all directions. Moving on from these ponds we drove around the back and through an area of rough grassland. A Black Grouse flew into the woods from the road side and then we found a nice male Red-backed Shrike in a small bush. Continuing on a quick stop on a road bridge to look for raptors, produced a couple of Lesser Spotted Eagles and a Thrush Nightingale singing from the bushes beside us. Moving on we drove to a small hill which had was locally known as Hollywood, with two foot high lettering spelling out the name across the hill top. We had our picnic lunch here and scanned the skies for raptors. Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, White-tailed Eagle, Eurasian Hobby and a European Honey Buzzard were seen, while a distant eagle was too far away to identify! After leaving here and driving to an attractive woodland, we had a walk to a new observation tower overlooking a vast marshland.
Walking through the woods we found a couple Crested Tits and a single Common Treecreeper and nearer to the tower watched several Bullfinches feeding on the ground. The views from the tower were fabulous but it was a little windy. As we returned through the wood a Red Squirrel was seen in a tree above our heads. We then drove back to our hotel and had an earlier evening meal. After this we decided to try and find Ural Owl. The weather was against us and was rather cold and showery. We did however see plenty of "roding" Woodcock and perhaps a glimpse of an owl flying off through the forest.
Day 8 - 15th May
This morning we had to pack up and head towards Tallin for our afternoon flight. A roadside stop for an hour enabled us firstly to find Tree Sparrows and some fly over geese. Nearby in some fields we found a group of Tundra Bean Geese and a couple of White-fronted Geese as well as a female Red-backed Shrike, while nearby a look over some meadows ended our birding tour with fantastic views of a pair of Montagu's Harriers which were searching out a nesting area. It was time to leave so we headed for the airport adding a last minute Common Moorhen to our list.
Saying goodbye to Ari our guide we then flew to Helsinki and back to London which concluded our tour.