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A Report from

Estonia, May 21st to  May 26th 2011,

Ian Moore and Malcolm Shakespeare

We had been talking about visiting Estonia for about eighteen months and we decided that May would be the optimum time for the target species we seeked.  Due to flight availability and work commitments we booked our flights for the 21st of May , knowing that we were at the very end of the famed Baltic passage, and also unlikely to connect with the Owls and Stellers Eider. Undetered by this we drove down to Stansted from Northants early on the Saturday morning for the 7am Easyjet flight from Stansted to Tallinn.

21st of May

First bird of the trip was Hooded Crow, walking around the runway as we taxied along the runway in Tallinn. As we waited for our Hire car to arrive, we added White Wagtail, Swallow, Swift, Whitethroat and Common Tern. We were presented with our nice shiny hire car an Opel Astra from Easy Cars (177 euros), we headed west out of Tallinn towards the Baltic coast with Poospea our destination. We added White Stork and a male Hen Harrier from the motorway, amongst other commoner birds. We now left the main road and went a bit off piste and through woods and forests, a quick wee stop and we added Tree Pipit, Hobby, Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Willow Tit and a couple of Cranes in a field. We took a wrong turn and ended up at a disused  fishing village and got our first taste of the Baltic. Long Tailed Duck, Eider and Goosander were easily picked up on the sea, with loads of Goldeneye, Common Tern and nesting Common Gulls. There was some nice scrub and a tiny pool nearby, which held Whinchat, Lesser Whitethroat and Grey Headed Wagtail along with about 5 Common Wheatear, a big Skien of Geese flew North and we counted 120 Barnacle Geese heading up the coast.  This little site was awesome and I could imagine that in the full swing of the Baltic passage, the place would be bursting with birds.

We got back in the car and headed west along the forest tracks towards Spithami and Poosaspea, picking up Siskin, Jay, Blackcap and Great Spotted Woodpecker, the woods were not the best, but it was late afternoon and we were pretty tired after the 3.30 start. We got to Spithami on the coast and had our first Kestrel and loads of Whinchat and Wheatear in the gardens of this stunning  little village, there was 5 Whooper Swan in the bay and Oystercatcher everywhere. Another little drive through the woods to Poosaspea and the wind was picking up as we walked towards the bird tower at Estonias most north westerly point. The sea was quiet, a handful of Barnacle Geese, Eider, Goosanders and loads of Goldeneye with Common Tern feeding close to the coast. We loved the tower, very comfy with leather sofas and a wood burning stove, but we had to keep moving cos we were tired and hungry and miles away from from our first nights accomadation. We headed South and looked into a village called Dirhami, were we added an invisible singing Woodlark and Garden Warbler.

We headed towards Haapsalu and our Hotel, we refound the main road and did another tiny detour towards a village called Vonnu, this was a masterstroke as suddenly our fatique was forgotten as the area around the village pond was alive with new birds. Fieldfare, Nuthatch and Moorhen were added and then a bit of drumming was heard and a Woodpecker bound into view in a dead tree, cracking views of a White Backed Woodpecker which was a lifer for me and great views. As we walked down the road towards the open fields a Corncrake started rasping and a Male Montagus Harrier quartered the meadow giving jaw dropping views followed by another Male in a different field, Grasshopper Warbler reeled in the distance as we walked back to the car as the Mozzies came out in force.

Found our Hotel in Haapsalu, which was a bit of a dive and definetly not recommended, checked in , had a quick wash and then into town for something to eat, on the way back to our hotel, we had a walk next to the reedbed on the west of the town, Bearded Tit, Sedge and Reed Warbler were vocal with a group of Teal on the water. We were exhausted by now and fell into bed after a very very long day.

Day 2: 22nd of May 2011.

Woke up, as the sun rose with Malcolm snoreing away,I got dressed and went for a walk towards the reedbed again.  Great Reed Warbler was blasting out his song with a distant singer that I was unsure of, as  I walked towards this bird, I realised that it had to be Thrush Nightingale another new bird for me, another Sprosser blasted out its song on the way back to the hotel and a Male Redstart sang from the garden. I woke Malcolm and we went back to the Thrush Nightingale and took some photos of some old Russian Steam trains before looking for Haapsalu sewage works.Haapsalus sewage works has a small reedbed next to it and we had a couple of loud and visible Savis Warbler as well as Great Reeds, Marsh Harrier and Water Rail, also added Tree Sparrow and Gadwall.

We now headed towards Matsalu Bay along the coast road towards Puise,  we stopped and birded at every opportunity and a wide open vista with meadows and the muddy margins of the bay visible proved very productive, Grey Plover in full breeding dress, Avocet and singing Dunlin were seen as well as Redshank and loads of Lapwing, I set my scope up and had 5 White Tailed Eagles sat still and flapping around, they were distant but two individuals flew low over the water towards us causing mayhem as they went, words failed me as I finally connected with my bogey bird. Cracking views of ‘the Flying Door’ was followed by a good view of a Temmincks Stint and a bright red Passerine perched on a nearby bush, was it a Rosefinch??, I set up the scope and was convinced it was a Rosefinch, Malcolm had a look and agreed with me, we were on a roll now and added Shoveler on the way to Puise.

It was absolutely freezing at Puise and a quick scan of the sea gave us 30 Common Scoter a pair of Scaup and about 5 Little Terns along with the commoner sea duck. Icterine Warbler was in a nearby bit of scrub along with a flyover Redpoll and a number of Linnet. We popped into another village as we headed back towards the main road and had great views of Thrush Nightingale and good views of Rosefinch.  A big bird of prey was seen from the car and we stopped and got cracking views of Short Toed Eagle, also a couple of Raven were seen as we went towards Lihula for a well earned lunch stop, Black Redstart and Thrush Nightingale sang away in the village as we tucked into our Cheese and Bread. The south side of the Bay and the area around the Keemu Bird tower was the most productive, we had a couple of comedy birds in the shape of Canada Geese and Red Crested Pochard, with Wigeon and Sandwich Tern with at least 5 White Tailed Eagles cruising around and sat on Boulders in the cow fields. Up to ten Cranes were in the fields on the way out of the bay area.

We then steamed down towards Parnu and went of the Via Baltica to have a look at Audru marshes mentioned in Dave Gosneys book, it was decidedly windy and only Meadow Pipit and Sand Martin were added, a long walk along the track yielded nothing but then I saw a bird flying above the reeds, a cracking Male Citrine Wagtail was perched on the reed stems with a female close at hand, pretty good scope views were taken before the birds flew again. Cranes again were seen in the fields and White Stork was seen on a nest.

We then made a descision to do one more site before finding a hotel and we went south of Parnu to Pikla Ponds, which was mega for Great Reeds, we had at least 8 singing males, with another Savis and two booming Bittern, a distant White Tailed Eagle flew in from the sea, with a Marsh Harrier or two, the mozzies were getting on our nerves so we headed back to the car and headed north to Parnu.  We found a cheap hotel on the south of the city and had a beer and some food before another early night after a long day in the field.

Day 3: 23,5,2011

A change of tact today as we went into the Nigula forest in search of woodpeckers, Serin was calling around the car park of the hotel, and Golden Oriole was seen in flight at our first stop in the forest. Our only Wryneck of the trip was seen on the roadside on the way to the forest headquarters, Woodcock and Pheasant were also seen and loads of Cranes in the fields. At the HQ Fieldfare, Garden Warbler and a cracking male Velvet Scoter were seen in the grounds of the HQ, the Scoter was on a tiny duck pond and looked confused by its surroundings.

We drove through the forest to the Nigula Bog car park, this place looked amazing, the forest was ancient and water logged and I didn’t know where to look, there was bird song everywhere, Pied Fly, Wood Warbler, Spot Fly and then a regular tapping could be heard, I called Malcolm over and he stopped dead in his tracks and swore loudly ‘F***ing 3 toed’, the woodpecker bounded into view and fed within feet of us giving gob smacking views of the most elusive woodpecker in Europe,  highlight of the trip for us both. Also in this wood, was a song I didn’t know, so with a bit of chasing, i finally nailed Red Breasted Fly as well as Icterine in the Car park. We then followed the path out of the wood and onto a boardwalk, which skirted a lake, with Goldeneye and nothing else on it, then the boardwalk went out into more open boggy terrain, Tree Pipits sang from every tree as we walked out across the bog with darkening skys to the south, we managed a female Red Backed Shrike before we had a loud rumble of thunder and then a pretty amazing couple of lightning strikes, we were about a third of the way across when the heavens opened and we got totally soaked, a male Black Grouse was our only consolation as we trudged towards the forest in the distance, the boardwalk was in need of a major overhaul and was dodgy to walk on in such slippy conditions. We managed to get to the wood and a bit of shelter, but we were soaked and the noise of the rain on the trees drowned out any bird song, we still managed another R B Fly and the typical Pied fly and Wood Warblers, by the time we ventured back out into the open bog, it was drying out, but windy and cold and we were just shivering, Wood Sandpipers sang but couldn’t be seen and Common Gulls were on every pool. Got back to the car, put the heater on and changed out of dripping wet clothes, and decided on one last forest site before heading back towards the coast, the trees were still dripping wet as we headed for Gosneys ‘Magic Corner’, a dark shape could be seen in the canopy of a roadside tree, looked bigger than a Buzzard, so we stopped the car and had a look, at point blank range we checked all the features on what was obvioubsly an Eagle, we had the bird in flight twice as it didn’t like our windscreen wipers and we were 100% happy that we were looking at a 1st year Great Spotted Eagle, its spotty back and dark plumage giving the game away. Two mega birds in the space of a morning, onwards to Magic corner, which was disappointing and we were still soaked from earlier, Pied fly and Wood Warbler everywhere, but nothing new and no new Woodpeckers.

We had decided that we would try the Lepanina Hotel on the Baltic coast cos we had slummed it for the previous two nights and we deserved a beer after the day we had!! The hotel was absolutely lush, probably 4* and cracking views over the Baltic, male Goldeneyes were flying south, Sandwich tern and Whooper Swan was also seen. Nice meal and a few celebratory beers and a nice comfy bed, well worth the extra money.

Day 4: 24,5,2011

I woke up early again and went for a walk before breakfast, paddling in the Baltic as a group of Whoopers went North and a stream of Male Goldeneyes went south, Thrush Nightingale, Serin, Lesser Whitethroat and good views of Rosefinch and a cracking cooked breakfast and we were set up for the day. We headed East towards Tartu and had a nice pair of Red Necked Grebes on  a road side pond as well as Rosefinch and Thrush Nightingale and the usual Whinchat, White Wag, Cuckoo etc.

We got to Ilmatsalu Fishponds west of Tartu, and it was quite disappointing, 2 adult Little gulls and another Red Necked Grebe were on the ponds with Rosefinch everywhere. The bird tower was good with another two White Tailed Eagle and a Hobby and a Wood Sand, but again a week or two earlier and you could imagine that the site would be jumping with waders.

We then headed North to look for Eagles and stopped at Gosneys ‘Hollywood Hills’ sight, a couple of Buzzards and a Short Toed Eagle were the only Raptors and the mozzies were having a whale of a time and I got bitten a lot, before we beat a hasty retreat. We were in the birding doldrums now, nothing new since 7.30 am and it was 2pm and we were bitten and had wet feet, time for a change in luck!!!

The drive to the Alma Pedja reserve gave us Green Sandpiper and then a flushed male Hazel Grouse whizzing through the trees (which Malcolm missed), we were on a roll again, the bird tower looked like it had been made by giants, huge tree trunks hewn together to create a very sturdy structure, miles of wooded bog could be seen from the tower and after a few minutes of scanning I picked up a big unit, ‘think this is an Eagle’ after not very conclusive views, we saw another Eagle and three Buzzard types, after good scope views  it was obvious that they were Honey Buzzards and that the Eagles were Lesser Spotted, the raptor score moved onto 9 for the trip. On the way back to the car we had good views of Crested tit and the mozzies really went to town and we almost ran to the car to avoid them.

We decided that we would look into the Great Snipe lek on the way into Tartu near Karevere, as we pulled off the road under a huge Storks nest, we heard Corncrake again as we pulled up in the designated car park space, Common Snipe were drumming and a Great White Egret was strutting about, which is hundreds of miles north of its range. As we looked out a big dumpy Snipe flew in, within a minute lots of popping and clicking sounds came from this bird and then it starts jumping up and down and flapping about, ‘bloody hell, that was easy’ I said as a second Great Snipe carried on with the dance, a Honey Buzzard flew in being mobbed by a Hooded Crow.

We found a lovely guest house on the way back to Tartu and we stayed there for the next two nights, Fieldfare, Cuckoo, Oriole, Tree Sparrow and Whinchat in the grounds.

Day 5: 25,5,11

I woke up stupidly early again, and it was hammering down with rain again, I went back to Karevere and went for a walk in the woods adding Redwing and a brief Hawfinch before breakfast. Nice breakfast again and a big drive south east and we went to Taevaskoja, a lovely looking Gorge near Polva. The usual Estonian woodland species were singing everywhere, Wood Warbler, Pied Fly, Spot Fly and Willow/Chiffs all over the place. Grey Wagtail was chasing Common Sandpiper on the river and Sand Martin were looking at prospective nest holes. A new song was heard from the top of the trees and we both knew that this could be Greenish Warbler. After a couple of brief views, we finally nailed it at canopy level and had a good view of this clean pointy headed Phylossc.

We then got back into the car and headed East towards Repina, this site proved very difficult to find, but was amazing. Oriole, Thrush Nightingale and Rosefinch were common and a great view of Lesser Spotted Eagle which then mobbed a passing White Tailed Eagle, it was wow moments all the way. Great Reeds were in the ditches and a couple of Garganey were flying about. As we walked out towards the bird tower, the quality dropped off a bit and besides Green and Wood Sands there was n’t much else, we had a different singing Acro in a willow bush, it was a brilliant mimic and very slow and methodical in its song, I think it could have been Blyths Reed, but not 100%. Towards the car we had another White Tailed Eagle and a Black Tailed godwit and a high Hen Harrier, also a distant Red Kite which is on the edge of its range.

The wind was picking up now as we headed back toward Tartu and it was a long drive to Aardla and we didn’t see much on the way back. Aardla was absolutely amazing, blowing a buttock clenching gale, but the birds were low over the water and must have been blown in from the Baltic. We fought our way to the top of the tower, and there was thousands of hirundines and Swifts and then low over the water was Little Gulls and Black Terns and a group of White winged Blacks, (200, 10 and 15 respectively), Garganey was on the lake as well and a Red Necked Grebe in the distance, a Hobby flew into the melee as well. 

Day 6: 26,5,2011

Drove back to Tallinn and added Curlew and Collared Dove to the trip list. 159 species in 5 and a bit days, 10 new ticks for me and 2 for Malcolm, lovely country, amazing birds, and lots of good information, we followed Dave Gosneys ‘finding birds in Estonia’ book and a few trip reports from the internet.

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