• Hen Harrier

Estonia Autumn 2024 Migration Tour

Migrants, migrants and a few more migrants!

5 October to 12 October 2024

Led by David Lindo In association with Bird’s Wildlife & Nature

About Estonia

If you have not visited Estonia before then you may be in for a surprise. It lies furthest north of the trio of Baltic States that also includes Latvia and Lithuania. Due to its close proximity to Finland – a hop-skip and a jump further to the north across the Baltic Sea – the vibe is certainly more Scandinavian than what you may imagine as a classic Eastern European country. It is even a very different entity to neighbouring Latvia, not least because of its free internet available practically everywhere. Your introduction to Estonian nature starts in the capital at Tallinn Airport. There are pictures of birds adorning the walls and piped songs of Common Rosefinch and Thrush Nightingale in the loos. Even the airport’s logo is a bird!

The Estonian hospitality is great as is the food. But even better, for those interested in birding, is the fact that the migration here can be phenomenal. The country lies on an amazing although poorly studied flyway. Anything and practically everything can turn up anywhere at anytime. New birds for Estonia are being found almost every year so, if the excitement of finding birds is your thing, then look no further!

The local currency is the Euro.

Tour overview

Even though Estonia is a migrant-watcher’s wonderland, it is scarcely visited in the grand scheme of things. It receives only a few thousand birders and nature loving tourists on an annual basis, which is a crying shame because the country has so much to offer. And, after personally exploring the locations that this tour will cover, we can sincerely say that we were left incredibly impressed with the infrastructure of the country, the hospitality and food and totally encouraged by the birding opportunities. If you are into exploring new territory and up for finding species hitherto unknown to Estonia or interested in experiencing humongous flocks that you have never witnessed before, then Estonia is the place for you!

Autumn migration involves millions of wildfowl and waders flying along the coast between the Baltic Sea and breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra. In addition, there is an exceptional migration of songbirds through the country each autumn. While in winter there are large congregations of wildfowl along the coastline including Steller’s Eider, which is now considered a Vulnerable species by BirdLife International.

We will carry out the itinerary in a relaxed fashion so this will certainly not be a ‘twitching’ holiday. We believe that if you spend more time in the environment actually looking for wildlife then you will reap more rewards than by haring around from location-to-location.

The tour will take us to some of the country’s better known birding sites like Matsalu National Park all the way through to positively urban areas like Haapsalu. But all-in-all we will guarantee that you will leave Estonia with your eyebrows raised!

Expected birds

There should be massive Arctic waterfowl migrations including tens of thousands of Long-tailed Duck, Velvet Scoter and Red-throated Diver. Overhead and lurking in the bushes is potentially spectacular passerine migration with tens of thousands of Eurasian Siskin, Common Chaffinch, Brambling and Coal Tit. There is also the possibility of massive invasions of Eurasian Jay and Spotted Nutcracker. The raptor migration can be stunning with hundreds of Eurasian Sparrowhawks passing through in just a few hours along with Rough-legged Buzzard and White-tailed Eagle.

Also, Bewick’s Swan, Common Crane, Hazel Grouse, Grey-headed and White-backed Woodpeckers, Tengmalm’s and Pygmy Owls, Great Grey Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing and Yellow-browed Warbler are all possible.

Mammals: Elk, Raccoon Dog, Wild Boar and Red Deer.


NOTE: aim to arrive in the late afternoon at Tallinn airport. See flight information at the end of the itinerary for more details.

Saturday 5 – Arrival in Tallinn transfer to West Estonia

Arrival at Tallinn Airport. Transfer to the northern shore of Matsalu Bay (West Estonia). After check-in we have our first dinner at the guesthouse.

Dinner at Altmoisa Guesthouse. Overnight stay in Altmoisa Guesthouse.

Sunday 6 – Põõsaspea & Haapsalu

After breakfast, we will start exploring Cape Põõsaspea. This small north-stretching spit is situated at the migratory crossroads where masses of waterbirds coming in from the gulfs of Bothnia and Finland meet. Cape Põõsaspea is a brilliant place for autumn passage waterbirds. During one season, nearly 2.5 million Arctic-breeding wildfowl passed this narrow bottleneck with daily totals sometimes in excess of 100,000 birds!

The biggest daily counts here include 8,400 Velvet Scoter, 6,000 Greater Scaup, and over 2,000 Red-throated and Black-throated Divers. Around 300,000 Long-tailed Duck pass the point during the first two weeks of October. Rare waterbirds seen from this location have included White-billed Diver, King Eider, Grey Phalarope and Little Auk. Rare or scarce passerines have included Desert Wheatear and Yellow-browed and Dusky Warblers.

After a lunch at Roosta, we will visit Haapsalu town, nearby. This region has many shallow sheltered bays, coastal lagoons, marshlands and reedbeds. The spectacular view from the coastal promenade over Haapsalu Bay can deliver tens of thousands of Common Goldeneye, Eurasian Coot, Greater Scaup, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon and other wildfowl including Smew. Regular distractions include marauding White-tailed Eagles, flyby Common Cranes as well as swans, waders and other potentially exciting birds.

When it gets darker, we shall watch from one of the viewing platforms (Haeska or Rannajõe) where we can enjoy flocks of geese or late Common Cranes as well as more White-tailed Eagles, harriers – and even Elk.

Dinner at Altmoisa Guesthouse. Overnight stay in Altmoisa Guesthouse.

Monday 7 – Matsalu National Park – Saaremaa Island

We will continue our coastal pursuit of migratory and staging waterbirds after breakfast by visiting Matsalu National Park. This is the most famous bird area in Estonia and is known as one of the most important breeding and stop-over areas for waterfowl and shorebirds in the whole of Northern Europe. At over 40km sq, this reserve consists of large open floodplains and coastal meadows, riparian and coastal woodlands, river delta and marshlands. There is also the shallow Matsalu Bay with its 3,000 hectares of reedbeds, numerous islands and seven birdwatching towers around it. This makes this reserve an absolute magnet for vast numbers of coastal and waterbirds. Matsalu Bay is typically covered with around 10,000 Whooper and Bewick Swans, tens of thousands of Common Goldeneye, Common Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal and waders. Also, several thousand Barnacle, Bean, Greylag and White-fronted Geese harvest the grass in the local meadows and fields. The Matsalu area is also well known as an autumn Common Crane staging area. As many as 20,000 birds can gather around the bay and feed in the adjacent fields.

We will firstly drive to the Puise Peninsula and explore a variety of Põgari-Sassi coastal habitats. We will also visit Haeska watchtower where the record for the highest day list of bird species in Northern Europe was achieved a few years back with a staggering 128 species recorded by nightfall. After lunch we will drive around in more agricultural landscapes where we hope to see flocks of migrants including hundreds of Brambling, Common Chaffinch and Bohemian Waxwing. Besides passerine migration we will hopefully connect with several raptors such as Rough-legged Buzzard.

Later in the afternoon, we will drive to the harbour at Virtsu where we will take the ferry to the island of Muhu. We will traverse that island and after crossing a bridge to the adjacent Saaremaa Island we will continue to the town of Kuressaare. After checking-in at the hotel and a short rest we will meet for dinner.

Dinner at Saaremaa Hotel. Overnight stay at Saaremaa Hotel.

Tuesday 8 – Sõrve Peninsula

Today we will target the Sõrve Peninsula and Sääre Spit on Saaremaa Island. This narrow peninsula is over 50 km long and stretches in a south-westerly direction from the rest of the island. This is the last point before take-off for landbirds and the surrounding open sea and islets are excellent points for watching seabirds. This is also the best place in the country to watch skuas, waders and diving ducks. The Sõrve is famous for its frequent sightings of rare birds and, especially during autumn migration, the chances are good.

Migrant raptors can be seen in good numbers especially Eurasian Sparrowhawk, buzzards, harriers and various falcons. The migration of passerines at peak times are often in enormous numbers. It is an unforgettable experience to follow the passage of hundreds of thousands of Common Chaffinches, Bramblings and Eurasian Siskins from the watchpoint atop an old Soviet military concrete fortification. The Cape also has bird stations for ringing and observing migration so we will visit one of these ringing stations where we can see some birds in the hand – perhaps even an eastern rarity!

Dinner at Saaremaa Hotel. Overnight stay at Saaremaa Hotel.

Wednesday 9 – Pärnu

Today, we will return to the mainland in late morning and drive to southwest Estonia to the town of Pärnu. After check-in at the hotel and a short rest we will explore forest areas nearby. Soometsa woodlands hold a nice mixture of deciduous as well as coniferous trees and an afternoon here is remarkably good for finding several interesting forest birds, including Grey-headed, White-backed and Black Woodpeckers, Hazel Grouse and Nutcracker, all of which are frequently encountered here.

Dinner at Wesset Villa. Overnight at Wesset Villa.

Thursday 10 – Kihnu Island

After breakfast we will drive to the harbour at Munalaiu where we take the ferry to Kihnu island. The crossing takes about one hour and from the harbour itself we may spot the first Eurasian Sparrowhawks crossing the sea and White-tailed Eagles hunting the seaduck flocks. Indeed, the ferry trip also produces good views of Greater Scaup, Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck.

Kihnu is the largest island in the Gulf of Riga and the seventh largest in Estonia. Originally used by seal hunters and fishermen Kihnu is now a culturally significant and essentially matriarchal society. The women guard the cultural heritage whilst the men go off to sea and fish. UNESCO has proclaimed the Kihnu marriage ceremony as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.

Although Kihnu is the least-visited migration point by local birders the most southern tip of the island, Cape Pitkänä, is definitely one of the most interesting places for migratory passerines and raptors in the autumn. On the last week of September and first two weeks of October days with over 100,000 migrants are not rare. You can encounter here masses of Common Chaffinches moving over the sea, accompanied by Bramblings, Eurasian Siskins and pipits. Kihnu is the best place to witness raptor migration in Estonia. On 2nd October 2012 around 1,000 raptors were counted in a single day, including 955 Eurasian Sparrowhawks, 17 Merlins, 10 Hen Harriers, 3 Eurasian Hobby, a late Western Honey Buzzard and a Rough-legged Buzzard. Other big daily counts include an astonishing 76,000 White-fronted and Bean Geese. Rare birds here in past autumns have included Estonia’s first Naumann’s Thrush, as well as White-billed Diver, Pallas’s Warbler, Greater Short-toed Lark and Hawk Owl. Each day can bring new surprises!

We will stay at the southern point until our lunch break which is a real cultural experience – the local women still wear the national costume as their everyday attire! We will then return to the mainland and drive back to our hotel in the late afternoon.

Dinner at Ranna Hotel. Overnight stay in Ranna Hotel.

Friday 11 – Kabil & Soometsa

Today we will travel out in the early morning and visit the Kabli bird ringing station near the Latvian border. It is the oldest ringing station in Estonia, equipped with a huge 18m-high Helgoland type bird trap dating from 1969. Here, one can witness bird ringing and often see birds in the hand, including the stunning white-headed caudatus race of Long-tailed Tits, Willow and Crested Tits, Nuthatches and other woodland passerines as well as Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and possible eastern scarcities such as Yellow-browed and Pallas´s Warblers. It is worth us visiting before the first light because Tengmalm´s Owls are caught here regularly but they are released early in the morning.

After a lunch and a rest at the hotel we will head to some old-growth coniferous and mixed forests at Soometsa. This time we will try to find some of the woodland owls including the tiny Eurasian Pygmy Owl and impressive (and sometimes dangerous) Ural Owl. Our Owling session will be also good for mammals and we highly expect to see some Raccoon Dogs or an Elk in the evening.

Dinner at Wesset Villa. Overnight at Wesset Villa.

Saturday 12 – Soometsa Forests then Tallinn and departure

Before we head back to Tallinn, we will make an early morning visit to the Soometsa forests that are home to a nice mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees as well as being a remarkably good venue for finding several interesting forest birds. Grey-headed, White-backed and Black Woodpeckers, Hazel Grouse and Spotted Nutcracker are all frequently encountered here. We will also hope to be entertained by Black Grouse, whilst other attractions in this area include Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse although these species are both very hard to find.

We will return to Tallinn by late morning to have a pleasant, guided tour of Tallinn Old Town. Tallinn was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 on account of its medieval city centre, the finest in Northern Europe, with cobblestone streets and buildings that date back to the 15th century. Of course, we will also be indulging in some urban birding!

Afterwards, we will make our way to Tallinn Airport (Code TLL) ready for a late afternoon/early evening flight home.

Special trip notes

This trip is suitable for all ages and abilities.

A moderate amount of walking is involved with no uphill treks.

The weather can range from being mild to a bit chilly. It can also be wet so bring waterproof attire and walking boots.

If you need any outdoor apparel, you can enjoy a 15% discount from Páramo Directional Clothing whose fabulous products are all ethically manufactured. Please visit this link.

Recommended literature

Collins Bird Guide – Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström


We suggest three options:

Arriving the night before the tour starts via Air Baltic from Gatwick arriving in Tallinn at 22:30 on Friday 4 October. The return flight departs 15:55 on Saturday 12 October

Arriving the night before the tour starts via Ryanair from Stansted arriving in Tallinn at 22:05 on Friday 4 October.
The return flight departs 22:30 on Saturday 12 October


Lufthansa from Heathrow at 09:30 on Saturday 5 October landing at 12:05 in Frankfurt / then a connecting flight from Frankfurt leaving at 14:30 arriving in Tallinn at 17:50.
The return flight departs 13:50 via Frankfurt on Saturday 12 October.

The flight times were correct at the time of publishing this itinerary.

For assistance and peace of mind with booking flights please contact our flight agent Sacha Barbato at Travel Counsellors +44 (0)1603 360 099

Book now

  • Duration: 5 October to 12 October 2024
  • Price: £1,995 per person plus flights
  • Single supplement: £225
  • Deposit: £500 per person
  • Final payment will be due 90 days before start of tour
  • Group size: 8 participants
  • Please contact us if you have any other queries

    Email: tours@theurbanbirderworld.com

Price includes

  • Full board accommodation
  • All meals
  • Transport in a comfortable minibus
  • Entrance fees to reserves and national parks
  • The services of your leader David Lindo (The Urban Birder) along with and English speaking Estonian guide

Price does not include

  • Airline tickets and airport taxes
  • Incidental refreshments at cafes and bars
  • Items of a personal nature
  • All alcoholic beverages
  • Personal travel insurance

Click on the booking form above to reserve your place on this tour. You will be re-directed to the birdswildlife.com website.