Estonia Autumn Migration Tour

Migrants, migrants and a few more migrants!

  • Duration

    30 September 2017 to 7 October 2017

  • Location

    Estonia

  • Led by

    David Lindo

  • Group size

    up to 16 participants

  • Price

    £1250 per person excludes flights

  • Single supplement

    £180

  • Deposit

    £290 per person

  • Remaining balance due

    40 days before travel start date

Free loan of Leica Ultravid binoculars is available for the duration of the tour – subject to availability.

Please ask for details.

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 further to the north – a hop-skip and a jump across the Baltic Sea – the vibe is certainly more Scandinavian than what you may imagine as 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

Despite the fact that 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 totally impressed with the infrastructure of the country, the hospitality and food and incredibly impressed by the birding opportunities. If you are into exploring new territory and up for finding species hitherto unknown to Estonia or in humongous flocks that you have never witnessed before, then Estonia is the place for you.

We will carry out the itinerary in a relaxed fashion and 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 point-to-point.

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 are spectacular passerine migration with tens of thousands of Siskin, Chaffinch, Brambling and Coal Tit. There is also the possibility of massive invasions of Jay and Nutcracker. The raptor migration can be stunning with hundreds of Sparrowhawks passing threw in a few hours 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, Waxwing and Yellow-browed Warbler.

Mammals

Elk, Raccoon Dog, Wild Boar and Red Deer.

Itinerary

Sept 30 – Tallinn to South – East Estonia

Arrival at Tallinn Airport. Transfer to Alutaguse around 2 hours drive southeast.

Dinner and overnight stay at Tuulingu Holiday House.

Oct 1 – Mehikoorma & Järvselja

We will start our migration adventure at Mehikoorma, just a few kilometers from our guesthouse. Every autumn spectacular visible migration can be witnessed on the Estonian side of the huge Peipsi Järv, a freshwater lake. A peninsula extends from the Russian side here where the lake is at its narrowest. This narrowing is particularly favoured by many diurnal migrants. For example, between 15 September and 1 October 2012 more than 3 million passerines (mostly finches) were counted, including over 600,000 in a single day!

Thousands of Wood Pigeons and good number of some raptor species including Hen Harrier and Eurasian Hobby use this land bridge route in autumn and many waterbirds including divers track the shoreline.

After a lunch at the guesthouse we will enjoy birding in one of the oldest protected areas in Estonia, Järvselja forest, to see selection of woodpeckers as well as Nutcracker, Pygmy Owl and other forest birds. In 1924 it was decided to maintain a part of the intact forest area as an example of virgin forest. Although the size of the primeval forest area of Järvselja is not remarkable it still has significant value. Within this small area lies an impressive diversity trees. The most impressive trees grow in the south-eastern part of the forest, including giant spruces up to 40 m high and more than 200 years old. Also huge birch, aspen, linden, ash and maple can be seen. In some places the terrain is difficult to traverse due to the debris of old tree trunks lying on the ground, so we will follow a special wooden track that has been constructed in the primeval forest quarter.

Dinner and overnight stay at Tuulingu Holiday House.

Oct 2 – Mehikoorma, to Pärnu

After breakfast we will continue our birding at Mehikoorma watching for fresh migrants. Later in the afternoon we will follow the direction of bird migration toward Pärnu in the southwest.

In the Pärnu area we will visit old-growth coniferous and mixed forest to listen out for the resident Black, Grey-headed, Three-toed and White-backed Woodpeckers as well as for the calls of Hazel Grouse.

Dinner and overnight stay at Tuulingu Holiday House.

Oct 3 – Kabli & Soometsa Forests

Today we will travel out in the early morning to visit the Kabli bird station near the Latvian border. This is the oldest bird station in Estonia, equipped with a huge 18m high Helgoland traps dating back from 1969. Here, we will witness bird-ringing seeing some potentially interesting birds in the hand including the stunning white-headed europaeus race Long-tailed Tit, Willow Tit, Crested Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch. Plus, there may be other woodland passerines as well as Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and possible eastern vagrants such as Yellow-browed and Pallas’s Warbler. We will try to visit the bird station at first light because Tengmalm’s Owl are caught here regularly but then are released very quickly.

After a very nice and hopefully celebratory lunch in Häädemeeste village, we will visit a lookout tower and walk the wooden pathway in the Tolkuse bog. You will marvel at the colourful patterns of peat mosses around the bog lakes that in combination with the Common Crane and geese migrating overhead through a deep blue sky will epitomise the special Estonian northern autumn experience.

Later, we will spend an afternoon in the Soometsa woodlands that are home to a nice mixture of deciduous as well as coniferous trees as well a remarkably good venue for finding several interesting forest birds. Grey-headed, White-backed and Black Woodpeckers, Hazel Grouse and Nutcracker are all frequently encountered here.

Dinner and overnight stay at Rannahotell.

Oct 4 – Kihnu Island to Haapsalu

After breakfast we will drive to Munalaiu Harbour to take the ferry to Kihnu Island. The crossing takes about one hour during which we may spot the first Sparrowhawks crossing the sea and White-tailed Eagles hunting the seaduck. 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 it is now a culturally significant site. Although Kihnu Island 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 masses of Chaffinch moving over the sea, accompanied by Brambling, Siskin and pipits.

Kihnu Island is also the best place to witness raptor migration in Estonia. On 2nd October 2012, 1,000 raptors were counted in a single day including 955 Sparrowhawk, 17 Merlin, 10 Hen Harrier, 3 Hobby, a late Honey Buzzard and a Rough-legged Buzzard. Other big daily counts include 9,650 Common Cranes and an astonishing 76,000 White-fronted and Bean Geese. Rarer birds in autumn 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 lunch break – which is a real cultural experience. Kihnu is essentially a matriarchal society and the local women still wear the national costume as their everyday attire. They guard the island 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”.

We will return to the mainland in late afternoon and drive to the northern shore of Matsalu Bay. After checking-in into our new guesthouse we will settle down for dinner hopefully to reflect on a marvelous day.

Dinner and overnight stay at Rannahotell.

Oct 5 – Matsalu National Park

After breakfast we will continue our coastal pursuit of migratory and staging waterbirds 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 Goldeneye, Common Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon, Common 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 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, Chaffinch and Waxwing. Besides passerine migration we will hopefully connect with several raptors such as Rough-legged Buzzard. As the evening draws in, we will bird from the viewing platforms to enjoy the geese whilst watching out for White-tailed Eagles, harriers and Elk.

Dinner and overnight stay at Mooste Guesthouse.

Oct 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 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 Goldeneye, Eurasian Coot, Greater Scaup, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon and other wildlfowl including Smew. Regular distractions include marauding White-tailed Eagles, flyby Common Cranes as well as swans, waders and other potentially exciting birds.

Dinner and overnight stay at Mooste Guesthouse.

Oct 7 – back to Tallin & departure…

After our final breakfast we will make our way back to Tallinn. Along the journey we will stop for a short while at some mixed forests in the hope of catching sight of Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Wryneck and some other interesting woodpeckers. We will get to the capital by late morning in time for a pleasant guided tour of the 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.

We will have some free time for shopping and looking up for urban birds before the transfer to the airport for our homeward flights.

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 pretty hot. It can also be wet so bring waterproof attire and walking boots.

Recommended field guide

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

Book now

  • Price: £1250 per person excludes flights
  • Group size: up to 16 participants
  • Single supplement: £180
  • Deposit: £290 per person
  • Remaining balance due 40 days before travel start date
  • Please contact us if you have any other queries

    Email: tours@theurbanbirderworld.com
    Tel: Niki on +44 7507 470 409

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Price includes

  • Full board accommodation
  • All meals
  • Transport in a comfortable minibus
  • Entrance fees to reserves and national parks
  • The services of David Lindo along with and English speaking Estonian guide.
  • The optional loan of a pair of sexy Leica binoculars for the duration of the tour – subject to availability.

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