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Estonia in Spring - Mammals & Birds

AT A GLANCE

FOCUS

Bird & mammal tour:
mammals, coast, forests & floodplains.

WHERE

Tallinn (Estonia) – W Estonia – SE Estonia – NE Estonia - Tallinn

SAMPLE WILDLIFE

a multitude of north central European birds including wildfowl, eagles, woodpeckers, Great Snipe and Citrine Wagtail. Potential mammals include Racoon Dog, Siberian Flying Squirrel, European Beaver, Brown Bear and a chance of Lynx and Wolf. 

CLIMATE

European spring, cool to warm.

ACCOMMODATION

comfortable hotels and guesthouses, travel by minibus, all rooms with private facilities. Walking mainly on good level tracks. 

We ran our first mammals and birds tour to Estonia in 2011 and are now pleased to offer a revised, fully-inclusive holiday exploring coastal marshes, vast floodplains, mires, bogs and primeval forests, where we will search for mammals including Racoon Dog, European Beaver, Wild Boar, Elk, Siberian Flying Squirrel and Brown Bears and enjoy plenty of good birds as well. We have a chance of seeing one of the more elusive residents such as Wolf and Lynx too. Even if we don´t see these animals, we will have plenty of fun deciphering the many mammal tracks we find along the way. Our 2011 trip by the way, did see Lynx, as well as Flying Squirrels, Raccoon Dogs, American Mink, European Beaver, Brown Bear and much more. (see trip report on our website). Tarvo was our co-leader in 2011 and proved himself to be one of the best local guides in the country, and of course he speaks fluent English. In 2014 we once again enjoyed Flying Squirrels, Raccoon Dogs, Bears and a multitude of birds.

Estonian forests are renowned in Europe for their healthy populations of mammals with around 700-800 Lynx, over 150 Wolves, 500-600 Brown Bears and almost 20 000 Beavers – tremendous numbers for such a small country. In all, sixty-four species of mammals have been recorded in Estonia including several European rarities, the most endangered examples being the European Mink (mainly on offshore islands), several species of dormouse and the Siberian Flying Squirrel.

At this time of year avian spring migration is in full swing with water birds returning to their Arctic breeding grounds via Estonia’s coastal marshes. Inland most of the summer visitors are back and starting to breed so our timing and itinerary offers the best of both worlds. 

Potential species (selection only):

Mammals: 

Racoon Dog, Red Fox, Elk (Moose), Roe Deer, Siberian Flying Squirrel (at dusk 80% guaranteed), Wild Boar (90%), Brown Bear (90%), European Beaver (95%), tracks and droppings of Lynx and Wolves (100%, or even the animals themselves if we are lucky!)

Birds:  Bittern, Black Stork, peak spring migration of geese, ducks and waders, Golden Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Hazelhen, Corncrake, Great Snipe, lekking Ruff, White-winged Black Tern,White-backed Woodpecker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Ural Owl, Citrine Wagtail, Savi´s Warbler, Penduline Tit, Golden Oriole etc.

Detailed itinerary - continues on itinerary tab

1 Tallinn, transfer to west Estonia We will be picked from Tallinn Airport and drive to west Estonia. After check-in at the hotel and a short rest we will go for an optional excursion to listen to the night sounds of the wetlands, before we have our evening meal (Promenaadi Hotel).

2 Matsula National Park Today we will visit the Matsalu National Park which is the oldest Ramsar area in Estonia. At times of peak passage over a million diving ducks have been estimated along the coast here, whilst counts of wild swans and Barnacle Geese regularly number tens of thousands. A selection of waders also take advantage of the rich feeding grounds; Ruff, in particular, sometimes occurring in great abundance, the males resplendent in their breeding finery. Although these migrants offer some remarkable spectacles, Matsalu is much more than just an avian motorway service station and among the 170 breeding birds recorded from the reserve are 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. Dusk is the time that the Beavers leave their lodges to spend an industrious night felling riverside trees and saplings and we will take a boat trip in search of them. A little quiet patience is required here, but with luck you are likely to see several individuals going about their nightly construction work and swimming about, with background sounds by Bitterns, Water Rail, Spotted Crakes and Savi´s Warbler. We eat our dinner in the boat or at a restaurant (Promenaadi Hotel).

Day 1 Depart London Gatwick 1220 Arrive Tallinn 1710,transfer to Western Estonia
Day 2 Matsalu National Park; Beaver boat trip
Day 3 Leidissoo & Põõsaspea, to South-East Estonia
Day 4 Järvselja & Aardla; Great Snipe lek
Day 5 Transfer to North-East Estonia; Bear Hide
Day 6 Birding & tracking; alternative overnight in Bear Hide
Day 7 Flying Squirrel tracking (and watching)
Day 8 Return to Tallinn, city tour, free afternoon. Depart Tallinn 1740 Arrive London Gatwick 1840.

Days 1 & 2 in detail on Introduction tab

3 Leidissoo and Poosaspa, to South-East Estonia In the early morning we will enjoy a mammal tracking searching for Elk, Wild Boar, Roe Deer, Raccoon Dog and Red Fox. The area is a mixture of heathland forests, wetlands, open clearings and fields. We also hope to be entertained by the spring calls of lekking Black Grouse, whilst other attractions in this area include Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Wryneck, and some interesting woodpeckers. We will continue our birding at the Põõsaspea Peninsula. This small north-stretching spit is situated at the migratory crossroads where masses of waterbirds coming from the Bothnian and the Finnish Bays meet. This is one of the best places to observe Arctic waterbird migration. Tens and hundreds of thousands of Long-tailed Ducks, Common Scoters and goose species can be seen during the peak of migration. This place is famous for its diver migration: up to a couple of thousand Black-throated and Red-throated Divers can be seen daily, and White-billed Diver is frequently seen. We will move to South-East region by late afternoon. After check-in we will have our evening meal at the guesthouse (Mooste Viinavabrik Guesthouse).

4 Jarvselja and Aardla Today we will travel out in the early morning and enjoy birdwatching in one of the oldest protected areas in Estonia, Järvselja forest, to seek a selection of woodpeckers and other forest bird species. Although the size of the primeval forest area of Järvselja is not remarkable it still has significant value. In 1924 it was decided to maintain a part of the intact forest area as a sample of virgin forest. Within a small area the diversity of the woodland is very high. In the southeastern part the most impressive trees grow. 

 

They include up to 40 m-high and over 200 years-old giant spruces. Also some huge birches, aspens, lindens, ashes and maples can be seen here. In some places moving around is complicated due to the debris and old tree trunks lying on the ground, therefore a special wooden track has been constructed in the primeval forest quarter. After a rest at the guesthouse and lunch we will drive to the vast expanses of wetlands near Aardla. This area with lakes and ponds usually holds a good selection of water birds and we will be hoping for a few surprises. We will hope to find a wonderful diversity of species including Black Stork, both Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Ruffs, Penduline Tit, Citrine Wagtail etc. Later in the afternoon, our itinerary takes us next to Tartu area where we will look at marshy areas nearby and visit an area known as one of the best spots for Great Snipe in the Baltic. Late dinner at the guesthouse (Mooste Viinavabrik Guesthouse).

5 Transfer to NE Estonia, Bear hide. After breakfast, we will move to one of the most densely forested corners of Estonia - it is similar in appearance to taiga and is called Alutaguse. A large storm in 2001, and forest cuttings after that, have changed the look of this landscape a lot. New forest is the best place to find Roe Deer and Elk who in turn are targets for carnivores.

 Alutaguse is situated near the Russian border and forms a solid natural landscape through to St.Peterburg Oblast´s forests and bogs. That´s why Alutaguse is an area with huge number of bears and now – after hundreds of years – is also the heart of Estonian "bear culture". This area is also one of the best place in Estonia for searching forest bird species. We will hope to be entertained by avian attractions in this area such as Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Wryneck and 4-5 different target species of woodpecker. After check-in and lunch we have a rest at the guesthouse. Later in the afternoon, we will take a walk through the forest (1 km) to the Bear Hide (packed dinner with us). The wooden hide is cozy, with comfortable seats and viewing slots at the front and beds at the back so you can sleep in the very darkest part of the night or catch a nap. At the far end is a separate dry toilet (wet napkins/tissues provided). Brown Bear can appear at any time during the night (sometimes even before). Racoon Dogs and sometimes even Wolves occasionally visit the feeding place (Bear Hide/Matsu Guesthouse).  

6 Forest birding and mammal tracking. We will stay in the hide to experience dawn. Whether or not we are in luck the night before, it is fantastic to watch (and hear) the forest come alive with the first rays of the morning sun.

Forest tits, Spotted Flycatchers, Crossbills and other passerines are at their most active, restlessly flitting about in search of food. Sometimes single Golden Eagles and Buzzards also appear. If we are fortunate we may hear Capercaillie, Black Grouse or even see several species of woodpeckers from the hide. We will enjoy a late breakfast back at the guesthouse and take a rest until to lunchtime. In the afternoon, a local specialist will share with you his knowledge of tracking of Wolves, Lynx and Brown Bear. You will spend the rest of today exploring on foot and by vehicle in one of the Estonian´s best known Brown Bear regions where you have a slim chance of seeing  one of these more elusive residents. Even if you don´t see any of animals, you will have plenty of fun deciphering the many mammal tracks you find along the way! Later in the evening, we will have an owling session before we return to the hotel or if people are keen to we could have another overnight at the bear hide (Matsu Guesthouse and/or Bear Hide).                   

7  Flying squirrel tracking Today we will reach the species-rich Western Taiga forest environment and enjoy Siberian Flying Squirrel tracking led by zoologist-ecologist Uudo Timm for a whole day. Uudo has had a particular interest in Flying Squirrels for the last 20 years and has been researching their ecology and protection plus monitoring their spread and distribution. The Flying Squirrel is a bit smaller than the ordinary squirrel and a pride of Estonian forests – in Europe they can only be found in Estonia and Finland. It has received its name from hairy folds of skin between its fore and hind legs which help it to make jumps of up to 35 metres from one tree to another. Right now there are 80 known sites for Flying Squirrels in the north-east region of Estonia. Possible birds today again include Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Wryneck and some interesting woodpeckers. After a very picnic-lunch at Oonurme village house we will take a rest. In the late evening, after dinner, we will go for a Flying Squirrel night session. If we are fortunate we may even see them jumping from one tree to another. Radio receivers and night watching instruments are used to observe animals at night (Matsu Guesthouse).                                                                             

8 Tallinn and departure. We will return to Tallinn after a bit of early birding later in the morning and have a pleasant guided tour of Tallinn Old Town. Tallinn was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 due to the medieval city centre, the finest in northern Europe, with cobble stoned streets and buildings that date back to the 15th century. We have some free time for shopping before we will drive to the airport or we can visit a city park for Red Squirrels.      

Please note: All itineraries are subject to weather, local conditions and final approval by the relevant authorities.

Dates: 11th – 18th May 2018

Leaders: Kaarel Vohandu and other local guides.

£1799 per person sharing a twin room

£199   Single supplement   

Deposit: £350 per person    

Group size: 4-8.

Autumn Trips are also available! 15th – 22nd September 2017 & 14th – 21st September 2018 Please ask for more details.

Price includes:  Return economy class flights London Gatwick -Tallinn, all airport taxes, transfers to and from hotels, accommodation on a full board basis (breakfast, lunch and evening meal) in twin-bedded rooms with private facilities, services of local leader, bird & mammal excursions as itinerary, pre-tour information pack including a day by day bird and mammal checklist. 

Price excludes:  Travel insurance, drinks, tips to local guide and bus driver and items of a personal nature. 

Birds - number of species expected (approx.): 140+ Mammals – 15+

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