Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Estonia - 2015

31st March - 5th April
I travel to Estonia in company with John Holtham on a tour organised by Birdfinders. We flew to Tallinn via Warsaw and then on to Parnu by Mini bus with our guide Tarvo Valker. After a much needed sleep at our hotel and an early breakfast we drove to the Soomesta forest for our first taste of Estonian birding. Although cloudy the rain held off as Tarvo led us along the first of many forest tracks we were to encounter over our stay. After a while Tarvo started to pick up various calls and the sounds of Woodpeckers drumming. He was able to identify various species but seeing them proved frustratingly difficult. Black Woodpeckers were the most numerous with 3 in the same tree at one stage. The real prize for me though was a White backed Woodpecker, my only 'tick' of the trip. In all we saw 4 species of Woodpecker with a further 2 heard at this site.

White backed Woodpecker
White backed Woodpecker
The next day we travelled to Saaremaa island to look for Steller's Eider. From the ferry we saw large numbers of Long tailed Ducks but the weather had deteriorated as we arrived on the island to search for the Eiders.
Long tailed Duck
We drew a blank at our first site but eventually found a raft with 20 or so Steller's Eiders, 2 of which were males some way off shore. At a viewing tower we witnessed an amazing migration of Chaffinches forced to fly low in the poor weather groups of up to 100 birds passed by one after the other. Nearly 1000 birds passed flying north in about 30 to 40 minutes. We drove back to our new base at the Roosta Holiday village. Very comfortable accommodation in individual chalets/cabins in the forest.
The next day we were up at the crack of dawn to go to Variku fields to watch a Black Grouse lek. In fact there seemed to be several leks going on in different parts of the huge open fields.We also saw Hen Harrier and a Rough legged Buzzard in the area.
A distant Rough legged Buzzard
We ate breakfast in the field as the early morning light got brighter before moving on to the Marimetsa forest to continue our quest for Hazelhen, Capercaille and Woodpeckers. We had no problem finding Capercaille but Hazelhen where much more difficult.



On our final full day's birding we visited some coastal locations, the sheer numbers of Geese and Swans in particular was amazing and with White tailed Eagles always in view it was spectacular birding. The most unexpected bird though was found at a roadside stop. We often stopped on the virtually traffic free roads to check out flocks of geese. On this occasion Tarvo picked out a Red breasted Goose among the White fronts and the Barnacle geese.
White tailed Eagle - through the steamed up window of a Mini bus.

Impressive numbers of Geese and Swans 
Despite the weather it was a successful tour, thanks to faultless organisation, the enthusiasm of our guide Tarvo and the good humour of my fellow Birders.

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