Monday, April 14, 2014

ESTONIA. Nature spectacles before us, just a short flight from the UK

By Luke Massey (UK) / 9-21 March 2014

Estonia is full of surprises, when I visited this winter I expected freezing temperatures and a snow covered landscape. What I was greeted with was a spring like scene; early migrants such as common cranes had already arrived, black grouse were already lekking in incredible numbers and bears were out of hibernation.

My first week was a tropical 10C with no snow, animals were hard to track down and we struggled to get great views of much but we knew that is what nature is all about, an ongoing treasure hunt. We finally got lucky with great views of black woodpecker and pygmy owl, elk began to show themselves throughout the forests.

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) / Luke Massey

Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum) / Luke Massey

An evenings search for the rare and hard to find European flying squirrel struck gold, with not one but two individuals flying through the forest, landing feet above our heads. Scuttling up trees and leaping, gliding effortlessly from tree to tree.

Then the snow came, the temperature plummeted and Estonia was blanketed in snow. Animals and birds went into hiding, evading predators and conserving energy. We continued our search and came across black grouse lekking in the middle of a forest track whilst roe deer slinked through the forest, avoiding any predators tracking them through the snow. An elk wasn't so lucky as we found its half eaten body, the victim of a hungry wolf pack.
Black Grouses (Tetrao tetrix) / Luke Massey

Early nesting Ural owls left their nest as dusk fell, gliding silently through the forest and perching in front of us. The ploughed fields gave an important food source to the enormous flocks of migrating snow bunting and skylarks. 

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) / Luke Massey

Further west we came across stubble fields filled with cranes, finches, geese and swans all feeding on the left over grains before moving further north once the weather abated. 

Common Cranes (Grus grus) / Luke Massey

Estonia delivered again, despite interesting weather conditions and elusive creatures. The birds and mammals we saw were amazing. Nature spectacles before us, just a short flight from the UK.

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