Monday, March 23, 2015

Tawny Owl camera

Estonian Ornithological Society (EOY) in collaboration with the Eagle Club presents the 6th season of the Tawny Owl camera, which is available here...

Direct stream...

The camera has been up and going for about 15 days and the female has been at home during daytime. The first egg was laid on 5th March, which is a little earlier than usual, but this spring really is an early one.  It does not break the record as the earliest was 1st and that was a cold year. It is already the 6th year of this pair’s breeding and all the previous 5 have been successful with 1 to 4 chicks fledging successfully. Let’s hope for the best this year as well, although usually not all the owls’ chicks fledge.
The camera is set up for direct streaming and sometimes woodpeckers can be heard drumming and tapping in the background and other birds singing. The Tawny owl camera is supported by the Environmental Investment Centre.

Video here...

Source: (forum)

Estonian spring arrives ten days early!!

The end of February and the beginning of March have been consistently mild, the ice is running from water-bodies one after another and most of the landscape in Estonia is already snowless. As a result, active movement of migratory birds has been noticed everywhere.

Skylark and Lapwing have been around for some time already, while Greylag, White-fronted and the Bean Geese have arrived more recently. Whooper and Bewick’s Swans are also arriving, in addition to the more locally dislocated Mute Swan. Various duck species such as Mallard, Teal and Wigeon are also arriving in numbers. Last week has added Starling, Coot, Bittern, Woodcock and  Common Crane to the migrant list.

Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus)
Photo: Luke Massey

Common Cranes (Grus grus)
Photo: Arne Ader

By the end of March more migrants should arrive at their northern breeding areas. Species like White and Black Storks, White Wagtails, Avocets, Lesser Spotted Eagles and many others are not far from their final destination.

The first bears have awakened already from hibernation. 

Brown Bear / Photo: Jack Hill

Estonia in March – like two different worlds!

"300 Steller' Eider, 10 White-tailed Eagles, 8 Rough-legged Buzzards, 3 Black-throated Divers, Red-necked Grebe, hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks & Velvet Scoters, Great Grey Shrike & 5 Snow Buntings. A great first 24hrs in Estonia! 
Certainly quality not quantity in Estonia with White-backed Woodpecker and male Western Capercaillie the highlights from the last 24 hours, plus a few groups of Bohemian Waxwings. Good to hear Northern Bullfinches are still trumpeting just like they always did!! The second group arrives tomorrow and then we head back to the Steller's Eiders again.“ 
J.L. / UK, March, Sunbird Tours 1st group

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)
Photo: Tarvo Valker

To see amazing shots of Steller´s Eiders taken by Markku Marttila and Lauri Mäenpää please click here...

„Finding the first singing Great Grey Owl for Western Estonia is the undoubted highlight of the second Estonia tour (film made with iPhone), plus Pygmy Owl, calling Ural Owl, White-backed, Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers, more Common Cranes, Bohemian Waxwings, 10 Rough-legged Buzzard, 300+ Smew, hundreds of Whooper Swans, thousands of Bean Geese, more Nutcrackers and Great Grey Shrikes, Northern Long-tailed Tits, Hawfinches and Northern Bullfinches. 
Dont think I can remember anytime like it, same places, same targets and with just better weather and seemingly more luck. Like two different worlds!“ 
J.L. / UK, March 2015, Sunbird Tours 2nd group

Our cooperation with Sunbird Tours has started successfully. However, we were not lucky with the weather on the first trip, but a second trip was an amazing contrast. Read about Great Grey Owl story written by our bird guide Kaarel Võhandu here...

Golden Jackal in Estonia – is it just a joke?

From the beginning of 2013 Estonian natural fauna got a new mammal species – Golden Jackal!  So how did it happen?  A group of hunters from Hanila community (West-Estonia) shot an adult specimen before they ever understood that they had made the history.  A DNA check didn't match any of the data from  the zoos, so it had to have arrived along natural pathways. The closest populations to Estonia – in Hungary and in Ukraine - were descovered in the 1990s, therefore the animals have had every opportunity to move here along the riversides, swamps and forests. 

Photo: Margus Viipsi / Source: Estonian Daily News

Shy animals who always keep low profile, inhabiting shrubs and reedbeds – they can be very hard to notice.  It was their specific high-pitch howling before hunting trips and in the mating season, that made local people aware of them in 2010, but the origin of the voice was hard to distinguish.
Jackal's natural enemy is wolf and that's why they are most often met in areas where wolves are  more scarce. 
In 2014 several sightings from north, north-east and south Estonia were recorded. It seems that the Jackals arrived some years ago and is likely to be here to stay.  By the end of 2014 they were recorded on Saaremaa Island.
There are concerns about problems that may result from the arrival of this species for example in Matsalu National Park this species may devastate the local amphibian fauna, especially the reintroduced Natterjack Toad population.

Garden Birdwatch 2015

Garden Birdwatch 2015 took place on January 23-25 after which the results have been coming in and the final results were published at the beginning of March.  This allowed time for any unusual or problematic sightings to be checked and discussed.
Numbers were slightly down compared to Estonia in 2014 - the total number of birds recorded being 70 376 birds of 63 species mostly in home gardens, but also in parks and graveyards. 2727 people from 1838 locations took part.  This winter the higher than average temperatures and less than average snow fall definitely had its influence and 15 000 fewer individual birds were counted compared to the previous year.
The most interesting species were Great Grey Shrike (4), Little Grebe (3), Mistle Thrush (1) and Dipper (1). The most numerous bird of prey was Sparrowhawk (70), followed by Goshawk (13), Common Buzzard (16) and Pygmy Owl (6).

Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor)
Photo: Valeri Śtśerbatõhh

In the following table counts of the most common wintering garden bird species are presented:

SpeciesTotal number% of locations
Great Tit
17 160
Tree Sparrow
10 196
Green Finch
8 504
House Sparrow
4 365
Hooded Crow
3 245
2 938
2 805
2 643
House Pigeon
1 633
1 478
Marsh Tit
1 460
1 379
1 329
Willow Tit
1 232
1 216
1 071

Original data by Aarne Tuule (Newsletter of the Estonian Ornithological Society - “Tiirutaja” No 28, 2015)

Fantastic Great Grey Owl story

Written by Kaarel Võhandu

Early spring, Thursday night in Estonia. We have just arrived from Saaremaa Island with a group of visiting birders, where we watched Steller's Eiders. The tour has been excellent with lots of interesting species. In addition to Steller's Eiders we have seen Hawfinch, 10 Rough-legged Buzzards, two Pygmy Owls, Cranes, several Black Woodpeckers, two Grey-headed Woodpeckers and a White-backed Woodpecker. We are one more observation short of another ideal birding day - we need to find a Ural Owl. At sunset we head into the forest. The first hour of searching doesn't produce any results. Hope is fading. We are driving along a forest track, scanning trees when I suddenly spot a silhouette of an owl on a low pine branch. "Got one", I exclaim, hitting the brakes. It is twilight,so few minutes of instructing where to look are needed, before everyone has found it. Luckily the owl cooperates and does not fly away. Finally everyone has found it and I have time to have a look myself. I raise my binoculars just as the owl looks at us. White half-crescent eye-brows, light eyes. "This is not an Ural Owl" I shout. I grab my bird guide from the bag to make sure. The face that looks at me through my bins is exactly the same as in the guide, under headline - Great Grey Owl.

Great Grey Owl video filmed by Ian Moig

The Great Grey Owl sat there for another few minutes, then took off, unfolding its massive wings, showing its true size. We got out of the vans and looked for it with no result. I decided to resume the Ural Owl operation and took out my Ipod and speaker to play its call. But first I played a series of Great Grey Owl calls. From the other edge of the clearing a deep voice answered: "bvoo-bvoo-bvoo". "Its responding", I whispered excitedly to others. Then an Ural Owl voices its opinion about breaking the quiet of the forest. Its "Uhwo wo-ho" sounding almost girly compared to the deep bass of the Great Grey Owl. Now it was a good time to see if I can lure the Ural Owl closer so we can have a look. I play its call. Instead, the Great Grey Owl flies in and lands in the tree just above us. Now he gives a wholehearted "Bvoo-bvoo-bvoo" making the forest ring. Ural Owl does the smart thing and shuts up. We listen to the deep calls for a few more minutes and then depart quietly, leaving the majestic bird to rule the forest.

Great Grey Owl is very rare in Estonia. In recent years there has been only one sighting per year. This one was a 3rd total observation in Läänemaa (western county of Estonia) and the first singing bird for Läänemaa.

Thank You, Kaarel for a great job!

The First Eurasian Lynx tour – will it work?!

I have just arrived in the hotel to meet with the group on the first evening of our first ever Lynx tour... I am slightly nervous as this is a very exciting species and I am hoping it will be successful. Our guide Tarvo is annoyed as he has left his luggage at the airport... not a good start!  The first members of the group are coming downstairs and I sense a little tension in the air.  Here is how the initial conversation went...

Group: “Hi, Marika, nice to meet you!”
Marika: “Nice to meet you too! I hope you have had a great start except for the problem with Tarvo´s luggage?”
Sue: “Never mind, he'll sort that out. Tarvo is really very good ..”
Marika: “Yeah .. he is, indeed. He is one of the best, always very kind and helpful not only with customers but with me, too.”
Group: “Have you had a difficult day?”
Marika: “It has been this way and that. But now, the most difficult period is just beginning. You all want to see the Lynx surely, which is a challenge for sure..”

Chris and Helen are coming... 
Marika: “Hi, Chris, how are you?”
Chris: “I'm fine. And you?”

More greetings, hugs.. Peep and Raido come up the stairs.
Marika: “Now, you all are here... hello again to everyone! Before we go to enjoy our first dinner, I wish you a very good luck for seeing a Lynx!”
Tarvo: “Chris, now you have to say it..”
Marika: “What it? Do we have some kind of ceremony? Is there a problem??”
Chris: “Actually, we already saw a Lynx!!”
Marika: “Nnooooo, do not make a joke with me...”
Customers: “Yes, we saw, we saw indeed!”
Marika: “REALLY? Everyone saw well?”

What happened after, you can only imagine.. I was not able to manage my emotions, even at my age, I jumped and leaped and shook Tarvo.. "Why you did not tell me earlier?!" Emotions were up for several days – our
 very first Eurasian Lynx trip (the first in Europe!) was a success already!! Pygmy Owl and Mr Lynx seen in 2.5 hours! 

Tarvo´s luggage was also found from the airport.

The ghost of the forest with Team Lynx! 
Photo: Chris Townend

„Sometimes with nature you need some good luck and last night was a night to remember as our first Eurasian Lynx Quest Tour to Estonia scored this ultimate prize yesterday evening on the first day of our tour!
Eurasian Lynx has always been notoriously difficult to see and thanks to a recce last year and some great local work from our local guide we hit one of the Lynx "hot spots" last night at just the right time. Little did I know that the first sweep of my torch would reveal a Eurasian Lynx just 70-80 metres away!! Everyone was onto it immediately and we all had great views as it strolled across an open field in full view! Quite simply Wow!“ 
C.T. / UK, March 2015, Wise Birding Holidays

It does not mean that we do not need to continue our fieldwork in order to learn the behavior of the Lynx. A lot of work remains to be done..