Wednesday, May 27, 2015


European Beaver. Photo: Tarvo Valker

Local organizer: Estonian Nature Tours

Tour leader: Tarvo Valker

Day 1

Paul, Yasuko and Helen arrived to Tallinn late in the morning. After a quick snack at the airport we headed for the short birding in the northern part of Tallinn. Small nature reserve with nice hiking trail and watching tower produced us several good sightings. As we came out from the minivan, the first mammal of this trip was spotted – Red Fox was walking along the track.

Birds from the tower included a pair of summer plumage Red-necked Grebes, Penduline Tit carrying nesting material, booming Bittern, Bearded Reedling and many others. Soon Tarvo heard the song of a Bluethroat. We had very brief view of the adult male in the dense reedbed.

After an hour and a half birding it was time to pick up Connie from the airport. Now we headed out from Tallinn to reach northwestern Estonia. Our first birding stop was made in Vihterpalu area. Nice pine forests, surrounded by former forest fire was a place to see some gamebirds and raptors. Despite the fact that we were here in early afternoon, we managed to see Black Grouse hen. The bird took off near the track and perched on a nearby tree.

Second stop was made in Dirhami harbor where we hoped to see some Grey Seals. Fishing ships were around and that was a good sign. It took us less than a few minutes to spot the first Grey Seals. There was at least 3 individuals around the deck and we managed to photograph them. On a way back Tarvo spotted a tame gull roosting on a deck. It turned to be a Kittiwake – a very uncommon bird to find in Estonia in spring! The bird had few dark feathers on the back of the head, pointing that this individual was a 3cy bird.

Kittiwake. Photo: Tarvo Valker

Now it was time to settle down in Roosta. We checked in, had a nice dinner and very needed sleep for the next morning's early start.

Day 2

Early morning mammal tracking wasn't any big success first. After one hour or so, we managed to see the first female Capercaillie. Quite soon we had another female and later also one male.

We also visited Black Grouse lek, where we had about 23 males. Other birds here included Montagu's Harrier, 2 Rough-legged Buzzards, Cranes, few Black-tailed Godwits and Golden Plovers. A really superb field near the bog.

Before late breakfast we managed to find also 2 Red Squirrels. They ran across the road and then climbed around the pine trees.

Lunch time was fulfilled with a photography session of very tame Slavonian Grebes. At least 9 summer plumage birds were on a small lake. One pair was building a nest fairly close to the walking track.

We continued our birding at Rannajõe watching tower. Big floodplain is a great place to pick up some raptors. We had here White-tailed Eagle and migrating Peregrine Falcon. After that we checked some places for Ortolan Bunting, who is really rapidly declining farmland bird in the whole Europe, including Estonia. One distant bird was heard several times, but no visual sighting unfortunately. Still we managed to see another declining farmland bird species – a pair of Grey Partridges.

The weather for the boat trip - calm and sunny evening - was absolutely superb. First hour was birding time and we had really good visual sightings of several Savi's Reed Warblers. Few Ruffs, many Black Terns, several White-tailed Eagles and Marsh Harriers.

European Beaver. Photo: Tarvo Valker

Nice picnic in the boat and we started to check places for the Beavers. At first we spotted 2 American Minks in a reedbed, then two Elks. And then finally first sightings of the Beavers. Most of them were swimming in the river, but some also feeding on the riverbank. At least seven Beavers were seen during the few hours boat trip.

Day 3

We started our morning at cape Põõsaspea – the best place in the whole Europe to see arctic waterfowl migration. Although autumn here is far more spectacular, our bird list increased rapidly. We had several small flocks of Black and Red-throated Divers, Long-tailed Ducks, Velvet and Common Scoters, Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Eiders.

It was also worth to check the coastal meadow because the narrow peninsula is always a place where birds have some downfalls. Birding at the meadow produced us real quality. Within few minutes we found the first Bluethroat. In total we managed to see 3 adult males and 1 female-coloured bird. Other birds in the bushes included good views of the Icterine Warbler and few brief sightings of the Red-breasted Flycatcher. As we walked back, a Short-eared Owl passed overhead.

Male Bluethroat. Photo: Tarvo Valker
Before lunch we explored the northern part of Matsalu National Park. Coastal meadow at Puise peninsula had large number of passing migrants. A flock of 3,500 Barnacle Geese, few Temminck's Stints, Avocets and loads of Ringed Plovers.

After lunch we had long drive to South-East Estonia. With few resting stops it took us roughly four hours to get there. The birding highlight of this drive was certainly the Lesser Spotted Eagle, perched on a telegraph pole near the main road.

Lesser Spotted Eagle. Photo: Tarvo Valker

Day 4

We started our morning at 5.30 a.m. Barrie arrived last night and joined our group. The morning was cloudy and rather could. We walked around Järvselja forests.

Bird activity was fairly low in the first hours, because of the low temperatures. After some walk, Tarvo heard loud tapping. Soon he picked up a male White-backed Woodpecker feeding on an old tree stump. Old mixed forests with mature spruces and aspens had also good density of Red-breasted Flycatcher. Their song was heard in several places. As we arrived to our minivan, it was time for a forest-breakfeast. Our meal was delayed by a Nutcracker. The bird perched on a tall pine just near the track for several minutes. At the same time loud drumming was heard – pointing to the presence of a Black Woodpecker.

After some snacks, we explored the deciduous park in the same village. The small park delivered nesting Fieldfares, a singing Icterine Warbler and a calling Wryneck.

Before the early lunch, we made some birding near the Russian border – Mehikoorma. Small village near the big lake was a good place for several passerines and raptors. Before reaching Mehikoorma, we had 30 Little Gulls on a ploughed field accompanied by several hundred White-fronted Geese.

Mehikoorma had singing Thrush Nightingale, Red-breasted Flycatcher, several Pied Flycatchers and two male Serins. Soon we noticed White-tailed Eagle soaring high in the sky. Barrie soon discovered an Osprey near the White-Tailed Eagle and it was really nice to realize the size difference of those two raptors.

Another nice lunch at Mooste vodka factory (this time without vodka) and few hours of sleep. Afternoon birding took place at Aardla wetlands. The polder area near Tartu is a real birding paradise. Loads of Black Terns were feeding on a lake. At least 2 White-winged Terns were spotted amongst them.

Our success continued with finding some Bluethroats – at least 3 birds were seen during 2,5 hours birding. We also had good scope views of several male Citrine Wagtails – one of the main target birds we come for.

Before the dinner we had a little walk around Tartu old town. University city had really interesting old buildings and our dinner was just next door to Tartu University main building.

After the meal we drove to Kärevere. It is the most well-known place to see lekking Great Snipes. Although the grass was fairly high already, we managed to see at least 4 lekking indviduals. We saw also a Hobby hunting on a meadow.

Day 5

Morning birding at Laeva polder. At least 800 Ruff, most of them males in summer plumage. It was real privilege to observe adult Peregrine Falcon hunting the dense flock of Ruffs from the air. About 10 minutes long chase didn't provide any food for the Peregrine.

Wetland also had a pair of Hobbies and few Marsh Harriers. Waders beside Ruffs included mainly Wood Sandpipers and Greenshanks.

After short birding we drove to North-East Estonia, to the next place to see forest birds and mammals of course. First night we spent in the Bear hide.

Brown Bear hide provides sightings of Brown Bears almost every night in spring and early summer. Unfortunately Estonian army had their biggest field training maneuvers of the whole history. Over 10,000 soldiers were out in the field and some of them too close to the brown bear hide. Consequently we didn't see any bears and disturbance was obvious. Still we had at least 3 Raccoon Dogs coming to feed. Also 2 Red Foxes were seen. More elusive Brown Bears kept away.

Day 6

We left the hide early because it was clear that chances to see the Brown Bear close to military training would have been too big piece of luck. So we had drive to other forest tracks. That produced us good sighting of 3 Mountain Hares running around our van.

Mountain Hares. Photo: Tarvo Valker

After the late breakfast and some sleep we headed out again for some forest birding. Birding in the old forest was really promising, concerning Woodpeckers. Quite soon Tarvo heard soft tick, which could be most probably White-backed Woodpecker. After small effort we had brief views of the male and female White-backed Woodpecker. They kept coming in the same area, so probably the nest was rather close to the main road. We also managed to see a Three-toed Woodpecker feeding on a dead spruce, just few steps from the road. It was nice to see the most elusive woodpecker of Europe.

After the dinner our session was devoted to mammals. First mammal was a long distant mystery. The small-sized mammal running along the track and then disappeared to the ditch, was most probably another American mink. During next hour we had many Roe Deers and also a female Black Grouse near the track.

More excitement was added when dusk arrived. First, Ural Owl flew across the road. Unfortunately only 2 participants and the tour leader managed to see this spectacular owl, before it disappeared into the woods.

Soon we had Raccoon Dog at the roadside in car lights. We watched this cute little mammal for several minutes.

Day 7

Short night and then out again. Morning was unfortunately very quiet mammal wise. We had few Mountain Hares and Roe Deers. We also had two Black Woodpeckers. Probably the most exciting bird was a male Hen Harrier, hunting on a nice field. The bird which you see nowadays less and less.

Afternoon we met with Uudo, the man who is the top specialist of Siberian Flying Squirrels. He has studied those endangered mammals around 30 years and it was a real privilege to get part of his nature conservation work. We visited Flying Squirrel habitats and also saw evidence of those nocturnal mammals. Small pellets under the aspen trees was a clear sign that there are still some Siberian Flying Squirrels around.

Uudo told us that one radio collar had stopped working, so our evening mission was to catch that individual to replace the battery. We put up traps and then stayed away.

Meanwhile we visited high watching tower, enjoyed sunset with some flocks of migrating geese in the sky.

Although we had previous evidence what holes are most often used by the Flying Squirrels, we didn't have any success to catch that cute fellow. But that's the reality of nature watching.

Day 8

As the flight was fairly early, we had to take straight drive to Tallinn. Last bird we had in our bird list, was another excitment for our leader, Tarvo. One Black Kite was soaring just above the highway and we made brief stop to make some photos. Our trip ended with 166 species of birds and 11 species of mammals.

List of birds:

  1. Mute Swan
  2. Tundra Bean Goose – 500+ on 8.5 at Harju-Risti fields, few at Aardla polder on 11.5
  3. White-fronted Goose – thousands
  4. Barnacle Goose - 3500+ at Matsalu NP on 10.5
  5. Greylag Goose
  6. Shelduck
  7. Gadwall
  8. Teal
  9. Mallard
  10. Garganey
  11. Shoveler
  12. Tufted Duck
  13. Greater Scaup – small numbers at cape Põõsaspea on 10.5
  14. Common Eider
  15. Long-tailed Duck – 50+ at cape Põõsaspea on 10.5
  16. Common Scoter
  17. Velvet Scoter
  18. Goldeneye
  19. Red-breasted Merganser
  20. Goosander
  21. Black Grouse – 1 F on 8.5 at Vihterpalu, 25 M 2 F on 9.5 in northwest, 1 F in northeast on 13.5, 1F 1 M in northeast on 14.5
  22. Capercaillie – 1 M and 2 F at Nõva forests on 9.5
  23. Grey Partridge – 2 ind. at Martna fields on 9.05
  24. Red-throated Diver – small numbers at Cape Põõsaspea on 10.5
  25. Black-throated Diver – small numbers at Cape Põõsaspea on 10.5
  26. Great Crested Grebe
  27. Red-necked Grebe – 2 at Paljassaare on 8.5, 4 at Aardla on 11.5
  28. Slavonian Grebe – 9 at Haapsalu on 9.5
  29. Cormorant
  30. Bittern – heard only
  31. Great White Egret – 2 at Kärevere on 11.5
  32. Grey Heron
  33. White Stork
  34. Honey Buzzard – 1 ind seen only by Paul
  35. Black Kite – 1 en route to Tallinn on 15.5
  36. White-tailed Eagle – seen on 3 days including at least 6 individuals
  37. Marsh Harrier
  38. Montagus Harrier – seen on 4 days
  39. Hen Harrier – one adult male at Oonurme on 14.5
  40. Sparrowhawk
  41. Common Buzzard
  42. Rough-legged Buzzard – 2 at Variku fields on 9.5
  43. Lesser Spotted Eagle – 1 near Viljandi on 10.5
  44. Golden Eagle – 1 at Variku fields on 9.5
  45. Osprey – 1 at Mehikoorma on 11.5
  46. Kestrel
  47. Hobby – seen on 5 days
  48. Peregrine Falcon – 1 at Rannajõe tower on 9.5, 1 at Laeva polder on 12.5
  49. Water Rail – heard only
  50. Corncrake – heard only
  51. Moorhen – heard only
  52. Coot
  53. Crane
  54. Oystercatcher
  55. Avocet – 9 at Puise peninsula on 10.5
  56. Ringed Plover
  57. Golden Plover
  58. Lapwing
  59. Temminkcs Stint – 6 at Puise peninsula on 10.5
  60. Dunlin
  61. Ruff – seen on 5 days. 800+ at Laeva polder on 12.5
  62. Common Snipe
  63. Great Snipe – 4 lekking males at Kärevere on 11.5
  64. Woodcock
  65. Black-tailed Godwit
  66. Curlew
  67. Spotted Redshank
  68. Redshank
  69. Greenshank
  70. Green Sandpiper
  71. Wood Sandpiper
  72. Common Sandpiper
  73. Little Gull
  74. Black-headed Gull
  75. Common Gull
  76. Herring Gull
  77. Kittiwake – 1 cy bird at Dirhami harbour on 8.5
  78. Common Tern
  79. Arctic Tern
  80. Black Tern
  81. White-winged Tern – 2 at Aardla wetland on 11.5
  82. Feral Pigeon
  83. Stock Dove
  84. Wood Pigeon
  85. Cuckoo
  86. Ural Owl – brief views of one bird in car headlights at Alutaguse on 13.5. Seen only by tour leader and 2 participants
  87. Short-eared Owl – 1 at Spithami on 10.5
  88. Swift
  89. Wryneck
  90. Black Woodpecker – one drumming at Järvselja on 11.5, 2 birds seen at Alutaguse on 14.5
  91. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  92. White-backed Woodpecker – 1 male at Järvselja on 11.5, male and female at Alutaguse on 13.5
  93. Three-toed Woodpecker – 1 male at Alutaguse on 13.5
  94. Wood Lark – heard only
  95. Skylark
  96. Sand Martin
  97. Barn Swallow
  98. House Martin
  99. Tree Pipit
  100. Meadow Pipit
  101. Red-throated Pipit – heard only at cape Põõsaspea on 10.5
  102. Yellow Wagtail
  103. Citrine Wagtail – 2-3 males at Aardla on 11.5, 1 male at Laeva polder on 12.5
  104. White Wagtail
  105. Waxwing – one at Spithami on 10.5
  106. Wren
  107. Dunnock
  108. Robin
  109. Thrush Nightingale – heard only
  110. Bluethroat – 1 M at Paljassaare on 8.5, 3 M and 1 F at Spithami on 10.5, 2 M and 1 F at Aardla on 11.5
  111. Black Redstart
  112. Redstart
  113. Whinchat
  114. Wheatear
  115. Blackbird
  116. Fieldfare
  117. Song Thrush
  118. Mistle Thrush
  119. Grasshopper Warbler – heard only
  120. Savis Warbler – several seen during boat trip at Matsalu on 9.5
  121. Sedge Warbler
  122. Reed Warbler
  123. Great Reed Warbler
  124. Icterine Warbler
  125. Blackcap
  126. Lesser Whitethroat
  127. Whitethroat
  128. Wood Warbler
  129. Chiffchaff
  130. Willow Warbler
  131. Goldcrest
  132. Spotted Flycatcher
  133. Red-breasted Flycatcher
  134. Pied Flycatcher
  135. Bearded Reedling – 1-2 at Paljassaare on 8.5
  136. Marsh Tit
  137. Coal Tit – heard only
  138. Blue Tit
  139. Crested Tit
  140. Great Tit
  141. Nuthatch
  142. Treecreeper
  143. Penduline Tit – 1 at Paljassaare on 8.5
  144. Red-backed Shrike – 2 at Alutaguse on 13.5
  145. Eurasian Jay
  146. Magpie
  147. Nutcracker – 1 at Järvselja on 11.5
  148. Jackdaw
  149. Rook
  150. Hooded Crow
  151. Raven
  152. Starling
  153. House Sparrow
  154. Tree Sparrow
  155. Chaffinch
  156. Serin – 2 males at Mehikoorma on 11.5
  157. Greenfinch
  158. Goldfinch
  159. Siskin
  160. Linnet
  161. Common Crossbill
  162. Bullfinch
  163. Hawfinch
  164. Yellowhammer
  165. Ortolan Bunting – heard only
  166. Reed Bunting

List of mammals:

  1. European Hare
  2. Mountain Hare – 6 at Alutaguse on 13.5, 1 at Alutaguse on 14.5
  3. Red Squirrel – 2 near Linnamäe on 9.5, 1 at Alutaguse on 12.5
  4. European Beaver – 7 at Matsalu NP from the boat on 9.5
  5. Red Fox
  6. Raccoon Dog – 2 at Alutaguse on 12.5, 4 at Alutaguse on 13.5
  7. Elk – 2 at Matsalu NP on 9.5
  8. Roe Deer – the most common mammal
  9. American Mink – 3 at Matsalu NP on 9.5
  10. Grey Seal – 3 at Dirhami harbour on 8.5
  11. Pine Marten – 1 at Järvselja on 11.5. Seen only by Paul and Yasuko

Monday, May 18, 2015

Estonia in spring, May 9-16, 2015

Looking out of my Promenade hotel room window at 5:30 AM Sunday morning I noticed that the rising sun behind the Tagalaht Bay had „ears” – here known as a sure sign of bad weather coming. Luckily everything was going right and summing up the final score of the bird checklist together with Marietta, SNP Natuurreizen tourleader, on our way back to Tallinn the result was 127 species. 

It wasn't that bad at all, we had to admit, considering several species hadn't arrived yet or were just not singing due to cold weather. Sad to say, but we had no sign whatsoever of icterine warbler, wood lark, greenish warbler, shrikes, scoters, spotted crakes or corncrakes.

Lapwings in flight. Photo: P. Vissak

Instead we had beautiful spottings of kingfisher, waxwing, hoopoe, horned grebe, avocet, curlew, white-tailed eagle, hobby, 3 species of harrier, barnacle geese, cranes, hawfinch, rosefinch, willow tit, crested tit and loudly performing thrush nightingale everywhere. Two far black grouse and one mysterious hazel grouse. Nutcracker and black woodpecker remained as distant calls, grey-headed woodpecker came upon, but most of us didn't spot it though. Elk and beaver were expected and nicely delivered. One wet and fat speciman did not care about us at all, while tucking into fresh plants just by the boat.

Beaver. Photo: P. Vissak
Escalating conflict between cranes and curlews.
Photo: P. Vissak
Horned grebe. Photo: P. Vissak
White-tailed eagle in the reedbeds. Photo: P. Vissak

This tour was much about birds, as most of the plants were still sleeping or yet in buds. Yes, we saw lots of yellow flowers – yellow anemones, multiflowered buttercup, lesser celandine and cowslips, cowslips, cowslips. In the other hand - Osmussaar island surprised us with early spring remnants - a big clump of liverleaf in full blossom. Amazing how a small country may be so large in its seasons.

Osmussaar island, liverleaf still in blossom. Photo: P. Vissak
SNP tour leader Marietta taking pictures of liverleaf

There isn't much more to speak about botanical survey. Some species of flowering sedges and cottongrass in moist meadows, danish scurvygrass on the ultimate edge of the limestone cliff of Osmussaar island, flowers opened on top of almost negligible stems, bittie leaves of round-leaved sundew in raised bogs and ghostly white romantic flowers of wood sorrel.

Danish scurvygrass (rare in Estonia) in Osmussaar island.
Photo: P. Vissak
Danish scurvygrass. Photo: P. Vissak
Wood sorrel. Photo: P. Vissak

Then of course there were the eery „fingers of the dead” - or toothwort, a plant, who is living the life of an earthworm, crawling most of the year under the ground and having scales instead of leaves. Only once a year for a very short time it shows up with its fleshy pink flowers.

Toothwort. Photo: P. Vissak

This time the plants were following us in our footsteps. Hardly gone from West Estonia, I was called by a keen orchid photographer, announcing that military orchid and early purple orchid will be out within 1-2 days. We hurry, nature doesn't.

Hereby some more quickly developed tour pictures (by Peeter Vissak), some of them shot merely through bus window :)

Beefsteak morel Gyromitra esculenta

Black morel Morchella elata


"Crocodiles" and other creatures formed by Osmussaar brecchia rock



Lily of the valley stretching up

Mallard, little bit annoyed

Mooste vodka factory guesthouse

Mute swan in Matsalu reedbeds

SNP tour group wandering along limestone cliff in Osmussaar island

Osmussaar island

Scarlet elf cup

Breakfast in Promenade hotel, Haapsalu
Yellow anemone

White-tailed eagle

Early morning view from hotel window, Haapsalu

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Birding towers event

In connection with international migratory birds day on the 9th of May Estonian Ornithological Society calls each and every bird-lover or afficionado to the watchtower event. All over Estonia there will be tutors waiting in towers to instruct newbies and supervise all other participants. As buzzards are birds of the year, more attention will be paid to birds of prey. Species’ checklist will be fulfilled in each tower and the most species rich tower will be found out.
to find out the locations of watchtowers, visiting hours etc. The map will be updated during the event.
No prior registration is needed. It is possible to watch birds and keep the checklists on everybody’s own. On that occasion it is of utmost importance to send the results to Thea Perm (the coordinator) on Saturday at 17 as the latest. E-mail address:
It is necessary to fix the location, time, species list, watchers’ names or number and contact phone nr. 

The Cornell Lab Of Ornithology - counting most of the birds in one day!

This Saturday, May 9, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will be embarking on a new kind of Big Day, and we hope you'll come with them. Their birding team will spend 24 hours birding in Panama, the crossroads of the Americas. But they need your help to reach their twin goals of recording 4,000 of the world's species in a single day and raising $500,000 for conservation. No matter where you live, you can help our cause.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Give Your helping hand to Black Storks

Black Stork is endangered species in Estonia, whose breeding habitats are mostly situated in large forests far from human settlement. During the last 30 years its number has diminished almost 3 times, being less than 100 pairs in the moment. 

It’s mainly feeding upon small fish and amphibians, while the home range is usually small forest rivers, brooks and ditches. Unfortunately these tend to grow over, so that the bird cannot reach the food, especially during the growing season. In the worst case the chicks starve to death.

Estonian Ornithological society and the Eagle Club together have initiated together with several helpers a campaign of gathering charity donations for restoration works of small rivers on Black Stork feeding grounds. The works are planned to begin in the autumn 2015. The communal bee is an event, where everyone can contribute.
You can support with a feasible donation to the special accounts:

EE2522 0022 1023 7285 17    

EE8510 1022 0016 7660 14

It is also possible to donate at the exhibition of the Finnish nature photographer Mikko Tiittanen in the Environmental Education Centre of Tallinn Zoo.

Estonian Nature Tours' birding trips and even holidays with wild flowers and butterflies have occasionally brought us together with Black Storks, whose daily activities are often adjacent to our routes.

Read more about Black Storks and watch the webcamera live stream at:

Source: Estonian Ornithological Society,

Exploring standards of Capercaillie’s habitat

Capercaillie holds it’s position of being a popular species to be spotted during birding tours, albeit not to be disturbed in its lekking sites. Anyway lots of birders have seen this magnificent bird through the van windshield, either the exposing cock, groups of hens or an occasional hen with chickens. Yes - there are so forsaken forest roads here and there in Estonia.

Estonian Ornithological Society (EOY) together with Tartu University are carrying on a scientific project, financed by the Estonian Forestry Board (RMK). The project is focused on the quality of capercaillie’s habitats and is coordinated by senior research fellow Asko Lõhmus, PhD.

An important part of the project are telemetric investigations to reveal the size of the home range of adult capercaillie cocks and hens throughout the year. This would give some understanding of habitat utilization in correlation with suitable landscape patterns, area and distances. 

Experienced and seasoned researcher Eric Ringaby shared his expertise of 35 years of similar work. In 2014 only one hen was labelled. This year, during one week of 24/7 capercaillie lifestyle, Eric Ringaby, Ivar Ojaste and Pauli Saag were able to equip one more hen and a cock with radio transmitters. In spite of negligible signal level in Soomaa, positioning of the birds has been successful so far. 

Capercaillie hen with transmitter
Photo: Ivar Ojaste

Ivar Ojaste (holding the capercaillie cock) and Eric Ringaby
Photo: Ivar Ojaste