Sunday, August 16, 2015

Naturetrek: Wild flowers of Estonia; 28 June - 6 July 2015

Pyramidal Orchid - Anacamptis pyramidalis (All following photos: Peeter Vissak)

Day 1

The very first day was for arriving and for transfer to Hiiumaa island. Most of the group was from Great Britain, albeit from different regions, while Hagen was from Germany. One and a half hours to the ferry port, one and a half hours for crossing the strait and then 30 more minutes to reach Dagens Haus guesthouse in South-Western Hiiumaa. No particular botanizing in the evening, although the bird-declined members were able to browse the skyline for sporadic Common Terns, Grey Herons and Black Cormorants.

Day 2

The main target was Kõpu peninsula - the Western end of Hiiumaa island. This is one of the oldest parts of the archipelago, meaning it was uplifting from the postglacial sea already in the Ancylus period 8-9 thousand years ago. The previous coastal formations are now stacking over each other and making the natural conditions diverse. The top platform of Kõpu lighthouse gives a good overview of the peninsula with all its forests. Hard time to climb up, but one can enjoy a cup of coffee instead down at the tourist centre.

Forests of Kõpu Peninsula

In the Northern part of Hiiumaa - in Kõrgessaare - is an orchid garden, which is more like a paradise garden, as one can find in a very confined area 10 different orchid species. The “garden” is surrounded by a fence and provided with boardwalks for safety and convenience. We spotted Early Marsh, Common Spotted and Fragrant Orchids, masses of Twayblades and Butterfly Orchids, lots of Dark Red and Marsh Helleborines in buds, several outworn Military Orchids and some specimen of Fly Orchids and Musk Orchids. Kõrgessaare also provided a really exemplary specimen of Southern Marsh Orchid, that is considered rare in Estonia. Some vague hope was to spot the very last Lady’s Slippers and there were some, but really outworn. Nevertheless we could imagine the spectacularity of the site as of some weeks ago.

Southern Marsh Orchid -
Dactylorhiza praetermissa

Other species of interest were very numerous Round-leaved Wintergreen and Multiflowered Buttercup in the meadow and Chickweed Wintergreen in the forest.

Round-leaved Wintergreen -
Pyrola rotundifolia

Our lunch was in the local fish restaurant “Hõbekala” (= Silverfish).

In Kõpu peninsula we visited coastal dunes with scarce pine-trees and occasionally dense Japanese rose. Under the trees there were lots of Green-leaved Wintergreen, One-flowered Wintergreen and Serrated Wintergreen. Occasional Spring Cinquefoil and Little Mouse-ear (Fivestamen Chickweed) were still there, but almost dried already. On the open sand we found lot of Sand Sedge and some Long-bracted Sedge, as well as Rough Horsetail and Variegated Horsetail. Here we could see both Dwarf Milkwort and Tufted Milkwort. Coastal dunes offered us loads of Spurious Butterbur, Sea Pea, Sheep’s bit Scabious, Sea Sandwort and Sea Kale. No luck with Sea Holly this time. There were lots of Dark-red Helleborine plants still in buds.
Another stop at the roadside gave us plenty of Twinflower together with Common Cow-wheat and Small Cow-wheat.

One-flowered Wintergreen -
Moneses uniflora
Sea Pea -
Lathyrus japonicus ssp. maritimus
Twinflower -
Linnaea borealis

A short stop at a small patch of paludifying fen provides us almost outworn, but still nicely recognizable Lesser Twayblades, as tiny as they usually are. Some meters apart beautiful specimen of Fly Orchids again. At the pathside large patches of Wood Vetch.

Wood Vetch -
Vicia sylvatica

In Käina we first visited Vaemla historical wool-factory with a cozy little shop and a cafe. Driving on we turned down to a coastal meadow specifically for the Baltic Orchid and it was there, right next to the parking area. Time to get back to the guesthouse for the dinner.

Baltic Orchid -
Dactylorhiza baltica

Day 3

Early start took us to the ferry between Hiiumaa island and Saaremaa island and soon we continued to the northern cliff of our biggest island. Forest edges, meadows and alvars provided us some more Fly Orchids, Lesser Butterfly Orchids, Mountain Everlasting (or Catsfoot) - both male and female plants (pink and white), Sticky Catchfly, Spike Speedwell, Northern Bedstraw and Crested Cow-wheat. There were also some remarkable patches of Wood Cow-wheat.
Open alvar at the edge of the cliff provided very copious intensively blue Viper’s Bugloss, added up with yellow Goldmoss Stonecrop and Lady’s Bedstraw.

Crested Cow-wheat -
Melampyrum cristatum

In Tagamõisa we occurred to be witnesses of wild boars’ outrage upon each and every Early Purple Orchid specimen. All were gone and obviously some more. Luckily we found nice flowering plants of Leafless Hawk’s Beard and some old acquaintances. All the forest edges were full of Melancholy Thistle, Lily-of-the-Valley, which was definitely finished and some May-Lily, which was still flowering. 

After the lunch in Kuressaare Kuursaal we continued in South. Loode oak-grove is just a short drive out of town, but is botanically interesting, reminding just a wooded meadow, but is less managed. Still enough opened landscape with nice forest glades. The main thrill of this location - a copious Lady’s Slippers site - was already outworn, as expected, but was giving good idea of the habitat in early June. Garden Speedwell, Nettle-leaved Bellflower, big patches of Wood Cow-wheat, Dropwort, Peach-leaved Bellflower, Bristly Bellflower, Clustered Bellflower, Cabbage Thistle, Dyer’s Woodruff and others. Common Spotted Orchid, Fragrant Orchid and Twayblade are very common.

More South, to the coastal dune forest just behind the hotels. The boardwalk and all other pathways were surrounded by Round-leaved, Green-leaved, Serrated and One-flowered Wintergreen. Additionally Umbellated Wintergreen was found, as well as large patches of Sand Pink, some outworn Military Orchid, some late specimen of Mountain Alison (Alyssum Gmelinii), Dark-Red Helleborine in buds and Marsh Helleborine already flowering. Several Lesser Butterfly Orchids here and there as well.

Umbellated Wintergreen -
Chimaphila umbellata
Serrated Wintergreen -
Orthilia secunda

Sand Pink -
Dianthus arenarius

Next and today’s last stop was in Kaugatuma-Lõo reserve area, where the Silurian outcrop is low, but the exposed part at the seashore offers loads of fossilized Sea Lily stems and segments. Alvar meadow up the low cliff offered surprises, e.g. great number of Musk Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid, Common Butterwort, Goldmoss Stonecrop and White Stonecrop, Common Moonwort and Wallrue ferns. Some nice specimen of Fly Orchid and Butterfly Orchid again.

Pyramidal Orchid -
Anacamptis pyramidalis

Fly Orchid -
Ophrys insectifera

Acommodation and dinner in Loona Manor.

Day 4

Viidumäe Reserve - protected since 1957. It is also one of the highest places in the Archipelago, formed during the Ancylus period of the postglacial Baltic Sea (8 to 9 thousand years ago). Here we talk about mixed forests, wooded meadows and calcareous fens. After a brief introductory familiarization withe the very good exposition of the visitors’ centre (information stands, folders with 1:1 scanner-made “herbary”) we headed for the nature trail. 

Rich meadow site next to the centre offers a plethora of species - grasses (like Quaking Grass, Blue Moor Grass, Downy Oat-grass, Smooth Meadow-grass, several Fescues), sedges (like Pale Sedge, Downy Fruited Sedge), orchids (Butterfly Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid, Twayblade, Fragrant Orchid) and other herbs (Tormentil, Spotted St. John’s Wort, Perforate St. John’s Wort, Fern-leaf Dropwort, Upright Bedstraw, Viper’s Grass et al.).

Forest was again heavily devastated by wild boar. Either this year happens to be unusually favourable for these cloven-footed creatures or the hunters have missed their duties. Really big percentage of the pathside was dug over, but nevertheless we could find e.g. Kashubian Buttercup, Coralroot Bittercress, Marsh Hawk’s Beard, Wonder-Violet, Hedge Woundwort, Sweet Woodruff, Herb Paris, Chickweed Wintergreen, Lily-of-the-Valley, Greater Burnet-Saxifrage, Solomon’s Seal and Angular Solomon’s Seal et al. For a short segment the trail was traversing a calcareous spring fen with Brown and Black Bogrush, Host’s Sedge, Deer-Grass and very beautiful groups of Russow’s Marsh Orchid in full bloom.

Chickweed-Wintergreen -
Majanthemum bifolium

Russow's Orchid -
Dactylorhiza Russowii

On our way to the lunch place - a small diner in the nearby Lümanda village - we made a brief stop on Kogula alvar. That stop gave us opened Dark-Red Helleborine, Broad-leaved Helleborine still in buds, some almost outworn Burnt-tip Orchid specimen, Thyme, Mountain Clover, Common Rock-rose, Mountain Everlasting, lots of Fragrant Orchid, Common Kidney Vetch et al.

After the lunch we went back to Viidumäe to visit the other part of the nature trail with Spring Pea (with pods), Black Pea, Wood Sanicle, Liquorice Milk-vetch, Alpine clover, Mountain Melick, Tor-grass, Bird-foot Sedge, some specimen of very late and last open Bird’s Eye Primrose and Fine-Leaf Vetch.

Black Pea -
Lathyrus niger

Day 5

A hectic, but fruitful day of leaving Loona Manor and Saaremaa island, visiting Puhtu-Laelatu Reserve and Tuhu reserve and transfer to Altmõisa.

First we visited Kaali meteorite crater, which is a magnificent site both geologically and historically (while being one of the few catastrophies from remembered historical period, there are several spoken folklore pieces in surrounding areas and if some bold hypotheses are really true, then even down to  Ancient Greece). Botanically our very brief stop at this site offered us lots of Nettle-Leaved Bellflowers, Baneberry (=Herb Christopher), huge patches of Creeping Buttercup and Martagon Lily in buds.

Kaali meteorite crater

Koguva village was a pleasant relaxing walk along the tranquil village streets, bordered wit all those stone-walls, fishermen’s outworn boats in their “afterlife”, shade of big Maples, Lime-trees, Oaks and Ashes and the cafes of course. Stone-walls gave us Herb-Robert, some Common Polypody and loads of mosses. 

Our lunch-place was in Tõnise Majatalo - a renovated and restylized farm house with sheep and seasoning herb bed.

After crossing the strait the next stop was in Laelatu wooded meadow - the site with highest known species diversity in Northen Europe (76 vascular plant species per square meter). In addition to old acquaintances like Common Spotted Orchid, Twayblade and Fragrant Orchid we spotted about a dozen of  Flecked Marsh Orchid among Early Marsh Orchid. Some of them with intermediate characteristics. 

Common Spotted Orchid -
Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Flecked Marsh Orchid -
Dactylorhiza cruenta

Most of the mesic sites here belong to the association with character species as Wood Cow-Wheat, Viper’s Grass and Pale Sedge. Our traversing stroll through the wooded meadow delivered following species: Marsh Angelica, Spotted Cat’s Ear, Dyer’s Woodruff, Purple Milk-vetch, Yellow Dragon’s Teeth (=Winged Pea), Field Restharrow (only buds), Lady’s Slippers (with seed capsules), Butterfly Orchid, Shrubby Violet, Meadow Violet (just finished), Peach-laved Bellflower, Creeping Bellflower, Angled Solomon’s Seal, Turfy Sedge, Davall’s Sedge, Bird’s Nest Orchid, Saw-wort, Dwarf Thistle, Mezereon, Bloody Cranesbill, Wood Cranesbill, Marsh Cranesbill, Nottingham Catchfly etc.

Next stop was a brief visit to a alvar forest site with lots of Red Helleborine. 

Red Helleborine -
Cephalanthera rubra

Then we headed on to the Tuhu bog nature trail. In Tuhu the road divides the bog into two parts. One side is a quaking bog where among the wide scale of different color variations of the Early Marsh Orchid (actually from bright white across yellowish pink to deep purple) we were lucky to find several specimen of Fen Orchid. On the other side the boardwalk traverses through three different bog development stages from quaking fen through transitional bog to real raised bog. Therefore we spotted species from all these habitats: Woolly-fruited Sedge, Tussock Cotton-grass, Slender Cotton-grass, Rannoch-Rush, Labrador Tea, Bog Myrtle, Bog Rosemary, Cranberry, Cloudberry, Dwarf Birch, Shrubby Birch, Roundleaf Sundew, English Sundew and several species of Sphagnum-moss. Not to speak about this tranquil landscape with small humpbacked pine-trees.

Early Marsh Orchid Yellowish White -
Dactylorhiza incarnata var. ochroleuca

Early Marsh Orchid -
D. incarnata pink variety

Labrador Tea -
Ledum palustre

Tired, but happy, we were heading to Altmõisa guesthouse for dinner and accommodation.

Day 6

Boat trip to Osmussaar island.

From Altmõisa guesthouse we had about 1 hour drive to the Dirhami harbour, stopping on our way ina a paludified pine forest habitat to see Heath Spotted Orchid. It is really a wonderful site with about 40 specimen of this species, all fully opened.

Heath Spotted Orchid -
Dactylorhiza maculata

9 km boat-trip took us to Osmussaar island, that has been the home-island for coastal swedes with Stockholm Archipelago origin, then a military base of Soviet army and now a project island that has brought three generations of a family to live and breed sheep and cattle there. If to believe ancient viking sagas their chief god Odin has also buried onto this island.

Botanically this place is a mixture of vast alvar areas, swampy bush and deciduous forest and juniper stands. One can also see primary limestone shingle coastal walls, Ordovician coastal cliff and remnant lakes with fringing reedbeds and swamps.
We had good time watching the gathering waders and waterfowl in the shore and shallow coastal sea. We saw e.g. Ruff, Red-Necked Phalarope, Shelduck, Dunlin, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Eider, Black Cormorant, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and some other species. 

We also saw some plant species, as Wild Strawberry, Green Strawberry, Spring Cinquefoil (finished already), Red Kidney Vetch, Viper’s Bugloss, Herb Robert, Danish Scurvygrass, Turfy Sedge, Blue Moor Grass, Sand Leek, Spike Speedwell, Thyme, Yellow Bedstraw, Mountain Clover, Strawberry Clover, European Chickweed, remnants of Woolly Milkvetch etc. Around the lakes in swampy areas we saw Bogbean (mostly finished), Bird’s Eye Primrose, Marsh Cinquefoil, Musk Orchid, Fen Orchid, Dark Red Helleborine in buds, Marsh Helleborine in buds and Common Butterwort.

Viper's Bugloss -
Echium vulgare

We also had our lunch back in the other end of the island (at the lighthouse and previous cordon), walked along the coastal limestone cliff and let the hosts to drive us there and back with their truck wheelbarrow.

Osmussaar island, cliff

Back to the guesthouse and delicious dinner was waiting for us.

Day 7

Matsalu National Park

In the morning we started with birdwatching in the Northern part of Matsalu National Park. Põgari-Sassi coastal meadows with very shallow water was really full of birds today. Among really common Grey Herons, White Egrets, Lapwings, Greylag Geese, Mallards, Gadwalls, Goldeneyes, Pochards, Common Terns, Common Gulls, Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers and Herring Gulls we spotted four Avocets, two Black-tailed Godwits and some Shelducks that cheered everybody up. In the further distance lots of Mute Swans and a really distant White-tailed Eagle.

Next we headed to Haeska bird-tower. Everybody liked this place for very good location, good coffee just at the seashore and the tower. We saw Ruff, Marsh Harrier, Dunlin, Redshank and a great number of distant ducks and swans.

Further on to the Southern part of Matsalu NP. Botanical walk in Salevere showed us some beautiful alvar meadows with some old acquaintances, as Yellow Bedstraw, Catsfoot, Common Rock-Rose, Kidney-vetch, Downy-fruited Sedge, Blue Moorgrass, lots of leaves of Lily-of-the-Valley and Liverleaf (April and May aspects!!!), Herb Paris, Fragrant Orchid, Perennial Mercury, Spring Pea et al. Down the boardwalk and staircase, on the inland remnant coastal cliff with Silurian origin we saw three ferns: Common Polypody, Maidenhair Spleenwort and Brittle Bladderfern. Downhill we saw Perennial Honesty in fruits.

Herb Paris -
Paris quadrifolia

Home-made lunch in a lovely farmplace on the bank of a pond and with the lovely family was delicious.

Matsalu visitors’ centre delivered a small, but in-depth exhibition and a very nice slide-programme. Further on to the flood-plain of the River Kasari. While some people spotted 2 distant Elks and a Curlew far in the meadow, others were botanizing. Arctic Reed-grass, Creeping Meadow Foxtail, Tworank Sedge, Acute Sedge, Grass-like Sedge, Smooth Black Sedge, Reed Canary-grass, Marsh Marigold, Milk-Parsley, Marsh Bedstraw, Fen Bedstraw were the finds here.

The day (or the evening) ran on with a beaver-trip on a boat. We were driving down the rivers, made a stop at the riverside, had our picnic-dinner and then started to drive slowly and - if possible - quietly along the river. We saw lots of felled trees, that had been used as food for beavers. There were also lots of tunnel-like ways to and from the river-bank, made by beavers. On our way up we saw a Kingfisher flying quickly along the riverbanks and there was also a huge patch of Marsh Spurge in the riverbank. Then at last we succeeded to see 3 or 4 swimming Beavers. They are really a little bit shy and dive soon after noticing our boat.

Starlings gathering to nightsleep


Back to the guesthouse for a deep and earned sleep.

Day 8

Through Haapsalu to Tallinn.

In the morning we walked around in Haapsalu town, which is famous for its Bishop’s Castle and Historical railway station, but also for several bays and lagoons and beautiful promenades. We could  watch from short distance several specimen of Slavonian Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Mallard, Common Tern, Mute Swan and Black-headed Gull. We also had our lunch in a beautiful Kuursaal Restaurant right on the Promenade.

Slavonian Grebe

After the lunch we headed on to Tallinn to check in the hotel, have a guided old-town excursion and a farewell dinner in a restaurant next to the City Hall.

With one group member we continued next day for an additional personal 3-day trip to South-Estonia, but this will be covered some other time.


  1. Très beau voyage botanique et très beau reportage, merci ! La prochaine fois, un peu de noms latins car j'ai traduit tous les noms de plantes en anglais ;)

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