Monday, November 23, 2015

Estonian Nature Tours helps to develop wildlife tourism in Western Estonia

A nature tourism project Birding Baltic was prepared by Marika Mann, the CEO of Estonian Nature Tours, to be launched in 2016. In addition to the local organizatios there are also partners  from Sweden and Latvia. The Central Baltic Interreg funded project should attract birders and general nature tourists from all over the world. During 4 years (2016-2020) several birdwatching and photography hides will be built and specific nature tour programmes launched. The primary goal is to kick off the local tourism enterpreneurs, make them support the joint tourism promotion programme and introduce our local values in the world-wide community of nature-lovers.

The main project partners are Föreningen Näsholmen from Gotland, Sweden, Dabas Tures from Latvia and Loodusturismikeskus (Nature Tourism Centre) from West-Estonia (represented by Marika Mann). All these organizations are offering bird watching activities, as the East-Atlantic Waterfowl Flyway is passing all these three countries.

Ilze Vilskerste (Kolka, Latvia), Karin Åström (Gotlandilt, Sweden)
and Marika Mann (Matsalu National Park)
Photo: Arvo Tarmula (Lääne Elu)

Estonian NGO Loodusturismikeskus is planning a real capacity boost. In addition to aforementioned hides there will be binoculars, spotting scopes, photography equipment and light river boats with silent electrical motors to serve the tourists. When the project is completed, all this equipment will be given over to nature tourism companies, who will carry these activities on. The other partners from Estonia are State Forest Management Centre and Läänemaa Bird Club, who are organizing tourism activities in Matsalu National Park and in Haapsalu town.

The Central Baltic Project call is really important for SME-s, as practical marketing activities are also eligible this time. All three countries together will be able to focus the marketing activities outside EU countries, e.g. to  Americas' market. If both steps of the application call will be positively appraised, it will be possible to start with the activities from the second half of the next year. The total budget of the project for all 3 countries is 2,5 MEUR

Over 15 hundred visitors served in the Lihula Tourist Information Office

Estonian Nature Tours, having the office in Lihula Manor building, kept this summer the doors of Lihula Tourist Information Office open again. During 5 months 1532 visitors were served, including tourists from Estonia, Finland, Germany, UK, Latvia, France, Netherlands and even India. The most often asked questions were about local accommodation facilities and sightseeing locations in the Matsalu region.

In the tourism information centre it is possible to book accommodation in guesthouses, rent bicycles and canoes, get various printed booklets and pamphlets about the region, sit and relax in a small cozy cafe and get acquainted with the history of the ancient stronghold hill.
The most popular publication was "Terra Maritima - Land by the Sea" - introduction of these local municipalities, which abut the sea.

The centre was first launched in 2006, but was closed for some years. Now Estonian Nature Tous is expecting even more active movement in the summer period.

The call of the Wild in Estonia

At the invitation of Estonian Tourist Board and Estonian Nature Tours two journalists from Great Britain were visiting Estonia in the beginning of June.

In late October Bird Watching, the Britain´s best selling bird magazine published a 3-page article about Estonian wildlife in Summer.

Click on the picture to read the text:

The UK's best monthly magazine for keen birders, Birdwatch will publish an article on birding in Estonia in late December (January 2016 issue). 

Many thanks to Dominic Couzens, Neil Bowman, Tim Appleton, Elin Priks, Tarvo Valker, Peeter Vissak, Maarika Toomel, Triin Ivandi and Aare Sillukse!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Autumn Mammals and Birds tour summary

Dates: 25 Sep – 2 Oct 2015
Group size: 7 pax
Local guide (text by): Kaarel Võhandu 

We started our tour in Western Estonia. In the first morning we went to Puise peninsula which is an excellent passerine migration spot. Migration was in full swing and we saw 157 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 4 Black Woodpeckers and 1 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. If there was a short gap in migrating woodpeckers it was filled with passerines and jays. We also spotted a young Hen Harrier and a Peregrine Falcon. Around lunch time we visited several spots in the northern coast of Matsalu bay, where the highlights were 5000 Barnacle Geese and 3800 Lapwings. In the evening we took a boat trip on Suitsu and Kasari rivers. The beavers did not make an appearance but we got to stare a drinking elk in the eye from 4 meters. Photographers were complaining it was too close for their telephoto lenses.

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) / Photo: Kaarel Võhandu

Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) / Photo: Kaarel Võhandu

In the morning of the third day we did some forest birding picking up a singing Pygmy Owl, that we did not manage to get views of. We then headed to Cape Põõsaspea for some seabird migration. Hundreds of Common Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneyes, Brent Geese and Wigeon passed by. We also spotted some Velvet Scoters, Red-necked Grebes, Black- and Red -throated Divers and Scaups. Hike on the meadow of the peninsula produced Great Grey Shrike and an unexpected highlight of the trip, lifer for everybody – the Great Snipe. We spent our evening at Saunja bay watching 1700 cranes flying over to their nighttime roosting sites. From raptors we spotted two Ospreys and two Hen Harriers.

Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) / Photo: Kaarel Võhandu

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) / Photo: Kaarel Võhandu

In the fourth day we transfered to Central Estonia. We did quite a few stops along the way and were awarded with one Goshawk, couple of Nutcrackers, two White-tailed Eagles and one Merlin. We stayed at Toosikannu guesthouse, where they have a huge fenced area with semi-wild Red Deer, Elk and Wild Boars. We saw plenty of those on an evening safari. In the fifth day we did a lot of forest birding. The birds proved hard to find but with some hard work we managed to locate a Kingfisher, some Grey-headed Woodpeckers, a very late White Stork and a flock of Black Grouse. On the night time spotlighting drive we spotted a Ural Owl sitting in a tree at the roadside. As we admired it another one started calling somewhere nearby.

Merlin (Falco columbarius) / Photo: Kaarel Võhandu

In the sixth day we drove to NE Estonia, settled into our guesthouse and went to the bear hide in the evening. There were lots of Raccoon Dogs and Red Foxes about. Willow and Crested Tits were common on the bird feeders. But no bears around. As it got dark people started to nod off in the bunks. Luckily some stayed up and spotted a mother Bear with two cubs arriving around midnight. Everyone were quietly woken up and we were lucky to admire their activity for 45 minutes or so. We left the hide in the morning and on our hike out spotted a Badger crossing the trail. Driving around in the forests we spotted quite a few Black Grouse, one male Capercaillie and heard a Hazel Grouse calling. In the afternoon we had a look at the 4th largest lake in Europe - Peipsi and Russia behind it. There was a good number of birds at Vasknarva with 900 Goldeneyes, 50 Cormorants, 300 Mallards, 40 Tufted Ducks and 3 Smews. An Otter was fishing in the river. Last night we spent driving around forest roads and spotted 6 Woodcocks and another Ural Owl hunting on the road.

Crested Tit (Parus cristatus) / Photo: Kaarel Võhandu

Elk (Alces alces) / Photo: Kaarel Võhandu

Red Deer (Servus elaphus) / Photo: Kaarel Võhandu

Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) / Photo: Kaarel Võhandu

Remarkable 121 bird and 11 mammal species have been seen during the 8-day Mammals and Birds tour in Autumn 2015! 

Kihnu island - a hotspot of bird migration and cultural heritage

Estonian Nature Tour's MIGRATION HOTSPOTS TOUR (Fri 30th Sep - Fri 7th Oct, 2016) takes You right in the middle of the East-Atlantic Flyway. One crucial location of this phenomenon is Kihnu island.

In South-East Estonia, in the middle of the Gulf of Livonia You can find Yourself in the Kihnu Island. In autumn this small piece of land is an important landmark foro hundreds ofo thousands of migrating birds. Remarkable number of passerines and birds of pray pass through this place. Daily total counts, recorded during regular migration surveys in 2012 and 2013, would elate any birder, interested in migration. 300 000 Chaffinches, Bramblings, 50 000 Siskins, 9 500 Cranes, 1 000 Sparrowhawks, 17 Merlins, 42 Pine Grosbeaks are just some few daily records to mention. Read more about Kihnu surveys...

Birders observing the autumn migration in the Southern tip
of Kihnu island - internationally important bottleneck
site for land- and waterbirds. / Photo: Mati Kose

This island is also remarkable for its rarities records. Late in the autumn 2012 the first in Estonia Naumann's Thrush was spotted and also Pallas Leaf Warbler, Kentish Plover and Yellow-billed Loon have been recorded in the island in recent years. 

Naumann's Thrush (Turdus naumanni) / Photo: Robin Newlin

Kihnu Island is also very attractive culturally. It is a home to a community of half of thousand people whose cultural traditions have been kept alive over the centuries mostly thanks to the island’s female population. While the men of the Kihnu community were out to sea, either fishing or hunting the seals, the women were farming and maintaining the household. This 'division of labour' has made Kihnu women the custodians of the traditional insular culture, including numerous songs, games, dances, wedding ceremonies and handicrafts. Noteworthy are the music pieces of pre-Christian origin, known as runic or Kalevala-metre songs.
The most attrative visual attribute of Kihnu culture is the woolen handicrafts worn by the women equally in their everyday life and in holidays. The traditional looms and local wool, used by the women for weaving and knitting mittens, stockings, skirts and blouses, are usually expressed by bright colours, vivid stripes and intricate embroidery. Many of the symbolic forms and colours adorning these striking garments are rooted in ancient legends.

Source: / Photo: Eivi Lepa

Today, Kihnu culture is threatened by economic hardship, uncontrolled housing development and the intrusion of tourists insensitive to the islands’ traditions and natural environment.

Kihnu women in traditional costumes performing national folk dance
and song around the midsummer bonfire, made of an old fishing boat.
Well preserved ethnical lifestyle and culture of Kihnu people is
nominated as UNESCO world cultural heritage feature.
/ Photo: Mati Kose

 Kihnu Cultural Space has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008 (UNESCO). Click to watch video...

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Take action to save the endangered Flying Squirrel

Flying squirrel - a mysterious and hidden taiga forest dweller - is still one of Estonia's nature tourism magnets. In favourable circumstances it is still possible to be in the right time in the right place and have a glimpse of this tiny and zippy creature. No need to add, that a knowledgeable zooloogist is a must to guide the event. Moreover - because of being endangered, observation and being close to Flying Squirrels' nesting sites is only allowed together with a local expert. To understand the life of a Flying Squirrel each and every group is taken to the forest stand some hours before the outflight takes place. The guide will explain the situation, show the group around the habitat and point out the distinctive features, how to monitor the animals. Only then, a tad before darkness everyone has to be under the right tree with the binoculars or camera lenses directed towards the nest opening. Luckily the guide has the detector, which gives alert when the collared animal starts moving.

Zooloogist Uudo Timm pinpointing with detector 
Flying Squirrels, Iisaku 2014

Now, what are the preconditions of the species? The female needs a territory at least 8 hectares. For nesting there have to be old hollow aspens, surrounded and screened by spruce trees. Males are usually active in several females' territories, all together on about 100 hectares. Throughout this radius of 1 km there must be old mixed forest stands to ensure food and safety. Young animals usually move away from their homes up to 2 km. All this means, that the stand must be much bigger, than merely these 100 hectares, otherwise in the isolated conditions the population doesn't function normally.

Droppings of Flying Squirrel, Iisaku 2014

Flying squirrel's distribution area is constantly decreasing. The species has definitely been much more common, than it is today. Distribution data, available from the 1930ies show 3 large and 3 medium or small distribution areas all over Estonia. South-Estonian localities were extinct by 1995. In 2005 there were still some evidence from SW and NW Estonia, but the data from 2014 reveal only the North-Eastern population. Regardless of still remarkable area on the map, we may speak only about 110 registered sites and maximum 2 sq km of suitable forest stands. Sadly not all of these sites are constantly populated.

Click on the diagram to zoom...

The main, if not the only reason of this decrease is forest cutting, which is intruding into the reign of these harmless creatures and consequently one side has to beat a retreat, even without any serious conflict. It is not enough to spare only the nesting tree. The whole old forest complex should be untouched. If there is no food or no protection from the enemies, the animals dump their nests. Clear cutting in the adjacent areas causes fragmentation and the habitat will be too small or too scattered.

Photo: Jean Michel Bompar
Estonia, August 2011

One of the hotspots - Iisaku - is a small town in NE Estonia and by now it has earned its relevance as the capital of Estonia's Flying Squirrels' dereasing kingdom. In contrary to most locals, who have never seen Flying squirrels with their own eyes, the head of the regional forest department declares that throughout all the 40 years, she has been living in Iisaku, these animals have always been there. Mutual relationships of humans and the squirrels have been if not friendly, then at least neutral, as expected. Moreover - some eagle-eyed hikers sware they have accidentally seen gliding Flying squirrels from the popular watchtower next to the park forest stand in Iisaku.

Photo: Jean Michel Bompar
Estonia, August 2011

In this very critical situation all relevant scientists, monitoring and conservation workers, environmental NGO-s  and nature tourism companies must join into one solid force to provide this cute animal the presumption of innocence and to protect its home among us. It is hard to overestimate the importance of Estonian Fund for Nature in the work, that has been done during the latest decades, as they have been the initiators and the flagship of the investigations and protection activities in Estonia.

ELF had the negotiations with local private forest owners
in June 2015. ENT attended this meeting as well.
Photo: Jaanus Remm

How you can help a Flying Squirrel?

It is simple!
On behalf of every person joining ENT on the Mammals and Birds in Estonia tour,  a donation of  25 Euros is made to this project as ENT feels it is extremely important for the future of this delightful animal. 

Estonian Nature Tours has supported the Flying Squirrel project since 2010, having launched a donation campaign to raise money to buy necessary flying squirrel reasearch equipment. With the help of this research Flying Squirrel may have a chance to increase the population number, which would be most definitely a delight for everyone to see.

ENT is very grateful to everyone who have supported the Flying Squirrel with us:

Mr Hall, Mr Abrehart, Mr Lock, Mr and Mrs Green, Ms Hallam, Ms Peterkin, Mr Wilds, Ms Wright, Mr Webb, Mr Hewson, Mr McNiven, Mr O´Connor, Ms Lynam, Ms King, Mr July, Mr Norman, Mr Haynes, Mr Mark, Mrs Devlin, Ms Joy, Ms Hunter, Mr Atkins, Ms Behenna, Mr Higson, Ms Compton, Ms Dean, Ms Reeves, Mr Sykes, Mr Bompar, Ms Aldridge, Mr Aldridge, Mr and Mrs Hughes, Mr and Mrs Obergassel, Mr and Mrs Robinson, Mr Lambelin, Mr Lambrechts, Mr Boczek, Mrs Jadot, Mrs Duverne, Mrs Williams, Mr van der Dol, Mr Law, Mr Dyett, Mr Brimson, Mr Hows, Mr Thissen, Mr Witkamp, Mr and Mrs Baldock, Mr Knight, Mr Woodhouse, Mr Wright, Mr and Mrs Parker, Mr Victor, Mrs Beeken, Mr and Mrs Free, Ms McKenzie-Lloyd, Ms Morten, Mr Summerfield, Mr and Mrs Baltera, Mr Pilbeam, Mr Dean, Ms Percival, Ms Newell, Mr Moore, Mr Simpson, Mr Peter, Mr Meredith, Mr Wallington, Mr Williams, Mr and Mrs Higginbotham, Mr and Mrs Williams, Mr and Mrs Gange, Mr and Mrs Buck, Ms Alderson, Mr Lyons, Mrs Scarnera, Mrs Vuillemier, Mr and Mrs Evard, Mr Frauche, Mr Lorimer, Mr Gigon, Mr Meier, Mr and Mrs Grosvernier, Mr Jeanneret, Mrs Minier, Mr Fallot, Mr and Mrs Hale, Ms Kelly, Mr Palm, Mr Cooper, Mr and Mrs Knight, Mr and Mrs Jones, Ms Freed, Mrs Hall, Mrs Montgomery, Mr Gordon.

Migration Map Autumn 2015 News

Check the map...

When the Migration Map team started their work on autumn migration map 2015, two „newbies” - Slovenian White Storks - Fortuna and Zuri – had already reached Bulgaria. Estonian “official kick-off” were two Ospreys Kalle and Markus and the Lesser Spotted Eagle Haage (no offspring this year), who started its autumn migration in September 8 and covered at least 250 km within the 1st day. Next day the Black Stork Eedi started and some days later also the hybrid Spotted Eagle Tunne and two Cranes. Curiously enough the Cranes didn't travel together, but were separated in Latvia, so that Savimäe stayed there for some more time, while Ahja4 continued to Belorussia.

By the end of September the Lesser Spotted Eagles Jaan, Mait and Max were already on the move, but the hybrid Spotted Eagle Sander and the Greater Spotted Eagle Iti were still at home and waiting for a more clear sign. White-tailed Eagles are typically not very eager to migrate, although once in a while they surprise us. The old Latvian bird A531 is probably more sedentary, while our subadult Meelis has no nesting plans yet and can move around more freely.

Click the animation...

By Mid-October all our monitored migrants had left Estonia. our Ospreys had left their first stopover site in Ukraine and were moving on. All the Lesser Spotted Eagles were about to reach the Middle-East region. Our Buzzard Villu was the last one to start in October 11, while the other Buzzard Kordian had some minor edge already. The weather was still fine and they had no need to hurry. The Black Stork Eedi, who had reached the Middle East, chose slightly audacious route along the Arabian Peninsula together with a Latvian companion Kate.
Our Crane Savimäe has chosen Hungary for its wintering area. Ahja4 is still in Belorussia, but moving around actively, so it may be expected to fly to Ethiopia again. The White-tailed Eagle Meelis had moved from Lake Peipsi to West-Estonia and now it wanders around in Pärnu region and North-Latvia.
When looking at the most recent update of the migration map we can see, that the absolute winner by now is the Lesser Spotted Eagle Vahur, who is at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, while the other species-mates are following tightly. Both Ospreys are in Western Equatorial Africa, the Greater Spotted Eagles in Sudan and the White Storks in Sudan and Chad. The Black Storks continue along Saudi Arabia.
By the beginning of November it is clear, that one of the Cranes – Savimäe – has chosen Hortobagy National Park, Hungary, for its wintering area, although for a while it was also looking around in more Southern regions. The other bird – Ahja 4 – is continuing its journey. The latest update said it was in Akyatan, Turkey. Presumably it continues towards Ethiopia, although SE coast of Turkey may also be an option.
The migration isn't over yet, so stay tuned on the migration map

Monday, November 2, 2015

Estonia is Lonely Planet’s best value destination for 2016

In the end of October, a newsworthy message was zipping through our social media and tourism-biased internet sites. Lonely Planet, the largest travel guide book publisher in the world, published their top ten ranking of the best value destinations for 2016.  In that ranking Estonia was number one afore Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, East Africa, New Mexico, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Galicia and Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.

What the Lonely Planet was referring to, was mainly the good deal one gets when spending on the trip to Estonia. First and perhaps the most important circumstance is the suitable location if one is already in Scandinavia - either in Helsinki or Stockholm. From there Estonia stays in a reach of a ferry-trip or a short flight with the bonus of staying in the Euro zone. Next catch is affordability combined with pretty high standard and last but not the least comes the opportunity to "experience a gloriously distinctive slice of Europe, where Eastern and Nordic influences mix together,” according to the guide.

The quality of accommodation places in Estonia /
Photo: Private collection

Lonely Planet continues the praise revealing that “beyond the irresistible capital of Tallinn there are little-known Baltic islands and the seashore and forest delights of Lahemaa National Park, which holds the distinction of being the first national park in the old Soviet Union”. Moreover - not everything is reverberated in this brief news - Estonia has a remarkable record of conservational legislation, not less remarkable location right on the East-Atlantic flyway of birds and the “crossroad” of distribution area borders of Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western flora elements, many rarities therein. Add to that the enjoyable moderate weather and the midsummer mellow and misty nocturnal brightness enfolding the landscapes of forests, raised bogs and wooded meadows and some scarce village settlement with the average population density of about 10 persons per 1 sq km. Yes, we mean it - just nature everywhere! Well, almost.

Estonia is one of the few countries in Europe where 
8 different species of Woodpeckers can be found.
In one national park in Estonia more White-backed 
Woodpeckers may nest than in the whole of Sweden!
Photo: Sven Zacek

The population of Elk is estimated 12 000 individuals in Estonia.
The best time for Elk-watching is definitely September
and October during the mating season. /
Photo: Sven Zacek

The most dangered seaduck in Europe, Steller`s Eider,
is good reason to visit Estonia in Winter. /
Photo: Tarvo Valker

Although Estonia received more than six million foreign visitors in 2014, its own population - 1.3 million - is about 15 times less than that of Holland or Denmark, on similar territory. In Estonia one can drive on almost empty roads and have a lunch in a pictoresque cafe at the seacoast together with no more than maybe only a dozen of other guests. If not the paradise, then at least a very easily reached department of it.

During 5 hours staying 50,000 Coal Tits have been
counted this Autumn in West-Estonia. /
Photo: Tarvo Valker

What value can Estonian Nature Tours add to this? But of course a plethora of professionally compiled tour packages to the hottest spots at the peak time under the care of top notch guides. Worth considering, isn´t it?

The quality of accommodation places in Estonia / 
Photo: Private collection

We'll be very delighted to see You in Estonia in 2016 :)

Results of Bird of Prey Monitoring 2015

Report of bird of prey monitoring data 2015 revealed some expected and some unexpected trends. Among other species more attention was paid to our birds of the year - buzzards.

This year abundance and distribution of breeding raptors was surveyed in 15 monitoring sites with total area of 1305 sq km and wintering birds abundance in 22 sites with total area of 1275 sq km. All together 701 potential nesting locations were checked during the monitoring of breeding success.

During the monitoring of wintering birds 6 species were registered, in addition to that, abundance of Great Grey Shrike, who has similar ecology, was also registered. The most numerous and uniformly distributed species were Common Buzzard and Great Grey Shrike, followed by Rough-legged Hawk, Hen Harrier and White-tailed Eagle, who were distributed mostly in West-Estonia.

Pygmy Owl / Photo: Remo Savisaar

The relative abundance of Pygmy Owl from 1994 to 2014

During the breeding surveys more than 500 nesting territories of 18 raptor species were registered, while outside the monitoring areas nesting of Eagle Owl, Red Kite, Greater Spotted Eagle and Merlin were also registered this year. The largest abundance decline during the last decade concerns Hen Harrier, who is by now almost extinct as a breeding species in Estonia. The abundance of Goshawk, Ural Owl and Tawny Owl has decreased almost 50% during the latest years, albeit being stabilised by now. In the beginning of the 20th century the number of Pygmy Owl was increasing for a certain period, but during the last 10 years it has been decreasing. The number of Common Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier and Hobby has been continually changeless. The abundance of Long-Eared Owl has fluctuated heavily, but it has stabilised by now or even exceeding the average value this year. Honey Buzzard and Tengmalm’s Owl  have been recovered from the small decline of the latest years. The biggest increase during the latest decades has been in the abundance of Marsh Harrier, but the growth has stopped recently.

The relative abundance of Lesser spotted eagle from 1994 to 2014

The relative abundance of Ural Owl from 1994 to 2014

223 nests of the checked potential ones occurred to be populated by birds. Surprisingly many Honey Buzzards started their nesting in this year’s cold early summer, but the breeding success was not exceeding the average value. Productivity of Sparrow Hawk and Marsh Harrier was about average, while Goshawk was more successful than usual.

Buzzard, Common Kestrel and Long-eared Owl, who all are feeding mainly on small rodents, have been on average level this year.

Source:  Estonian Ornithological Society