Tuesday, December 20, 2016

ENT has done a thankworthy job in appraisal of Estonia's nature and conservation

Estonian Nature Tours has gained deserved confidence amongst nature conservation and bird protection organizations of Estonia. We have initiated and participated in several public disputes and discussions related to wildlife and continuously support research and protection of the Flying Squirrel and the Foundation for Estonia's Young Conservationist Award. We participate actively in discussions of the Matsalu National Park's Cooperation Assembly and manage a tourist information centre in Lihula together with the local municipality. By virtue of the report at the fall semester of Estonian Society for Theriology (study of mammals) it was acknowledged, that ENT has done a thankworthy job in appraisal of Estonia's nature and conservation, widely introducing Estonia and its wildlife abroad. Our participation in partnership days with the Ministry of Environment has also been extremely useful with worthwhile discussions related to protection of wildlife (ENT and the Ministry of Environment signed a mutual Free Will Contract in 2013). In connection with Estonia's Chairmanship in the 2nd half of 2017 there will be an international conference on environmental matters, arranged by the Ministry of Environment, where among other topics Wildlife Tourism will be discussed, as suggested by ENT.

ENT has had a busy year. Besides our existing clientele we have found several new partners, mostly from Great Britain, Germany, Spain and Belgium. The number has grown almost up to 30.  The number of loyal clients has increased as well and that indicates, that we have provided reliable and high quality service.

Our activities are also of great importance in a local context. Several accommodation providers from our network have told us that our clients significantly extend their season and help the enterprises to survive. It is always good to know that our clients are awaited and beloved.

Here, we would like to share with you something really marvellous. 
One of our customers sent us, by post, this little booklet >

Truly touching! With the consent of the artist we used some of his drawings when designing the front and back cover of the ENT brochure 2017.

See also a gallery “There is no need for words” > 

With pleasure, we are continiously offering individual bookings on our fully-inclusive holidays. 

See the selection of best birdwatching, mammal tours and other wildlife holidays in Estonia available for the year 2017/2018 by clicking here >

To order Estonian Nature Tours brochure 2017 (for free) please send your contact details (full address, name) to our e-mail: info@naturetours.ee

Petition to protect forests in Estonia

In the latest months there has been a snowball effect civil initiative to reject the new Forest Act. Specialists have been directing attention to the jeopardy of the current Forest Act for some years. Scientists from the University of Tartu and Estonian Land University share the viewpoint that Estonia should not carry on the former forest policy as it is climate hostile, non-transparent and is utilizing the forest resource out of future assets. Unfortunately the Ministry of Environment, who is inclining towards the forest industry, is ignoring the facts and is pushing through new amendments to the Forest Act, allowing to even increase clear cut areas, decrease the threshold value of the rotation age and simplify issuing of cutting permits.

In early December, a public letter was delivered to the President, the Parliament and Ministries, in which 101 writers, artists, musicians, scientists and film producers expressed their deep concerns at the threats from ongoing forest policy, demanding rejection of the new Forest Act and participation of environmental organizations in formation of the state forest policy.

The petition “Let us stop the destruction of Estonia's forests by industrialists!” gathered remarkable 7006 signatures (5000 was expected). ENT team members have supported the petition among others. On December 16, a picket was carried out in front of the Ministry of Environment, which protested against the official state forestry policy, that is concentrating more on forestry than protection of the environment, as was declared by the protesters. Further the protesters were moving to Toompea Hill to hand the petition over to Parliament. It is too early to assess what will be happening but we will keep you posted in our following newsletters.

Source: www.delfi.ee

Visit MATSALU – one of the most internationally recognized national parks in Europe

Estonian Nature Tours considers Matsalu National Park as its home. The founder and CEO of ENT Marika Mann is living in the park and she worked 10 years in Matsalu before started her career in birdwatching tourism. Our office is just a couple of kilometres away, in Lihula. We love Matsalu Bay and wish to share this beauty with you.

Matsalu National Park covers 486 square kilometers and is one of the most important bird wetlands in Europe. It boasts plenty of habitats suitable for use as staging posts or for breeding, including one of Europe´s largest wet meadow and 3,000 hectares of reedbeds, and the shallow, brackish, nutrient-rich waters of the Matsalu Bay which has a 165-kilometre coastline. It is not surprising that avian diversity is unequalled in northern Europe in spring and autumn. And it is easy to see why more than 170 species breed here – and why the north European day-list record of 194 was set in this region in May 2007.

Matsalu National Park / Photo: Arvo Tarmula (Source: online.le.ee)

Matsalu National Park was founded in 1957 to protect nesting, moulting and migratory birds. Since 1976 Matsalu is included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of international importance.
Matsalu National Park is the only reserve in the Baltic countries which has been rewarded with the Diploma of the Council of Europe, which confers the distinction of biological, geological and landscape diversity of Matsalu. The Diploma, rewarded in 2003, is the highest award of the Council of Europe Bern Convention to nature reserves, but simultaneously it is an obligation to provide sustainable and harmonic social, educational and economic functions to the region in such a way that preservation of biological and landscape diversity would be guaranteed. Areas with the Diploma possess high importance in promotion of nature education and nature tourism. The status of Matsalu NP has been audited twice and both times the results have been really good.

Matsalu National Park / Source: et.wikipedia.org

During a festive ceremony in Brussels, EUROPARC Federation rewarded Matsalu NP as the first location in Estonia with a certification of sustainable tourism. The requirement of the certification is efficient collaboration between different stakeholders and interest groups, as well as mutually agreed strategic purposes and activities, facilitating sustainable tourism in the region. Tourism and biological diversity are very closely related, as success of tourism industry is directly depending on favourable conditions of ecosystems.

The area of Matsalu National Park is also acknowledged by the EDEN network (European Destination of Excellence) of the EC.
Estonian Nature Tours is delighted to be included and to have a crucial role in assignation and preservation of several important statuses. Our contribution to setting up the network of tourism entrepreneurs, organising several seminars and study trips and drawing up marketing strategy and product development has been remarkable.

For bird watchers who want to enjoy a leisurely birding break with a fabulous variety of birds, we have on offer a fantastic five-day trip to Matsalu National Park. You will stay all four nights at Tuulingu Guesthouse, in the neighbourhood of the famous Haeska watch tower. The record for the highest day list of bird species from a single spot in Northern Europe was achieved from this tower – 128 species by nightfall in May, giving you some idea of the incredible diversity here.

Common Cranes / Photo: Remo Savisaar

Tour dates are 15th - 19th May/11th - 14th September and you can book flights from London Gatwick with Easyjet, or from other airports with British Airways, Finnair, SAS, Ryanair or Air Baltic.

Invite your friends, contact us, book a suitable period and start packing! 

For more information > info@naturetours.ee

Autumn migration counts and rarities

Estonia is a well known hotspot in Europe for visible migration of passerines and waterfowl migrating from Northwest Russia and Scandinavia to their wintering grounds across western and southern Europe and some of them even to Africa.

The most interesting has been an influx of Long-tailed Tits with massive numbers reported from various places. At Kabli bird station, more than 500 birds were caught for ringing. More than 8000 Long-tailed Tits were counted at Puise Peninsula on 29th September – the 3rd biggest daily count ever for this species. This kind of large scale irruption gives a hope for the west European birder that some white-headed „caudatus” may turn up much futher west.

Long-tailed Tit at Kabli bird station / Source: parnu.postimees.ee

Another star of this autumn has been Eurasian Jay – a species you wouldn´t excpect to migrate at all. The daily count of 18,000 passing Jays at Puise Peninsula on 26th September might show this species in a new light for you. This was also the best daily count ever for Estonia and possibly for the whole of Europe!

Like many European countries this autumn, Estonian birders were rewarded with an influx of Siberian Accentors. An astonishing five birds turned up in southwest Estonia in less than a week and three of them were caught in mist nets for ringing! A further three birds means that in all, eight individuals were seen in Estonia this autumn. One of them was still possible to observe a week ago in South-East Estonia! Siberian Accentor is the 387th bird species for Estonia and at present the only new bird for the country this year.

Siberian Accentor / Source: www.facebook.com/mati.kose

The influx of Siberian Accentors was very unexpected as the last individual in Europe was five years ago. Before 2016, there were only 35 records in Europe during last 100 years but over 210 Siberian Accentors were recorded across Europe during this autumn's irruption.

See the Map of the Siberian Accentor influx in Europe in 2016 > 

It has also been the greatest season ever for Yellow-browed Warblers with at least 22 individuals reported and half a dozen of them caught for ringing. On the back of this influx, the much rarer Phylloscopus, Hume´s Leaf Warbler, turned up near the northwest coast. This is only the5th record of this megabird in Estonia!

A third great rarity was spotted at Haapsalu on 3rd October, when Estonia's 4th Pied Wheatear was found by a local birder.

Other unusual findings for Estonia included 5 Firecrests, Black Vulture and Estonia's 11th Little Bunting.

NGO-s of Estonia claim for changes in birds hunting regulations

At the same time as Birdlife International is gathering evidence from their partner organizations for a review of illegal killing and taking of birds, the NGOs of Estonia were striving for changes in our regulations to guarantee waterfowl safety in their migration corridors.
On the order of Estonian Ornithological Society (EOY) and Estonian Council of Environmental NGOs (EKO) an analysis was prepared by the Centre for Environmental Law (CEL), revealing that the effective regulation is Estonia is not adequate enough to guarantee sustainable and ecologically balanced waterfowl hunting. While so far publicity and information work has been used to find solutions to the bird hunting problem, now EOY and CEL share the standpoint that this is not enough. EOY believes that a day quota should be prescribed to catches, e.g. maximum 3 waterfowl, and that this may not be overrun by a single hunter.

Unethical bird hunting tourism has aroused passion in the public for several years. Heinous stories about hundreds of birds being killed in coastal meadows, loads of dead bird bodies in the forests, so-called killing tourism in Estonia and cases with people, eager to slaughter and ignoring Estonia's hunting regulations, have angered representatives of the state authorities. At the beginning of December changes in regulations were under discussion.

Source: maaleht.delfi.ee

The first time killing of birds caught public interest was two years ago on west Estonia's small islets. According to their local long-time tradition, local hunters would shoot 2-3 Mallards each autumn and that is it. Foreign hunters shoot indiscriminately everything that is flying or swimming around, using forbidden decoys and electronic sounds. In protected areas of our western coast, and small islets, hunting of birds is generally forbidden. Loud banging and killing birds next to the borderlines of national parks in Matsalu, Vilsandi and elsewhere, scares migratory bird flocks from their, thousands of years old, traditional stopping and resting areas.

One reason why talks about banning the hunting have come about is the peculiar hunting manner of the foreigners. Bird hunters from all over the Europe rush to Estonia, even to the neighbourhood of national parks, having read birds hunting advertisements from the internet. So it happened that a new scandal erupted in October this year: "In Penijõe village, about 100 meters from the border of the Matsalu National Park, there are goose decoys in the field and the hunters are lurking in the nearby bushes. Early in the morning I heard gunshots from the same place. A car with foreign registration number plate was standing at the roadside, I took a picture of that. It is obvious what kind of a tour-operator has brought them here and most likely this is legal, but at the same time it is disgusting and cynic. Estonia is one of the most important migratory bird stopover locations in Europe and promiscuous hunting is taking place right in the backyard of a bird reserve!"

This is an excerpt from a nature forum posting by Marika Mann, local birdwatching and nature tour operator. This discussion quickly raised tempers and after a week it was reaching national media and politicians.

To find solutions to this smouldering problem a special meeting was called of the Environmental Committee of the Riigikogu (Parliament) in the beginning of December, with representatives from the Centre for Environmental Law, Estonian Ornithological Society, Estonian Hunters' Society, Ministry of Environment, Environmental Board, Estonian Private Forest Union, Association of Estonian Cities and Association of Municipalities of Estonia. Problems were analysed and solutions were proposed in the meeting. Veljo Volke, conservation officer of the EOY, expressed an opinion after the meeting, that the discussion will be continued. "While all the parties acknowledge the existence of the problem, solutions need to be found, so that the next hunting season may come without any unpleasant surprises," reported Veljo Volke.

Good news is, indeed, that Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider, Grey Heron and Raven, which have in the past been considered wild game birds, are now excluded from that list as of July, 2016.

Efforts to save the Flying Squirrel

On 18th November this year, Minister of the Environment, Marko Pomerants, sent a regulation on amendment of borders and protection procedures of 13 existing Flying Squirrel protection sites to other ministries to be approved. 25 new protection sites will be established with the same regulation.

Siberian Flying Squirrel is one of the most endangered mammals in Estonia. This, mainly nocturnal mammal is found in Europe only from Estonia, Finland and Russia (and possibly may occur in Belarus). They are highly dependent on availability of old-growth natural forests where there are enough old aspen trees to provide suitable nesting holes for breeding and hiding.

See the video of Flying Squirrel>

The first Flying Squirrel protection sites were established in 2006. To our knowledge the Flying Squirrel is currently found only in some old growth forests of the Virumaa County, although it was previously found in other forested areas of Estonia. The most critical risk factors influencing preservation of the Flying Squirrel population, are isolation and destruction of critical habitats, but also the small number of animals in sub-populations. Other factors endangering the species are predation, felling of nesting trees, disturbance and climate change. According to scientists' the Flying Squirrel's populations may be considered stable if, out of a known 250 sites, at least 150 of them are inhabited during that year. Due mainly to intensive forest management during last decade, the Siberian Flying Squirrel population has undergone a huge decline. According to monitoring data from 2016 there are only 45 known inhabited sites now left!  The most pessimistic predictions suggest the Flying Squirrel will become extinct in Estonia within 5 years.

More bad news for the Flying Squirrel was disclosed early in the spring when our government announced the plan to start using timber in Virumaa county power stations to produce electric energy.  As the key areas for the Flying Squirrel are located in the same county, this plan would increase tree cutting pressure even more in suitable habitats and crossing corridors, than less valuable forests.

Therefore an environmental NGO “MTÜ Noored Rohelised” launched a petition to collect signatures for protection of Flying Squirrel habitats and Estonian forests. With this public campaign, over 2000 signatures were collected and passed to the Estonian Parliament.

As a positive result, Minister of the Environment approved in February a new species action plan for the Flying Squirrel and launched a regulation in May to establish new species protection areas for this mammal. According to this regulation, 25 new species protection sites are planned to be established and areas of 13 previous sites will be increased. The most important outcome of this regulation will consider the need to protect green corridors between suitable habitats to ensure that Flying Squirrels can spread. This is a very important protection action to save the Siberian Flying Squirrel in Estonia because otherwise small populations become isolated and can become inbred.

In July the representatives of the Ministry of the Environment and the Environmental Board met with land-owners, local municipalities and other stakeholders. During the hearings the process of establishing new species protection sites was introduced and possibilities of compensation for conservation restrictions were discussed.

A meeting of private forest landowners in Alutaguse.
Ecologist Uudo Timm - longtime Flying Squirrel reseacher
gives a talk about squirrels.

BBC Wildlife: Estonian ecologist Uudo Timm is telling us the story how he fell in love with Siberian flying squirrels. Read an article published in March 2016 issue >

In the beginning of November problems concerning valuation of land and the future of land acquisition were under discussion.  Then on 18th November, the Minister of the Environment, Marko Pomerants, sent a regulation on amendment of borders and protection procedures of 13 existing Flying Squirrel protection sites to other ministries to be approved. 25 new protection sites will be established with the same regulation. The area of the species protection sites to be authorized, will be 56,547 ha, that will be almost equally divided into special management zones and limited management zones. About 75% of the territory is under state ownership, among the private land-owners there are 68 private persons and 23 enterprises. During the preparation of regulation all known sites were checked and the substance of taking or keeping these areas under protection was analyzed, also meetings with each and every land-owner and other involved persons were conducted.

Estonian Nature Tours is pleased to have been involved in the process of rescuing a Flying Squirrel. WE BELIEVE IN BETTER FUTURE! Thinking about this stunning animal and Estonian forests we would like to share a video with you >

Henry Laks and Marten Kuningas - Flying Squirrel
Lyrics and music by Henry Laks

Composition by Marten Kuningas 

NB! Because Flying Squirrels are endangered you may only visit their territories to observe them with a local expert.  If you are keen to see (or photograph) this stunning animal then contact us to book a suitable period or a place on our Mammals and Birds in Spring 2018 tour >  

The Winners of the Questionnaire in British Birdfair 2016

For the sixth time, at the British Birdfair, Estonian Nature Tours offered a possibility to win a dream wildlife holiday to Estonia. We wish to thank everyone who completed our questionnaire and took part in the prize draw. ENT apologise to participants that we have not published the results until now. We very much hope that the winners still have the opportunity to include their visit to Estonia in their plans for 2017.

All together our questionnaire was filled in by 18 people, 12 of them gave right answers to all the questions and therefore gained the right to participate in our drawing. The chance to win was very big! This time, the prizes were awarded exclusively to women!

We are delighted to announce the winners:


Price: 855 € - Ms. A.Wragg

Click here to see a video > 


Lot 1: Brown Bear photography (for two)

Price: 210 € - Ms. R.Shepherd

Click here to see the video >

Brown Bear / Photo: Luke Massey

Lot 2: Beaver boat-trip (for four) 

Price: 200 € - Ms. J.Young

Click here to see the video >

European Beaver / Photo: Sven Zacek

Lot 3: Elk safari (for two) 

Price: 150 € - A.Halligan

Click here to see the video >

Elk / Photo: Tarvo Valker

Congratulations to everyone!

For more information: info@naturetours.ee

„Migration of Estonian Birds” by ENT bird guide Tarvo Valker

This autumn a new Estonian bird book „Migration of Estonian Birds“ was published (in Estonian „Eesti Lindude Ränne”). This is the fifth bird book written by ENT bird guide Tarvo Valker.  The book contains an overview of the history of bird migration studies in Estonia, best places to observe visible migration in Estonia, migration maps of different bird groups and affect of the climate change on migratory birds.  This book shows that Estonia is one of the most rapidly warming up place in Europe and many spring migrants arrive now a week or even two weeks earlier than 50 years ago.

International bird races

Every year, in mid-August, an international bird racing event called the Estonian Open takes place in Estonia. The race starts at 3.a.m. and continues for 14 hours in this nonstop birdwatching marathon. The winning team usually spots over 150 bird species, which is really a remarkable result for late summer.

This year's bird race took place at Hiiumaa – our second biggest island. Hiiumaa Island is 990 sq. km. and its located nearly 25 km off the coast, making it a great place for birding and especially seawatching! Hiiumaa Island has plenty of forest for species like Nutcracker, Black Grouse, Black Woodpecker, Pygmy and Eagle Owl.

Nutcracker / Photo: Arne Ader (source: www.looduskalender.ee)

Hiiumaa island is well known hotspot for the rare vagrants. Last time the bird race was held at Hiiumaa Island, in 2003, it brought a great new addition to Estonia's bird list – Cory´s Shearwater. This year 14 teams from Estonia, Finland and Latvia took part of the bird race including three ENT tour leaders.

An Estonian team (Tarvo Valker, Hannes Pehlak, Mati Kose,
Renno Nellis & Leho Luigujõe/taking the photo/ ) at the
Estonian Open bird race in Hiiumaa island. The results
for 122 species and 2.-3. place among 14 teams.

An Estonian team managed to win for the first time (and also the Lithuanian bird race at „Curonian Lagoon” in October!).  The winning team had 3 Estonian and 1 Latvian member and found 112 bird species and is the same team that has won the Latvian bird race several times. Altogether 26 teams with 120 birders took part of this event.

Flight of the Swans

One woman, Sacha Dench, 7,000 km, 11 countries - by paramotor!  This was WWT's daring bid to fly with one of nature’s great migrations on a quest to save Bewick’s Swans.

Estonian Public Broadcasting Osoon about “Flight of the Swans” > 

With its efforts to support “the Flight of the Swan” campaign and the establishment of a National Action Plan for the Bewick’s Swan, Estonia demonstrates how these internationally agreed conservation measures can be successfully implemented at a national level. Estonia is situated along the “migration highway” of the east Atlantic flyway situated at a crossroads for seasonal migrations of several million migratory birds every year. Since joining AEWA in late 2008, Estonia has benefited from supporting transboundary waterbird conservation initiatives under the Agreement.

Source: www.flightoftheswans.org

Sacha’s epic migration has seen her cross the wilderness of the arctic tundra, endure injury, brave freezing temperatures, and battle through snow and thunder storms to make it back to Slimbridge. But the end for Flight of the Swans is just the beginning for WWT.

Their pioneering conservation work continues, saving endangered wildlife and the wetlands they need to survive.

Donate today > 

“Flight of the Swans ” Highlights Conservation Efforts in Estonia >

Goodbye Russia, hello Estonia > 

Estonia: a blueprint for Bewickś conservation >

Golden Jackals continue to spread in Estonia

The Golden Jackal is a fairly new mammal in Estonia, with the first confirmed sightings in 2013. Since then, sightings have become more and more regular. They have been mainly seen, heard and photographed in the coastal areas of West Estonia, including some islands, with only a few sightings from eastern Estonia. Golden Jackal has been officially declared as an alien invasive species and fair game since 2016 and as of November this year 20 specimen have been shot officially.

See the video..

Golden Jackals at Pärnu County / Source: maaleht.delfi.ee

According to research data Golden Jackals in Estonia feed on different plants, domestic animals, bovine animals, birds and invertebrates. Field research of artificial nests in Matsalu coastal meadow reveals that only Magpies and Ravens affect bird nests more than Jackals.  Fox damage has been decreasing compared to last year and this suggests they are unable to compete with the Jackals. It also seems that Jackals are outcompeting Raccoon Dogs as well.  Jackal and Wolf have different habitat preferences and for this reason Jackals have rarely been found in the hinterland. Anger amongst sheep breeders over the arrival of this species has quickly increased during the year. About 100 incidents of sheep killings have been announced this year, but more thorough investigation is needed to ascertain if these were caused by jackals, wolves or even lynx.

Thousands of Wild Boars affected by African Swine Fever

Wild Boars have been very numerous throughout Estonia but during the last one and a half years thousands of Wild Boars have been died from African Swine Fever. A huge cull of 11,500 Wild Boars have been shot by hunters during 2016 to reduce Wild Boar population and to avoid spreading the disease to domestic pigs. Nearly 10% of the Wild Boar hunted this year have been affected by African Swine Fever (ASF). More precisely there have been 1,333 incidents of ASF. This viral disease has spread all over the country and currently is not recorded yet only from Hiiumaa and Vormsi islands.  Sighting of Wild Boar in the wild may well become harder during next few years but hopefully the remaining viable animals will be able to build up their population again fairly quickly.

Pathological findings of ASF in Wild Boar

🔴 Nov 12-18, 2016
🌕 Earlier records
  ⎮ County borders
 ⎪ Hunting district borders

ASF is extremely contagious and critically fierce viral disease with lethal haemorraghic lineaments, fever and inflammatory affection to inner organs. Death rate is very high indeed, approaching 100%. Other animal species and humans are not taken ill with ASF, although they can carry the infection. 

Bird of the Year 2018

Estonian Ornithological Society has announced that the winner of the competition for, 'Bird of the Year 2018' is Capercaillie.  The candidate was chosen as one of the symbols of pristine nature, as 2018 will also be the 100th anniversary of the Estonian Republic. In the final round Golden Eagle and Goldcrest were competing with Capercaillie, and in earlier rounds Black Grouse, Eurasian Jay, Nuthatch, Goosander, Bullfinch and several other species were in the running.  Ivar Ojaste, one of the proposers of Capercaillie, said, „Capercaillie is an inhabitant of our primeval natural forests, it spends its whole life in Estonia and is extremely sedentary. Lekking places of Capercaillie are situated in the margin forests of raised bogs, which are also symbols of our indigenous nature.“

Capercaillie / Photo: Ingmar Muusikus

This time the bird of the year was chosen very early to allow time for preparations of different actions and to celebrate the national anniversary with dignity - but there is still lots of time before 2018. In mid-December there will be a big convivial bird evening, where the ongoing Great Tit year will be officially concluded and the baton will be passed to Turtle Dove - the bird of the year 2017.
Estonian Ornithological Society has elected the Bird of the Year since 1995. The purpose is to thoroughly bring into the open some particular bird species or group of bird species and to attract nature lovers to study and protect that species. The full list of birds of the year is available in the webpage of the Estonian Ornithological Society.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Easter Birdwatching and City Birdwatching Contest Day results

The traditional 'Easter Birdwatching' event took place again on March 26-27/2016, organized by EOÜ (Estonian Ornithological Society). It promised record species numbers, as usually this event has taken place earlier in March and therefore more migrants may have arrived.

Source: m.postimees.ee

Exceptionally warm and nice days brought a noticeable wave of migrant birds, so it lived up to expectations with many birdwatchers spotting their very first Starling, White Stork, White Wagtail, Woodcock, Chaffinch or Skylark of the year. The preliminary roundup produced a remarkable count of 110,000 birds of 135 species. This weekend also stood out for the beginning of more serious goose migration and therefore more than one third of all birds recorded were geese. The most common bird species were Great Tit, Hooded Crow, Blue Tit, Greenfinch and Bullfinch, followed by Mallard, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull and swan species. The most remarkable rarities were Red-breasted Goose and Lesser White-fronted Goose, spotted in Pärnu County, South-West Estonia. Participation statistics were also astonishing with a total of 250 species lists delivered by 450 participants.

This year another birdwatching event - City Birdwatching Contest Day (also organised by EOÜ) - coincided with the Easter holidays. 23 cities were participating and 118 species were  recorded as the total count. This is also the record for this event. Tallinn was by far the winner with 86 species, followed by Paldiski (74 spp) and Haapsalu (73 spp). Among hinterland cities Tartu was the traditional winner (62 spp). The official record can be accessed at: www.eoy.ee.

Best species:
Haapsalu: Gadwall, Scaup, Ringed Plover
Kehra: Golden Plover
Kuressaare: Collared Dove
Kärdla: Curlew, Snow-Bunting
Paldiski: Pintail, Velvet Scoter, Black Scoter, Black Guillemot, Red-throated Loon
Tallinn: Redshank, Redwing, Nutcracker
Tapa: Golden Eagle
Tartu: Dunnock
Võru: Little Grebe
Valga: Kestrel

Among other remarkable species Canada Goose, Great Egret, Pygmy Owl, Divers and Rough-legged Buzzard were also spotted.
The five most common species were spotted in each town were Rock Pigeon, Great Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw and Hooded Crow.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Spring-time love life of a Black Stork family in web-camera

This year Black Stork is in closer focus, as Estonian Fund for Nature, supported also by Estonian Nature Tours (also supporting the Young Conservationist's Award Foundation  and the Fying Squirrel project), has launched a series of actions to draw attention to this rare bird's status and life conditions. While lots of volunteers are involved in practical  outdoor works to clean the feeding areas of the species, mainly small forest rivers and ditches, the rest of the public audience can feel involved watching the bird via internet. 

The direct stream of the webcamera is just beyond a click:

Black Stork / Source: et.wikipedia.org

Recently these big, but elegant love-birds were devoted to this years' offspring.
The worst impact to the life conditions of the Black Stork is caused by the policy of clearing old growth forest in Estonia and elsewhere. As mentioned above the small shallow-watered rivulets – feeding ground of the species – have overgrown and this process is rapidly accelerating. 

Volunteers are active in the second set of problems, as this is more easily achievable goal. Most evidently the lack of food and suitable feeding sites is counteracting the birds' efforts to grow up their chicks. This is particularly important for the young birds to be fit before leaving for wintering sites in Africa. So clearing works will be carried out in autumn, when the birds have finished their breeding season.

As for forestry practices and policies most of Estonian conservational NGO-s are making efforts via Estonian Council of Environmental NGO's (EKO) to make the statutory law of Estonian forestry more sustainable.
The Black Stork is a 1st category protected species in Estonia, also listed in Estonia's Red Data Book as a vulnerable species.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A brief summary of the final report of the National Environmental Monitoring sub-programme on butterfly communities 2015

by Erki Õunap and Anu Tiitsaar

Regardless of untypical weather conditions during the last summer the species diversity and abundance of butterflies in 2015 remained close to the multi-year average. The index, reflecting general abundance of butterflies, equalled to that of 2004 when the Estonian monitoring programme was launched. Over the 12-year monitoring period the abundance of butterflies is currently demonstrating slight increase, in spite of the recent years’ decline if compared to the advanced period of 2010-2013. These results reveal, that in wider context the butterfly populations of Estonia are in favourable condition. In the European context these are really good results, as similar index, calculated from similar monitoring patterns in 22 European states demonstrates 30% decline since 1990 and only during the latest 5-10 years the rate of decline seems to be decelerated.

The condition of the monitoring areas is generally good - in 10 areas out of 14 there is no need to change the management system, as retention of viable populations of butterflies (protected species therein) is guaranteed there under current regime. In 2015 from 14 transects 83 species of butterflies were registered. Two of them - the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and the Painted Lady (Cunthia cardui) are migratory species of Southern origin, unable to winter in Estonian conditions. The rest of the 81 species constitute 81% of Estonia’s native butterfly fauna (total 100 spp.). The most diverse transect in 2015 was the Piusa-Veski transect with 50 species.

Lesser Marbled Fritillary (Brenthis ino) / Photo: John Maddocks

About Erki Õunap (PhD 2010):

„I discovered the exciting world of arthropods by following the example of my father when I was just a schoolboy. As time passed and I grew up, my interest directed its course to a more definite target and so little by little I decided to concentrate on butterflies.

After graduating from the Tartu University I have worked as a professional lepidopterologist in Tartu University and in Estonian University of Life Sciences. I have gathered data and knowledge of the distribution, habits and behaviour of butterflies during the last twenty years resulting in the  publishing of a book on the butterflies of Estonia.“

Monday, March 7, 2016

The 7th Winter Garden Bird Count

During the last days of January the 7th Winter Garden Bird Count took place. More than 58 000 birds from 64 species were noted according to the results. Almost 2800 birdwatchers from 2000 locations were participating, while a whole quarter of this people was participating the very first time. Only 75 participants have been participating  every time. 95% of the watching was done in the gardens, 5% in parks and 7 people were counting birds in grave-yards. The result is remarkable in several ways. It is the highest count of all the 7 years, although the relative number was unexpectedly low. The average number of birds per location was 20-25 % lower than usual. The most probable reason was the thaw after a prolonged period of frost, that made the birds move around and seek for food on their own. In a way it's a good news and shows that the birds are not depending on our mercy totally, but able and willing to live their own life.

The most numerous species was once more the Bird of the Year - the Great Tit, that made up more than 26% of the total number of observed birds. As in previous years among the five most abundant species were also the Greenfinch, the Tree Sparrow, the House Sparrow and the Blue Tit. 

Many usual species were met in about 10% lower numbers, e.g. the Bullfinch and the Blackbird, while the Nuthatch, the Magpie and the Jay had increased about 2-4 % 
Among the “interesting” species this year there were seen the Great Grey Shrike (12 specimen), the Wren (4) and the Redwing (1). Birds of prey were also there, as usual the Sparrowhawk (38), the Goshawk (9), the Common Buzzard (13) and the Pygmy Owl (3), but also 2 specimen of the Rough-legged Buzzard and a Kestrel. Maybe the cherry on the cake was this year the Green Woodpecker.

The counts of the birds together with the number of counting sites are given in the Table 1.

Monday, February 29, 2016

It's safe to age in Estonia - the oldest Arctic Tern 28!

Matsalu Ringing Centre announced the eldest recaptured Arctic Tern in their history. It was captured in Denmark at the age of 28 years and 1 month. This bird was ringed on June 21, 1987 in Saaremaa by Mati Martinson, recaptured and released on July 30, 2015 in North Jutland, Denmark. Previous record was held by a 26 years old bird from 2005, when it was found dead in an Eagle Owl's nest.
The eldest Arctic Tern in Europe was 30 when captured. World's eldest Arctic Tern was captured in North-America at the age of 34 years.

Arctic Tern / Source: maaleht.delfi.ee

Marta - world's eldest Common Gull

Common Gull (Larus canus) population studies in Estonia

text by Kalev Rattiste & Peeter Vissak

Flash back! Year 1981 – assassination attempts to Pope John Paul II and president Ronald Reagan, Prince Charles marries Diana Spencer and Marta - one of many Common Gull chicks is hatching in Matsalu National Park, West-Estonia. Now we know her well, as she is the eldest known specimen of the species in the World.

Long-term individual based research of common gulls were initiated in 1962 by Estonian ornithologist Sven Onno. This species was selected as a model one due to its suitability for population studies (high birth rate and breeding site fidelity, insensitivity to human activities in the colony, both partners easily identifiable and catchable etc). The main aim was to study different aspects of  evolutionary ecology, including demography (e.g. reproduc­tive success, age at first breeding, survival, pair bond stability, longevity, birth site fidelity, wintering site fidelity), quantitative genetics and ecophysiology. 

Study area consists of three offshore islets in Matsalu National Park. Main studies are conducted on Kakrarahu islet (3.5 ha; 58º46’ N 23º26’ E). Nowadays, more than 750 pairs are breeding in this colony (all nests are marked and numbered). All breeders are ringed both with metal (Estonia Matsalu ringing scheme) and plastic ring (white rings with four alphanumerics, starting always with letter P, e.g. P3H9, P27K). Every year at least 95 per cent of breeders are identified and all hatched chicks are ringed in their first day of life. By everyday inspections laying time and weight of eggs, as well as hatching time of chicks are recorded.

In non-breeding period, many bird watchers observe these common gulls in their post-breeding wandering range, migration routes or wintering grounds. For example, in 2013-2015 there were 308 such notifications. Most often our common gulls are met in the Netherlands (42% of observations), Germany (26%), Denmark (18%) and Poland (4%), but also in Belgium, UK, Latvia, France, Sweden, Russia, Lituania, Czech Republic and Hungary, If you see an Estonian common gull, please inform Estonian Ringing Centre (matsalu@envir.ee) or directly our study group (kalev.rattiste@gmail.com).

Marta and Oskar in 2012 / Source: laanlane.ee

As a rule, only ten per cent of offspring reach sexual maturity and start to breed. On average common gulls breed for five-six years. Marta, the oldest known common gull in the world was breeding in Kakrarahu colony in 2015. She has born in Kakrarahu colony on 3rd of June 1981 and is now 34 years old. Her father was also born and bred in this colony (1973-1989), as well as her grandfather and grandmother (bred in 1966-1980). Marta’s first and second  partnerships lasted seven and one year, respectively. The second partner returned to his previous partner, who missed the 1994 breeding season. Since 1995 Marta is breeding with Oskar (for 21 years now!), who is eight years younger (born in 1989). Altogether Marta has laid 86 eggs and 59 chicks have hatched. For now, her ten children (6 males and 4 females), eleven grandchildren (6 males and 5 females) and three grandgrandchildren (all males) have returned to breed in Kakrarahu colony. Marta is wintering on the River Severn at Purton, England (51º44’ N 2º26’ W).

The first collared bull elk is doing well

In September the very first bull elk was equipped with a satellite-telemetric monitoring collar. This tracing device will give the mammalologists of the wildlife monitoring department of the Environment Agency necessary data about the whereabouts, habitat utilization, behavioral ecology etc. 
The tracing subject was caught in the Soomaa National Park and during the next months it has moved around in the Park, albeit changed the location from one edge to the other. The main reason of active movements in the autumn is the hunting season. The traced elk is usually moving around in the radius of 10 km. The monitoring device is spotting the animal every 4th hour while the coordinates are sent to the main server of the team. Local hunters are also briefed about the elk with a wide and bright white collar, clearly visible in the twilight as well.
The wildlife monitoring team is planning to put the tracing collars all together to 10 elks. Now, when there is much more snow, it becomes possible to follow and catch the animals with a snow mobile.

Photo: Marko Kübarsepp /
Source: www.keskkonnaagentuur.ee

When the animals are already collared and thoroughly monitored, it will be possible to research their abundance or physiology as well, e.g. their endoparasites from their droppings etc.
So far the Environment Agency has used collars to monitor Roe Deer, Wild Boar, Lynx and Wolf.

Badger's life scrutinised

Second year already there's a webcamera near a badgers' town, so people have had good possibility to watch their life through internet. What was soon revealed, that just opposite the commonplace imagination, badgers are by no means twilight and night animals. Zoologist Tiit Hunt assured that morning, midday and afternoon are equally good for these positively active animals to be in the picture. 

European badger / Source: maaleht.delfi.ee

Due to the fact that although we recognize continuously increasing number of badgers in Estonia, we only know very generally that they occupy almost the whole mainland area and the Saaremaa island, but any insight into their population ecology is missing. Therefore Badger was attributed the title of the Animal of the Year 2016. Badger is the 4th mammal, who has earned such special attention. In the former years the Wolf, the Ringed Seal and the Wild Boar have earned similar attention. There are comprehensive plans to start to gather thorough data about Badger next year.

Badger is mating in June and July, so the cubs are born in March and April, although Mother Badger is able to regulate the exact springing time according to certain circumstances, explained Tiit Hunt. It may happen that the offspring have to wait for relatively long time in their Mummy's womb. Similarly to the Bear badgers also mate every second year. It takes a month until their eyes open and a next month before they start to waddle around their den. 

June 25 this year happened to be a certain top record day. Zoologists were witnessing extraordinarily long mating activity of the badger couple, all together 90 minutes, that is the longest known act in the World!

Badger camera recordings here