Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lynx still in the crosshairs

It happened in the Monday afternoon. I was walking my dog and after some few hundred meters from my home HE had crossed the river and the road, in slow pace. Probably early in the morning.

In Tuesday morning I examined more closely from where he had come and into which direction he disappeared. 

Here he has crossed the river ...

.. across the road and through the shrub

Partridges are again here in Penijõe, 11 or 12 ... 

... but he has continued walking along the road towards that lone cottage. 

My Monday’s and Tuesday’s footprints and Lynx’s ones just between them. 

He likes to squirt ...

... here and there

The Lynx had passed the house within 50 meters and headed into the shrub again. 

A Boar had plotted its course across Lynx’s yesterday’s trek ... 

From here on I sloshed in the snow half an hour more, but it turned too bushy. I headed back to the road and tried to find out, where the Lynx had continued, but no result. Most probably he had waled on towards the reed bed.

It’s raining, alas! But fresh snow will fall in the weekend, as the forecast goes.

It’s just the beginning!

Ilves on endiselt sihikul

Esmaspäeva pärastlõunal see juhtus.. Jalutasin koeraga ja vaid mõnisada meetrit oma kodust eemal oli Tema laisalt üle jõe ja tee kõndinud. Tõenäoliselt varahommikul.

Teisipäeva hommikul uurisin lähemalt, kust ta tuli ja kuhu läks.

Jõge ületas Ta siin ja edasi...

.. üle tee ja läbi võsa

Nurmkanad on sel aastal jälle Penijõel, kokku 11 või 12..

.. aga Tema kõndis edasi mööda teed üksildase talumaja suunas

Minu esmaspäevane ja teisipäevane jälg ja Tema oma seal vahel..

Talle meeldib sirtsutada..

... siin ja seal

Majast möödus ilves 50 meetri kauguselt ja suundus jälle võssa

Siga on äsja oma teekonna sättinud risti ilvese eilse teekonnaga...

Siit edasi sumasin veel pool tundi lumes, kuid siis muutus rägastik liiga tihedaks. Pöörasin ära maanteele, et uurida, kustpoolt ta välja tuli. Ei õnnestunud, tõenäoliselt pööras roostiku suunda?

Vihma sajab.. kahju. Aga uus lumi tuleb ehk nädalavahetusel.

See on alles algus.

Monday, January 25, 2016

World of Birds: ESTONIA – Nature´s Abundance

By Neil Bowman

„...The Loode Wooded Meadow, home to the largest concentration of Lady´s Slipper Orchids in the world, did not dissapoint. There was a veritable carpet of flower heads, say to be in excess 1,000. In such a chemical-free environment, insects abounded, including a Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-mothe and many dargonflies and damselflies.“

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 December Birdwatch, the Britain´s best monthly magazine for keen birders published a 3-page article about Estonian wildlife in Summer. Another feature appeared in the October issue of the Britain´s best selling bird magazine, Bird Watching.

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

How I fell in love with birdwatching in Estonia

By Mats Björklund, Sweden 2016

"I was asked by a collegue to join him and his wife to a trip to Estonia for bird watching in 2003. This was new area for me so, why not? We were taken to all the best birding spots, and in addition guided to historically interesting sites. After that I convinced my birding pal to join me and he was as astonished as I was the first time. We have since then been in the Matsalu area, including Hiiumaa, almost every year in the spring to enjoy the remarkable bird migration, and all the other great places. It has become an addiction!

Nedrema wooded meadow / Photo: Mats Björklund

Kasari river and flooded meadow / Photo: Mats Björklund

 This was my first trip to a country in the former Soviet Union and since we knew very little about Estonia we were all very curious. The landscape was beautiful, but there were also sad sights with abandoned farms and houses, and the small cities were quite run down. Over the years since then things have changed and especially the small towns has been refurbished to a large extent, and are now very pretty and attractive. Haapsalu is my clear favourite, and this town has gone through a major change to the better over time. The trip was very well-organised with no problems on the way despite the fact it was the first time it was organised. Not all in the group was devote birders, but there were things to see for everyone during the days.

Põgari-Sassi coastal meadow / Photo: Mats Björklund

When I thinking back, we really had horrible weather but still the atmosphere in the group was great. It could easily have become a distaster due to all the freezing but we were still all very excited. That's a great achievement!
The company now has several years of experience and thus I definitely trust them to be excellent. I still contact the Manager at times for help, and I know I will always get good advice."

Globe-flower (Trollius europaeus) Photo: Mats Björklund

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla) /
Photo: Mats Björklund

The trip Mats Björklund participated in 2003, was a very first birdwatching tour we ever arranged.

Many thanks to Jan Wigsten who was a key person for our company during this period helping us to build the first successful birdwatching tour!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Beginners luck or the whole truth about mammal watching in Estonia?

We came out with a totally new opportunity Mammals and Birds in Estonia in Spring 2011. Our very first visitors experienced something extraordinary during the first trip – in 8 days they saw 5 Brown Bears in different places all over Estonia!

Read comments: One Week in Estonian Wildlife

So far, we have run 18 Mammals and Birds tours and most of them have been very successful. People have seen Flying Squirrels, Brown Bears, Elks, Wild Boars, European Beavers, Raccoon Dogs and many interesting bird species, for example Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Black Grouse, Black Stork, Great Snipe and various species of woodpeckers and owls. Some of the groups have been lucky even with Lynxes! What means, our clients can see in Estonia in one week more mammal and bird species than most of Estonians throughout their life. Remarkable, isn´t it?

Brown Bear in Nõva, Estonia 2014 / Photo: Jack Hill

Our first Mammals and Birds tour for this year is already full, so we decided to put on another one. Booking for a period Fri 13th May – Fri 20th May is now open! If you prefer to book through a UK agent so everything is included, there are still places left with Travelling Naturalist  from 15th May – 22nd May 2016.  

A very first Eurasian Lynx trip (probably in Europe) was organized by ENT in the beginning of March 2015 and it started successfully indeed. Pygmy Owl and Mr Lynx was seen in the  first three hours! Was it the beginner's luck? We will find it out soon. There are still places available on a tour Estonia – Eurasian Lynx Quest Wed 2nd Mar - Mon 7th Mar 2016, operated in conjunction with Wise Birding Holidays.. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Estonian „Satellite Cranes“ arrive at their winter-homes by New Year’s Eve

At the end of 2015 the latest birds with satellite transmitters – Common Cranes with code names „Ahja 4” and „Savimäe” – arrived at their wintering locations.

Ahja 4 was caught in 2013 in South Estonia near Ahja village. It’s left leg was equipped with a new up-to-date 22 g satellite transmitter GPS/Argos MTI, working on solar energy. In the very first autumn it made the grade taking two months to travel 5,800 km and reach its chosen wintering place near Addis Abebe, Ethiopia. Cranes usually winter in southern Europe or north Africa, only one small group from Eastern Finland is wintering in Ethiopia, making their migration 6500 km long. This winter Ahja 4 reached its traditional „winter cottage“ on 28 December, sound and safe.

Savimäe was caught and tagged with a similar transmitter in the same year (2013) and in the same region, but near Savimäe village.
This winter Savimäe joined the flock that stayed in Hungary. After some time, when the weather suddenly turned cold, it continued its journey and reached its usual place in Algeria by 31 December – exactly the same time as in the previous year.

It's not just pure scientific curiosity, that has driven Estonian ornithologists to equip some large bird species with transmitters to follow their migration. Knowing their life and travels the whole year round, we can make much better decisions about their conservation needs. This work has been done in Estonia since 2005.
Transmitters are attached to different eagle species and some other raptors, cranes and storks. There have been short-wave radiotransmitters, satellite transmitters and GPS-based ones. Weight, power supply and signal strength have been constant problems that needed to be improved.
These days it is possible to watch the route of migrating birds in acceptable detail. See the migration map..

Restoration of bogs in Estonia solves several burning problems

Estonian environmental NGO-s and the Ministry of Environment have launched massive projects related to our boglands. The total area of swamps and bogs has decreased substantially since the middle of the 20th century. Recent inventories reveal that the situation is much worse than we thought and we must work hard now to reverse ths process.

Estonia is a land, that has uplifted from the sea during the last 12,000 years and therefore is full of previous lagoons, overgrown lakes, swamps and raised bogs. We are used to the myth, that Estonia is full of bogs. In 2011-2013, Estonian Fund for Nature completed a project, funded by the Coca Cola Foundation, which aimed in finding the best restoration areas of the Estonian Ramsar sites and compiling restoration plans. The main focus was on transitional bogs, as these are usually grown instead of open bogs as a consequence of amelioration. It is shocking to realise that instead of the textbook reference of Estonia being 22% swamps and bogs, the reality is that only 5.3% remains (according to the inventory from 2009-2012, made by Estonian Fund for Nature, Tartu University and NGO Arhevisioon). The disappearance of bogs since 1950 has been become critical and should be a real cause for concern!

Total area of Estonian fens and bogs is about 140 000 ha
/ Photo: Mati Kose

Beginning with this year Estonian Fund for Nature launches a new five-year cooperation programme with the upper mentioned partners to restore 5800 ha of bogs, damaged by amelioration and drainage. The project is still in the preparation stage, as the practical work should begin in 2017. The plans embrace 5800 ha of bogs to be restored, 3276 ha of Natura habitats therein and is financed by LIFE Programme and Environmental Investments Centre. In addition to practical work in landscape lots of information work will be done. The main idea is to restore as natural a water-regime as possible to relaunch peat accumulation processes. Alam-Pedja, Ohepalu, Agusalu, Lahemaa, Tudusoo, Sirtsi and other nature reserves and national parks will be included in the project which will run until 2020.

At the same time the State Forest Management Centre (RMK) is launching another programme to clear overgrown bog areas to restore the bog to its former glory. The main focus is on 5000 hectares of different valuable areas.

It was more than 40 years ago when a “Bog War” took place in Estonia. Pragmatism vs conservationism. Peat vs water. By that time edges of the largest bog massives were already cut through by ditches and the function of bogs as water reservoirs was perturbed. This Moscow-financed operation was a hot topic in newspapers and radio for 3 years, until some Estonian ministers switched their side and became “bog-keepers”. In 1972 the Council of Ministers specified the bogs that were to be excluded from the amelioration fund. All together 93 bogs and swamps (207,000 ha) were listed, from which 28 bog and swamp reserves were established in 1981 (total area 100,000 ha).

After the restoration of independence in Estonia utilitarian interests began to prevail and  peat excavation became a large scale problem with international business interests. The crucial question is whether peat is renewable natural asset or not. Our bogs have come into being since the latest ice age and accumulated peat at a rate of 1 mm per year. According to this knowledge the usable peat stock is about 2.8 million tonnes. However, large amounts of peat is quickly vanishing through decomosition resulting in mineral soil plus lots of carbon dioxide emission – an even worse problem.

The problem is as complex as it gets. We have to consider the pure water reservoir, accumulated carbon dioxide, ability of bogs to produce more oxygen than it uses itself, the habitat of rare and threatened mammals, birds, invertebrates and plants - plus the wonderful asset of our time - silence!

It is easy to make a list of the most important species of interest, more or less related to bogs, swamps and adjacent transitional areas: Capercaillie, Moor Frog, Willow Ptarmigan, Hazel Grouse, Black Grouse, Common Crane, Great Grey Shrike, Whimbrel, Jack Snipe, Wolf, Elk, Brown Bear, Golden Plover, White-faced Darters, Cranberry Blue, Freija Fritillary, Bog Fritillary, Baltic Grayling etc. The orchids of interest are Musk Orchid, Fen Orchid, Heath Spotted Orchid, White Adder’s Mouth, Bog Orchid, Narrow-leaved Russow’s Orchid and others.

Cranberry Blue (Plebejus optilete) / Photo: John Maddocks

Estonian Nature Tours takes its clients to several of these reserves, e.g. Lahemaa, Tudusoo, Alam-Pedja etc. 

Great Tit - bird of the year 2016

Knock-knock on the window! The next Bird of the Year, announced by Estonian Ornithological Society, has entered the scene. This time – the 22nd year already - it is one of the most common and best known garden birds - the Great Tit. And there are good reasons for it. First - it is one of the most common birds around and second - almost everyone knows this bird from childhood, as it can be easily seen everywhere all the year round. There are several other tit species in Estonia that one can get acquainted with too, but this is the species you are likely to see the most.

Great Tit (Parus major) / Source:

The Great Tit is a widespread and common species throughout Europe, the Middle East, Central and Northern Asia, and parts of North Africa where it stays mainly in woodland. But usually Great Tits do not migrate except in extremely harsh winters. This little bold - if not blatant - creature comes up to our homes, if short of food, and very often looks inside through the window to check what’s on the table. A good moment to have a close look. He or she? The sexes can be told apart by the width of the black stripe down the breast - the males have a broader stripe than the females.

To be honest we can celebrate the 45th anniversary of thorough Great Tit studies in Estonia. In 1971 en masse passerine ringing activities were called into being by the ornithologists of Matsalu and Nigula Nature Reserves. Special attention was paid to the Great Tit, who is readily available all the year round and also on migration. This research work was done in different places round Estonia under the code name “Operation Parus”. It was part of larger international programme “Baltika”. Lots of schoolchildren all over the country participated in this programme and several by now well-known ornithologists made their first steps as birders during these years.

By the beginning of 2000 the total number of ringed Great Tits in Estonia was about 600,000 birds. The ongoing century has added another 100,000, so the approximate total is now 700,000.

Northern Lights in Estonia

Some eager New Year’s firework photographers discovered, that the background of their long shutter release pics were filled with the beautiful colours of the Aurora! The very first days of 2016 provided more chances to see them. This is a video of some Northern Lights of the 2015/16 night:

Although the Estonian  climate can include its share of grey overcast nights, there are always crisp frosty starry nights too with occasional Aurora Borealis. One may think this belongs to the ultimate North, but depending on suitable weather and Solar activity it may often happen in our own backyard. The trade secret is to be outdoors around midnight. Celestial signs say clearly that Estonia is a real Nordic country.
As a matter of fact years are not brothers and Solar wind may be stronger or weaker. In fatc the activity of the sun moves through a cycle of aorund elevben years.  In 2015 the sun has been at its peak of solar activity and  offered us several spectacular fireworks. April 17 was maybe the best day (night) to watch it. Another active period was in October. Estonian photographers have not been lazy and there are several beautiful albums on the internet.

Our own bird-guide Mati Kose has presented some best shots here: 

Northern Lights in Estonia, Spring 2015 / Photo: Mati Kose

Well known nature photographer Sven Zacek has shared his Aurora-shots from a night-trip to a bog here..

The best places to see northern lights in the Baltic region are in the northern parts of the Nordic countries, and the best time is around the ‘magnetic midnight’ – around a half-hour before regular midnight. They occur all year round, but due to the bright Baltic summers they are only really seen in the darker time of year, from August to April. Of course in higher latitudes the probability to see them is also much higher. Statistically, in Northern Finland, one would expect to see the Northern Lights twice in a week; in Helsinki and in Estonia it would only be perhaps twenty nights a year and in northern Germany only a couple of nights a year.

According to Kristofer Jäntti this captivating phenomenon – Northern Lights - has fed our curiosity since the very beginning of times. Obviously it has not gone unnoticed by the ancients – the earliest cave paintings in Southern France date to 30,000 years ago. They had a prominent role in the mythologies of many cultures around the Arctic Circle. In Finland the Northern Lights were believed to originate from a ‘fire fox’ that would run in the North aong the mountains so that the sparks they caused would become Northern Lights. In Estonia it was believed that gigantic whales with their water jets were the reason of the spectacular light-show.
This story has its dark side as well - namely that solar activity evokes people and nations and very often spectacular light shows coincide with crucial historic events.
It depends only on Sun activity and sheer luck, but in March and in October the odds are that Northern Lights may show up around midnight as  an additional bonus to birding.

MATSALU – Mecca for birdwatchers!

Despite Finland’s reputation for birding, many birdwatchers from this country prefer to spend a weekend in Estonia, in Matsalu National Park, to observe the migration of birds every May and September. There is something very exciting about watching migration in action, as huge numbers of birds pass through this area, from small passerines through to waders and wildfowl and large birds like raptors, cranes and storks. The enormous passage of migrants makes this area very special - why else would Matsalu have been chosen to appear among the top 30 migration locations in the world?

For the first time, we have on offer a fantastic 5-day holiday to this fantastic birdwatching area renown for both migration watching and a fabulous selection of breeding birds.

Wed 18th May – Sun 22nd May / Tour leader: Kaarel Võhandu
Group size: 6/7 pax
Price: 855 € pp.

There are only five places still available - so please make your booking soon.

Tour itinerary..

Perhaps Estonia’s prime site for birding the list of possible species you can see is impressive - Lesser Spotted and White-tailed Eagles, Black Stork, White-backed, Three-toed and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Corncrake, Capercaillie, Black and Hazel Grouse.  Passage migrants include a great selection of wildfowl and waders - look out for breeding plumage Ruff and Spotted Redshank that look simply stunning.  Savi’s Warblers sing from reedbeds hunted by Marsh and Hen Harriers, Bitterns boom and Bearded and Penduline Tits breed.  Huge flocks of geese pass through along with Common Cranes, storks and so much more.

Our base for the holiday is the delightful Tuulingu guesthouse, which stands barely 30 metres from the coast.  This rebuilt old farmhouse, has front windows and the cafe terrace facing the shallow sea and the flat muddy coast, where you can sip coffee as you watch the swarming birds.  Passage birds may be moving through the scrub and trees beside the guesthouse and you may not want to leave for our days out in the nearby forested areas, reedbeds and wet meadows.  To get an even better panorama you have only to walk 15 metres and climb up the watching tower and almost the whole of Matsalu Bay is literally at your feet.

Tuulingu Guesthouse / Photo: ENT

With woodlands and 3,000 hectares of reedbeds, plus 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. Over 170 species breed here – and it is easy to see why the north European day-list record of 194 was set in this region in May 2007.