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AUTUMN MIGRATION IN ESTONIA - Friday 27th September - Wednesday 2nd October 2013

Friday 27th September
We all met at Stansted for our flight to Tallinn which took off a few minutes later than scheduled due to the pilot missing the turn to the runway! We were eventually away and with clear conditions, we could see Abberton Reservoir and the Blackwater Estuary very clear.

Arriving in Tallinn we met our local guide Kaarel and were soon on our way westwards. There was little to note on the journey except for HOODED CROWS and 'Nordic' type JACKDAWS. A RED FOX was seen in a field and we soon located small flocks of LAPWINGS in the ploughed fields. We stopped at several locations, the first consisted of an area of open fields but apart from a couple of RAVENS there were no geese. Another clearing produced two HEN HARRIERS and a small copse was alive with passerines including TREE SPARROW, CHAFFINCH and YELLOWHAMMERS. A woodland stop further along was much more productive with CHIFFCHAFF, GOLDCREST, BLUE, GREAT and MARSH TITS and TREECREEPER, whilst overhead were SPARROWHAWK and several HOUSE MARTINS.

A nearby pond had more MARSH TITS in the surrounding trees, as well as a calling NUTHATCH and nearby we had distant views of a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE. A short drive later we arrived at our base for the next three nights and after checking in we had stunning views of a bay with plenty of birds! GOOSANDER, MALLARD, GADWALL, WIGEON, TUFTED DUCK and GOLDENEYE were noted and in the distance were another HEN HARRIER and GREAT EGRET whilst a flock of 23 BEWICK'S SWAN flew over followed by another two, ten minutes later.

After time to relax and shower, we met in the bar before taking a short walk along the promenade, where we enjoyed a lovely evening meal of tomato and basil soup followed by smoked chicken pie and a cherry crumble cake for dessert.

After our very early start, it was good to get to bed and relax, very much looking forward to the following day.

Saturday 28th September
Breakfast was at 6.30am with a selection of various goodies from porridge and fruit through to omelette and sausage, washed down with coffee, tea or juice. Today our first port of call was a wooded area around 20 minutes away and during the journey, the group in Steve's van managed to see four COMMON CRANES flying low over the trees, and a short distance later around 20 WILD BOAR ran across the road into nearby woodland. Once in the woodland we found a calling WILLOW TIT and a few GOLDCREST amongst the pines. Moving further along the track we came across two more WILLOW TITS and from the undergrowth we heard a calling HAZEL GROUSE but despite Kaarel going into the edge of the woodland, it failed to show.

Another clearing along the road proved successful, because a NUTCRACKER perched in a tree before flying off. There were plenty of CHAFFINCHES in the trees and fields and overhead flew a small party of REDWING and two SONG THRUSHES. We then heard BLACK WOODPECKER calling and a few seconds later, this magnificent bird flew past before disappearing into the wood.

With temperatures rising we headed off northwest where several other birders were present. Almost immediately we saw large numbers of LONG-TAILED DUCK flying past, as well as WIGEON and similar numbers of VELVET SCOTER. In all, we estimated that we had seen a good 1000 of both LONG-TAILED DUCK and VELVET SCOTER here. COMMON SCOTER were less numerous but we still managed around 50 birds. Small parties of BLACK-THROATED DIVER flew past with some RED-THROATED DIVER for company and geese included plenty of BARNACLES with a few WHITE-FRONTED and BEAN thrown in for good measure. COMMON EIDER, LONG-TAILED DUCK and a lone TUFTED DUCK fed just offshore and were joined by a winter-plumaged BLACK GUILLEMOT, giving reasonable scope views.

Raptors included migrating SPARROWHAWKS that could be seen flying over the Baltic, as well as a single HEN HARRIER and three WHITE-TAILED EAGLES. With the duck passage slowing, most of the group joined Kaarel to look for passerines in the woods and we were rewarded with GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER and at least 5 NORTHERN BULLFINCHES, the latter feeding on Rowan berries before being disturbed by a passing car.

Steve and a few others managed to see yet more LONG-TAILED DUCK and VELVET SCOTER and a 1st winter LITTLE GULL flying south and carrying on our journey, we found a GREAT GREY SHRIKE hunting from telegraph wires. With stomachs now rumbling, we headed off for lunch, where meat and potatoes with salad and sauce, followed by a dessert of Rye Bread pudding with sour cream and tea and coffee certainly warmed us up!

From here we headed south to an area of sandy beach and river hoping it would be good for waders. It certainly didn't disappoint, with four GREY PLOVER and two GOLDEN PLOVER flying around rocks to the north, whilst in the sand bay we found two juvenile LITTLE STINT, 2 juvenile CURLEW SANDPIPER, RUFF, DUNLIN and RINGED PLOVER. On the return leg we watched four COMMON SNIPE fly over.

On seaweed along the shoreline we located a superb juvenile WHEATEAR, as well as WHITE WAGTAILS and MEADOW PIPITS and the grassy higher area was home to a small party of GREENFINCH and a few SKYLARK. It was then back to the hotel for a break, which some spent relaxing and others birded from room balconies noting two WHITE-TAILED EAGLES, 13 GOOSANDER and a few GREYLAG GEESE before heading out to an area of meadows that are renowned for roosting COMMON CRANES. Here we saw two HEN HARRIERS, GREAT GREY SHRIKE and thousands of BARNACLE GEESE with a beautiful sky backdrop that was something to remember.

On our drive to dinner we noted a flypast WOODCOCK and a TAWNY OWL that flashed across the road. Dinner was great with pork steak, potatoes and a creamy sauce. followed by yoghurt with grains for dessert. We got back tired but happy after a great days' birding.

Sunday 29th September
Breakfast was at 6.45am and once again, it was delicious and filling and soon we were out birding. A flock of BARNACLE GEESE fed in the roadside fields and once at the watchpoint we saw small numbers of passerines including REDWING, FIELDFARE, MISTLE THRUSH, GREAT TIT, GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER and YELLOWHAMMERS overhead.

Thousands of BARNACLE GEESE flew past and on the sea were several SCAUP in with a group of TUFTED DUCKS, plus SHOVELER, GOLDENEYE and MALLARDS close to the shore. Unfortunately a rain shower sent us hurrying back to the vans and we drove a mile or two along the road, revisiting the BARNACLE GOOSE flock. From a farmyard we watched three WHITE-TAILED EAGLES, a juvenile WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE, GREENSHANK, SPOTTED REDSHANK, LAPWING and several GREY PLOVER along the rocky shore. BARNACLE GEESE continued to fly over in large numbers.

As we drove onwards, a large mixed flock of FIELDFARE, BLACKBIRDS and REDWING flew out of nearby hedges and then a HAWFINCH joined them but quickly disappeared from view.

A short time later we visited a woodland searching for woodpeckers but despite ideal conditions it was very quiet except for a female SISKIN feeding on Alder seeds, NUTHATCH, two fly over MEALY REDPOLL and another HAWFINCH.

Our last port of call before lunch was a tower overlooking the bay where we found at least five more WHITE-TAILED EAGLES, including one eating a BARNACLE GOOSE that it had earlier caught in the air, which was witnessed by a group of Finnish birders. Five TUNDRA BEAN GEESE fed in a sheltered bay and out on a spit of land sat a family party of WHITE-FRONTED GEESE. A single COMMON CRANE flew over looking lost and close to the reedy edge swam an AMERICAN MINK.

The trees around the area held GOLDCREST, CHIFFCHAFF, GREAT TIT and TREE SPARROW whilst some of the group enjoyed a coffee and cake (or more than one cake!)

We headed back to the hotel and during the journey we saw an adult and juvenile COMMON CRANE and a female GOSHAWK which flew across the road in front of the van.

Lunch was enjoyed overlooking a lake, where TUFTED DUCKS and GREAT CRESTED GREBES fed and then we retired back to the hotel for a break before arranging to meet at 4pm for our next session of birding.

A stop was made to search for woodpeckers but it was very quiet except for a brief sighting of a NUTCRACKER before we moved on.

Some time was spent at a watch-point overlooking one of the many bays and we managed to see another 3 WHITE-TAILED EAGLES, 10 GREAT WHITE EGRETS, more BARNACLE GEESE and good numbers of BEWICK'S SWAN.

It was then onto a restaurant for dinner with beef, potatoes and vegetables for main course and a lovely cheesecake for dessert. Our last excursion of the day was a spot of mammal and bird watching at night. We turned onto a track and soon saw a LONG-EARED OWL that flew from fence posts before disappearing across fields and a few minutes later, a RACCOON DOG ran across the road in front of Kaarel’s van and two ROE DEER stood in a field. We then saw another RACCOON DOG and as we headed back to the hotel, two ELK, an adult and youngster were seen close to the road. To complete the mammal list for the day we saw several HARES along the roadside verge, before arriving back where our beds awaited!

Monday 30th September
Breakfast was at a more leisurely time of 7.00am and once completed we said our goodbyes to our hotel and headed off birding the network of tracks and fields to the south. BARNACLE GEESE were seen including one very close individual in a stubble field, that seemed quiet unconcerned about our presence. A juvenile HEN HARRIER quartered a nearby field and good numbers of both YELLOWHAMMERS and CHAFFINCHES with some BRAMBLING were seen along the roadside verges.

Further along the road, we came across a field full of GREENFINCHES and LINNETS and it was from here that we found 2 GREAT GREY SHRIKES perched up near some derelict barns. A slow drive along the road yielded several COMMON BUZZARDS as well as a cracking ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD that perched atop a telegraph post before flying off. In a small hamlet we found several trumpeting NORTHERN BULLFINCHES and MARSH TIT, GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, NUTHATCH and Steve heard a distant calling BLACK WOODPECKER. We stopped for a while at a raised area overlooking a river valley and saw male HEN HARRIER and a few FIELDFARE and SKYLARK.

Our next visit was to an area of bog which dated back over 1000 years and here we took a walk along a boardwalk, which apart from noting a brief TREE PIPIT was rather quiet. On the way back to the vans, Kaarel spotted an adult GOLDEN EAGLE soaring over the pines and gaining height before drifting off.

Time was then getting on towards lunch and on our way we dropped in at the head office of Estonian Nature, where we were greeted by the lady in charge, Marika Mann, who gave us some delicious chocolate! As we left the building, possibly the same GOLDEN EAGLE was seen at closer range before drifting off once again. It was then lunchtime and we enjoyed the most fantastic soup followed by a creamy yoghurt type pudding. The gardens held a pair of northern race NUTHATCH, one using the tree as a vice for hording its acorns.

We had a ferry to catch so we birded nearby, seeing some distant LITTLE GULLS and well over 1000 GOLDENEYE on the Baltic. After a brief stop for shops we managed to get the earlier ferry and were soon on our way. A RED-THROATED DIVER was seen as well as several LITTLE GULLS, this time much closer and a GREAT CRESTED GREBE.

Stopping at a causeway between islands, the shallow waters held good numbers of MUTE, BEWICK'S and WHOOPER SWANS, as well as four SMEW, GOOSANDER and over reedbeds were two MARSH HARRIERS hunting.

Heading westwards, we stopped by the roadside when thousands of BARNACLE GEESE took to the air and the culprit, an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE was seen flying over. Suddenly the eagle banked round and closed in on a single BARNACLE GOOSE that was flying last and with little effort, took it clean out of the air which was simply amazing! As it flew down to eat the goose, plenty of HOODED CROWS came in to investigate and in the end, the crows forced the eagle to leave its dinner. It was then joined by a second bird and they tried hunting once again but this time it was unsuccessful.

After checking into our superb hotel, we met for a drink and to do the bird list before having a cracking meal of Caesar salad followed by beef olives and a creamy cheesecake for dessert which was gorgeous!

Tuesday 1st October
Our penultimate day started with a visit to Estonia's most south westerly point and a famous migration watch-point. The journey saw us flush a WOODCOCK from the verge and on reaching the point, we saw good numbers of GREENFINCHES feeding on weedy vegetation on the beach, amongst them we found a juvenile YELLOW WAGTAIL. A SPARROWHAWK sent the birds flying as it powered over southwards and offshore we located good numbers of GOLDENEYE, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and both WIGEON and MALLARDS. The cool northwest wind was distinctively chilly but we persevered and eventually found CHIFFCHAFF, BRAMBLING and a male NORTHERN BULLFINCH that perched on top of a pine.

CHAFFINCHES flew over in reasonable numbers and in the bushes were a couple of Robins. Then a bird flew out that Steve saw well and it was a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER! It gave a brief sample of its rattling call although the bird must have slipped out of the bush as it didn’t show again. Up to three COMMON CROSSBILLS flew over 'chipping' and further along the road, we disturbed five WOODLARKS from rough ground. A female RING OUZEL flew over calling, which was a good bird for Estonia.

Close to the vans we found a NORTHERN WHEATEAR which gave good views as it flew from the beach to nearby Juniper bushes. A quick look around sheltered gardens close to the lighthouse produced GOLDCREST, TREECREEPER, ROBINS and a single SONG THRUSH, whilst on the beach there were GOLDEN and GREY PLOVERS and a few BAR-TAILED GODWIT.

Driving northwards a male BLACK REDSTART was seen and a GREAT GREY SHRIKE perched up on a bush. We checked out a couple more sites before lunch but little else was seen except for a flyover BLACK WOODPECKER and WHITE-TAILED EAGLE. After a quick stop at the hotel, we headed off to lunch which consisted of lamb stew with mashed potato and salad and blueberry meringue for dessert.

Our next stop was in the northwest where a Hawk Owl had been reported but despite an extensive search, we just saw MEALY REDPOLL, MARSH and WILLOW TIT and we heard a LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER calling nearby. A visit was then made to a sea-watching spot where we found COMMON and VELVET SCOTER, LONG-TAILED DUCKS, EIDER, SLAVONIAN GREBE and a stunning adult BALTIC GULL, amongst hordes of argentatus HERRING GULLS, COMMON and BLACK-HEADED GULLS.

As we’d had an early start, we headed back to the hotel, noting more GREAT GREY SHRIKES and a COMMON BUZZARD on the way. Our last evening meal in Estonia was once again delicious with Salmon and Mushroom Risotto followed by Tiramisu. It was then off to bed as the next morning we had an optional few hours looking for owls.

Wednesday 2nd October
Seven hardy souls were waiting in reception at 5.30am for a visit to a nearby forest. After clearing the vans of ice, we drove northwards and entered the forest along the tracks. The conditions were perfect for listening for owls, but unfortunately the owls didn't think so, apart from two TAWNY OWLS screeching beside the road.

Other species seen or heard during our expedition included a RACOON DOG, NORTHERN BULLFINCH, NUTCRACKER, WILLOW TIT and COMMON CROSSBILLS that flew over. It was then back to our hotel for a hearty breakfast before enjoying a couple of hours spare time to relax or sleep!

We left at 11am and made our way eastwards towards the ferry, with a stop at the Kaali meteor crater that was pretty impressive. In the trees surrounding the crater we found BRAMBLING, GOLDFINCH and several MEADOW PIPITS. The drive to the ferry produced at least three WHITE-TAILED EAGLES and several COMMON BUZZARDS.

Arriving at the terminal in good time gave us the chance for another spot of birding. A quick scan produced around 50 SCAUP including a few adult drakes. GOLDENEYE, GOOSANDER and a small flock of SWALLOWS hawked over the water. After driving onto the ferry we took our positions on deck for the thirty minute crossing which gave us the chance to see around 250 SCAUP and small parties of LONG-TAILED DUCK flying south. As we docked, a first winter LITTLE GULL flew past the stern of the ferry.

It was then on towards Tallinn, noting a flyover BLACK WOODPECKER and another WHITE-TAILED EAGLE. Once in the centre of Tallinn we took several small cobbled streets looking for somewhere to park and eventually found a couple of places close to our restaurant, a traditional Estonian eatery. We were served a lovely meal of pork steak with sauerkraut and potatoes with a very hot mustard. Dessert was a lovely cheesecake that was washed down with coffee.

At 4.30pm we split into two groups. One took a guided tour of Tallinn that was great and gave us an insight into the town’s history. Of course we took a look at some birds, the best being a distant WHITE-TAILED EAGLE! The other group visited a peninsular just outside Tallinn and the first bird they saw was a cracking adult HAWK OWL!

This bird gave good views as it perched atop some telegraph wires before flying off into trees. Nothing could beat this sighting and it was the first ever record of Hawk Owl on the peninsula. Other species seen included WHOOPER SWAN, WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE, PINTAIL and GREY PLOVER.

With the light now going, we all met up at the railway station from where we headed off towards the airport. After checking in, we said goodbye to Kaarel who had been an excellent guide and went through security before boarding our flight back to Stansted.

Our flight arrived on time and after collecting luggage, we said our goodbyes after what had been a great tour to an amazing country with a lovely group of customers!