Monday 5th March 2018
ESTONIA – STELLER’S EIDER & WOODPECKER BREAK
Monday 5th – Friday 9th March 2018
The majority of the group met at Stansted for a 0445 hrs checking for our flight to the Estonian capital Tallinn, which took off on time and arrived twenty minutes early with superb views over snowy countryside and icy seas and a landing temperature of around minus 9!
Once through passport control and baggage reclaim, we met up with our local guide Kaarel and headed for a light lunch in the airport before sorting out minibuses and making a short drive into Tallinn town centre.
During the next hour and a half we enjoyed a tour of Tallinn Old Town taking in the many interesting sites, buildings and views. We did of course notice a few birds, mainly HOODED CROWS plus EUROPEAN HERRING GULLS of the yellow-legged variant.
GREAT TIT, COMMON CHAFFINCH, COMMON BLACKBIRD and a calling EUROPEAN NUTHATCH were noted before it was time to head back to the airport and pickup the remaining members of the group who were flying in from Heathrow.
We were soon on our way westwards towards the ferry terminal at Virtsu and the journey was broken up with sightings of RED FOX and ROE DEER with a few EURASIAN MAGPIES, HOODED CROWS and a EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK.
After picking up our ferry tickets from our ground agent Marika, we caught an earlier ferry than planned and we made our way through thick sea ice which was a fantastic experience. A few seals were seen although they were a little too far away to confirm species.
The only bird of note on the next leg of our journey was an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE that flew low across a snowy field, but hopefully we would see more in the next few days.
Almost reaching our destination, we split up and went to our hotels at Pilguise and Loona where we checked in.
Our evening meal was at Loona so the other group arrived from Pilguse and we tucked into a hearty meal of Estonian fare. Our starter consisted of Smoked Pork, fried potato and onion slices with a dill and yoghurt sauce, whilst main course was Pork Stew served with salad and rosemary roasted potatoes.
After a dessert of Cherries with cream we concluded the meal with tea and coffee before retiring to bed after what had been a long day.
Tuesday 6th March 2018
Breakfast was at 0700 hrs in our respective hotels and for the group in Loona, a brief excursion in the hotel gardens produced a small party of NORTHERN BULLFINCHES which trumpeted their way through the trees and a couple of WILLOW TITS whilst overnight, a TAWNY OWL called from the adjacent woodland.
The groups met and drove along forest tracks to Cape Undva and Uudepanga Bay and although the temperature registered minus 4 degrees, it actually felt warm in the morning sunshine.
Conditions in the bay were perfect and it didn’t take long to find the wintering flock of STELLER’S EIDER and over the next hour or so, we were treated to views on the water and in flight, when a passing WHITE-TAILED EAGLE drifted over a little too close for comfort.
Although distant at times we had marvellous scope views, the males looking particularly attractive with their orange bellies and black and white backs, whilst the females were trickier to pick out. They spent most of their time at the back of the flock and you could make out the occasional wing bar on sleeping birds. However when they flew the double wing bar was very obvious.
The bay was alive with good numbers of COMMON GOLDENEYE plus a few VELVET SCOTER, COMMON MERGANSER (GOOSANDER) and RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS.
A flock of around 75 GREATER SCAUP were noted and further out around 100 LONG-TAILED DUCKS could be seen. A few WHOOPER SWANS mixed in with MUTE SWANS whilst a thorough scan of the bay yielded GREAT CRESTED GREBES, RED-THROATED DIVERS, a couple of GREAT CORMORANTS and one of the first GREYLAG GEESE of the spring.
Up to five WHITE-TAILED EAGLES patrolled the area often giving great views in flight.
We moved on around the headland and stopped off for coffee and a pastry whilst more WHITE-TAILED EAGLES were seen. It was much colder here on the exposed side of the peninsula so we carried onwards to a small harbour hoping it would be ice free.
A few kilometres along the track, it became impassable through deep snow and with a touch of fantastic driving from Kaarel who turned both vans around, we took a slightly longer route round.
On reaching the harbour we found just a tiny area of open water which held a couple of SMEW plus COMMON MERGANSER (GOOSANDER) and a single female TUFTED DUCK.
More WHITE-TAILED EAGLES were seen including a couple of fine adults, whose white tailed shone in the sunshine.
With time getting on, we began our drive back to Loona where we were having lunch but made a brief stop in Kihelkonna where a single HAWFINCH perched up calling and lots of WESTERN JACKDAWS were around the buildings. On closer inspection of the jackdaws, we concluded that these were not pure ‘Nordic’ jackdaws but a type of intergrade between races.
A flock of EURASIAN SISKIN fed close to a house on feeders and a single EURASIAN TREE SPARROW was noted, whilst a male EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK flew through an area of woodland.
It was then time for lunch and we sat down to a fantastic meal of Beef Stew with vegetables and roast potatoes followed by a Yoghurt cheesecake with redcurrants and blueberries which was delicious and with the open fire roaring, we were all slightly reluctant to leave!
A drive of around 45 minutes was then undertaken with highlights along the way of a small flock of COMMON REDPOLL plus FIELDFARE, MISTLE THRUSH, COMMON BUZZARD, EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK and for the lead minibus, a single ELK, seen briefly before vanishing into the forest.
On reaching our destination, we spent time looking for a reported Hawk Owl but unfortunately it appeared to have moved on from the area. We popped into the Sõrve Bird Observatory where small pines held three RED CROSSBILLS, an adult male and female plus a young male and a few more COMMON REDPOLLS, COMMON BUZZARDS and WHITE-TAILED EAGLES.
By now the temperature and light was dropping, so Kaarel took us along some forest tracks where the snow was rather deep in places and eventually, the second minibus got stuck! The van quickly decamped and with some pushing and shoving it was back onto firmer snow - what a team!
Several stops were made to listen for Eurasian Pygmy Owl and on our last stop, a EURASIAN PYGMY OWL was heard calling and at one point, it came within around 300 metres.
It was then off to Pilguse and Loona where we had a lovely evening meal of Fish with coleslaw salad, mashed vegetables, cauliflower and peas followed by a superb Almond Cake.
After a long day in the field, it was good to get to bed for a decent night’s rest after what had been a brilliant day’s birding.
Wednesday 7th March 2018
Breakfast was at the usual time of 0700 hrs and afterwards we were promptly away to meet Kaarel and the other group in a nearby village and head toward the ferry, which we arrived with time to spare. It was a chilly minus 11 degrees but luckily, as we set off it had risen to just minus 4. Once on the ferry some of us went outside onto the rather chilly deck, whilst others headed into the warmth of the lounge and Kaarel even enjoyed an ice cream!
A GREY SEAL was seen on the ice with a pup and a lone WHITE-TAILED EAGLE perched on a large ice-flow.
Once on the mainland we spent the morning visiting several forest areas, where the highlight was undoubtedly two BLACK WOODPECKERS seen in flight and eventually we relocated the female as she perched in a distant tree. Several YELLOWHAMMER and single CRESTED TIT were also seen, the latter sitting atop a pine tree where it uttered its trilling call.
A few more WHITE-TAILED EAGLES were seen before we headed to Haapsalu for lunch in a café, where Quiche and salad was quickly devoured, followed by a delicious Raspberry Roulade and tea or coffee.
Suitably full, we carried on with the forest birding noting northern races of EURASIAN NUTHATCH and EURASIAN TREECREEPER, whilst checking out several sites for White-backed Woodpecker. After several failed attempts, a superb male WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER flew in and sat on top of a tree giving us all great views before vanishing in the forest.
With this ‘tricky to see’ woodpecker in the bag we headed northwards, making a stop close to a wind farm for our next target bird. An absolutely stunning NORTHERN HAWK OWL perched on a small copse of trees, enabling us all to get our scopes on it before dashing off into the field after prey.
Luckily it landed on some covered hay bales where we had even better views and then it flew back to the original trees where we used the vans to get close. It just sat there completely unfazed by all the delighted admirers looking on!
With light dropping, we tried some forest clearings for both Pygmy and Ural Owls but it was quiet and becoming increasingly cold, so we headed to our accommodation for the next two nights.
After checking in we met for a pre-dinner drink before tucking into our buffet evening meal which started with Salad and carried on with Roast Pork, chicken and potatoes or buckwheat, followed by a Fruit and Chocolate Mousse with most of the group indulging in seconds!
After completing the bird-list, we headed off to our cabins in the woods to get some rest after an exciting day.
Thursday 8th March 2018
We met at the vans for a 0700 hrs start, taking a packed breakfast with us for our last full day in the field. The breakfast actually took up most of Kaarel’s boot space in the van so we knew we weren’t going to starve!
Heading northwards we stopped off close to a small village to see what we could find and a distant drumming woodpecker turned out to be a male LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER. Although distant, scope views were reasonable.
Looking slightly out of place flying through the forest was a lone GREY HERON which was no doubt looking for somewhere to feed.
Moving onwards, we reached an open area of land and at the back of the field were 22 BLACK GROUSE consisting of nine females and 13 males. They didn’t do much but just sat in the snow but it made a good place and time to have breakfast. Three more male BLACK GROUSE were seen further along the track whilst we turned the vans round.
The food and coffee was extremely welcome and some even partook in a little something alcoholic in their coffee to keep the cold at bay!
Exploring the vast areas of forest was our next task and we made many stops and walked to find both Western Capercaillie and Hazel Grouse. We did however find a few CRESTED TITS plus some flyover RED CROSSBILLS and COMMON REDPOLLS plus we had good sightings of ELK in a clearing.
The time just slipped away and we headed northwards to the fishing village of Dirhami where there was plenty of unfrozen water in the harbour. A quick scan revealed lots of COMMON MERGANSERS (GOOSANDERS) and a pair of SMEW but we had a more pressing engagement with lunch!
Our lunchtime meal was a large Fish Cake served with sliced potatoes, carrots, parsnips and a beautiful Tartare sauce and was finished with a Fruity semolina dish which went down very well!
It was lovely and warm inside which made it hard to drag ourselves outside to carry on the birding. We explored the harbour more thoroughly and found at least three WHITE-TAILED EAGLES, five GREATER SCAUP, three SMEW, WHOOPER SWANS, COMMON GOLDENEYE and a single female LONG-TAILED DUCK. More yellow-legged type EUROPEAN HERRING GULLS were noted among the more common argentatus birds.
We carried on northwards to the most northerly point of Estonia at Põõsaspea which is a great place to witness waterbird migration. Spending time scanning the area produced around 75 COMMON SCOTER, but the real highlight was around 1000 LONG-TAILED DUCKS, feeding and flying in vast flocks!
A few COMMON REDPOLL dropped into the most northerly pines and fed before heading back south and a couple of WHITE-TAILED EAGLES sat around lazily on the ice-floes.
With a few hours of daylight still available we continued our forest search but hadn’t got far when it began to snow lightly. Driving slowly was the order of the day and with much perseverance, we struck gold when a male WESTERN CAPERCAILLIE sat in a small tree beside the road.
Unfortunately it flew off with only half the group managing to see this lumbering bird as it headed deep into the forest, but despite a thorough search we could not relocate it.
By now the snow was falling heavily and at one point the track was pretty impassable, but with a bit of jiggery pokery with pushing vans we managed to turn round and go back the way we came.
We decided to cut our losses and head back to base for a hot shower and beer. After the bird-list we tucked into yet more food with a great buffet selection. Greek salad, breaded white fish and Lasagne was popular and lo and behold, we had another Fruity semolina pudding to conclude our meal.
Friday 9th March 2018
Our last day in Estonia began with breakfast at 0700 hrs and at 0800 hrs we loaded up the vans and said our goodbyes to Roosta holiday village to start our drive back to Tallinn airport.
We had only driven 5 km when a lone GREAT GREY SHRIKE was seen perched on roadside wires, which was a species that we had expected to come across on previous days.
The drive was quiet bird-wise with HOODED CROWS, WESTERN JACKDAWS and both FIELDFARE and COMMON REDPOLLS seen.
By now the weather was misty with light snow and we commented on how lucky we had been as we had enjoyed sunshine, blue skies and light winds for most of the week.
Back at Tallinn airport we dropped off the vans before saying farewell to Kaarel and the Heathrow group, who were heading into Tallinn for their city tour before returning to the UK later in the day.
Arriving at Stansted, we said our goodbyes after what had been a superb tour in a lovely country, which was made all the better by the splendid birds and the good company!