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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Estonia in Spring

2009 Tour Narrative

In Brief: There is always a slight bit of apprehension with a new tour: Will it be good? Will everyone enjoy it? Our fears were soon dispelled when we arrived at our first hotel and found that there were six White-tailed Eagles visible as Common Mergansers flew past. The success of this trip owed much to the expertise of our local guide, Antero Topp, a Finnish birder who has spent months and months birding Estonia and has a truly superb knowledge of the country’s birds and road system.

In Detail: The trip combined outstanding northern and eastern European quality with impressive quantity. The quality came in the form of two Lesser White-fronted Geese, a Red-breasted Goose, Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes, Great Egret, two Capercaillie, displaying Black Grouse, Hazel Grouse, lekking Great Snipe, Marsh Sandpiper, Black, Gray-headed, and White-backed Woodpeckers, Eurasian Wryneck, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Montagu’s Harriers, European Honey-Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Bohemian Waxwing, Citrine Wagtail, Bearded Tit, Icterine, Great Reed and Savi’s Warblers, and superb nest-building Penduline Tits.

Quantity was provided by the waterfowl and shorebirds, with tens of thousands of Barnacle and Greater White-fronted Geese, many Whooper and Bewick’s Swans, Tundra Bean Geese, Long-tailed Ducks, and Common and Velvet Scoters. Double figures of White-tailed Eagles ensured they made it into the “quantity” section, as did Western Marsh Harriers. The numbers of shorebirds were staggering, with hundreds of Ruff, many in breeding plumage (from black to cream, from ginger to white)—and fighting, too! Spotted Redshanks also made three figures, and there can be few smarter-looking birds in breeding plumage. Flocks of Wood Sandpipers were also scattered all over the wetlands.

Most days we saw Common Cranes, and there can be few better experiences than standing deep in a forest and hearing that magical bugling. White Storks were nesting in many villages, and small groups of Smew were recorded on the open water. Total bliss!

The weedy fields held singing Whinchats and the woodlands Common Crossbills, Eurasian Siskins, Crested Tits, and Wood Warblers, among many Willow Warblers and Common Chiffchaffs.

We also saw smaller numbers of European Hobby, Hen Harrier, Green Sandpiper, Garganey, Black Tern, and Little Gulls, a great supporting cast for an already brilliant roster of birds. There were some birds that avoided being seen, but few will forget the kwakking Little Crake or the booming Great Bitterns that made the whole reedbed reverberate.

Mammals didn’t go unnoticed, either, and we had a brief encounter with an Elk (Moose for the Americans), as well as Arctic Hare, Raccoon Dog, and Red Fox. There were some great butterflies as well, especially a pair of Camberwell Beautys, and reptiles got in on the act with Grass Snake and Adder—the latter trying to hide under our vehicle!

Our hotels were comfortable, and situated in the most amazing locations, with good, plentiful food. What more could we ask for?

- James Lidster

Created: 26 May 2009