Estonia - 13th - 20th June 2012

Published by Mark Hows (mark AT


See more images at Mark's site


A relaxed holiday with the wife in search of two mammal species - Russian Flying Squirrel and Masked Shrew and to catch up with the relatively common Racoon dog which we missed in Finland. Birdwise, Great Snipe and Citrine Wagtail were the targets and going later than the peak bird period butterflies and dragonflies would be more plentiful. Travelling this late in the season would give us a much better chance of Masked shrew and unlimited access to the squirrels at detriment to other species and increased vegetation levels. But it was worth the trade off.

Wednesday 13th June

We arrived late afternoon and headed to the Parnu area for our first night, white storks were abundant but a male montagu's harrier carrying our first mammal - vole sp was the highlight. All the restaurants were just closing as we searched for food so we made do with a Hessburger.

Thursday 14th June

After breakfast we drove the short distance to Haardemeeste and visited site in note 2 in Gosneys guide, the walk was very nice and we had an excellent selection of birds, but were not sure we were in the correct place as we could not see a tower described. Highlights were black storks, white tailed eagles and caspian terns we reached the end of the trail and could see the tower foundations. We wandered back to the car and headed to Note 1 in Gosneys book. A small bush on the access track produced a cracking barred warbler and fledgling meadow pipits filled the car park. The tower here was still intact but access to it was prohibited, probably due to the breeding season of ground nesting birds so we could go no further. This was a shame as we could see a male citrine wagtail on a rock near the tower. We drove to Nigula bog in quite warm weather and followed the boardwalk via two towers, we saw little birdwise but the place was alive with dragonflies and butterflies many requiring photos for me to ID them but a moorland clouded yellow was one I could recognise. Common lizards were quite abundant and we located a moor forg as well. The reserve HQ had breeding spotted flycatchers but little else so we headed to Tartu and checked into our hotel. We then headed off to find some food in a cafe near our next stop at Karevere, the food was excellent and cheap although they did not speak much English we managed. It was then to stake out the Great snipes which hopefully would still be lekking at this late date. We were in luck at least 4 great snipe were present displaying and singing, very nice although would be better earlier in the season, a roe deer was also present walking through the corncrake filled meadow. With the light starting to fade we left for a drive hopefully to see some mammals and within 10 mins we passed a brown bear on the roadside, I spun the car round but it had gone when we returned. We continued for a few hours and had a couple of foxes and roe deer, stopping at a pond there were a couple of daubenton's bats were present and we called it a night.

Wood Warbler
Wood Warbler © Mark Hows.

Friday 15th June

After breakfast we headed to Ilmatsalu fishponds where they were harvesting fish from one of the ponds. There were plenty of dragonflies and we found a few broods of goldeneye and a red-necked grebe. A flyby osprey was rather nice and a couple of penduline tits rounded off the visit. After an ice cream we visited Hollywood hill, which is rather smaller than we thought. We had some lunch here scanning for raptors, most were distant but we did have a close buzzard and a lesser spotted eagle, the hilltop was covered with butterflies and I spent some time looking at these, most were Amanda's blue but there were a few other species. We had to drive north so headed off skirting some of Lake Pepsi on the way. We checked into our hotel and met our guide for the next couple of days who is an expert in small mammals and Flying squirrels in particular. After a cup of tea and a chat we headed out to a couple of sites to set some small mammal traps. The second site also had a few adders basking on the bridge including a few melanistic ones. We returned to our hotel for an excellent meal before heading out to meet our guide who was on the phone asking where we were? The time issue was worked out half 10 actually means 9.30 not 10.30 so we were late but we got to the flying squirrel site with plenty of time to spare. The Russian flying squirrel left a nestbox (put up for them) and sat on the box before moving up the trunk and then when it reached the top it glided through the forest, a great site, I filmed this apart from the flying. The bat detector was put into use as this forest is a Brant's bat stronghold and plenty were flying around. Down the major tracks we also had a noctule and plenty of Northern bats. Our guide left and we headed for more night driving, we quickly had a vole probably a common running round in the road. But we were distracted by a brown bear crossing the road a bit further up. The rest of the drive produced nothing so we headed for some sleep.

Saturday 16th June

We checked the traps but only had one field vole which was dead (probably as the temperature had dropped during the night). We kept it our guide was going to use it for teaching. The adders were still by the bridge and there were at least 7, 5 melanistic, one grey and one brown. We then headed to the foorst to check some flying squirrel nest boxes for signs or squirrels themselves. We located a dead beaver in the road, it was freshly killed and some tracks and the kill suggested a fresh Lynx kill, and indeed our guide said there were some specialist beaver hunters locally. We would try this area later that night. The nestboxes were mostly occupied by pied flycatchers but one contained hornets! We were packing the van when the dead vole moved, and was soon moving about it must have just been very chilled and warmed in the van. After a short while and happy with its condition we released it. We visited some more squirrel sites and then had some time to explore, finding a montagu's harrier and a mountain hare, but the highlight was the black veined white spectacle, hundreds of them were drinking from a roadside puddle totally amazing. We explored the hotel grounds before dinner black redstarts, wryneck, siskins and spotted flycatchers the pick. After dinner we checked the traps once more and had our target a masked shrew which although difficult to ID has one easy feature white heels. We explored on our own and then revisited the flying squirrel. This time with a camera and managed to get a few picks as it went up the trunk and then as it fed in the canopy. It then did a massive glide through the forest awesome. We quickly returned to the area of the Lynx kill and explored the tracks there we had a fox and a pine marten, nightjar and loads of nightsingers.

Common Rosefinch
Common Rosefinch © Mark Hows.

Sunday 17th June

The trap check yielded a common shrew and a couple of common toads, then the heavens opened and altered today's plan, we took a look from the car at a lady's slipper orchid site in torrential rain, then we headed into Rakevere for a bit of touristy stuff and some lunch. The weather improved and we did some touring round and we found a nice male hen harrier. But a storm was brewing and our hotel lost electricity in terrible weather, luckily dinner had just been made before hand. The plan was to go to a beaver lodge then the squirrel again but the weather put us off so we stayed in and caught up on some sleep.

Monday 18th June

We started with a dawn drive and had a little issue with the suitability of a Toyota Yaris as a birdwatchers hire car! The only thing of note was a hazelhen. After breakfast we headed back to Tartu and spent quite a bit of the day at Aardla. It was still very windy and scoping was quite tricky but near the tower we found a cracking male citrine wagtail on a log in a pool. There was an excellent selection of birds, slavonian grebe, black tern and white tailed eagle the pick although a nice selection of warblers was present. A selection of dragonflies were found in the sheltered spots of the reserve and we also found a couple of brown hares. Driving to other parts of the reserve we bumped into two local birdwatchers who gave us a few tips which we would follow up later. We checked into our hotel, then met up with a local wildlife worker who has been doing some research on racoon dogs and we were going to try to locate a radio collared individual residing near Ilmatsalu fishponds. We met up and started to locate the racoon dog, we narrowed it down to an area of reeds near a pond but it had heard us and left unseen, but we found its bed. So still no racoon dog but we did find a family party of Penduline tits. After some food we started some night driving in the area near Alam Peja reserve, this was a good area and we had several mountain hares a breeding pair of green sandpipers by the roadside and in a clearing a Ural owl glided across. We headed back to Aardla to follow up in the information gathered earlier, and it was not long before we had calling little and spotted crakes and booming bittern. A couple of foxes on the way back to the hotel were a bonus.

Tuesday 19th June

The weather had calmed down and after a brief visit to the Russian border on Lake Pepsi, we headed to Rapina polders, the tracks mentioned by Gosney we not great but we got the war torn Yaris there, but we should not have bothered as there was little there apart from some common rosefinches, Northern chequered skipper and curlews. Taevaskoja was far more productive and the shop had ice creams. Several nice pied flycatchers some cracking wood warblers, crested tits and a red breasted flycatcher on the walk to the river, my attention to some alarming small birds and they were right to be alarmed a Ural owl was present and it flew down the path. A few minutes later we relocated it again being harassed by the smaller birds. The river had a couple of goosander, a large wall brown and a beaver holt.

Lesser Spotted Eagle
Lesser Spotted Eagle © Mark Hows.

Wednesday 20th June

The drive back to Tallin airport was broken for a few birds a cracking lesser spotted eagle the best, then we visited a couple of touristy stops including Estonia's biggest waterfall, which was not particularly large. Although we did enjoy two ravens trying to break open a golf ball nearby.

A really good trip with some excellent views of all the key species seen apart from that elusive racoon dog. The timing was good for the key species but not ideal for the birds we had plenty of mosquitoes.