Europeans have long been aware of Estonia’s birding potential, though until recently this ex-Soviet country has been overlooked. A late winter visit should provide visitors with the spectacle of large wintering flocks of Steller’s Eiders (up to 10,000 may be seen in February!), Long-tailed Ducks, and other sea ducks, while an early spring trip will bring with it up to nine species of European woodpeckers. Hawk, Pygmy and Ural owls and other sought-after specialities such as Hazel Grouse, Parrot Crossbill, Nutcracker, Rough-legged Buzzard and more. Raptors fly in to breed during late spring and summer, including the impressive Lesser Spotted Eagle, Montagu’s, Pallid, Western Marsh & Hen Harriers and Osprey, joining the resident White-tailed Eagles and Northern Goshawks. Rough-legged Buzzards move further north to breed, so a visit earlier in the year is necessary if you wish to see one.
Estonia is not all about birds, though. The island of Saaremaa, for example, has diverse habitats stacked with wildlife. Endless wildflower meadows packed with wild orchids are exceptionally beautiful and diverse. One gorgeous meadow at Laelatu has an incredible 76 species in one square meter--the highest density of wild flowers in all of Europe. Estonia has a high population density of mammals including European brown bear, raccoon dog, European beaver, Arctic and brown hares, moose (elk), roe deer, Atlantic grey seal, red fox and pygmy shrew. With luck and patience, a determined wildlife watcher may also find grey wolf and northern lynx. Later in the season, from June to August, the meadows and marshes of Estonia are home to a wide variety of butterflies and dragonflies, though July is probably the best month for lepidopterists and odonatists to visit. In all, Estonia is a wonderful destination for those who like their countries sparsely populated, safe, friendly, ‘wired’ and full of wildlife. While you are there, visit the old city of Tallinn, the country’s capital, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Credit: Neil Glenn/Avian Adventures.
Estonia has a high population density of mammals including:
*With luck and patience, a determined wildlife watcher may also find grey wolf and northern lynx.
Saaremaa- Winter months can be harsh in Estonia, in some years reaching -30 degrees C! The chill is so severe that the five-mile wide Suur Väin Strait between the mainland and the idyllic island of Saaremaa can freeze solid enough for cars to drive across. If you can find a section of unfrozen water, you should see hundreds and thousands of Steller’s Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks, which overwinter in the area. February is the best time, and is also a good time to find Hawk Owls along forest edges.
Poosaspea- A headand that juts northward out into the Bay of Finland, it is the most north-westerly point of Estonia and a crossroad of migration routes. It is a sea-watching Mecca where the visible migration is often spectacular in both spring and autumn as birds head to and from the arctic.Red and Black-throated Divers, Red-necked, Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes, all three swan species, Brent and Barnacle Geese, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common and Velvet Scoters, Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, various gulls, terns and Arctic Skua are all regular. It's not all sea-watching here, for the hinterland is wooded and has Common Rosefinch, Willow Warbler, Willow and Crested Tit, and Eurasian Nutcracker.
Alam-Pedja- A 250 km2 wetland wilderness located mostly on a reserve comprising a flat mosiac of pools, bogs and fens crisscrossed by meandering rivers, oak corpses, mixed forests and birch-elm-alder carr. Some of the forest birds will be hard to find, as Alam-Pedja is for those who like a challenging edge to their birding. Nearly 200 birds species have been recorded here, with roughly 157 breeding including Black Stork, Osprey, White-tailed, Golden, Lesser Spotted and Greater Spotted Eagles, Hen and Montagu's Harriers, European Honey Buzzard, Eurasian Hobby, Great Snipe, Common Crane, Western Capercaillie, and Black and Hazel Grouse. Six Woodpecker species are resident- Grey-faced, Black, White-backed, Great Spotted, Lesser Spotted and Eurasian Three-toed. From late winter to early spring, flocks of Bohemian Waxwing, Bullfinch, Red (Common) Crossbill, Eurasian Siskin, Redwing and Fieldfare often invade, some remaining to breed.
Contributor: Gerard Gorman/PROBIRDER: www.probirder.com
February is best time for waterfowl and is also a good time to find Hawk Owls along forest edges.
Late April through late May is the time to seek out woodland specialities such as Western Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Pygmy & Ural Owls, Middle-spotted, Black and White-backed Woodpeckers (along with seven other woodpecker species) as they settle down to breed after the thaw. These birds become much more secretive later in the summer.
Raptors fly in to breed during late spring and summer, including the impressive Lesser Spotted Eagle, Montagu’s, Pallid, Western Marsh & Hen Harriers and Osprey, joining the resident White-tailed Eagles and Northern Goshawks. Rough-legged Buzzards move further north to breed, so a visit earlier in the year is necessary if you wish to see one.