Estonia, May 5th to 8th 2017

Our travel route in Estonia May 2017, traveling counter-clockwise.

In early May me and my dad set off for an extended weekend in Estonia in the Baltic Sea coast. Estonia was a part of Soviet but has since 1991 turned into a well-organized developing country with quite a lot of Swedish influences in many areas, most prominently in the telecommunication and banking sectors.

The country is small, with maximum travelling distances of 4 hours from north to south or east to west. The land is flat with long, sandy beaches with a lot of small-scale agriculture, meaning that there still are many areas with habitats that we have lost to a great degree in Sweden. The flat coastline is accompanied by huge areas of pine forest and older, often flooded broadleaf forest where woodpeckers thrive. There is an immence amount of bogs spread out thorughout the country, like Nigula NP close to the Latvian border.

We started by driving southwest from the airport in Tallinn, reaching Pärnu before dusk. in Audru north of Pärnu we saw our first Citrine Wagtails, who were mostly hidden in reedbeds and never showed up within 100 meters.

Audru, north of Pärnu.

The following morning the drove south to Pikla wetlands, a set of pools on the coast. This turned out to be tremendous area with lots of good birds like Garganey, Shoveler, Pintail, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Great Reed Warbler, Savi’s Warbler, Bearded Reedling and many wagtails, mostly Yellow and no Citrine.

Pikla wetlands.

Pikla wetlands.

After visiting Pikla we continued south to the Nigula Bog. Afternoon turned out to be the wrong time of day to visit, as we missed out on the much sought after White-backed Woodpecker. We did hear loads of Meadow Pipits and Wood Warblers in suitable areas, many Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and a displaying Hazel Grouse. Still after two days, I still had not touched the trigger on my camera and the only area I figured could’ve been good for photography would’ve been Pikla, but with a lot more time available to put up a portable hide.

In general birding was good, with big numbers of Barnacle and Greater White-fronted Geese moving north with many Black-headed and Little Gulls, Common Terns, Wood Sandpipers, Greenshanks and Ruffs moving north.

We traveled through Estonia with a MINI Cooper S ALL4 Countryman that I was able to borrow from a dealership in Tallinn.

We headed towards Tartu and started with a very early morning in Soomaa NP, some 30 km east of Pärnu. The last 5 km before reaching the parking lot was absolutely magic. The woods were about to bloom and birds were singing everywhere. Especially Song Thrush, Wood Warbler and Robin were very numerous. When stepping out at the parking lot we instantly heard drumming Black, Middle, Lesser Spotted and White-backed Woodpeckers, what a bingo! Once again the birding was great but photography very difficult in the soaked woods with branches everywhere. My dad found one of two singing Red-breasted Flycatchers and finally I had something to photograph. A Kingfisher and two Lesser Spotted Eagles flew by over a river in the morning sun to cap off a fantastic morning.

Soomaa NP.

Red-breasted Flycatcher | mindre flugsnappare | Ficedula parva

After arriving at Hotell Sophia (which was brand new and great, especially the food in the restaurant) in Tartu, we drove south through town. The outskirts of Tartu turned out to be packed with Greater White-fronted Geese, more than 10 000 of them were in or around the town during our stay.

Greater White-fronted Goose | bläsgås | Anser albifrons

Greater White-fronted Goose | bläsgås | Anser albifrons

Greater White-fronted Goose | bläsgås | Anser albifrons

Greater White-fronted Goose | bläsgås | Anser albifrons

Greater White-fronted Goose | bläsgås | Anser albifrons

We headed a few km south from Tartu where we found Aardla Lake and wetlands – what a place! Hundreds of singing Yellow Wagtails accompanied with geese, ducks and gulls in great numbers, for example 25 Black Terns, 50 Little Gulls, 5 000 Great White-Fronted Geese and 30 Gadwalls. The main attraction was an active White-backed Woodpecker nest that we found after my dad found the male feeding below a bush along a ditch in an open farmland landscape, it looked nothing like where we predicted to find it! The Birch and Aspen Groves in the surroundings of Aarlda wetlands had one breeding pair plus at least 2 more drumming individuals.

White-backed Woodpecker | vitryggig hackspett | Dendrocopos leucotos

We decided to take a trip southeast towards Räpina Polders on the Russian border. To our surprise, the whole wetland was replaced by ditches and fields and we saw nothing but migrating Greater White-fronted Geese and Eurasian Cranes in thousands and hundreds. On the way back to Tartu, we stopped in an old Soviet-looking village in a woodland dominated by old pines. We found a male Three-toed Woodpecker up close after only 500 meters of walking on a nature trail, making it the highlight of the day.

I decided to spend a lot of time trying to get a decent shot of the Woodpeckers in Aarlda. While waiting in the grove for many hours the woodpecker only visited the nest once every hour, often only briefly landing in a tree before flying away over the fields to feed. While waiting in the grove, a pair of Citrine Wagtails came to look for potential breeding areas. They quickly left but I managed to get a  snapshot of the female.

Eventually I got my opportunity to photograph the woodpecker after waiting for the better part of two days. Unfortunately that meant that I ran out of time with the Citrine Wagtails who were very difficult to locate among the reedbeds and field packed with Yellow Wagtails.

Worth mentioning is also Illmatsalu wetlands, a protected area hopelessly difficult for photography, but with a big birding tower and good birds such as Little Gull, Black Tern, Spotted Redshank, Great Egret, Garganey and much more. Just north of that area there was a group of Great Snipe displaying in usual fashion in front of minibuses with tour groups. They’re much better enjoyed in the Swedish mountain range in my opinion.

Thanks for reading,
Daniel

Citrine Wagtail | citronärla | Motacilla citreola

Citrine Wagtail | citronärla | Motacilla citreola

Western Yellow Wagtail | gulärla | Motacilla flava

Lesser Spotted Eagle | mindre skrikörn | Clanga pomarina

White-backed Woodpecker | vitryggig hackspett | Dendrocopos leucotos – At the nest site.

White-backed Woodpecker | vitryggig hackspett | Dendrocopos leucotos

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