22 - 29 April 2001

Neil Arnold - The Travelling Naturalist

Toni Eskelin - Finnature

Sten Rannamagi - Driver

Vaike Aarpuu - Tallinn Guide


Once again it has been a pleasure to work with Finnature. My special thanks go to Toni and Sten for making the trip such a success. I am also grateful for your good company throughout the week. I hope we will travel together again soon.

Neil Arnold

May 2001



A smooth flight to Tallinn. Overnight Tallinn.



WEATHER 7/8 cumulus. Mainly fine - light showers - sunny periods. 0-1.

In the morning we drove to Haapsalu via Keila and Rummu. The fine weather enabled us to enjoy good views of Cranes, White Storks, Buzzards, Sparrow Hawks and one or two other open country species.

After we had moved into our rooms at the hotel we spent some time watching water birds in the Haapsalu Bay. It was wonderful to get to grips with Goosander, Smew and Scaup , species seldom seen by most of us. Far away across the bay was an adult White-tailed Eagle but it was somewhat inanimate. After a while we made our way, at a leisurely pace towards Osterby, north of the town.

Our lunch spot seemed ideal. No sooner had we started to eat we heard a Bittern booming from the nearby reed-bed. Then we were entertained by a pair of Lapwing vigorously defending their territory from a passing male Marsh Harrier. As if that was not exciting enough a pair of Buzzards were joined overhead by a fine pair of adult White-tailed Sea-eagles which put on a fine display of flying skills. Just as we were about to move off a pair of Caspian Terns flew over the site. That was certainly icing on the cake!

As we explored the local villages we were thrilled by the song of Redwing and the continuous chatter of flocks of Fieldfare. Wheatear, Black Redstart, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrows also made an appearance.

At our final stop adjacent to a reed bed we were played the 'Last Post' by displaying Snipe and booming Bittern.



WEATHER Clear,sunny,still. W1-2 mid-day. Misty late afternoon.

Before breakfast we drove to the conifer forest at Hobringi, north-west of the town. We stopped at a clearing dominated by huge concrete electricity pylons, where, much to our surprise, we were able to watch a hen Capercaillie perch some twenty metres above the forest floor. It was even calm enough to allow us telescope views before it flew down into the forest. In the distance Black Grouse and Cranes were calling to each other. The clearing also held Wood Larks, Tree Pipits and a variety of tits. Further down the track two Hazel Grouse flew up from roadside vegetation. Fortunately they perched long enough to give us brief views. We were delighted to have seen this very elusive species. T he finches were then well represented by Chaffinch, Siskin, Bullfinch and a small party of Parrot Crossbills. Then a Goshawk swept in front of the bus! Both Nutcracker and Crested Tits were heard but they proved elusive. The final thrill of the morning was the sighting of a Camberwell Beauty butterfly.

The rest of the day was spent in the Matsalu Bay area, mainly at Haeska and Puise. Here we were to have our first encounter with swans and geese en mass. We arrived at Haeska to be greeted with a strident chorus of wild swans. Most of the near birds were Bewick's Swans but we eventually managed to gain adequate views of Whooper Swans. As we watched we were entertained by passing skeins of Greylag, White-fronted, Barnacle and Bean Geese. Later we found a feeding flock of Bean Geese which were probably of the 'tundra' race. We were also able to enjoy breeding waders at Haeska, especially a pair of Black-tailed Godwit. A large flock of Pintail and small groups of Garganey were also entertaining. Little Gulls, Caspian, Arctic and Little Terns were also present. In the Puise area we encountered Avocets, Golden Plover and an overflying flock of forty-eight Common Cranes. The whole area was generally good for raptors. We discovered White-tailed Eagle, Common Buzzard, S parrow Hawk, Marsh and Montagu's Harriers. Time spent watching and listening in the small patches of woodland was also rewarding as we had excellent views of Long-tailed Tit (the white headed form), Tree Creeper and Nuthatch. Hawfinches were also seen but they proved to be somewhat elusive. A Brown Hare and several Roe Deer were also seen well. Brimstone, Red Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell were also noted. It was delightful to enjoy exciting birdwatching and sunshine!



WEATHER Fog early. 7-8/8 cu. Hazy sunshine. Light wind.

After an early breakfast we drove to the coast at Spithami. As soon as we arrived we were captivated by masses of water birds. Hundreds of Long-tailed ducks were sitting on the sea calling to each other. They were joined by flocks of Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and Goldeneye. Further out to sea a myriad of sea duck streamed by. Overhead passed divers, perhaps a hundred in all. They were mainly Black-throated although there was a scattering of Red-throated Divers.

We then made for Matsalu Bay, concentrating on the Penijoe and Keema areas. En route our attention was drawn to a large field where there were Roe Deer and a Red Fox. A Brown Hare was nearby. As we arrived at Perijoe we came across a small flock of geese. On closer examination they proved to be two White-fronted Geese and four Taiga Bean Geese. We were then overflown by a flock of noisy White- fronted Geese which must have numbered at least five hundred. It was an exciting moment. The tower hide was a wonderful spot from which to scan the huge reedbed. At first the most obvious feature of the site was the Marsh Harrier, there were at least eight birds quartering the area. As we watched a variety of wildfowl our attention was drawn to three White-tailed Eagles which were being mobbed by a Raven. Eventually we established that there were at least six eagles in the area. Swallows, Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats indicated that spring was on the way! At Keemu we discovered yet more White-tailed Eagles. One was eating the remains of a swan while two Ravens rushed in to steal a morsel here and there. Two more eagles stood nearby, presumably waiting their turn in the pecking order. As this drama unfolded the air was suddenly filled with the calls of geese. Soon hundreds of Barnacle Geese flew over our heads.

The day ended at Haeska where we were able to watch a distant party of geese. After some careful watching we established that there were ten Lesser White-fronted Geese feeding with White-fronted and Greylag Geese. Regrettably the views were frustratingly distant. After a short period of wader watching we made our way back to Haapsalu.



WEATHER 3-7/8 cu. Sun . Still.

Soon after leaving Haapsalu on a circuitous route to Parnu we were watching White-fronted Geese. Nearby was a displaying Blackcock. We were then lucky enough to find a flock of Taiga Bean Geese with which were a handful of White-fronted Geese and two less common Pink-footed Geese.

In an area of open woodland and fields near Kullamaa we came across two Lesser Spotted Eagles, one of which circled for ages giving us excellent views. Woodland watching then gave us the chance to see Willow Tit and a pair of Black Woodpeckers.

We stopped for lunch in the Audru area where we were intrigued to see displaying Black-tailed Godwit and a variety of waterfowl including Tundra Bean Geese and Barnacle Geese.

Another bout of woodland watching produced a singing Wood Warbler; Spring really had arrived. As we left the area another Lesser Spotted Eagle soared over the forest.

Our final port of call was the cemetery in Parnu where Hawfinches, Goldcrests and Nuthatches put on a fine display for us.

Overnight in Parnu.



WEATHER 8/8 cu. Rain. 0-1.

We were soon at the Soomaa National Park which was to be the venue for most of the day. The park consisted of hundreds of hectares of wet meadows, marsh, bog and flooded woodland. Needless to say we could only scratch the surface. The almost continuous rain did not help our quest for woodland species but despite that we managed to gain wonderful views of three very active Great-spotted Woodpeckers and a Wryneck. The Wryneck was perched on top of an Aspen tree singing its heart out. In the distance a second bird replied. The recently built visitor centre was a haven where we were able to buy coffee and enjoy the splendours of a very modern interpretation system. What is more it was dry. The centre even supplied a view of two Waxwing, well that is to those who had not quite made it to coffee by then - some people have all the luck! One of the most atmospheric aspects of the area was a board walk into the wet forest. Few birds were seen but it was a thrill to see the European Beaver lodge half way round the trail.

A nearby wetland was entertaining. From a high tower we were able to watch Redshank, Greenshank, Lapwing, Curlew, Wood Sandpiper and displaying Snipe. A Green Sandpiper also flew over calling but we could not set eyes on it. A Common Tern and Common Sandpipers were on the nearby river.

As we left the area we were lucky enough to see two Elk by the roadside. This for many was the highlight of the day.

Our next port of call was Rannametsa., an area of wet fields . The main source of interest here was a flock of Golden Plover and two flocks of geese, one of White-fronted Geese and one of Barnacle Geese. Small groups of the latter flew right by us giving wonderful views.

Eventually we returned to Parnu where we made a return visit to the Cemetery. This time though it was to study the war graves, a testimony to the loss of life of Estonian, German and Russian soldiers in a variety of early to mid Twentieth Century conflicts.

Despite the rain we had enjoyed yet another fascinating day.



WEATHER 8/8cu, rain, SW3. Becoming fine by 09.00.

A search of the area around Uulu, south of Parnu, gave us the opportunity to enjoy close views of a Slavonian Grebe in full breeding plumage. The only Moorhen of the trip was also noted.

We then made for the coast at Voiste. Despite the rain we had great views of a wide variety of ducks. It was strange to see Pintail and Shoveler feeding in salt water whilst the rafts of Scaup and Long-tailed Ducks seemed much more at home. By the time we reached the nearby marshes the rain had stopped and it was obvious that a huge migratory movement was underway. The sky was full of wildfowl, skeins of ducks and geese filling the sky in their thousands. Suddenly a flock of vociferous Little Gulls appeared and then another flock, then another. In two hours we counted some twelve hundred birds! Birds of prey were also obvious. These included about a dozen Marsh Harriers, an Osprey and a fine female Peregrine. Not all the action was at high altitude however; the reed beds rang with the sounds of Reed Bunting and Bearded Reedlings, both of which were seen well. In contrast a Savi's Warbler was in full song but, as is often the case, it remained unseen. A flock of Swallow and House Martins was also present for a while as were Yellow Wagtails. It was hard to drag ourselves away from this wonderland.

A little down the coast at Kabli was the ringing station, regrettably though it is only manned in the autumn. It was a good place to have lunch though for amongst the sea duck off shore were twenty or so Velvet Scoter.

From Kabli we travelled inland stopping at Kanakula to admire a Lesser Spotted Eagle, at Raudna where we delighted in displaying Red-necked Grebes and another Lesser Spotted Eagle and at Valma Bridge where we had close views of a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker.

Once we had settled into our hotel in Tartu and had dined it was time for an evening expedition. We drove a little way north of the town to an area of wet meadows. The sunset was stunning, a backdrop for flighting wildfowl, roding Woodcock and displaying Great Snipe. We even saw a quartering Long-eared Owl in the last vestiges of daylight!



WEATHER Clear, fine,sunny and still.

An early morning trip to local gravel pits revealed a pair of distant Penduline Tits, singing Thru sh Nightingales, a Whinchat, an overflying Brambling and a host of wetland species. There was yet another Osprey so we finished on a high note!

We then drove to Tallinn where we met Vaike Aarpuu, who guided us on a tour of the old city. This was to make a fine ending to our trip.

The flight to London was comfortable, Estonian Airlines having looked after us admirably.



Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata Twenty at Spithami, 25th.

Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica Sixty at Spithami, 25th.

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena Two pairs, Raudna.

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Widespread, especially at Haapsalu.

Slavonian (Horned) Grebe Podiceps auritus One Uulu.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Common on the coast.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Common in fresh waters.

(Great) Bittern Botaurus stellaris Several heard booming.

White Stork Ciconia ciconia Breeds. Noted daily.

Mute Swan Cygnus olor Common.

Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus Hundreds on the coast, especially at Matsalu.

Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus Huge numbers especially at Matsalu.

Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis Two flocks, one numbering fifty at the coast.

Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris Three flocks, one numbering two hundred at the coast

Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus Two near Kullamaa.

White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons Thousands on the coast.

Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus A distant flock of ten at Haeska (M), 25th.

Greylag Goose Anser anser Very widespread in small flocks

Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis Thousands at the coast.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna Only a handful at the coast.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope Many hundreds, mainly at the coast.

Gadwall Anas strepera Common, even on the sea.

Common Teal Anas crecca Only in small flocks, mainly on fresh water.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Widespread but not in great numbers.

Northern Pintail Anas acuta Large flocks even on the sea.

Garganey Anas querquedula Usually in pairs but some flocks up to ten.

Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata Only in small flocks.

Common Pochard Aythya ferina Very local, mainly at H.

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula Widespread with flocks of up to two hundred.

(Greater) Scaup Aythya marila Only at Haapsalu and the coast south of Parnu where there were large flocks.

Common Eider Somateria mollissima Hundredes at Spithami.

Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis A thousand or two at Spithami and large flocks at Voiste.

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra Up to fifty at Spithami and flocks at Voiste.

Velvet (White-winged) Scoter Melanitta fusca Up to twenty at Voiste.

Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula Very widespread. Large coastal flocks.

Smew Mergellus albellus Seen daily in the Haapsalu-Matsalu area.

Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator Large coastal flocks.

Goosander Mergus merganser Mainly on the coast. At least eighty at Haapsalu.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus Three records, two on the coast.

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla Nineteen records of this wonderful raptor, all in the Haapsalu-Matsalu area.

Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus One at Voiste,28th.

Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus One at Puise, 24th.

(Eurasian) Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus Very widespread, some thirty-five records.

(Eurasian) Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus Very widespread, nine records.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis One flashed by the bus at Hobringi.

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Very common, over forty records.

Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina Fine views of five individuals

Peregrine Falco peregrinus A large bird at Voiste.

Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix Heard at Hobringi and a male en route Kulamaa.

Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus A hen on a pylon at Hobringi.

Hazel Grouse Bonasa bonasia Brief views of a perched pair at Hobringi.

Grey Partridge Perdix perdix Three birds on farmland.

Common Crane Grus grus Hundreds of sightings, some in

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Only one sighting at Uulu.

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra Especially common on the coast. Up to four hundred at Haapsalu.

(Eurasian) Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus Widespread, mainly in pairs.

(Pied) Avocet Recurvirostra avocetta Six at Puise.

(Northern) Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Widespread, already paired.

(European) Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria Still flocked up at the coast and inland.

(Greater) Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula Only at Haeska.

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius One at Haeska, 24th.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Pairs at Haeska and Audru.

Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica Two at Pruise

(Eurasian) Curlew Numenius arquata Very widespread.

Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus Five at Haeska, 25th.

Common Redshank Tringa totanus Noted throughout the trip.

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia Widespread, generally in small numbers. The only exception was a flock of twelve at Voiste.

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus One heard at Soomaa.

Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola Two at Sooma.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos Six records on river

(Eurasian) Woodcock Scolopax rusticola Three roding near Tartu.

Great Snipe Gallinago media Four displaying near Tartu.

Common Snipe Gallinago gallina Very common.

Dunlin Calidris alpina Three records at Haeska.

Ruff Philomachus pugnax Two at Haeska

Common (Mew) Gull Larus canus Common

Herring Gull Larus argentatus Common

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus Scarce, only five records on the coast.

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus Scarce, only six records on the coast.

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus Common.

Little Gull Larus minutus Noted on four days. A huge passage over Voiste on 28th involved some twelve hundred individuals.

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia Eight coastal records.

Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis One off Spithami, 25th.

Common Tern Sterna hirundo Two inland records.

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea In pairs on the coast.

Little Tern Sterna albifrons Small groups at Haeska, Penijoe and Audru.

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia Common in towns.

Stock Dove Columba oenas Three inland records.

Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Thinly distributed

Long-eared Owl Asio otus One near Tartu.

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis One seen by Toni.

Wryneck Jynx torquilla Two Soomaa and one Rannametsa,27th.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor One at Emajogi.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Five scattered records.

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius A fine pair near Kullamaa.

Wood Lark Lullula arborea Two inland sites.

(Eurasian) Sky Lark Alauda arvensis Very common.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Noted in small numbers daily.

(Common) House Martin Delichon urbica Two small flocks.

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava Only five records,28th-29th.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba Very common.

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis Common.

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis Common in forested areas.

Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus One record of this scarce species, Spithami,25th.

Northern (Great Grey) Shrike Lanius excubitor One at Spithami and six records in the Matsalu area.

Common Waxwing Bobycilla garrulus Two Soomaa, 27th.

(Winter) Wren Troglodytes troglodytes Uncommon.

Hedge Accentor (Dunnock) Prunella modularis Noted on three days.

(Common) Blackbird Turdus merula Common.

Fieldfare Turdus pilaris Common breeder.

Redwing Turdus iliacus Widespread in small numbers.

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Common but heard more often than seen.

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus Widespread.

(European) Robin Erithacus rubecula Common.

Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia Heard in song near Tartu.

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros One male near Haapsalu, 23rd.

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra One near Tartu, 29th.

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Twenty or so records.

Bearded Tit (Reedling) Panurus biarmicus Several at Voiste, 28th

Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides One singing, Voiste, 28th.

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca Four at Penijoe,25th.

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus Noted from 25th onward.

(Eurasian) Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Common.

Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix Singing males at two woodland sites,26th and 27th.

Goldcrest Regulus regulus Two woodland records.

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Two flocks of the white-headed race.

(Eurasian) Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus Two birds at a distance, near Tartu.

Willow Tit Parus montanus At two sites.

Coal Tit Parus ater Uncommon.

Crested Tit Parus cristatus In conifer woodlands.

Great Tit Parus major Common

Blue Tit Parus caeruleus Common.

(Eurasian) Nuthatch Sitta europaea Three sites.

Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris Three sites.

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius Mainly in conifer woodland

(Black-billed) Magpie Pica pica Common.

Eurasian (Spotted) Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes Heard at Hobringi.

(Eurasian) Jackdaw Corvus monedula Common.

Rook Corvus frugilegus Mainly near wooded villages.

Hooded Crow Corvus corone Very common.

Common Raven Corvus corax Noted daily.

Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris Common.

Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella Common.

Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus Confined to reedbeds.

(European) Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Common.

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla Heard near Tartu.

(European) Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Common.

(Eurasian) Siskin Carduelis spinus Noted on most days.

(European) Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Common.

Common Redpoll Acanthis flammeaFleeting glimpses in woodland.

(Eurasian) Linnet Carduelis cannabina Fairly common.

Parrot Crossbill Loxia pytyopsittacus Three at Hobringi.

(Eurasian) Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula Six birds noted in woodland.

Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes Two at Hobringi and three in the Cemetry in Parnu.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus Common.

(Eurasian) Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Widespread. Small numbers in villages and towns.


Brown Hare Lepus europaeus Common.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris Up to two Parnu.

Red Fox Vulpes vulpes Three records.

Pine Marten Martes martes One seen by Neil.

Elk Alces alces Two Soomaa.

Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus


Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni

Camberwell Beauty Nymphalis antiopa

Peacock Inachis io

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta

Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae

© The Travelling Naturalist 2001