Tour At A Glance





Single Room Supplement:


Tour Code:

Expect early starts and dusk finishes on this tour, plus cold weather with some walking in snow and ice.

Group Size:

Seven plus leaders

Black Grouse [Sven Zacek] Spotted Nutcraker [Tarvo Valker] White-backed Woodpecker [Sven Zacek] Pygmy Owl [Remo Savisaar] Great Grey Shrike [Valerie Stserbatohh]

Estonia - Steller's Eiders and Taiga Forests

Date: 12th - 17th March 2020 - FULL
Leaders: Ashley Saunders & Local guide



We take a morning flight London/Tallinn and meet our ground agent and birding guide from Estonian Nature Tours at the airport. From here, we will make the transfer west of around two hours to Virtsu where we will be taking the ferry across to Muhu Island. The journey could well produce our first sightings of Great Grey Shrike, White-tailed Eagle and goose flocks, or even a Northern Hawk Owl if the year is good for them. The sea state on the crossing is variable, but if there is unfrozen, open water, then we could see large concentrations of Long-tailed Ducks. Once on Muhu, we cross by causeway onto Saaremaa Island, stopping to scan the wildfowl on the way over. Big rafts of Goosander can hide the odd Smew, and there could be wild swan herds, and resting White-tailed Eagles around the shore. Reaching our accommodation, we settle in just in time for dinner at the end of a long day. Overnight Loona Manor Guest House. 
An early morning walk around the hotel gardens should reveal the distinctive Northern race of Bullfinch, being larger, stockier and deeper red [in the male] than our own British race and with a distinctive call. After breakfast,  we will head to the peninsual at Undva and have the first opportunity to scope Stellers Eiders. To see dense flocks of these magnificent birds we have to drive to the north-westernmost part of Saaremaa. Uudepanga Bay near Undva hosts up to 1000 Seller's Eiders each winter, though often numbers are between 300 and 600. Birds form dense flocks where they behave synchronously, especially when diving. Other sea-ducks will be seen with a chance of divers and waders including Purple Sandpiper. Because of biogeographic reasons Saaremaa is not rich in rarer woodpecker and owl species, but we can see or hear Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Nutcracker, Great Grey Shrike and Rough-legged Buzzard on short stops on our way to Undva or after that. After lunch back at the guesthouse and a short rest we will  explore the forest nearby for our first chance at Nutcracker and Pygmy Owl, or perhaps another Northern Hawk Owl if one is around. Late afternoon represents another chance to try for Steller's Eider, either better views at the point, or by checking one of the sheltered harbours where close views of Long-tailed Ducks and big rafts of Velvet Scoter can also be seen. At dusk, we can go for an owling session. If we are fortunate we can hear and hopefully see Tengmalm´s and Pygmy Owl in Viidumäe Nature Reserve. Overnight Loona Manor Guesthouse.
After breakfast and scoping Stellers again [if necessary] we will return to the Viidumae forest and try again for Nutcracker and Pygmy Owl, if we missed them yesterday, or perhaps try an area for Rough-legged Buzzard. Then we return to the mainland. Depending on winter severity and weather in spring the Suur Väin Strait can be covered with ice, or host large flocks of seaducks. At 10:30am we arrive at Virtsu Harbour and drive to Roosta. After check-in our itinerary takes us to the most north-easterly point, the Põõsaspea. This small north-stretching spit is situating at the migratory crossroad, where every spring and autumn masses of waterbirds coming from Bothnian and the Finnish Bays meet. This is one of the best place for observing the Artic waterbird migration. Even, in winter, this area usually remains unfrozen and holds flocks of different waterbirds – thousands of Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneyes, Goosanders and often White-tailed Eagles nearby. Atmospheric pine forests nearby hold Crested Tit, Willow Tit, Hazel Grouse and Black Woodpecker. In the late afternoon we will try for Ural Owl before we have our evening meal. Dinner and overnight Roosta Holiday Village.
Today we will visit the heathland forest environment in the early morning. We hope to hear Pygmy Owl or even see Ural Owl hunting for small mammals at the forest edge whilst other attractions in this area include bubbling flocks of lekking Black Grouse, maybe Hazel Grouse and some interesting woodpeckers such as White-backed and Three-toed. Snow-covered tracks are great for finding prints of some of Estonia's elusive mammals - Elk, Wolf, European Lynx, Racoon Dog and even Brown Bear, which is just emerging from hibernation. We will visit also Noarootsi peninsula where we scan over the area of mixture woodlands, fields and agricultural landscapes to search the Hawk Owl probably find wintering Rough-legged Buzzards too and maybe more mixed flocks of geese and wild swans. We will move to North-East region later in the afternoon. Overnight Art Hotel.
DAY FIVE                                                                               
Early morning takes us to the one of the most densely forested corners of Estonia - it is similar in appearance to taiga and is called Alutaguse. A large storm in 2001, and forest cuttings after that, have changed the look of this landscape a lot. New forest is the best place to find Roe Deer and Elk who in turn are targets for carnivores. Alutaguse is situated near the Russian border and forms a solid natural landscape through to St.Peterburg Oblast´s forests and bogs. That´s why Alutaguse is an area with huge number of Bears and now – after hundreds of years – is also the heart of Estonian "bear culture". This area is probably one of the best places in Estonia for searching for forest bird species. Many old dead trees in the woodland offer great feeding and nesting sites for woodpeckers. We hope to find many of the special birds that inhabit this fascinating area including Three-toed, Grey-headed, White-backed and Black Woodpecker as well as Black Grouse, Capercaillie and Hazel Grouse. After a rest and dinner we will head out into the forest again to search for Ural, Pygmy and maybe Tengmalm´s owls. Overnight Art Hotel.
This morning we return at dawn to the forests for a final birding session, hoping to catch up with any missed target species. Mixed feeding parties can host Crested Tits but also the fabulous northern race 'borealis' of the Willow Tit and 'caudatus' Long-tailed Tit, both of which are reasonably common here. In some years, Waxwings could also be around and Northern Goshawk is quite common - often around parks and town centres as well as the remoter areas of forest! Perhaps we will bump into one of the sought-after mammals along one of these deserted forest tracks at dawn, or a male Capercaillie strutting his stuff among the trees. We will return to Tallinn by late morning and drive to the Airport to connect with the onward flight back to the UK.


Additional Information



Return economy class flights London/Tallinn with specified luggage allowance, five nights en suite accommodation of a good standard, all meals from dinner on day one to breakfast on day six, return ferry crossing to Saaremaa Island, services of leaders, ground transport in Estonia and reserve entrance fees.



Travel insurance, drinks, gratuities and any items of a purely personal nature. Lunches on days one and six are not inlcuded in your tour cost.



It can be very cold on this trip, particularly when we are on the coast scoping the seaducks - temperatures of -15C are not unusual with thick snow still on the ground, and wind chill must also be factored into account. There is very little walking on the tour, and we are never far away from the minibus, to warm up!



Visas are not required by UK nationals. Passports must have 6 months validity beyond the return travel date. Standard health and innoculation requirements apply for UK nationals, visit to check these and if necessary, download a free health brief to take to a travel appointment at your local medical practice. 


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