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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Estonia in Spring

Migration along the Baltic Sea

April 2023
with Howard Vaughan as leader
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Elegant Little Gulls are delightfully common Photo: James Lidster

Tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Baltic Sea, Estonia is a fairytale land of extensive forest, wild bogs, and ancient grasslands all braided together by an amazing number of rivers flowing down to a coastline fringed with around 1000 islands.  Needless to say this wonderful mosaic of ancient habitats is alive with birds and Estonia is rapidly acquiring a reputation as one of Europe’s premier birdwatching destinations. 

Although the country has developed quickly since its independence, an enlightened series of protective measures has ensured that many species in decline in Western Europe have increased in Estonia and birds such as Common Crane and White Stork are an inseparable part of the Estonian landscape.  Equally significant as the breeding birds is the incredible spring migration. In early May, hundreds of thousands of geese, scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, divers and waders depart their wintering grounds around the North Sea for their rich Arctic breeding grounds and so can be found streaming along the coast of Estonia, thereby providing one of Europe’s greatest migration spectacles. 

Day 1: Our tour begins this afternoon at Tallinn Airport, where we’ll meet up with our local guide before driving to the west of the country. After checking into our hotel, we may have time for a little local birding. Species such as White Stork and Common Crane will set the scene for the coming days. Night near Nõva. 

Day 2: This morning we’ll drive to the Põõsaspea peninsula, a small northward-pointing spit that is ideally located for watching the spring waterbird migration. This should include varying numbers of Arctic and Red-throated Loons, Great Crested and Red-necked Grebes, Bean and Greater White-Fronted Geese, Eiders, and a variety of ducks. If the weather conditions are optimal, we could see vast numbers of Long-tailed Ducks and Common and Velvet Scoters. We’ll spend the rest of the day around Silma Nature Reserve and Haapsalu Bay looking for Whooper Swan, Goosander, Smew, and various waders. After dinner we’ll head out again to listen for, and hopefully see, Ural Owl. Night near Nõva.

Day 3: We’ll rise early to look for the shy grouse species of this area, namely Western Capercaillie and Black and Hazel Grouse. The woodlands here also hold Black Woodpecker, Eurasian Wryneck, Crested Tit, Wood Lark, and flocks of Common Crossbill. Later we’ll travel to Matsalu Bay, where the Rannajõe and Kloostri towers will give us excellent vantage points to scan the largest marshland on the Baltic coast, a vast reedbed that is home to Western Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit. Toward evening we’ll have a picnic dinner on board a boat as we cruise quietly through the marshes looking for European Beavers. Night near Nõva.

Day 4: We’ll begin by visiting Matsalu National Park, the oldest Ramsar site in Estonia. At times of peak passage hundreds of thousands of wildfowl pass through this area, including thousands upon thousands of Eurasian White-fronted and Barnacle Geese plus hundreds of Whooper and Bewick’s Swans. The marshy areas hold Ruff and Spotted Redshanks in breeding plumage, and both Wood Sandpiper and Temminck’s Stint are likely. Although these migrants offer some remarkable spectacles, Matsalu has much more to offer, and the 170 breeding birds recorded on the reserve include species such as Eurasian Bittern and White-tailed Eagle. Later we’ll move on to the northern shore of Matsalu Bay to explore a variety of habitats that should give us a wide range of species before dusk. Night near Pärnu.

Day 5: This morning’s early excursion will be to the old coniferous and mixed forests around Soometsa. With luck we hope to see and hear resident Black, Grey-headed, Three-toed, and White-backed Woodpeckers, and there is another chance for Hazel Grouse. After lunch we’ll visit the Häädemeeste coastal dune systems and the Kabli bird-banding station near the Latvian border. This is the oldest bird-banding station in Estonia and is equipped with huge Helgoland-type traps. Because our visit will be during the peak migration season we stand a good chance of seeing numerous species of warblers, flycatchers, chats, and tits (including white-headed Long-tailed Tits) being processed by the banders. Night near Pärnu.

Day 6: We’ll make a short visit to the lookout tower and boardwalk at the Tolkuse bog, where migrating geese and Common Cranes may be much in evidence, before traveling to the vast expanse of the Aardla wetlands near the town of Tartu. This mosaic of lakes and ponds usually holds a good selection of waterbirds and perhaps a few surprises such as Black Stork, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Penduline Tit, and Citrine Wagtail. After dinner we’ll visit an area known as one of the best spots in the world for lekking Great Snipe. It is a magical experience to wait quietly, listening for the strange clicking calls of the males, and then to catch sight of them as they throw their heads back and puff out their chests in an attempt to impress the females. This rare and elusive wader clings to a tentative existence in Estonia and at a few other sites in eastern Europe, and it is a privilege to witness their remarkable display. Night near Tartu.

Day 7: The Järvselja forest has been protected since 1924, and today it includes trees up to 130 feet high and over 200 years old. Being able to wander through such an ancient landscape is a reward in itself, but we may also be treated to sightings of some of the many woodpeckers and other forest birds that live here. Later in the afternoon we’ll visit Taevaskoja, the magnificent valley of the Ahja River, with its steep Devonian sandstone outcrops and dry boreal pine forest. This area is home to some fascinating plants, including Alternate-Leaved Golden-Saxifrage, and we can also expect to see Kingfisher. Night near Tartu.

Day 8: There may be time for some local birding before we return to Tallinn airport when the tour concludes in the late afternoon.  

Updated: 27 November 2018


  • 2023 Tour Price Not Yet Available
  • (2020 Tour Price $2,690)


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Questions? Tour Manager: Stephanie Schaefer. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 12 with two leaders.

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