Thursday, 22 May 2014

Estonia 2014 Part 3

Off on the road again the next day and it was a longer journey NW to Matsalu National Park. Along the coastal area of the reserve between Lihula and Virtsu is another massive tower hide the overlooks part of the extensive coastal bay. On the road to the hide a Hawfinch and a perched Rough-Legged Buzzard were seen from car. Whilst everybody else scanned form the hide I initially stayed on the ground near the harbour office. From here I had excellent views of a Caspian Tern as it flew through. The views from the hide were amazing and provided views of two pairs of Smew, Goosander, Marsh Harrier and a hunting White Tailed Eagle. Ruff, Spotted Redshank and Common Sandpiper occupied the shallow water and Wheatear and Whinchat were also in the vicinity.

Later on in the day we were at another part of the national park, here we visited the Matsalu Natural Science museum which was well worth the visit. From another tower hide, this one a rusty converted telephone mast with the missing roof visible in the undergrowth beneath, a male Hen Harrier was the highlight.  A Thrush Nightingale was singing from the scrub along the river bank too.

On route to our final stop at Haapsalu, we briefly stopped at a village whose name I don’t know. The small pond in the centre of the village held a drake Garganey and a Grey Headed Woodpecker showed from the trees behind the pond. Also on the way we pulled over and marvelled at the site of 140+ male Ruff in full multicoloured plumage together in the same ploughed field. They looked even more spectacular when they flew off and over the car on mass.

Haapsalu which looks like one big impressive film set, boasted another impressive area of reeds and a huge lake complete with a tower hide. A Great Reed Warbler deafened us as we approached the hide and as the sun set a White Tailed Eagle flew low over the lake which flushed at least 30 Grey Heron to the air. A massive number of pairs of Great Crested Grebe were on the lake and some had nests close to the pier. On the section of the lake in front of our hotel for the evening there were three pairs of summer plumage Slavonian Grebe which looked amazing in the late evening sun. Also some summer plumage Little Gulls hawked insects over the lake.

With an early start and early flight back on the Friday we didn’t have time to stop anywhere but did manage to pull over in time to see an Elk standing out of the open on the edge of a forest. Even without antlers it was still a mighty beast despite its dopey appearance. It didn’t stay long before melting back into the forest.

An amazing end to an amazing trip with great company and laughs. Thanks to everybody again, until next time...

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Estonia 2014 Part 2

The next morning the clearing was as empty as when we had arrived but 10 Hooded Crows were attracted to the mess left by the Racoon Dogs. On our way back to the car the sound of Wood Warblers filled the air along with the call of multiple Cuckoos. Cuckoos proved to be very common throughout the trip but typically they were heard more than see. The next leg of our journey had us travelling south to Tartu with a few stops planned of course.

First stop was Alam Pedja which is another boardwalk trail through a giant woodland bog.  From the tower hide overlooking the bog, Tree Pipits descended from the tree tops and another Great Grey Shrike was spotted. Looking towards the famous ‘’Hollywood Hill’’ we could distantly see one then two Lesser Spotted Eagles. Although distant we still saw them perform some aerial acrobatics before disappearing below the tree line.
Another impressive tower hide
As we headed back along the track to the car something large and black flew in front of us before landing on a tree next to its nest hole. It turned out to be the bird of the trip, a Black Woodpecker! As we watched the Jackdaw like woodpecker climb up and around the tree trunk another briefly appeared. Despite having the safety of the nest hole so close the Woodpecker stayed in view for around 15 minutes!
Throughout the week whilst travelling along long stretches of road we saw loads of nesting pairs of White Stork. Many were adding sticks to their impressive ‘nurseries’ and whilst stopping in a supermarket car park we were even treated to views of a pair bill clapping.

No words needed 
Next stop was the underwhelming looking Ilmatsalu Fish Ponds near Tartu, how deceiving looks can be! The surrounding fields over the river were full of constantly flighty White fronted Geese and the reed beds had multiple Marsh Harriers quartering them permanently whilst Honey Buzzards flew above the distant plantation. The paths between ponds were lifting with Blue Headed Yellow Wagtails and as we passed one of the canals a Thrush Nightingale was singing from the scrub on the opposite bank. It was surprisingly obliging hence the photo below.
The biggest pond had a diverse mixture of species including typical winter ducks like Shoveler, Pintail and a Whooper Swan as well as waders including Stunning summer plumage Spotted Redshanks, male Ruff, Black Tailed Godwit and the most Wood Sandpipers I have ever seen. A large gathering of Swallows over one of the smaller pond attracted a Hobby which gave great views as it flew low overhead before diving at the Swallows. It was eventually mobbed by others and flew out of sight. We also had fly over Little and Great White Egrets.

After arriving and finding somewhere to sleep and eat in Tartu we headed out to a Great Snipe Lek site. Unfortunately only one bird was showing and I just missed it as it disappeared back into a gully in the field.

Final instalment arriving soon...

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Estonia 2014 Part 1

From Monday 5th until Friday 9th May I spent an amazing few days in Estonia with Cain, Gary S, Andrew D, Stephen W, Heather D and Ciara L. It was our first birding trip all together outside of Scotland.

When we touched down in Tallin on Monday it was snowing but fortunately by the next morning it had melted. In the hotel car park at Rakvere we were greeted by a singing Redstart on our first full day. With the hire van picked up we left for the Lahemaa National Park and it was noticeably wintery still with the numerous arable fields en route full of wintering geese. We stopped near Rakvere to check the geese and ended up scanning hundreds of Eurasian White Fronted Geese, Tundra Bean Geese and Barnacle Geese who were joined by a few small pockets of Pink Footed Geese and Greylag Geese.  The fields also held a few foraging White Storks and Common Cranes.  With visiting at a strange time of the season there was a lot of cross over between departing winter species and arriving summer migrants so seeing storks and cranes amongst groups of geese wasn’t the strangest sight of the trip.

 Once at the vast Lahemaa National Park we explored the Viru Bog Trail following the boardwalk and stopping at its impressive tower platform hide.  Common Cranes were heard calling from the ground but remained elusive whilst Pied Flycatcher were the opposite as they showed well in the woods. The small pools scattered across the bog held Goldeneye and Teal but the best viewing was from the tower hide. In just a few minutes, Goshawk and Montagu’s Harrier were soaring above the tree tops along with a distant Eagle sp. A Great Grey Shrike was perched on top of a pine tree amongst the bog also.
From the woodland trail we were all utterly suckered by the local Chaffinches which not surprisingly sound slightly different to the ones back in England. In fact they sound so different we thought at first we were listening to Parrott Crossbills the call was that different.  Cain and Gary got onto a Grey Headed Woodpecker in the woods whist we all stumbled across a Hen Capercaille which soon flew off.  The roads through the various forests were full of flocks of Chaffinches feeding on grit. Amongst these flocks a few Common Rosefinch were picked out.

View from the tower hide
On our way to our next destination, the Bear Hide, east of Maetaguse, we stopped and explored the dense surrounding forest. Along the forest roads we found a former Beaver Dam that had been destroyed in a small flooded ditch. Further off the beaten track we followed a set of Elk prints which led us into thick forest. We found tantalising fresh evidence of the impressive creature but never really got close to it. A smart singing male Red Breasted Flycatcher and a common Lizard were worth the diversion. Also we saw a few Wood Sandpiper  in the flooded ditches.
 As we drove along the track I spotted something flying across the road and got on it just in time to see that it was a male Golden Oriole, unfortunately nobody else got on it as it flew back further into the forest. A tame Red Throated Pipit feeding along the forest track did make up for the disappointment though. Also another Hen Cappercaille flew from the roadside. 
After getting the key and walking up to the Bear Hide we settled down and began our vigil. On the way through the forest leading to the hide it was eerily quiet with only the cronking of Ravens echoing in the distance. Fresh Lynx claw marks were also noted on a tree trunk. 
We spent the best part of 12 hours in total waiting in the well insulated and sound proof hide for the notoriously shy Bears to appear.  The clearing in front of the hides where bait is usually placed was empty which didn’t help matters. As it gradually grew darker the forest burst into life as Bats swooped through the clearing and then Racoon Dogs and Fox appeared. The cunning Fox stayed behind the felled logs and waited until the less cautious Racoon Dogs ventured into the open before it scampered around. In total we saw around 6-8 Racoon Dogs and watched as they played around and fed in the clearing before intermittently fighting with one another. For a creature with such a bulky stature the Racoon Dogs have a surprisingly camp fighting stance which provided much entertainment. 
Despite an excellent supporting cast the star of the show never made an appearance and even in the pitch black we attempted to take it in turns to stay up and check for the Bears but the lure of the sleeping bags provided in the bunks of the hide proved too much.
To be continued...