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...

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