Estonia

Baltic Coast Migration

An 8-day, small group birdwatching tour to Estonia in autumn

Limosa’s Estonia birding tours will not only introduce you to one of Europe’s smallest countries, but one that is also outstanding for birding - a hotspot for bird migration, especially in autumn! Running in late September, our Estonia birdwatching tours focus on the vast numbers of birds that ‘funnel’ along the country’s Baltic shores as they stream south from their breeding grounds across the boreal and Arctic regions of Russia and Scandinavia. As a bonus, an autumn birding tour to Estonia also offers an alluring range of resident specialities - from White-tailed Eagle and Black Woodpecker to Nutcracker and Great Grey Shrike.

Tour Dates & Prices

Sun 20th September 2020

Sun 27th September 2020

  • Spaces

Sun 19th September 2021

Sun 26th September 2021

  • Spaces

Tour Cost: 8 Days from £2295 inc return flights from London Gatwick

Deposit: £400Single Supp: £245Land Only: £2120Group Size: 10Leaders:  Gary Elton & local guides

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Estonian bird guide
  • Return flights - London Gatwick to Tallinn, nonstop with Easyjet
  • 7 nights accommodation in Estonia, staying at good and comfortable hotels
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (inc. local guides) and taxes
  • Map and Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks & other items of a personal nature

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Cost: 8 Days from £2295* inc return flights from London Gatwick

Deposit: £400Single Supp: £245*Land Only: £2120*Group Size: 10Leaders:  Gary Elton & local guides

* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Estonian bird guide
  • Return flights - London Gatwick to Tallinn, nonstop with Easyjet
  • 7 nights accommodation in Estonia, staying at good and comfortable hotels
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (inc. local guides) and taxes
  • Map and Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks & other items of a personal nature

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Highlights

  • Discover one of Europe’s ‘newest’ and most exciting birding destinations!
  • A hotspot for bird migration - yet still barely known ‘in the West’
  • Autumn sees geese, swans and duck streaming south from their Arctic breeding grounds
  • In late September, masses of northern passerine migrants also on the move
  • Everything from divers, seaduck, waders, cranes and raptors to woodpeckers, thrushes, tits and finches
  • Pygmy and Ural Owls among a splendid mix of northern and eastern European specialities to look for
  • White-tailed Eagle, Black Woodpecker, Nutcracker, Great Grey Shrike, Crested Tit, Parrot Crossbill
  • Small group tour expertly led by Limosa's Gary Elton and an English-speaking Estonian bird guide.

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly London Gatwick-Tallinn, transfer southwest to the Estonian coast. Night Haapsalu

  • We visit Cape Põõsaspea and Puise migration watchpoints, Haeska tower and try some owling.

  • Morning at Matsalu Bay, then ferry to Muhu Island. We cross the causeway on to Saaremaa Island and spend all of the following day there, watching the migration. Saaremaa (2 nts)

  • Another morning birding on Saaremaa Island before catching the ferry back to the mainland and heading south. Pärnu (2 nts)

  • We visit Kabli, Estonia’s oldest bird observatory, today and (if the weather is fine) have a chance to go owling in Soometsa Forest this evening.

  • Return to Tallinn, afternoon fly London

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Trip Reports
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The big Black Woodpecker is Europe’s largest woodpecker and very much at home in Estonia’s forests © Brian Small, Limosa

Estonia should be on every birdwatcher's list of places to go! For a few short weeks every spring and autumn, this smallest and northernmost of the Baltic countries plays host to one of nature’s great events - mass bird migration. Set between the Gulf of Finland, the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea and Lake Peipsi on the neighbouring Russian border, Estonia occupies a strategic position midway along the Siberian/East Atlantic Flyway - making it a natural 'stepping stone' for millions of Arctic and boreal birds that breed between the White Sea and Taimyr in northwestern Russia and migrate to and from their East Atlantic wintering grounds. It's one of Europe's major migration corridors.

Impressive numbers of wildfowl, divers, cranes, raptors, gulls and passerines pass this way every autumn - and when conditions are right, the places we visit on this late September tour can provide some of the most spectacular visible migration anywhere in Europe.

But autumn birdwatching here is not just about nonstop passage overhead. The country’s long and indented coastline, shallow and sheltered bays, coastal meadows, marshes, lagoons and more than a thousand islands - all in good natural condition - provide migrant birds with vital feeding and stopover sites as they stream southwest out of Siberia. Estonia's outstretched peninsulas, spits and narrow straits offer plenty of good seawatching opportunities and also serve to concentrate large numbers of migrants.  

A late September visit may find late departing summer visitors such as warblers, flycatchers and wheatears rubbing shoulders with the likes of Great Grey Shrike, Brambling and Siskin. With them come birds of prey: White-tailed Eagles are difficult to miss; Hen Harriers and Merlins hunt over the marshes; and Peregrines and Goshawk are regularly seen. Most numerous though are Eurasian Sparrowhawks, with large numbers of these birds forced to follow their food source as it moves south for the winter!

It is not just the prospect of exciting birding that makes this such a brilliant trip. Estonia is a land seemingly caught in a time warp, where the farms are rustic and traditional agricultural techniques still favour birds and man. The countryside is beautiful, hotels and meals are good, and distances travelled relatively small, allowing for plenty of time in the field. Although no two years are alike when it comes to bird migration, our tour is designed to maximise our chances of finding the best concentrations of birds and experiencing active visible migration.

This 2020 tour will be guide Gary Elton's third visit to Estonia. He'll be accompanied as usual by an experienced, English-speaking Estonian bird tour guide.

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You can see thousands of tiny Goldcrests moving in a day at Estonia's migrant hotspots © Brian Small, Limosa

Day 1
FLY TALLINN, TRANSFER TO HAAPSALU

Our autumn birdwatching tour to Estonia begins with an early afternoon flight from London Gatwick nonstop to Tallinn, where our local guide Kaarel Võhandu will be waiting to meet us.

We head southwest from the capital, about 70 miles to our hotel in Haapsalu, on the Baltic shore. Evening arrival at the Promenaadi Hotel, where we stay for three nights. Night Haapsalu

Days 2 - 3
HAAPSALU BAY, CAPE PÕÕSASPEA, PUISE PENINSULA, HAESKA TOWER & OWL EVENING

The coastal promenade at Haapsalu affords views over Haapsalu Bay, famous as a place where thousands of wildfowl gather in autumn. Dabbling duck such as Wigeon and Gadwall are the most numerous, but we are also likely to see Goldeneye and Goosander. A September visit adds chances of Barnacle, White-fronted and Tundra Bean Geese flying by - and opportunistic White-tailed Eagles on the look out for them!

An hour's drive to the north of our hotel, Cape Põõsaspea is a northward pointing spit situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland. In autumn, the narrows here form a bottleneck for large numbers of birds following the southwesterly Siberian/East Atlantic Flyway, funnelling divers, geese, swans, dabbling duck, diving duck, sea duck and many other birds along the north coast of Estonia and out into the Baltic Sea - making Põõsaspea one of the best places to watch the spectacular return migration of Arctic waterfowl.

In late September, large numbers of Goldeneye are joined by Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, Red-breasted Merganser, and Common Scoter and Velvet Scoters. In the hinterland of coniferous woodland and open grassland, our 2019 group found six Black Woodpeckers, flocks of Jays on the move, Crested and Willow Tits, Goldcrest, Whinchat and Great Grey Shrike.

Silma Nature Reserve lies between our hotel and the Cape. Its patchwork of shallow bays, coastal lagoons, marshes and reedbeds are recognised as a wetland of international importance, providing a stopover for tens of thousands of migrating waterbirds, especially in autumn. A number of viewing platforms and towers - such as that near Tahu, which overlooks a large lake - afford good views over the wetlands.

If conditions are right, passing passerines may also be concentrated around the lakeshore at Tahu, while the fields set between tall shelter belts provide good feeding for flocks of geese - and we may find lingering Common Cranes, too.

Thirty minutes southwest of Haapsalu, the Puise Peninsula is another great spot in late September to watch for movements of finches, tits and other small birds - as well as to check the shore for waders and fresh arrivals of wildfowl. Flocks of Jays, enchanting 'Northern' Long-tailed Tits with their snow-white heads, ‘trumpet calling’ Northern Bullfinches, and the paler northern races of Willow Tit and especially Nuthatch can feature strongly at this season - bringing with them the chance of more unusual species such as Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Nutcracker and Hawfinch.

To the east of Puise, the 10-metre tall Haeska birdwatching tower offers excellent views out over coastal meadows and much of the northern shore of Matsalu Bay. This immense shallow bay - nowhere more than four metres deep - is not only the most famous bird area in Estonia but also one of the most important breeding and autumn stopover areas for waterfowl and shorebirds in the whole of Northern Europe. Well worth a visit in early autumn (the record for the largest day list of bird species seen in Northern Europe was achieved here), our September 2019 visit here looked out on several White-tailed Eagles, Peregrine, 1000+ Barnacle Geese and up to 400 Golden Plover among a varied selection of waders.

If the weather is fine, on one evening we will go out in search of owls: both Eurasian Pygmy Owl and Ural Owl showed well on last year’s tour. Two further nights Promenaadi Hotel, Haapsalu

Day 4
HAAPSALU TO SAAREMAA ISLAND

We leave Haapsalu this morning on our way to Saaremaa Island. Along the way, we’ll stop to enjoy some further birding around Matsalu Bay.

Covering 400 km2 of land and coast, Matsalu's mosaic of coastal meadows, riparian and coastal woodlands, river delta and marshlands combine to create a wonderful migratory stopover for coastal and wetland birds. Flocks of returning geese and duck provide rich pickings for birds of prey, including Marsh and Hen Harriers, Sparrowhawk and several pairs of White-tailed Eagles. Last year’s group also found an immature Rough-legged Buzzard (early for this species) and Hobby (conversely, late!) here, along with a fine selection of woodland species that included Nutcracker, Brambling, Hawfinch, and a flock of Common and four Parrot Crossbills.

After lunch, having skirted south around the bay to Virtsu, we take a 25-minute ferry ride over to Muhu Island. From there we cross the causeway linking Muhu with the much larger island of Saaremaa and continue south to our next hotel, where we stay for two nights. Night Saaremaa Hotel, Saaremaa Island

Day 5
SAAREMAA ISLAND: SÕRVE PENINSULA & SÄÄRE

Saaremaa Island is joined to Muhu Island by a long causeway that crosses the Väika Strait. Although separated from the mainland by just 5km of sea, Saaremaa's ‘fingers’ stretch for 100 km or so, westwards into the Baltic. The island’s west coast is particularly well placed to attract southbound migrants in autumn, with a pulling power comparable to the more famous Swedish islands of Oland and Gotland, just across the sea. In fact, with further study it’s likely that Saaremaa could turn out to be one of the most important 'undiscovered’ hotspots for autumn migration in Europe...

This morning we'll target the Sõrve peninsula and Sääre spit. This narrow peninsula forms the jutting southwestern tip of Saaremaa Island and is attractive to large numbers of migrant landbirds in autumn as well as being a focus for flocks of departing geese and Common Cranes. The surrounding area of open sea and offshore islets also offer excellent feeding and resting spots for passing wildfowl and waders, plus Great Crested and Red-necked Grebes. Raptors can sometimes be present on migration and species to watch for in late September include buzzards, harriers, Sparrowhawk and Merlin.

At the height of season, enormous numbers of passerine migrants also pass this way. Given favourable conditions, waves of Jays, Chaffinches, Bramblings, Northern Bullfinches and Siskins stream overhead and are visible from the watchpoint adjacent to an old Soviet military fortification - an area that during the Cold War years was strictly out of bounds to all visitors. How times have changed! There is now a museum offering an insight into the fascinating history of the area - as well as teas and coffees.

After lunch, we’ll spend some time exploring more of the local area. On last year’s trip, a varied selection of species seen here included Barnacle, Tundra Bean and White-fronted Geese, Red-necked Grebe, White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Greenshank, Little Stint, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Wheatear and Black Redstart. Night Saaremaa Hotel, Saaremaa Island

Day 6
SAAREMAA ISLAND TO PÄRNU

We have an opportunity to enjoy some further birdwatching on Saaremaa Island this morning before returning to the mainland. If conditions are right for migration, we may well decide to pay a return visit to Sõrve peninsula - hoping to emulate the success of our September 2019 tour, when an estimated 25,000 Chaffinches and Bramblings passed by the viewing area in just two hours! With them came a nice assortment of other migrants, including 15 Hawfinches, six Sparrowhawks, 10 Tree Pipits, 15 Stock Doves, 26 Jays and a Great Grey Shrike.

Heading north across the island, we then return via the causeway to Muhu Island and catch a lunchtime ferry (25 minutes) back to mainland Estonia. Once ashore, we’ll follow the general track of the autumn's bird migration towards our final destination - the small town of Pärnu, in the southwestern corner of the country, where we spend our last two nights of the tour.

Having checked in at our hotel, if time permits we may take a short stroll through the nearby park to a wildlife boardwalk. A Moorhen seemed to be causing quite a stir here with the locals on last year’s trip, but we will probably be rather more interested in species such as Marsh Harrier and Great Egret, plus any migrants. Night Pärnu

Day 7
KABLI BIRD STATION & SOOMETSA FOREST

Making an early start from our hotel today, we travel 30 miles south to visit the famous Kabli Bird Station, close to the border with Latvia.

Estonia’s oldest bird observatory, Kabli is equipped with an immense Heligoland trap – reputed to be 18m high! Here we should have chances to see birds in the hand, enjoying good close looks at migrants such as Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and the northern races of Nuthatch and Long-tailed and Willow Tits. Occasionally, migrating owls are trapped as well, so an early morning visit is best! As on Saaremaa Island, visible migration can be both impressive and varied in late September. Highlights from our 2019 visit here included Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark, a party of 15 Bearded Tits, Common Crossbill, Hawfinch and Northern Bullfinch.

The coastal strip running south from Pärnu to Häädameeste village - where we take lunch today - forms part of the natural avian flyway and a walk out to the tower hide could reveal a wide selection of resident and migrant species. Expect anything from Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and Tundra Bean Goose to White-tailed Eagle, Great Egret and Kingfisher.

If the weather is fine this evening, we can try for owls in nearby Soometsa Forest. Night Pärnu

Day 8
RETURN TO TALLINN, FLY LONDON

There may be time for a little local birding near Pärnu this morning before we set off on the two-hour drive north to Tallinn. If flight schedules permit, a short guided walk around this beautiful medieval city followed by lunch at a traditional restaurant in town should provide a fitting finale to our time in Estonia.

Afternoon check-in at Tallinn Airport for our return flight to London Gatwick, where our autumn birdwatching tour to Estonia concludes.

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Amidst the throng of autumn migrants passing through Estonia in September, few are more enchanting than the 'snow-headed' Northern Long-tailed Tit © tour participant Judy Rowe Taylor

WHAT TO EXPECT

Sitting astride a major migration route for birds heading to and from the bountiful boreal and Arctic regions of Northern Europe, Estonia is one of this continent's most exciting birding destinations - and a hotspot for bird migration, especially in autumn.

We travel there in late September, just as migratory birds stream southwards along the shores of the eastern Baltic from their breeding grounds across Scandinavia and Russia. As a bonus, autumn birding in Estonia also offers an alluring range of resident specialities - from White-tailed Eagle and Black Woodpecker to Nutcracker and Great Grey Shrike.

Estonia has a cool-warm climate in autumn. In September, average temperatures in Tallinn range from 9-15C (48-59F). Expect a mix of autumn sunshine and overcast skies with some showers or rain likely - just like at home!

Note that it can often be chilly first thing at this time of year, with early morning temperatures starting closer to 0C (32F), and with periods of ‘static birding’ as we watch for migration, a warm hat, gloves and layers of warm clothing can be required.

BIRDS
120-140 species

MAMMALS
Up to 10 species

ACCOMMODATION
7 nights accommodation in Estonia, staying at good and comfortable hotels. All rooms are en suite.

MEALS
All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on Day 1 and concluding with lunch in Estonia on Day 8 (flight schedules permitting).

Breakfasts will usually be at the hotels, with our dinners taken either at the hotels or in restaurants nearby. Lunches will be packed lunches and/or sit-down meals. 

WALKING
Easy. Mostly short walks on level ground.

Wear comfortable waterproof walking shoes or boots (wellies not normally required on this tour).

TRAVEL
There are currently few direct flights operating between the UK and Tallinn. On this tour we fly with Easyjet, nonstop from London Gatwick to Tallinn.

Ground transport is by minibus.

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White-tailed Eagles of various ages hulk about the landscape picking off injured ducks and geese © Janos Olah

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