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Estonia is the smallest of the threeformer Soviet Republics which wereknown collectively as the 'BalticStates'. Always the most prosperous of thetrio, the country has enjoyed moderatefinancial growth since gainingindependence in 1991, and accession tothe European Community in 2004 was anatural progression for a nation anxious toonce again become part of WesternEurope. The topography of Estoniaconsists predominantly of low-lyingmarshes, rivers and forests, through whichare scattered over 1,500 lakes, whilst itswestern border is set by a deeply indentedBaltic coastline, along which lie countlessislands of varying sizes.The credentials of Estonia as a majorEuropean birdwatching destination havebeen firmly established by the successesof our May tours. Participants havereturned from these holidays full ofenthusiasm, not just for the superlativebirdwatching but also for the hospitality ofour Estonian hosts who take great pride insharing with visitors both the naturalhistory and the gastronomic delights oftheir country! May is an excellent time tovisit but, with nesting activity for somespecies beginning as early as March, thereare also very good reasons for travelling toEstonia earlier in the protracted springseason. As the days lengthen and the icygrip of winter is melted by the increasingwarmth of the sun in early April, rafts ofSteller's Eider begin to congregate in theirfavourite bays, the males noisily displayingto an audience of seemingly indifferentfemales. As many as a thousand birdsmay be seen in one of the largestconcentrations of this rare duck inEuropean waters, but most will havemigrated north by the end of the month.Another significant attraction in April is therelative ease with which the residentwoodpeckers can be found in forests thathave yet to attain their summer canopy ofleaves, plus the chances of observingBlack Grouse and Capercaillie.We begin our visit with a flight fromLondon to Estonia's capital city, Tallinn,followed by a road transfer to the Balticcoast where we stay for two nights. Beforeenjoying the first of many splendid meals,we will have the chance to listen for thenight sounds of the taiga forest close toour hotel - in particular for the calls ofboth Ural and Pygmy Owls. At dawn thefollowing day, the bubbling cries of lekkingBlack Grouse provide an accompanimentto a morning visit to their display ground.Nearby we will listen for the bizarrevocalisations of Capercaillie in the forestsand may also find shy Hazelhens tocomplete a trio of Estonian grouse. Laterwe travel along the Baltic coast, wheretens of thousands of wildfowl congregate,and explore the Poosaspea Peninsula, anarrow spit of land which affords excellentopportunities to scan bobbing rafts of sea-duck including many Long-tailed Ducks. For our Saturday excursion we take a ferryacross to Saaremaa Island, the largest ofthe many islands that stud the Estoniancoastline, and travel to a favoured inletwhere, each winter, several hundredSteller's Eiders collect. These rare sea-ducks will be our main objective but thewaters around Saaremaa are alsofrequented by scoters, Long-tailed Ducksand other maritime species. The flocks ofeider form an impressive spectacle andthere are very few locations in Europewhere so many can be seen in one locality.The Parnu region of the country will be thefocus of our last full day in Estonia. Herewe will be concentrating on a mix ofconiferous and broad-leaved forestswhich, in early spring, resound with thedrumming and calls of woodpeckers.Black, Grey-headed, White-backed andThree-toed Woodpeckers will be ofparticular interest but, as well as thewoodpecker representatives, we will alsobe looking for other residents such asNutcracker, Crested Tit and Hazelhen. Aremarkable five days in Estonia will endwith a short tour of ancient Tallinn beforewe return to the airport for our return flightto London.Steller's EidersSoometsa forestCapercaillieSteller's EiderESTONIABALTIC SEAGULF OFFINLANDGULF OFRIGALATVIARUSSIATALLINNPARNUKURESSAAREHIIUMAAISLANDOSMUSSAARISLANDMATSALUROOSTANIGULASAAREMAAISLANDTARTULAKEPEIPSI48Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Tallinn; transferRoosta.Day 2Poosaspea, fromRoosta.Day 3Saaremaa Island;overnight Parnu.Day 4Parnu region.Day 5Drive Tallinn and flyLondon.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Gentle birdwatching walks.FocusBirds.LeaderMati Kose.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: EST02Estonia in Early Spring A 5-day birdwatching holiday exploring the pristine forest and coastal habitats of Estonia at thebeginning of spring, in search of owls, woodpeckers, grouse and large pre-migration congregations ofsea-duck, amongst them spectacular gatherings of Steller's Eiders. Thursday 4th April - Monday 8th April Cost: £1,195

Estonia is the smallest and leastpopulous of the three 'Baltic States'which achieved independence fromthe former Soviet Union in 1991. Amagnificent indented coastline, studdedwith small islands, borders the Baltic Seaand Gulf of Finland to the west and north,whilst Latvia and the Russian Federationcomprise Estonia's neighbours to thesouth and east respectively. It is a land ofgreat natural beauty, with a variedlandscape which includes over 7,000rivers, 1,500 lakes and substantial areas offorest and marsh. An admirable 18% of thecountry is afforded protection within naturereserves that vary in size from the largenational parks to the smaller, locallyprotected, reserves. This abundance ofnatural habitat is reflected in a veryimpressive avifauna which matches that ofany country in northern Europe, eventhough Estonia is still comparatively littleknown as a birding destination. With over200 regular breeding species, and a hugevolume of Arctic-bound migrant birdspassing through the country, it is sure tooccupy a higher profile in future years.The starting point for our tour will be thepicturesque capital city of Tallinn, but wewill soon leave its delightful medievalarchitecture behind and head south tothe Ramsar-recognised Matsalu BayReserve where we stay for two nights.Each spring vast numbers of wildfowlpause to feed and rest in Estonia beforecompleting their long migration to distantbreeding grounds in the high Arctic, andnowhere is this phenomenon betterobserved than amongst the marshes,shallow bays and flooded meadows ofthis remarkable wetland sanctuary. Attimes of peak passage over a milliondiving ducks have been estimated alongthe coast here, whilst counts of wildswans and Barnacle Geese regularlynumber tens of thousands. The rafts ofLong-tailed Ducks, scoter and Scaupbobbing on the open water are aspectacular sight, and the observer isoften serenaded by a strange chorus ofcries as the displaying males reach afever-pitch of excitement. Flocks ofCommon Cranes and a selection ofwaders also take advantage of therich feeding grounds; Ruff, inparticular, sometimes occur ingreat abundance, the malesresplendent in breedingfinery. Although thesemigrants offer someremarkable spectacles,Matsalu is much morethan just an avianmotorway service stationand among the 170breeding birds recordedfrom the reserve are speciessuch as Red-necked Grebe,Bittern, Osprey, White-tailed Eagleand Caspian Tern. Exploring furtherafield from the core reserve, we are alsolikely to find some of the typical species ofEstonia's forests and farmlands, includingLesser Spotted Eagle, Red-backed Shrike,Ortolan Bunting and both Black and White-backed Woodpeckers.Moving next to the Audru wetlands atParnu, we should once again encountermore north-bound wildfowl and will behoping to find that most beautiful of thegoose family, the Red-breasted Goose,together with Taiga Bean and White-fronted Geese, all grazing on the tenderspring vegetation to sustain them for thelast leg of their journey. There are manytypes of habitat to visit around Parnu andtaking time to investigate tracts of forest inthe nearby Soomaa Reserve we hope tobe entertained by the bubbling displaycalls of lekking Black Grouse, whilst otherattractions in this area include HazelGrouse, Wryneck, and Black, Three-toedand Grey-headed Woodpeckers.Heading east next, towards the borderwith Russia, we reach an area of low-lyingmarshland and lakes at Tartu, to the westof Lake Peipsi. We will spend two nights atthis superb site and, during the bird-filleddays, will hope to find a wonderfuldiversity of species includingBlack Stork, both GreatSpotted and Lesser SpottedEagles, Penduline Tit, and GreatReed, Icterine, Marsh and BarredWarblers. As dusk gathers we will visit a spot where Great Snipe gather toperform their spring 'lek'. This is the rarestof the four snipe species inhabiting Tartu,the others being Woodcock and bothCommon and Jack Snipe, eachdemonstrating their own particular form of display. Tartu offers wonderfulbirdwatching opportunities and, with the constant ebb and flow of migration, there will very likely be one or twosurprises as rarer species drop by to feed in this chain of secluded pools andswampy meadows.Finally, from Tartu we must drive north toTallinn and catch our return flight toLondon. After seven centuries of foreigndomination, Estonia is clearly enjoying itsnew status as an independent nation and,as we hope to demonstrate during thisbrief tour, it is already establishing a claimto be regarded as one of the very bestbirdwatching venues in Europe. Black WoodpeckerRed-necked GrebeEstonian wetlands49Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Tallinn. Day 2/3Matsalu Bay. Day 4/5Parnu.Day 6/7Tartu.Day 8Fly London. AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingDay walks only. Grade A.FocusPrimarily birds, but also othernatural history. LeaderMati Kose.Single room supplement£250.ExtensionsCultural/sightseeing extensions inTallinn available on request.Web quick search: EST03ESTONIABALTIC SEAGULF OFFINLANDGULF OFRIGALATVIARUSSIATALLINNMATSALU BAYPARNUTARTULAKEPEIPSIBook direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationEstonia in SpringAn 8-day holiday focusing on the spectacular bird migration and breeding birds in this small Baltic country.Saturday 4th May - Saturday 11th May Cost: £1,495