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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

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 ornithologicalsignificance of this beautiful country isalready well known, and is the focus of ourMay Naturetrek tour, but its flora is perhapsless celebrated despite being amongst themost spectacular in northern Europe. Inparticular, strong influences in thecountry's floral make-up come from bothSiberia and also the warmer regions ofsouthern Europe, with many plant speciesreaching their respective western ornorthern extremities of range withinEstonia. Despite a land mass comparable withDenmark or Holland, the Estonianpopulation of 1.4 million is less than a thirdof the former, and a tenth that of Holland,resulting in far less human pressure on thecountryside. In particular, the peat bogsand forests of Estonia's interior are amongthe finest in Europe and the varied natureof its long coastline, marked by a richtapestry of shallow bays, lagoons andluxuriant coastal meadows, is quite unlikeany of Estonia's Baltic neighbours. Our holiday begins with a flight fromLondon to Tallinn, the country's capital,from whence we travel west to the BalticCoast where we have our first taste of theflower-filled meadows and alvarssocharacteristic of this coastline. Alvars,which are almost unique to Estonia,comprise a thin topsoil on a limestonebedrock and are consequently extremelyrich in flora. Our first destinations will beHiiumaa and Saaremaa Islands which wereach by ferry from the mainland. Thesedelightful islands are a botanist's dream,filled with such rarities as the endemicRhinanthus osiliensis, the SaaremaaRattlebox. One of our target families inwestern Estonia will be the orchids whichoccur here. 36 species of orchid occur inEstonia and, whilst flowering seasonsextend from April to September, our tour istimed to offer the opportunity to see asmany as possible of the species in flower.Examples include Frog, Burnt, Fen, Baltic,Military and both Lesser Butterfly andGreater Butterfly Orchids, as well as thebeautiful Dark Red Helleborine. Saaremaaand Hiiumaa Islands represent two of thebest orchid locations in the country and, inaddition, support many wonderful coastalplant communities around largelyundisturbed shorelines. Our extended stayon the islands should permit a thoroughinvestigation of the many habitats andample opportunity to look for some of thespecialities which are more difficult to find.Other families well represented in Estonia'sbogs and mires are the sundews andbutterworts, whilst many aquatic and semi-aquatic specialities are to be found in thereed-fringed coastal marshlands whichborder the Baltic Sea. An excursion toOsmussaar Island is included in our itineraryas this is highly regarded by Estonianbotanists for the wide range of species itsupports, including many orchids. We willalso visit Puhtu-Laelatu Nature Reserve andTuhu Bog where one of the greatestdensities of plant species in Europe hasbeen recorded . an astonishing 76vascular plant species per square metre! Afurther diversity of habitats is explored in theRamsar-recognised Matsalu National Parkwhere oak woodland fringes the largestreedbed on the Baltic Coast - haunt ofBeaver, Natterjack Toad and site for astunning profusion of wild flowers.Although very much a botanical tour, thereare many other natural history delightsawaiting tour participants. Grey Seals lovethe undisturbed coastline, Roe Deer arecommon, and the abundance of birdlifeincludes White and Black Storks, raptors,and a great diversity of waterbirds. There isalways plenty to look at, whether in the airor growing at our feet and, as we make ourway back to Tallinn, there is one finalelement of this fascinating country todiscover as we visit the picturesque oldcity where the architecture reflects thevaried influences during seven centuries offoreign occupation.Wild Flowers of EstoniaA 9-day botanical holiday in search of the wild flowers of Estonia, amongst them a fine selection of orchids.Saturday 1st June - Sunday 9th June Cost: £1,795Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Tallinn.Day 2Hiiumaa Island.Day 3/4Saaremaa Island.Day 5Puhtu-Laelatu NatureReserve.Day 6Matsalu National Park.Day 7Osmussaar Island.Day 8Tallinn.Day 9Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy botanical walks.FocusWild flowers.LeaderPeeter Vissak.Single room supplement£250.ExtensionsExtra nights in Tallinn arranged onrequest.Web quick search: EST0450Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryESTONIA BALTIC SEA GULF OF FINLAND GULF OF RIGA LATVIA RUSSIA TALLINN PARNU KURESSAARE HIIUMAAISLANDOSMUSSAAR ISLAND SILMAMATSALU VIRTSU SAAREMAA ISLAND TARTU LAKE PEIPSI Estonian meadowTallinnMilitary Orchid