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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 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 www.naturetrek.co.ukfor 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

As many Naturetrek clients havealready discovered, the former SovietRepublic of Estonia is an ideal springdestination for both birdwatchers andbotanists, offering a fascinating range ofspecies amidst unspoiled and picturesquelandscapes. Perhaps less well known arethe many attractions of an autumn visit;thus, this September holiday offersparticipants the opportunity to enjoy yetmore facets of this remarkable country. At the end of the short Arctic summer, tensof thousands of birds begin their longsouthward migrations and Estonia isideally positioned to offer a staging post atwhich these migrants may pause and feedbefore continuing their extraordinaryjourneys. The country's long, indentedcoastline, in particular, provides a myriadof sheltered bays and marshes to attractwaterbirds, whilst migrant passerines aredrawn to the many leafy thickets to befound on the long peninsulas that extendlike fingers into the Baltic, or on thethousand or more islands that dot thecoast. Whilst migration is always anunpredictable phenomenon, dictated byvariation in weather conditions, the peakmovements through Estonia are usuallytowards the end of September and ourtour is timed not only to witness thisveritable flood of birds but also to savourthe vibrant colours of the autumnvegetation and, of course, the legendaryEstonian hospitality which is such a featureof this friendly country.Our tour begins with a flight to the ancientcapital of Tallinn, followed by a drive to thenorth-east coast where we stay atLaanemaa. From here we will visit the Poosaspea, a spit of land situated at thecrossroads of the exodus south fromFinland and one of the best places toobserve Arctic waterbird migration. BothBlack and Red-throated Divers occur inthousands offshore, as do great rafts ofLong-tailed Ducks and Common Scoters.Nearby, Silma Nature Reserve contains avariety of habitats and is host to largeflocks of Goldeneye, Scaup and otherduck species, all of them regularlypanicked into flight by the appearances ofthe local White-tailed Eagles. FromLaanemaa, another major reserve,Matsalu, will also occupy us for a day. Thishuge reserve, regarded by many as themost important bird refuge in northernEurope, comprises coastal meadows,reedbeds, woodlands and marshes, all ofthese habitats sustaining a remarkablepopulation of feathered visitors. As manyas 20,000 Common Cranes have beencounted roosting at Matsalu and thespectacle created by these magnificentbirds will be one of the enduring memoriesof our tour. Geese and swans areprominent among the wildfowl grazing thelocal meadows and the regular Barnacle,Bean, Greylag and White-fronted Geeseare sometimes joined by a few LesserWhite-fronts. After the excitement of these two reserveswe move next to explore Saaremaa Island,the largest of the Estonian islands. Acomplex of habitats on the island includespeat bogs, lagoons, woodland and fineexamples of alvars, a geological featurealmost unique to Estonia comprising a thintopsoil on a bedrock of limestone. Thebirdlife on Saaremaa reflects the variety ofthe landscape with Golden Eagle and Black Grouse amongst theresidents, while wildfowland Common Cranes arelikely to be found in themeadows and marshes. TheSorve Peninsula in the south of theisland is recognised as one of the bestsea-watching points in the country and isalso famous for the many rarities that havebeen recorded from the ringing stationhere, which has a similar status amongstEstonian ornithologists as Fair Isle doesamongst their British counterparts! Diurnalpassage of finches over the peninsula cannumber many thousands of birds andraptor passage is also impressive,involving harriers, Lesser Spotted Eagles,Buzzards and Sparrowhawks with theconstant possibility of more unusualtravellers. A rare vagrant from the eastcould also add to the variety of migrantpasserines encountered during our stay.Returning to the mainland we conclude ourtour by visiting Kabli and Luitema NatureReserve. Mixed forests at the latter arefrequented by Hazel Grouse and Black,Three-toed, Grey-headed and White-backed Woodpeckers whilst Kabli BirdStation, near the Latvian border, is yetanother magnet for migrants and in goodyears is a regular site for northern owlssuch as Tengmalm's, Ural and Pygmy. After this final taste of autumn migrationwe must make our way back to Tallinn for areturn flight to London. However, one lastmagical experience awaits as we stop enroute to admire the colourful peat mossesat Tolkuse Bog to round off a wonderfulbirdwatching holiday with images of theSeptember landscape in one of Europe'smost scenic countries.Estonia in AutumnAn 8-day birdwatching tour timed to witness the amazing volume of migrating birdswhich passes through Estonia each autumn. Saturday 14th September - Saturday 21st September Cost: £1,495Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationESTONIABALTIC SEAGULF OFFINLANDGULF OFRIGALATVIARUSSIATALLINNPARNUKURESSAAREHIIUMAAISLANDOSMUSSAARISLANDSILMAMATSALUSAAREMAAISLANDTARTULAKEPEIPSIVIRTSUOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Tallinn.Day 2 Poosaspea and SilmaReserve.Day 3Poosaspea and MatsaluReserve.Day 4Matsalu Reserve.Day 5/6Sorve Peninsula,Saaremaa.Day 7Kabli and LuitemaReserve.Day 8Tolkuse Bog and Tallinn;fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Gentle birdwatching walks only.FocusBirds.LeaderMati Kose.Single room supplement£250.Web quick search: EST0151Tolkuse bogRoosting CranesBlack Grouse