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We make short early morning flights from Manchester or London to Helsinki to meet for a connecting Finnair flight to Tallinn arriving in the late afternoon. We then drive to our first destination near Matsalu National Park, approximately one hour from Tallin where we will check in to the Altimõisa Guesthouse where four nights are spent. Altmoisa Guest House is a charming, relaxed and welcoming accommodation, perfectly situated on the edge of the vast Matsalu Bay. Looking out to the sea on one side and forest on the other, this is the ideal place from which to explore the whole area and also enjoy comfortable accommodation and excellent home-cooking.
Matsalu (a Ramsar site) is a shallow bay no more than four meters in depth and one of Estonia’s premier birdwatching sites with a 3000 hectare reedbed, flooded meadows and a multitude of islands. Over the next three days we will be exploring the whole area where six observation towers enable unrivalled views.
Each year vast numbers of wildfowl including Long-tailed Duck and Scaup stop off here and feed up on their migration northwards; Matsalu also has 170 recorded breeding birds including such highlights as Red-necked Grebe, Caspian Tern and White-tailed Eagle. The reedbeds hold booming Bitterns, Bearded Tits, Spotted Crakes, Great Reed and Savi’s Warblers, while the rasping of Corncrakes can be heard everywhere.
The timing of our tour captures the last of the winter visitors such as Barnacle Geese before they head north as well as the incoming breeding birds. Ruffs can be seen in their springtime finery and the characteristic song of Common Rosefinch can be heard.
Nearby woodlands are home to a number of woodpecker species including Black, Grey-headed, White-backed, Three-toed, Great, Middle and Lesser Spotted, not forgetting Wrynecks which are common.
Today we head further south to the coastal town of Häädemeeste, close to the Latvian Border, and check in to the Lepanina Hotel where three nights are spent. Another delightfully-situated spot, the hotel is surrounded by forest and looking out onto a never-ending coastline. We will be looking out for Thrush Nightingales and Black Redstarts in the garden while Marsh Harriers, White-tailed Eagles and Ospreys patrol the coastline and marshes.
The nearby Nigula reserve is a fascinating area with towers and boardwalks enabling easy viewing and access. Here, Hobbies hawk for dragonflies and Lesser Spotted Eagles breed in the taller trees. Both Black and Hazel Grouse and Ural Owl inhabit this area along with breeding Golden Plover and Wood Sandpiper. Wheatears hop around in gardens and Whinchats are birds of open farmland whilst in the forests we will be watching for up to seven species of woodpecker.
We also have a chance of some interesting mammals such as Elk, Racoon Dog and Otter.
Our journey now takes us east and inland towards Tartu our destination for the final three nights. Check in to the Raadimõisa Hotel where three nights are spent. Outside of the city of Tartu and on the edge of parkland, Raadimõisa provides a high standard of accommodation and is a perfect base from which to explore this area. Nearby Aardla is one of the most productive areas with multiple pools where Penduline Tits suspend their ingenious nests from poolside bushes. Both Black and White-winged Terns, and Little Gulls can be seen here and we will be listening for the skulking River Warbler with its insect-like song.
Golden Orioles flute in the taller trees and we will be keeping an eye open for raptors which can include Golden, Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles. The agricultural fields are important feeding grounds for geese, White Storks and Common Cranes. This is also one of the more reliable spots to look for lekking Great Snipe, best located in the late evening. In addition, we will be listening for Lesser Whitethroat, Icterine, Blyth’s Reed, and Barred Warblers which are arriving in on migration, not forgetting the totally resplendent Citrine Wagtail.
We will make the straightforward journey back to Tallin in time for our flights back to Manchester and Heathrow via Helsinki arriving late afternoon.
Once again the service we got from Ultimate was impeccable.- NR, Burma