After their short breeding season, millions of Arctic waterfowl start to migrate southwards. Following a first long haul over the northern part of the continent, the Estonian coast is an important staging post to rest and refuel before continuing the trip.
Estonia’s long, indented coastline provides a wealth of habitats for stopovers – sheltered bays, islets, coastal lagoons and lakes, flooded meadows, marshes, and bogs.
Migrating passerines will concentrate on the wooded strips on the coast or extended peninsulas stretching southward.
Autumn migration is difficult to predict and it depends largely on the weather, but the migration peak in Estonia is usually late or mid-September/early October.
What can you see?
- Mass migration of cranes and geese
- Visible passerine migration
- Arctic Waterfowl
- Owls (Ural, Pygmy, Tengmalms)
- Woodpeckers (White-backed, Middle-spotted, Grey-headed, Three-toed, Black Woodpecker.)
- Black and Hazel Grouse, Western Capercaillie
- Whooper Swan, Bewick's Swan
Day 1: Arrival in Tallinn, travel to Saaremaa
Island Saaremaa is the largest of the Estonian islands, with diverse habitat that includes fens, reed-beds, meadows, lagoons, wood- and scrub-land and juniper thickets. The birdlife on Saaremaa is rich and many species can be seen in autumn – Common Cranes, Hen and Montagu’s Harriers are relatively common sights.
Day 2: Saaremaa
Narrow and long Sõrve Peninsula stretching towards south-west towards Latvia is one of the best migration spots in Estonia. Many rarities have been recorded and some eastern vagrants are seen regularly at Sõrve bird station, which is run mostly by volunteers from Finland and Estonia. Diurnal passage of passerines may reach hundreds of thousands on the best days, in addition to waders, raptors, and seabirds.
In the morning we’ll begin to leave Saaremaa, making a couple of birding stops (Laidevahe nature reserve, wetlands of Väike Väin strait) on the way. The ferry will take us back to the mainland, where we’ll arrive at the Pärnu-Häädemeeste area in the late afternoon.
There’s much to explore in the Kabli and Luitemaa Nature Reserves. The forests (with both coniferous and broad-leaved forests) in this region are quite diverse and rich in birds. Almost all Estonian woodpecker species (incl. Black, Grey-headed, White-backed, and Three-toed Woodpecker), Black Grouses, Hazel Grouses, Capercaillies, Ural Owls, and Nutcrackers are present and may be seen. Kabli Bird Station near the Latvian border is another migration watching point. Passerines are trapped and ringed here. In some years Tengmalm’s- and Pygmy owls can be seen among the trapped birds.
Thousands of birds await us in Matsalu. It is the most famous wetland area in Estonia with vast spaces of coastal and alluvial (and some wooded) meadows and reed-beds making it a prime stopover location. By the time of the tour, tens of thousands of Barnacle Geese should be present, sometimes accompanied by a few Red-breasted Geese. White-tailed Eagles fly over these flocks of waterfowl to pick out the weaker ones and it’s also a good time to spot other raptors that do not breed here or do it in small numbers, such as the Peregrine Falcon, Merlin and Hen Harrier. In the evening we will look for Elk in one of the observation towers offering views up to the vast meadows of Matsalu. Night in Matsalu NP
We continue our trip in good birding areas on the northern side of Matsalu bay and in the afternoon we’ll head to the northwest coast. As we travel, we’ll check the sheltered bays of the Haapsalu area and Silma nature reserve where large flocks of Coots, Goldeneyes, Scaups, and other duck species attract White-tailed Eagles. Later in the evening, we will check Põõsaspea peninsula to watch the migration of seabirds: Black and Red-throated Divers, by the thousands, on the offshore islands, along with Long-tailed Ducks and Common Scoters. Our cozy accommodation site is close to a prime location for watching the Arctic waterfowl migration.
This day we’ll be heading north to the most famous of Estonian nature reserves – Matsalu National Park. This wetland complex comprises coastal and alluvial meadows, reedbeds, woodlands and marshes. There are at least 7 public bird-towers in the Matsalu area, offering a good view of staging waterfowl. Thousands of Common Cranes roost at Matsalu, while Barnacle, Bean, Greylag and White-fronted Geese graze at coastal meadows and fields. Sometimes a few Lesser White-fronted Geese and Red-breasted Geese can be seen in these flocks.
Day 7: Põõsaspea – Tallinn
In the morning we’ll return to Põõsaspea peninsula to see more migrating waterfowl. but before that, we will make a quick drive to the forests closeby to find spot other interesting birds, such as the Western Capercaillie and Hazel Grouse. In the afternoon we will return to the woods and hope to spot various woodpeckers (Black, Three-toed, White-backed, and Grey-headed Woodpecker). In the evening we’ll drive to Tallinn for a short excursion in Estonia’s spectacular medieval Old Town before our final restaurant meal together.
After a midday break in our accommodation, our journey takes us to the town of Haapsalu, which is known as the birding capital of Estonia. The small town has several good spots and a tower for birdwatching. Besides being a good birding spot, the town is known for its beautiful wooden architecture and long promenade, where we can enjoy both sights simultaneously. Night in Matsalu NP
Final day in Estonia. If you wish to do some more birding before departure, there are several spots our guides can advise.
- * Nature guide services for 7 days,
- * 7 nights in local hotels and guesthouses (twin rooms with toilet and shower),
- * Local transport,
- * Breakfast, lunch (picnic packages), and dinner on 7 days
- * Ferry tickets to Saaremaa
- Beverages during the meals
It would be advisable to arrive in Tallinn during midday or in the afternoon. If there are only late afternoon/evening flights, we can find a suitable solution.
Yes. If you arrive earlier, we can pick you up from your accommodation before the start of the tour.
Tallinn International Airport is a small and convenient airport, so you’ll have enough time at the airport if you arrive 90 minutes before the departure of your flight.