Thursday, 25 May 2017

Estonia Part I - SW Coast to Tartu 20th May to 24th May

Driving north out of Latvia on the E67 just as I thought my Latvian birding was over I noticed a large raptor hovering over the far carriageway that looked interesting. I managed to get off the road and was delighted to see that it was a Rough-legged Buzzard. I had had distant views of a bird at Kolka but it was great to see another. It was distant by the time I stopped and the light was against me but this is definitely a bird I would like to see more of as I head north.
Crossing in to Estonia was another none event with no border controls. During last years trip I was stopped at most Eastern European countries, but that may have been to do with the refugee problems. I drove a few miles up the coast and found a small camp site just south of Kabli, the immediate area had the usual birds Thrush Nightingale, Common Rosefinch, Icterine Warbler plus Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and the Whitethroat. It's still a thrill to hear those first three birds singing, any one of which would make for a great day out in the UK.
There was some rain overnight and it was cooler but it soon cleared as I headed for the Nigula Reserve area. On the way I came across a Black Woodpecker feeding in the tree tops. At the top edge of the Nigula Reserve driving on rough stoned tracks I made it in to the forested area and soon heard the repetitive song of the Red-breasted Flycatcher, soon followed by that of its cousin the Pied Flycatcher which is a familiar bird to me in the Derbyshire Dales. After a long walk I finally disturbed a Hazel Hen from the woodland edge but it was soon gone in to the impenetrable forest. A few metres further on another Pied Flycatcher caught my eye then something dark on the tree below, a woodpecker, Three-toed at last. Having missed them in Poland I was delighted and somewhat relieved to see this striking bird here. I managed a few photos but it was never really in the open and moved away from me in to the forest. I've taken the liberty of removing some of the branches which obscured the bird using Photoshop, I'm sure the woodpecker won't mind.
Three-toed Woodpecker - female

I moved on the main entrance to Nigula bog and immediately heard Wryneck calling, then the tapping of another woodpecker. It was beautiful habitat, wet deciduous woodland with lots of dead trees.
Nigula Bog

I stood for a while, expecting Great Spotted but no it was White-backed feeding near the base of a tree. It's so much easier trying to photograph them low down rather than in the tops of the trees like me first in Poland.
White-backed Woodpecker

There were lots of dragonflies emerging along the board-walk involving several species but haven't put a name to them yet.
Dragonfly awaiting id

At the tower hide an adult White-tailed Eagle was circling in the distance and it was a beautiful view across the bog which stretched for miles. I decided not to walk the full circuit of the bog and headed off to the Haardemeesste area (having had no vowels in Poland they certainly make use of them here!).
Two Corncrake calling close to the road sounded like they were only a few metres away but after sitting for 30 minutes I had seen no sign of them. They were calling next to a small occupied cottage and I could imagine that their incessant rasping call could get a bit irritating, but not for me and I'll be listening for more over the next weeks.
I searched a few locations where Citrine Wagtails occur but was unable to find one. This is a bird I want to see so it's a little frustrating that I've had no sign at three or four sites I've checked, perhaps they are not back yet?
Time to move on and I headed inland to the Tartu area. The roads here are excellent with few vehicles on them. The general speed limit is 90km/hr reducing to 70 in some areas and 50 in the villages and there are a lot of speed cameras. I'm happy to cruise along at around 80km/hr and the distances are not huge in Estonia so it's a pleasant drive. I stopped off first at Karevere, a well known lekking site for Great Snipe. The exact location of the lek depends on how wet the meadows are so I would have to return this evening to see if I could locate them. From Karevere it was a short drive to another well known birding site Ilmatsalu Fish Ponds. Thrush Nightingales, Common Rosefinch, Icterine Warbler and Wryneck, the usual suspects but still great to see or hear them. Plus, there is a colony of Little Gulls, at least a dozen Black Terns and three pairs of Red-necked Grebes. 
It had started to rain and was looking very grey as I drove back to Karevere and by 7pm was raining hard. I'd met a group of three English birdwatchers at Ilmatsalu and they turned up at Karevere about 9pm. I've seen very few bird watchers so far which is slightly surprising as I am visiting popular birding locations. I was busy sorting photos and wasn't paying too much attention to scanning for the Great Snipe given that it was still raining but a short while later one of them came back to say that they had found the lekking site and there were 5 or 6 birds displaying. The birds jump up and down in the grass in quite a comical fashion so are visible, at least when they jump from a distance. I had a quick go with the camera but the light by then was terrible but enjoyed watching the lek which was not a bad view through a telescope.
Just about proof that I saw the Great Snipe!

I stayed in the area overnight and checked the local wood first thing in the morning; 3 Red-breasted and 1 Pied Flycatcher singing but nothing else of note. Following the rain it was a misty start to the day but wasn't going far to a series of ponds at Aardla SE of Tartu. It was cool, only about 7 Centigrade when I was walking another area for Citrine Wagtail but this time successfully. A male was calling from a low bush, he did a short flight and chased another male. I saw at least three males and eventually came across a female which as luck would have it was building a nest close to the road. The light was still poor but I had finally found the Citrine Wagtails and was happy to sit and watch them from the warmth of the van.
Citrine Wagtail - male top female below
The usual suspects were in the area plus a nice male Marsh Harrier and a distant Lesser Spotted Eagle. There were supposed to be pools for waders but all these areas looked to have dried up some time ago and the only wader I saw was a fly over Curlew. 
I drove around the lake area and had nice views of a Red-necked Grebe,
Red-necked Grebe
whilst watching it I heard a repeated call that turned out to be a Hobby, two birds were chasing each other at high speed and appeared to be very agitated, I think it was anger rather than ardour which was the cause of the fracas.
Hobby - adult and 1st summer I think

Penduline Tits were quite common and could be heard calling from the reedbeds and neighbouring bushes.
Penduline Tit - male

I'd planned to try for the Great Snipe again and returned to Karevere but there were several cars of fishermen driving around so after a lucky view of one flying that was disturbed by a Marsh Harrier I decided to head back to the coast to explore the Haapsalu/ Matsalu area.
This is the route taken so far.
Route completed so far and approximate schedule for the rest of the journey

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