Thursday, 1 June 2017

Estonia Part II - Haapsula, Matsula & the NW Coast 24th - 30th May

I drove more or less to Haapsula and slept overnight by the side of the road on the outskirts of town. That's the beauty of carrying your home with you, you can stop anywhere.
Johnnie (Mcloughlan) had given me some sites on the coast north of Haapsula so I decided to start with these the place is called Haversi but there are only one or two houses there and finding a road/track to the coast was not easy. Eventually I found the spot a spit sticking out a short way in to the sea. To get to it I travelled a long bumpy track which amazingly had a house which looked like it had come straight from Grand Designs at the end of it. 
House with a view and an amazing garden bird list I think

I came across a couple of male Red-backed Shrikes which was a good sign as I haven't seen many. Common Rosefinch and Thrush Nightingales were there as ever and I had several Marsh Warbler, one of which had a metal ring on and it would have been very interesting to know where that was from.
Red-backed Shrike - male

There were waders on the beach; 60+ Dunlin, all of the larger brightly coloured subspecies alpina. Apparently only schinzii breeds in Estonia so not surprisingly these are all migrants.
Dunlin of the alpina subspecies
There were also 8 Little Stint, which are scarce here, 2 summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint but best of all at least 4 Broad-billed Sandpiper.
Mixed flock of wader; Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff and Little Stint

Moving on I drove down the coast, past Pogeri-Sassi which added 4 Avocet to the list plus White-tailed Eagle and about 30 distant Dunlin. Carrying on down the coast to the migrant hot spot of Puise I could only find Wheatear and a few tardy Barnacle Geese. It was windy and still very sunny with temperatures around 26 centigrade.
I stayed at the camp site in Haapsula which was nice and had nest boxes occupied by Pied Flycatchers and several Northern Bullfinch in the area. I have noticed lots of nest boxes, not just in towns but in the isolated woodlands which is very encouraging.
The next day I drove down to Haeska on the north shore of Matsula bay. In the winter this area is thronging with geese and sea duck but it is quiet at the end of May. Another visit to Puise produced a couple of singing and flight displaying Barred Warbler.
Barred Warbler in display flight

I decided to try the Sutlepa Meri area just north of Haapsula, all these sites have bird watching towers but whilst they give a good panorama of the area the birds are much to far away to photograph. There were Little Gulls, White-tailed Eagle and Bitterns booming. Closer in Penduline Tits were calling and feeding. 
Leaving Haapsula I moved up the coast to a lovely woodland camp site almost on the beach. It's just north of Haversi so I had another look at the ponds and was delighted to see at least 23 Broad-billed Sandpiper and this time managed some decent photos. As I walked down the track I could hear a Black Grouse giving its display calls and eventually found the male but too hidden to photograph.
Broad-billed Sandpiper

Just north of Roosta I met another birder watcher, Jan Nordblad a Finn but a great enthusiast for birding in Estonia and currently heading the list of birds seen in Estonia on the Birding Estonia web site. We spent the next couple of days birding together which allowed me to get a better idea of the status of birds in Estonia and the Estonia birding scene in general so thank you Jan!
Jan and I at Spithami

I tried several times for Hazel Hen at a site which Jan kept reminding me was virtually guaranteed for them, but as many of you will know there are few absolute certainties in the birding world.
The following morning we met, after I checked for Hazel Hen, at Spithami at 05:00 (it gets light about 04:00 and dark at 22:00 so they are already long days. Spithami is famous for the migration of Black-throated Divers heading back to their breeding grounds and counts of over a thousand birds in a day are quite common in the Spring. We managed about 70 which is still the most I have seen in a day. Both Red-breasted Merganser and Gooseander were moving up and down the coast with groups of Goldeneye and Common Scoter and parties of Long-taile duck on the sea. We had Crossbills and Hobby and 2 Osprey but it was a quiet day for migration. There is a fantastic cafe at nearby Dirhami which is also good for migrants so we had a break there before resuming our search. The woods there had Red-breasted Flycatchers but couldn't find anything scarce although Jan regaled me with tales of Booted Warblers and other rarities form the coastal islands which he had seen so my enthusiasm never waned.
Red-breasted Flycatcher - singing male, less than 20% have red-breasts

The following morning was similar and the hoped for big diver migration never occurred whist I was there. In the afternoon I drove to the open agricultural fields at Variku which often hold raptors and I did mange a distant harrier but little else.
My final morning in the area we decided to check to Haversi pools for a last time and I was amazed to see that most of the Dunlin had departed but the number of Broad-billed Sandpiper had increased to at least 60 (more likely 70 but I need to check my photos), this is an incredible flock and I can't think of any where else in Europe that gets such a number.

Broad-billed Sandpipers in flight

On that high note I bid Jan farewell and headed for Tallinn for the ferry to Helsinki the following morning. I stopped on the harbour campsite and noted that even here almost in the heart of Tallinn both Common Rosefinch and Thrush Nightingale were singing. So tomorrow I will be entering the Finland stage of my journey.

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