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Estonia in Spring

Tour Code: EST03

An 8-day holiday focusing on the spectacular bird migration and breeding birds in this small Baltic country.

8 days from £1795(inc flights) Land Only Price: £1495 SRS: £150

The smallest, and least populated of the ‘Baltic States’, Estonia is richly endowed with forests and lakes inland from a magnificent island-studded coast which extends for several hundred kilometres. In May the avian flight-lines are crowded as large numbers of wildfowl pause on their journey to Arctic breeding grounds and mingle with newly arrived summer visitors from Africa. The result is a tour filled with exciting birdwatching experiences further enhanced by a fine selection of resident woodpeckers, owls and the inhabitants of several impressive marshland reserves.

  • Large numbers of migrant geese & wildfowl
  • A fine selection of woodpeckers & owls
  • Picturesque landscapes of forests and lakes
  • A chance to see Capercaillie, Black Grouse & Hazelhen
  • Extensive reed-filled marshlands
  • Spring migration in full flow


All included in the price.


Comfortable tourist hotels with private facilities.



Outline Itinerary Download

Day 1 Fly Tallinn

Day 2/3 Matsalu Bay

Day 4/5 Parnu

Day 6/7 Tartu

Day 8 Fly London

Estonia is the smallest and least populous of the three ‘Baltic States’ which achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. A magnificent indented coastline, studded with small islands, borders the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland to the west and north, whilst Latvia and the Russian Federation comprise Estonia’s neighbours to the south and east respectively. It is a land of great natural beauty, with a varied landscape which includes over 7,000 rivers, 1,500 lakes and substantial areas of forest and marsh. An admirable 18% of the country is afforded protection within nature reserves that vary in size from the large national parks to the smaller, locally protected, reserves. This abundance of natural habitat is reflected in a very impressive avifauna which matches that of any country in northern Europe, even though Estonia is still comparatively little known as a birding destination. With over 200 regular breeding species, and a huge volume of Arctic-bound migrant birds passing through the country, it is sure to occupy a higher profile in future years.

The starting point for our tour will be the picturesque capital city of Tallinn, but we will soon leave its delightful medieval architecture behind and head south to the Ramsar-recognised Matsalu Bay Reserve where we stay for three nights. Each spring vast numbers of wildfowl pause to feed and rest in Estonia before completing their long migration to distant breeding grounds in the high Arctic, and nowhere is this phenomenon better observed than amongst the marshes, shallow bays and flooded meadows of this remarkable wetland sanctuary. At times of peak passage over a million diving ducks have been estimated along the coast here, whilst counts of wild swans and Barnacle Geese regularly number tens of thousands. The rafts of Long-tailed Ducks, scoter and Scaup bobbing on the open water are a spectacular sight, and the observer is often serenaded by a strange chorus of cries as the displaying males reach a fever-pitch of excitement. Flocks of Common Cranes and a selection of waders also take advantage of the rich feeding grounds; Ruff, in particular, sometimes occur in great abundance, the males resplendent in breeding finery. Although these migrants offer some remarkable spectacles, Matsalu is much more than just an avian motorway service station and among the 170 breeding birds recorded from the reserve are species such as Red-necked Grebe, Bittern, Osprey, White-tailed Eagle and Caspian Tern. Exploring further afield from the core reserve, we are also likely to find some of the typical species of Estonia’s forests and farmlands, including Lesser Spotted Eagle, Red-backed Shrike, Ortolan Bunting and both Black and White-backed Woodpeckers.

Moving next to the Audru wetlands at Parnu, we should once again encounter more north-bound wildfowl and will be hoping to find that most beautiful of the goose family, the Red-breasted Goose, together with Taiga Bean and White-fronted Geese, all grazing on the tender spring vegetation to sustain them for the last leg of their journey. There are many types of habitat to visit around Parnu and taking time to investigate tracts of forest in the nearby Soomaa Reserve we hope to be entertained by the bubbling display calls of lekking Black Grouse, whilst other attractions in this area include Hazel Grouse, Wryneck, and Black, Three-toed and Grey-headed Woodpeckers.

Heading east next, towards the border with Russia, we reach an area of low-lying marshland and lakes at Tartu, to the west of Lake Peipsi. We will spend two nights at this superb site, staying at the delightful Mooste Viinavabrik Guesthouse, which overlooks a reed-fringed lake with breeding Marsh Harriers. During two bird-filled days, we will hope to find a wonderful diversity of species including Black Stork, both Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Penduline Tit, and Great Reed, Icterine, Marsh and Barred Warblers. As dusk gathers we will visit a spot where Great Snipe gather to perform their spring ‘lek’. This is the rarest of the four snipe species inhabiting Tartu, the others being Woodcock and both Common and Jack Snipe, each demonstrating their own particular form of display. Tartu offers wonderful birdwatching opportunities and, with the constant ebb and flow of migration, there will very likely be one or two surprises as rarer species drop by to feed in this chain of secluded pools and swampy meadows.

Finally, from Tartu we must drive north to Tallinn and catch our return flight to London. After almost seven centuries of foreign domination, Estonia is clearly enjoying its new status as an independent nation and, as we hope to demonstrate during this brief tour, it is already establishing a claim to be regarded as one of the very best birdwatching venues in Europe.

Common Cranes (Mati Kose)Barnacle Geese (Mati Kose)Black GrouseBlack Woodpeckers (Mati Kose)ElkCapercaillie (David Morris)Citrine Wagtail (Mati Kose)KingfisherCorncrake (Mati Kose)Crested Tit (David Morris)Woodland (David Morris)Tolkuse bog (David Morris)Eurasian LynxGreat Crested GrebeScarlet Rosefinch (Mati Kose)Little Gull (Mati Kose)NutcrackerPygmy OwlRuff (Mati Kose)Slavonian Grebe (Mati Kose)Smew (Mati Kose)Steller's EidersThree-toed Woodpeckers (Mati Kose)Ural Owl (Mati Kose)White StorkWhite-backed WoodpeckerWhite-tailed Eagle (Mati Kose)Wryneck (Mati Kose)Edible Frogs (Tim Melling)Common Rosefinch (Tim Melling)Northern Chequered Skipper (Tim Melling)Misty Meadow (Tim Melling)Red-backed Shrike (Tim Melling)Slavonian Grebe (Tim Melling)Map Butterfly (Tim Melling)The Lodge (Mooste Viinaköök,moosteviinaköök, Raimond, Raadik)
Both leaders were extremely helpful, knowledgeable and pleasant company. They worked hard. We had plenty of variety of accommodation, meals and types of birds. It seemed to satisfy both the very keen birders and us who are more general. Good variety of birds and habitats and saw lots of birds new to me. Yet it was not too exhausting. Super.
All the food and accommodation was excellent.
Location/type of meal stops - both lunch and dinner - were really well planned to meet times of day/places to visit. I would travel with Tim every time if I could - a man after my own heart with a seemingly endless supply of natural history trivia at his fingertips.
I thought this holiday to Estonia was one of the very best. I liked the country, its under population, the forests, fields with wild flowers, excellent accommodation and superb food! Loved the rabbit and puddings to die for! Our leaders Mati knew his country and took us to the best places, Tim I am in awe of; his knowledge of birds and plants was always available to us without any fuss. We were blessed with superb weather and the group melded together very well. Yes a perfect holiday!
Excellent organisation and everything ran smoothly throughout. Mati and Tim ensured we saw plenty of birds. Tim was a superb all round naturalist with a great wealth of knowledge about the birds, plants and insects. I learnt a lot. The different habitats we visited were wonderful and generally unspoilt. I particularly liked the two bogs we visited. Very interesting.
Excellent organisation and everything ran smoothly throughout. Mati and Tim ensured we saw plenty of birds. Tim was a superb all round naturalist with a great wealth of knowledge about the birds, plants and insects. I learnt a lot. The different habitats we visited were wonderful and generally unspoilt. I particularly liked the two bogs we visited. Very interesting.
Mr & Mrs C
My wife and I liked the variety of locations, hotels and dining experiences. The boat trip into the marshes with food was excellent, but the weather was fantastic for it. From our point of view the holiday was brilliant.
The Altmõisa Guesthouse was extremely pleasant. Really enjoyed the lunch and evening meals, especially the hot lunches and the evening out in Tartu.
Good mix of wildlife sites with relaxed travel between them. Some Estonian cultural background too. Both leaders were excellent and worked well to ensure that everyone saw everything.
Tour leaders very friendly and knowledgeable. Flexibility of itinerary was excellent. Birding sites well researched and beautiful. Good accommodation and food.
Tour leaders excellent and very good at re-arranging itinerary as required. Lovely birding sites. First guest house was fantastic.
Perth & Kinross
Excellent leaders, good wildlife, good company, good food (lots of cake!).
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip – it was busy, busy. The leader provided a full itinerary to be sure we saw EVERYTHING. Mati Kose shared all his expertise and local knowledge. David Morris is an exceptional leader. His enthusiasm to share his love of the natural world is very rewarding. He dealt with everything in a professional, but easy manner – always respectful. There were many highlights – the boat trip to see the Beavers, the lekking Capercaillie, the many Woodpeckers. It was good to visit various restaurants, local ‘eateries’ – not always in the hotels. Accommodation was good – especially the first hotel. Thank you.
The trip overall was good, well planned and enjoyable. Most of what we were told we could see, we did and the birds were reasonably cooperative. Both our trip leaders were very competent, pleasant and tried hard to make sure everybody had a chance to see what we were looking for.
Mati Kose and David Morris meshed as a team from the start. Very professional and good management of the group. They made the trip the success it was.
We enjoyed the opportunity to walk around Tallinn and the museum that Mati took us to (folk costumes etc) was so interesting - well worth including.
West Sussex
This was a particularly good trip - enhanced by the local company who provided information on Estonia and excellent lunches made by local people.
We were very lucky to have a complete week of unbelievably good weather which gave us the opportunity of getting stunning views of virtually everything we saw. I must make a special comment about the food on this trip. The meals in the farmhouses and manor houses would make this trip worthwhile even if we had not seen any birds. It was a real pleasure to eat good honest local food whilst meeting local people in their own homes.
I must have done some ten to twelve natural history holidays in Britain or abroad and have to say that this was the best. We were extremely lucky with the weather, which obviously makes it more pleasant to walk around and I love Estonia with its wildness - lakes, woods, marshes and bogs and its long coastline. In the week we had good experience of them all, seeing lots of species as we went along. We were exceptionally lucky with both our tour leader and our local guide. Gerald is obviously a very experienced leader who creates a relaxed atmosphere at the same time as being very serious when it comes to the actual excursions. This combination meant that we could have a really good time, but see and learn a lot. He has a tremendous knowledge of birds, but also of mammals and butterflies and moths. His general all-round knowledge makes it much more interesting. He also deals effectively with people. You feel that he is completely in control and would deal with any situation. To get the balance of good fun, seriousness and competence is not easy. Yet Gerald managed to combine all three exceptionally well. Mati gave us a feel for his country. He explained some of its history and took us to a good selection of sights, so I came away with a feeling that I wanted to know more about it. I enjoyed his sense of humour and learnt a lot from him. I loved eating with local people as it meant we got a taste of real Estonian food, not just the hotel variety - which was also very good. Obviously, I go on your holidays because I enjoy birdwatching, but I am interested in all aspects of natural history and when I go to a new country I like to learn as much as possible about the country - its history, culture and politics. This holiday has fulfilled all aspects. I certainly want to return to Estonia and if the trip is run by Gerald and Mati, so much the better. I want to congratulate you on choosing two such intelligent, knowledgeable and competent guides who, at the same time, are extremely nice people.
D. & J.R.
A very enjoyable holiday greatly enhanced by the imaginative inclusion of wonderful meals in a variety of locations from farms to manor houses to historic buildings. An excellent example of the value of combining Naturetrek expertise with local knowledge.
This was an excellent holiday with varied locations, loads of birds (including a Corncrake to die for!) and good food.
Well done, Naturetrek for organising a tremendous trip! Gerald Broddelez is probably the best birder I have encountered, in terms of his ability to recognise bird calls from just a few snatched notes, and then find the birds and get them in the ‘scope so speedily that everyone gets a good view. Furthermore, he imparts his tremendous knowledge of birds with clarity and accuracy. He is also extremely courteous, helpful and well organised - a true professional in every way.
This holiday was really very good indeed, with an excellent mix of birds, cuisine and culture. I really enjoyed it, and the organisation and planning went well beyond the extra mile. A superb first trip to Estonia for Naturetrek - so well done all.
I was very impressed with the Estonian nature reserves we visited and with all that the country has achieved since independence, making it, with its wonderful birds, an ideal destination for such a holiday.
West Midlands
I really enjoyed Gerald's company - a very good birder.
Whoever organised the picnic venues and luncheons deserves a medal.
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Sat 18th May 2019 - Sat 25th May 2019



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Flights: Flights are included in the tour costMore info

Regional Departures: Regional Departures are available. Call 01962 733051 for detailsMore info

Land only cost: £1495 More info

Room sharing options: More info

Visiting: Estonia

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Both leaders were extremely helpful, knowledgeable and pleasant company. They worked hard. We had plenty of variety of accommodation, meals and types of birds. It seemed to satisfy both the very keen birders and us who are more general. Good variety of birds and habitats and saw lots of birds new to me. Yet it was not too exhausting. Super.
M.G., Clackmannanshire