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  • Photograph of White-tailed Eagle

    White-tailed Eagle by Ian Fulton.

    ESTONIA

    Best Wildlife in Estonia

    Mammals
    Brown Bear, Siberian Flying Squirrel, Elk (Moose), (Eurasian) Beaver, Wild Boar, Racoon Dog (introduced), Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Mountain (Arctic) Hare and Grey Seal. Also a chance of Pine Marten and Ringed Seal. Tracks of Wolf and Eurasian Lynx are quite easy to find, especially when there is snow on the ground, but the actual animals are rarely seen. The same is true of the tiny reintroduced population of European Mink on the island of Hiiumaa.

    Birds
    The birds listed are usually present during the northern spring. Great Snipe, White-tailed and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Common Crane, White and Black Storks, and Black Grouse, as well as Bewick’s (Tundra) and Whooper Swans, Barnacle, Taiga Bean, Tundra Bean, Greylag and (Greater) White-fronted Geese, Common Eider, Common and Velvet (White-winged) Scoters, Long-tailed Duck (over a million 'Old Squaws' have been recorded on passage in spring, mostly in May), Smew, Black-throated and Red-throated Divers (Loons), Red-necked and Slavonian (Horned) Grebes, (Great) Bittern, Osprey, Montagu’s Harrier, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, passage migrant shorebirds such as Spotted Redshank, Little Gull, Black and Caspian Terns, (Eurasian) Hoopoe, (Eurasian) Wryneck, Black, Grey-headed, Lesser Spotted and (Eurasian) Three-toed Woodpeckers, Great Grey Shrike, Crested, Long-tailed (white-headed caudatus race) and Penduline Tits, Savi’s Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, Fieldfare and Citrine Wagtail. Also a chance of Lesser White-fronted (mostly late April in Matsalu Bay Area) and Red-breasted Geese, Steller’s Eider (mostly Dec-Mar, a few until the end of April), (Western) Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Golden and Great Spotted Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzard, Corn Crake, Jack Snipe, Marsh Sandpiper, (Eurasian) Eagle, (Eurasian) Pygmy, Tengmalm’s and Ural Owls, White-backed Woodpecker, (Eurasian) Nutcracker and (Bohemian) Waxwing. Later in the spring (the second half of May onwards) and summer other species present include Red-backed Shrike, (Eurasian) Golden Oriole, Barred, Great Reed, Greenish, Icterine, Marsh and River Warblers, Pied and Red-breasted Flycatchers, and Common Rosefinch.

    Invertebrates
    There are some spectacular butterflies including Camberwell Beauty and a good selection of dragonflies.

    Plants
    There are 36 species of orchid in Estonia, 34 of which occur on the island of Saaremaa, where the flower-rich limestone ‘alvar’ habitat is particularly extensive, although the islands of Hiiumaa and Osmussaar are also excellent for wild flowers. One of the greatest densities of plant species in Europe – up to 76 species per square metre – occurs at Puhtu-Laelatu-Virtsu NR.

    Best Sites for Wildlife in Estonia

    Best Times for Wildlife in Estonia

    Early March is a good time to see the flocks of wintering Steller's Eiders. This is also the best time to look for Eurasian Lynx because it is the breeding season and the cats are more active and therefore more likely to be out longer after dawn and longer before dusk. They are also more vocal at this time and there may still be snow on the ground, making them easier to track. Bears usually emerge from hibernation from mid-April onwards (although they may emerge as early as late March) and May is a good time to look for them because this coincides with the best time for most birds, including those migrating north, and lekking Great Snipe (before the grass becomes too long to see them well). However, earlier in spring, around early and mid-April, is the peak time to locate grouse, owls and woodpeckers, and usually early enough to see a few Steller’s Eiders before they leave for the Arctic. Hundreds of seaducks, shorebirds and passerines are usually on the move by mid-April, with numbers rising to spectacular peaks in late April-early May. The first half of June is also usually a good time to look for bears, late enough for the arrival of most summer visiting birds and the best time to look for the widest variety of flowers. It is also usually before the main mosquito season when the numbers may be unbearable. September-October is another good time to look for bears, as they are feeding up before hibernation, and autumn bird migration usually peaks during the second half of September.

    Recommended Books etc. for Estonia

    Collins Bird Guide by L Svensson et al. Collins, 2010 (Second Edition).

    Birds of Europe by L Jonsson. Helm, 1999.

    Finding Birds in Estonia by D Gosney. Easybirder, 2011 (book and/or DVD).

    Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by S Aulagnier et al. Helm, 2009.

    Mammals of Britain and Europe by D McDonald and P Barrett. Collins, 2005.

    Collins Butterfly Guide by T Tolman and R Lewington. Collins, 2009.

    Butterflies of Britain and Europe: A Photographic Guide by H Aarnio et al. A & C Black Publishers, 2009.


    Apps etc.

    Collins Bird Guide.

    Where to watch birds in Europe & Russia by N Wheatley. Helm, 2000.

    Don’t know which country/countries/regions to visit in Europe? Then it may be worth considering taking a look at this book, written by this website’s author. It is many years old of course but it still provides a starting point, an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them in the region, and could save hours of searching for similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since the book was published.

    Trip Reports for Estonia

    Many trip reports, some for Estonia, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Estonia. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Estonia' below.

    Local Guides and Tours in Estonia

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.

    Accommodation in Estonia

    Some Organized Tours to Estonia

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and they are popular with people with partners with different interests. Individuals, partners and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more for a custom tour than an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    Tour companies who run organized tours to Estonia include the following. Many of these also offer custom tours.