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NEW! Estonia in Autumn

Migration in an Eastern European hotspot!

2024 Dates
  • 21 Sep - 28 Sep 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£2195 pp
£195 single supplement. Deposit £400

pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are inc.

2026 Dates
  • 19 Sep - 26 Sep 2026
Duration8 Days
2026 Price
Price TBC
Max Group Size12

At the end of their short summer, millions of Scandinavian and Arctic birds begin southward migration. Many pass over the long Estonian coastline, where an abundance of sheltered bays and wetlands attract many water birds, while adjacent forest habitat welcomes weary passerines. Commoner species can fly in their hundreds of thousands along the peninsulas and chains of islands that extend into the Baltic, providing a unique migration experience enjoyed by many birdwatchers. This needs to be seen to be appreciated!

The peak of migration through Estonia is usually around the end of September or beginning of October. On a visit to the Matsalu National Park, thousands of cranes and tens of thousands of geese and swans can be seen at one time. As well as enjoying this spectacle, we look forward to visiting the Kabli Bird Observatory, an important site near the Latvian border for migrant passerines and forest birds. A stay on Saaremaa Island offers seawatching and visible migration opportunities and we may try evening drives for Ural, Pygmy and Tengmalm’s Owl at several locations to boost our chances. A great new tour, featuring Eastern European birdlife in both variety and density.

Day 1: Sat 21 September 2024 - Arrival 
The tour starts in the ancient capital – Tallinn, before we drive to the north-east coast at Läänemaa. On the coast there are several good spots for watching migrating waterfowl, with forests and peat-bogs nearby. In the evening we take a short drive looking for Ural, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owl. Owls call regularly in autumn to defend their winter territories, and are slightly easier to find as a result. Raccoon Dog may also be seen during night drives, as might other mammals.  

Day 2: Sun 22 September - Haversi coast and Silma reserve
Today, we visit the Põõsaspea promontory in NW Estonia, arguably one of the best places to observe Arctic waterfowl migration. Both Black and Red-throated Diver may be seen offshore, as well as large flocks of Long-tailed Duck, Scaup, Velvet and Common Scoter, Eider and others. Many passerines fly over this point from Finland, and, exhausted after crossing the Baltic Sea, will rest and feed up in the forest on the promontory. A variety of waders feed in small lagoons along the Haversi coast, and we sift through commoner species for any rarities. Later we visit Silma Nature Reserve, a system of coastal lagoons and reedbeds supporting vast numbers of feeding duck, grebes and other waterfowl. At sunset we watch the spectacular flight of Common Cranes into their roost in Matsalu National Park. 

Day 3: Mon 23 September - Matsalu National Park
This is one of the most well-known wetlands in Europe, comprising flood-plain and coastal meadow, reedbed, woodland and marsh. Many birds pause their migration here, and some years up to 20,000 Common Crane can roost in the reedbeds and shallow waters of Matsalu, having spent the day feeding on adjacent fields. Geese graze the local meadows and fields; Barnacle, Taiga Bean, Greylag and Russian White-fronted Geese are the most common, with sometimes a few Lesser White-fronted or Red-breasted tagging along to the flocks. In the evening we drive to the largest of the Estonian islands, Saaremaa.   

Day 4: Tue 24 September - Saaremaa 
Saaremaa Island has a naturally indented coastline, with bays and coastal wetlands attractive to birds. The Sõrve Peninsula in the south-west of the island is a natural flyway for migrating birds crossing the sea to the closest point, in Latvia. Passerines, raptors, and waders can be seen in large numbers here, and it is also a very good place for seawatching. Driving around the peninsula we enjoy good views of the coast, and we stop where birds are most abundant. The Sääre Promontory juts out at the end of the peninsula, creating a natural 'bottleneck' over which migrating birds have to pass. Diurnal passage of finches over Sääre can number into the thousands, and it is a real hotspot for eastern rarities. After a morning at Sõrve a visit to Viidumäe Nature Reserve in the evening to look for Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owl will be a good way to finish the day. 

Day 5: Wed 25 September - Sõrve and Mainland Estonia
In the morning we visit the Sõrve Peninsula again, before returning to the mainland later. Staying in the south-west of the country, Soometsa, Nigula and Luitemaa Nature Reserves are all possible destinations. In the mixed forests there we have a good chance of seeing Hazel Grouse, Black, Three-toed, Grey-headed, Middle Spotted and White-backed Woodpecker, and at dusk perhaps Ural and Pygmy Owl.

Day 6: Thurs 26 September - Kabli
Kabli Bird Observatory, near the Latvian border is another important site for migrant passerines and local forest birds. We hope to join the observatory team to observe ringing, and tits, warblers, chats, thrushes and Goldcrests might feature, though on good mornings Tengmalm’s and Pygmy Owl, Middle Spotted and White-backed Woodpecker may also be caught for ringing. Surprises often turn up in the nets, with unique in-hand encounters with Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck or Bluethroat possible. In the afternoon we visit the abandoned Pikla fish ponds, an extensive wetland with reedbeds, coastal meadows and freshwater pools. Waders, geese and ducks rest in big numbers in this area, passerines frequent the reeds, and there are usually several raptor species present too. At dusk, we drive to the Soometsa forests hoping to see any late Nightjar and owl species. Elk and other mammals may show well close to the road. 

Day 7: Fri 27 September - Nigula and Soomaa
In the morning we visit Nigula, a vast, protected peat-bog surrounded by old forest. Black Grouse, Black, White-backed and Grey-headed Woodpecker are often seen here. In the afternoon, we drive to Soomaa National Park for more forest and peat-bog specialities. Here we search for Capercaillie, tricky to see in autumn, but we have chances as it is present both at Nigula and Soomaa.

Day 8:  Sat 28 September - Depart
In the morning we drive back to Tallinn for our return flight, stopping at Audru Polder for some final birding. This is a wetland area which attracts a number of waterfowl during the autumn, and both White-backed and Middle Spotted Woodpecker can be present in the nearby park. If time allows, we take a quick tour of medieval Tallinn before heading to the airport.

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price:

  • scheduled return flights between London and Tallinn, airport taxes,
  • ground transportation as outlined including all transportation in Estonia in a modern and spacious air-conditioned vehicle.
  • ferry travel to Saaremaa Island.
  • accommodation and all meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • the services of your leaders.
  • entrance fees to parks and reserves, and tips to hotels and restaurants.
  • The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included free of charge subject to terms and conditions. Read more...

What's not included in your holiday price:

  • personal insurance, drinks and other personal expenses, visa costs where necessary, optional tips to the driver and local guide, and any other costs not specified as 'included'.

More holiday information:

Accommodation is in comfortable hotels or guest houses with all rooms en suite.
Food will be traditional Estonian cuisine. Breakfast is continental style, typically consisting of cereal, toast, jam, fruit juice and tea or coffee. Sometimes a hot, cooked option is also available. Picnic lunches will be provided, and will include bread, cheese, cold meats, fruit, biscuit/cake and soft drinks. Typical foods in Estonia are black bread, pork, potatoes and dairy products. The Black rye bread accompanies almost every food in Estonia. Evening meals will usually consist of three courses – starter/soup, main dish of meat or fish with salad, rice or potatoes and a dessert. Mushrooms and forest berries often feature. Vegetarian and other diets are welcome.
Walking is generally light/moderate. There may be some uphill track and road walking, though generally an average level of fitness is required.
Weather The climate in Estonia is temperate, characterised by warm summers and fairly severe winters. The weather can often be extremely varied due to the proximity of the Baltic Sea, daily temperatures in September ranging from 5°C - 18°C. Nights can be cooler, and rain and wind is possible, though this can often aid migration birding with more birds making landfall in such conditions. Waterproofs and good footwear are suggested.
Insects There can be biting insects in warm, humid conditions. A good mosquito repellent is recommended.
Group size is restricted to 12 clients maximum.
Flights are by scheduled airline, from London. We may be able to offer flight arrangements from another airport and/or or quote without flights so you can make your own arrangements. If you wish to add an extension either before or after your holiday, please contact us and we will be happy to arrange this for you.

Other birding and wildlife holidays in Estonia

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday in Europe?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

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The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248