Estonian quickie and BTD

It is eight years since my last visit to Estonia. A long time bearing in mind that the sea crossing between Helsinki and Tallinn takes only an hour and a bit and you can take your car along.

This time we went across for the masses of roosting arctic geese on the west coast and for some eagles in the south-east of the country.

part of the flock of 10 000 barnacle geese at Matsalu Bay

part of the flock of 10 000 barnacle geese at Matsalu Bay

On the 3rd of May Finnish surveyors counted 10 000 Barnacle Geese and 20 000+ Greater White-fronted and mostly Tundra Bean Geese in the meadows north of Matsalu Bay Nature Reserve on the west coast. We were there at the same time and experienced the masses, an incredible sight. The sight was especially memorable when the local White-tailed Eagles went in for a kill, turning the meadow into a chaos of beating wings accompanied by deafening cackling.

part of the 5000+ grey geese that were flushed by white-tailed eaglesdetail of the image above showing the density of the flock

Upper shows the 5000+ grey geese that were flushed by white tailed-eagles and the one below is a detail of the former showing the density of the flock

We knew that the eagles, that is Lesser Spotteds, were going to be late this season, for unknown reasons. Something delayed their spring migration, and many satellite-tracked birds were still in Africa in April, when they should have been back in their breeding areas. Anyway, we found one pair displaying near a territory I knew from before, but the general feeling was that they were fewer than expected. I also saw and photographed a presumed Greater x Lesser Spotted hybrid, which joined the displaying pair for a while, all three circling together. A surprise was to notice that also “our” female Lesser Spotted was carrying a satellite transmitter, but at the time of writing I don’t know any further details.

female lesser spotted eagle with transmitter, Estonia, 4th of May 2015

When Estonia opened up to visitors some 25 years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Finnish birders were quickly there. It was like a travel through time, to conditions prevailing in Finland 50 years earlier. The farming was primitive and small-scale and the forests were untouched, it was a birding wonderland for us. But times change. Now Estonia is a member of the EU and money talks. The farming is large-scale with modern machinery and the primary forests are fast disappearing. Estonia is rapidly catching up with the rest of the west and nature is paying the price. This all became very obvious to me personally, as I tried to locate some of the eagle territories I used to know ten years ago. I just could not recognize the places, until I realized that entire forests had disappeared!

Once home from Estonia I visited a lake for Black-throated Divers. It was a foggy and still morning, with visibility just down to 100 m. But, after a wait of nearly an hour, eventually a gorgeous pair appeared from the mist and started to preen and dive just were I was sat. Surely, the adult BTD is one of Europe’s most stunning birds!

just as the mist is clearing

just as the mist is clearing

it is purple- not black-throated!

it is purple- not black-throated! Notice the lines of water pearls in the face after a recent dive.

About this entry