Sunday 2 March 2014

ESTONIA - Saaremaa Island

Saaremaa Island is Estonia's largest island and was our destination after arriving at Tallinn. We took the very pleasant and stress free drive to Virtsu where we took the ferry to the Island of Muhu. Despite the unusual lack of snow for this time of they year, it was still pretty cold as the ferry broke through the sea ice! 

On arriving on Muhu it was then just a short drive across the island and over the causeway to the west side of Saaremaa Island where we spent the next 2 nights.

The key target species was Steller's Eider. This fantastic looking duck winters off Saaremaa Island with numbers reaching as many as 1,000 birds in some winters, though the recent trend has shown a decline with numbers more in the mid hundreds. As a result, Steller's Eider is classed as Vulnerable and considered Europe's most threatened Duck. However, it is still uncertain if the decline in numbers is due to a genuine decline in population or just a re-distribution of birds wintering in other areas.

White-tailed Eagle was a regular distraction whilst on Saaremaa Island

Adult White-tailed Eagle, Saaremaa Island

On our first morning (24th) looking for Steller's Eider, the sea was quite rough, though the spectacle of 150+ birds in one flock was pretty exciting! The following morning we returned to calm seas and superb light, as a huge flock containing around 300+ birds gave us a fly-by at around 400-500 metres range. We also found a drake and 2 female Steller's Eider sat on the sea, just off-shore with a group of Goldeneye - See Videos below,

Just part of the flock of 300+ Steller's Eider on the 25th February - CLICK ON PHOTO FOR THE FULL STELLER'S EIDER EXPERIENCE!

Long-tailed Ducks were very common off-shore with over 800 birds seen

Greater Scaup were in mixed flocks of Goldeney and LT Duck
Drake Long tailed Duck, Saaremaa Island

A typical deserted main road on Saaremaa Island
Eurasian Pygmy Owl showed well at dusk near our accommodation

You can see the "eyes in the back of the head" markings in this photo

Bird and Mammal highlights recorded in 1.5 days on Saaremaa Island:

Steller's Eider - 300+
Long-tailed Duck - 800+
Goldeneye - 300+
Greater Scaup - 150+
Velvet Scoter - 3
Goosander - 30+
Whooper Swan - 3
White-tailed Eagle - 12+
Great Grey Shrike - 1
Nutcracker - 1

Eurasian Pygmy Owl - 1
Willow Tit - 5+
Snow Bunting - 1

Racoon Dog - 1
Mountain Hare - 2 in winter coats

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