12 July, 2016

Tripreport: Midsummer birding in Tallinn, Estonia, 6.-10.7.2016

Male Common Linnet in Toompea hill, Old Town of Tallin

Abstract: My trip to Tallinn, Estonia, was not this time actually a birding trip, but a family vacation. Still, as an addicted birder, I keep my ears and eyes open all the time which is very rewarding every now and then. I hope this blog article will give you some hints and perhaps also ideas how to practice birding during urban holidays, this time in Tallinn.

Domestic Pigeon in Old Town

Day 1. Wednesday, the 6th of July 2016

City birding may sound dull. What could one see in the heart of the metropolis, where's no big Central Park like in New York or Mai Po marshes like in Hong Kong? Perhaps Domestic Pigeons, House Sparrows and some Herring Gulls? Well, yes, uhum... and much more!

Just do your home works before you travel; study the area, where are all the parks, even the small ones, is there a river or harbor, could there be perhaps even some nature reserve? Then plan your trip, where you want to visit in your destination and if you are with your family, could it be possible to combine shopping and/or museum visit with a walk in the park or shore?

Tallinn is actually a really nice birding site. Even without a car, you can move around the town and nearby areas easily by cheap public transportation. My sons wanted to see the Zoo of Tallinn so we left our luggage to harbor terminal at noon and jumped in to the bus and headed west. The Zoo is a park with various habitats; small wetlands, forests, open grasslands with big trees here and there. For me there were not so many interesting species, but for the birders with family from USA or Japan it could be a good place to start! There were species like European Goldfinches, European Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Barn Swallows, Common Ravens, Rooks, Tufted Ducks, Grey Heron, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Willow Warblers and many more.

One of the tens of Barn Swallows in Zoo

Tufted Duck chick in the ponds of Zoo

P.S. Before you return to the downtown, check the sea shore of Rocca Al Mare, you may see there shorebirds and during the migration period, you will undoubtedly see migrating woodland birds. Look out for raptors too!

Day 2. Thursday, the 7th of July 2016

Rainy day, not so nice to spend time outdoors... a visit to tower Kök in de Kiek and bastion tunnels (I really recommend to visit both sites), after that shopping many hours in colossal Ülemiste shopping hell, sorry, shopping center. Well, ok, I should not complain, I bought Timberland Gore-Tex hiking shoes by -50% bargain price, I was really happy at that because my old Salomon Gore-Tex hiking shoes are already leaking...

So, not much birds today, but still I saw one of the highlights of the whole trip when walking from tram to shopping center. I suddenly heard a high and silvery bouncing trill, `zir`r`r``rl` couple of times and saw a small yellow bird in a birch - an adult male European Serin, very nice indeed!

In addition to that, also a Hawfinch in a park near Kök in de Kiek was a pleasure to see. In the evening we walked around the Old Town where Black Redstarts and European Linnets were singing in the Toompea hill. Blackbirds were everywhere where is at least one tree and some grass. And for laridists, the viewpoints of Toompea Hill may be worth visiting ;)

Hyper tame Herring Gull at Patkuli viewing point at Toompea

 Day 3. Friday, the 8th of July 2016

Today it was my time to choose where we go. And I chose, of course, Paljassaare! It is the best birding place within 50 km radius from Tallinn center. Paljassaare hoiuala (special conservation area) is also a Natura 2000 area of  276 ha, 150 of it is the mainland, so be prepared to spend several hours there. We took the bus 59 from Balti Jaam and the driving time was about 20 minutes.

The day was windy, almost stormy, so I missed most of the warblers. Still, one Icterine Warbler was singing close to the trail when we approached to the wooden birdwatching tower and when I climbed to tower, Great Reed Warbler was singing somewhere close in the middle of the reedbed. I started counting the Black-headed Gulls, Mallards, Gadwalls, Coots, Great Crested and Red-necked Grebes. Suddenly I saw a small broad-winged bird flying over the reedbed. Turned my binos at it and WOW! A male Little Bittern! I watched it flying about 10 seconds, then it landed between reeds some 50 meters away from me. Thank you Sendari, I bless you!!! This was the most northern Little Bittern I've ever seen, last time I saw Little Bitterns in Hungary was few years ago and earlier in Netherlands and Spain. I sent a rare bird alert to Lintutiedotus, I hope it reached the Estonian twitchers too.

Shame that the observation time was only 10 seconds, could not get a photo of the bird. After that an Eurasian Bittern and several Grey Herons were flying around the area too.

Eurasian Bittern in Paljassaare
Photo by Roni Haukkovaara

From the wooden tower we turned to eastern cape, Väike-Paljassaare. Very nice cape, reminded me of the Saaremaa in western Estonia. And lot's of birds here too, the most interesting birds for me were the 6 Barred Warblers and Little Tern, both very rare in my regular birding area. There were also Common Eiders, couple of Little Ringed Plovers, Whimbrel, Red-backed Shrike, lot's of Starlings, Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Common Gulls, Common Terns and Arctic Terns. Also several Great Cormorants out in the sea.

Road to Väike-Paljassaare, you can see how strong the wind was
Time ran fast in Paljassaare and soon we had to turn back. Marsh Harrier was trying to find a prey in strong wind, big flock of Sand Martins were catching insects near Pikakari beach where I went to swim. Sea water was really refreshing!

Sand Martin in Pikakari beach
Photo Roni Haukkovaara

Strange that I did not see any House Martins in Tallinn, only Sand Martins in several locations and Barn Swallows.

Days 3./4. Saturday & Sunday, the 9th & 10th of July 2016

During last days I didn't have time for real birding, but here's some notes: Black Redstarts seem to breed in and around Toompea hill, there were at least three pairs with juveniles. European Linnets were also surprisingly common, saw them in several locations.

Black Redstart in Toompea
Photo Roni Haukkovaara

While traveling back to Finland I saw several Arctic Terns in the middle of the Gulf of Finland, heading straight to north. What is this midsummer "migration"? Also many Herring Gulls were flying directly either to north or south, from the dumping site of Helsinki to dumping site of Tallinn and back.

Lesser Black-backed Gull in the Helsinki harbor

Conspicuous fact is also that Lesser Black-backed Gulls exist during summer in Finnish coast, but not in Estonian coast. I've never seen them in the harbor of Tallinn or in the Gulf of Tallinn, but always in front of Helsinki.

More info about birding in Tallinn, please see the pages of Tallinna Linnuklubi.

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