Ur­ban Birder David Lindo

There are so many birds to see and en­joy in this north-east­ern Euro­pean city – start­ing with the air­port when you ar­rive!

Bird Watching (UK) - - Welcome - WORDS: DAVID LINDO

vis­its the Es­to­nian cap­i­tal city of Tallinn and finds there are many birds to see and en­joy, in­clud­ing Blyth’s Reed War­bler.

IF YOU HAVE not vis­ited Estonia be­fore, then you may be in for a sur­prise. It lies fur­thest north of the trio of Baltic States that also in­cludes Latvia and Lithua­nia. Due to its close prox­im­ity to Fin­land fur­ther to the north – a hop, skip and a jump across the Baltic Sea – the vibe is cer­tainly more Scan­di­na­vian than what you might imag­ine from a for­mer Soviet repub­lic. Your in­tro­duc­tion to na­ture in its cap­i­tal, Tallinn, starts at the air­port. There are pic­tures of birds adorn­ing the walls and piped songs of Common Rosefinch and Thrush Nightin­gale in the loos. Even the air­port’s logo is a bird. Walk­ing the streets of Tallinn, you will soon no­tice the abun­dance of wooden hous­ing, so char­ac­ter­is­tic of Scan­di­navia. A walk through the old town where your ho­tel might be sited would pro­duce the clas­sic Euro­pean ur­ban birds, headed by Black Red­starts singing from some of the rooftops, as well as the oc­ca­sional Serin. Tallinn is a great in­tro­duc­tion to the birdlife to be found else­where in the coun­try at any time of the year. Up­wards of 20 pairs of Goshawk nest within the city, seem­ingly re­plac­ing the ab­sent Pere­grine that was sadly wiped out by DDT poi­son­ing across the coun­try, never to re­turn as a breed­ing bird. The Goshawks are more vis­i­ble dur­ing the winter when they openly at­tack Feral Pi­geons, even in the city cen­tre. These mag­nif­i­cent Ac­cip­iters also share the win­try airspace with an­other lethal kil­ler: Mer­lins that come in to take ad­van­tage of eas­ier prey.

City tour

Be­ing a coastal city, seabirds such as Eider, Common Scoter and divers are guar­an­teed for the birder. Most of the city parks are lo­cated in the northern side of the city and rep­re­sent an at­trac­tive stop-off point for tired au­tumn mi­grants, like Gold­crests, fresh in af­ter a flight across the Gulf of Fin­land. They stock up and then carry on their jour­neys south through the city. So, it is re­ally worth bird­ing these parks through Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber to wit­ness the sheer num­bers of the com­moner mi­grants as well as to dis­cover an er­rant de­light such as a Yel­low-browed War­bler. One of the best places for bird­ing in the city is the hip-sound­ing Rocca al Mare Beach, whose coastal habi­tat in­cludes a stream and reedbed, all lo­cated just 200m from a busy shop­ping cen­tre. It is a pop­u­lar lo­cal­ity among lo­cal bird­ers, par­tially ow­ing to the con­ve­nient park­ing ar­range­ments within the cen­tre’s car park. The bird­ing can be pretty re­ward­ing, too. Rock up to Rocca al Mare Beach dur­ing the winter and you could be find­ing Bearded Tit, King­fisher, Lit­tle Grebe and even Bit­tern. A sum­mer­time walk through al­most any park­land blessed with a wa­ter­course in this very green city is bound to re­sult in great views of the lo­cal Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns that breed on city rooftops, hawk­ing over the water. Look closely and you may no­tice a cou­ple of the city’s few pairs of Arc­tic and Lit­tle Terns, them­selves roof-nesters. The lightly wooded parks are also the summer venue for mul­ti­tudes of Spot­ted Fly­catch­ers. You will also find Pied Fly­catch­ers and Ic­ter­ine War­blers in good num­bers. By the reed-fringed lakes, Great Reed

War­blers vie for your au­ral attention along with the more com­mon­place Reed War­blers and, if you are lucky, you might just see a Moorhen for a frac­tion of sec­ond be­fore it darts back into cover. Moorhens are shy ur­ban­ites in Tallinn and see­ing one is akin to find­ing a Spot­ted Crake in your lo­cal Bri­tish park! There is a def­i­nite air of ex­pectancy when it comes to bird­ing in Tallinn. Keen ob­servers are likely to un­cover ex­treme rar­i­ties not only for the city but also for the coun­try as whole, as a re­cent Water Pipit and Wil­son’s Phalarope demon­strated. Any­thing can turn up any­where at any­time. A good place to test that the­ory is St­roomi Beach, east of Rocca al Mare, where Broad-billed Sand­pipers, Red-necked Phalaropes and San­der­lings are an­nual. The Pal­jas­saare Spe­cial Con­ser­va­tion Area con­sists of reedbed, lakes, wet meadow and coast­line on the northern side of Tallinn and boasts a list of more than 230 species. New birds are be­ing seen an­nu­ally in this 276-hectare site but, on an av­er­age visit, Red-necked Grebe and Pen­du­line Tit are to be ex­pected, as are boom­ing Bit­tern dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son. It is a bril­liant place to hear Thrush Nightin­gale, find Common Rosefinch on ter­ri­tory and to get to grips with breed­ing Blyth’s Reed War­bler. Here it is a common bird, whereas back in the UK it is a some­times tricky rar­ity to de­ci­pher. The large Barred War­bler is also a breed­ing bird at Pal­jas­saare, but can be found in suit­able habi­tat else­where in the city.

Spot­ted Fly­catcher BLYTH’S REED WAR­BLER A rare bird in the UK, but com­monly seen in Tallinn

Be­yond the birds, the ar­chi­tec­ture is more typ­i­cally Scan­di­na­vian than Soviet

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