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!
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.
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