Bear watching

DIFFICULTY: moderate

Estonia is the European mecca of untouched nature. The reason for visiting us does not lie only in bears but also in the amazing beauty of nature that you will experience during your trip. Estonia is smaller than its neighbours in its area but this gives the European nature observer an opportunity to see wild forests and animals in them within a small period of time. You won’t step out of the plane straight into the forest but you will be amidst the beauty of nature after just one hour long drive by car or by bus. Our bear watching package is an ideal weekend vacation for city residents. It is an ideal opportunity to recharge your batteries for the beginning of a new working week. The excitement that bear watching offers makes you forget all the work and everyday problems that tend to burden us.

There are about 700 bears in our little Estonia (45,227 km2), about the same amount as in Finland which has a much bigger area (338,430.53 km2). So we have 3-5 times more bears per km2 than our neighbouring countries. There are about 200,000 brown bears in the whole world.

Dates

The best time for bear watching is in May and June

Focus

Brown Bears, other mammals, birds and general natural history

Grading

Easy, this holiday will involve regular but gentle countryside walks over generally easy terrain

Single room supplement

To be confirmed

Food & accommodation 

All food and accommodation is included in the price of this holiday. You can experience the best restaurant food as well as eco food prepared in a local farm. Drinks are served during the two nights at the bear watching hut to make waiting for bears more fun.

Climate : Temperate climate rules here between the continental and maritime climate. Estonia, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, is in West-Europe at the same latitude with central Sweden and the northern tip of Scotland.

Leader

Expert in bears

Group size

4-10

Cost

The outline of the itinerary

Day 1 Flight to Tallinn and transfer  to the guesthouse

Day 2 Bear hide

Day 3  Guesthouse (or bear hide)

Day 4  Transfer  to Tallinn and flight home to…

Day 1  from Tallinn to Alutaguse area

We meet you at the Tallinn Airport and start the drive to the area in Estonia that is the richest in bears. Without traffic jams, the ride is less than 2 hours. You are guided to your place of accommodation. It is important that you have a good night’s rest because the next night will be spent at the bear watching hut.

Day 2 Alutaguse area

Today we will drive to the area richest in bears in Estonia, the forests of Alutaguse. Alutaguse is the biggest forest area in Estonia that covers almost the whole northeastern part of Estonia. For all those people who know something about Estonian nature, Alutaguse associates with the aura of mystery. The swamps here are so big that only very few have had the luck of looking into the heart of these. Willow Grouses and Jack Snipes who cannot be found in many other places in Estonia, nest here somewhere. This is the habitat for flying squirrels which can be seen only in Estonia and Finland, it is nowhere else in Europe. Nowhere else in Estonia are there so many bears as in Alutaguse. And of course we also have a lot of other animals and birds like the Western Capercaillie, Black Grouse, White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Eagle, elk, wolf, lynx, otter …. and who knows who else. This is Estonian taiga but with a small Central European accent – also broadleaf forests can be found on our swamp island. The senses are always ready to meet something extraordinary when moving around Alutaguse. It can be a bear or a flying squirrel but the chances are that it is something even more exciting because next to the Great Grey Owl also other species with more eastern or northern habitat (e.g. the Wolverine, Siberian Jay or Rustic Bunting) happen to visit us now and again. We spend the night at the bear watching hut where there is a strong likelihood of sighting a bear and make an excursion to the habitat of the brown bear to learn about its life. First we ride on bourns and go for walks in the forest. We will look at scratched trees, footprints, bear droppings and other signs of the presence of bears. We will talk about the biology of bears and their behaviour and add a touch of local bear folklore. In the evening we go to the bear watching hut that is one kilometre away from the road. We will quietly take our positions and wait because the time for telling tales is now over. The bear’s senses are extremely acute and the fear of humans is so big that it will run away in panic in case of even the slightest disturbance. We have to be especially careful at the nightfall and during sunrise because then they are particularly active. We leave the hut at 8 o’clock in the morning.

The bear watching hut is meant for ten people (so if you are 6 person for example then it is possible but not a rule that there are more 4 other people) . Similarly to its Finnish and Swedish analogues, it has comfortable chairs for observation, bunk beds, and a dry toilet. The bunk beds have sleeping pads and we will also give every participant a sleeping bag. The walls of the hut are soundproof. Our (human) smells are directed up high into top layers of air to keep these from reaching the bears. So far at least ten different bear have been sighted near the hut. When waiting for the bears, you will also be served food and drinks.

Day 3 Alutaguse area

You might feel a bit tired after a night at the bear watching hut and after breakfast everyone has the opportunity to rest properly or to try the spa services that the hotel offers. In the second half of the day, however, we will again visit places with breathtakingly beautiful nature. Like the Puhatu Nature Reserve that used to be Estonia’s biggest marshland. By now, the northern part of this lama has been bitten off by oil shale mines. An enchanting view opens to the versatile landscape from up to 15-meters high dunes with old pines. A nature enthusiast can easily follow from there all the stages of development of swamps starting from fens and ending with bogs: empty areas of bog are surrounded by transition mires or quaking bogs. Bird species that are represented there include the Black-throated Loon,  Boreal Owl, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Western Capercaillie, Short-eared Owl, White-backed Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Ural Owl, Hazel Grouse, Wood Sandpiper, Black Woodpecker, Woodlark, Red-backed Shrike, European Golden Plover, Common Crane, Montagu’s Harrier, Black Grouse, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Northern Goshawk, Ruff, and Eurasian Nightjar. The traditional habitats of the White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Willow Grouse  are in the marshland. It is also possible to see such rarities as the Black Stork and the Peregrine Falcon. It is the Natura 2000 bird area and also the preservation area for the Common Crane during nesting. From protected plant species the following have lately been seen in Agusalu: the Lesser Twayblade, Moorland Spotted Orchid, Early Marsh Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid, Baltic Orchid, Fragrant Orchid, Bird’s-nest Orchid, Lesser Butterfly-orchid, Myrica Gale, Siberian Iris, and Wolf’s-foot Clubmoss. Earlier also the Blue Bugle, Coralroot Orchid, Holub, Broad-leaved Helleborine, and Inundated Clubmoss were registered there. We know of 141 lichen, under protection are the Dimerella Lichen, Hypocenomyce anthracophila,  Lecidea erythrophaea, and Tree Lungwort. When driving there we take the Vaikla-Imatu forest road which is rightfully considered to be one of the most beautiful ones in Estonia.

Before the night falls  and we have enough time we visit Lake Peipsi, the largest lake in Estonia and fourth in Europe. Lake Peipsi is a beautiful lake with a lot of sand, large forests and beautiful meadows on its shores. Almost all of the northern shore of Lake Peipsi is lined with pine forests and beautiful sandy beaches surrounded by dunes. The generally low shores of Lake Peipsi reach amazing heights in Kallaste where the 200 meters-long red sandstone exposure of the Devonian period rises up to 11 meters from the surface of the lake. This sandstone exposure has been taken under protection.

You can spend also this night in the bear watching hut.

Day 4 Transfer to Tallinn and flight home to…

After breakfast we go back to the guesthouse and  set off back home. It is possible to take a look around at the Medieval Old Town of Tallinn before your flight home. The special value of Tallinn’s Medieval Old Town lies first and foremost in its medieval setting and structure that has disappeared in other North European capitals. It can be said that Tallinn is one of the best and most completely preserved medieval towns in Europe and that it is a true gem of Estonian architecture.

 

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