Feedback from Estonian Wildlife Tours (www.estonianwildlifetours.com) clients:
We visited Estonia in September 2017 in hopes of seeing bears, elk and beavers and experiencing the autumn bird migration. Through Estonian Wildlife Tours (www.estonianwildlfietours.com) we arranged an evening beaver boat trip in Matsalu, a single day’s guiding and two nights in the bear hide in Eastern Estonia.
The beaver trip began at about 6.00 pm and took us down a narrow river lined on either side with tall reeds and the occasional tree. After about 10 minutes we spotted a small falcon perched high in a dead tree. The falcon flew ahead of us pausing in a series of riverside trees. With binoculars we identified it as a hobby and could watch it catching dragonflies by swooping up from below, flipping over and grabbing the prey with its feet before perching to eat. Meanwhile the river was criss-crossed by kingfishers flashing blue, green or red as they twisted in flight. A little later there was a crashing noise from the bank where a young elk was happily feeding on the reeds. He didn’t seem bothered by us and we were able to stop and admire him. By 7.00 pm we arrived at a watch tower and had a good view in the dusk of several roe deer and a pair of elk in the distance standing by the edge of the forest. It was then we spotted the beavers a little way up stream. There were 2 or 3 of them crossing from side to side to munch the rushes and reeds in the river. On the way back as it got darker we travelled directly into the setting sun for a magical pink and orange sunset, met the elk again and passed a couple more beavers.
Next day we got up in the dark to drive to meet Eleri at 6.00 am. She proved to be an excellent guide, very calm and quiet, someone with an obvious wish to share her love of wildlife with us. Our walk took us across the river into an area of meadows and alder woodland. It wasn’t long before Eleri spotted a bull elk, up-wind and some distance away. I was delighted – mission accomplished – but Eleri took us slowly nearer, explaining that the elk could not smell us because of the wind. Another elk appeared, and then another. One was a young male very nervous of the bull, the other a female very much interested in him. To get away from the bull the young male started heading in our direction getting closer and closer and only veered away when he was about 100 metres away. His weedy antlers made it clear he was no match for the bull. Still Eleri took us nearer until we reached a patch of dense woodland. Strange elk noises from the female as she wooed the bull and a few rustlings and cracklings of vegetation as they moved around. A louder rustling and the female emerged not 30 metres away followed by the bull. We squatted on the ground as the two animals towered over us. The male seemed more unsure than the female and they soon went back into the woods. We left them in peace. I had hoped to see elk but I never dreamed I’d get that close.
At the bear hide rendezvous we met a German couple and another couple from England who had also booked two nights. The walk to the hide took us along some forest tracks for about 20 minutes then emerged into a small clearing. Our guide pointed out the five places where food had been hidden and explained a few things then left us to settle in. The first raccoon dog appeared as soon as we sat down and they continued to arrive all through the night. At first we were quite pleased then started to worry that they would eat all the bear food as they dug and rummaged in the food caches. While the light lasted crested tits, nuthatches and marsh tits came to the bird feeders. Nothing much happened as it got darker and darker. Some faint lights came on but no bears. I gave up and went to bed but woke just after to midnight with someone saying “Are you awake? Can you see the bear?”. Panic and stumbling in the black dark to find my binoculars and a chair. Sure enough a huge bear was digging under the roots of a tree underneath the light and lifting out bits of fish in his left paw. With each piece he reversed into the bushes and walked away to feed before coming back for another helping. He did this over and over for about an hour. At just after 2.00am another bear arrived. This one seemed smaller and looked a little nervous, even shying away from the raccoon dogs. The second bear didn’t stay long. In the morning we found many bear tracks on the path leading back to the cars.
For the second night there were only four of us, and knowing the bears could appear any time we agreed to take turns on watch. Again the raccoon dogs were rummaging everywhere. At about 6.30 one of them looked up in alarm and bolted away to the left. Seconds later someone spotted a bear that came out in full view and started moving logs and rocks to get at the food. He fed for a while and left. It was light enough to see the colouring and details of fur and ears and eyes, so well worth coming back for a second night. Some time later a fox showed up looking very red and very tall and elegant compared to the short-legged raccoon dogs. Another bear arrived about 7.30 and walked across the front of the hide very close. Through the night bears, two or three different individuals, came and went feeding from the caches for a while before moving on. One of them got very interested in the bird table and eventually ripped the top off and carried it away in his mouth. In the morning once it came light we again watched the birds feeding and saw jays, woodpecker and a treecreeper very close up. A red squirrel came down to the ground collecting moss for its nest.
It was a wonderful experience to see bears so close and behaving in a very natural way. I have seen bears in several countries in different circumstances and this was equal to any of those experiences. One thing I would recommend to visitors is good binoculars that capture a lot of light. The lights at the hide are similar to moonlight so you can watch all night but there is no colour. It is much better if the bears come early and you can see them in daylight but whenever they come they are still amazing.
Chris and Anne from England