Estonia in Summer June 5th to 13th 2016
Last Monday we spent the night in a bear hide in the depths of the forest in Eastern Estonia – it’s hard to believe! The hide is big enough for ten people, with ten bunk beds complete with sleeping bags, and a view of a forest clearing where food had been left out earlier in the day. We got there about 5.30 and spent an hour watching woodpeckers, jays and pied flycatchers, before having a delicious packed dinner. A few raccoon dogs ran about and found some of the food. Then we settled down for a long wait, as bears usually appear around midnight. Big surprise! A huge male bear appeared about 8.00 and lumbered around munching pieces of fish; a truly awesome animal, and he stayed for about an hour. A fantastic photo opportunity, as the light was so good. He reappeared again for a while at midnight but we could still see him well – it’s never really dark so far north in summer. Most of us got a few hours sleep but when I woke at 3.30 a.m. there was an enormous wild boar just outside the hide; he also stayed for an hour contentedly eating.
This was the highlight of an amazing week. We spent another evening lying on our backs in the forest with clouds of midges, watching a hole in a tree – well worth it when the flying squirrel finally appeared and ran up to the top branches. We had a night drive where we saw elk, wild boar, a family of foxes, a pine marten and many deer. On another occasion nightjars flew about in front of the bus, their eyes glinting red in the headlights. We had several birding trips where we saw white-tailed eagles, a lesser spotted eagle, lekking black grouse and many others. I especially enjoyed seeing and hearing the 13 different species of warbler and learning their songs. There was something symbolic about the Ortolan bunting sitting singing on a telephone wire; it is a seriously declining species not least because some countries catch and eat them. The weather was rather changeable and the boat trip to see the beavers was cold and wet; however two beavers were seen swimming about in the water. The two days on the islands Saaremaa and Hiumaa were sunny and splendid for orchids; we found 23 species including Lady’s Slipper in abundance, Burnt tip, Musk, Fen, Early marsh, Military, Red helleborine. Baltic Orchid was also seen.
The organisation of the trip was excellent from start to finish. Accommodation and food were superb everywhere, and the minibus was comfortable; even when it broke down a new one arrived from Tallinn in the space of two hours, so it was not a serious problem. The two local guides Tarvo and Peeter from Estonian Nature Tours were outstanding in their knowledge and we saw or heard so many things we would never otherwise have found. Conversations with them also revealed interesting insights into Estonian life, history and politics. The flying squirrel expert Uudo had just been to parliament to explain the necessity for preservation of the forests to protect one of Europe’s rarest mammals; needless to say there is huge pressure to cut trees down and make money quickly, as there is across the world.
Thank you John for organising the trip and for accompanying us, adding your knowledge and expertise to that of the Estonian guides. Your humour and patience greatly enhanced the holiday.
Alison and Mike Uren
Pete wrote after our tour of Estonia
Good afternoon John,
The tour was something not to be missed! The whole spirit of the event was in the right vein. Wildlife can be fun. I must say though that it was nice to get back to a mossie free environment and a lie in ( after letting the chickens out! ). I thought the guides were superb ;they really knew their stuff and also colloquial English! Thanks also for taking the trouble for helping me get some LIFERS.I havn't done any birding since I got back 'cos it doesn't seem the same somehow.Could you let me know the location of the last place we went to by the sea where we saw barred warbler and booted?
It wasa bloodty good ya? Itsa no so badt!
Wryneck next time?
Christine wrote about the Estonia tour Hi John,
Thanks for the lovely bear photos - those bears really did us proud! It was a great trip, thank you very much for the opportunity to visit such a nice and little-known, to me at least, country.
Here are some thoughts on the tour:
"I really enjoyed our tour to see orchids and mammals in Estonia. The orchids were amazing, and it was wonderful to see so many along the flower-filled roadsides and meadows. The crowning glory came when we visited a wood with a large area full of the beautiful Lady's Slipper Orchid, truly a sight to behold, and one which will live on in the memory for a long time. We had great sightings of mammals too, including bear, moose and boar to name just a few. One of many highlights for me was a glimpse of a flying squirrel, albeit fleeing, but nevertheless a thrill, and not a mammal which can be easily found elsewhere. The countryside was beautiful and unspoilt with all sorts of different habitats, and all with miles of virtually empty roads to travel. I would thoroughly recommend it as a place to visit."
It's not possible really to mention just one highlight, I would have to have a separate one for each of the groups, birds, mammals, plants etc.! The guides were great and accommodation fine with good food, it's just a pity I wasn't able to foil the cold water shower in our last cabin, as Chris did ....
On the subject of orchids, I'm enclosing a few images of a couple of the orchids in New Zealand - which made it to the islands over 800 miles of ocean, presumably from Australia - the images are a bit fuzzy as it's really dark on the primeval forest floor, as you've seen for yourself, and the orchids are small, not like those enormous orchids in Estonia.
Have a good rest-of-summer,
Thank you very much for arranging our visit to Pangot (Nainital). We had an excellent guide, Hariom and driver Burgit.
All internal travel and stay arrangements were well organised by local agents Asian Adventures.
Our target was to see Yellow-throated Martens, two splendid animals obliged. Red Muntjac, Goral and Serow were also seen with122 species of birds. Good weather and Rhododendrons flowering made an excellent trip.
John Harrop 01.04.13
How very remiss of me not to have contacted you as soon as we got back but I shot straight off to a folk festival weekend and am still trying to catch up. India was a wonderful trip from start to finish Despite the fact that no tigers were spotted at Bandhavgarh, we did get a wonderful almost private tiger experience at Kanha.
We ticked all boxes on our wish list - Taj, Red Fort, tigers, Indian skimmers, river dolphin, marsh crocodile etc etc and loads of interaction with the people and rural life.... Katni station was an experience too.
My first afternoon at Kipling was the highlight for me when I was lucky enough to spend quite a long time scrubbing Tara in the river for which I was rewarded with a deep stare from her as she lifted her truck, full of water, and gave me a full-on shower. .. heaven!!! Asian Adventures came up trumps and looked after us all the way through the trip so a big thank you for all your help. I can certainly recommend you and AA and I'm already researching other ideas and itineraries in India.
You and many others told me I would either love or hate Indian well I think you can guess that I and my 3 fellow travellers loved India
Tina Shirt November 2012
We recently went to North WestIndia with Sandwich Bird Tours. We were delighted with our holiday. John vander Dol accompanied us at all times and ensured that transfers and bookingswere ok. John proved himself to be an expert on birds and mammals and gaveexcellent photographic advice. He was courteous and friendly and also knew theareas that we visited very well. We stayed in a variety of places – lodges, hotelsand a super luxury tent which were all to a very high standard (en-suitesthroughout). Food was excellent; we enjoyed tasting many local dishes andstayed healthy. We travelled by chauffeur driven car having a driver and guide (aswell as John) most of the trip. The driver spoke good English; he was politeand knew the places we visited. He also had a great sense of humour. The guidesthat John used spoke good English and knew where to go and what to see. One dayJohn took us to a local market and we walked around the stalls much to theamusement of local people, especially the children who liked to have theirphotos taken. John also took us to the Taj Mahal……….an unforgettable morning’ssightseeing. We experienced a train journey which was bumpy but we had a cleancarriage and bunks and there was easy access to a western style loo! Our othermode of transport was cycle driven rickshaw in the park where no petrol drivenvehicles are allowed. It was great fun and the cyclists were incredibly fit andstrong! We found India to be an exotic and safe destination.
Jane and Pete Findley Feb2012
If you want to see the best of India in the company of a small group then this is the tour for you. The ground agents, asian adventures and their guide, Ratan, are excellent. John made sure everyone’s individual needs were met. The accommodation was clean and comfortable with good food, it is so nice to be presented with beautifully cooked local food. For both birds and mammals we did really well. The lions showed off on every jeep safari and we had good views of Blackbuck ,Wild Ass and Wolf as well. Bird highlights were many but Indian Coursers running around the car, 1000’s of Demoiselle Cranes on a back garden feeder in the company of the villager who set it up and Indian Bustard leap to mind.
Sally and Ian Hunter May 2012
I travelled to NW India in February with John van der Dol of Sandwich Bird Tours. A small group we were well looked after by John and the local guide Ratan. From Ranthambhore we journeyed to the Thar Desert and then down into Gujarat ending at Gir. Accommodation was excellent and the one small hiccup while at the Rann of Kutch was speedily sorted while we were viewing nightjars . Food was also excellent : my advice on eating is to go vegetarian while in India as the choice is brilliant . Our driver was efficient at getting us from A to B and was pointing out birds by the end. Train journeys were better than anticipated and I felt safe everywhere even when relatively close to the Pakistan border...... Nigel Muddiman. May 2012
"Thank you for the fantastic experience we had in November. We covered so much ground at breakneck speed that now it is difficult to recall allthe amazing sights, sounds (and smells) we encountered. Fortunately our pictures are a lasting reminder and having whittled away the repeats and out of focus shots there is still a good lot of viewing, with every picture telling a story. Like the monkeys sitting gazing at us like little old men, the intense excitement (which was contageous) of our drivers and guides when they brought us to our first tigers, the huge crowds on the Ram Ganga river for a festival, the variety of birds everywhere, the welcome we received at all our lodges, the translucence of the beautiful Taj Mahal, the fun we had as a party, - even the traffic jams were something to behold. The sight of the snow capped Himalayas on the horizon when we were up in the hills was unforgetable, but still only a part of the overall imprint which India made on me. It is a fascinating country, so different from ourEuropean experience that one trip is really not enough. Thanks again.
Sonia December 2010
byBrian Short, November 4, 2008
I have been fortunate to travel widely; I have done so on my own and with various top tour names. I have been on 10 of John's tours as far afield as New Zealand, South America, South Africa, but more often to the Indian subcontinent where we have ridden elephants predawn, rafted in dugout canoes to zodiacs, luxury coach to safari jeep to Tut-Tut.
John spends a lot of time planning his tours, ensuring we travel both comfortably and close to the birds. Always ensuring we eat well and keep well and safe. We have stayed in some wonderful accommodation, seen many wonderful sights, taken midday breaks but still had some of the longest bird lists available due to his excellent pre-planning and birdwatching ability.
For me the focus is birds; that is not to say I haven’t enjoyed the sightings of Tiger, Leopard and Lion and countless mammals it is birds that enthral me most and John has that uncanny knack of getting us to the right place at the right time.
His tours should appeal to a wide spectrum of abilities and interests as these are all accommodated. That is not to say we are not up before dawn everyday and long days cannot be followed by rewarding night excursions, but this is not always compulsory and those too tired can usually be accommodated.
The end of day log over a beer or two always with humour is a good wind down from a hard day and each tour is captivated in a colourful summary received not that many days after the tour
I have been on many of John's birding trips to several destinations. These have been excellent value, very well organised indeed. The itinerary is mainly aimed at finding birds, but is always flexible allowing you to see scenery, culture, photo stops etc. A priority of John is to make sure that you never go without food. Depending on location, a breakfast is a must, this is followed by a lunch stop in a restaurant or a good packed lunch. Then comes the evening meal which is always first class, most of us return several pounds heavier.
The accommodation is always of a good standard or the best that is available in the area in which we are birding. Also John uses local guides, these I have found to be excellent, often their knowledge of birds is astounding, thus giving you a high species list.
I would just like to finish off by thanking John for the past trips and look forward to all future ones.
I've been lucky enough to have travelled with John to Nepal twice, India twice, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Costa Rica and New Zealand. Together we have added some 1,500 new bird species to my list. John is a character, a one off you might say. He manages to combine intense bird watching with wider activities, excellent accommodation and travel arrangements which enable people of both genders and wide age ranges to mix and have fun. Laughter and new birds are the order of the day, every day. Miraculously what on the face of it may appear a laid back approach achieves a longer bird list and variety of experience than any other tour I have been on and I have been on many. John has introduced me to elephant rides in search of Tiger and Rhino, dug out canoes and inflatable down crocodile infested rivers, flights in light aircraft over tropical jungle, lodges with views over the ocean and tropical storms, dust, more dust and assaults on the senses that will remain with me forever. I look forward to the next one hopefully with my wife!
Our first trip with John's group was to Sri Lanka. The pre trip party was a good idea as we met most of our fellow travellers then and did not feel so “new” when we boarded the mini bus for the airport. The trip more than exceeded expectations and the sight of a Leopard was so exciting! There followed trips to Nepal and Brazil which were just as thrilling and we are looking forward to the visit to Scotland in May, and, hopefully, Peru in November.
A&S R, Meopham.
I have travelled with John to Goa and Sri Lanka. Both times my expectations were very much exceeded in so much as the variety and numbers of birds seen. The trips were extremely well organised and the itineraries suited both experienced and novice birders. John and his guides first class local knowledge was shared openly and in a friendly way at all times.
JW, Horsham, West Sussex
I truly recommend his services and value his friendship.
BS, Broadstairs, Kent
After about ten tours Jim wrote the following:
Another well organised trip, excellent accommodation, food, birds and animals.
"A man of many words"
JAL, Deal, Kent. December 2007
We looked forward to our first trip with John to India with great excitement.
We were not disappointed – as bird novices we valued the experience of John, our fellow travellers and local guides. So many beautiful birds, hundreds of Demoiselle Cranes, Crab Plovers and the animals, where do we start. The Wild Ass, Blackbuck, Asiatic Lion, (male walked past our jeep) Wolves etc. but by far the best day, family of Wild Dogs playing and grooming, Wild Boar with young and (whilst watching a Crested Serpent Eagle) our park guide spotted a Leopard high in a tree stretching, yawning and eventually jumping to another tree, all this before breakfast. Then, that evening, a tantalising first glimpse of Tiger. Kanha was a magical place at first light, the swirling mist and swaying pampas grass. Throughout the trip we enjoyed great company, excellent accommodation and food. Poland and Nepal next can’t wait.
P & J Gravesend, Kent. Jan 2008
Some thoughts on Nepal 2008 - it was a wonderful trip - good company, good birds, excellent scenery including distant views of Everest and opportunties to experience a culture close-up, made even more interesting by being in the country at the time of their first truly democratic election for decades.
I and S H, Sandwich Kent, April 2008
Dear John We would like to thankyou for another great trip to Nepal in April 2008 As usual it was very well organised The drivers and guides were first class and the birds and other wildlife were excellent. This was the third tour we have had with Sandwich Bird Tours. Previously we have been to Peru and the Pyrenees They were all a very high standard. We would not hesitate to recommend you to anyone interested in birds and other wildlife All the best Margaret and Robert Brooks, Kent July2008
Our Acknowledgements - A few words of thanks:
Thanks are due to our tour leaders and guides who have helped to make our tours so successful. In particular Suchit Basnet, Tika Ram Giri, Badri Chaudhary and Som G C in Nepal and all the office back-up staff in Kathmandu.
In Goa our guide and driver Lloyd Fernandes has greatly helped to make our holidays such fun. His permanent smile is enough to keep everybody happy at least for the fortnight we are there.
Simon Ellis and his guides ensured a great trip to Costa Rica as did Brian Vanderwalt and John McAllister in South Africa.
Rattan Singh, our guide in Northern India, is a gentleman and a pleasure to travel with and thanks also to Mohit Aggarwal who organises our India tours.
Our great friend Amila Salgado in Sri Lanka who also ensures a fantastic trip both in terms of organisation but also his company throughout the tour.
In Brazil I need to thank our hosts Andy and Christina Foster who made us so welcome in their lodge. They looked after us extremely well and Andy showed us some amazing and difficult to find birds. Thanks also to Braulio Carlos in the Pantanals for a fantastic week there.
Thanks also to Karen Baird and Chris Gaskin for their company and help during part of our New Zealand tour and Dennis Buurman of Albatross Encounters in Kaikoura.
I would like to thank Ian Hodgson for his help with tour leading to Costa Rica and Peru, for his superb diary write-ups in some of the reports and his help with the organisation of some of the tours.
Further thanks to Eustace Barnes for his organisation and tour leading in Peru and his help and company in Spain.
I would like to thank all our tour participants for without them there would be no trips. I have enjoyed traveling with all of them judging by the amount of repeats they have enjoyed the tours also. One of our clients has traveled on 9 out of our 12 tours and is booked on further trips.
Thanks are also due to Brian Short, Derek Etherton, Graham Crick, Steve Barnes, Amila Salgado, Heather Willis and John Wilks for some of their photographs which help to illustrate this website.
Finally my thanks go to Steve Cowhig for his hard work in designing and setting up the previous site which was a pre-cursor to this one and to Sue and Bob of Open Sandwich Design for getting this one up and running and maintaining it.
John van der Dol