Winter is still holding a tight grip on Estonia and I am prepared for -25 degrees with many layers on. I have been invited by Estonian Nature Tours to South Eastern Estonia to experience and photograph White-tailed Eagles together with English Photographer Luke Massey. We are picked up on a snowmobile at Ilmatsalu motel at 5.30 am by local guide and owner of the hide Jan. The first morning light is not far and the ravens are already waiting for us at the hide. All settled inside, the heating is welcome and the long wait begins, peering out the small window. Waiting, looking, waiting. No sign of any life, not even ravens. Had we scared them off by coming too late and letting them see us entering the hide? Then this would be a long day. Finally some ravens arrive, but only a few and they don’t stay for long.
At around noon a well welcomed fox arrives, its red fur stands out beautifully in the white snow. It feeds a bit but unfortunately doesn’t stay for long. The wait continues but now with higher spirits after the fox has given us hope for more excitement. We were almost dozed off when I just checked my viewfinder and there it was - a white tailed eagle! I am instantly wide awake and ready by the camera. Just carefully watching it at first while it is feeding.
Soon after it is joined by a juvenile and then a third one, an adult, however the later two keep their distance, observing the snow covered bog and its action from a tree top. The juvenile makes a quick landing but not near enough to get a piece of the meat and then flies off, joined by the other two. Hoping they would come back soon but there is another wait, another fox passes by but have somewhere else in mind and continues its walk. Just as the sun is setting a couple of eagles come, they make a few attempts of landing and feeding but are mostly watching from the safety of a tree top, where they sit in the pleasantly warm light from the last bit of sun that day. It’s cold as we were packing up, I can’t find my gloves and my hands get stiff and achy just from a few minutes of packing up. We return to the motel and are served a tasty three course dinner. You are well fed in Estonia that’s for sure!
The next morning, we leave for the hide even earlier, just as the first streaks of light show in the horizon, to make sure we arrive before the ravens not to make them suspicious of our hide. It is -15 degrees and the heater is a saviour. The ravens have just started scanning the place and with yesterdays long wait in mind and in the comfort of the heater I doze off for a bit in my sleeping bag and wake up just in time for an eagle landing. It stays in the tree top for about an hour, not hungry enough or not feeling safe enough to hit the food. There is less of the food today and we suspect wolves have been there during the night to feast.
A juvenile shows up and offers a spectacular show as it interacts with the adult. However it soon becomes clear that the adult is looking out for the juvenile when a second adult arrives, the first one fends it off to secure the juvenile gets to finish feeding. To our joy there is more eagle action today compared to yesterday, both more eagles and more action.
It surely is impressive to watch them, the intense eyes and sharp beak being quite frightening while their squeaky sound and a bit clumsy walk is rather amusing. Just as we are packing up for the day a fox makes a quick appearance but then runs off. Jan comes to pick us up on the snowmobile and to put new batteries in his movement camera and to download the images. We can see that foxes visit frequently at night together with wolves and raccoon dogs. And daytime, apart from what we have seen, golden eagle has been showing up but unfortunately that was the day before we came. Back at the hotel, lovely three course dinner again and then ready for bed. The next day Estonian Photographer Remo Savisaar is taking us out for the day to show us around the best spots for landscape photography and if lucky some wildlife.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.