Deep into the marshy wilderness
Visit the birds and beavers in the heart of Matsalu National Park.
The sturdy fishing boat shudders to life in the old boat shed on Suitsujõe River. Tiit, our oarsman is from Lihula and steers the boat steadily towards Matsalu Bay. In front of us lies a three-hour boat trip through reedbeds and marshes.
The passengers on our boat come from four different countries. The English wilderness guide, James Lidster has come to Estonia to learn about nature in Haapsalu and Matsalu before he leads his own group for a week. He tells us this is his fourth visit to Estonia. Debby Doodeman from Holland has come to Estonia for the first time. Both of them are avid birdwatchers. Our group has been brought together by the pioneer of nature tourism and Estonian Nature Tours owner Marika Mann, who suggests trying a boat tour before the busy season begins.
The trip begins with the first Marsh Harriers already gliding above the meadows, and the Barnacle Geese speeding over one another. The thatched roof sheds disappear behind as the river joins the larger Kasari River.
The large boat offers a beautiful view. The first White-tailed Eagle already looms at the mouth of the river. On the right, another White-tailed Eagle takes flight, after which, another set of giant wings can be seen as well.
The mouth of the river opens onto Matsalu Bay. It’s said that the sky in Matsalu seems somehow bigger and more open than in other places.
There are more than enough birds in the bay. James points out a Caspian Tern.
After the coffee break we continue against the current along the Kasari River. Debby notices a raptor. It’s a Peregrine Falcon! The old majestic bird moves with strong wings towards Keemu.
We travel deeper into the reed beds. At least half a dozen Bittern can be heard as well. We can aĺso hear the sounds of other birds in the reed beds like the Savi's Warblers, the Common Reed Bunting, and the Black-tailed Godwit.
Large flocks of the Eurasian Teals take flight all around us, and other ducks join them too. How many water birds are hiding in the 2000 hectares of reed bed?
The scenery is exquisite. The straight river is bordered with tall trees, old tree stumps and fallen branches. But in among all this are beaver dams.
Marika says that the Kasari River was dredged in the 20th century, so that the grasslands would dry faster after a flood. Just before the monastery we turn the bow of the boat back towards the stream. Tiit stops the motor and lets the boat glide gently through the reeds.
And then, out of nowhere something splashes right beside the boat. Debby spots a beaver. “It was huge!”
Soon, another beaver is swimming in front and then a third as well. Then we notice about a dozen. They don’t seem to notice us and because of that we get to enjoy watching them eat. You can even smell the beavers because they mark their territory.
The setting sun paints the reeds red. A young elk peers over his shoulder to look at us. Everything around us is so beautiful.
As we approach the shore, we can agree that it was a beautiful excursion. “So many different ducks, White-tailed Eagles, Bittern, and of course beavers”, remarks James.
He praises Estonian nature. “Beautifully preserved areas of land and many old forests. And silence – wow!”
James puts Estonia at the top of natural landscapes in Europe. “Everything works so well here and foreigners can feel very welcome.”
TEXT MIKKO VIRTA, PHOTOS MIKKO VIRTA, SCEN ZACEK, MAP EVE JAANSOO