Estonia, an excursion into mosquito valley!!!!!!! Part one

Alam-Pedja reserve

So where did Richard Brown and myself disappear off too leaving behind a grotty wet English morning. (note to self, managed to just board the plane despite Stansteads efforts to undo all our timing schedual unlike 2016!!!!!). Well it was back mowing the meadows in Estonia but this time in the Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve which was established by Estonian government in 1995 and then in 2004  it was designated as a Natura 2000 site.

Flood plain of the Emajogi river

The protected area is also recognized as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1997. Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve is the fourth largest protected area and the second largest nature reserve in Estonia. It is located to the northwest of Tartu and northeast of Estonia’s largest inland lake, Lake Võrtsjärv. The natural environment of the area has been hardly affected by human influence over the years, providing suitable habitats for many protected and rare species. With its large size and various habitats, the Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve’s objective is to protect the diversity of ecosystems, mainly through preserving the natural development of forest and mire communities and securing the management of floodplain grasslands.

Driving past the woodland

So after spending a day or two in the lovely capital of Estonia, Tallin which I wholly recommend to anyone wanting to see an almost intact medieval city we hired a car and zoomed off into the direction that Piret had instructed us. Handy old things the iPhone and mapping systems, put the address in and follow the directions! Past meadows and woodland and over umpteen rivers until we eventually arrived in the village of Palupophja.

Pity we didn’t bring the canoes!!!!

Now where was that forest school, oh down the road to the last river crossing. Oh blast was the polite way of describing our predicament, the road just stopped at the southern bank of the Emajogi river, no way across and we could see the school *%£$@*!. Was there a ferry? nope, was there another way to get across the river? nope, could we swim, not bloody likely, so a quick phone call revealed our folly. The mapping app I used did not know how to get to the address we typed in and when we did use the right app it revealed another two hour drive back where we had come from, oooops.

White water lilly

The Võrtsjärv lake and basin are dissected by more than ten larger rivers however the Pedja, Põltsamaa and Emajõgi Rivers are the most famous. In addition, there are over fifty oxbow lakes in the floodplains that have become unique ecosystems with a rich variety of fish. During high water, the rivers overflow the river banks and can flood nearly one-third of the protection area. Now one of these rivers was to prove our undoing, little did we know when we took a shortcut that one of the bridges over the Emajogi river was closed, well in fact it wasn’t there! Curses yet another detour.

Whizzing past the forests

Off to the bog

After some more diversions we did eventually arrive on the north side of the Emojogi river but before heading to the reserve there was a lovely nature trail that went into the acidic peat boglands. The Scots pine woodland was gun barrel straight and tall, there was also birch but as we ventured into the heart of the bogland the Scots pine became stunted and gnarled only just hanging on to life. Apparently these small trees were around 300 years old!!!!!!!

A vast bogland

Although the bog plant life had few species the transitional zones between the forest and bog did actually have quite a variety of wildlife  especially near woodland rides. Butterflies and other insects abounded and the tea coloured bog pools were astonishing.


The first evening at the Alam-Pedja nature school

The cheff

 The area we were in is almost uninhabited, which makes it attractive to human-fearing bird species and offers good hiding places to large game. This mosaic of old forests and bogs is a home for wolves, white-tailed eagles, golden eagles, Ural owls, pygmy owls, grouse and black storks. Various birds may be seen on the large flooded meadows, especially during spring and autumn migration. So it was with great delight that we were woken up by a pair of Golden orioles on our first day, wow what a beautiful song, deep and melodious voice these birds have.

The forest meadow

So our first mowing excursion was into the forest meadows within the reserve and a delightful morning it was with mist swirling through the forest and dissapearing as the sun appeared above the horizon, that was when the mosquitoes arrived. My god the were ravenous and all methods of preventing them from sucking the life blood out of you were futile, it was like the Borg, “You Will be Assimilated. Resistance is Futile”  MY god these buggers were big.

Below are a few photos from that mornings work.

An excusion into the swamp woodland

Later Robert our host gave us an introductory walk through some of the forests in the Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve which are extensive and include swamp forests, carrs, floodplain and wooded meadows (with oak) and alluvial broad-leaved forests that are of particular botanical value.  The species diversity in these alluvial Alnus glutinosa – Ulmus laevis –U. glabra forests is high; these relict forests have persisted in only two other places in Estonia.

Birch bog

Other large areas are covered by permanently wet, birch-dominated swamp forest without any drainage. The integral complexes of five mires are separated by unregulated rivers with floodplain meadows.  The mires are represented by bogs (Põltsamaa, Umbusi), fens (Karisto, Ulila), transition bogs, and their complexes (Laeva).  These bogs are of a continental type, with abundant bog-pools.

One of the oxbow lakes

The climate of the area is in a zone of transition from a maritime to continental climate, and is influenced heavily by nearby Võrtsjärv Lake in the south and the Sakala uplands to the north.  Mean annual temperature is 4.5°C, precipitation averages about 560 mm per year, and snow cover lasts approximately 110 days, with rivers and lakes covered with ice from December until April.  Regular and predictable floods cover large areas and last for relatively long periods of time.  Flooding typically occurs during spring, and during autumns with high precipitation.  Such flooding does do not occur elsewhere in Estonia or in the other Baltic States.

Water everywhere

These floods have formed the natural alluvial sediments and relief forms present in the Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve today.  The hydrological cycle is important for the recharge and discharge of groundwater, and for the maintenance of water quality.  Further, there are very few similar regions where the natural hydrological system has been as well preserved within Europe.  Thus, Alam-Pedja, due to its large territory and natural hydrological regime, is of national and international importance.

A paddling excursion on the Emojogi

Wildlife abounded in the forest and meadows but we also had an excursion along the natural Emojogi river. In the daytime you won’t see beaver but at night, well thats another story. However we did see what they had been up to. Boy can these beavers fell trees.

A brief stop to inspect a beaver lodge

One gnawed tree!!!

So how many species roughly, there have been 640 species of fungi recorded within the reserve which includes 135 species found primarily in Estonia, and includes one recent new discovery (Tremella estonica), and 9 species listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia.  158 species of lichens (Lichenes; 2 species in the Red Data Book of Estonia), and 184 species of bryophytes (Bryota) have been recorded within the reserve (7 species listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia), although most of the bryophytes have not yet been completely surveyed.  485 species of vascular plants have been recorded, including 433 species of herbs and 52 species of trees and shrubs.  15 vascular plant species are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia.

On of the rushes

22 species of mollusks (Mollusca) have been recorded in the meanders, ditches and rivers of the Reserve.  32 species (54 in Estonia) of dragonflies (Odonata) are found in the reserve and potential suitable habitat could mean that 40 dragonfly species live in the reserve of which 2 species are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia.  410 species of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) have been recorded

Forgotten the name of this but it is very rare and very poisonous

(about 900 in Estonia), and more than 100 species of beetles (Coleoptera) have been found, mainly long riverside areas and river floodplains.  Blethisa multipunctata and Pterostichus anthracinus are abundant beetles in the reserve, yet rare within the rest of Estonia, and 2 species (Leptura nigripes and Agrilus mendax) are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia.  25 species of fish (Ichyhyes) have been caught (number of fish species may even reach 30).  The floodplains and old river beds are important spawning sites for various fish species such as Aspius aspius, Siluris glanis, Abramis brama and Esox lucius.  The reserve is home to 6 species of amphibians (Amphibia) and 3 species of reptiles (Reptilia).

Hoverfly and bumblebee

Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve is the most important breeding area for Great Snipe (Gallinago media) in Estonia, which also supports a rich assemblage of breeding species of mire, forest and wetland, notably the globally threatened Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga).  Breeding species of global conservation concern that do not meet IBA criteria include White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla; 2 pairs). Significant proportion (about 1%) of national population breeding at Alam-Pedja include European Honey-buzzard (Pernis apivorus; 5-7 pairs), Black Tern (Chlidonias niger; 150-200 pairs), Eurasian Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus; min. 20 pairs), Gray-faced Woodpecker (Picus canus; min. 15 pairs).  Numbers of breeding Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix; min. 75 pairs) are also notable.  A total of 193 bird species have been observed in the reserve (153 breeding, 24 transit migrants, and 14 vagrants or others).  Of these, 35 species are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia and 40 species are listed in Annex I of the Bird Directives.

Fen ragwort loads of it

43 species of mammals have been recorded in the reserve. Many small mammals can be found within the reserve including the East European Hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor), 4 species of shrews including the rare Musked Shrew (Sorex caecutiens), and the Lesser Weasel (Mustela nivalis).  8 of the 11 bat (Vespertilionidae) species found in Estonia are present in Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve, and most notably healthy populations of the Pond Bat (Myotis dasycneme).  Large mammals breeding in the reserve or rare or protected in other parts of Europe include the otter (Lutra lutra), Stoat (Mustela erminea), wolf (Canis lupis), bear (Ursus arctos), and lynx (Felis lynx).  Elk (Alces alces), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and wild boar (Sus scrofa) are common as well as non-native raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) and American mink (Mustela vision) species.  5 mammal species present in the reserve are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia. We didn’t see any mammals, all to shy apart from the bats by the river in the evening. Oh and those mosquitos, I asked Robert was it the worst year, “No out of ten this is about three” My god they’d drain every last ounce out of you in the 10/10 year

Sporting the mosquito protection head dress

About Sadeik

You may ask why "Sadeik" well it means friend in arabic. Worked in Jordan a lot doing tree surgery you see. I have worked in forestry since I left school with a two years in Telecom. Went back to forestry and tree surgery as it may not have paid as much but was far more interesting and dangerous. Spent a lot of years mountaineering, caving and canoeing too. At 29 I went to Bangor University to study Forestry and soil science then did an MSc in Water engineering all very interesting. By a quirk of fate in 1995 ended up helping sort out the woodland and park at Wimpole, funny thing was then I only intended to stay six months or so, but 18 years later I'm still here learning all the time. That's the best bit, if I wasn't able to learn something new every year I would not have stayed and as you get older you realise that the grass is not so green in the next field after all. In fact my patch is getting greener while much of the rest is getting browner.
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