Sunday, 27 May 2018

Estonia May 2018 Part 5. No more ruffing it!

After our extremely unpleasant night in the Black grouse hide we headed back to Häädemeeste and went straight to the filling station which fortunately is open 24/7. A hot coffee and a hot breakfast roll cheered us up a bit before we went for a wander on the beach in front of Kosmonautica to kill time before a proper and second breakfast! There were a few birds about, mainly out on the beach but also in the ponds in front of our cabin.
Goosander   Mergus merganser
A pair of Goosander took off the moment they saw me and that seemed to be the case with everything in Estonia. Why? Have they just completed a harrowing section of their migration, shot at or whatever? Anyway, they certainly weren't co-operative when it came to photography.
We were beginning to feel a bit frustrated. The bear hide experience had been good even if the photos had not been all they should have but we'd spent over 3 days trying for bird photos and to date were largely unsuccessful. Our next two nights would be spent at Pikla where we had two days of hides booked for Ruff lek photography. That was a mouth watering prospect and probably as much anticipated as the Brown Bears. With little point in hanging around we left Kosmonautica as soon as breakfast was over and headed the short distance up the road to Pikla.
It is indeed a lovely location , the house overlooks the beach on one side.
and one of the large ponds on the other.
but that wasn't what caught our attention as we headed up the road towards the house.
What we spotted was two people loaded up with equipment and sleeping bags making their way back from a distant hide but through the most atrocious quagmire you can imagine. They were wearing waders too, and they needed them as in places they were up to their knees in mud. One of them appeared to almost fall over a couple of times and was grabbed by the younger female he was with. We decided to wait and ask them some questions to get some tips on what to expect but they had little advice to offer. In fact they were rather disgruntled that the only Ruff they had seen were very distant even when using a 500mm lens with a 2.0x teleconverter. This was not the news we wanted to hear.
We'd been promised that if we chose to sleep in the hide we would be issued with sleeping bags. We'd also been advised that crossing the field was not advisable in the dark as there were some really deep mud patches you could get stuck in. 
We continued our drive to the house where a large group of German photographers were hanging around, waiting for lunch as it happened.
I asked if the owner was about and she appeared from just inside to announce we were too early to book in, it was only 11.00am, we should come back at 3.00pm. No problem I replied we would use the time for a good look around.
We also took the opportunity to pick the brains of the Germans too!
It turned out the Ruff had stopped lekking in front of the hide some days previously, prior to that they had some excellent opportunities. One of the guys had spent two uncomfortable nights in the Black Grouse hide we'd used ( no doubt with a sleeping bag!) and his reward hadn't been much better. A single grouse on each night so hardly the right set up for a Lek! We were also informed April is the best month for both the Ruff and Grouse Leks. This was a bit annoying on two fronts.
Firstly, we had been almost certainly set up in the Grouse hide with the owner knowing the likely hood of grouse was minimal. We would have much preferred an honest appraisal and accepted that such is nature and instead settled for a decent nights sleep in a proper bed.
Secondly we realised that we really should do more research to find the optimum times to visit before booking and accepting an agency travel plan. We now realised that we were being slotted in to what remained of the spare places to suit them rather than us.
All was not lost though, on our drive up to the house we had spotted Ruff and they were still lekking at 11.00am, just in a totally distant place to the erected hide. That gave us two options, move the hide or borrow one of the available pop-up hides and set that up to give us an alternative option. We chose the latter and armed with the hide, some large metal pegs and a mallet we headed off to find a decent spot.
The Germans seemed to think it was a waste of time but we weren't deterred. Once set up near the lekking spot we'd seen, which was also on much drier land, we left it for the birds to become accustomed to. It did however become a source of instant curiosity to the large herd of cows that also used the field. We wondered if it would get trampled on but luckily all was well.
Eventually back to the house to check in, my first request was to ask if it was possible to have an evening meal that night. The answer came back, "No, you have to book it the day before"
We'd also discovered from the Germans that the couple that own Pikla also own Kosmonautika so I asked if I could book meals for the following three nights too. I was told she would have to ask her husband as she was due at Kosmonautika to cook the following evening.
So, we'd now been in Estonia for what would be five nights and only had one proper evening meal. This was not good but not a lot we could do about it. The nearest restaurant to Pikla was 25kms away. Too far to be bothered making the journey.
Luckily just up the road was a small supermarket and next to it an even smaller little independent shop that sold delicious coffee and cakes at incredibly low prices!
Breakfast stop.
So if you happen to be driving on the E67 "Via Baltica" and passing through the village of Voiste do give them a call as they are only a third of the price of the petrol station chains and deserve all the custom they can get.
Anyway, with no meal to interrupt the schedule for the evening we could sit in our newly erected hide until it went dark!
We didn't spend that long as it happened but we were in it for three or four hours I guess.
We had reasonable success too. After an hour or so we had two male and a few female Ruff land right infant of us. There wasn't a lek as such but we did manage some photographs of the stunning breeding plumage the males were in. Unfortunately most images were once again soft thanks to the heat... we were now up to 27-28 degrees ( and oh dear,it was grey, cold and miserable for the girls at home too) but as the evening wore on things improved so at last we got some images worthy of keeping.
Ruff  Calidris pugnax
The Ruff came and went on several occasions so it was most satisfying we'd rescued something out of the situation we found ourselves in. 

Ruff  Calidris pugnax
Ginger was we called him, well you would wouldn't you, came really close on one visit.
Ruff  Calidris pugnax
Feeling a little more elated than at any time since the first night in the bear hide we packed up for the night and headed back to the house for a cold beer to celebrate.
We'd both made the decision that a night in the other hide was a non starter. It would be pointless if the Ruff weren't there and as we'd been keeping an eye on the distant hide we knew they wouldn't be. We'd also been told that unless you are on intimate terms the other hide was too small for two people. Mike and I are good mates, but not that close. On the earlier toss of a coin I was nominated for the first night but the soft comfy bed in my room was going to be slept in, that was a certainty.
After three nights of roughing it, getting in to bed was perfect bliss!


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