Introducing Matsalu National Park
A twitcher’s paradise, Matsalu National Park (Matsalu Rahvuspark) is a prime bird-migration and breeding ground, both for the Baltic and for Europe. Some 282 different bird species have been counted here. Encompassing 486 sq km of wetlands (including 20km-long Matsalu Bay, the deepest inlet along the west Estonian coast), it was first protected as a reserve in 1957 before being declared a national park in 2004.
Spring migration peaks in April/May, but swans arrive as early as March. Autumn migration begins in July and can last until November. Birdwatching towers, with extensive views of resting sites over various terrain, have been built at Keemu, Suitsu, Penijõe, Kloostri, Haeska and Puise. There are two marked nature trails, one at Penijõe (5km), another at Salevere (1.5km). Bring reliable footwear, as the ground is wet and muddy.
The reserve’s headquarters is 3km north of the Tallinn–Virtsu road at Penijõe, an early-18th-century manor house near Lihula. Here you’ll find a nature centre with a permanent exhibition and a free 20-minute film. With advance notice, the centre can hook you up with guides offering tours of the reserve, from two-hour canoe trips around the reed banks to several days of birdwatching. It can also recommend lodging in the area.
Estonian Nature Tours, based in nearby Lihula, employs naturalist guides who have a wealth of knowledge about Matsalu’s avian riches. Every Saturday from May to September they offer bus and boat tours (per person €40) and guided canoe tours (per two-person canoe €70), and rent bikes for a self-guided tour (per day €20).