The year in nature 2011: Rich and poor

Text: Kristel Vilbaste,
Photos: Arne Ader
 Translation: Liis
From 2011 I remember fire, water and wind. There was even too much of them all for me. But living nature with its sounds and colours made my heart sing.
The four winter signs of the week:
Green grass,
Bullfinch flutes
Fox fleeing from the New Year bangs and
The following silence!
What was special about the year 2011 in nature:
Mikk Sarv: 2011 again confirmed the old folk saying that a hot summer will follow after a cold winter. But the summer of this year held everything – heat as well as cold, drought and rain. Overall it might be said that it was a pivotal summer and year – the winter of 2012 no longer started with a deluge of snow and frost. Let us see where this turn brings us!
Gennadi Skromnov: Two consecutive years of sea ice. After the break-up of the ice the aquatic flora had rested nicely ... Seals were able to give birth on the ice, it was a good year particularly for ringed seals.
Agu Leivits: Two cold winters have reduced the number of the smallest forest birds quite drastically and there were not enough of them for the autumn migration – the numbers of goldcrests, treecreepers, long-tailed tits, blue tits were quite small at the autumn migration and long-tailed tits were not even caught at the Kabli migrating station.
Kaja Kübar: While there were some 41 roe deer per 10 km earlier in snow-rich winters then there are only four of them altogether now, in two „flocks“ – two and two. The number of wolves has increased, there are more flocks and more lone rovers too. Since there are few deer, sheep keep disappearing continuously, more than ever before.
Enn Vilbaste:  Black grouse are much fewer than earlier. The wild boars have ploughing contests in every semi-natural water meadow, all orchids have gone from there.
Urmas Tartes: Last year was definitely a special butterfly year. The emperors, purple and lesser, (Apatura irisand Apatura ilia) flew side by side and in great numbers. Only a short time ago they were quite rare. It was also a good year for the clouded apollos (Parnassius mnemosyne) but their flights were very local.
Vello Keppart: The second really Northern winter and the second warm dryish summer stay in memory. It was the summer of swallowtail butterflies, many saw the caterpillars on the dill in their home gardens, one caterpillar I even discovered on a third floor balcony in Jõgeva town. The mezereon that started a second flowering in the beginning of October went on flowering with one or two blooms even during Christmas and New Year.
Olev Merivee: December left many migrant birds around Tõrva – fieldfares, some blackbirds, buzzard, mute swans. Goldeneyes, mergansers and tufted ducks on Lake Võrtsjärv. But my bird experience was in my own home yard where a middle spotted woodpecker came sneaking for food for several weeks!
Arne Ader: At Võrtsjärv common frogs didn’t wait for the snow and ice to melt in spring – mating went on in the snow, on ice and under ice. In May the forest at the cliff shore was particularly beautiful and sweetly scented from the flowering of perennial honesty (Lunaria rediviva), late summer rich in hop cones, at the end of October both rape fields and birch copses were yellow. Little snow in early winter, but in some places gorgeous rime and light.
The snowdrift reaches the roof in the thaw at the beginning of the year, the ground is not frozen and on the ice of lake Peipsi there is yellow water under thick snow. Snow falls, the surface melts and the thick ice crust on the snow makes the whole world silvery. There are willow catkins on the bushes and 11 white-tailed eagles at once in the white-tailed eagle web camera. The wind-blown snowdrifts leave only a hand-high band of tree tops visible of the spruce hedge.

The snowdrift is still more than a metre, but in the thaw of early February maple sap started flowing and lilac buds were bulging. The snow is full of mosquitoes and spiders, snowdrops poke up their noses at the house wall, rooks check their nests. Then the great cold arrives, 30 degrees below zero. The ice forces swans from the North to the Estonian coastal waters. Difficult period for boars and roe deer.

February: there was much snow and more continued to fall...

The woodpecker drums get going and tit calls are not silent for a moment. The thaw sets the waters flowing. Larks and starlings arrive even through snow blizzard. As late as mid-March only more snow falls, in Jõhvi it is 82 cm thick. At the end of March such a dense snowfall arrives that sight is less than a couple of meters. But the alder and willow catkins already have spring.

March: snowdrifts are covered by an ice crust, the deer flock is exhausted by the long winter

Spring arrives stealthily all of a sudden in the beginning of April. One moment the starling whistled, holes melted into the snow and by the snowdrift the snowdrops were in full flower. Some half of the boars survived the dangerous winter. People again expect major floodings. They don’t reach the 2010 level but canoe-paddlers have much fun in the floodplains. The Witches’ Well starts „boiling“ in mid-April. Butterflies are in flight in the second week, at the end of April frog matings are in full swing and forest floors blue with Hepaticas.

April: common frogs gather in the spawning places, neither snow nor ice stop the mating period!

In mid-May nearly all migrant birds are back, the choirs of common frogs try to overpower their song. Lightning beats the tree bark loose on tuuleristipäev, Wind cross day, and children can make willow whistles in between the rain showers. In the third week the water of Emajõgi is already 16 degrees warm. In the second half of May bird cherries and lilacs flower, starling chicks slip out of the nests. There are „less“ mosquitoes than last year.

May: the cliff shore is sweetly scented from the abundantly flowering perennial honesty

The mushroom season starts on June 5, city champignons peek up in the lawns. June is warm and full of wild strawberries. The whole world is filled with butterflies, there are more of them than usual and incredibly interesting species are in flight. There are many ticks, gnats and horseflies. Heat and humidity turn Estonia into an insect paradise. At Midsummer the creaking corn crake can’t be seen any longer in all the grass. Wolves, bears and lynxes come to cull cattle since the winter with killing snow has made the forest dinner table meagre.

June: black-veined whites sucking water at the river bank predict that the summer will be rich in butterflies
July arrives with hot weather and in a 30-degree heat wave bakes people at the Youth Song and Dance Festival brown and happy in an instant. Swimming waters are warm and rich in thunder. Fox and raccoon dog cubs teem everywhere. Cherries and morel cherries, cloudberries and bilberries ripen already in the beginning of July. White storks mostly have 3 chicks in the nests. The cuckoo stops calling in the second week of July. In the third week lake Peipsi „blooms“. Butterfly flights go on throughout the whole of July, at the end of July migrant birds start gathering in flocks.

August arrives with showers and starfalls. Already in the beginning of the month the birdsong choir became silent, but the more powerful the cricket chirping was. The cheeks of cowberries turn red uncommonly early, and already in the second week nature begins to dress up in red-yellow. Plums plop down ..., the wasp war begins to last the whole month. The mushroom season arrives with a colourful medley. There are exceptionally much mushrooms. The wolves that the scarcity of deer come out of the forests give birth to new werewolf legends. Spruce shoots are once more meter-long. In the Northern countries there is a deluge of lemmings.

August: hops are bowed down by cones!
The drought sucks the water out of the wells and ponds of South Estonia. Peipsi retreats inside its borders. Early September is cool as an autumn month should be, the trees change from green into yellow. Bears visit apple orchards but apples are not everywhere. Storm Katia stays rather pale but September drowns in mist. The weather sages all predict an early winter, the coldest of the century. Cranes leave at the end of September.
Snow does not come but trees go bare early. Goose flocks move across Estonia. It rains but in South Estonia wells are still without water. The roe deer have picked up but for hunters it is not enough. Hunting has already moved on into conservation areas. Plants attempt a second flowering in their second youth, even the trees have leaf buds in places. Rape flowers. In the second week of October rime and some little snow come, but disappear in the daytime warmth.

Earthworms still rustle in the grass sward, the moles lift them with a heap of soil towards the sky. In mornings the grass is frosty but it rains in daytime and there are puddles on the ground. Strawberries flower. Rose buds are red. Weasel and stoat are white. Elk mating season is about to end. The last week brings 11 degrees of frost, but there is snow only briefly and locally.


November: rape flowers in the field, yellow birch copse in the background

December comes as a white hare but not even at the end of the month there is snow on the ground. On Christmas Eve white stately flakes fell but that had disappeared by the end of Christmas and nature again dresses in green. Half Estonia has drought and half is drowning. A sixth season arrives in Soomaa for Christmas, water rises by more than a meter. Storm Patrick flushes seawater across Haapsalu’s beach promenade. In Pärnu you can splash in rubber boots in the beach park. Three storm daughters-sons take away electricity from many families at the end of the year. Robert industriously fells the until now steadfastly resisting grove trees. The Witches’ Well starts boiling for the second time!

December: little snow but in the South Estonian uplands gorgeous frost could be enjoyed!
I would change into a forest
And contemplate, quietly sighing
Knowing that men
Still have allowed me enough time
Sünteri Sass




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