Terrain conditions and bedrock
According to COUNTRYAAH, Estonia is a low lying area, with a terrain largely shaped by the quaternary icings. The country is located in the western border zone of the large structural region known as the Russian platform. To the north is a belt of Cambro-Silurian rocks, which is a direct continuation of the bedrock of Öland and Gotland. This belt in Estonia gives rise to a plateau which terminates towards the Gulf of Finland with a maximum 60 m high abrasion slope (glint), an equivalent to Gotland’s cliff coast. Below the slope is a low and narrow land strip. The southern part of Estonia consists of layers from the Devonian period, mainly sandstone, which forms long cuesta ridges in the surface (see cuesta).
The relief in the Estonian landscape is a rolling surface characterized by the inland ice. In the south there are powerful end-moraine accumulations, the Baltic moraine ridge, with Estonia’s highest point, Munamägi (317 m asl). In the middle of the country, elongated ridges appear in the ice’s direction of movement (northwest-southeast). In northern Estonia there are widespread sand accumulations and narrow ridges from the melting stage of the ice, which mark the locations of the ice rim. The average height of the Estonian land surface is 49 m above sea level, only one tenth is higher than 90 m above sea level. During the post-glacial period, large parts of the present country were lowered beneath the sea surface. The land elevation after the ice melting amounts to 40–45 m and has exposed an area that, in the northwest in particular, has received a thinned ground cover and a karst-started surface.
Estonia is rich in lakes, especially in the south, and occupies about 5% of the area, while marsh and mossy lands make up 10%. The largest of the lakes are Peipus (about 3,500 km2) and Võrtsjärv. A variety of rivers for water to the Gulf of Finland, the Gulf of Riga and Lake Peipus, with Pärnu jõgi, Pedja jõgi and Narva jõgi as the largest.
Estonia is located within the continental climate region of Europe. However, the climate is strongly modified by the mild air masses introduced from the North Atlantic by migratory low pressure. The country’s climate is therefore temperate and humid as in central Sweden and differs significantly from eastern parts of the Russian Federation at the corresponding latitude.
The annual average temperature in Estonia is 4.6–6.7 °C, the January temperature is –2 °C in the west and –6 °C in the east, while the Christmas temperature varies between 16 and 18 °C in the different parts of the country. The highest measured temperature is 35.6 °C, the lowest –43.5 °C. The rainfall is on average 400–700 mm per year.
Plant-and animal life
Despite its low surface area, Estonia has an exceptionally rich and varied nature with forests, mosses, marshes and algae as well as more than 1,000 lakes and 1,500 islands. In 2012, there were five national parks and about 600 Natura 2000 areas. In total, 18 percent of the land area is covered by some form of nature protection.
Almost half of Estonia’s surface is occupied by forests where northern species such as spruce, pine, birch and aspen dominate, while the coastal landscape along the Baltic Sea has a larger feature of southern species such as oak and forest salmon.
With its strategic location for migratory birds between the Gulf of Finland, the Northern Baltic and the southern Baltic, Estonia is an important hub along the so-called East Atlantic Flyway along which millions of swans, geese, ducks and waders move between the breeding areas in western Siberia and wintering areas along the Atlantic coastal areas, from the Wadden Sea to Guinea-Bissau.
The mammalian fauna in Estonia is similar to the Swedish one. However, Estonia has two specialties – river dill and flycatcher. Seeing the flying squirrel sailing on its “wings” between the trees in an ancient forest in Estonia at dusk is a rare experience in Europe.
At the far east is Estonia’s largest lake Peipsi on the border with Russia. It has a typical fish fauna species as walleye, perch, pike, bream, smelt and roach. During spring and autumn, large quantities of smaller song swans rest at the mouth of the Emajögi River, which opens in the southwestern part of the lake, where 8-10 pairs of sea eagles breed.
In central Estonia lies the country’s largest nature reserve and wilderness area Alam Pedja. The reserve is dominated by five large mosses surrounded by forest and pristine river systems. Alam Pedja is best known for his rich bird life with double-billed, brushane, barley-gull, dwarf gull, white-backed woodpecker, gray-tailed woodpecker, three-pointed woodpecker and many birds of prey – sea eagles, larger screaming eagles, king eagles, blue hawk hawk and meadow hawk.
A little further west is a similar area, the National Park Soomaa, with moors, moist forests and meadows but also dunes. Each spring, the river Riisa floats over its banks and covers an area of 175 square kilometers, which is referred to as “the fifth season”. Among the plants are Russian sabellija (Gladiolus imbricatus) and beach iris (Iris sibirica) and among the birds black stork, smaller screech eagle, king eagle, heather whistle, night scarf, dalripa, pearl owl and blue hook. Wolf, brown bear, lion, elk, otterand beavers are characteristic while flying squirrels are rare.
At the far south is Estonia’s smallest national park, Karula. It has been set aside to guard a piece of unique cultural landscape in the border regions of Latvia. Among the many orchids are blood keys, balt keys (Dactylorhiza baltica), eastern swamp key (Dactylorhiza russowi), bridal grouse and gulyxne. Onion frog is especially common, and among the birds are noticed black stork, osprey, smaller scream eagle, tar and white-backed woodpecker.
In the northeastern part of Riga Bay lies Pärnuviken with a rich bird life, especially during the spring and autumn migration periods. Up to half a million resting birds have been counted for one year. Among the most common is the mute swan, swan, Bewick’s swan, greylag goose, bean goose, barnacle goose, scaup, scoters, black and long-tailed ducks. At the mouth of the Gulf of Riga lies the Irbeni Strait, where up to 1 million stretching and resting birds have been counted in the fall and spring, mainly alpha, black, lake trout, mountain ducks, eider, squid, white-billed goose and small moth. On the Estonian side at the southern tip of the island you will find nesting eagles, cutting spots, slopes and large cormorants.
In western Ösel, the national park Vilsandi has been set aside, including an archipelago of about 150 smaller islands, moorlands, coastal meadows and forests. The national park houses Estonia’s largest colony of gray seals and among the nesting birds are marked sea eagles and southern marshland. On the meadows you will find stink toads. Among bird lovers, Vilsandi and western Ösel are best known for the Baltic Sea’s largest collection of overwintering trawlers.
Between Ösel, Dagö and the mainland lies the Gulf of Vines. At the bottom of the bay is Matsalu National Park with open meadows, reeds and smaller islands. The National Park is best known for its many birds, especially the spring migration with about 2 million ducks, geese, swans and waders. During the fall, up to 21,000 cranes will break. Matsalu and the Gulf of Vietnam are one of the most important bird sanctuaries in Northern Europe.