|Romania 2006 Tour Report 29th July- 7th August|
The Sheffield contingent gathered VERY early in the morning to catch a mini-coach to Heathrow airport to rendezvous with the rest of our party, who were arriving fromthe USA. We eventually gathered after some messing about with British Airways, made our introductions & said our hellos and jetted off to Bucharest. Arriving at the main airport we were met by Diana & Andu, our guide and ground agent for the tour. Quickly boarding our coach we headed off east towards the town of Tulcea, on the banks on the Danube, and our floating hotel- this our home for the next 3 nights. After a couple of hours we stopped for a break, and of course took our binoculars. On the drive we picked-up dozens of Rollers by the roadside and a few Red-footed Falcons on wires. At our stop, a steep sandy cliff ridge, we saw Short-toed Lark, good views of Hoopoe, Red-backed Shrike and brief views of Golden Oriole. Our tour had began! We arrived in the dark at our luxurious floating hotel. After getting squared away we had a superb meal and went to bed, with eager anticipation of first full day on the Danube Delta.
Some of the party rose very early- 05:00 for our first Romanian birds. Almost straight away from the viewing platform on the hotel on the wide River Danube, on the east side of Tulcea, we saw lots of Caspian Gulls, and dozens of Common Tern. As the morning progressed we saw lots of White Pelicans and Pygmy Cormorant- albeit distantly,but more was to come. After breakfast we went to the bow of the hotel as we were towed deep into the Danube Delta, scanning as we went. We tied up in the delta and transferred to smaller boats, to take us through the smaller vegetated channels, allowing us to get close views. Birds were everywhere, hundreds of Glossy Ibis, Black-tailed Godwits, Egrets mainly Little & Great White, with Squacco Herons & Night Herons at every turn with plenty of Little Bittern, Purple Heron and not forgetting the masses of Pygmy Cormorant, perched on almost every bare branch on the more open stretches. The wealth of waders was never ending, Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Wood Sandpiper all stopping off to feed and rest before moving off further south. One of the highlights was single Dalmatian Pelican, this now an increasing rarity, even here. Another highlight was a day total of 60 Spoonbill. Terns were also common, with hundreds of Whiskered & Common, with a smattering of Black. At a stop, an old abandoned quartz factory, we disembarked to scan the ruins, and pools of water here we had more waders, including 2 Collared Pratincoles, plus an amazingly close Hobby, as well as Great Reed Warbler & Spotted Redshank.
The journey back to the hotel continued to produce Caspian Terns, plus more Red-necked Grebe. We returned for a very substantial lunch, before heading out on the smaller boats again to explore the channels of this superb area. Ferruginous Duck were fairly common as were Garganey. Mooring up in the evening by a large open area of reed fringed water, deep in the heart of the Danube Delta, we were anchored by a reedbed, with Penduline Tits in a nearby nest. Other birds today included Grey-headed Woodpecker, 20+ Roller, Syrian Woodpecker, White-tailed Eagle - All from our floating hotel- this really is the best way to explore the Danube Delta. Another sumptuous meal, which completely overwhelmed the group, topped off a memorable first day on the Danube Delta. Some of the group, with plenty of stamina, had several rounds of Scrabble, over wine & beer of course, and retired in the early hours- Scrabble: USA-2, Eng-1, away win!
Again a few hardy souls woke at dawn to view the sunrise from the observation deck, or they would have if it wasn't raining extremely heavily. Undaunted, and kept going by gallons of coffee, courtesy of the waitress, several watched squadrons of White Pelicans fly over from their roost. A buffet breakfast was welcome, following which our party jumped into our smaller boats to explore the channels an open areas of the Danube Delta.
We explored many small reed fringed channels, producing Penduline Tit and Bearded Tit. The channels were alive with Night Heron, Little Egret, and loads of Green Sandpiper and Kingfisher, not to mention Squacco & Night Heron. We crossed several larger of bodies of water including Furtuna Lake & Lapana and witnessed high counts of Black-necked Grebe (day count of 60), Red-necked Grebe (day total 70)and flocks of Garganey (700). Amongst the myriad of wildfowl (circa 5000 Coot) & Pygmy Cormorant were colony's consisting of thousands of Black-headed Gulls, as well as terns, mostly Common, Whiskered, with some Black & Little, plus at least 4 White-winged Black Tern. Another Dalmatian Pelican was another high point, as were more Spoonbill & White Stork. Day total for Pygmy Cormorant was c2000! Over the delta were Raven, Red-footed Falcon, Hobby & Marsh Harrier.
We returned to our floating hotel a little late, following an entanglement with reeds, which had to be cleared several times. We decided not to go out again, but stay on the pontoon and see what we could see from here and on our journey back to Tulcea. From the hotel we attracted a stunning Grey-headed Woodpecker, as well as 2 Black Woodpecker, gliding in above the pontoon.
We returned to Tulcea late in the evening for our overnight mooring, as it was an early start the next day. Our journey back produced lots more wildfowl, as well as 2 White-tailed Eagle. Docking in Tulcea we had a little toast to express our thanks to the boatmen & staff of the floating hotel, who looked after us so well both on and off the hotel. However another overwhelming evening meal followed (if you like fish), with lots of free flowing wine to wash it all down.
A day of change today, as we left behind the Danube Delta for the Black Sea. Those rising early, again saw squadrons of White Pelicans and loads of Common Tern & Caspian Gull from the moorings in Tulcea. An early start, following, as usual an excellent and welcome breakfast saw a brief stop at an exposed sandy quarry, not too far from Tulcea. Here we had Little Owl, White Stork & dozens of Bee-eater, plus Golden Oriole. At Murighiol, on our way to Constanta, we stopped by a small lake on the plains, here were 120+ Black-necked Grebe, with lots of wildfowl & waders, including Ferruginous Duck, Avocet, Spotted Redshank & Red-necked Phalarope,plus Whiskered Tern. Further down the lake, at Plopu was a haze of gulls- walking towards them revealed at least 8 Great Black-headed Gull, 60 Mediterranean Gull amid the hoards of Caspian Gulls. The outskirts of Plopu produced x2 Syrian Woodpecker & Golden Oriole. At Enisala we stopped at Bee-eater colony for a quick break, amongst the Bee-eaters we encountered, were Souslik, a small ground squirrel like mammal. The journey produced lots of Red-backed Shrike & Red-footed Falcons on the wires.
Lunch was taken in Babadag Forest, an area of excellent broadleaf woodland in hilly countryside, which turned out to be a hot spot for butterflies as well as Honey Buzzard and 2 Lesser Spotted Eagle plus single Black Woodpecker, Goshawk and a very obliging Levant's Sparrowhawk and along a track an elusive Sombre Tit. On the plains west of Constanta we had excellent views of Long-legged Buzzard and an inquisitive Stone Curlew. We arrived at Constanta, a large bustling coastal city, in the early evening, staying in the posh Ibis Hotel, we relaxed and enjoyed our surroundings over beer and our evening meal.
For those who wished, we witnessed sun rise over the Black Sea, and a walk along the cliff base, checking the scrub for migrants, prior to breakfast, this produced little but worth getting up early just for the sunrise. After breakfast it was a short drive up the coast to Navodari Pools, these superb reed fringed pools amid a huge factory complex on the coast, not very pretty, but excellent for birds. Up to 8 Common Sandpiper, 10 Spotted Redshank, 56 Green Sandpiper, and our first Marsh Sandpiper of the tour (20), as well as Little Bittern and 50 Little Gull and 5 White-winged Black Tern through.
We moved to Histria an inland marshy area, in search of Paddyfield Warbler, despite the very strong winds, we did hear, and have brief views of one or two, plus Bearded Tit. In the pools behind were Avocet, Purple Heron, 10 Spoonbill over with a good numbers of Marsh Harrier.
Further up the coast we came to Vadu, another deserted, decaying industrial area, but with large pools of water with lots of waders, including Collared Pratincole, brick-red Curlew Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, 40+ Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper and 3 Dalmatian Pelican, plus 60 Garganey, Great White Egret, Lesser Grey Shrike. We had another excellent picnic lunch and spent a couple of hours checking the coastal strip, which produced one of the highlights of the trip- a Richard's Pipit, only the 2nd for Romania. There were lots of Gulls, (100's Caspian, 60+ Mediterranean) plus 200 Black Tern, 2 Gull-billed Tern and 100 Sanderling on the beach.
In the afternoon we moved inland to the Cheia Gorge, a high wide Limestone ridge. A hot spot for Pied Wheatear, which duly obliged, as did a pair of Black Redstart. Overhead were single Honey Buzzard and Levant's Sparrowhawk. Returning to Constanta, we found an Isabeline Wheatear, 2 Tawny Pipit and Short-toed Lark- all new for the trip. Driving back to Constanta, the arable Sunflower fields were darkened by 1000's of hirundines, most were Sand Martin, but with many Swallow, presumably gathering before roosting. We returned for another elegant meal in Constanta.
Another early morning for those who wished to see the sun rise, although some of us ate something, which certainly slowed some of the group down today. We packed our bags and headed west, towards Galati, our over night stop, on the banks of the River Danube.
We started at Atmagea, on the plains of central Romania, on the road from here we had an excellent Imperial Eagle by the road, which induced an impromptu halt. At Atmagea, we 4 Booted Eagle, several wing clapping Honey Buzzard, and 2 Levant's Sparrowhawk and 3 more Sombre Tit, plus an amazing variety of butterflies.
Moving on and by early afternoon we were at Macin, here we spent a considerable amount of time. Macin, a massive limestone ridge, where we had lunch, not before spending a long time looking for, and eventually finding Saker Falcon- well worth the effort in the hot weather. Initially we had just Hobby, and loads of Isabeline Wheatear (c30), Lesser Grey Shrike & Stone Curlew. Highlights were Rock Thrush, as well as Saker Falcon and good numbers of both White Stork and White Pelican
We arrived on the opposite side of the Danube to Galati, after a brief wait, and bid our fond farewells to Andu, our Danube guide, we drove on to the ferry and 20 minutes later we were outside our hotel. We settled in and another excellent meal, for those that felt well enough, around the hotel were 500 Starlings, and lots of Swift. Another excellent day with some of Romania's best birding.
A day mainly of driving, with several stops, as we left behind the Danube and drove up into the mountains of Transylvania, and Brasov, our base for the next 3 days. After a couple of hours driving we came to Ianca Ponds and a break for half an hour. A large flat area with several very large reed fringed shallow pools, and plenty of birds. Nearby were 10 Black-tailed Godwits, 5 Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, 20 Black-winged Stilt, 5 Kentish Plover, 2 Marsh Sandpiper, 10 Ruff and 10 Wood Sandpiper with Hobby overhead. There were good numbers of wildfowl, including Mallard, were 15 Shelduck, Little Bittern and 15 Whiskered Tern. Although time was pressing slightly, so we moved on for a couple of hours, with many Red-backed Shrike by the roadside, before another excellent lunch stop. Lunch was taken overlooking a steep mountain valley at Siriu almost Alpine, in appearance, with high pasture. Over the hillside were Buzzard, plus Honey Buzzard, Levant's Sparrowhawk and 3 Raven. Lower down were Tree Sparrow and 2 Syrian Woodpecker. We eventually arrived in Brasov, on the hotel was a Black Redstart, a good omen? Here we were met by Szilard, our mountain guide- introducing ourselves with beer. A very pleasant meal was had, the group really gelling. At about 9pm we gathered to go to the edge of town in search of bears, which come down to the bins to scavenge. After a short wait and an explanation to the the local police, we were rewarded with a Brown Bear in full view from the comfort & safety of our coach. Driving up and down we had brief views of 1-2 other Brown Bears in the poorly lit roads. We returned to our beds at nearly midnight- another full day.
A pleasant pre breakfast stroll around the woods and parkland near our hotel produced lots of Blackbird and several Blackcap. Black Redstart topped 7, with excellent numbers of Hawfinch in the parkland (50), plus Jay and Robin (timid woodland birds here!)
Following breakfast we had a couple of hours to explore the pretty city of Brasov in the warm sunshine, and post all those postcards etc... Most folk explored the famous 'Black Church', steeped in history. We departed Brasov for the mountains and the area of Zarnesti Gorge, a high sided, very narrow limestone gorge. We slowly made ourway up the narrow gorge, scanning any flat face for Wallcreeper, which breed here. We had a brief view of Alpine Swift as it shot down the gorge, and several Crag Martin overhead, although we noted the clouds were building, and what had been a glorious warm morning, quickly developed into a grey, cool and very, very wet afternoon, sheltering under the face of the valley sides we did our best in the trying conditions, picking out Grey Wagtail, and what may have been a brief glimpse of Wallcreeper- the one that got away. We pressed on in the dry interludes although the showers quickly returned & halted our birding. We did pick up a few birds including Middle Spotted Woodpecker, 6 Raven & Sparrowhawk.
We returned to the coach, most completely drenched by the torrential rain, and attempted to have a late lunch, diving out of the coach and under temporary shelter to grab a quick bite. We returned to the hotel for hot showers, a well deserved beer/ wine and a hot meal. Some of the party went looking for Brown Bears again, this time it appeared the whole town had turned out, as crowds of people gathered. One bear did put in a brief appearance, but promptly disappeared, as did the crowds, who approached too closely and the bear let out a growl!
Another stroll around the parkland before breakfast, on this our final full day in Romania, produced more Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Black Redstart & Tawny Owl. After breakfast it was a longish journey to the high point of the mountains, stopping off several times to explore the diverse habitats. Our first stop was on the huge plain at Sambata de Sus, at the foot of the Fagaras Mountains. Our group spread out checking out fields and tracks. There were lots of Red-backed Shrike by the roadside (60 day total), of more interest were Lesser Grey Shrike, several huge Lesser Spotted Eagle (day total of 10), single Quail singing from the meadow, Turtle Dove, quite a few Tree Pipit flying over, and 3 Whinchat by the road, plus Whitethroat and Yellow Wagtail.
We began climbing up in to the mountains, around the twisty mountain roads, stopping half way for a roadside market, those not in need of retail therapy continued on foot up the road, up the mountain, through the dense woodland. The coach caught us up and we boarded for the drive to the top, way above the treeline. This produced Bullfinch and Black Redstart and lots of Goldcrest. The very top was almost carnival like, with a modest sized open market on the pass through the mountain. We parked and wandered around the area of Balea Lake, looking down on the clouds and the road snaking its way up, the mountainside. Leaving the mass of the market behind we walked by the lake, and beyond, to a narrow torrent. Here we had Dipper and several Water Pipit & Grey Wagtail & several Wheatear. Raptors included Buzzard, plus 3 Raven. Climbing up slightly we scanned the rocky slopes, but the mist rolled in, which hampered viewing some what. The mist eventually cleared and we boarded the bus, and continued through a tunnel to the other side of the mountain, this a favoured site for Alpine Accentor, we did have lots of para-gliders, and saw the deserted nest of of an Alpine Accentor, which had been present less than two weeks before.
We returned to Brasov, for an evening a meal, this our last of the tour. We had a 4 course meal, with toasts to our guides and organisers, especially Diana Travel, our ground agent in Romania, who had worked tirelessly during the entire 10 day tour. Following our meal it was drinks all around, then an early night, for the long day and home tomorrow.
Our final day. It was an early breakfast, pack-up and away for our afternoon flight, although not without stopping at Sinia and the royal palace for a break and a good lookaround. We drove the hour or so to the palace and an amazing estate it was, with a very grand palace, and associated buildings. The birds were a little thin on the ground, but the architecture more than made up for it. The woodlands around the palace held typically Robin, Chaffinch, Treecreeper, Jay & Nuthatch. After perusing the small market in the car park, it was back on the coach for the final time, for the 3 hour run to Bucharest, and the airport. Arriving we unloaded, and bid our farewells to our driver, who did a superb job all week, driving our coach around, and to Diana, our ground agent who simply did an outstanding job of arranging the transport and accommodation. Eventually we checked in, after more fun and games. A smooth flight brought us back to Heathrow, unfortunately we lost our American contingent at passport control, so were unable to say our goodbyes. The UK party jumped on the mini-bus and on the 3 hour journey home, reflected on what had been an excellent adventure, from the vast expanse of channels and lakes of the Danube Delta, the misty shore of the Black Sea, the plains and Forests of the interior of Romania, to the mountains and woodlands of Transylvaniain the Carpathians.
All photos © Geoff Facer & Philip Ridsdale 2007