|Romania 2007 Tour Report 30th May- 10th June|
Our party of 8 gathered early in the morning in Sheffield for our minibus down to Luton airport- the group made their introductions and we headed off. Arriving in plenty of time we checked in and had a time for a coffee before our flight to Bucharest, the capital of Romania. An uneventful flight delivered the party in Bucharest on a pleasant spring evening. Meeting our local guide Andu, we boarded the comfortable & spacious tour bus for the 3 hour drive from Bucharest, to the Transylvania town of Bram- famous for it's castle. This our base for the first few days of the tour. We passed through the central plains of Romania, observing many Roller. Areas of water by the roadside produced Black Tern, 4 Night Heron & 6 Whiskered Tern, while White Stork were in evidence further north. Continuing north we passed through valleys and passes, arriving at our sumptuous hotel for a welcome evening meal and drink- eager for the next day, and our first full day in the field.
The eager ones in the party rose before breakfast to explore the byways of Bram, from or hotel on the outskirts. This produced quite a few Black Redstart and Hawfinch, from the hotel, as well as Fieldfare- singing, most unusual to British ears. Following breakfast the group made it's way to the wooded grounds & parkland of nearby Bram Castle, an imposing building, with it's own birdlife- a Tawny Owl roosting in a recess. Here we had excellent views of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and more Black Redstart, with a Hobby over. We moved out of town to a steep wooded valley, where we explored the woodlands and valley sides- although heavy showers put a dampner on proceedings, but was an excellent spot for a typically hearty picnic. Thanks to our driver Georgei who helped prepare the picnic feast. Plaiol Gorge produced several Buzzard & Raven overhead, the woods alive with Chaffinch, with Crossbill over. The river had it's own attractions with Dipper and Whiskered Tern. Plus Spotted Flycatcher and many Red-backed Shrike. Although the highlights were regional specialities of Wallcreeper (heard only unfortunately) and Sombre Tit. After this excellent, albeit damp start we returned to Bram to our hotel and an excellent meal, with a few drinks to wash it all down.
Again a few
hardy souls rose early to explore Bram, this produced more Black Redstarts,
Garden Warbler, Redstart, singing Serin and 2 more
Hawfinch. Although everyone was looking forward to the
journey from the plateau beyond Bram into the Fagaras Mountains and the
high lake at Balea. We set off north, negotiating the many roadworks and
single file sections. A welcome break at Codlea, a grassland area amid
woodland produced some excellent birding. Red-backed Shrike were
everywhere. Hobby & Goshawk were also seen, with many
Lesser Grey Shrike and Honey Buzzard over. Woodlark &
Tree Pipit were among the Crested Lark. Approaching the
base of the mountains we made brief stop for Lesser Spotted Eagle,
we weren't disappointed, we had 4 in total, plus many White Stork.
We began to drive up into the mountain range, through the woodland belt,
stopping several times in the low cloud. This produced more Black Redstart
and several Buzzard. Typically the woods were alive with Chaffinch.
Around the ski lift was an hepatic Cuckoo, also lots of Raven
gronking around and a couple of Ring Ouzel. A very dirty pool
produced the very are Alpine Newt- several out of the water on plastic
bottles!Winding our way to Balea Lac, the road was blocked by deep snow,
so seemed a good spot for a picnic. After lunch a short stroll brought
us to Balea Lac, here we heard and saw Alpine Accentor, our target
bird in this area, which came down in front of us all, 8 of them in total.
Exploring here we also had Water Pipit and Wheatear, much
to the delight of all. The long journey back back to Bram was punctuated
with the bizarre driving habits of the Romanians, who don't queue! After
another great meal we made the short drive to Brasov to watch the local
Brown Bears raid the local bins, much to our amusement, and from
the safety of our bus. Another excellent day.
For those with energy a pre-breakfast stroll around Bram again, which produced the usual Black Redstart, Serin & Hawfinch and a chance to chat to the locals- who looked on bemused at these Western Europeans who travel all this way to look into their back gardens! After breakfast we headed east a short distance to one of the best areas, a huge Limestone Gorge called Zarnesti Gorge, a steep, high sided, treelined gorge. We parked at the base of the gorge and walked up slowly, scanning for Wallcreeper. Several Alpine Swift chattered down the valley. We found a Black Redstart nest, which we left undisturbed. At a wider point of the gorge, we saw 2 Crag Martin hawking insects high above the gorge. The wooded sides held loads of Chaffinch & Chiffchaff, as well as Lesser Spotted Woodpecker & Nightingale. 2 Rock Bunting were also found, but overhead loads of Raven were seen and a Black Stork drifted through. Climbing out of the gorge we made our way to Magura village, a chocolate box village with a very alpine feel to it. Here lunch was taken overlooking the meadows and distant mountains. Whilst eating a pleasant lunch in the sun, we saw lots of Common Buzzard, and several Red-backed Shrike. A Tree Pipit went over, with several Golden Oriole in song around the village. Returning to Bram, we stopped at Plaiiol Foii, where we met a local ranger, who took us (in the back of his Land Rover- very cosy) high into the hills to a bear watching hide- smothered in Pine twigs to mask the scent of humans. Climbing to the hut we heard and saw Nutcracker. Alas no Brown Bears came, we did have Black Woodpecker. On the return journey we stopped at an enclosure where a young Wolf was being kept, having been found the previous year abandoned- up close, and in the gloom, this female was massive & powerful- apparently the males are even bigger. We returned well after dark, for a late meal, but the delay was worth it- it got us Nutcracker.
A day of change today, as we left the Transylvanian Mountains behind, and headed east across central Romania to the Black Sea coast and the resort of Mamaia. Some undertook the regular stroll around Bram, this produced 2 Restart. We stopped off several times, firstly at Cazanesti where we had lunch. a scrubby area by a river, the river-side trees held several Night Heron, whilst the scrub produced Thrush Nightingale, quite a few Golden Oriole, 3 Tawny Pipit and Yellow Wagtail, with a Marsh Harrier over. From here we stopped at a lake called Hasarlac, this a dry area, with a marshy area & open water, which produced some excellent birds. Calandra Lark were in evidence in the dry fields, The water was the major attraction, with 3 Ruddy Shelduck & Glossy Ibis. Our final stop before Mamaia was Sarafin, a Red-footed Falcon colony. Several were seen as they flew around and perched amid the Rook colony, there were also good numbers of Kestrel and a juv. Long-eared Owl, which looked somewhat lost at the base of a tree. There were also plenty of Roller and Lesser Grey Shrike by the roadside. We arrived at Mamaia, our complex was by an inlet from the Black Sea, so Little Bitterns on tap! The unique restaurant, in the shape of a galleon (novel). gave a good view of the surrounding area, and the many Black Redstarts on the buildings nearby. The inlet held Common Tern, Squacco Heron and noisy Great Reed Warbler, as well as Savi's Warbler and Whiskered Tern. A welcome shower and meal aboard the galleon were very welcome.
Our first full day by the Black Sea started with a walk around the inlet within the grounds of our complex, this produced more Black Redstart and lots of Bee-eater. After a hearty breakfast aboard the landlocked galleon, we drove up the coast to Vadu, a disused area on the shores of the Black Sea- here was a mixture of reeds, water, wetlands and scrubs, and of course the Black Sea. The shallow scrapes held lots of Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Garganey, with Little Tern over, plus 5 Great White Egret, as well as Kentish Plover and Marsh Harrier everywhere. The reedy fringe held a very obliging Bluethroat. While the drier areas held approx. 50 Collared Pratincoles, which showed well as they hawked insects overhead. These were eclipsed by 18 Dalmatian Pelicans that passed over, with a Steppe Buzzard close by. We moved onto the coast itself, where there were large groups of Avocet and Turnstone, and literally 1000's of Cormorants on the fishing poles a few 100m offshore. We also found a non- too pleased Dice Snake. Further up the coast a copse of trees held 4 Icterine Warbler and Golden Oriole- a nearby reedbed was our focus, this produced Bearded Tit, a highlight were 12 Spoonbill that flew over, although our target were Paddyfield Warbler. After much searching, and infuriating brief views, we did see at least 3 individuals. Just off the coast were a nice group of Ruddy Shelduck, although heat haze didn't help. We also got to grips with the various races of Yellow Wagtail, which included dombrowski & thumbergi races- all very edcational. After a full day here, we returned to our complex, and a welcome drink & great meal on the galleon- and an early night- too much sea air!
Today we left Mamaia behind and went west, taking in a quarry renowned for Rose-coloured Starling- a noisy, gregarious flock of 200 showed well in the quarry, as did Little Owl and 60+ Bee-eater. Another highlight were several Ortolan Bunting here. Another well known & picturesque site is Cheia Gorge, which didn't disappoint. Wheatears are well known here, and we soon found the regional speciality Pied Wheatear (at least 15), including a hybrid Black-eared Wheatear, which caused some confusion, as well as single Isabelline Wheatear and 15 Northern Wheatear. We had lunch here and fed the local dogs whilst observing Tawny Pipit and the ever present Black Redstart. We continued round the top side of the gorge in search of Eagle Owl, we found the empty nest, but no birds although there were quite a few Calandra Lark on the more arid areas. Much to our amusement we enjoyed the antics of film crew filming for a Romanian TV ad! We moved onto the woodlands of Babadag Forest, not the best time of day to visit. The highlight was a Large Whip Snake- which is poisonous. We had quite a few Cuckoo, Turtle Dove & Thrush Nightingale. We moved further north and on to our final base of the tour- the port town of Tulcea at the opening of the Danube Delta. We had time for stroll into town, before returning to our very sumptuous and elaborate hotel for an evening meal.
From Tulcea we drove west to the Romanian Plains, which were alive with birds. Our first stop and prominenent hill, straight away we saw Booted Eagle and lots of Calandra Lark on the barren hill side plus several Pied Wheatear and Tawny Pipit. Overhead were Long-legged Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and 4 Short-toed Eagle that showed very well. Continuing south we visited several sites in the Babadag Forest. We had lots of Red-backed Shrike here and typically quite a few Thrush Nightingale, Icterine Warbler, Wood Warbler Syrian & Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Ortolan were in evidence, and sang away every few hundred metres. We had lunch in a clearing after which we had a stroll down the hill, where we saw Honey Buzzard and a few Golden Oriole and Roller . We also saw some magnificent creatures, including a large bronze coloured cricket the size of large mouse. After which we returned to Tulcea and went aboard our floating hotel, home for the next 3 nights.
A big day today as we drove further west towards the Macin area, for a couple of special birds. Our first stop was the outskirts of Grecin where we hoped to find Saker Falcon. In previous years we had found the nest, but no birds. Straight away in the arid scrub we had Calandra Lark and Isabelline Wheatear everywhere, at least 40. In the distance were 4 Stone Curlew. Overhead we saw 4 Booted Eagle, these were joined by up to 2 Levant's Sparrowhawk another regional speciality and Long-legged Buzzard. Careful scanning of the cliff found the Saker nest, we could make out a bird sat- then overhead we had an adult Saker circling, a magnificent sight, this then interacted with a Levant's Sparrowhawk. The trees were alive with Chaffinches, we also had Sombre Tit & Syrian Woodpecker here. The area was full of raptors, as we added Honey Buzzard to the days list. We continued further west into Macin where we stopped several times in woodland and rocky valleys. Common Buzzard were in evidence as were literally 100's of Crested Lark. Overhead 11 Dalmatian Pelican were noteworthy. Hoopoe were also common. Here we also had Middle Spotted Woodpecker. A definite highlight were 3 male Rock Thrush, which brightened up the day. Here we also had 2 Red-rumped Swallow and 2 more Levant's Sparrowhawk. Our return journey was long, but we took a slight detour to Murgiol, a large shallow lake that was alive with birds.Immediately apparent were 50+ Avocet and 100's of Black-headed Gulls and Mediterranean Gulls, although we managed to pick up a single Black Tern amid the 100's of noisy Common Tern. Dotted around the lake were several Black-necked Grebe, plus Pochard & Red-crested Pochard and 50 Shelduck. Waders included Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, lots of Black-winged Stilt. There were quite a few Red-footed Falcon hawking insects in the area. We made our way back to Tulcea and aboard our floating hotel for welcome meal and drink, and a surprise cake for the leader to celebrate his birthday- then ensued a spectacular firework display- apparently NOT laid on especially for the birthday boy, but enjoyable non the less.
We awoke aboard our hotel and to our first full day in the Danube Delta. Whist consuming breakfast we steamed down the main channel of the delta leaving Tulcea behind, birding as we went from the comfort of the decks. After several hours we turned off the main channel to a narrower channel and began to explore the Delta, but the bird for many was a magnificent adult White-tailed Eagle perched by the main channel as we went past. We tied up and hopped aboard smaller craft which took us into the shallower, narrower channels. We had lunch at Crisan aboard the main hotel and watched from our moorings. Here we had Black Woodpecker right by the hotel as well as 2 Grey-headed Woodpecker and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, oh and 1000's of Cormorant, 2000+ Pygmy Cormorant, 250 Night Heron, 60 Purple Heron, as well as 8 Dalmatian Pelican and 20 Ferruginous Duck. We managed to tape lure in 5 Icterine Warbler & 4 Olivaceous Warbler. Afterwards we took a boat ride to an abandoned village of Caronman. The banks and reed fringed channels on the way there were alive with all manner of wildfowl, herons and waders, with 100's of Black-tailed Godwits, Green Sandpiper 100's of Common Tern, Loads of Great White Egret, 200 + Glossy Ibis, 20+ Spoonbill & 300+ Squacco Heron. There were literally birds everywhere. We walked around the town checking out the rapidly drying lake. Here we had Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover & Collared Pratincole. Returing to our hotel via the awesome channels, by now Hobby's were out in force, with at least 30 seen. We steamed to the heart of the delta, and to Lopatna, our overnight mooring where we watched the sun go down and the birds go to roost, including 100's of White Pelicans, as well as several Cuckoo, 4 Penduline Tit, 1000's of Little Egret & loads of Rollers-this is why the Danube Delta is one of the best places in Europe for birds- truly awesome.
Many rose at dawn to witness the sunrise over the Danube Delta and the movement of 1000's of birds from roosting to feeding areas- an awesome sight. There were literally squadrons of White Pelicans, which must have numbered in there 1000's as they flew out in formation to feed. We also had Grey-headed Woodpecker. From our moorings at Lopatna we had breakfast, before disembarking onto the smaller boats for a day of exploration of the lakes, channels and reedbeds of the massive Danube Delta. There were many varied habitats within the delta from shallow small reed areas, to huge open expanses of water, all of which were covered in our full day out, returning only for lunch- this still in the heart of the delta. One of our earliest stops was a well wooded, reedy lake- the trees covered in 1000's of Pygmy Cormorants (day total 4000 birds), the water & sky alive with Black, Whiskered and Common Tern. Not forgetting the reeds themselves with a day total of 50 Penduline Tit. Marsh Harriers, Spoonbill & Great Reed Warbler. The smaller lakes held high numbers of Black-necked Grebe (60+). Red-necked Grebe, 200 Ferruginous Duck & 30 Garganey. Waders were also evident along the banks & channels, with lots of Black-tailed Godwits, 600 Cattle Egret, 100+ Little Egret lots of Great White Egret, 200+ Glossy Ibis. Little Bittern & 600 Night Heron, The larger lakes holding up to 12 Dalmatian Pelican and masses of wildfowl. Overhead there were lots of Roller & Hobby hawking insects. As the sun began to set we hitched up our tug, which towed us back to Tulcea, birding as we went, observing more White-tailed Eagle. An excellent meal of stuffed Pike (really tasty) was only bettered by a cake from our hosts. An early night ensued as we were up very early the next morning for our drive back to Bucharest and our flight home, which unfortunately was somewhat delayed but didn't dampen too much, our high from a brilliant tour of Romania.
All photos © Philip Ridsdale, George & Irene Shentall & Andy Hirst 2008