It’s a case of ‘the birds and the bears’ in this rich and varied eastern European wildlife haven
European birdwatching trips are not really supposed to be like this. One day, you are watching a Ural Owl and Chamois in the morning, a dozen close-up Brown Bears in the evening. And a couple of days later drifting along by a floating Whiskered Tern colony, with White and Dalmatian Pelicans overhead, enjoying more Squacco Herons than you can imagine. And, moored up at night, the frog and toad chorus is so loud that you can barely dream, let alone sleep. But Romania presents a different kind of European birding, offering several different worlds within its borders. I was there in June, accompanying a group from the Ramblers Worldwide Holidays. The trip was split between exploring the Carpathians and Dracula country in Transylvania; the steppe; and five nights sleeping on a ‘floating hotel’ in the mind-blowing Danube Delta. The bears were the highlight of the first couple of days of the trip, in the Carpathians. We visited a little hide and watched the glorious mammals emerging from the forest to come to biscuit bait. Brown Bears are nervous and sensitive to each other’s positions and movements. A sneaky Fox, which came in to pinch some biscuits, set the younger bears and females on edge. But not as much as the appearance of a big brute of a male, massive and muscular, and already mostly in his short summer coat. One of the females flirted with him, outrageously, leading him into the forest. But the highlights, for me, of the whole bear-watching experience included hearing the blood-curdling, instinctjarring roars of nearby bears in the forest. That and the all-too-brief appearance of a mother with two tiny cubs which almost looked like they wanted to come and explore in the back of our (open-doored) hide.
The core of the whole trip was cruising the myriad water ways of the Danube Delta. There are 3,446 square km of this incredible delta system in Romania. Channels take you through subtly different vegetation systems and forest types. There are vast floating reedbeds, damp forests, dunes, lagoons, and richly vegetated banks. And there are masses of birds, everywhere! The excitement started when we first boarded our floating hotel at Tulcea, the gateway to the delta. House Sparrows, of all the exotic birds you could choose, were sweeping majestically over the water by our boat and catching giant yellow Tisza Mayflies (Europe’s biggest mayfly). We even got excited by our first passing Whiskered Terns. I say ‘even’ not because Whiskered Terns are anything other than fantastic birds, but because we were to see thousands of them over the next few days in the delta. I love Whiskered Terns, but they are so common there that, when a couple of (for us, more familiar) Black Terns joined one feeding flock, these grabbed all the attention. The Danube Delta is a massive source of food for a great variety of birds. There are feeding herons everywhere, with different tracts attracting Night Herons, Squacco Herons, Purple Herons and Little and Great White Egrets, Pygmy Cormorants and Cormorants, and of course White, and a lesser number of, Dalmatian Pelicans. But above the water, there were great riches, too. Never have I known such numbers of Cuckoos. There is a constant accompaniment of the males’ song and occasional females’ ‘bubbling’ calls. There are Icterine and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers warbling, Golden
Male Brown Bear ROMANIA White Pelicans are more numerous than Dalmatian Pelicans in the Danube Delta The landscape of the Carpathians is truly beautiful