It’s a case of ‘the birds and the bears’ in this rich and var­ied eastern Euro­pean wildlife haven

Bird Watching (UK) - - World Birding - WORDS & PHO­TO­GRAPHS: MIKE WEE­DON

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.

Delta drift­ing

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

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