An 11-day Naturetrek tour of Romania came at the very end of the so-called “Heatwave Lucifer” which had scorched southern and south-eastern Europe for the best part of three weeks. It was hot, but never unbearable, and significantly cooler with scattered showers in the mountains.
We started off by driving north from the capital into the Carpathians (along with, it seemed, most of Bucharest), and stayed for three nights at the little village of Zarnesti. From here, we explored subalpine meadows, rocky gorges and some patches of dense forest. While bird activity was a little low, we saw a good many of the east European specialities, including Middle-spotted and Syrian Woodpeckers, Nutcracker, numerous Red-backed Shrikes and a few Great Greys, raptors including Honey-buzzard, Booted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Alpine Swift, Golden Oriole and Bee-eaters.
However, the insects, plants and especially mammals rather outshone the birds. Numerous butterflies included gems such as Eastern Bath White, Scarce Swallowtail, Dryad and many Fritillaries, including Queen of Spain, Lesser Spotted and High Brown. A good many dragonflies were identified, including Sombre Goldenring, Red-veined Darter, Southern Migrant Hawker and Lesser Emperor. Many plants were still in full-bloom – highlights included several Carpathian endemics, including a Campanula and a Cow-wheat, and Edelweiss, growing as a chasmophyte in a limestone gorge.
The mammal of the trip was a single Chamois in the same gorge, until, that is, the same evening when a visit to a purpose-built hide proved highly successful, with at least six Brown Bears emerging to feed (and fight) in a forest clearing in broad daylight.
After a visit to the tourist trap of Bran Castle (not Dracula’s castle at all, but conveniently for the tourist board the first plausible looking fortification you come to in Transylvania…..) and some excellent geological education from our local guide Florian, we made the lengthy bus transfer to Tulcea, the major eastern port city.
Although it’s a port, Tulcea is not on the coast, but rather some 70km inland at the source of the mighty Danube delta. We loaded up onto our floating hotel (=river boat), and set off at dawn the next day. We spent three days shuffling between the main boat and the much smaller observation launch, exploring a huge selection of the delta’s habitat types, from choked eutrophic lagoons, to floating islands, to sandy former spits and bars, to endless kilometres of reed-fringed channels.
As inland, small bird activity was low (Thrush Nightingale only heard, one Collared Flycatcher – but many Bearded and Penduline Tits, Reed and Great Reed Warblers and so on), but there were plenty of “big things” to look at. Highlights included both Pelicans (White outnumbering Dalmatian by about 500:1), Pygmy Cormorant, seven species of heron including excellent views of Little Bittern, Little Crake, a good few migrant waders, Black, White-winged and numerous Whiskered Terns, Roller, Red-footed Falcon, White-tailed Eagle and many Marsh Harriers, Lesser Grey Shrike and lots more.
Insects were again a big feature, with the very localised Freyer’s Purple Emperor seen well, plus stacks of dragonflies and damselflies. Frogs were simply everywhere (many being eaten by the abundant Squacco Herons – we counted over 200 on one lake). Mammals again featured prominently, although the value of two Musk Rats was quickly upstaged by a very showy, fearless Golden Jackal.
Finally back on dry land, we had a couple of days exploring the Dobrogrea coastal plain, focussing on dry grasslands and steppe inland (Saker Falcon, Isabelline Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike and so on – plus European Souslik and the rare Latticed Brown butterfly), and then the coastal lagoons to the south.
The latter were packed with birds, mostly migrant waders (Temminck’s Stint, Spotted Redshank, Collared Pratincole), terns and gulls, but with a good supporting cast of hirundines, wagtails and pipits, plus a few passerine specials, such as decent views of Paddyfield Warbler.
A final coastal stop at the hot-spot of Vadu turned up more of the same (plus numerous Romanian tourists), but added migrant Arctic Skuas and a Common Porpoise to the list.
The final day was a smooth enough drive back to the capital, farewells, and a return to damp and blustery Britain.
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