Trip report in the Danube Delta by BIRD-VENTURES USA


United States

Trip Report on Romania Venture

May 7-18, 2006

May 7
For those that arrived in Romania's capital of Bucharest a day early, they were treated to a tour of the city prior to the rest of the group arriving that afternoon. After both Mark and Simon arrived at the airport, we returned to the hotel, to meet the others, but not after being treated to a singing Nightingale in the airport car park. A great start! After meeting up with the rest of the group, we set out for Transylvania and Sinaia. Arriving late we were treated to our first truly Romanian meal of polenta and a pair of migrant Pied Flycatchers in the garden.

Danube Sunrise Danube Canals

May 8
An early morning walk around Sinaia produced singing Black Redstart, several high flying Hawfinches, Great Tit, Song Thrush, the first of countless 1000's of Chaffinches, two male Greenfinch, a Whitethroat and a number of White Wagtails. Driving to Prejmer, a fortified Saxon church, Common Buzzard, Raven and many House Martins were seen en route. White Stork must have recently arrived back and nests were on many of the local rooftops. A walk around the church complex was fascinating and we also found a beautiful Eurasian Jay. We then continued on to Bicaz locating our first Lesser Spotted Eagle en route, and Skylark and Eurasian Kestrel in a field just north of Prejmer. Shortly before lunch we stopped for several of us to glimpse a fly-over Black Woodpecker over our mini-bus. Following a good hearty lunch several of us walked down a track and located our first Yellowhammer of the trip. The scenery became more dramatic and mountainous as we drove towards Bicaz, where we spent an hour before dinner walking down the Gorge to pick up Fieldfare, White Wagtail, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, an amazing and very obliging White-throated Dipper and a lone Peregrine soaring high overhead.European Bee-Eaters

May 9
An early and cool hike before breakfast got us Siskin, Red Crossbill, Dunnock, an early Blackcap and Coal Tit. Then it was our first attempt for Wallcreeper up a nearby mountain; we hiked up one of the side gorges behind Lacu Rosu checking every rock and cliff face. We failed to find the bird but enjoyed great views at a gorge overlook and saw the following: Rock Bunting, Tree Pipit, Common Wood-Pigeon, Eurasian Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Pied Flycatcher. A later walk around Lacu Rosu yielded very little except rain.

Ventures group birdingMay 10
We left our hotel and a very Goth hotel worker early to drive through the main Bicaz Gorge - but again we failed to find the elusive Wallcreeper. With the sheer scale of the cliffs, we would have been extremely lucky to even get a glimpse of the birds high overhead. In the town of Bicaz we had a great breakfast in a 'Communist' factory cafeteria - very interesting, in particular, the sour milk was unusual but good! The rest of the day was spent driving the length of eastern Romania to Galati to catch the 4 PM ferry across the Danube. This sounds so charming - but the garbage at the ferry terminal was something to behold - dead rotting dogs and pigs - all casualties of the recent flooding. We did also have an encounter with a 'nice' Romania girl at a bar while waiting for the 5 PM ferry!! Nevertheless, we had some great driving birds - Little Egret, Roller, Gray Heron and Yellow-legged Gull, and several Whiskered and Common Terns. Once across the Danube, Johann drove rather aggressively to Tulcea yet we managed to see our first trip Hoopoe, Tree Sparrow, Bee-eater and Ferruginous Pochard.

Our friendly host - BaboushkaMay 11
Today was our first exposure to the Danube delta and even though it rained much of the morning the birding was good - in that first hour or so it sounded as though there was a Thrush Nightingale singing every 30 ft. In addition, we saw at least 5 Common Kingfishers - beautiful flashes of electric blue, loads of Pygmy Cormorants (a lifer even for Simon), herons and egrets galore, at least 10 Hobbies and countless Rollers. We even found a few shorebirds including several breeding plumage Curlew Sandpipers and Ruffs. We also saw our first Pelican and brief glimpse of an immature White-tailed Eagle. As we cruised down the Canalul Litcov it became clear just how high the Danube was. At Crisan, our first night's stop in the Danube, the Danube was at best just a foot below the levee.

May 12
That morning we packed up and headed toward Caraorman, a small fishing village on some higher ground in the Delta. Birding en route produced a 'reeling' Savi's Warbler, several Red-crested Pochard, a beautiful White-winged Tern and 3 Dalmatian Pelicans. Once in the village we found a Tawny Pipit, the trip's first Pied Avocet, several Northern Wheatear, a Yellow Wagtail of the 'beema' race, a distant Montagu's Harrier, and three of us got a Black-headed Bunting in amongst a folly of Ceausescu's. Floating to our next guesthouse at Mila 23 we located our first Penduline-Tit, Great Reed Warbler, a single Tufted Duck and the ever-present Cuckoos. And what a surprise Mila 23 turned out to be - our guesthouse was excellent, our cook fantastic, and showers marvelous. It was a little weird to hear Russian spoken but a dissident Russian group (Lipovanians) who still follow the old Orthodox calendar created this settlement in the 1850's.

Horse and CartMay 13
Early the next Simon and Mark explored the dikes at Mila 23 and dipped out on Syrian Woodpecker again. A nearby Monastery had a superb Red-footed Falcon colony, where BS tried her hand at rowing. After visiting the Monastery, we found an Icterine Warbler and 2 Barred Warblers. Returning to Mila 23 through the lake complex, we saw our first Reed Buntings and Bearded Reedlings and finally glimpsed a 'reeling' Savi's Warblers. We also saw a satellite Ruff - a male Ruff with a white head. These are non-breeding males. But the highlight of the day, and for some the trip, was watching a male Penduline-Tit weaving part of a nest no more than 10 meters from our boat. Back at our guesthouse, our evening meal of carp was spectacular.

May 14
Once again, Mark heard a Scops-Owl during the night, but finally on Heather's last day we got an Owl. Simon and Mark found, on their early morning walk, a pair of Tawny Owls with 3 young. Everybody on the trip got great looks. Walking back to the guesthouse yielded the trips first Syrian Woodpecker. Good bird. Then it was off for a leisurely cruise back to 'Tulcea. In addition to the 100's of Cuckoos and "rolling" Rollers, the group got get looks at a Little Bittern, several Pheasant, and Simon got a Quail (alas leader only!). Arriving in Tulcea we said good-bye to Heather and then after a short sight-seeing hike around the square of Tulcea we had a beer with Mihai's mates in a pub on the riverfront.

Male Red-footed FalconMay 15
After a pleasant night on the outskirts of Tulcea it was off to Macin NP for some dry-land birding. Several stops on the way yielded Stonechat, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting, Skylark and Spanish Sparrow. After several shallow lakes on route 22D just south of Macin, we turned onto a very bumpy dirt road leading to a quarry on our way to the Ranger's house. En route a shout went up to stop the vehicle and we found we had discovered 3 displaying male Isabelline Wheatears - excellent. These are at the very edge of their breeding range. After a packed lunch - we set off with the warden to explore the hills behind Macin. But after a short 100 meter walk, a strange call got our attention. A hawk landed rather obligingly on a nearby tree and we were all able to see our first Levant Sparrowhawk - quite a "tick!" The hike continued to yield great trip birds - Ortolan, several Long-legged Buzzards, two Pied Wheatears, and a Common Rock-Thrush. We then retraced our journey to Izvoarele and drove north toward Niculitel looking for hawks above the northern Babadag forest. We dipped out on hawks but at a stop looking over Niculitel we had Wood Warbler, Nuthatch and Icterine Warbler.

May 16
With Johann driving fast and furious we got to Vadu but not before getting both Short-toed Lark and Calandra Lark along the road. Just before Vadu we also got another Yellow Wagtail but this time an individual of the very attractive black headed "feldegg" race. Vadu was terrific with the following trip birds: Collared Pratincole, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish (Snowy) Plover, a fast flying pair of Rosy Starling, and Eurasian Reed Warbler. After a quick beer and lunch in Vadu we left for Histria. This famous spot did not disappoint. We had Mediterranean, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls, many more Collared Pratincoles but no Black-winged, several more Red-crested Pochard, great looks at a Marsh Sandpiper, but rather distant views of a Broad-billed Sandpiper. In the trees adjacent to the museum, we got many Spotted Flycatchers, several Blackcaps, 2 Icterine Warblers, many White-throated Dipper Willow and Garden Warblers, loads of Lesser Gray Shrikes and 2 very obliging female Red-breasted Flycatchers: quite a feast of migrating birds. Another quick check out the reed beds gave us great views of a Paddyfield Warbler and more glimpses of Bearded Reedlings. Our hotel was Popas Doi Iepurasi in the Babadag Forest, where several group members got Short-toed Eagles while drinking beer before dinner. More birds during dinner included Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Honey-Buzzard and an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler (heard only). The highlight of the meal was Philip's birthday cake made by Mihai's wife. A Tawny Owl was heard that night for a total of 120 species today.

May 17
Back to Bucharest but not before Mark saw another Levant Sparrowhawk and got the group onto a nesting Gray-headed Woodpecker. We also found a Marsh Tit that turned out to be our last new trip bird even though we stopped again at the edge of the Babadag Forest, where we "dipped out" on Sombre Tit. All told we saw 175 bird species, an excellent total for our first Ventures tour to Romania. Arriving back in Bucharest it was off to the National Museum which was having a festival of ethnic arts. Here we were thankfully able to purchase those much needed gifts for friends and family back home before our farewell dinner at a somewhat 'hot' but good local restaurant. Our guide and ground agent, Mihai Baciu did an excellent job in putting this trip together.

White Wagtail

Great Crested Grebe Eurasian Hoopoe
Red-necked Grebe Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Eared Grebe Grey-faced Woodpecker
Great White Pelican Black Woodpecker
Dalmatian Pelican Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Cormorant Syrian Woodpecker
Pygmy Cormorant Calandra Lark
Grey Heron Greater Short-toed Lark
Purple Heron Crested Lark
Great Egret Skylark
Little Egret Bank Swallow (Sand Martin)
Squacco Heron Barn Swallow
Black-crowned Night-Heron House Martin
Little Bittern Gray Wagtail
Great Bittern (Heard) Yellow Wagtail
White Stork White Wagtail
Glossy Ibis Tawny Pipit
European Spoonbill Tree Pipit
Mute Swan Goldcrest
Greylag Goose White-throated Dipper
Common Shelduck Winter Wren
Eurasian Wigeon Dunnock
Gadwall Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush
Common Teal Eurasian Blackbird
Mallard Fieldfare
Garganey Song Thrush
Northern Shoveler Mistle Thrush
Red-crested Pochard Savi-s Warbler
Common Pochard Paddyfield Warbler
Ferruginous Duck Eurasian Reed-Warbler
Tufted Duck Great Reed-Warbler
European Honey-buzzard Icterine Warbler
White-tailed Eagle Willow Warbler
Short-toed Eagle Common Chiffchaff
Western Marsh-Harrier Wood Warbler
Montagu-s Harrier Blackcap
Northern Sparrowhawk Garden Warbler
Levant Sparrowhawk Greater Whitethroat
Common Buzzard Lesser Whitethroat
Long-legged Buzzard Barred Warbler
Lesser Spotted Eagle Spotted Flycatcher
Eurasian Kestrel Pied Flycatcher
Red-footed Falcon Collared Flycatcher
European Hobby Red-breasted Flycatcher
Peregrine Falcon European Robin
Gray Partridge Thrush Nightingale
Ring-necked Pheasant Common Nightingale
Common Moorhen Black Redstart
Eurasian Coot Common Redstart
Eurasian Oystercatcher Whinchat
Black-winged Stilt Stonechat
Pied Avocet Northern Wheatear

Pied Avocet

Collared Pratincole Pied Wheatear
Northern Lapwing Isabelline Wheatear
Black-bellied Plover Bearded Reedling (Tit)
Little Ringed Plover Long-tailed Tit
Common Ringed Plover Marsh Tit
Kentish (Snowy) Plover Great Tit
Common Snipe Blue Tit
Spotted Redshank Coal Tit
Common Redshank European Nuthatch
Marsh Sandpiper Eurasian Treecreeper
Common Greenshank Eurasian Penduline Tit
Wood Sandpiper Eurasian Golden Oriole
Common Sandpiper Red-backed Shrike
Little Stint Lesser Grey Shrike
Curlew Sandpiper Eurasian Magpie
Dunlin Eurasian Jay
Broad-billed Sandpiper Eurasian Jackdaw
Ruff Rook
Yellow-legged Gull Hooded Crow
Black-headed Gull Common Raven
Mediterranean Gull European Starling
Little Gull Rose-coloured Starling
Common Tern Yellowhammer
Little Tern Rock Bunting
White-winged Tern Ortolan Bunting
Whiskered Tern Black-headed Bunting
Black Tern Reed Bunting
Rock Pigeon Corn Bunting
Stock Dove Chaffinch
Woodpigeon Red Crossbill
Eurasian Turtle-Dove European Greenfinch
Eurasian Collared-Dove European Siskin
Common Cuckoo European Goldfinch
Tawny Owl Hawfinch
Common Swift House Sparrow
Common Kingfisher Spanish Sparrow
European Bee-eater Eurasian Tree Sparrow
European Roller

Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians
Roe Deer Dice Snake
Suslik Marsh Frog
Muskrat Tree Frog
Red Fox Fire-bellied Toad
Brown Hare Common Toad
European Pond Terrapin Green Toad
Green Lizard Common Newt
Grass Snake

Essex Skipper Fritillary sp
Eastern Wood White Scarce Swallowtail
Clouded Yellow (Pale?) Large Copper
Red Admiral Small Copper
Speckled Wood Common Blue
Wall Brown Small Blue
Small Heath