TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
10 - 18 May 2003
Tudor Blaj ( Guest guide)
I hope you enjoyed this holiday as much as I did. The wonderful variety of habitats enabled us to record a wide range of plants and animals. The expert leadership of Elena and Tudor also gave us an insight into the social aspects of Romania. The skilful driving of Marius enabled us to reach places of interest, especially in the mountains, which would have challenged a rally driver. I give them all my thanks. I am also grateful to you all for your alertness and good cheer. I hope I will meet you again before too long.
SATURDAY 10 MAY
The group met up in Bucharest, having travelled from four different directions. We drove to Calarasi where we stayed the night.
SUNDAY 11 MAY
WEATHER Clear, sunny and still
Our first port of call was the ponds just outside the town.
Here we were greeted by a host of wetland species. Terns and herons abounded. Eleven sightings of Little Bittern were taken as a sign that the day was going to be productive. Grebes and waders were also seen in significant numbers. The most unexpected find though was four Pygmy Cormorants that appeared to be preparing to breed.
We then drove to the ferrry over the Danube at Ostrov.
A brief stop at the Bugeac Lake revealed Ruddy Shelduck and a flock of Bee-eaters.
We then made our way to Canaraua Fetei, a gorge surrounded by mixed woodland. The most obvious feature initially was the richness of the reptile, amphibian and butterfly population. The stars were two well-grown Grass Snakes. Soon we were hearing a wide range of bird song including that from a number of pairs of Golden Oriole that were obviously in territorial conflict. We also discovered a Great Spotted Woodpecker at a nest, a Wood Lark, Hawfinches, Red-backed Shrikes and breeding European Rollers and European Bee-eaters. Common and Long-legged Buzzards then performed for us.
Fine views of Northern Wheatear were obtained at the old Roman fort at Adamclesi before we made our way to our hotel at Mamaia.
A brief walk to the shore resulted in close sightings of Lesser Grey Shrike and a party of Sanderling.
That evening we were served a fine dinner as a local trio provided a pleasing musical accompaniment.
MONDAY 12 MAY
WEATHER Clear, fine, warm NW 2-3
The pre- breakfast outing was to the local refinery of all places. Here we watched birds on an arm of the Black Sea and on fresh water pools surrounded by reed beds. It was in a reed bed that we discovered a Savi's Warbler in full song, and unusually in full view. We were then treated to two surprises, the sighting of a male Smew and then a Merlin, both winter visitors to Romania.
After breakfast we set off for Histria, an area of coastal wetlands. The watching here was dominated by waders, duck and herons. Perhaps the most pleasing find was a pair of Red-necked Phalarope en route to their northern breeding grounds. A fly by of one hundred and twenty White Pelicans was also notable. Three much rarer Dalmatian Pelicans were also seen as they flew over.
Signs of songbird migration were seen on the coast as we watched feeding Common Redstarts, Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Blackcap feeding in the trees and bushes.
We then drove inland over the open plains where we had fine views of Tawny Pipit, Short-toed Lark, Suslik and Brown Hare.
Lunch at the gorge Cheia Dobrogei was accompanied by sightings of Pied Wheatear, a very local species, breeding Kestrels and an overflying Long-legged Buzzard.
As we approached Vardu on the coast we wondered why it was that we were always visiting huge industrial sites. In this case it was necessary to pass the decaying factory to reach the ponds and flooded fields beyond. As we arrived the air was filled with over a hundred Collared Pratincoles hunting flying insects. Once again we watched waders, duck, herons and especially gulls and terns. It was exciting to see and hear the very active colony of Common Terns, Black-headed Gulls and Little Gulls. We also recorded the first Grasshopper Warbler and Mediterranean Gulls of the trip. Once we reached the coast we found that the sea was completely calm. As Sandwich Terns flew along the coast we looked out to sea. The first unexpected find was a Black-throated Diver in its resplendent breeding plumage. This was followed by a mysterious swirl in the glass like surface of the sea. It was some moments later that we realised that we were watching a pair of Harbour Porpoise fishing close offshore. This was an especially interesting event as this population of porpoise is totally isolated in the Black Sea, its nearest kin living in the Atlantic Ocean.
As we left the area we were delighted by two hunting Red-footed Falcons.
TUESDAY 13 MAY
WEATHER Clear,fine and warm.
We set off early to drive to Tulcea.
We returned to Vadu to discover many pairs of Collared Pratincole at the nest site; the total number of birds was estimated at one hundred and twenty. Little Terns, Common Terns and Little Gulls were also on site. They were accompanied by five Mediterranean Gulls including three adults. Waders included single Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpiper. The only sign of passerine migrants was the presence of a Lesser Whitethroat, a Barred Warbler and several Blackcap.
We then moved on to the Babadag Forest where the only common songbird which was willing to show itself was the Ortolan Bunting. Overhead though the situation was different as we watched five Honey Buzzard in display, a Long-legged Buzzard, a Hobby and two male Goshawk displaying. The butterflies were also active and varied.
A good cross section of waders was seen at Enisala, as were nine Red-crested Pochard.
By 16.00 we were enjoying a drink on the ponton (a floating hotel pulled by a small tug) at Tulcea. Soon after we sailed downstream to Crisan. En route we encountered a wide variety of bird species, including Common Kingfisher, ducks, herons, terns and fifty White Pelicans. Raptors included two Kestrels, a male Red-footed Falcon, six Hobby and a Marsh Harrier
WEDNESDAY 14 MAY
THE PONTON - NEAR CRISAN
WEATHER Clear.fine, warm, still.
The dawn chorus revealed the presence of Golden Oriole, Cuckoo, Great-spotted, Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers, Pheasant and a variety of warblers. No doubt much else was drowned out by the unrelenting calls of Marsh Frogs.
The whole day was spent watching either from the deck of the ponton or on short trips into shallower waters on the tug, having left the ponton behind.
As we moved along the river and through lakes we counted a selected variety of bird species.
Roller 45 Hobby 4
Go Oriole 10 RF Falcon 19
Cuckoo 30 M Harrier 7
Turtle Dove 12 WT Eagle 2
Night Heron 75 Wh Pelican 22
Grey Heron 10 Dalm Peli 1
P Heron 15 Cormorant 170
Sq Heron 17 P Cormorant 340
GW Egret 16 Co Tern 120
L Egret 57 Wh Tern 140
G Ibis 61 Blk Tern 5
Spoonbill 1 WW Tern 5
M Swan 170 Blk n Grebe 5
GL Goose 31 G Cr Grebe 60
Gadwall 12 Red n Grebe 50
Mallard 7 Coot 255
F Duck 12 Wh Stork 2
Pochard 8 Lapwing 3
Tufted D 2
We were especially pleased to see Spoonbill, Kingfisher, White-tailed Eagle, Penduline Tit and Red-necked Grebe during the day.
We arrived at Scaunele near lake Nebuno at 17.00. It was undoubtedly a good choice of site as we saw Thrush Nightingale, Great Spotted, Grey-headed and Black Woodpecker during the evening.
THURSDAY 15 MAY
PONTON AT SCAUNELE
WEATHER Misty early. Clearing during the morning. Suddden rain shower at 16.00. Cloudy, dull, light breeze.
Fortunately we left the mooring early as after an hour the tug hit a submerged object and the drive shaft broke. Thanks to the marvel of the mobile phone we were soon rescued. At Tulcea we boarded our bus for the journey to the mountains. We lunched in the woodlands at Albetsi where we found Grey-headed and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Just as we were about to leave a Lesser Spotted Eagle soared overhead, soon to be joined by a Sparrow Hawk.
As we approached the village of Alexeni we found the only Syrian Woodpecker of the trip.
Having reached Sinaia at 18.00 we had time for a brief walk in the grounds of the Palace before dinner. Tree Creeper, Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail and Dipper were noted.
After dinner we drove to the local forest in search of Brown Bears foraging on the local tip. No luck, no bears!
FRIDAY 16 MAY
WEATHER Misty. Low cloud over the mountains. 7/8 cu, sunny by 16.00. Calm.
The dull weather determined that we visit Transylvania.
After a walk in the park and breakfast we set off for the Zarniesti Gorge, arriving at 10.00. A careful search of the walls of the gorge failed to produce a sighting of Wallcreeper. The star here was a fine Salamander. We also heard a singing Wood Warbler.
We then drove to the Citadel high above the town of Risnov. We were greeted by piped music from loudspeakers attached to trees in the forest (courtesy of the new hotel chain who are to 'develop' thecitadel, no doubt!) and by youths firing paint guns at trees. Despite all this disturbance we were soon watching Serin and hearing Great Spotted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers. Then we found a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker feeding quietly in a branch over our heads. Two Lesser Spotted Eagles then passed over the citadel.
A warming lunch of soup, excellent local bread and mulled wine cheered us all.
Our next port of call was the Rotbav Forest where Tudor was once a forest manager. He led us through the forest explaining the ecology. A Black Woodpecker was glimpsed and a Common Buzzard and a Lesser Spotted Eagle soared over the forest.
The sun appeared as we reached the Mina 1 Mai area of Crisbav Forest. The mixture of forest edge, orchard and flower filled grasslands was rich in insect and bird life. Yet two more Lesser Spotted Eagles soared overhead.
After dinner we drove to the local city, Brasov. We toured an area where the forest abutted rows of flats. Having checked a number of rubbish skips we found what we were looking for, a party of Brown Bears. A huge female bear robbed the skips as two two-year-olds looked on. As they fed they were joined by a three year old. The caution of the newcomer suggested that it was not related to the others or, if related, had been given its marching orders. We were all thrilled as we watched at a range of eight metres. (No we didn't pace out the distance!). As we watched a local driver arrived, backed his car up and lit the scene with the full beam of the headlights. The bears didn't bat an eyelid.
SATURDAY 17 MAY
WEATHER A.M. Overcast - high cloud, still. P.M. A break in the cloud, sun, a light breeze.
This was the day to explore the mountains.
As the vehicle climbed the rough road to the Bucegi Range of mountains we noted Bullfinches, Raven, Mistle Thrushes and Ring Ouzels. The Pestera Gorge was breathtakingly beautiful and the source of two great experiences. As we drove the forest road we glimpsed a Ural Owl flying through the trees. It even allowed us to leave the vehicle and watch it in flight and at rest. Later, after a careful search, we found a pair of Wallcreepers on a vertical cliff. There was also another bird and perhaps two. Two birds chased each other from one side of the gorge to the other.
Lunch was taken at a mountain lodge. Whilst there we found Alpine Newt and Minnows in a shallow pond. Tudor nearly fell into the cold water as her searched for toads! Several cameras were poised to record the event!
Our final site was at 1800m a.s.l. in the lee of Nucet peak at 1,861m. Small patches of residual snow were surrounded by swathes of Spring Crocus. Water Pipits and Northern Wheatears mixed with Linnets on the humid grasslands.
As the sun shone three Common Buzzards and two Short-toed Eagles flew along the high ridge.
The day closed with a fine meal in a local restaurant. The meal was accompanied by a very accomplished instrumental ensemble.
SUNDAY 18 MAY
Before flying home there was time for a walk in the local woodland.
The flight home was pleasant.
The locations in this summary are coded:
BA BABADAG FOREST
BU BUCEGI RANGE
CF CANARAUA FETEI
CH CHEIA DOBROGEI
DD DANUBE DELTA (PONTON)
DO DOBROGEI PROVINCE
Black-throated Diver Gavia artica one in full breeding plumage on the sea off V
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis one at H and one DD
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena fifty DD
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus widespread in ponds, lakes and on the sea
Black-necked (Eared) Grebe Podiceps nigricollis two C, two Bugeac and five DD
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo widespread - 170 DD
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmaeus Four C and 340 DD
(Great) White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus flocks of up to 250 DO
Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus Two Bugeac, three H, one E and oneDD
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea widespread
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea widespread, noted daily DO
Great White Egret Egretta alba relatively scarce, sixteen DD
Little Egret Egretta garzetta Common
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides widespread esp DD
Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax very widespread, peak seventy-five DD
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus nine C, two H and two
White Stork Ciconia ciconia Common breeding except in the mountains
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus widespread, sixty-one DD
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia one DD
Mute Swan Cygnus olor common
Greylag Goose Anser anser common DO
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea Five Buceac
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna twenty H/V, twenty E
Wigeon Anas penelope a male H
Gadwall Anas strepera widespread DO
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos thinly distributed DO and a pair BU
Garganey Anas querquedula fifteen in freshwater pools DO
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina nine E
Common Pochard Aythya ferina noted daily in the lowlands
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca common on fresh water pools
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula two DD
Smew Mergus albellus a male in full breeding plumage M
European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus Five BA and one E
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla Two DD
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus two BU
Eurasian Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus twenty sightings DO and one T
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus One Albesti
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis two BA
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo widespread
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus two CF, one near Adamclisi, two CH and one BA
Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina One Albesti and five T
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus widespread
Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus two V, four scattered records DO and nineteen DD
Merlin Falco columbarius one M
Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo One near C, one BA and ten DD
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus heard throughout lowlands, seen occasionally
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus thinly distributed
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra common 255 DD
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus common H V and E
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avocetta common H V E
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola twelve C, twenty-five H and at least 120 V
(Northern) Lapwing Vanellus vanellus widespread in breeding pairs DO and DD
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola One C
Greater Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula singles C and V
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius three C,one H and two V
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus five H, three V and one E
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa one V
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus one H and three V
Common Redshank Tringa totanus two V
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis two E
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola five E
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos one V
(Ruddy) Turnstone Arenaria interpres ten M and five V
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus two H
Sanderling Calidris alba three M
Little Stint Calidris minuta common on fresh water pools
Dunlin Calidris alpina one V
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea common on pools
Ruff Philomachus pugnax common on pools
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis common DO only
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans common DD only
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus eight sightings V
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus widespread
Little Gull Larus minutus peak count 100 V
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida Comon, some 400 records
White-winged (Black) Tern Chlidonias leucoptera scarce, 17 records
Black Tern Chlidonias niger also scarce, 26 records
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis four V
Common Tern Sterna hirundo very common, peak 120 DD
Little Tern Sterna albifrons twelve H and V
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia Common in inhabited areas
Stock Dove Columba oenas Five DD
(Common) Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Two DD, one Crizbav Forest and two at high altitude BU
European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur Three CF,12 DD and heard Albesti
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Very widespread
Common (Eurasian) Cuckoo Cuculus canorus very common, thirty DD
Ural Owl Strix uralensis One seen well BU
Common Swift Apus apus widespread
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis ten records DD
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster seventy-five records DO and DD
European Roller Coracias garrulus Very common eighty DD
(Eurasian) Hoopoe Upupa epops common
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor a male Risnov Citadel T
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus One female near Alexeni
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major widespread in forests
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius one DD and one Rotbav Forest
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis heard CF
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus common DD and also noted at Albetsi and T
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra common on plains of DO
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla two near CD
Crested Lark Galerida cristata common and widespread
Wood Lark Lullula arborea one CF
(Eurasian) Sky Lark Alauda arvensis heard more often than seen
European Sand Martin Riparia riparia common, hundreds moving 12th
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica very common
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica three CF
Common House Martin Delichon urbica common
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava a handful at wetlands
Black-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava feldegg common at wetlands
White Wagtail Motacilla alba widespread
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea fourteen records BR and T
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris One near CD, one V and one E
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta eight BR
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio common
Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor common
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus recorded S and eight BR
Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes only S
Hedge Accentor (Dunnock) Prunella modularis only S
Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus two BU
Common Blackbird Turdus merula widespread
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris common S, BU and T
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos only CF and in the highlands
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus one BU
European Robin Erithacus rubecula scattered records in woodlands
Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia two DD
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos widespread in the lowlands
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros widespread near buildings and in rocky places
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus common migrant breeder
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe noted in gorges, on the coast and BU
Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka three CD
Bearded Tit (Reedling) Panurus biarmicus eight H
Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia heard V
Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides heard and seen M
(Eurasian) Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus common
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus common
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus only at CD and Albesti
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita widespread
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix one singing Zarniesti Gorge
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla common
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin heard in most woodlands
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca one V
Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria one Ostrov Ferry terminal and one V
Goldcrest Regulus regulus only V
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata one CF and two H
(Eurasian) Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus two DD
Great Tit Parus major widespread
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus widespread
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea only S
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria three, possibly four Pestera Gorge BU
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris only S
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius in forest at CF,S and T
Black-billed Magpie Pica pica common
(Western) Jackdaw Corvus monedula common
Rook Corvus frugilegus common
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix noted daily - common
Common Raven Corvus corax eight sightings S,BU,T
(Eurasian) Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus thirty-six sightings; more common than on any other trip that I have led (NA)
Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris common
Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra widespread in the lowlands
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella only CF and Crisbav Forest
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana five singing males BA
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus in reed beds
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs very common and widespread
European Serin Serinus serinus one Risnov Citadel
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris only S and T
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis common except in DD and BU
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina three high in BU
Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula only S
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes two CF
House Sparrow Passer domesticus common
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis only Ostrov ferry terminal
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus widespread DO and DD
Brown Bear Ursus arctos four Brazov
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena two V
Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris only S
European Souslik Spermophilus citellus common on open grassland DO
Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus one C and one E
Brown Hare Lepus europaeus one near C and two near CD
Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra one Zarniesti Gorge T
Alpine Newt Triturus alpestris one BU
Marsh Frog Rana ridibunda common and NOISY
Edible/Pool Frog Rana esculenta/lessonae CF
Grass Snake Natrix natrix two CF and one DD
Balkan Wall Lizard Podarcis taurica lots BA
Swallowtail Papilio machaon
Scarce swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius
Large white Pieris brassicae
Small white Artogeia rapae
Green-veined white Artogeia napi
Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines
Clouded yellow Colias croceus
Brimstone Goneptryx rhamni
Small copper Lycaena phlaeas
Glanville fritillary Melitaea cinxa
Heath fritillary Melitaea athalia
Small heath Coenonympha pamphilius
Grizzled skipper Pyrgus malvae
Dingy skipper Erynnis tages