Off-site birding is a great fun

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I have never thought that off-site birding (others call it remote birding) could be so interesting. I have been playing with some of the most spectacular streaming web cameras available on the net. I don’t know too many of them and have not much time to watch the live “shows” endlessly but I love to return to a few of them time by time.

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One of the most exciting webcams is from Ecuador. The camera is located at a hummingbird feeder (drinker) at the Buenaventura Reserve where sometimes, especially before sunset, 20-30 birds are drinking together or flying around. It is a great fun but almost impossible to identify the many different hummingbird species via this webcam despite the relatively good image quality it provides. With some knowledge and a field guide to the birds of Ecuador identification is essential for the species. Green Thorntails, White-necked Jacobins, Black-throated Mangos and many other gorgeous-looking species are returning to the feeder. I have never seen the feeder empty. What makes this streaming interesting that it is not switched off for the night when some animals like the Coati is visiting the feeder. Due to the extreme weather conditions loss of power happens many times but when power is on again the streaming is continued.

Another interesting cam is located on the other side of South America, in the Brazlian Atlantic rainforest. Here again a hummingbird feeder provides a few interesting birds. There is a much less traffic at this feeder but worth to check as the species are way different.

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And of course the African streaming… Well this is something I really love. Identification of birds by their calls are really exciting. As streaming live all day many animals occur at the waterholes. Africam offers four sites to check though I haven’t been able to open the Flamingo Island’s webcam so far. The most exciting camera is at the Nkorho Pan (just near the beautiful Nkorho Bush Lodge). The stereo sound makes listening really enjoyable. Many birds are calling during the day and even during the early night hours African Scops Owls and Fiery-necked Nightjars are calling continuously. At the time of writing some Trumpeter Hornbills called loudly. I use the Africam streaming as a background noise in my office. I just feel like sitting in the balcony of that luxurious lodge. Elephant Plains also offers nice view to a waterhole and having good sound quality. The Beta Tembe Elephant Park offers acceptable image quality but no sound.

I haven’t browsed the net for more birding related streaming webcams but I would love to learn about more. If you have anything in your bookmarks please share it with us.

Birding & Photography Hotspots: The Danube Delta – Part Two

View Dobrogea & Danube Delta Hot Spots in a larger map

Cheia

Nesting habitat of Pied Wheatear near Cheia. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Cheia
For those not planning to visit the Macin Mountains National Reservation this site is worth to visit. Only a short by-pass from the main road coming from Constanta and a lovely limestone hill makes birding special. This is the site where Pied Wheatear can be found easily. It is also photographable. Lesser Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle and Levant Sparrowhawk can also be observed by luck.

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Pied Wheatear. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Our team in 2008 found some nice raptors at the Babadag Forest. This Lanner Falcon was one of them. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Babadag Forest
Heading up north we reach the Babadag Forest just south of Babadag village. It is a massive and beautiful forest mainly with oak. Local specialities are the Levant Sparrowhawk, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Eurasian Hobby, White-backed Woodpecker (ssp. D. l. lilfordi) and Sombre Tit. South of the Babadag Forest it is recommended to visit another forest near the village Caugagia (I draw the red line over a dirt road where the main road should be left). This area holds a good number of breeding Isabelline and Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Hoopoe, European Bee-eater and Sombre Tit. Photographing them seemed to be fairly easy if one has time (I hadn’t…).

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Herons and egrets are feeding on floating vegetation. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Danube Delta
One of the most exciting and definitely the most beautiful part of Eastern Romania. As the Danube River closes the Black Sea it creates extensive lagoon and delta system. Heading to the east of Tulcea two sites are recommended to stop by. If we want to have an incredible view to the delta system and a part of the lagoons a short but steep climb is needed to the Five Hills’ highest peak (marked on the map). This is also good for navigation and relaxing a bit. Her we saw Peregrine Falcons and Booted Eagle but the flying Great White Pelicans just over the peak just before sunset was breathtaking.

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Great White Pelicans escort local fishermen’s boats in the Razim Lagoon. © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the hill there is a very good view to another potentially good bird photography site. This is a narrow wetland which is located between the foothill and the river and accessible by car. From the hill Squacco Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Glossy Ibises, Little Egrets and many Western Great Egrets were seen.

Murighiol is the village which is a good base for birding and photographing birds in the lagoon system. Our accommodation was just perfect. Property is closed from public and proved to be safe. With the owner we could organise boat trips to the lagoons as this is the only way to explore the whole area. There is no specific site recommended to visit as local guys knows the waterways quite well. The key word was the ‘birds’ and they took us to the most productive lagoons. Departing from the harbour early in the morning is the best and recommended. It could be chilly even in Summer but the combination of misty canals and the rising sun through the willow forest edge makes it compelling. The Razim lagoon is a huge open brackish water but was not so productive at least in August. A few Great White and Dalmatian Pelican was seen around the fishing boats. By surprise, as I had, a rare Great Black-headed Gull can be observed.

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Squacco Heron is quite abundant in the Delta. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Especially the northern lagoons were really busy with awesome number of birds. From photography point of view it is recommended to rent a boat with a driver, pay for enough petrol and spend the whole day in the boat with little midday break. I also recommend to buy food for the driver as they can loose patience without food supply. Quiet approach could be effective but the best maybe to use some kind of camouflage net over the boat. My experience was that two photographer in a boat plus the driver is more than enough and manageable. Actually no tripod is possible to use on the boat but a good beanbag is helpful. Red-necked Grebes, Pygmy Cormorants, Glossy Ibises, Great White Pelicans, Ferruginous Ducks and Whiskered Terns are possible to approach while the Squacco Herons with egrets are mainly feeding on the floating beds of water lily.

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Watching large flock of Great White Pelicans over the Delta is always possible. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Slow boating on narrow canals can be good to listen the songs of different passerines like European Golden Oriole, River Warbler, Common Nightingale or Eurasian Blackcap.

I personally never been to the lagoons during breeding season but in August it was awesome.

Finally a place where I have never been but with careful planning it is possible to reach. This is the Sacalin Island which actually looks to be a peninsula in the Black Sea. This place is an ecological reserve and any human settlement is allowed to build here. This is reported to be a very good place for pelicans and cormorants as well as shorebirds and terns. The site is also very productive during fall migration for songbirds following the coastline.

Wetlands of Tulcea
Along the southern bank of the Danube River there is a huge 22 km long (13.80 miles) wetland system which holds a good number of breeding birds. I have never seen as much European Rollers and Lesser Grey Shrikes as along this road towards Macin. I had only a brief view to this site as there was no time to visit or looking for access points but definitely looked to be worth to explore. Google mapping helps a lot.

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Booted Eagle is easy to see over the Macin. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Macin Mountains
It is claimed to be the oldest mountain in Romania. Even for such a flat-land-lover man like me admired the huge rocks of the mountains. It is possible to camp at the foothills (yellow placemark on map) but getting food supply and lots of water from the town of Macin is lifesaving.

Birdlife is really exciting here. With preparation photography can be productive. Key species are the breeding songbirds such as Black-eared and Pied Wheatear, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush while on the foothill Greater Short-toed Lark, Lesser Grey Shrike and European Rollers occur. From the hillside Booted Eagle and Levant Sparrowhawk is guaranteed. In late Summer watching migrating storks from the peak is spectacular. One morning we saw 220 bird soaring over the peak while moving slowly southward.

Birding & Photography Hotspots: The Danube Delta – Part One

I have grown up in a small village laying along the Danube River in NW Hungary. My link to the river is as old as I started birding at my age of 10 despite I moved from my homeland. During a theoretical 1730 km long travel from my home village along the river I can reach Europe’s most attractive and wild delta system in eastern part of Romania where the Danube River flows into the Black Sea.

The Danube Delta is one of the most important bird areas in Europe identified by a number of projects and conventions. It is a delight to return and find new areas and birds as well as photographing opportunities. Here I let the images speak but a few words could help to find the right direction in case planning a visit to this European birding hot spot.

I have been to the Danube Delta for three times to date. There is a great variety of habitats in Dobrogea and also in the delta itself. Dobrogea is located just south of the Danube Delta. Besides the agricultural landscape the region is characterised by extensive brackish lagoons and marshes ideal for a nice variety of birds including the threatened Dalmatian Pelican. I have grouped the subregions worth to visit. The maps shows the driving directions and the polygons mark the key sites. Note, that this review is not targeting to provide full guiding for those planning to visit the listed areas. I excluded recommendations on accommodations or how to get there while in-site routing is included.

Vadu

Typical view in Vadu © Gyorgy Szimuly

Vadu and the Black Sea coastline
Vadu is a very small village located next to an abandoned industrial area. Next to the village there are several worth to visit sites which holds good number of birds both during breeding and migrating season. Key areas are the alkaline grasslands around the two artificial ponds belonged to the factory, the ponds itself and the brackish lagoon just north of the ponds (see map in Part Two).

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Paddyfield Warbler is one of the target bird species for visiting birders. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The dirt road is accessible by car up to the ponds but tough towards the dunes if conditions are wet. Key breeding species here are the Ferruginous Duck, Pygmy Cormorant, Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, Common Tern, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Paddyfield Warbler, Eurasian Hoopoe but Eurasian Oystercatcher and Mediterranean Gull (occasionally Slender-billed Gull) can also be seen along the coastline.

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Collared Pratincole is a local breeder. © Gyorgy Szimuly

By 4WD cars we can cross the whole area just parallel the Black Sea coastline (NE direction from Vadu). Here beautiful alkaline ponds hold nice number of shorebirds during migration. The bushes along the road is full of warblers and flycatchers, including Red-breasted Flycatcher, during migration which worth to check carefully.

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Birds are migrating just along the Black Sea coastline making Dobrogea an exciting birding destination during migration. © Gyorgy Szimuly

From photography point of view the most effective and most recommended method is using hides. Birds are almost everywhere and a well selected hide location can produce cool species. Chest waders especially in early spring is essential. Shooting from can can also be good but chances are rather limited.

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The protected area road sign tells a story. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Histria
Just north of Vadu an attractive salt marsh system and alkaline lakes could make birding and photography pleasant. The site is easily accessible and many tour operator stops here to see local birds like roosting Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans, breeding Common Shelducks, Collared Pratincoles and all the common shorebirds like Pied Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers. In dry years those lakes become empty by early Summer. Here the local subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtail, the Motacilla flava feldegg can be seen easily and photographable even from car as they are everywhere.

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Calandra Lark is a regular breeder. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Outside the marshes Red-footed Falcons, Calandra and Greater Short-toed Larks and Lesser Grey Shrikes are breeding in good numbers. In winter agricultural fields holds thousands of Red-breasted Goose. If something is called spectacular then a flock of 12,000 Red-breasted Geese’ blast off could certainly be that. I had a luck to see it in November when the weather condition wasn’t pleasant at all but anyway it was a lifetime unforgettable experience. Most probably they are roosting on the Nuntasi or Sinoie lagoons.

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Unique White Stork nest in Dobrogea. © Gyorgy Szimuly

In the centre of Istria village the Spanish Sparrow can be seen which is breeding in an old White Stork nest.