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.

Blacksea

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.

Dobrogearoadsign

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.

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