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.

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