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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Romania: Birds and Medieval Monasteries

2019 Narrative

The tour began with a meeting at the airport after my colleague Cristi picked up some of the participants from a couple of hotels in Bucharest. This was followed by a quick dinner in a restaurant nearby before we took a short flight (1 hour) to Suceava – and that’s where I met the group. We then drove to our comfy accommodation where we spent 3 nights.

We kept the second day of our trip relaxed, given our late arrival the previous evening. So, after a leisurely breakfast, we had a morning outing around Sucevita Monastery which produced our first special bird (Nutcracker) not more than 100 metres from our accommodation, and then just when we started walking along a stream we had our Dipper. The trip up the valley also revealed a good selection of passerines (a good comparison between Marsh and Willow Tits for example). Close to lunchtime, when bird activity started to get quiet, we visited to the beautiful Sucevita Monastery - the largest and the last built of the painted Monasteries. Lunch in the hotel restaurant followed by a siesta break, and then an evening outing near the hotel in the old forests of firs, beech and spruce, was rather quiet.

The next day, still in Sucevita, we had a pre-breakfast trip that produced some really good views of a mixture of warblers and tits, as well as a nice Red Squirrel within the grounds itself. After breakfast we headed for some altitude on the Obcina Mare ridge and we spent the morning with a nice stroll followed by a picnic with a view. Probably one of the best migration days for passerines was had just being in the spot - with good numbers of three species of Flycatcher: Spotted, Red-breasted and Collared; eventually good views of Crested Tit and Black Redstarts, and also a very friendly Black Woodpecker which flew around us a couple of times. On the way down, a small hay meadow showed us our first Red-backed Shrike and a really nice Hoopoe. We made a visit to the Moldovita Monastery and to the workshop of Glicheria, ‘the egg painting lady’, and then headed back to our hotel for dinner and to complete our checklist.

On Day Four, after an early pre-breakfast walk to see different tits, Goldcrest and Nutcracker, then a good meal, we started our journey south. On the way to the beautiful little monastery of Humor we had good views of a couple of Lesser Spotted Eagles, Great Grey and Red-backed Shrikes, Turtle and Stock Doves. After visiting Voronet Monastery (the Sistine Chapel of the East) which was, as usual, a bit busy but rewarding, we had our picnic on the banks of the Moldova River and there we had a watched a Sparrowhawk overhead. The Monastery grounds proved to be as good a birding location as ever, with various woodpeckers and flycatchers around us.

Our accommodation for the night in Agapia was welcoming as ever, and in the morning we left very early to visit the local monastery and its workshops. After that a long drive, a picnic stop on the banks of a pond allowed us to see a confiding Osprey. We later arrived at Galati for our first encounter with the famous Danube River, at the ferry crossing. Another hour and a half later and we were enjoying watching the birds from the Ponton deck with a beer on the side, or a gin & tonic, or a soft drink depending on the taste. In the evening our first dinner onboard was something to remember.

The next couple of days were very much a repetition of each except some of the birds were different. Pre-breakfast birding from the deck, breakfast, small boat outings along the smaller channels of the Delta, back onto the Ponton, lunch, birding from the deck with the Ponton moving along the river, evening outings in the small boats, back to the Ponton for dinner.

We had Little Crake, a few Dalmatian Pelicans, and a lot more (almost 2000) White Pelicans, Greylag Geese, various ducks, terns (Whiskered, White Winged, Caspian, etc.), all the herons, all the grebes, and White-tailed Eagles. The number of different species was not as striking as the number in which each species was present.

On Day 8, we came off the Ponton after breakfast and started our onward journey early, thanks to all participants being on time. This gave us time to do some good birding along the winding road down to the southern end of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve in Vadu. The first stop was in Babadag Forest near Celic Dere where we had a variety of woodpeckers (Grey-headed, Syrian, and Great Spotted), and lots of Hawfinches. Then the target species showed up and displayed to us all - Sombre Tit. The next planned stop, the Byzantine Fortress of Enisala, produced a nice Isabelline Wheatear. Later we drove through the rolling steppe and had excellent views of steppe specialities such as Tawny Pipit, Short-toed Lark, craggy-areas specialities such as Eastern Black-eared and Pied Wheatears. For those who had already seen Western Black-eared Wheatear elsewhere, this was an easy armchair tick as here this species is officially Eastern. The afternoon was had watching a raptor display with Montagu’s Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard, and Booted Eagle. This was a good migration day which made it one which had the biggest list.

Day 9 was the day for looking for waders, ducks, and some steppe birding. The morning on the Black Sea shore and the drive there through the marshes was really good with a selection of waders including Broad-billed Sandpiper, Collared Pratincole, then, after our picnic, we visited the Greek ruins in Histria and were rewarded when visiting the museum by finding a bush which had at least 3 species of warblers flitting around.

Day 10 was a travel day back to Bucharest Airport but not before seeing our first Little Owl en route. Also on the way back we made another stop at the beautiful Refinery Pond which revealed a new bird for the trip:  Bar-tailed Godwit.

At the end of our tour of Romania we could boast about a very impressive total list of 172 species; one being seen for the first time. That is indeed impressive considering the trip has been running for more than 16 years. Oh, and we managed to see all the species heard…eventually. Thanks to all the participants and their keen eyes we managed to spot all these birds. 

-          Tudor Blaj

Created: 22 November 2019