Wildlife Holiday News

Wildlife Holidays in Romania’s Danube Delta

In the far west of Europe’s largest wetland, the magnificent Danube Delta, right on the border of Ukraine, lies a remote private reserve of some thousand hectares. Known as Ultima Frontiera, it protects an extensive complex of old fishponds, lakes and canals, vast reedbeds, floodplains and woodlands that are all easily accessed by the network of raised tracks that separate them. Here live a variety and abundance of wetland and woodland birds and mammals of which we can only dream in the UK. Amongst the highlights are such classic birds of the Danube Delta as White Pelican and the endangered Dalmatian Pelican, Pygmy Cormorants, White-tailed Eagles and Marsh Harriers, Purple and Squacco Herons, Bitterns and Little Bitterns, Glossy Ibis, Ferruginous Ducks and Red-crested Pochards, plus a wealth of other herons, egrets and ducks. More elusive are the summer songsters of the reedbeds, amongst them noisy Great Reed Warblers, reeling Savi’s Warblers, Bearded Tits, Moustached Warblers, and that eastern rarity, the Paddyfield Warbler. Penduline Tits may be seen amongst the willows at the fringes of these reedbeds, perhaps building or attending their exquisite nests. Waterside woodland belts hold woodpeckers, Golden Orioles, Thrush Nightingales, Hobbies and the purring Turtle Dove, now sadly lost to so many of us in England.

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Golden Jackal (Kevin Elsby)

At the heart of the reserve lies a modern and comfortable thatched lodge, built for visiting birders and wildlife photographers. Rollers, Hoopoes, Bee-eaters and Grey-headed Woodpeckers frequent its courtyard and surroundings, while Cuckoos, unbelievably abundant here, sing all day long. At night the chorus is provided by frogs and toads, punctuated by the howl of the Golden Jackals which are a highlight of any stay at Ultima Frontiera — this being the best place in Europe to observe a species more commonly encountered to the east, in Asia, or in Africa. Nearby lie ruins from a communist past, now reclaimed by nature; they are the home of Barn and Little Owls.

These habitats around the lodge, and the wetlands and woodlands of the reserve, can all be explored in a most unique way, for the lodge has a fleet of electric buggies. These enable visitors to explore the 30 kilometres of tracks linking habitats and viewing/photography hides (of which there are over 30) in a quiet and stealthy manner that is perfect for the keen birder, naturalist and wildlife photographer. They are truly a stroke of genius — simply the ideal way of enjoying this range of habitats that is so rich in birds and other wildlife. Of course, it is also possible to explore the reserve on foot, or by patiently waiting in a hide, perhaps for the perfect sighting of a Golden Jackal or White-tailed Eagle. However, with the buggies available, a combination of walking, hides and electric-powered exploration makes for the perfect wildlife excursion.

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Lesser-spotted Eagle

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White-winged Terns

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Red-necked Grebe (Kevin Elsby)

At other times though, a 4-wheel-drive safari is to be recommended, this being the best way in which to sample an even wider range of land-based habitats in the regions adjoining the reserve. A visit to the nearby floodplains and salty steppes is likely to produce large numbers of waders, amongst them breeding Avocets and Black-winged Stilts, plus many regular and rare passage species, particularly in autumn. Ruddy Shelduck are common too, while overheard the aerial acrobatics of both Collared Pratincoles and Red-footed Falcons may be enjoyed, and both Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes may be seen in adjacent scrub. A visit to such quaint, thatched Delta villages as Letea and Periprava, with their colourful, flower-filled gardens, is also to be recommended. Here, simple lifestyles that deal with isolation and the harsh extremes in climate through self-sufficiency are an eyeopener indeed. The horse and cart, by and large, still replaces the motorised vehicle, and old-fashioned, non-intensive farming practices ensure a wealth of birds. Syrian Woodpeckers frequent these villages, with large flocks of Starlings which are joined in early summer by Rose-coloured Starlings from the east. Nearby lies Letea Forest, a magnificent and extensive ancient deciduous forest that is set amongst sand dunes and holds a variety of birds of prey, including breeding Lesser Spotted and Booted Eagles, woodpeckers, flycatchers and an interesting flora.

No visit to Ultima Frontiera is complete without time spent exploring the remote willow-lined channels, vast reedbeds and great lakes of the Danube Delta that are easily accessed by motorboat from the reserve, which lies on one of the larger channels. In particular, boat excursions to the lakes of Merhei and Matita not only offer a tranquillity and sense of remoteness that is rare in Europe, but the breeding colonies of Whiskered and Black Terns, as well as of both Black-necked and Red-necked Grebes. In April it is also possible to encounter vast numbers of migrant White-winged Terns, a special sight indeed. On another day, a boat trip in the other direction will visit the Black Sea and an offshore island on which a large colony of Pallas’s (Great Black-headed) Gulls may be enjoyed.

Mammals, too, are a highlight of Ultima Frontiera and the surrounding region — their viewing aided by the silence of the buggies, access to such a wealth of different hides, and by both daytime and night-time spotlighting safaris. Golden Jackals, easily seen, are a highlight, but there is also an excellent chance of seeing such species as Wildcat, Otter, Wild Boar, Roe Deer and even Raccoon Dog, whilst Badger, Northern White-breasted Hedgehog and both Beech and Pine Marten are amongst others that are occasionally seen. The area is also notable for its flora, and its wealth of reptiles and amphibians which are easily observed; it is also a haven for dragonflies and damselflies. Of these, over 30 species have been recorded, amongst them such specialities as Dark Spreadwing, River Clubtail and Black Pennant.

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Black Pennant