Dobruja

May 15, 2015

Today we were back to land-based birding, so after an early breakfast we headed off in Florin’s car, or at any rate the car he’d been lent so he could drive us around. We went south from Tulcea through the Dobruja area, to check out some sites which hadn’t already been taken over by agriculture.

Our first stop was Denistepe, a low hill in an area of steppe. To get there from the road we drove through a farm area which had a lot of pipits and Corn Buntings as well as Red-backed Shrikes. The shrikes we would see everywhere, which we found amazing because at home when a shrike shows up it’s reported on the rare-bird alert! Besides steppe birds like wheatears and larks, the hill had a lot of little ground squirrels called “suslik”, and we watched them scurrying around for a while.

Ortolan Bunting

Ortolan Bunting

Farther down the road was Babadag Forest, where we stopped at a couple of places to look for Red-breasted Flycatcher and for roosting nightjars. No luck at finding either of those, but we saw a couple of tortoises and a lot of different wildflowers including wild peonies. The peonies were a beautiful shade of red and carpeted the forest floor in some areas. After we got back into the car and continued southward we found that a tick had come along with us and was sitting on the ceiling above Rosemary! So we quickly tossed him out the window.

Wild peony

Wild peony

Spur-thighed tortoise

Spur-thighed tortoise

Next stop was Sinoe, a large lake next to the Black Sea. The first place we went, after driving a long way over a very bumpy dirt road, was the place where the Paddyfield Warblers live. (Birders are keen to see it here because it mostly lives east of the Volga River in Russia.) Unfortunately this place is also the place where a lot of mosquitoes live! But the warblers were easy to see, unlike many of their reed-warbler relatives, so we quickly got out of there and ate our lunch up on the nearby hill where the wind was blowing. Florin had forgotten the table but we’ve eaten lunch out of the back of a car quite often so we didn’t mind that.

White Stork nest on harvested reeds

White Stork nest on harvested reeds

From this viewpoint we could see the reed-harvesting area where men were bundling up the reeds from the lakeshore. After finishing our lunch we drove down there to look for sandpipers and other water birds; there were a lot of different kinds there, along with gulls and pelicans. We surprisingly found a Pallas’s Gull among them, wandering from its homeland in Russia.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper

Finally we continued on to a lagoon not far from Constanța. There was a derelict factory from the Communist days which used to extract titanium from the local beach sand, and in the lagoons around it we found a lot more bird species. And Rosemary was lucky enough to spot a fox which had caught a chicken, running through the bushes!

Derelict titanium plant

Derelict titanium plant

By the time we got back to Tulcea it was late, after 8:30 pm. The Dutch-Belgian group was already back and eating dinner, and since it was their last night so we got to have some of their farewell cake and a glass of dessert wine. We did make sure to have showers and check for ticks—and Rosemary did find one, lurking under her waistband!

May 16, 2015

We were woken early by the other group leaving, so we didn’t really get a full night’s sleep. We met Florin for breakfast and then headed out for the day. This time were going to the mountain area, the Măcin Mountains, west of Tulcea. First we stopped by a place which had muddy banks where bee-eaters and starlings were nesting, and watched them and the rollers and other colourful birds for a while. Soon after we arrived a group of British birders also arrived, led by the owner of Ibis Tours.

European Bee-eaters

European Bee-eaters

Dog rose

Dog rose

Then we stopped at other spots along the road to look for various local species. One of the targets was Levant Sparrowhawk, and it flew across the road right in front of us! We stopped for lunch in a small park near the monastery of Celic-Dere, where Florin and Paul walked around looking for various species and Rosemary stayed by the car and read her book. This time we did find the Red-breasted Flycatcher.

European Roller with snake

European Roller with snake

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that we actually got to the national park. Our little group and the British group both climbed up to a granite quarry to look for Rock Thrush and a man came up to us saying something like “Get out of this quarry, it’s private property” and our guides said something like “No, we’re in the national park.” There must be some kind of ownership dispute. Anyway we stayed in the quarry and did locate the Rock Thrush, high up on the cliff.

Spot the Rock Thrush

Spot the Rock Thrush (Hint: right in the centre of the picture)

Three-lined lizard

Three-lined lizard

Finally we drove farther east along the mountains to another steppe habitat near Greci, along with the British group. Out in the grasslands were hundreds and hundreds of susliks for us to watch, and finally the tapes called in a pair of Wrynecks for us! Returning to Tulcea only took about an hour, so our dinner wasn’t too late and we had plenty of time to relax afterwards.

Suslik

Suslik

May 17, 2015

After a good night’s sleep we had breakfast at 8:30 am, and then finished packing. The birding part of our trip was over and all that remained was to be driven back to Bucharest. Our guide Florin would be doing that, and his wife Adina came along too. The trip was the reverse of the trip we had made nearly a week ago but it seemed to go by faster. Florin’s English-language skills seemed to be better than at the beginning of the week, so maybe they had just been rusty then. Adina didn’t say anything in English but we suspected she could understand fairly well but didn’t like to try speaking.

They dropped us at the airport, where we said our thank-yous and goodbyes, and now we were on to the next part of the adventure.

Next: Brașov