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Birds, Bears and Blood

Transylvania and the Danube Delta


Romania is not on many wildlife lovers' radar for the most part, which is surprising as 90% of the Danube Delta, the second largest delta on the continent, is within its borders. The delta is a World Heritage Area, the best preserved in Europe and is the largest continuous marshland in Europe, with over 300 bird species including 176 breeding species. It is the major remaining wetland on the Central/Eastern Europe/Middle East/Africa migratory flyway and critically important for both migrants and locally breeding birds such as Red-breasted Goose, of which almost the entire world population exists within the delta. In addition to the bird populations mammals and other animals live either in the waters, such as otters, or on the small floating islands. Lakes, forested islands and other vegetation types occur within the delta increasing the diversity of wildlife. In addition to the richness of the Danube Delta Romania has the largest population of Brown Bears in Europe, the most wolves and the highest number of Lynx. The Carpathian Mountains including the region of Transylvania is the major stronghold of these populations and many other species. These two areas are where our Bears, Birds & Blood tour takes us.





(Day 0 – Monday, July 18: Home City/In Flight)
Depart today from your home city. Flights to Bucharest are overnight, arriving the next day. Depending on your flight this could be as early as 11.30am or as late as 7.30pm.

Day 1- Tuesday, July 19: In Flight/Bucharest
Arrive in Bucharest today, where you are met and transferred to your hotel. Depending on arrival time of some exploration of Bucharest may be arranged either as a group or privately. This will incur a small added charge.

Day 2 – Wednesday, July 20: Bucharest/Sighisoara
After breakfast we head north to Transylvania, which encompasses much of the Carpathian Mountains, one of Europe’s richest areas for wildlife. We travel the Transfagarasan road which runs through the Arges River gorge, birding as we go. The Blood part of the tour starts when we make a stop to walk through the forest to Poienari Castle, the authentic Dracula’s Castle. Access to the citadel is made by climbing 1480 stairs, but we won’t be doing that unless by popular demand. The birding is good in these forests, so the walk will have a double purpose. We will have a stop at Vidraru Lake for lunch and also visit Balea Lake, the highest point of the Transfagarasan. Our accommodation is in Sighisoara, where in the evening we will visit the town and have dinner at a restaurant which is in the house in which Vlad was born.

Day 3 – Thursday, July 21: Sighisoara/Zarnesti
brown bear This morning bird our way to Zarnesti for lunch and to drop off our gear at the hotel. The road to Zarnesti takes us through Bran, and the current “Dracula’s Castle” can be seen from the road. It was never the Count’s castle, but is remarkable in its own right. We’ll continue to do some forest birding after lunch in Piatra Craiului National Park, then have an early dinner so we can be at the bear hide about 7pm. The hide was specially constructed deep in the forests to look for Brown Bears,. Wolves and Lynx are rarely seen, but the Brown Bears frequently descend from the hills in the evening and, whilst nothing is certain in the world of wildlife watching, we have a good chance of finding one or more of these magnificent creatures. Indeed, Romania still holds the largest population of Brown Bears on the continent and whilst they are not faring so well in other regions of Europe, in the Carpathians they are flourishing.

Day 4 – Friday, July 22: Zarnesti
Our exact itinerary will depend on the weather conditions and advice of the local guide, but we will be focusing our efforts on the spectacular Piatra Craiului National Park (Rock-of-the-King). This dramatic park is dominated by a 25 kilometer jagged limestone ridge, widely regarded as one of Romania’s most beautiful sights, which reaches a height of 2,244 meters. Brown Bears, Wolf and even Lynx still roam theRasnov forests whilst, to date, 110 species of bird and 1,100 species of higher plant have been recorded, including 2 endemics. There are many spectacular and wildlife rich areas to explore. The lower slopes are cut by a series of dramatic limestone gorges, such as the Zarnesti Gorge, home to Wallcreepers, Dippers, Grey Wagtails and Black Redstarts, whilst the surrounding forests are also the haunt of Lesser Spotted Eagle, Goshawk, Sombre Tit, Black, Middle-spotted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, plus the majestic, but very elusive, Ural Owl. There is also much to keep the botanist and lepidopterist interested including a colorful variety of butterflies such as Swallowtail, Freyer's Purple Emperor, Camberwell Beauty, Berger's Clouded Yellow and Meadow Fritillary. We will return to the pension in Zarnesti for dinner and accommodation. We have prebooked another session at the hide in case our previous evening was unsuccessful. Even if it was some may wish to return; others can explore the town of Zarnesti, or have an some quiet time at the hotel.

Day 5 – Saturday, July 23: Zarnesti/Danube Delta
We say farewell to Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains to head southeast back to the lowlands. Our destination is Dobrogea and Dalmatian PelicansDanube Delta, Europe’s greatest and wildest wetland. Romania hosts the world's largest population of the Globally Threatened Pygmy Cormorant with over 7000 pairs, and most are here in the Delta. There’s also Europe's largest population of Eurasian White Pelican (3500 pairs), crucial numbers of Dalmatian Pelican and the core European population of Ferruginous Duck. Europe's largest Lesser Grey Shrike population. Many Locustella and Acrocephalus warblers (Savi's, Sedge, Paddyfield, Moustached, Marsh, Reed, Great Reed) have their largest European breeding populations in Romania. The Danube rises in Germany's Black Forest and ends, after passing through the enormous filter of the Delta, by flowing into the Black Sea off Romania. This mighty river passes through ten countries and four capital cities (Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade) on the way. In 1990 the Danube Delta was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve which covers some 5,800 km square comprising as it does the Delta proper and the lagoons and other habitats immediately to the south along the Black Sea coastline.

Days 6-9 – Sunday to Tuesday, July 24 to 26: The Danube Delta
The Danube Delta is Europe's second largest riverine delta, (after the Volga Delta) covering some 4,178 (and growing!) square km. Around 82% of this area lies in Romania and 18% in the Ukraine. For various reasons it is best, and easiest, to bird the Romanian part of the Delta. It is in our opinion Europe's greatest wetland for birds and birding whether one considers size, species present or sheer numbers of birds. The facts speak for themselves... the Danube Delta lies at the end of the 2,840 km long River Danube. After breakfast we will begin our boat journey traveling down the main Sulina channel into the heart of the delta. For the next four days we shall be aboard the pontoon boat floating hotel exploring the delta. The day-to-day itinerary shown here should be considered as an only an example of what we might do; as local conditions (e.g. weather, water depth in the channels) will determine our exact course. The Delta is incredibly rich in breeding birds,Bee-eaters and the outline given below is merely a sampler; no doubt we will encounter additional surprises. The Danube Delta comprises a vast complex of reed beds, willow forest, and wetland, crossed by an intricate network of channels. We shall explore as wide a variety as possible of these habitats, both on foot and using a combination of the pontoon boat and a small motorboat. The Sulina channel or branch that runs past Tulcea is wide and straight to facilitate shipping down the Danube and through to the Black Sea, so we shall aim to get access to the smaller, less disturbed channels where bird life is more abundant. Typical sights include feeding Glossy Ibis, egrets, herons, and cormorants, which can gather in impressive numbers where the water levels are low. Large flocks of White Pelicans glide serenely overhead whilst in the shallower channels Kingfishers are ubiquitous and Common Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers and Greenshanks feed along the banks. The reeds fringing the waterways contain families of Penduline Tits and other reed bed species (including Little Bittern), although the smaller birds can be very hard to see at this time of year. Raptors will include frequent sightings of Marsh Harriers whilst the Red-footed Falcons will be seen in small groups hunting insects. The White-tailed Eagles are very quiet in the summer, but there is always a chance of locating one of the ten breeding pairs. Lake Furtuna, which is one of the large lakes, lies just to the north of Maliuc, in the heart of the delta. We will visit this site as, at this time of the year, it can hold an impressive selection of birds. Migrating waterfowl and waders mingle with resident species and White Pelicans often gather in huge numbers to feed and roost. We shall also undertake short walks on land where willow forest yield further species of interest. In open areas Bee-eaters, Hoopoes, Rollers and shrikes are very common. The woodlands support five species of woodpecker. The life style of the delta's residents is also fascinating to see, with waterborne transport the only viable way of getting around and fishing the predominant source of income. A visit to the delta is an unforgettable experience in every aspect.

Day 10 – Wednesday, July 27: Floating Hotel/Tulcea
We leave our floating hotel behind this morning as Parches, Jijila Lake and Macin Mountains National Park will be explored by vehicle. TheRollers picnic lunch will be on package in the heart of nature. In the morning we will leave Tulcea and after a drive of thirty minutes we will arrive in Parches where we will have a great view over the Delta. We can expect bird migration depending on weather. Birds like Honey Buzzard, Long legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Rose-colored Starling can be seen. Afterwards we will go to Jijila Lake where Ruddy Shelduck is possible, and then we will concentrate on Macin Mountains where there are some interesting species like Saker Falcon, Long-legged Buzzard, Stone Curlew, Pied Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Rock Thrush, Ortolan Bunting, Corn Bunting, Woodchat Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Roller, etc. Also the scenery here is wonderful, these mountains being the oldest in Europe. In the evening return to Tulcea where we will make ourselves comfortable at Ibis 4*Guest House where we spend the next two nights.

Day 11 – Thursday, July 28: Tulcea
Kingfisher After breakfast we shall travel southwards, passing through small villages. The Sinoe-Razelm lake complex lies to the south of the Danube Delta. An extensive sand spit has isolated the area from the Black Sea and has left behind a series of shallow, brackish lakes, which are extremely rich in birds. Our main stop - for lunch - will be at Histria, where there is a large salt marsh containing scattered pools.
Herons and ducks can be seen in large numbers, Acrocephalus warblers can be seen quite well here, other birds possible are Bluethroats, Balkan yellow wagtail, some waders, pratincoles, etc. This is also the main feeding area for the small delta population of Dalmatian Pelicans. We will have time to walk across the marsh to the ancient Greek-Roman port of Histria; a variety of wild flowers should also be seen.


Day 12 – Friday, July 29: Tulcea/Bucharest/Depart for US or Overnight Bucharest
We return to Bucharest today. Depending on airline flights some may leave Bucharest today, while others overnight before a morning flight home. For those remaining we’ll organize some Bucharest touring, and if everyone isn't leaving until tomorrow we’ll either add some extra birding on the way back or enjoy some exploration of Bucharest, famous for its bridges among other things. Once we have everyone’s flight information we’ll decide, in consultation with participants, how the day is best organized. If not flying out overnight Bucharest.

(Day 13 – Saturday, July 30: Bucharest/Home City)
Those who were unable to fly out yesterday depart for their home city today.




The cost of the tour based on a minimum of 8 participants is $3087. A single supplement is $300 if requested or required. If an overnight is required in Bucharest at the end of the tour - July 29 - the cost for hotel, transfers and meals is $110. Single supplement is $28.This tour is very inclusive, with airport transfers in Romania, all accommodation, meals with one soft drink or a beer or glass of wine with lunch and dinner, museum entries, hotel and restaurant tips, guiding and bear hide fees. Not included are air fares, visa or similar fees, personal items such as laundry, soft and alcoholic drinks and water beyond those included aove, tips for driver and guide.