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Romania Danube Delta & Black Sea

A 9-day birdwatching tour to Romania, including
3 nights onboard a hotel-boat in the Danube Delta

Our spring and autumn birdwatching tours to Romania feature three nights aboard a comfortable hotel-boat exploring the Danube Delta, plus a choice of two exciting and differing itineraries within Europe’s greatest wetland wilderness - getting you close to some of the continent's rarest breeding birds. Great White Pelican, Pallas’s Gull and Paddyfield Warbler head an all-star cast on a trip that also visits Romania's bird-rich Black Sea coast and Macin Mountains - and is superb for migrants at either season!

Tour Dates

2018

Spaces
0
Available

Leaders
Mike Crewe
Zoli Baczo

Max Group Size: 12
Duration: 9 Days

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Cost: £2095

inc return flights from London Heathrow-Bucharest, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £400

Single Supp: £185
Land Only: £1895

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2EU Paddyfield Warbler Romania May 2014 Stephen Daly Daly Wildlife 6967

Paddyfield Warbler is an eastern species with an outpost in Europe along western shores of the Black Sea - this one was photographed on our May tour to the Danube Delta, Romania © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

For its serene beauty and richness of birds, the immense Danube Delta is perhaps Europe’s greatest natural treasure. The largest reedbeds in the world are here and from May through September, the Delta provides one of the continent’s major bird spectacles. It is worth coming to see the pelicans alone, as they plane across the skies like undulating plumes of smoke.

Even today, this whole region remains difficult of access, for few roads threaten this peaceful haven. Indeed, much of the birding here is possible only by water and the centrepiece of Limosa's wonderful birdwatching holiday to Romania will be an exploration of the Danube Delta's vast swamps aboard one of the region's unique hotel-boats or 'pontons'. We spend three nights afloat, using a superior vessel with all cabins en suite and an upper deck that affords unrivalled views of the Delta and its birdlife.

Whether your preference is to travel in May or September, both are excellent months to visit Romania. The sheer number and variety of birds present then is impressive: colourful Rollers and Bee-eaters are frequently seen beside the roads, wetland birds are abundant, large numbers of migrants are passing through - and the flights of White Pelicans in choreographed flocks above the Delta are a sight not to be missed.

Our tour begins with an easy drive east from the capital Bucharest and an overnight stop beside the River Danube, followed by three nights at a hotel on the bird-rich Black Sea coast. The scenic province of Dobrogea is a region of forested valleys hidden below a plateau of rolling arable land, the domain of Lesser Spotted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk and Red-footed Falcon. There are some excellent wetlands too, thronged by waders and waterfowl, herons and marsh terns.

As we head north towards the Delta, the opportunity to visit Macin Mountains National Park is an exciting addition to our May and September tours. Outstanding for breeding birds in spring and a migratory route for birds of prey in autumn, this tucked away and scenic northern corner of Dobrogea is home to Long-legged Buzzard, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Rock Thrush and Ortolan Bunting.

The itineraries for our spring and autumn cruises in the Danube Delta are different. Our spring visit focuses on the sheltered lakes of the northern delta, where most of the breeding takes place; while in autumn we head further south to Sacaline Island, a sandy peninsula on the Black Sea coast - and a fantastic place for migrants!

In May, the breeding season will be in full swing. Waves of Glossy Ibises, Spoonbills and Pygmy Cormorants pass across the Delta’s skies and specialities to be found include Dalmatian Pelican, Pallas’s Gull, Paddyfield Warbler, and Pied and Isabelline Wheatears.

Birds can be even more numerous in September, when young families are about. Hobbies hawk for dragonflies, and both months can be superb for migrants with a host of raptors, waders, storks and passerines on the move.

Our May tour will be led by Robin Chittenden (making his seventh visit to Romania), and the September tour will be led by Mike Crewe (his second visit there for us). With the expertise of our resident English-speaking Romanian wildlife guide Zoli Baczó, plus the experience of more than 30 previous Limosa tours to Romania, join us - springtime or autumn - for some of the best birding Europe has to offer!

2EUR ponton (small) sailing Romania Janos Olah (1) Jun 2012

Pulled by a small launch, a ponton or 'hotel-boat' like this provides the only way to explore the immense Danube Delta - Europe's largest wetland wilderness, encompassing more than 2000 square miles © Zoli Baczo

Please note: The itineraries for our spring and autumn cruises within the Danube Delta are different. On the May tour, we start our cruise at the Danube port of Tulcea and travel along the Sulina Channel to access the sheltered bays and lakes of the northern part of delta, where most of the breeding takes place. In September, we embark at the port of Murighiol and travel the St Gheorge Channel, in the southern part of the delta, out to Sacaline Island, a 20km sand bar jutting out into the Black Sea. This area is generally better for wetland birds in autumn - and is a hot spot for passage migrants!

Day 1                                    
TO BUCHAREST & THE DANUBE RIVER

Our birdwatching tours to Romania begin with British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow to Bucharest. Afternoon arrival in the Romanian capital, where we'll be met by our specialist local guide Zoli and travel east across the plains towards Calarasi. We should arrive in time for dinner at our hotel, which stands on the banks of the River Danube, looking across to Bulgaria and midway between Bucharest and Romania's Black Sea coast. Night Calarasi

Day 2
CALARASI TO BLACK SEA LAGOONS

Calarasi is an excellent place to start our tour due to its strategic position beside the river en route to the coast. The meandering Danube valley comprises a patchwork of parks, wetlands and woods, where Little Bitterns, Little Crakes and Whiskered Terns breed. Purple Herons, Garganey and Ferruginous Duck are also about, brightly coloured Golden Orioles frequent the poplars and woodpeckers to be found include Black, Syrian and Grey-headed.

On our way to the coast today, we cross the River Danube by ferry and take the 'old road', travelling east through an attractive landscape devoted largely to vineyards. We may pause along the way to admire a roadside colony of Bee-eaters near the village of Ostrov, where Balkan Wall Lizards can often be seen sunning themselves, before continuing on to Lake Bugeac and chances of Ruddy Shelduck.

From the lake, it’s only a short distance to Canaraua Fetei, whose forests of oak and false acacia conceal a valley of limestone cliffs. Honey Buzzards may be seen soaring and other species to watch for here include Short-toed and  Booted Eagles, Icterine Warbler and possibly Red-rumped Swallow - the latter a rare bird in Romania.

Lying to the south of the Danube Delta, and close to the historic ancient Greek and later Roman colonies of Histria on Romania’s Black Sea coast, Sinoe will be our base for the next three nights. Night Sinoe                     

Day 3
WOLF PENINSULA & HISTRIA

Histria is perhaps the richest birding location along the Black Sea Coast, noted for its colony of Collared Pratincoles and as one of the best sites to look for the localised Paddyfield Warbler - one of several rare breeding species that find the westernmost limit of their range in this tucked away corner of Europe. We shall spend the best part of the day here, moving just south in the afternoon to the coast at Navodari and Midia in search of more waders and migrants.

The Wolf Peninsula is another superb spot, lying close to Histria. In the past, Wolves did live here but today only Golden Jackals and Raccoon Dogs remain. The shallow, ephemeral saline lakes offer excellent habitats for waders, terns, gulls and pratincoles. The Delta’s only breeding colony of Dalmatian Pelicans is situated at nearby Lake Sinoe and this rare and endangered species is often to be seen in the vicinity. A unique and well-known local landmark, also well worth a look, is a most impressive White Stork nest built of a heap of harvested reed 15m high!  

Both spring and autumn can be outstanding for migrants along the shores of the Black Sea - at Sinoe we are superbly placed to watch for these as they arrive off the sea. On a good day, waves of herons, ibises, pratincoles, ‘marsh terns’ and waders may be seen passing overhead. Catch migration on the right day in this part of the world and we could be in for some of the most exciting birdwatching in Europe! Night Sinoe

Day 4            
VADU WETLANDS & SITORMAN

We begin our birding today by exploring the coast at Vadu, a famous and remarkable wetland site where a mix of small lakes - including the remote Sinoe lagoon, seashore and Salicornia steppe - can provide a wonderful selection of birds. Waders, raptors and migrants are likely to be on the menu here!

In the afternoon, we visit the Gura Dobrogei steppe valley and an abandoned stone quarry at Sitorman. Greater Short-toed and Calandra Larks display overhead and Stone-curlew nest in the quarry. But the star breeding birds here are Pied and Isabelline Wheatears - two more species at the westernmost limit of their range here. This is also an excellent site for raptors and we could see Marsh, Montagu`s and maybe even Pallid Harriers, Honey Buzzard and Red-footed Falcon plus localised breeders such as Lesser Spotted, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Levant Sparrowhawk and Long-legged Buzzard.

Small patches of woodland and bushy scrub in the middle of the steppe are a favoured haunt of breeding and migrating passerines, among them Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Barred Warbler, Roller and Golden Oriole. Rarities such as Woodchat Shrike can sometimes be seen.

After another exciting day of birding, we return to our hotel in Sinoe for dinner and our third and final night's stay there. Night Sinoe

Day 5                           
BABADAG FOREST & MACIN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Leaving Sinoe, we travel an hour or so across Dobrogea to reach the extensive deciduous forests of the northern part of the province. We will spend some time this morning in Babadag Forest, looking for Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Icterine and Wood Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Sombre Tit and Hawfinch. We might be lucky to find Wryneck.

After lunch at an excellent roadside restaurant, we head to the Macin Mountains National Park. Rising to a little over 450m (1500ft), this chain of low, granite hills are the oldest in Romania and rich in wildlife. Isabelline Wheatears nest in the grassy foothills, while Rock Thrush and Pied, Northern and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears occupy the higher slopes. Areas of fine earth are much burrowed into by breeding Bee-eaters, and patrolling Lesser Spotted, Short-toed and Booted Eagles scan the ground below for European Sousliks, lizards and snakes.

 

Our destination this evening is a hotel at Tulcea, a river port on the banks of the Danube at the western edge of the vast Danube delta. Night Tulcea

Days 6 - 8
EXPLORING THE DANUBE DELTA BY BOAT

We may spend a little more time this morning birding on terra firma before transferring to our hotel-boat - known locally as a ‘ponton’ - to begin our discovery of the Danube delta. The comfortable ponton will be our home for the next three nights of the holiday. [Please bear in mind that our planned itineraries for the boat are subject to possible change due to water levels and other local conditions at the time.]

Our spring and autumn cruises follow different routes, with our ports of embarkation being Tulcea (May) and Murighiol (September) - please see separate cruise itineraries below.

Whichever trip you choose however, typical Delta species soon begin to appear: chevrons of Glossy Ibises trailing across the sky; buff-plumed Squacco Herons standing motionless along the banks as we pass; graceful Whiskered Terns flickering over the water; and noisy ‘eastern’ Greylag Geese with their distinctive rosy-pink bills.

Using our hotel boat as a base, we have the remainder of day 6 plus the following two days to experience a selection of the best locations within the immense Danube Delta, seeing birds and places that are impossible to reach any other way.

The Delta extends over an immense area - more than 2000 sq. miles - so please note that the itinerary and route we follow may vary from year to year, being dependent upon a variety of factors including the advice of our local guide on current bird activity and the whereabouts of key species at the time of our visit; changing seasonable access to the maze of waterways and channels due to weather conditions, vegetation, water levels and other local factors; plus of course the advice of our captain at the time. Please be aware that there are limited opportunities to go ashore within the Delta itself (and landing isn’t always possible, even where terra firma exists), but we will endeavour to take them whenever we can. During our cruise, we will be making several excursions by smaller, faster boats to reach localities where the larger, slow-moving ponton cannot go.

SPRING CRUISE (MAY)

Our May visit focuses on the northern part of the Delta, along the Sulina channel. The patchwork of lakes, channels, immense reedbeds and stands of willow here provide ideal breeding habitat for many birds. At this time of year, the breeding season for many Delta birds will be at its height.

We will aim to visit lakes along the Sontea channel, such as Nebunu, Sireasa, Fortuna, Ligheanca and Baclanesti, where Great and Little Egrets, Grey, Purple and Squacco Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Eurasian Spoonbills, Glossy Ibises, and Great and Pygmy Cormorants are frequently seen as they move to and fro between the breeding colonies and favoured feeding grounds. The lakes also support good numbers of Red-necked Grebes as well as nesting Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes, and we should see Ferruginous Duck, Common Tern and Caspian Gull, too. With luck, we will also encounter the monster Pallas’s Gull, a relatively new arrival here from further east, which has recently started to breed in the Delta.

The uncommon White-tailed Eagle regularly perches in the willows that fringe the channels and lakes, sometimes affording close views from the boat as we pass. Hobbies skim low over the reedbeds in pursuit of the delta’s abundant dragonflies and we’ll check for a migrant Red-footed Falcon, another agile predator with a penchant for catching flying insects on the wing. Other species to watch and listen out for in the willows as we pass include nesting Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers, colourful Rollers and Golden Orioles, Thrush Nightingale, Redstart, Garden Warbler and Penduline Tit.

Europe’s biggest breeding colony of Great White Pelicans - more than 2000 pairs - is also located within the northern part of the Delta. Although the colony itself is not accessible to visitors, the undulating flocks of pelicans are a daily attraction as they move out from the breeding colony to the Delta’s lakes to feed.

In May, we will aim to spend our first night onboard the ponton moored in the heart of the delta, near the isolated village of Crisan. Next morning, if conditions are suitable, we may visit Musura Bay, which lies closer to the Black Sea coast, travelling there by smaller, faster boats. Returning to the pontoon in the afternoon, and if time allows, we move to the lakes around Mila 23, where we tie up for the second night. We may return to Tulcea by way of lakes along the Sontea channel and Canal 36. Our third and final night onboard the ponton will be spent moored close to Tulcea, ready to disembark after breakfast next morning. Three nights aboard our ponton in the Delta

AUTUMN CRUISE (SEPTEMBER)

Our September visit explores the southern part of the Delta, sailing from Murighiol (about 25 miles southeast of Tulcea), along the Sfantu

Gheorghe channel and focusing mainly on the mouth of the delta, where we'll visit impressive Sacaline Island. This 20km long sandbar jutting out into the Black Sea can be a superb place for migrants in autumn - one of the hottest spots in Europe, in fact! With the breeding season over, our September cruise will focus on the essence of migration and, in the southern part of the Delta, we should see large numbers of northern and eastern European birds making their way south.

In the shallow waters we can expect a plethora of pelicans, herons, waders, gulls and terns. In autumn, bushes along the seashore can also hold large number of passerine migrants, with an ever-changing set of species day by day. At the time of our visit in early September, Red-breasted Flycatchers, Willow, Wood and Garden Warblers, Blackcaps, Red-backed Shrikes, Robins, redstarts, thrushes and tits should all be on the move. In the skies above, raptors and storks will also be migrating south and likely species to watch for now include Honey and Common Buzzards, Levant Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Hobby and Red-footed Falcon.

Alongside the migrants, we should encounter many of the resident or special birds of the Delta region, including grebes, herons, cormorants, and Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans. With luck, we might even come across some local rarities too - perhaps a party of Lesser Kestrels heading south, scarce passage waders such as Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers, or some magnificent Pallas’s Gulls loafing on the shore.

On our way back to port at Murighiol, we will aim to visit some classic Delta habitats where, among the channels and lakes of the Erenciuc, we have further chances to see grebes, herons, cormorants, pelicans and other waterbirds. We may also find the majestic White-tailed Eagle, perched prominently in the fringing willow and alder trees.

On our September tour, our final night in the Delta will spent on board the ponton moored in Murighiol, ready to disembark after breakfast next morning. Three nights aboard our ponton in the Delta

Day 9                        
DANUBE DELTA TO BUCHAREST

After breakfast onboard the ponton, we return to terra firma and reluctantly turn our backs on the delta for the drive to Bucharest. Flight schedules permitting, we usually have time for short birding stop just before we cross the Danube River, followed by a final picnic lunch at a convenient halt along the motorway.

Our birding over, we complete the journey to Bucharest and check-in for the British Airways afternoon flight to London Heathrow, where our birding tour to Romania concludes this evening.

SPOTTED CRAKE 2 Romania Gordon Small Sep 2012 7898

This wonderful photo of an adult Spotted Crake was taken on our September visit to the Danube delta © tour participant Gordon Small

What To Expect

Our 9-day spring and autumn birdwatching tours to Romania feature three nights aboard a comfortable hotel-boat exploring the Danube Delta, plus a choice of two exciting and differing itineraries within Europe’s greatest wetland wilderness - getting you close to some of the continent's rarest breeding birds. White Pelican, Pallas’s Gull and Paddyfield Warbler head an all-star cast on a trip that also visits Romania's bird-rich Black Sea coast and Macin Mountains - and is superb for migrants at either season!

Romania enjoys a continental climate, predominantly sunny and warm in spring and autumn, with temperatures ranging from 11-25C (52-77F). Chance of thundery summer downpours.

Birds

160-190 species

Mammals

5-10 species

Butterflies

10 species

Accommodation

8 nights in Romania, with 5 nights spent at comfortable hotels followed by 3 nights afloat aboard a 'ponton' (hotel boat) exploring the Danube Delta.

A hotel beside the River Danube at Calarasi conveniently breaks the journey to the coast and offers some great birding nearby, making it an ideal stopover for dinner and overnight on the first evening. At the Black Sea coast, we spend three nights at a comfortable private pension in rural Sinoe, well away from the hubbub and development of Romania's burgeoning seaside resorts. For our overnight stop at Tulcea, on the western fringe of the Danube delta, we stay at a comfortable hotel. All rooms at hotels en suite.

We conclude our tour with three nights aboard one of the region’s comfortable hotel-boats - known locally as a ‘ponton’; all cabins en suite (see below).

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on Day 1 and concluding with lunch on Day 9. Food is good... unlike our first visit to the Danube Delta almost 30 years ago, when 'Turkish-style' coffee made with cold sparkling mineral water and fried 'Picnicbog' (a local variant of spam) were the order of the day!

Walking

Easy, with short walks. Because of the nature of the terrain and in order to visit a cross-section of key habitats, most of our birding within the Delta itself must be done by boat, with only limited opportunity for occasional short walks where and when landing on terra firma is possible.

On the autumn tour, please note that the landing at Sacaline Island is a ‘wet landing’ and it is usually necessary to 'wade' the last 10-15m through shallow water to reach the shore. Take note that the seed pods of the water chestnuts here have sharp spikes so barefoot is not recommended for this or once ashore; instead, we recommend you don some old trainers, sandals or flip flops when visiting Sacaline.

Travel

We fly from London Heathrow to Bucharest, nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport   By midi/minibus with local driver. In the delta itself, we endeavour to explore as wide a variety of habitats as possible using a combination of the 'ponton' and smaller, fast motorboats; if water levels are low, we may switch to rowing boats (manned by the crew!).

Boat Trips

In the Danube Delta, we spend three nights sleeping onboard a comfortable, two- or three-storey ‘hotel boat’ (according to our final group size). Known locally as a “ponton”, a typical three-storey boat is equipped with 9 or 10 small twin-bedded or double guest rooms (these being situated on the lower deck of the ponton), each with private facilities.

[In the case of a small group, we may switch to a smaller but equally comfortable two-storey ponton equipped with 5-6 small twin-bedded or double guest rooms (also situated on the lower deck of the ponton), each with private facilities.]

A limited number of cabins are available for single occupancy onboard - please let us know as soon as possible if you wish to be assigned a single.

Although neither spacious nor luxurious, the pontons we use on our tours are of superior quality (and best available), offering clean and comfortable accommodation of a standard that’s on a par with many 4-star Romanian hotels. The upper deck/s house an air-conditioned dining room and bar, plus an open sundeck with seating. Meals on board the ponton are good and freshly prepared by the vessel's own cook.

Power onboard is provided by the ponton's own generator. Please note that pontons do not have an engine and so are towed behind a smaller launch or tug.

2EU Thrush Nightingale 2EU Romania May 2014 Stephen Daly Daly Wildlife 7549

The furtive Thrush Nightingale breeds in the Danube Delta, where this photo was taken © Stephen Daly, Daly Wildlife

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1 Alice Lester, Danube Delta, Romania tour ... Thank you very much indeed for a really wonderful trip to Romania. I enjoyed it enormously. The delta is a magical and never to be forgotten place, I feel... [empty string]
2 Pauline Kell, Danube Delta, Romania tour ... Quite a magical holiday! So many moments to remember, from Little Bittern to White-tailed Eagle and wonderful starry nights and sunrises... [empty string]
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