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 birds are found. In September, we embark at the port of Murighiol and travel along 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!
TO BUCHAREST & THE RIVER DANUBE
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 long-standing, English-speaking resident guide Zoli and travel east across the plains towards Calarasi.
Evening arrival at our first hotel, which stands on the banks of the River Danube, looking across to the Bulgarian shore and approximately midway between Bucharest and Romania's Black Sea coast. Night Calarasi
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 riverine 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 tall poplars and woodpeckers to be found include Black, Syrian and Grey-headed.
On our way to the coast today, we cross the winding 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 birds to watch for 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
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
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
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. In spring, 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 along with Pied, Northern and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears occupy the higher slopes. Areas of fine earth are much burrowed into by breeding Bee-eaters, as patrolling Lesser Spotted, Short-toed and Booted Eagles scan the ground below for European Sousliks, lizards and snakes.
Our destination this evening is 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 floating hotel - 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 wide 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 floating hotel 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 simply 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. Note 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 our larger, slow-moving floating hotel cannot go.
SPRING CRUISE (MAY)
Our May visit focuses on the northern part of the Delta, accessed 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, 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, a treat to see in breeding plumage, as well as nesting Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes, and we should find Ferruginous Duck, Common Tern and Caspian Gull, too. With luck, we will also encounter the monster Pallas’s (Great Black-headed) 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 that grace the Delta’s skies are a daily attraction as they move out from the breeding colony to surrounding lakes to scoop up fish with their enormous pouched bills.
In May, we aim to spend our first night aboard our floating hotel 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 ponton in the afternoon, and if time allows, we move to the lakes around Mila 23, where we’ll 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 aboard the floating hotel will be spent moored close to Tulcea, ready to disembark after breakfast the next morning. Three nights aboard our floating hotel in the Danube 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 good numbers 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 the channels and lakes of the Erenciuc offer further chances to see grebes, herons, cormorants, pelicans and other waterbirds. We may also find the majestic White-tailed Eagle, perched prominently in the waterside trees.
On our September tour, our final night in the Delta will spent on board our floating hotel moored in Murighiol, ready to disembark after breakfast next morning. Three nights aboard our floating hotel in the Danube Delta
DANUBE DELTA TO BUCHAREST
After breakfast onboard the ponton, we return to terra firma and reluctantly turn our backs on the delta for the journey back to Bucharest.
Flight schedules permitting, we usually have time to make a 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.