Monthly Archives: August 2018

Aug 2018 – Romania: Birds & Bears, Part 3

This is the third and final instalment of a 3 part blog post about our visit to Romania in August 2018. After visiting the Dobrogea and the Danube Delta we made our way up to Transylvania and the Carpathians. After a day for travelling, that gave us three full days exploring the mountains.

This section of our trip this year is not included in the forthcoming Romania tour in June 2019, which will just visit the Dobrogea and Danube Delta. You can read more about that tour here.

18th-20th August – Transylvania and the Carpathians

One of the main reasons for visiting Transylvania was to try to see Brown Bears. It is estimated that around 6,000 Brown Bears can be found in Romania, the largest population in Europe, outside of Russia, so it is one of the best places to look for them.

Early on our first morning, we set off into the forest to look for woodpeckers. We headed for an area which research showed had been very good for them just a few years ago, but when we arrived we immediately noticed a problem. The area had been selectively logged, and all the largest trees had been taken out. This would prove to be a recurring problem over the next few days – it appears that logging is a major issue facing the forests here.

Undeterred, we set off into the forest for a walk. We hadn’t gone very far when we heard the undergrowth rustling. Being near to a town, we thought it might just be people at first but it quickly became clear it was a large mammal and after a few seconds a Brown Bear appeared. Bears are known to visit the towns at night, raiding the bins in search of food, so it was perhaps heading back into the woods after a night’s ‘work’.

The Bear looked at us for a few seconds, and we looked at it, wondering who would blink first! Then it turned and ran back into the trees. A great start! We continued on our walk and explored further down along the track through the trees. We found lots of tits – Crested Tits, Marsh and Willow Tits – and we heard several Great Spotted Woodpeckers, but no sign of anything more interesting and no more Bears.

The best way to see Brown Bears in the Carpathians is to visit one of the organised ‘bear hides’. Here, food is put out to attract the animals. This was traditionally for shooting purposes but with bear shooting currently banned, tourism is an important alternative.

We had booked into a ‘bear hide’ later that evening. We were taken up to the hide in the early evening and within minutes the first Brown Bear appeared. Over the next couple of hours, we were treated to amazingly close views of at least 14 Brown Bears, including two females each with two small cubs. An unforgettable experience!

Brown Bear 1

Brown Bear – the first of many we saw from the ‘bear hide’

Brown Bear 2

Brown Bear – attracted to food put out from them

Brown Bear 3

Brown Bear – one of two females we saw with young cubs

Brown Bear 4

Brown Bear – a ‘baby bear’ – very cute!

The woodpecker we were really hoping to see in the Carpathians was White-backed Woodpecker. The birds here are of the southern race, lilfordi, which differs from more northerly birds in having a barred rather than solid white back. After drawing a blank on our first morning, we had more success that afternoon, although not without a bit of effort.

We arrived at another site we knew to be good historically for White-backed Woodpecker. It was an area of extensive beech forest, with scattered spruce. Again, as we walked up the valley there seemed to be lots of logging activity and many of the largest trees had clearly been selectively removed. It was nice walk along the track through the trees, climbing to over 1000m. We saw lots of butterflies, a dark Steppe Buzzard and a Eurasian Sparrowhawk which was a new bird for our trip list, but apart from a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers at the start we came across no others woodpeckers.

After walking for over three hours, up the valley and back down again, we returned to the car. We were just getting in when we noticed a woodpecker flying towards us, down from the woods on the hills across the fields. It landed in some trees not far from the car and to our astonishment turned out to be the White-backed Woodpecker we had spent all afternoon searching for!

White-backed Woodpecker

White-backed Woodpecker – flew in and landed in the trees close to the car

We also saw another White-backed Woodpecker at another site the following day. This is clearly still a good place to look for this often rather elusive subspecies.

Another subspecies we hoped to catch up with in the Carpathians was the distinctive SE European race of Horned Lark (or Shorelark), balcanica. These birds differ from the more familiar nominate northern race, which winters on the Norfolk coast, in having much more extensive black on the face. The black mask continues down to meet a more extensive black breast band. The southern races of Horned Lark are also high altitude birds, breeding on mountaintops and are non-migratory, in contrast to the northern Shorelarks we see more often. Perhaps potential candidates for a future split, based on any reappraisal of the Horned Lark / Shorelark complex?

We took a cable car up to 2000m, on the top of one of the ridges to an area of ski slopes, on our last morning. We had been told a good place to look for them and within a few hundred metres we were watching a group of about 15 balcanica Horned Larks. As well as several males, still sporting their black horns, there were good numbers of juveniles here too.

Horned Lark

Horned Lark – a male of the SE European balcanica subspecies

There were lots of Water Pipits up here too. Several Black Redstarts were feeding around the buildings and the ski slopes and we flushed groups of Linnets from the short vegetation.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – common in the mountains at around 2000m

We had hoped to find Alpine Accentor up here too, but there was possibly too much disturbance at this site. We were hoping to visit another site to look for this species in the afternoon, but when low cloud descended over the tops we were thwarted. We had also hoped to see Wallcreeper in the Carpathians, but we were too late this year. At the site close to where we were staying in Zarnesti, the birds had already finished breeding and had dispersed.

Other birds we did manage to find included Nutcrackers, which were fairly common in some areas in the spruce trees, as were Common Crossbills. In the deciduous forest, we saw another Collared Flycatcher and a few Spotted Flycatchers. Grey Wagtails were common along the mountain streams and around the open meadows lower down we saw Tree Pipits and Yellowhammers for the trip list.

Nutcracker

Nutcracker –  a fairly common sight in the spruce forests

The scenery in the Carpathians is stunning, and our trip would not have been complete without taking some time to visit one or two of the Transylvanian castles. We spent a couple of hours one afternoon at the castle in Bran, which is generally referred to as Dracula’s Castle despite the fact there is no evidence that Vlad the Impaler ever visited there! Despite that, and the fact that it is overrun with tourists as a consequence, it was very pretty and well worth a visit.

Dracula's Castle

Dracula’s Castle – although there is no evidence he ever visited here!

The best bird of our visit to Transylvania waited until the very last. We had been to check out the forests around one of the towns again and we were on our way back to our guest house at the end of our last afternoon. As we drove down the winding mountain road through the beech forest, my eagle-eyed travelling companion spotted a large shape on a branch deep in the trees. Fortunately there was a layby to turn round in just beyond and not much traffic.

As we drove slowly back up the road, we couldn’t see anything at first. There was only a stretch of a few metres long where the shape could be seen from the road and when we got to that point we could see it was a large owl – a Ural Owl!

Ural Owl

Ural Owl – in the forest by the road at the end of our last afternoon

We turned round again, higher up, and drove back down to the layby, where we parked and walked carefully up the edge of the road. The Ural Owl was unconcerned by our presence – it was dozing but several times it woke and looked round, particularly when a large lorry rumbled up the road behind us. It appeared to be yawning, opening its bright yellow bill wide and stretching its neck back on a few occasions, though it was possibly trying to regurgitate a pellet.

Ural Owls are obviously fairly common here still, but are not easy to see, particularly during the day. We sat at the edge of the road and watched it for a while, before eventually tearing ourselves away and leaving it to sleep in peace.

It was a great way to end what had been a fantastic trip to Romania. I am looking forward to going back next June already.

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Aug 2018 – Romania: Birds & Bears, Part 2

This is the second of a 3 part blog post about our visit to Romania in August 2018. The Danube Delta is one of the largest wetlands in the world. Most of it is accessible only by boat. It is a haven for wildlife, particularly waterbirds, and is a destination which should be on every birdwatcher’s ‘must see’ list.

After our visit to the Dobrogea, we spent four days out in the Delta. We sailed from the port of Tulcea, on the Danube, and spent three nights in the village of Crisan, out in the Delta, exploring different parts of the surrounding area each day mainly by boat. On our tour in June 2019 we will use a floating hotel, which will give us even more flexibility on where we can go. You can read more about next year’s tour here.

13th-16th August – The Danube Delta

The first thing which strikes you, as you motor along the smaller channels through the Delta, is the abundance of herons. Squacco Herons are everywhere, particularly favouring the carpets of floating lilypads or water chestnut along the sides of the waterways.

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron – walking on a carpet of water chestnut

Grey and Purple Herons are both common too.

Purple Heron 1

Purple Heron – common along the smaller channels

We flushed lots of Night Herons from the trees as we motored past – the spotty juveniles were more obliging, whereas the adults tended to hide in or under the trees.

Night Heron

Night Heron – the juveniles were more obliging than the adults

Egrets are abundant as well, with large numbers of both Great White Egret and Little Egret feeding along the channels. We saw lots of Glossy Ibis too, but only a couple of Spoonbills. White Storks were still fairly common, even though the breeding season was largely over, and we saw a couple of Black Storks flying overhead.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – great views from the boat

There are obviously lots of Little Bitterns, but they were typically elusive, hiding in the reeds. We heard many more than we saw and the latter were mostly birds seen flying across the channels, although we did see a few each day. (Great) Bitterns are present too, but in much smaller numbers and they are even harder to see, so it was a great spot to see one standing on the edge of the reeds as we were motoring past on our way back one afternoon.

Little Bittern

Little Bittern – typically skulking in the reeds

Pelicans are one of the birds you want to see when you come to the Danube Delta. The area hosts significant breeding populations of both Great White Pelicans and Dalmatian Pelicans. The number of Great White Pelicans was historically estimated at around 4,500 pairs, out of a European population of 5,600, but more recent counts suggest there may now be over 17,000 pairs in the Delta alone! Dalmatian Pelicans are rarer, with only about 3,500 pairs in Europe, of which around 450 pairs nest in the Delta.

With the breeding season already over, and high levels of disturbance from boats on many of the channels during the holidays in Romania, we didn’t see as many pelicans as perhaps we might have done otherwise. Water levels were also apparently high, after unseasonally heavy rains in July. We had already seen lots of White Pelicans around the lagoons on the Black Sea Coast.

Despite this, we still saw White Pelicans daily in the Delta, generally in small groups loafing along the channels, or as single birds looking for an easy meal around fishing nets! On our last day, when we motored back through the quieter northern part of the Delta, we saw more White Pelicans, including some more sizeable flocks circling up to head off to feed and a feeding party out on one of the lakes.

White Pelicans

White Pelicans – loafing and preening

White Pelican

White Pelican – viewing from the boat allows a close approach

Probably for the same reasons, we only saw a small number of Dalmatian Pelicans on this trip, but still we got some nice close views of one or two birds.

Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican – present in much smaller numbers

Pygmy Cormorant is another species localised to SE Europe for which the Delta is an important area. About 10,000 pairs are estimated to breed here, around 25% of the total European population. We saw a small number each day, mostly loafing on trees of posts along the channels, but we found more on the quieter channels to the north on our way back on the last day. It seems likely that when feeding they are particularly prone to disturbance by large numbers of boats.

Pygmy Cormorant

Pygmy Cormorant – the Delta contains 25% of the European popualtion

About two-thirds of the European population of Ferruginous Duck breeds in the Delta too. We saw a quite a few in the small lagoons along the edges of some of the quieter channels, including a good proportion of juveniles. However, the highlight was seeing over a thousand individuals on a single lake in a huge raft mixed with Coot and a smaller number of Common Pochard. Quite a sight!

Ferruginous Duck

Ferruginous Duck – fairly common still along the quieter channels

Garganey is probably the commonest duck here, at least the species which we saw most often. The biggest surprise was disturbing a family of Goldeneye from one of the channels – the Delta appears to be south of the usual range for this species, but apparently it has recently been proven to breed here, probably in very small numbers.

Grebes are well represented, with both Great Crested Grebe and Little Grebe being fairly common. We also saw smaller numbers of both Black-necked Grebe and Red-necked Grebe, both of which breed in the Delta.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe – a juvenile

Little Crakes breed here too, but are not easy to see. We were fortunate to spot single juveniles on two different occasions, creeping over the vegetation along the edge of the channels as we were passing, before they scurried quickly into cover.

Whiskered Terns are common, particularly around areas of floating vegetation, lilypads or water chestnut. We saw lots of fledged juveniles, many still being fed by adults, and even a pair still nest building! Large numbers also gathered to feed along the major waterways later in the day, dipping down to pick insects from the surface of the water.

Whiskered Terns

Whiskered Tern – a common sight in the Delta

We also saw a single White-winged Black Tern, which flew over the boat on our way back one day, and Common Terns were (appropriately enough) common. We visited the village of Caraorman on one day and walked out to explore some small pools nearby. There were lots of gulls loafing here and with them a whopping total of at least 53 Caspian Terns!

White-tailed Eagles seem to be doing well in the Delta and we saw birds most days. An adult perched in the trees just above the channel was a particular treat. We cut the engine and drifted right underneath it – quite a sight to see it staring back down at us!

White-tailed Eagle

White-tailed Eagle – perched in the trees just above the boat!

Marsh Harriers are fairly common here and we saw one juvenile Montagu’s Harrier hunting along the drier bank of one of the main channels, presumably just a bird passing through. A Black Kite drifting high overhead on our last day was a welcome bonus.

Hobby was probably the raptor we saw most often, with singles or pairs often seen circling over the trees beside the channels. We also saw a small number of Red-footed Falcons in the Delta, particularly around the village of Letea when we went to explore the forest which grows in the sand dunes here. Two Honey Buzzards circled up out of the trees that day too.

Hobby

Hobby – the commonest raptor in the trees along the channels

Out in the more open parts of the Delta, we saw relatively few passerines. In the reedbeds, we saw Great Reed, Reed and Sedge Warblers. Bearded Tits could be heard pinging and we heard several Penduline Tits and had good views of a juvenile.

The more wooded parts of the Delta are surprisingly good places for woodpeckers. We saw three different Black Woodpeckers – two from the boat in poplars along the channels and a third when we walked into the Letea Forest. We also had our best views of several Grey-headed Woodpeckers here, plus numerous Syrian and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.

Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker – this one flew over the boat

Also in the trees and bushes along the channels, we saw Golden Orioles, Redstarts and some of the commoner warblers. Our only Icterine Warbler of the trip appeared in the willows above the boat when we had stopped to listen to a couple of calling Thrush Nightingales. On our walk in Letea Forest, as well as the Black Woodpecker, the highlight was finding several juvenile Collared Flycatchers (it appears they may breed here), alongside the much more numerous Spotted Flycatchers.

It appeared that passerines were already moving through the Delta, and walking along the river bank in the early morning at Crisan we came across good numbers of Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats, plus a juvenile Red-breasted Flycatcher. We had our best views of Thrush Nightingale here too, in the bushes along the river.

Crisan also provided us with a couple of nice surprises. An isolated population of Bluethroats breeds in the Delta and it is not an easy bird to see here. We were therefore very pleased to find one feeding under the tamarisks on the edge of the village, and we subsequently saw it on the following two days too.

Bluethroat

Bluethroat – a surprise find under the tamarisks at Crisan

Wagtails were some of the commonest passerines around the Delta. We saw large numbers of ‘yellow’ wagtails – both Blue-headed and Black-headed Wagtails – as well as White Wagtails. We had been told that Citrine Wagtail is just a very rare visitor here even though, based on its breeding and wintering ranges, it might be expected to pass through here more regularly. It was therefore nice to find a first winter Citrine Wagtail feeding with White Wagtails around a small marshy pool by the tamarisks on the edge of Crisan village.

Citrine Wagtail

Citrine Wagtail – a first winter at Crisan

It was even more of a surprise to find two more first winter Citrine Wagtails together in the same place a couple of days later. Photos confirmed that they were two different individuals. It appears therefore that they are most likely under-recorded here and are probably regular migrants through the Delta.

We had a really enjoyable 4 days in the Danube Delta – seeing a total of 120 bird species here alone. It really is somewhere everyone should visit. From there, we made our way up to Transylvania and the southern Carpathian mountains for the third part of our trip, which we will cover in the final blog post to follow…

Aug 2018 – Romania: Birds & Bears, Part 1

Romania has to be one of the most interesting birdwatching destinations in Europe. It boasts a great variety of different habitats including the Danube Delta, the Black Sea coastal lagoons and low Macin mountains of the Dobrogea region, rising up to the lofty Carpathian mountains which dominate the north of the country.

The wildlife is pretty impressive too – with a great diversity of birds, some of which are at the westernmost point of their range here. Amongst the larger mammals, Romania boasts about 50% of Europe’s Brown Bears (outside of Russia) and a significant proportion of its Wolves. We spent 12 days in Romania in the middle of August this year, not the best time of year to visit but still we managed to see 196 species of bird, and plenty of Brown Bears!

This was not a tour – but is a prelude to one. In early June 2019 I will be leading a group on an 8-day tour to Romania. We will visit the Danube Delta and Dobrogea regions, the first two areas which we visited on this trip (but not the Carpathians, which was the third part of our trip). If you like the sound of what you read in the first two parts of this blog and would like to join us, please contact me for more details.

The Romania tour in 2019, along with all our other international tours, is organised together with our friends at Oriole Birding. You can see more details here.

10th-12th August – The Dobrogea

After a travel day on 9th, we spent the first three days of our trip exploring the Dobrogea region, south of the Danube.

Paddyfield Warbler was one of our main target species here. It is at the western extreme of its range in Romania, but can be found in reedbeds around the saline lagoons along the Black Sea coast. We had thought we might struggle to find them, given the time of year, but we shouldn’t have worried. At the first site we tried we had amazing views of at least 10 birds, feeding in low vegetation alongside the track down to the coast.

Paddyfield Warbler

Paddyfield Warbler – showed unbelievably well for a typically skulking warbler!

Paddyfield Warblers can be very shy. They are a very rare visitor to the UK and normally don’t show very well when they are found here. So this was an unbelievable opportunity to spend some time watching them at close quarters.

Pallas’s Gull (also known as Great Black-headed Gull) was another bird we particularly wanted to see here. They proved hard to find at first – there was no sign of any on the lagoons we tried first. Then on our last day in the Dobrogea, driving down towards the coast, we spotted two with about a dozen Caspian Gulls loafing in a ploughed field.

Two Pallas’s Gulls was good enough, but it didn’t prepare us for what we found when we got down to the lagoons. There were over 160 Pallas’s Gulls here on the island in the middle! This lagoon is often dry at this time of year, but after heavy rains in July it was full of water, which may explain why they were here.

Pallas's Gulls

Pallas’s Gulls – just a few of the 160+ on the one lagoon

The Pallas’s Gulls were of a variety of different ages, including juveniles and moulting adults, most of which were already in the process of losing their black hoods. Birds were coming and going all the time, and we had some great close flybys.

Pallas's Gull

Pallas’s Gull – a moulting adult which has largely lost its black hood

There were also Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls around the various lagoons in the Dobrogea, as well as good numbers of Little Gulls. However, one of the other sights which will linger long in the memory is a single field just inland which had just been cultivated and held several thousands of Mediterranean Gulls and almost no other gulls with them!

There were lots of terns around the lagoons with the gulls too. In particular, we enjoyed great views of Caspian Terns and Gull-billed Terns. We also found one or two Black Terns and White-winged Black Terns in with the larger numbers of Common and Little Terns.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern – we saw good numbers of this species in Romania

The waders on the lagoons were pretty special too. In mid August, many species were already on their way back south from breeding areas further north. The wader highlight was finding at least 15 Broad-billed Sandpipers and over 200 Marsh Sandpipers around the same lagoon where the Pallas’s Gulls were. Quite a place!

This is also a great place to catch up with Collared Pratincoles, which breed around the lagoons here. We enjoyed fantastic close-up views of several adults and juveniles around the drier margins of the lagoons.

Collared Pratincole 1

Collared Pratincole – an adult

Collared Pratincole 2

Collared Pratincole – a juvenile

We also saw smaller numbers of Temminck’s Stints, Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and Spotted Redshanks, as well as lots of Wood Sandpipers, around the various lagoons down on the coast. In total, including the species which breed here too, we saw 26 species of waders on the trip.

The Danube Delta gave us better opportunities for close views of pelicans, but we saw our first White and Dalmatian Pelicans down on the Black Sea coast, including some impressive flocks of White Pelicans. With the breeding season over, they were presumably dispersing out of the Delta. It was a fantastic sight, watching them thermalling, trying to gain height.

White Pelicans

White Pelicans – a flock circling, trying to find a thermal to gain height

The other key species to see in the Dobrogea is Pied Wheatear which, like the Paddyfield Warbler, is at the very westernmost part of its range here. We saw our first Pied Wheatear in the Macin Mountains, while looking for Rock Thrush. A smart male, it flew right past us from somewhere down below, but disappeared higher up the slope without stopping. The Rock Thrushes had already finished breeding and dispersed, but we eventually found one, a female, right on the top of the ridge. We also had good views of Sombre Tits here.

We saw many more Pied Wheatears in the Dobrogea gorges. They appeared to have had a successful breeding season, as the birds we found were all juveniles.

Pied Wheatear

Pied Wheatear – a young male, in the Dobrogea gorges

In contrast, Isabelline Wheatear is a much more widespread bird and one which we encountered quite regularly on the Dobrogea plain, typically in areas of steppe grassland or in farmland. We saw lots of Northern Wheatears too, both high up in the Macin Mountains and down on the plains.

Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear – a regularly encountered bird out on the plains

One of the most memorable moments of these first three days was eating our lunch in the middle of a colony of Red-footed Falcons! These birds breed in a small poplar wood, which has a track running through it. The juveniles had already fledged but were still hanging around the colony, mostly perching in the treetops or chasing round between the branches after the adults, begging to be fed.

It was great to be able to spend some time watching them. Several of the adult Red-footed Falcons were perched in the trees too, males and females.

Red-footed Falcon 1

Red-footed Falcon – an adult male perched up in the trees

Red-footed Falcon 2

Red-footed Falcon – one of the juveniles, flying round over the trees

We saw several other Red-footed Falcons out hunting as we drove around the Dobrogea. We also encountered a good selection of other raptors on our travels, including White-tailed, Booted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Levant Sparrowhawk, Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, Long-legged and Steppe/Common Buzzards and several Honey Buzzards.

The forested areas within the Dobrogea also hold some interesting species. Red-breasted Flycatchers breed here and we visited one area where we found a pair with fledged juveniles in the trees. Hawfinches are common here too. Romania is a great place to see woodpeckers, and on our first morning in the Dobrogea we saw or heard 7 different species, including great views of several Middle Spotted Woodpeckers.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Middle Spotted Woodpecker – we had great views of several in the Dobrogea

Syrian Woodpecker is probably the most common species here, and is not limited to the forests. We encountered them in many places, including on concrete telegraph posts in the villages! There are Great Spotted Woodpeckers here too, which are very similar, but Syrian is easy to pick up on its subtly different call with a bit of practice and when seen well by the lack of a black bar across the top of the neck.

Syrian Woodpecker

Syrian Woodpecker – probably the commonest woodpecker species here

The wider countryside of the Dobrogea is mostly comprised of vast open areas of farmland, interspersed with smaller open areas of steppe-like grazing land. Hedges were taken out and field sizes increased during the agricultural collectivisation of the Ceaucescu era.

Despite the lack of hedges, the one thing that immediately strikes you as you drive around the region is the abundance of shrikes. Red-backed Shrikes are simply abundant – we rarely drove far along a country road without seeing one or more Red-backed Shrikes perched on the roadside wires or any bush or other convenient vantage point.

Lesser Grey Shrikes are common too, and we saw good numbers of this species on our travels and enjoyed great views of several from the car. Presumably, the number of shrikes here speaks to an abundance still of insects or small vertebrates in farmland here, something which is sadly lacking in much of western Europe.

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike – still a fairly common sight here

Rollers are still abundant here too, again presumably due to a plentiful supply of insects. They are a common sight on roadside wires, always great birds to see. We eventually got some fantastic close views of them, using the car as a mobile hide.

Roller

Roller – also still a common bird in the countryside

A visit to southern Europe in summer would not be complete without Bee-eaters. We saw lots of these too – another common sight on roadside wires.

Bee-eaters

Bee-eaters – we saw lots on roadside wires on our travels around

As well as birds, we saw a nice selection of other animals. Highlights include the Sousliks (or European Ground Squirrels) which inhabit the grassy steppe areas and Spur-thighed Tortoise. We also saw a nice selection of butterflies, particularly at higher elevations.

Souslik

Souslik – an inhabitant of the grassy steppes

Birding the Dobrogea was a fantastic introduction to Romania. We saw a great selection of birds here over the three days. From there, we headed off to the Danube Delta, which we will cover in the next section of this blog post…

 

26th Aug 2018 – Late Summer Broads

A Private Tour today, down in the Norfolk Broads. Given all the good weather this summer, it was disappointing that the day we were to go out was one of the few with rain forecast. Still it stayed dry all morning and the heavy rain helpfully held off until we had almost finished. It didn’t put us off getting out anyway, and we had a nice day out.

Having met in Wroxham, we headed over to Potter Heigham marshes to start the morning. Several of the pools have largely dried out over the summer, but some still have water in them. We headed straight down to the corner and up onto the bank so we could see over the reeds.

On the first pool we checked, there were several Ruff feeding around the muddy edges of the water, all in grey-brown non-breeding plumage now. A Green Sandpiper flew in calling and dropped down on the mud too.

There were lots of ducks, mostly asleep on the drier islands, mainly Mallard and Gadwall plus a few Teal, all in drab eclipse plumage now, as well as several Greylags and Egyptian Geese. We checked through the ducks carefully, but there was no sign of any Garganey with these ones. This is a good site for Garganey and they probably breed here, although it is very hard to prove for sure. Several Little Grebes were out on the water.

Moving on to the next pool round, there were more waders here, mainly Lapwings and Ruff. We could hear a Greenshank calling in the distance, and we found another one feeding here. It was joined by a Spotted Redshank, a dusky grey-brown juvenile. Through the scope, we could see its long needle-fine bill.

Greenshank

Greenshank – one of several at Potter Heigham today

Two Ringed Plovers dropped in on one of the muddy islands. A Common Snipe was feeding at the back, against the reeds, probing vigorously in the mud with its long bill, and a Water Rail appeared just behind it from out of the reeds. Two Sedge Warblers were working their way along the back edge of the reeds too – we could see their bold white superciliums through the scope.

As we carried on round, we looked across to see two Kestrels hovering over the grazing marshes, with a third perched in a dead tree nearby. A young Marsh Harrier circled low over the reeds beyond, dark chocolate brown with a contrasting golden orange head, and two Common Buzzards appeared above the wood in the distance.

There were lots of hirundines feeding out over the pools, Swallows and House Martins, presumably gathering to feed up before they look to depart for Africa for the winter. As we walked along the river bank, we heard some of the Swallows alarm calling and looked up to see a Hobby shooting past, before heading away over the river.

There were more waders on the pools on this side. We found several more Spotted Redshanks, all juveniles, and Green Sandpipers. Two more Greenshanks flew off calling. A single Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the deeper water on one of the pools.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks – two juveniles with a single Ruff

Several Tufted Duck and a Common Pochard were nice additions for the day’s list. A couple of Cormorants were drying their wings on one of the islands. Two Yellow Wagtails flew up from behind reeds but dropped down again quickly, before everyone could get onto them.

When we got to the last of the pools, we turned to walk back. We still hadn’t found a Garganey, so we stopped to have another look through the ducks on the way. Three smaller ducks were asleep on the bank at the back of one of the pools. Two were Teal, but the third was a bit larger and even though it had its bill tucked in we could see it had a bolder pale supercilium stretching behind the eye, a Garganey.

Even though it was dry this morning, it was still rather cool and breezy. There were not many insects to see today, given the weather, but we did find a nice male Ruddy Darter basking on the path out of the wind on our way back.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – basking on the path, out of the wind

Our next destination was Buckenham Marshes, over in the Yare Valley. When we got out of the car, it was now starting to spit with rain, though thankfully not enough to stop us exploring.

The walk down along the access track towards the river was fairly quiet until we got nearer to the far end. A young Chinese Water Deer appeared in the middle of the grazing marsh. It ran a short distance, then stopped to look around. When it set off again, it ran straight towards us, stopping just the other side of the ditch and looking at us from behind some vegetation, before speeding away across the grass. Two Red Kites circled up over the wood on the other side of the river.

Chinese Water Deer

Chinese Water Deer – ran straight towards us across the grazing marshes

As we carried on towards the river, we stopped several times to scan the pool at far end. There were lots of Lapwings hiding in the vegetation around the edges and several Ruff feeding in the shallows. Two juvenile Dunlin, with black-spotted belly patches, were picking around on a muddy strip in the middle. A careful scan revealed several Common Snipe around the margins, but we couldn’t find the Wood Sandpiper which has been here for the last couple of days.

There have been some Whinchats here too, but we couldn’t find those either as we walked out, and we presumed they were keeping down out of the wind. We found a sheltered spot in the lee of the hide at the end and quickly located one of the Whinchats on the fence below the river bank. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, noting its bold pale supercilium, before it dropped down out into the grass out of view.

Whinchat

Whinchat – 1 of the 3 at Buckenham today

While we were scanning the pool from here, one of the group spotted some small birds down in the short vegetation out in the middle of the grazing marsh, where it had been mown. A smart male Stonechat was perched on a small stem and eventually two streaky juvenile Stonechats appeared out of the grass close to it.

The birds were feeding down on the ground in a damp depression in the field, so they were hard to see, but at least one Whinchat eventually appeared in the vegetation with the Stonechats. Eventually they all flew up out of the grass and landed on the taller thistles on the next block of grazing marsh which had not been cut. Now we could see there were actually three Whinchats here.

While we were watching the Whinchats, a small wader appeared down at the front corner of the pool. Through the scope, we could see it was the Wood Sandpiper – it had presumably been feeding behind the taller vegetation along the front edge, where we couldn’t see it. We had a good look at it through the scope, noting its pale spangled upperparts and bold pale supercilium, before it disappeared again.

We made our way back to the car and headed round to the reserve at Strumpshaw Fen for lunch next. We could hear Long-tailed Tits and a Chiffchaff calling in the car park when we arrived. On our way to Reception Hide, we stopped to look at the Feeders. A steady stream of tits were coming and going constantly, including one or two Marsh Tits and a Coal Tit too.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming to the feeders by the reception hide

We ate our lunch in Reception Hide, looking out over the pool in front. There were lots of ducks here, once again all in eclipse, and the resident Black Swan was feeding out in the middle. After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was spitting with rain now, but it was thankfully still light.

There was not much to see immediately from Fen Hide when we arrived. Two Grey Herons flew in and a lone Teal landed in the middle of the water, standing motionless for a couple of minutes looking nervous, before flying off again. Scanning the cut reeds below the hide carefully, we found three Common Snipe hiding in the vegetation. They were very well camouflaged and hard to see until two of them started feeding.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – very well camouflaged in the cut reed

As we carried on round to Tower Hide, a Great Crested Grebe was swimming on the river, still looking smart in breeding plumage. Looking out over the pools in the reeds on the way, we spooked several large flocks of mainly Gadwall. A Green Sandpiper flew off with one group.

There were lots more ducks from the hide, particularly a good number of Shoveler. Even though they are all in brown eclipse plumage, their distinctive large bills still give them away instantly. There were several Ruff feeding around the muddy edges, and a few Lapwings.

Ruff

Ruff – feeding in front of Tower Hide

Three juvenile Marsh Harriers circled up out in the reedbed, despite the rain. They seemed to be playing, chasing each other.

There were several Grey Herons around the pool and we had literally just remarked that we had not seen any sign of one the Great White Egrets which have been here in recent days when one of them flew up out of the reeds. It flew back away from us at first, then circled round, giving us a good view of its long yellow bill, before it dropped down into the reeds again.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew round before landing back in the reeds

With a couple more places we wanted to visit this afternoon, we headed back to the car and drove round to Ormesby Little Broad. The rain was picking up now, and as we walked out along the nature trail towards the broad it was all quiet in the trees. We had a quick look out at the broad from the platform at the end, which held several large rafts of Coot and a few Great Crested Grebes. We didn’t linger here though and on the walk back a Treecreeper was calling from somewhere in the trees.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – a common bird on the Broads

Our last stop was at Rollesby Broad. Thankfully we didn’t have far to walk here – we could see the broad from the car park – but unfortunately it was now drizzling harder, blowing towards us, and visibility out across the water was poor.

We could see several terns in the mist right at the far end, but they were very hard to make out clearly against the reeds and trees. Two or three pale silvery grey Common Terns stood out, but there seemed to be two or three smaller, darker birds with them. At one point, two of them circled up above the tree line and we were able to confirm they were Black Terns, but they were still not easy for everyone to see.

Thankfully one of the Black Terns then came up to our end of the broad, and we could see it properly. It was a juvenile – with sooty grey upperparts, darker on the mantle, and a black cap. Despite the weather, we could see it was flying much more buoyantly, dipping down to the water’s surface to pick for food. When it made its way back down the broad, we headed back to the car.

It was time to call it a day now – we had enjoyed a very successful day in the Broads and the weather could do its worst now.