Saturday, 25 February 2017

Hidden corners of the Delta - Letea forest

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla (slo. belorepec) - two adults. Probably a pair nesting in the Letea forest on the edge of our reserve (top photo).
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla (slo. belorepec) - immature.
Letea forest is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and represents the oldest nature reserve in Romania. Some parts of it are of primeval type (virgin forest), with large oaks reaching 700 years of age. The whole forest grows on huge sand dunes - deposits of the river Danube.
The highest point of the Danube delta reaches a height of 13m on the Letea dunes.
Semi-wild Horses Equus ferus caballus grazing on the dunes of Letea forest.
Dune exploration.
Desert-resembling landscape in the dune valleys: with Salix rosmarinifolia (bushes in the front), Quercus pedunculiflora and Populus alba.
Scanning over the vast dune-forest system.
Stock Dove Columba oenas (slo. duplar) - a breeding bird in the delta, using old Black Woodpecker's holes for nesting. Recently we heard two singing birds in the Letea forest.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius (slo. črna žolna) - one of the two territorial males active around the reserve.
Cattle in the steppe of Letea.
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor (slo. veliki srakoper).
Typical encounter with a Golden Jackal Canis aureus (slo. zlati šakal) on one of the reserve's sandy roads. Up to 2-5 are encountered daily and frequently heard howling in the evenings.
Flock of Fieldfares Turdus pilaris (slo. brinovka).
After we managed to stuck the car in deep mud, the only choice was birding.
Spot the tiger...
...a Bittern Botaurus stellaris (slo. bobnarica).
Smew Mergellus albellus (slo. mali žagar): male-below & female-above. They are using the freshwater pools at the reserve and small groups of up to 5 birds can be seen.
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (slo. rjavi lunj) - female; this is the commonest raptor at the reserve. Some pairs are vocal and have began with courtship & nesting.
Our place: African-styled lodge in the heart of the Danube delta.
Official hide-keeper's car...
...that she readily avoids.
A view just over the Danube - Vylkove in nearby Ukraine.
Sunset over the Letea forest.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

First week in the Delta

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus (slo. kodrasti pelikan) - seen almost on a daily basis, usually in small groups. This species is a very rare breeder in Europe with about 3000-5000 pairs. The Danube delta hosts a strong population of pelicans: both Dalmatian and White Pelicans P. onocrotalus (slo. rožnati pelikan) are present here (the latter being a summer migrant, returning to the delta in spring).
Otters Lutra lutra (slo. vidra) can be easily observed in winter, while fishing in ice-free pools of water and playing on the ice (see this video of a female with cub; watch HD).
Golden Jackal Canis aureus (slo. zlati šakal). The Danube delta hosts a large population of this species that is steadily extending its range westwards into Europe. Individuals or small groups can be observed around the reserve quite easily, even by day. Jackal howling is the quintessential evening sound at Ultima Frontiera reserve.
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla (slo. belorepec), together with Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (slo. rjavi lunj) is perhaps the commonest bird of prey at the reserve. Both immatures and adults are seen on a daily basis, sometimes descending on the ice to feed on fish and carrion.
Bittern Botaurus stellaris (slo. bobnarica) is quite easy to see at this time of year as the ice forces it out of the reedbed to look for food. Up to 4 birds together were seen. They also usually allow prolonged and quite close views. Bitterns are very common breeders in the Danube delta, but very difficult to see in spring and summer, as they keep hidden in reedbeds.
Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus (slo. labod pevec) are not a rare sight at this time of year in the Danube delta. Groups of up to 13 birds were seen in the previous days. Of other unusual wildfowl we have also seen a Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis (slo. rdečevrata gos) within a flock of White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons (slo. beločela gos). Red-breasts are regualry seen in this part of the delta.
Smew Mergellus albellus (slo. mali žagar) is also quite common in ice-free pools, with several tens of individuals present at times.
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus (slo. pivka) is definitely one of the commonest birds at the reserve. It can be sometimes observed in odd circumstances, like on the above chimney. 
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus (slo. sirijski detel) in the village of Periprava. This species is the most synanthropic of Europe's woodpeckers, usually found in urban and rural habitats with sparse trees. 
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius (slo. črna žolna) is also very common and one of the most frequently heard birds in late winter and spring. Most woopeckers are now highly territorial (drumming, singing).
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major (slo. veliki detel) photographed during a testing session of a photo hide at the reserve.
Little Owl Athene noctua (slo. čuk) observed from a photography hide near a nest site. This species is very common at the reserve and nests in old ruined buildings. Quite easy to observe even by day. A few pairs of Barn Owl Tyto alba (slo. pegasta sova) are also nesting in the area and sometimes can be seen in the evenings, while leaving the roost site and going to hunt. 
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos (slo. planinski orel) - 1st winter. This bird, observed above the Letea forest is apparently the first Golden Eagle to be recorded in the whole Danube delta area!
Black Kite Milvus migrans (slo. črni škarnik) - a very early record for the species in this area (usually coming back from Africa in spring).
Adequate means of transport are essential in the Danube delta! Perhaps the latter is preferred... and more widespread.
Waiting for the Otter...
Sunrise in the reedbed - Danube style.
Flowing on the ice-covered Danube from Tulcea to Sulina - an amazing experience!
Video (watch in HD).