With around 3500 square kilometers, the Danube delta between Romania and Ukraine is the largest river delta in Europe. The panorama above, close to the Ukrainian border on the horizon, is one of the few pictures taken from solid ground, we mostly crossed the delta by boat. Apart from great weather, this spot provided a good look at bee-eaters, a tiny owl visiting the sand wall in front of us and at one point an eagle patrolling the river.
Despite rising tourism and hunting restrictions that are not strictly upheld, the area remains relatively unspoiled, with enormous numbers of waterfowl, raptors and the majestic pelican. On a clear day one can see large groups of pelican circling at high altitudes before returning to their resting areas, which are strictly out of bounds to tourists. Below a pic of one of these magnificent birds flying by at fairly close range.
With a good guide (thnks to Mihai Baciu - http://www.chettusia.com/en - , our guide, cook and skipper, who took us from Tulcea around the delta in his boat "Anna Paulowna", built in Spakenburg, Holland), one can get into the breeding areas for the thousands of cormorants, egrets and spoonbills. At all times, keep a broad-rimmed hat on, it is not just sunshine falling on your head. Eagles also tend to pay regular visits to these colonies, chased by crows and greeted with howls and shrieks from all sides. We saw two of these incidents, but in both cases the eagle left without a catch and things went too swiftly for us to take a picture.
The birds let us come relatively close and some pictures of herons and spoonbills are shown on the right here (click to visit a dedicated page).
Cuckoos are constantly crossing the myriad creeks and canals, often right in front of the boat. Close enough to take a good picture, but often quick enough to leave only their tails on our sensors. With so many chances, we had to get it right at least a few times and some of the our better attempts are included here.
Less numerous perhaps than the cuckoos, but still relatively abundant is the brilliantly colored roller. They can be spotted from a good distance, but they also have a keen sense of what is within/outside workable photographic range, and they tend to stay on the safe side. Still, of course, one or two were as curious as we were and stayed put. Thanks.
The Danube itself is one of the big river ways for the traffic of goods from central Europe to the Black Sea and vice versa, but once within the delta there is mostly fishing and some farming. Around the year 1700 a wave of Russian orthodox settlers came to the delta, after czar Peter the Great had initiated sweeping reforms, and their descendants still inhabit the few villages, including the romantically named "Mila 23" where we spent two nights. There is still an orthodox monastery in the delta. We didn't see it, but we did see monks passing us by in their speedboats.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere there was an abandoned industrial center, built in the Ceausescu days as part of a plan to mine the area for rare metals. When it became clear that there were no rare metal deposits of any economic importance, the whole project was simply abandoned and we saw horses roaming the second floor of what was once supposed to become a metal workers' housing complex. Even the people of the old fishing village next to the abandoned complex apparently never considered to move in or even demolish the site.
Horses seem to freely wander around the delta and we saw some swimming across the canals, but they are officially not free-roaming.
We did see otters, reportedly a rare sight, and one European ("Golden") Jackal chasing birds on a shore line.
The Danube delta has made a great impression on us, for its abundant wildlife and for the many quiet places in this vast area. Some of our pictures can be found at the site of the Italian Cuneo Birding group http://www.cuneobirding.it/file/trip/romania/trip_romania.htm where we also "borrowed" the layout of this page with the kind permission of Bruno Caula. We spent a couple of very enjoyable days in the delta with him and the Cuneo group.