We are all familiar with the abundance of birds that return each summer to breed within the wetlands of Romania’s beautiful Danube Delta but, as the days shorten and the weather cools, many of these species head south to warmer climes to be replaced by an equally spectacular number and variety of wintering birds. Largely uninhabited, with the exception of a few fishing and farming villages, the Delta has an ethereal beauty in the winter. Corridors of willow and poplar trees stand frail and naked, exposed to hard frosts and snow; reedbeds rustle in a chilly wind and sandy islands support forests and the occasional small village, some of which are still constructed of traditional reed and wood. This is a peaceful place, disturbed only by the incessant babble of ducks and the distant honking of thousands of geese from out across the plains. Tens of thousands of Russian White-fronted Geese and ‘Eastern’ Greylag Geese return here each winter to take advantage of the rich feeding in the wheat fields and marshes around the edge of the Delta. Within these large gatherings of geese, however, can be found flocks of Romania’s star wintering bird, the beautiful, delicate and increasingly rare Red-breasted Goose.
December is one of best months to go in search of the Red-breasted Geese flocks. At this time of year all of the birds have arrived into the Delta from their breeding grounds on the Russian steppe, but the weather has not hardened sufficiently to tempt them to move further south into the less accessible wetlands of Bulgaria. These beautiful birds add a splash of festive colour to Romania’s frosty winter landscape and will be the undoubted highlight of this exciting Christmas tour. The geese, however, are only one facet of this yuletide break for the supporting cast of raptors, waders, woodpeckers and other wintering species will also keep us entertained during daylight hours, whilst in the evenings there are the Christmas festivities themselves to enjoy ... Romanian style, of course. Who knows, we may even experience that ‘white Christmas’ we have all been dreaming about for years!
Our holiday starts, however, with a flight into Bucharest, the capital of Romania through which the River Danube flows. After spending one night nearby, we will drive east and base ourselves for the next two nights in Tulcea which sits at the western edge of the Danube Delta, at the point where the mighty river suddenly splits and fans out to create the maze of waterways, lagoons, reedbeds and islands of this internationally important biosphere reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since the geese tend to wander and do not always favour the same areas from year to year, we will keep the programme for the following days flexible to take account of this and other variables, such as weather, recent sightings and the advice of our local guides. Over the past few winters, however, many of the Redbreasted Geese have favoured the fields and wetlands around Enisala and Murighiol to the south-east of Tulcea and so we are very likely to spend time exploring this rich area. In addition to an abundance of the wintering ducks common in the UK, we will be looking out for other less familiar waterbirds such as Red-crested Pochard, Pygmy Cormorant and both White and Dalmatian Pelicans. Wintering raptors are particularly well represented in this region — especially favouring the nearby Babadag Plateau and Dobrogea Steppe — and we should be on the lookout for Rough-legged and Longlegged Buzzards, White-tailed Eagle, Hen and Marsh Harriers, Peregrine and Merlin during our time here.
Next, we move south to end our tour with two nights in a simple, but comfortable, hotel near Constanta from where we explore Lake Techirghiol — often favoured by large flocks of Black-necked Grebes and the occasional White-headed Duck — and other wetlands along the Black Sea coast. En route we will look for more mixed geese flocks around Istria, Vadu and Lake Sinoe and search for a few of the smaller passerines and woodpeckers that remain here for the winter, including Black, Middle Spotted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Sombre Tit, Hawfinch and Calandra Lark. For those of the group interested in a challenge there will be plenty of gulls to scan through, and hopefully a few interesting species to find including Caspian Gull, Little Gull and perhaps even a Pallas’ Gull.
Our festive tour to Romania’s Danube Delta ends back in Bucharest from where you can either extend your stay with a couple of nights in this interesting and historic city or return home.