A guide to Romania for birdwatchers and ornithologists
The Danube Delta features some of the richest ornithological fauna in Europe and is a true sanctuary for birds. With over 330 species of birds flying in from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean area to nest or winter here, the delta is one of the finest attractions in Romania for birdwatchers and ornithologists, who come here from all over the world to observe the birds in their natural environment. Besides them, you will find numerous amateur and professional photographers who come to the delta during the nesting season for a chance to immortalize rare birds and unique scenes from nature.
Out of all the species of birds found here, 313 species are protected, the following being named natural monuments: the shelduck, ruddy shelduck, raven, great and little bustards, white and Dalmatian pelicans, black-winged stilt, spoonbill, great white egret, little egret and Egyptian vulture. This exceptional natural habitat houses over 7,000 pelicans per year, as well as numerous cormorants, white-tailed eagles, ducks, white storks, swans and geese. Besides herons, glossy ibises, golden eagles, pied avocets, shelducks and other Mediterranean species, the delta is also visited by European singing birds (reed buntings and white-tailed eagles), Siberian species (mute swans, black-throated loons, snipes), saker falcons, egrets and Mandarin ducks.
A trip through the magical side canals inside the Danube Delta is a unique opportunity to explore and discover its rich flora and fauna. If you enjoy observing birds and want to fully grasp the diversity of the delta’s wildlife, you have to prepare for a minimum stay in the area of at least one week. Much of your trip will take place on water, but we advise you to leave the bigger canals for the smaller ones, which will be far more rewarding in terms of the number of birds encountered.
The best times of the year for observing the birds are spring (between April and June, the latter being the month of the year with the largest precipitation) and autumn, as the birds halt here during their migration to or from warmer regions. You should take this into consideration when booking your flight and accommodation in Romania. Before leaving, you must also know that most of the delta is protected and can only be visited with special permits, while some parts are only accessible to specialists.
The first halt before entering the Danube Delta is Niculitel, a town situated 25km west of Tulcea, your entry gate to the realm of waters. Beyond the swampy lands north of the town lies the Niculitel Forest, which houses numerous birds, such as buzzards, nightingales, ortolans, tawny pipits and woodpeckers. This is a must -see on your trip, as it will provide you with enough species of birds to observe so that you can later compare these with the ones nesting in the Danube Delta. Your actual trip through the Delta starts in Tulcea, the city which provides quick access to the three branches of the Danube: Chilia, Sulina and Sfantu Gheorghe.
Chilia is the northernmost branch of the Danube. After covering more than half of its length, you will reach the commune of Chilia Veche, where we recommend you leave the main branch for the Cernovca canal in order to get to a strictly protected area, home of the largest common pelican colony in Europe. Here you will also have the chance to spot ducks, egrets and storks. Continuing east (until you reach Periprava) and then heading south, you will find the Letea Forest, another great place for spotting falcons and white-tailed eagles.
The middle branch of the Danube, Sulina, is the least interesting for birdwatching, as the motorboats that cross it regularly for touristic purposes have scared away the birds. However, if you want to venture through side canals and lakes, it can prove to be a rewarding experience. Furtuna Lake, situated north of the Maliuc village on this branch, is ideal for admiring pelicans, marsh terns, great crested grebes, red-necked grebes, bearded reedlings, grey herons and little egrets.
Continuing your journey on the Sulina Branch, you will reach Crisan, a fishering village where you can camp for the night and observe some common species of birds, such as herons, egrets, hoopoes, rollers and goldfinches. Here you can jump at the opportunity to ask your hosts to prepare some of the traditional fish dishes of the area, which are bound to make you lick your fingers! Leaving Crisan and heading north, to the Lipovan village Mila 23, you will encounter colourful Eurasian golden orioles and bitterns.
Sfantu Gheorghe Branch
After leaving Tulcea and heading east, your first stop should be at Nufarul, a small community on the Sfantu Gheorghe branch of the Danube. Six kilometers from here, turn left on the Litcov Canal, which will lead your boat right to the heart of the delta. Numerous smaller canals will take you to the lakes located between the Sfantu Gheorghe and Sulina branches of the river, where important egret, wild duck and swan colonies can be found. You can explore Gorgova Lake, Isac Lake and Iacob Lake, but also the smaller Cuibul cu Lebede (Swans’ Nest).
From Iacob Lake, you can head south on the Caraorman Canal to the Caraorman Forest, which cannot be visited without a special permit. This reservation houses unique sand-rooted vegetation that hides the permanent nesting sites of a great variety of species of birds, such as owls, pheasants and white-tailed eagles. For the latter species, which is endangered and protected, the Danube Delta is the southernmost area of permanent habitat in the world.
Returning to the main branch, we recommend you stop at Murighiol, where you will have the chance to see the only colony of Mediterranean gulls in Romania, as well as numerous black terns, red and black-necked grebes, Kentish plovers, pied avocets and red-crested pochards. Continue your journey to the village of Sfantu Gheorghe, which can be used as a starting point for trips to the northern lake Rosu or to the Sacalin Island, situated right at the river’s mouth. Prepare your camera for photographing terns, pied avocets, ibises, mergansers, red-breasted geese and goldeneyes.
The Danube Delta is the place to be if you love birds more than you hate mosquitoes! Seriously though, take your mosquito spray with you and this amazing space will provide both specialist and amateur birdwatchers such a unique experience that it will all be worth it. If you have a passion for the “winged and feathered”, you are our guest in the Danube Delta!