Black-crowned Night-Heron is one of the many waterbirds to be found on the great delta of the Danube River. Photo: Dan Brown
The remote province of Bucovinain the north of Moldaviais a land in a time warp. Far from the rush of the 21st century, White Storks follow black-clad nuns as they scythe hay while Black Redstarts sing from nearby monastery rooftops. These beautiful monasteries, founded in the 16th century, are remarkable enough to distract the most ardent of birdwatchers from matters avian; the condition of their frescoes, covering the entire walls both inside and out, can only be described as miraculous. We’ll combine relaxed visits to these rural monasteries with birdwatching nearby among remarkably rich forest, hay meadows, and hill villages. On the second part of the tour we’ll spend three nights afloat on a modern houseboat in the Danube Delta, the largest wetland reserve in Europe, followed by an exploration of the western edge of the Asian Steppe.
This unique tour combines some of Europe’s more elusive birds—Pygmy Cormorant, Pallid Harrier, Dalmatian Pelican, Pied Wheatear, Sombre Tit, and many more—with the medieval landscape of one of the most attractive areas of eastern Europe, the Carpathians and their foothills. This tour is tailor-made to appeal to a variety of interests: the villages, mountains, and hayfields of Bucovina are notably rich in flowers and butterflies, as well as rural traditions in dress, farming practice, and building. We have chosen our accommodations so that those who would prefer to study the human history of the area rather than its wildlife can do so—right outside the door.
Day 1: The tour begins this afternoon in Bucharest. Following an early dinner in the city center in a traditional restaurant we’ll return to the airport for an internal flight to Suceava. From Suceava’s airport we’ll drive directly to the Sucevita Valley, where we’ll spend the next three nights. We’ll be based in a very comfortable family-run chalet beside steep, flower-filled hay meadows on the edge of primary forest. Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers, Fieldfare, and Dipper are present here, and we might even see Spotted Nutcracker from our bedroom windows. Night in Sucevita.
Day 2: This morning we’ll explore one of the many forested valleys, and later in the day we’ll visit the fortified monastery in the village. As Sacheverell Sitwell, visiting in the 1920s, wrote: “This first view of the painted church of Sucevita is among the most impressive revelations of the whole Byzantine world.” In the cool of the late afternoon we’ll search for Red-breasted Flycatcher, various woodpeckers, and other woodland birds in the surrounding forest. Night in Sucevita.
Day 3: Pre-breakfast birding around our hotel could produce six species of tit, Hawfinch, and Grey Wagtail. Later we’ll drive up to a wooded pass at 4000 feet in search of Collared Flycatcher, Crossbill, Crested Tit, and maybe even Hazel Grouse and White-backed Woodpecker. If conditions are favorable, a raptor viewpoint on the edge of the forest will give us a good chance of seeing Montagu’s Harrier, Honey Buzzard, Lesser Spotted and Booted Eagles, and Goshawk. We’ll continue to Moldovita Monastery, remarkable for its eyewitness battle scene of the Turkish siege of Suceava Fortress. After a picnic lunch we’ll explore a second tributary valley leading from Sucevita. Night in Sucevita.
Day 4: Once we leave Sucevita, we’ll have the option of visiting two more 16th-century painted monasteries—Voronet and Humor—but en route we’ll make many birding stops for a range of species, from Red-footed Falcon and Lesser Spotted Eagle to Whinchat and Great Grey and Red-backed Shrikes. In the afternoon we’ll reach Neamt Monastery. Built in the 12th century and the oldest monastery in Moldavia, it resembles a fortress with high stone walls. The orchard nearby is a good spot for woodpeckers (Black, Green, Grey-headed, Great Spotted and Lesser, and Syrian). We’ll spend the night at a charming guesthouse that usually has Serin and Tree Sparrow on its the grounds. Night in Agapia.
Day 5: After breakfast we’ll visit the nearby Agapia Monastery. Built in the 17th century, its outer plain whitewashed walls belie the splendor to be found inside. Nicolae Grigorescu, the country’s foremost painter, stayed at Agapia for two years and painted the interior frescoes, a visual feast of rich and colorful images. Later in the day we’ll continue our journey southeast toward the Danube Delta. As we travel through the rolling medieval strip fields of Moldavia, we may see roadside Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Crested Lark, Roller, Bee-eater, and Golden Oriole. At Tulcea we’ll board our private houseboat in time for dinner, with an evening cruise to a convenient mooring spot. With luck we’ll see the first of the usual delta species as flocks of Glossy Ibis and Night Herons fly to and from their roosts. Night on the houseboat.
Days 6–7: Our next two days will be spent exploring the heart of the delta. The exact locations we’ll visit will depend on the water levels at the time but are likely to include large areas of freshwater surrounded by reedbeds hosting thousands of Ferruginous Ducks and perhaps White (and the occasional Dalmatian) Pelicans. Little Egrets and Whiskered Terns will be almost constant companions. Squacco, Night, and Purple Herons are abundant, and we’ll see the occasional Little Bittern. Marsh Harriers will be frequent, while White-tailed Eagle, though less common, is likely. We should also see Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes, together with good numbers of waterfowl and Pygmy Cormorants. In the stands of willow and poplar that grow above the reeds and along the banks we can expect to find Hobby, Roller, Hoopoe, Penduline Tit, Kingfisher, and much more, while any muddy edge may hold Little or Spotted Crake.
The pleasure of relaxing under the canopy of the observation deck, sipping endless tea or coffee (or even the occasional beer or soft drink) and gliding past a succession of exciting birds, cannot be overemphasized. Nights on the houseboat.
Day 8: We’ll drive a short distance from Tulcea to Celic Dere Monastery (a good site for Sombre Tit and Syrian and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers), then south to Enisala and across the Gura Dobrogea plateau looking for larks, Tawny Pipit, and Isabelline Wheatear continuing to the gorge at Cheia Dobrogea. This is a fine area of rocky steppe adjoining oak forest. Pied and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears breed here, and other species in the area could include Levant Sparrowhawk, Booted and Imperial Eagles, Little Owl, and three harrier species (Hen, Pallid, and Montagu’s). We’ll drive to Vadu, where we’ll spend the night at a peaceful guesthouse with excellent home cooking. Night in Vadu.
Day 9: A pre-breakfast visit to the oil refinery pools has in past years provided an assortment of rare waders (Broad-billed, Marsh, and Terek Sandpipers) plus Spotted Redshanks, Curlew Sandpipers, and Paddyfield Warblers and Bearded Tits in the reedbed. The pools at Vadu could hold Red-necked Phalarope, Temminck’s Stint, and Collared Pratincole while the beach (an excellent spot for a swim in the Black Sea) usually has good numbers of Kentish Plover and Sanderling. We’ll then explore the coast around Histria and its reserve on Grindul Saele adjoining Lake Sinoie. Both species of pelican, Spoonbill, Spotted Crake, Short-toed Lark, and Paddyfield Warbler are all possible here. Histria is also the oldest settlement in Romania, inhabited for 1300 years, and we’ll spend some time at the ruins and excellent museum there. Night in Vadu.
Day 10: After some birdwatching at the oil refinery pools we’ll return to Bucharest where in early afternoon the tour concludes.
Updated: 22 September 2015
- 2017 Tour Price : $2,550
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $280
This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.
Maximum group size 10 with one leader.