Dalmatian Pelican burning in a delta sunset

THE DANUBE DELTA IS THE LARGEST WETLAND IN EUROPE, covering more than 515,000 hectares, of which 220,000 hectares is reed bed, the largest in the world. To put this into perspective the total reedbed habitat in the UK amounts to only 5,000 spread across 900 sites! The delta is truly immense. Designated BirdLife International’s Important Bird Area IBA RO081, it holds significant (>1% of the EU) breeding populations of the following 26 bird species: Ferruginous Duck, Spotted Crake, Little Crake, Yelkouan Shearwater, Eurasian Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Great Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Dalmatian and Great White Pelicans, Pygmy Cormorant, Pied Avocet, Kentish Plover, Collared Pratincole, Little Gull and Mediterranean Gulls, Little, Caspian, Whiskered, Common and Sandwich Terns, White-tailed Eagle and Red-footed Falcon.

To say it is a birdwatcher’s paradise is definitely an understatement! Every time we ventured out in the myriad channels and lagoons in the heart of the delta, we got this impression, there were simply birds in profusion everywhere. As well as the water birds the reedbeds were alive with the songs of Great Reed Warblers and Common Cuckoos chased overhead in numbers we can only now dream of in the UK. The ancient willows lining the banks provided nest sites for Golden Orioles, rollers, hoopoes and noisy Red-footed Falcons, while Thrush Nightingales belted out their songs from the dark shadows and the occasional ‘pings’ of Bearded Tits could be heard even from the smallest patches of reeds. The nests of Penduline Tits dangled precariously over the water and kingfishers zipped along the channels. Out in the more open lagoons, where large stands of lily pads grow, mixed colonies of Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes nested side by side with Whiskered, Black and Common Terns with the ever-watchful Hooded Crow lurking nearby in the hope of an easy meal. Little Bitterns and Red-necked Grebes were also here but were a little shyer and more retiring. The most exciting spectacle for me were the Pallas’s Gulls, almost all pristine adults in breeding plumage, their number has recently increased and we counted up to 22 at any one time during our efforts to photograph them.

It was a real privilege to be able to get so close to many of the special birds of the delta as a guest of my friends at Sakertour in their custom-built photo boat. We had a lot of laughs of course but this was also the first time I had visited the delta in spring and turned out to be some of the best days birding I had in Europe so far. It is said that spectacles are the new ‘megas’ and if the Danube Delta isn’t on your ‘bucket list’ yet, it really ought to be. Finally I would like to thank János Oláh and his Sakertour team of specialist photo guide Zoltán Gergely Nagy, our boat driver Romica Tiganov, János Tar (‘Manu’) and Attila Szilági (‘Fiteti’) for looking after me so well. By the way we still have space on the 2020 Wild Images Danube Delta tour here.

Pallas’s Gull is a fish eating gull that usually avoids rubbish tips!

Whiskered Tern backlit

Black Tern over its lily pad colony

Black Tern over its lily pad colony

Mating Black-necked Grebes

Red-necked Grebe in evening light

Purple Herons were unusually shy in the delta

Purple Herons were unusually shy in the delta

Squacco Herons were common and very obliging

Little Crake skipping across lily pads

Common Kingfisher

Eurasian Hoopoes are feeding well grown young by late May