Romania

Thousands of white pelicans fly up to fill sunset skies with a pinkish glow—an unforgettable sight, as are lakes covered with black-whiskered terns nesting on white-blossoming lily pads. They are among millions of birds of over 300 species that find homes in the 3,000+-square-mile (5,000-km2) Danube Delta, largest wetland in Europe and one of the most important in the world.

This small, mountainous country in easternmost Europe, although ruled for most of its recent history by a repressive regime that outlawed conservation organizations, has some of the most glorious wildlife areas in Europe.

Rare bird populations in their millions congregate where the Danube River ends a journey of 1,788 miles (2,850 km) through 10 European countries and spreads out in an enormous Black Sea delta covering more than 2,200 square miles (almost 5,800 km2). Birds come from Africa and Asia to nest in summer; others fly from northern Europe to winter among these channels, dunes, and floating islands in the world’s most extensive wetland reedbeds.

In the Carpathian Mountains, a stone’s throw from the Transylvanian castle of Count Dracula (fictional villain based on Romania’s real-life prince Vlad Tepes), live Europe’s largest populations of lynx, wolves, and brown bears, roaming in ancient beech, spruce, and oak forests.

Both delta and mountains are major spring and fall migration corridors for north European and west Asian raptors.

When dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu was overthrown in 1989, conservation-minded Romanians formed the Societatea Ornitologica Romana (SOR) and began a vigorous public-awareness campaign. It was the first of several nongovernmental organizations aimed at effective support and protection for nature reserves and national parks, either proposed or designated, and led to a new national Department of the Environment set up in the mid-1990s.

 Squacco herons, inconspicuous when slipping through reed beds with the agility of rails, transform themselves when they unfurl white wings in preening or in flight. Courtship plumage gives them feathered hoods and capes controlled by muscles which sleek them against bodies or flare them dramatically. Beaks become deep blue-green, and yellow legs change to red. They’re at home in shallow marshy lakes, ponds and reed- and tree-lined rivers of mid and south-to-eastern Europe.

Squacco herons, inconspicuous when slipping through reed beds with the agility of rails, transform themselves when they unfurl white wings in preening or in flight. Courtship plumage gives them feathered hoods and capes controlled by muscles which sleek them against bodies or flare them dramatically. Beaks become deep blue-green, and yellow legs change to red. They’re at home in shallow marshy lakes, ponds and reed- and tree-lined rivers of mid and south-to-eastern Europe.

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Now this 92,500-square-mile (237,500-km2) country—1.8 times larger than England—has 586 protected natural areas including 13 national parks, 18 protected landscapes, and 46 scientific reserves, and the DANUBE DELTA is protected additionally as a U.N. World Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.

Serious threats remain, exacerbated by Romania’s poverty. They include industrial and agricultural pollution, soil erosion on 30 percent of arable land, deforestation, acid rain, and tourism lacking appropriate restrictions to protect sensitive natural areas. In January 2000, a gold mine tailings dam broke letting 100,000 cubic yards of cyanide-contaminated water into the Danube and Tisa Rivers killing thousands of fish and birds in Romania, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. Two months later a lead and zinc plant let 20,000 tons of metal waste into the Tisa—and dozens of other mines hold similar threats.

Few protected areas, at least until recently, have organized public access, but many can be visited on one’s own. Local guides often are available, and efforts are being made to encourage ecotourism.

Visitors can fly to Bucharest International Airport. From there it is a few hours by road to Tulcea, good starting point for visits to the Danube Delta or in another direction to the Carpathian Mountains. Once there, in either case, visitors may find it best to hire a vehicle, perhaps with a guide, to get around (though some places have cheap public transport). A wide range of accommodations is available, also campsites, especially in beach or ski resorts.

Climate is continental with seasonal extremes of heat and cold. Birding can be good from April to mid-December.

Romania

DANUBE DELTA

CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS as well as...

Bucegi Nature Preserve

Retezat National Park

Rodna National Park

Piatra Craiului National Park

Apuseni Mountains Bialowieza National Park


More about the Reserves in romania

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