eagles, owls, woodpeckers, Nutcracker, Wallcreeper, Brown Bear and so much more
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‘Transylvania’, the very name, almost seems to belong to a fictional world. It is one of those forgotten areas of Eastern Europe that is becoming more popular as people realise it's wildlife potential and appreciate the fantastic scenery. It is rich in unspoilt forests of pine and beech, rolling grasslands, marshes and alpine meadows along with high mountains and rocky gorges. With all this habitat comes top quality birds and mammals. Lesser Spotted Eagles hunt over the grasslands. Great Grey, Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes all co-exist in more or less the same scrubby habitats. Ural Owls breed in the mixed oak-beech forests alongside Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers. We have excellent chances of finding the elusive and colourful Wallcreeper, which is found in deep ravines high in the Carpathians. In the alpine meadows it is possible to see breeding Caucasian Horned Larks and Alpine Accentors. In the pine forests our targets will be Three-toed Woodpecker, Firecrest and Nutcracker. In rocky limestone areas we will search for Golden Eagle, Rock Thrush, and Rock and Ortolan Buntings. Other birds include Black Stork, Little Bittern, Crested Tit, and Golden Oriole, while warblers are represented by River, Savi’s, Marsh and Icterine. The star mammal will be European Brown Bear but other mammals are likely to include several deer species, Beech Marten, Suslik and Carpathian Chamois. There are about seventy mammal species in Romania excluding about twenty species of bat so who knows what else we might see when Wolf, Lynx (Romania’s national animal), Moose and Racoon-dog are all on the list.
Ancient villages and Saxon churches nestle among forests, precipitous limestone gorges and high alpine meadows. Due to old fashioned farming practices the landscape retains an ancient appearance. We will avoid the stark grey hotels built when Romania was part of the Eastern Bloc and stay in small and pretty villages with abundant wildlife all around.
We will be working with our long-term partners at Sakertour who are the premier ground agents and guides for this area. They have been visiting Transylvania for over twenty years and have built up a deep knowledge of the Eastern Carpathians. We have arranged good quality transport, accommodation and food to make this a comfortable and rewarding holiday. Sakertour have their own bear hides which we will be visiting one evening (not overnight), with the opportunity for a second visit in the unlikely event that we miss them.
We fly from the UK to Bucharest. On arrival we may visit a nearby park for Levant Sparrowhawk as they breed here in some years (our guide will have up-to-date information). After this short stop we will be heading up to the Eastern Carpathians towards the picturesque Bucegi Natural Park. It will take about three hours to reach our accommodation in a tranquil valley. If time allows we can do birding around our hotel where we will spend two nights.
Our hotel is situated at an altitude of 5000 feet, surrounded by lovely pine woodland and has a splendid view to the Ialomita Valley. Birds like Water Pipit, Goldcrest, Firecrest, Alpine Swift, Crested Tit, Nutcracker, Ring Ouzel and Common Crossbills are all possible here. We will catch a cable car to explore the Bucegi Natural Park alpine zone, over 6000 feet in elevation, where our main target will be the ’balcanica’ race of the Caucasian Horned Lark and Alpine Accentor. After a few hours birding on the roof of Transylvania we will visit a mature beech woodland to look for Red-breasted Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, and a variety of woodpeckers. If we are lucky we might even come across a mighty Ural Owl.
After breakfast on day three we will leave our first base behind and start travelling to the Torocko of the Western Transylvanian Mountains. On the way we may do a detour to the Fogaras Mountains, if we missed Alpine Accentor the previous day. We will arrive at this picturesque valley in the early afternoon and start to explore this fantastic area. Agriculture is still as it was hundreds of years ago and the birdlife is superbly adapted to this coexistence. If we are lucky we may come across some of the special birds of the area such as Corncrake, Crag Martin or Ortolan Bunting. The tiny village of Rimetea, a World Heritage village, is found at the foot of Szekelyko Mountain, beside a picturesque limestone valley.
Our accommodation for the next two nights is the Szekely Mansion. From the grounds of this lovely hotel we have a superb view to the Szekelyko Mountain. After dinner one evening we will try to track down a Eurasian Scops Owl.
On day four we have a full day to explore this wonderful area of the West Transylvanian Mountains. We will visit various limestone gorges, rock faces and scree where we hope to find Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Woodlark, Red-rumped Swallow, Rock Thrush and if we are lucky even Sombre Tit at the most northerly corner of its range. Most of the day will be spent on foot without much travelling so we can relax and enjoy this lovely landscape.
After some final birding in this area we will leave for the Harghita Mountains. On our way to our next base we will stop to look for woodpeckers in a mature beech and oak woodland where we have a chance to find Grey-headed, Green, Black, Middle Spotted or even White-backed Woodpecker. We will also stop in Sighisoara and visit the citadel where Dracula (Vlad Tepes) spent his childhood.
In the late afternoon we will go to the lovely Szentpál Fishponds near Odorheiu Secuiesc where we can pick up a great selection of wetland birds like Ferruginous Duck, Savi’s Warbler and Bearded Tit. This location has an amazingly long bird list and we have good chances of finding some late migrants. We will then drive to our base for the next three nights in Desag.
We have two full days to explore the seemingly endless pine forests of the wonderful Harghita and Giurghiu Mountains in search of Capercaillie, Ural Owl, Pygmy Owl and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker. On one of our days we will travel to the magnificent Bicaz Gorge in the Hasmas Mountains National Park, an impressive site with tall limestone walls. This is the realm of the Wallcreeper and we should get great views of this special bird, as well as spectacular views of the gorge. The Gyergyo Basin is in full colour by early June with many wild flowers. The climate allows many ice age relict plants to thrive here, as well as Great Grey Shrike, Common Rosefinch, Garden Warbler, Marsh Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler. We will also visit a hide to look for Carpathian Brown Bears on one or possibly two evenings. Unlike some bear hides, this does not involve staying overnight, so after any sightings we will be pleased to head back to the hotel. At this time of the year we have a very good chance of seeing this fascinating creature of the Transylvanian pine woodlands. Around 3000 Brown Bears survive in Romania and they are very active at this time of year.
On day eight we have some time for more birding as we drive towards the Eastern Carpathians and onto Bucharest for our early evening flight home.
CLIMATE AND PACE
Warm, sunny weather is the norm, although we have had rain on occasions. It is usually cooler in the mountains. Breakfast will normally be taken at about 7am, although we may rise earlier one morning to look for Capercaillie. Visits to the mountains will involve uphill walking at a sensible pace. Day-long birdwatching excursions will be made with short and medium length walks. Bear watching involves a visit to a hide in the afternoon and evening, but not overnight.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided, with two nights at the Hotel Pestera, Moroeni in the Bucegi area, two nights at the Szekely Mansion, Rimetea in the Torocko area and three nights at the Hotel Desag Villa, Zetelaka in the Hargita area. All accommodation is of a high standard and all rooms have en suite facilities.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 3rd, ending with lunch on 10th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini-bus, reserve entrance fees, bear-watch permits and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flights from London Heathrow to Bucharest using the scheduled services of British Airways. Outbound flight departs mid-morning, with return landing early evening. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are available on this tour. See booking form for details. Please call for details.
photos to follow....
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