(Posted on behalf of Jessica Chappell, who is a volunteer RSPB Intern undertaking organisation development support for SOR (Romanian BirdLife Partner)
After surviving the sub-zero temperatures (-20 oC anyone?!) and constant snowfall that is eastern European winter, I’d paid my dues, and it was fieldwork time! I’d arrived in Romania the previous September, trading in paid RSPB employment for a voluntary internship, and as I contemplated my current surroundings, I knew I’d made the right decision.
It was late afternoon on a spring day in April. The sun was shining, temperatures reaching in the comfortable high twenties. I could hear a cuckoo calling to my left, a hoopoe calling to my right, and through the telescope I was watching a small colony of bee-eaters as they settled in a group of trees not too far away, their beautifully coloured feathers glinting in the sun. THIS was why I came to Romania.
I was spending the week visiting five Natura 2000 sites located along the lower Danube plain. These sites, along with several others, are all project sites for the EU LIFE project ‘Cross-border conservation of Phalacrocorax pygmeus and Aythya nyroca in key sites from Romania and Bulgaria’, or, as that’s a bit of a mouthful, ‘Green Borders’ for short. The project focuses on improving habitats for two globally threatened species - the pygmy cormorant and the ferruginous duck. Not too familiar with either species before coming to Romania, I couldn’t help but be quite taken by the endearingly small pygmy cormorants, just over half the height of the more familiar great cormorant, and the attractive red colour and bright white eye of the male ferruginous duck.
ferruginous duck (Credit:Sebastian Bugariu)
Over half of the European population of pygmy cormorant is found in Romania, and the lower Danube plain alone hosts 7% of the European population of ferruginous duck, so these are important sites. Sadly, however, both species are threatened by degradation and destruction of their habitat. The project aims to maintain breeding populations by reconstructing and protecting nesting and feeding areas, and working with fishery owners to reduce conflict between themselves and the fish-eating cormorants. We were there to survey each site, recording the numbers of the two target species as well as any other protected birds in the area, and noting any potential human disturbances. It was encouraging to hear that the numbers we were seeing were equal to, if not more than, those recorded in previous years – testament to the work of Romanian BirdLife Partner, SOR and other project partners so far.
pygmy cormorant (Credit:Sebastian Bugariu)
The area itself was stunning - the beauty and peace and quiet of the countryside was a far cry from the noisy, crowded streets of the capital city Bucharest, and my enthusiasm never faltered. Every white stork nest we passed had me pressed up against the car window, keen to get out and take a closer look – the fact that they’re a common site in the area made no difference to me – I couldn’t get enough of them!
One of the few non-birdy animal encounters of the week was the European ground squirrel, or souslik - a charming, stout little rodent that lives in large colonies in grassland. Alarmed by our presence, we watched as they darted across the ground to the safety of their underground burrows.
The biodiversity of the area didn’t end there – in addition to the species already mentioned, I was treated to views of purple, squacco and night heron, little and great white egret, dalmatian pelican, whiskered tern, marsh harrier, and several species of waterfowl, among others. Great bittern were booming and the feeling of spring was most definitely in the air.
All in all, a fantastic week – a great chance to get out of the office and see more of this beautiful country and its amazing wildlife. I can’t wait for the next trip!
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