Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Roaming in Romania - Day 3: Dawn on the Danube

The alarm went off at 4:45 a.m, I rolled out of bed and the first thing I did was to look out of the window. We had arrived in the dark the evening before and I just want to get a view of the surroundings. As I peered out into the approaching dawn it looked like the weather would be good for the long awaited morning photography session ahead. A small group of Pygmy Cormorants passed, as I gazed out with bleary eyes, and flew rapidly upstream. 15 minutes later I had joined the rest of the group for our 5 a.m breakfast of bread, hams,cheese and tomatoes. Now bearing in mind that Romania is 2 hours ahead of the UK I must confess it was a struggle to eat when my body clock was still tuned in to it being 3 a.m! However, the hot freshly brewed coffee was very welcome.

At this point you should note for this series of blog posts on Romania, some days will be contained in a single post, whilst others that were particularly productive, like this one will be spread over two. Typically our days in Romania were split into two daily sessions with the camera, 5 - 11am and then 3pm to about 8pm. We would have a break in the hot middle of the day when the light was to harsh and the air wobbled with haze neither of which are conducive to good photography. The midday break took in lunch and also allowed time for both camera and people 'batteries' to recharge after the early start.

After boarding the hide boat we headed off upstream and quickly swung off the main river in to a small reed lined side channel that was chocked with various water plants. Progress was relatively slow as we would periodically have to stop and the boat reverse to clear the accumulated vegetation from the propeller. After about 30 minutes travel along the narrow winding channel it suddenly opened out into a small lake. The edges of the lake were again reed fringed and crystal clear water was covered in large patches of yellow and white flowering water lilies and beds of Water Soldier. A beautiful and tranquil setting in the rapidly rising sun made all the more attractive by good variety of birds going around their early morning business and the rising chorus of frogs singing. Here is a photograph of a typical view on this lake from the boat to give you an idea.
My first thoughts were that the boatman had a difficult task ahead of him to try and navigate us through the dense vegetation into the right position in terms of the light and distance for photography. The first bird we encountered was a Squacco Heron which had been one of my favourite birds from a trip to Hungary last year.

These small herons were dotted all around the lake and were gently glowing in the soft dawn light. The first of many more encounters with this species over the next couple of days as they proved to be the bird we most frequently encountered on a travels around the Delta. The bird was busy looking for prey which included the larvae of what would have been a very large water beetle.

Our first bird encounter taught me a quick lesson that when the boat had got into position the movement of four photographers slightly adjusting their positions to get the best angle on the bird from would cause some rocking of the boat. After a while I actually found it was much easier for me during these moments to dispense with the tripod.

The next birds we encountered were  two White Pelicans which are a new species for me. They are visually such appealing birds with their large colourful beaks and some lovely textures in their feathers. Our time with these birds was brief but it gave chance to get the first few portraits of these huge birds.

Next stop on our journey around this small lake was close to a colony of Whiskered Tern. This was a bird I had seen last year on my journey into Eastern Europe but of which I had failed to get any photographs. Failure was not going to be an option this time though as numerous birds flew past in close proximity to the boat as they gathered nesting material and searched for food to get their day started or perched on nearby lilies.
The end of another water beetle larvae
Time to move on once more and this time the boat slowly a colony of noisy Blacked-headed gulls that had built a nesting colony on a large patch of lilies in the middle of the lake.

I was quite glad that we were not here to photograph the gulls but another species that often associates with them and apparently uses the gull colony as an early warning system of approaching predators, the Black-necked Grebe. It has been a few years since I have photographed this small but beautiful bird and I was only thinking earlier this year it would be good to find some more in the UK where they are fairly thin on the ground. Those thoughts all seemed a bit irrelevant now with the dozen birds drifting around close to the boat and going through an early morning bathing and stretching routine.

These proved to be the main photography subject for the morning and we stayed with the birds for quite a long time having been put in to a very good location with the boat that was carefully manoeuvred and positioned to  steer a wide berth of any nest sites.

A Great-crested grebe drifted through its smaller relatives as we sat their soaking up the atmosphere of the wonderful birds in front us whilst being serenaded by a constant chorus of frogs.

The sun was rising rapidly now and the light growing increasingly harsh. We spent a short-while with some Common Terns but then started to make the voyage back to the hotel at Mila 23.
En route we had our first encounter with a Night Heron, in one of the narrower channels that would return us to the main river stem together with some more of the ubiquitous Squacco Heron.

Overall it had been a memorable first morning in the Delta and as you can see a very busy one for the four photographers on the boat. The beauty of this type of roving photography is that you never know what is waiting round the corner in the channel or on the next lake you enter. They way I have described this first session you may think the photography is easy due to the abundance of bird life but you do have to work for your images, think about composition and position and backgrounds. It was this aspect of the trip that was going to make this adventure all the more rewarding than just waiting for  birds to appear on pre-arranged perches in front of a permanent hide.


Mick Southcott said...

Nice images, I loved it out there and would go again its fantastic ...

Jonathan Lethbridge said...

As good as I was hoping, love the Tern vertical. Looking forward to the afternoon!

Dave Williams said...

Great stuff,you had some superb light to work with
Rich. I know what you mean about the pre arranged perches too !


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