Thursday, August 15, 2013

Roaming in Romania - Day 7: 'Groundhog Day'

Everyone was outside the ' 'roach motel' early the next morning, obviously very keen to get away from the place. With the luggage and camera bags loaded back into the minibus, we headed off back to the the drinking pool hide and farmland tracks. Rene and I returned back to the hide for the morning session while Hans and Michael toured the dusty farmland tracks to see what they could find.

The drinking pool hide was extremely quiet and we spent most of the morning watching a solitary frog lazily swimming around and snatching the occasional fly trapped in the surface film. Eventually a Turtle Dove arrived for a quick drink before departing leaving the pool eerily quiet once more.

It was coming close to collection time so we decided to give up on the hide and see if we could stalk some birds on foot. A cuckoo was flying around, chasing another bird so we started with that and managed to get a couple of photographs before it disappeared in pursuit into the distance.
There was not much else around except the occasional singing Corn Bunting. After much crawling through the undergrowth I eventually managed to get up close to a bird.

At this point I had a chat with Rene whether it was really worth staying here for the afternoon or if we should suggest moving on to our next destination, subject to the agreement of the other two photographers. In the distance a cloud of approaching dust signalled the return of the minibus. A quick exchange on how the morning session had gone and it was a unanimous decision that we should leave Macin behind and head to our final destination the coastal lagoon areas near Constanta on the Black Sea coast. After lunch at the lay-by restaurant once more we hit the road again and headed east on a journey of a couple of hours along the bumpy roads of Romania.

Our first destination was some tracks running through an extensive area of farmland. This was within the Cogoleac Wind Farm which is an enormous area dotted with over 240 huge wind turbines,  gently turning in the breeze, that have invaded the landscape in all direction,

Our drive round the farmland tracks was fairly unproductive, although not surprising given that there were four of us in the minibus. It was particularly frustrating from my position in the back corner of the minibus which made it extremely difficult to get the camera on the bird and only then if it was on the right hand side. A funny thing I have noticed on this trip and subsequent ones is that the places people first select in a vehicle or hide, and in this case also the boat, is the same one they stick to for the entire duration of the trip. It obviously pays to think about this carefully at the start of a trip which I obviously hadn't on this occasion. In our drive around the tracks I only managed to take photographs from my restricted position of a male Ortolan Bunting and a new species, the sturdy Calandra Lark, perched on top of sunflowers. I am sure the other photographers will have got some photos of other species as well.
We left the farm tracks but not the wind farm to finish the day off at the low limestone valley at Cheia. This was a beautiful spot but somewhat spoilt by the accumulations of litter left by visitors. The sky was clouding up quickly and the light was in decline.

The main target species here were Pied Wheatear and the European Ground Squirrel or Souslik which inhabit the sheep grazed carpet of grass on the valley floor. The Pied Wheatear were very striking birds but fairly unapproachable with little cover. After several attempts I managed to get a couple of photographs of both the female and the very beautiful male. In hindsight I wished I had spent a bit more time trying to get some better photographs of these wheatear.

The female
and the male.
However, my attentions were drawn to the Souslik that could be seen dashing across the grass before disappearing down a burrow only to emerge somewhere else. In a similar way to Marmots (Groundhog) or Meerkats, there would often be one animal on sentry duty that would let out a very loud high pitch warning squeak when people approached. I decided the best approach was to lie down where I had seen one disappear down a burrow and hope it appeared back out of the same hole of from where nearby where I could crawl up to it to get closer. This waiting tactic seemed to work well. It was good fun photographing the ground squirrels and time passed quickly when I noticed the rest of the group waiting by the minibus to depart.

A head emerges from the labyrinth of tunnels below.
I think this may be an older ground squirrel as it had very pale colouring and appear right next me so I could only just fit it in frame
On sentry duty

and calling which is very loud when you are right next to it!

We headed off to the check-in to our hotel in Sinhoe. A very nice hotel indeed and a complete contrast to where we had stayed the previous night. Our first destination for the next day, our final full day in Romania, was to be to try and photograph some Collared Pratincole a bird that has long been on my 'wish list'.

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