For those of interest in the camera kit I took for this trip I will get that over with straight away. Packed in my Gura Gear Bataflae bag were the 600mm F 4, 300mm F2.8, Canon 1DX and 1Dmk4 bodies, together with a 1.4x and 2 x teleconvertor together with the usual chargers, spare batteries, memory cards and other small bits and pieces. The Gitzo tripod and monopod went in the suitcase. The only real difference this year was that I did not take the Wimberley Gimbal head but took along the new Uniqball ballhead to try out. The obligatory netbook and two 1GB hard drives were also taken. There is nothing like travelling light!!
So the day had finally arrived and on Friday 16th May I left home at 12 noon and started out on the long journey to the heart of the Danube Delta. This year, having done the journey previously, the long hours of travel ahead seemed less daunting particularly given the lack of terminal change in London. Following the short flight from Manchester down to Heathrow, I met up in Terminal 5 with the three other photographers I would be spending the week with Rene, Paul and Kevin. We touched down in Bucharest after a three hour flight at about 11:15pm local time (2 hours ahead of the UK) and were collected by an airport hotel minibus. We arrived at the hotel after midnight which was a lot easier to access than the heavily guarded palace hotel where we had stayed the previous year. It was a perfectly good hotel and no complaints at 29 euros for the night and given they served breakfast from 3am it meant we would get some food before our 6:30am pick up.
Saturday morning saw us all assembled with our mountain of luggage outside the hotel although the driver was about 30 minutes late due to an accident down the road. We loaded the bright yellow taxi to capacity with people and luggage and headed off on a fairly unremarkable 4 hour drive, accompanied by some terrible music, eastward across Romania to Tulcea and the 'gateway to the Danube Delta'.
We met up with Zoltan and Romi and as we loaded up the boat with our luggage it was noticeable that there was a good deal of flood water coming down the Danube. The coffee coloured water swirled in powerful currents around the jetty and chunks of tree rapidly passed further out in the channel. Recent heavy rains across central Europe had caused the river to swell and the speed and volume of water passing was impressive.
The boat journey to our first destination of Mila 23, where we would stay for the next few days, took around two hours. As we were getting closer to the hotel, I began recognising places from the previous year which was surprising as you would think one reed and tree lined channel can look very much like another. Certainly it was noticeable that the colour in the water was reducing quickly as we moved further into the delta, as the huge wetland filtered the sediment from the water. 24 hours after leaving home and we were stepping on to the jetty of the Paradise Delta House Hotel which sits on its own island opposite the small settlement of Mila 23.
We had arrived and were warmly greeted by some familiar faces bearing flammable Ribena in shot glasses and the crazy small white dog (which I think is half canine and half Tasmanian Devil). By strange coincidence I ended up in exactly the same room as last year over looking one of the Danube's Channels.
I spent the next hour or so settling in and sorting out the camera gear as we would be heading out after a lunch of a rather grim carp and catfish soup on our first photo session.
We boarded onto Sakertours specially adapted hide boat around 3:30pm. It was agreed that we would rotate position on each trip out so everyone got to try a different place in the boat each of which had its own advantages and disadvantages. We had only travelled around 100m from the hotel when our cameras were trained on to their first feathery subject, a Caspian Gull (which is effectively a herring gull with a few minor differences).
It was great to be back in the Danube Delta, and although it had been a very long and tiring day, the first session had been excellent. Anticipation was high for the following days to come and the further avian treasures this vast wetland area would reveal to us.