Saturday, July 05, 2014

Romania and the Last Frontier - Day 5 p.m: To 'The Last Frontier'

After a fish lunch, we packed up our gear. This didn't take me long as I was living out of the suitcase anyway.  It was time to wave goodbye to Mila 23. It had been a great start to the trip with so many memorable encounters and wonderful birds. By this stage in our journey I was looking forward to some dry land and actually going for a walk. For the past few days we had been on the boat and there is nowhere to walk by the hotel given that it is on an island and the only place for a stroll is around 20m in either direction on the veranda outside the hotel front door.

We piled our mountain of luggage onto the boat and slipped away downstream from the floating jetty. Our destination was a further two hour journey by boat to the Ukraine border in the far north-eastern corner of the Danube Delta. It seemed like the boat journey went on for ever and we got waved in on the main channel where the border runs by the police for a passport and papers check. The border patrol officer was bemused for a little while by struggling to match Paul with his passport. Since this was issued he had lost a remarkable 70kgs in weight and bears little resemblance to the photograph inside!

We eventually arrived at Ultima Frontiera, which translates to the'The Last Frontier', and following our boat journey it certainly felt a very apt name and that we were a very long way from anywhere. We received a very warm greeting at the dock as we loaded our luggage into two pick-up trucks. Zoltan, the Sakertour guide was also staying with us for the few days and obviously keen to explore the site as we were.  I will take a few moments to tell you about Ultima Frontier.The site covers an area of around 1000 ha or 2500 acres and was the location of a former fish farm that was left undisturbed for many years. Below is map of the site to give you some idea of the layout.
The site was purchased with a view to it being developed as a destination for angling, wildlife watching and nature photography. A long single story hotel was constructed which  fits well into the landscape withs it thatched reed roof and low profile. This hotel is fitted out to a very high standard inside and the food is excellent (particularly given the lack of fish!!).
Across the site to date, 18 different hides are available. In addition, given the extensive size of the site around a dozen all-terrain electric vehicle are available for use to explore the area. Apart from being great fun to drive around the sandy tracks they are reasonably useful for stalking birds.
The site is managed by an Italian company called Skua Nature and apart from being very friendly and knowledgeable about the wildlife, they strive to make your stay as enjoyable and productive as possible. I would like to particularly like to thank Luca for all his efforts and to the kitchen staff for not serving fish on a single meal!

The site has only literally just been opened to visiting wildlife photographers and we were to be amongst the first paying guests. Obviously this has advantages and some disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that the hides are new and such facilities usually take time to become established and the set-up refined. On my return I sent Skua Nature some suggestions where refinement of some of the hides could be made.

Once settled into the hotel, we all loaded up into the back of one of the pick-up and were taken by Luca and Zoltan for an evening tour of the site. This was mainly to familairise us with the layout of the huge area and hide locations but obviously the cameras would come with us just in case we came across anything on our travels. I was not expecting to get many photos though with a group of 4 photographers.

My first thoughts as we headed out in the early evening was what an incredible place this was. There were birds everywhere. Bee-eaters gliding around, Hoopoe probing the sandy tracks looking for mole crickets, the loud electric song of Thrush Nightingale from areas of scrub, Great Reed Warbler singing deep within the reedbeds, the list could go on and on. I could grow to like this place very quickly. However, it is not only birds here as there is a good head of mammals that includes wild horses, wild cat, otters and a very special animal which was one of the primary reasons for us heading here - the European Golden Jackal.

We drove around for quite a long time and eventually stopped on the main eastern track to try and photograph some Bearded Tit. The birds were relatively twitchy and are not easy to photograph with their constant fluttering and doing acrobatics around the reeds stems but we managed to get a few photographs of some young birds,  my first of this species. I could see myself returning to try again for these over the next couple of days.

We carried on driving around, with Luca pointing out various hides and birds, butterflies and dragonflies on our travels. After a while we stopped on the main western track and tried for some cuckoo photographs, a bird which appeared to be common across the area based on the number we heard calling. I managed to get a couple of photographs.
Onward we traveled, being shown some old buildings where Little Owl and Roller could be found. A White stork stared down on the wide eyed photographers from its huge stick nest. We had made a full circuit of the place and returned back to the hotel for a great evening meal and each made out a rough schedule for the few days ahead.

It had been a long day and I headed to bed early to recharge my  batteries for the following day. I was excited at the prospect of next days of photography at the Last Frontier, particularly as it would start at 5 a.m with trying to photograph our main reason for being here.......the Golden Jackals.

1 comment:

Carol Blackburn said...

Great pics, my faves are 7 & 8. I had to laugh when I saw the bird grasping two stems.


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