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Ultima Frontiera - Ultimate Photography - Days One and Two

This year, instead of going to Finland to photograph Brown Bears, we headed to Romania and the Ultima Frontiera Nature Reserve on the Danube Delta. The tour was organised by Skua Nature, who have an almost permanent presence on the reserve.

The reserve consists of over 1,000 ha of lakes, marshes, meadows and ancient woodland; managed for wildlife and photography - 30 Photographic hides (many permanent) are available offering different opportunities for photography. Accommodation is in a 3* hotel in the reserve. The rooms were clean, spacious and comfy; all have en-suite bathrooms and food was on-time, hot and catered for individual dietary requirements. Visit their web-site for more information.

Our visit commenced with an early morning start for Manchester Airport for our RyanAir flight to Bucharest, arriving on schedule at 11:15. We were met a couple of hours later by the minibus that was transfer the group of eight to Tulcea, where we would transfer to a boat for the final leg of our journey along the River Danube. There is no road network to Periprava, where the Ultima Frontiera is situated. By the time we arrived at the reserve and the hotel, we were ready for our meal. The minibus transfer was four hrs and the boat journey a further two. The latter though was interspersed with tempting sites of Whiskered, Black and White-winged Black Terns, Squacco Herons, Night Herons and Egrets.

After our meal, our guide, Carlos, gave an introduction to the reserve and what we could expect to see (and photograph) from the various hides. We would be allocated hides each day and a typical day consisted of an early start to make a pack-up breakfast, drive to the morning hide, arriving between 05:00 and 06:00, leaving around 11:00 and returning to Hotel. We then had some "down-time" (usually spent down-loading images and walking around near the Hotel) until 13:00 for lunch. At 15:00 we then set off to another hide for the afternoon, leaving at 19:00 to get back for an evening meal at 20:00. Then (if we still had any energy) hight-time hides and flash photography was available for owls and badgers!!

Day One

Our first morning was spent one of the Jackal hides, overlooking the sand-dune complex. Food was put out to encourage the Jackals, it also seemed to work well pulling in various crows. We didn't have to wait too long for the first Golden Jackal appeared, slightly wary, but soon trying to get at the food put out. A dog and vixen were present and probably at least two other Golden Jackals. One of the Golden Jackals proceeded to excavate in the sand to get at buried food.

Golden Jackals from our first morning

Hooded Crow (upper) and Raven (lower)

The morning also proved to good for birds of prey and storks, with Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, Booted Eagle and Black Stork seen.

After the long day of travel the previous day, we took the opportunity to chill before lunch. After lunch we decided which hide we wanted to visit. Julia and I (plus two others from our group of eight) opted for one of the portable hides set up overlooking a Hoopoe nest hole. We proceeded to spend the afternoon photographing the Hoopoes bringing food in for their young, and, occasionally getting rid of some debris from the hide. On a couple of occasions the nest hole was visited by a Roller, who was soon chased away by the rightful occupants. All the time we were serenaded by Nightingales, Thrush Nightingales, Redstarts, Golden Oriole and the odd Turtle Dove.

The positioning of a suitable perching branch, allowed for some pre-focusing for flight shots:

Day Two

Another early start today and a different hide for the Golden Jackals. This hide was in one of the (many) wetlands and provided opportunities for shots of the Golden Jackals splashing through the water. Again we were visited by two or three Golden Jackals, a variety of Corvids, but also (as expected) Glossy Ibis and Great White Egret. Marsh Harriers were ever present and Great White Pelicans kept appearing on the horizon, where White-tailed Eagles were seen. Pygmy Cormorants and Purple Herons occasionally flew over. The pool closest to the hide attracted Yellow Wagtail and White Wagtail.

Wet Golden Jackals

White Wagtail (upper left), female Yellow Wagtail (upper right and lower left), male Yellow Wagtail (lower right)

After our return to the Hotel, we ventured for a walk along the tracks around the the hotel. Red-backed Shrikes perched in the bushes, Golden Orioles could be heard but not seen and Bee-eaters called overhead. A White Stork could just be seen over the top of its nest.

White Stork and nest (upper) male Red-backed Shrike (lower left) and female (lower right)

After lunch we ventured into the forest area to a portable hide from which an active Black Woodpecker nest. The adults were visiting the nest about every 30 or 40 minutes, and when they were not present we were able to watch Common Redstart, once again Thrush Nightingale, Nightingale, Turtle Dove and Golden Oriole provided a musical back drop. Tawny Owl and Grey-headed Woodpecker were also heard.

After our evening meal I took the opportunity to photograph a pair of near Little Ow. Obviously as it was dark, we used a couple of speedlights fired remotely for the photographs. The Little Owl was oblivious and continued to feed whilst we took our images.

Must admit I was ready for my bed when I got back to the hotel at close to mid-night for a few hours kip before the next day, which included a boat excursion to the inner lakes of the Danube Delta - but that's the next blog!

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