I’ve been home this past summer, to Romania, and from all two weeks that I have spent there only about three hours were dedicated to wildlife spotting and photography. But in that only three hours I have managed to find more than 40 different species of birds, insects and a reptile from which around 20 species found for the first time. This fact only proved my belief that Romania still has this biodiverse places, probably some of the most biodiverse in Europe.
The place where I’ve managed to go out shooting was a place that I fell in love with since I’ve first been there. Until now is the only place where I can totally disconnect and relax. It’s the place where my girlfriend was born and raised, a village near Vatra Dornei town. This is a place situated at an altitude of approximately 800m in the Northern part of the Carpathian Mountains. Is a great place to visit having great history and tradition, food and evidently awesome nature. The place where I’ve taken my spotting walk is not far from my girlfriend’s house in a pasture near a forest. Being a mountain zone, there is no intense agriculture and most of the people that do agriculture, are generally raising cows on pastures. These pastures are so much more diverse from everything that I’ve seen in the rest of Europe until now, I am not good at identifying plants but the number of colors and shapes could amaze any nature enthusiast, not to mention the amount of activity that takes place around those plants. Beside the floral and insect abundance, Romania still has some of the oldest and biggest European forests where all the big predators live together with many other mammals and birds. But all of this is in danger because of the corruption and bad management, that’s why I have decided to support Agent Green with some of the profits that I make with my store (more details on the store website).
Because I have photographed than so many species that I have never managed to photograph again, I will make this a 3 part series with about 7 species each. I hope you enjoy it and remember the summer with this opportunity.
Closer to the house was the place where I’ve spotted the smaller birds and managed to find three different species that I have not seen before neither after, until this point. First species that I’ve even photograph through the house’s window, was the Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), a small bird that generally lives at higher altitudes and it is adapted to live alongside human settlements by building its nests on buildings. It is a migratory bird, found across Europe, that migrates in winter to south-west Europe and North Africa. It feeds on invertebrates, but can also feed on fruits and seeds in late autumn. The characteristic of this bird is its red underside and tail from which the Romanian name,,codros’’ which in free translation means red tail.
My first sharp photo of a bird was of a Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio). I was still in the period in which I was still generally using the auto mode and from time to time switch to manual mode, and it was a glorious moment for me to get sharp photos and nice composition without using any food or staged place. I still get a lot of blurry pics even though I now shot on manual, but I still have a lot to learn. L. collurio is a carnivorous bird from the shrike family Laniidae. Its genus name, Lanius, comes from the Latin word for ‘’butcher’’ and is known as the butcher bird, nickname earned through his habits. Like the majority of shrike’s, when the food is plentiful, they impale corpses on thorns or barbed wire as a storage system. They eat almost anything from small birds, insects, amphibians or small reptiles.
The third small bird species is also an insectivore migratory bird, the Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra). It is clear why I have never encountered this birds before or after being in Romania, they are rare in agricultural intense countries such as Denmark where their pray is not as plentiful, neither their needed nesting grounds. The Whinchat is a short-lived species, typically surviving only two years to a maximum of around five years. Besides having a bunch of predators like small raptors or small carnivore mammals, S. rubetra is losing nests due to agricultural operations or trampled by livestock and sometime parasite by the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). They perch on elevated spots like shrubs in order to catch their prey or like in this case, on a wood fence man-made.
As I mentioned at the start the amount of insects is impressive in this place, when walking through the pasture you can see how hundreds of grasshoppers and other bugs jumping or flying away to not get crushed. It is also pretty hard to spot them because of the floral density but I managed to photograph many new species related to the time spent searching. One example is the Meadow Grasshopper (Pseudochorthippus parallelus) that posed for me in different positions. A common species of grasshoppers that are present in great numbers all over Europe and prefers moist, well-vegetated areas and that is well-studied in the discipline of Evolutionary Biology. The meadow grasshopper can have variable color, which is genetically determinate, and both sexes are flightless but still present wing cases which are longer for males.
The Rattle Gresshopper (Psophus stridulus) is one species that I have never seen up close my entire life and it amazed me by its size and proportions. Now that I research him I realize that this is the insect that I was chasing that day in the meadow with the bright red wings but never managed to find it once it landed. It produced a rattling sound when flying, that’s where the common name comes from. It is supposed to be generally found in rocky, arid areas but I found some individuals in vegetated areas. The males are between 23-25 mm (0.9-1.0 in) and females between 26-40 mm (1.0-1.6 in) in length. The one that I have photographed must have been the max size because it impressed me and I kept thinking that if this species was used as food, you could be full from 2-3 individuals.
From small to big, the butterflies were racing through the meadow and I’ve noticed that the bigger ones were faster and covered more ground than the smaller ones that stopped after shorter distances. This made the smaller ones easier to photograph. I have seen many common ones like the meadow brown (Maniola jurtina) or the small white (Artogeia rapae) but I also saw ones that are rarer like this beautiful Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). I have seen this butterfly also in Denmark and even photographed it in the autumn before I have started wildlife spotting but I have not seen any since I have my camera and photographed species for the blog. Curiously named ,,Red’’ Admiral is can be distinguished by the orange bands and white spots on its black wings. The males are territorial and viciously defend their territories against intruders because only males that have a territory are chosen by females to mate. They are also known as people-friendly butterflies because of their habit to perch or land on humans.
The only reptile that I have seen and photographed this past nine months was this Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis). A species that is mostly present in Eastern Europe and protected by law in most of Europe. In the UK is regarded as threaten and captive-breeding and release programs are being done to help the wild populations. The female sand lizard lays her eggs in a sunny location in loose sand and leaves them to be incubated by the warmth of the ground. Inbreeding depression is reduced in sand lizard population when the females mate with different males and then actively select the sperm in their reproductive tract, preferring the sperm of the more distantly related male. In the three years I’ve lived in Denmark I have only seen two snakes and 2-3 lizards, but I have seen plenty of amphibians, I hope to see more in the future.
More species from that day in the next articles, every Wednesday.
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For all species found on my spotting adventures, take a look at INaturalist.
The gear that I’ve used for spotting and book used for identification, here.