In the Romanian Mountains, every spring, an incredible natural spectacle takes place. The Western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) performs his mating ritual, a spectacle that rivals the mating display of the Red deer (Cervus elaphus) and for me personally is a must see. Having this in mind, when it came to choosing a place for vacation this past spring I’ve chosen going home and trying to witness the show made by those beautiful creatures. I won’t keep you in suspense and I would tell you right now that I did not manage to see the Capercaillie this time but I have heard him, which was magical, and I’ve managed to see and photograph lots of other species.
In order to even have a chance of spotting the Capercaillie I have hired a guide to take me to a spot where he knew the birds will perform their display and this spot was high in the Fagarasi mountains at around 1600m altitude. I have spend two nights in a mountain halt close to the photographing spot but in order to reach the halt I had to go up the mountain for 2 hour and a half from the place where I’ve parked the car.
On the way up I’ve manage to photograph only two birds as I didn’t had too much time to lose because the night was coming and unlike in Denmark, large predators call those forests home. One was a jay that was unsatisfied by the way she came out in the picture so I won’t share it. The other one was a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) that was enchanting the forest with its song. Because it was quite dark I took the risk of lowering my shutter speed to 1/80 sec. with a telephoto lens which cost me in getting some motion blur in the picture but I’ve kept the ISO to an acceptable value of 1100 so in the end it’s a decent photo for social media sharing.
While I was sitting around the hut I took my time to photograph the small birds that were around. A Common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) stopped by to remind us of its song and perched on a wooden pole. The wind was blowing quite hard so the bird squeezed its eyes a bit and got the breast feather blown giving it an unusual look. F6.3, 1/640 sec. shutter speed and ISO 1000 did the trick this time.
I have captured this Dunnock (Prunella modularis) that was singing in top of a tree while returning from a walk on the mountain’s crests. At first I didn’t knew what species it was and I’ve thought I’ve spotted a new species. I eventually determined it is the Dunnock which is the most widespread member of the accentor family.
The best surprise of the whole trip was this Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) pair that had its territory around the hut. It was the only time I’ve seen this species that breeds in higher regions of western and central Europe but also in Caucasus and Scandinavian mountains. The Ring Ouzel is the mountain equivalent of the closely related common blackbird. It was a pleasure watching it searching and eating earthworms between all the beautiful crocuses flowers. A 1/800 sec. shutter speed was enough to get sharp pictures while the bird was static or slow moving and to keep the ISO to 100 which gave me clean images.
On the way down the mountain I had a bit more time to stop and try to get some pictures and as I was beginning to descend in altitude I was starting seeing more and more birds. I will share only the decent shots I’ve got. First is this European robin (Erithacus rubecula) that I’ve caught mid song in a beautiful composition with the branches partitioning the frame and the bird looking over its shoulder while it was singing.
The second one was this Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea) that I’ve shot through an opening between two trees. For both photos I have used a low shutter speed 1/320 sec. to compensate the lack of light and to keep a low ISO, hoping for a sharp frame while the birds were stationary.
Right before entering in the car I have spotted a small bird looking at me from the tree in front of the car. It didn’t seem to be bother by me, not even when I’ve pointed my telephoto lens at him. In fact, the Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) was keeping an eye on the sky where a predator was searching for his next meal. I used 1/640 sec. shutter speed and because the bird was partially in shade I used +0.7 exposure compensation which put my auto ISO on 320. This is the first and only male Black redstart I have ever captured.
The next photos were all taken in Vatra Dornei, Romania the place where my girlfriend was born.
One of the bird species that I found living close to the house was the Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), in this case a bunch of females. I photographed the females in different situations and setups until I got pretty close to one that kept returning to this wooden fence. I spend almost an hour waiting for her to return and getting a bit closer every time until I felt it will become uncomfortable for the bird if I get any closer. When the light is not plentiful I tend to use as low a shutter speed as I can to keep those ISO levels down. In this case I have used 1/500 sec. and got the auto ISO at 500.
Another species often seen around the house was the common summer bird White wagtail (Motacilla alba). To photograph the Wagtail I laid on my belly around the spot where I’ve noticed the bird was searching for food. Because I stood still it got close enough to get some good shots with nicely blurred background as well as foreground. In this case, a bit more light helped me to keep the shutter speed at a reasonable 1/800 sec. and I’ve got a decent ISO250, at the usual F6.3.
There isn’t place where one can’t find a crow, and many times I just ignore them but I still love to catch a good behavioral shot. Here I’ve set my lens on a Hooded crow (Corvus cornix) that was making some calls which I would be glad to know the purpose of. I like how the crow swing it’s body when it calls and I especially like when I catch the membrane that covers the eye, it looks very interesting but also a bit creepy. I have again dropped my ISO to 1/500 sec. to get ISO250.
On a walk in the nearby gardens, meadows, and forest I found the most relaxed Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) ever spotted. We were 4 people that were normally walking towards the bird and it still let us come quite close. I found that usually Jays fly away at the first sight of people but this one was perfectly happy to search for food while we were studying her. Oh, how happy I was that I get to be so close to a Jay and that I have the camera with me and get to use it for a few good minutes. My favorite is the third photo where I’ve caught it with a piece of food in its beak. Being relatively slow in movements it allowed me to use a 1/500 sec. shutter speed and keep the ISO at 250.
Down in the grass, there is an incredible amount of biodiversity but this time I didn’t have time to focus on that to avoid boring the people I was with. Although, I still stopped to photograph one or two Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis). I have tried to photograph them with a 24-70 mm lens as with the telephoto lens was almost impossible to photograph from the same level. Even with a wide lens was still hard to get around all the obstacles in front of the lens without going to close to disturb the lizard.
On one stop I have taken my time to watch this Tree pipit (Anthus trivialis) singing from a fir tree branch. It was too far to get a good clean picture but I’ve managed to catch some video of it singing and flying on and off of the branch.
One day we have also visited the natural reserve Tinovul Mare, a protected area for its wet habitat that houses different red-listed species. Here I’ve got my first decent butterfly photo for this year and it was also a new species for me. I used my telephoto lens for this photo and I shot the only possible composition as the butterfly was perched quite high on a branch and without the possibility to get behind it. Because it was static I dropped the shutter speed to 1/250 sec., just so I don’t get blur from me shaking the camera, and I got a decent ISO 500 in those lighting conditions. I am quite satisfied with the result and the amount of details captured in the butterfly’s head. The Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) has one of the longest life-spans for any butterflies of 11 to 12 months. It is a strong flyer and a strong migrant, adults hibernating during the winter months.
On the wooden walking paths, many lizards would sit in the sun to thermoregulate, and we could come quite close before they would retreat under the path. As soon as we passed they were up again to catch some more sun. Because they were so bold I have put my wide-angle lens on and waited silently for one to get out. I did manage to get close enough but not lower enough and I have also made the bad decision of using F2.8 which gave me a shallow depth of field does work with. The lizard is a Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara), her name referring to the particularity of giving birth to live young rather than laying eggs as most lizards do. Actually, both ‘’zootoca” and ‘’vivipara” mean ‘’live birth” in both Greek and Latin.
I have met one more lizard in our trips, this time a dangerous one and in dangerous circumstances. Because we were out in nature and the usual biological needs pressured me to release some of the liquids consumed I have gone off in the woods to find the perfect spot to take a leak. I obviously took my camera with me because In those areas you may never know what you stumble upon. After I found a satisfying spot I put down my camera and wanted to turn around so I don’t splash on it. That was the moment I realized I was about to step on a venomous juvenile Adder (Vipera berus) and to this day I am glad I’ve spotted him before doing so. I picked up my camera and soon realized it was too big of a lens to take a shot so I’ve asked a friend to bring me my wide-angle lens. Soon after my first shots, the snake retreated after a tree and took a defensive pose. I took a few more shots and left him alone. The Adder is not aggressive and usually bites only when really provoked, stepped on, or picked up so they are not regarded as especially dangerous. Bites can be very painful, but are seldom fatal; for example, in Sweden, there are 1300 bits a year from which only 12% require hospitalization. The species is clarified as Least Concern but it had registered the slow rate of decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation of population, collection for the pet trade or venom extraction. In some countries, it is protected by the law.
I was with my girlfriend in the car, about to live when I spotted some birds flying and parching close to us. I got my camera out through the windows and photographed some Whinchats (Saxicola rubetra). What a great way to end my trip to Romania, my home country.
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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.