• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Danube Cruise (1 Viewer)

Blackduck

Well-known member
Danube Cruise October 2016 (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia & Austria)

In June 2016 my wife and I decided on a river cruise to celebrate an important birthday for my wife (twenty-first, I think, again!). We chose a Danube cruise from Bucharest to Vienna, as likely to provide birdwatching opportunities for me, and touristic ones for the birthday girl.

When researching the Danube as a birdwatching destination, I soon found that nobody had used one of these cruises as a basis for birdwatching along the Danube, or at least, had written a report about it. There was a ton of stuff about the Delta (and a boat trip into the Delta was included in the cruise), but not a lot about the middle and lower Danube, and certainly not as a single entity. And I found out that October was not a particularly popular month to visit. Nevertheless, October it had to be, so we spent the 6th to the 18th cruising the Danube from the Black Sea to Vienna.

Route

The itinerary for the cruise was tempting, as it passed through 7 countries, with the possibility of cruising past two more. Of those countries I had only birdwatched to any extent in Bulgaria. So it was a great opportunity to start lists in 4 countries (Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Hungary), to add a few more to fairly threadbare Austrian and Croatian lists, perhaps even a couple to my Bulgarian list, and the faint possibility of starting lists for Moldova and Ukraine.
Day 1 Fly into Bucharest
Day 2 Bucharest - Fetesti (R) overnight to Santu-Georghiu (R)
Day 3 Boat trip into Danube Delta, then Santu Georghiu to Fetesti overnight
Day 4 Guided trip into the Dobruja, Fetesti to Rousse (B) overnight
Day 5 Morning in Rousse, then upstream to Svishtov (B)
Day 6. Svishtov overnight and morning cruise to Cetate (R)
Day 7 Drobetu-Turnu Severin (R) (Iron Gates Lock 1) cruise to Donji Milanovac (SE) visit Lepenski Vir, cruise onwards overnight to Belgrade (SE).
Day 8 Belgrade all day. Leave evening.
Day 9 Overnight cruise to Vukovar (C). Leave at lunchtime cruising towards Hungary
Day 10 Cruising through Hungary arrive Budapest (H) midday.
Day 11 Budapest morning, leave at lunchtime for Esztergom (H), pick up excursioneers
Day 12 Bratislava (SL) morning. Coach to Vienna (A) for evening.
Day 13 Vienna all day
Day 14 Fly Vienna to Manchester.

Research

Gorman, Gerard "Birding in Eastern Europe" Wildsounds 2006
Gorman, Gerard "The Birds of Hungary" Christopher Helm 1996
Gorman, Gerard "A Guide to Birdwatching in Hungary" Corvina 1991
Gosney, Dave "Finding Birds in Hungary" Gostours 1993
Mountfort, Guy "Portrait of a River" Hutchinson 1962
Munteanu, Dan "The Status of Birds in Romania" Romanian Ornithological Society 1998
As you can see from the dates, most of these books were out-of-date, but they all offered some information to areas about which I was ignorant. The older ones came from the Pensychnant Book Fair, which took place on the convenient date of 1st August. I took a 1st Edition Collins with me as a field guide.
The internet provided more current information:-
Belgrade: http://www.10000birds.com/where-to-watch-birds-in-belgrade.htm
Budapest: http://www.hungarianbirdwatching.com/03_Areas.html#Budapest
Bratislava: https://englishmaninslovakia.com/2015/03/09/bratislava-a-birdwatching-haven/

Travel

The air included in the price of the cruise was via Heathrow. As we are allergic to Heathrow I opted to arrange our own flights through Manchester, which was win-win, as the cruise fare was reduced by more than the cost of the independent air tickets by booking our own. We chose Lufthansa Manchester-Munich-Bucharest for the outbound route, and the return was Vienna to Manchester direct with Austrian Airlines.
We chose Avalon as the cruise line and it was the Avalon Illumination which carried out the trip. Our cabin had a floor to ceiling opening window, which certainly provided watching opportunities to match most glazed hides, but obviously limited to one side only. Mostly used when in harbour overlooking the river, but not when moored against another cruise ship! The top deck had plenty of chairs and tables from which to watch, and even a wheelhouse to shelter behind from the wind, although no protection from rain. There was a lounge just below this with a clear view to the front and sides and a small open area in the bow from which to obtain an unobstructed (scope) view if required.

Wed 5th & Thu 6th October. Arrived after dark on the 5th in Bucharest. Spent the morning on the 6th in Bucharest, picking up the commoner urban species. We arrived on the Danube at Fetesti 1630 on Thursday. Hoodie & Yellow-legged Gulls the best of the day, before we set off for Santu Georgiu in the Delta, as night fell.

Fri 7th Oct We arrived early at Santu Georghiu, passing a White Pelican on the way in. 2 Cattle Egrets flew over the village before the first excursion boats set out at 0830, heading down channel towards the Sinoie complex of lagoons, quickly picking up Squacco, Purple and Night Herons. Also Garganey, Marsh Harrier (the first of many over the next couple of days), another White Pelican, Great White Egrets by the dozen and 2 Caspian Terns. I was fortunate to also go out on the second wave, where we saw Dalmatian Pelican , Pygmy Cormorant, Chiffchaff & Kingfisher.
Unfortunately, the cruise line's idea of a boat trip into the Delta was not that of a bird watcher. There were 7 boats in the first wave, and 4 boats in the second wave for what was a very generalised trip of 2 hours only, with little concentration on birds. The convoys of so many boats flushed birds resting on the lagoons, which made bird-watching quite difficult.

On the way out from Santu Georghiu before heading upstream, the captain reversed the boat up towards the 0 Km mark (close to the point where the Danube entered the Black Sea, and the point from which distances are measured on the Danube), which brought the sandbanks guarding the river entrance into view. Unfortunately the birds guarding the sandbanks were of the commoner varieties. A little while later, sitting at the lunch table, we saw the first White tailed Eagle. Evening transit brought in a Peregrine sitting in a riverside tree, Whiskered Tern, and a Common Sandpiper on a muddy margin. As dusk approached the river passed a few miles of Ukraine on our starboard side, but only species noted there was Grey Heron, while Moldova's tiny river frontage, which passed in a flash, was barren.

Sat 8th Oct. We had arranged to meet Dimiter of Neophron tours at Festesti for a day's birdwatching in the Dobrudja. We started near Vadu at the very southern end of the Danube Delta biosphere reserve. White Wagtails were on the move, swirling off the road as we drove by, with some Corn Buntings, and with the Starlings starting to gather in larger and larger flocks. Gulls resting in the fields gave us the chance to study Mediterranean and Caspian Gulls, while a glimpse of what I thought was a Lesser Black Back may have caused me to miss my first Baltic Gull. Marsh Harriers quartered the marsh incessantly. We latched on to a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by Magpies, presumably a migrant, as a local would perhaps know how to avoid them. A lake near an abandoned factory gave us Gadwall, Little Grebe, 2 Ferruginous Duck, and several Snipe overhead. Further into the marsh we found a ringtail Hen Harrier, Spoonbill, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Avocet, Dunlin, Pintail, Osprey, 2 Red-Footed Falcons and a Wheatear.

As we boarded the ship back at Fetesti, a Whiskered Tern fished among the gulls, and a little way upriver a Black Tern was also fishing.

Day four (Sun 9th Oct) opened with us tied up at Rousse (Bul), where from the cabin window I saw an Osprey flying west from Bulgaria into Romania, harried by a Yellow-Legged Gull. As we left Rousse at lunchtime, we had a Black Stork and a House Martin over the Romanian bank. Sandbanks upstream from Rousse held both Pelicans on both sides of the river, one mini-island holding 26 Dalmatians. A White-tailed Eagle seen soaring over the Bulgarian side chased by a couple of Buzzards. We stopped briefly at Svishtov (Bul) to pick up the coach-trippers, and shortly afterwards picked up Pygmy Cormorant on the Romanian side.

Mon 10th Oct. We cruised overnight, and Day 5 saw us cruising again between Bulgarian & Romanian banks. The first sighting of note the next morning was Pygmy Cormorant on the Bulgarian side, followed a little later by 5 Black Storks. There then came a purple patch on Romanian sandbanks with Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler and Teal resting, before the bird of the day surfaced close to the ship displaying its dove grey neck and hood with black markings - a juvenile Black-throated Diver. Another White-tailed Eagle (juv) grounded on a sandbank, then flew from one country to the other, and a Peregrine came off a bridge at Giurgiu (Rom). A second juvenile Black-throated Diver cruised along the Bulgarian bank among 40 feeding Mute Swans. A juv Little Gull was seen between Giurgiu and Cetate (Rom) while a small flock of Gadwall took flight from a sandbank. Cetate produced a Great Spotted Woodpecker during our wine-tasting there, while just upstream, some 740 Cormorants in large flocks headed south, presumably towards a roost site.

Tue 11th Oct. dawned at Drobetu-Turnu Severin, an industrial town on the Romanian side. Iron Gates Lock 1 lay just upstream, and a Black-headed Gull patrolled the cavernous lock, swooping to pick up food items. When finally through to the upper level it was not long before small groups of Wigeon, Teal and Gadwall were seen on both sides of the ship, while a late Sand Martin hurried past on the Romanian side. The southern part of the Iron Gates transit, while scenic, produced little of ornithological interest. We paused at Donji Milanovac (Serbia) to visit Lepenski Vir, an important early Mesolithic archaeological site, but I recorded nothing of note in drizzly weather.

Wed 12th Oct, spent in Belgrade, urban species only.

Thu 13th Oct. When we opened the cabin curtains we were moored in Vukovar (Croatia). The morning produced Raven, Jay, Common Gull and Black Redstart. The afternoon was spent on deck, watching the Serbian bank on the right, and the Croatian on the left. Not far above Vukovar, we passed close to small flocks of gulls, where I was able to pick out Baltic Gull and Caspian Gull, and a Booted Eagle, Buzzard and Great White Egrets flew across the river. From the Croatian bank came quite a large dark bird heading towards the ship. It turned 180 degrees to the right, and it was then I identified it as a Black Woodpecker. It entered a grove of poplars and I caught a glimpse of its left profile as it grasped a tree trunk. A little later I saw 2 White-tailed Eagles soaring over Croatia (one adult, one juv.) which drifted across the Danube into Serbia.
Today was somewhat of a disappointment, as I had arranged for us to visit Kopacki Rit, a well-known nature reserve in Croatia. The ship was supposed to leave Vukovar after the coach excursions had left, and pick them up later at Batina, up near the Hungarian border, which would have given us plenty of time to transit to the reserve by taxi, undertake a guided boat trip, and take the taxi up to meet the ship. In the event the excursions were curtailed, apparently due to low water, the ship left Vukovar at lunchtime, and did not stop at Batina, although as we passed there didn't seem to be any reason why we could not have stopped. So I had to cancel.
Later still, in the hours approaching dusk, I counted 62 Grey Herons on one sandbank island on the Croatian side, from where three Jays flew across to Serbia. A Mediterranean Gull was identified, and then, in quick succession, were 1 and then 2 White-tailed Eagles perched high in riverside trees, one of which was being harried by a Raven. Final bird before dusk fell was a Great Crested Grebe flying across the river.

Fri 14th Oct. Cruising between Hungarian banks heading north to Budapest I recorded Great White Egret, 2 Teal, 12 Tufted Duck, a Jay and a Sparrowhawk which flew across the river.

Sat 15th Oct. Set off from Budapest, heading to Esztergom, where we were going to pick up the excursioneers. As we sailed past the suburbs I noted Great crested Grebe, a male and 3 redhead Goosanders, a Gadwall and 40 Tufted. We came abreast of Szentendre Island, where the opposite bank had a Black Redstart in the village of Gyartelep. A total of 41 more Goosander were seen on this stretch, a White-tailed Sea Eagle, the ninth of the trip, Sparrowhawk and Great White Egret. The northern end of the island held 3 Little Grebes where the backwater channel joined the main river, and opposite Visegrad I identified a Caspian Gull. As daylight started to fade, we passed a stretch with several shallow V-shaped weirs in pairs on each side of the river, one of which, on the west bank, held a lone Bean Goose, and we arrived at Esztergom in the dusk.

Sun 16th Oct. Spent the morning in Bratislava (Slovakia), where common urban types were recorded, plus a Kestrel and a Black Redstart. The coach journey up to Vienna produced nothing startling.

Mon 17th Oct. I saw 2-3 Black Redstarts using an external aircraft exhibit as a feeding place at the Austrian Military Museum (I wanted to see the car in which Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo, which assassination triggered the Great War).

Tue 18th Oct. Only a Kestrel to report at Schwecat Airport.

The timing of the cruise I am sure affected the quality of the birding. It was right at the tail end of the autumn migration season, and right at the start of the winter season, thus it was pretty quiet all over, except for the Delta. We travelled over 2100 kilometres down and then up the Danube, the majority of which was during the night. Very often the overnight transit would take us past various conservation areas (e.g Persina Nature Park west of Svishtov, Duna/Drava National Park just north of the Croatian/Hungarian border, etc.), so no doubt I missed some prime birding sites alongside the Danube. Sometimes the banks of the river, the majority of the time covered in plantations of poplar and plane trees, seemed devoid of all life except fishermen. Other times birds were in evidence, but they were mainly Mallard, Black-headed Gulls, Yellow-legged Gulls, Hooded Crows and Cormorants. The four-hour stint between Kozloduy and Vadin turned up some good birds, including the two Black-throated divers. The Hungarian stretch between Budapest and Esztergom (5½ hours) produced 44 Goosander and a Bean Goose. But it was slow going

So, as a birdwatching opportunity, was it worth it? On its own it would not have been, but as an adjunct to the birthday trip, with the opportunity to see 4 capitals we had not seen before, I think it was. Romania was obviously the main country in which I was able to bird, either in the Delta, or from the ship, resulting in a total of 84 species. I achieved an overall trip total of 97 species.
Highlights for me were the 2 Black-throated Divers on the river, the nine White-tailed Eagle sightings, the Baltic Gull (my first) and the U-turning Black Woodpecker (only my 3rd ever).

Danube Cruise Trip List

Tundra Bean-Goose H
Greylag Goose R
Mute Swan R,H,B,Se,C, Sl,A
Common Shelduck R,B
Gadwall R,B,H
Eurasian Wigeon R,Se
Mallard R,H,B,Se,C, Sl,A
Northern Shoveler R,B
Northern Pintail R
Garganey R
Green-winged Teal R,B,Se,H
Ferruginous Pochard R
Tufted Duck H
Goosander H
Ring-necked Pheasant R
Black-throated Diver R, B
Little Grebe ruficollis R,H
Great Crested Grebe R,B,Se,C,H
Great White Pelican R,B
Dalmatian Pelican R,B
Great Cormorant R,B,Se,C,H,Sl, A
Pygmy Cormorant R,B,Se,C
Grey Heron R,B,Se,C,H, & Ukraine
Purple Heron R
Great Egret R,H,B,Se,C
Little Egret R
Cattle Egret R
Squacco Heron R
Black-crowned Night-Heron R
Eurasian Spoonbill R
Black Stork R,B
Osprey R,B
Black Kite R
White-tailed Eagle R,B,Se,C,H
Western Marsh-Harrier R
Northern Harrier R
Eurasian Sparrowhawk R,B
Eurasian Buzzard R,B,Se,C, A
Rough-legged Hawk R
Booted Eagle Se,C
Eurasian Kestrel R,H,Sl,A
Red-footed Falcon R
Peregrine R
Eurasian Coot R
Northern Lapwing R,Se,H
Pied Avocet R
Common Sandpiper R
Spotted Redshank R
Common Greenshank R
Common Redshank R
Eurasian Curlew R
Black-tailed Godwit R
Dunlin R
Common Snipe R
Black-headed Gull R,B,Se,C,H,Sl,A
Little Gull R
Mediterranean Gull R,C
Mew Gull C,H
Herring Gull R
Yellow-legged Gull R,B,Se,C,H,Sl,A
Caspian Gull R,Se,C,H
Lesser Black-backed Gull fuscus Se,C
Caspian Tern R
Black Tern R
Whiskered Tern R
Common Tern R
Rock Pigeon R,B,Se,C,H,Sl,A
Common Wood-Pigeon R,H,Se,C
Eurasian Collared-Dove R,H
Common Kingfisher R
Great Spotted Woodpecker R
Black Woodpecker C
Eurasian Jay Se,C,H
Eurasian Magpie R,C,H,Sl
Eurasian Jackdaw R,B,Se,Sl
Rook R,B,Se,C,H,
Carrion Crow Sl
Hooded Crow R,B,Se,C,H,Sl, A
Common Raven R,Se,C,H, A
Eurasian Skylark R
Bank Swallow R
Barn Swallow R,B,C
House Martin R
Great Tit H
Eurasian Blue Tit H
Eurasian Reed-Warbler R
Common Chiffchaff R
Black Redstart C,H,Sl,A
Northern Wheatear R
Eurasian Blackbird R,Sl
Mistle Thrush R
European Starling R,B.Se,C,H,A
White Wagtail R,B.Se,C,H
Corn Bunting R
Chaffinch B,C,Se,Sl
House Sparrow R,B,Se,C
Eurasian Tree Sparrow R

R=Romania, B=Bulgaria, Se=Serbia, C=Croatia, H=Hungary, Sl=Slovakia, A=Austria
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Sounds pretty good as a combination birds and culture trip - Black woodpecker from the ship the standout for me.

Cheers
Mike
 

pratincol

Well-known member
Very interesting.
Often thought about a river cruise as we have done a lot of ocean and sea cruising.
How did the dining arrangements work.We are unsociable so we always get a table for two on the cruise ships.
I have wondered about the noise insulation in the cabins too-is it any good?Again,generally on the cruise ships it isn't too bad in most cases.
 
Last edited:

Blackduck

Well-known member
Hi
I believe 164 was the full complement of passengers, and we sailed with 139. So there were spaces available. Most of the time we sat by ourselves on a table for four, mainly due to my antisocial outlook on life! I never counted the empty seats, so don't know whether there would have been some even if the ship was full. Noise insulation good - I was advised to opt for a cabin away from the rear of the ship, which is where the engine room is. We weren't bothered by noise, just a little vibration. We have done two ocean and one river, and I guess you could say we could take them or leave them. Still got Spitsbergen and the Panama Canal on my list though.
 

pratincol

Well-known member
Hi
I believe 164 was the full complement of passengers, and we sailed with 139. So there were spaces available. Most of the time we sat by ourselves on a table for four, mainly due to my antisocial outlook on life! I never counted the empty seats, so don't know whether there would have been some even if the ship was full. Noise insulation good - I was advised to opt for a cabin away from the rear of the ship, which is where the engine room is. We weren't bothered by noise, just a little vibration. We have done two ocean and one river, and I guess you could say we could take them or leave them. Still got Spitsbergen and the Panama Canal on my list though.
Thanks- very helpful.
The dining arrangements sound a bit hit and miss. I'm a bit worried the ship might be full and we would have to share a table!Sounds like you struck lucky though.
We have just been on the Oriana and their freedom dining was a triumph.Not only could you eat almost when you wanted but we got a table for two every meal.breakfast,lunch and dinner.So good in fact we booked a longer cruise next year.
Its adult only so the atmosphere was very calm.What not to like?
We have been to Spitsbergen.If you can try and get at least two days there.
It was wonderful for birds.
Even better- any Faroes/Iceland/Greenland cruise or the same without Greenland.I see Fred Olsen are doing those sort of cruises next year.This was the best ever for birds and whales as we were never far from land most days.Some ships might go to Spitzbergen,Iceland and Greenland.
 
Last edited:

pratincol

Well-known member
Very interesting report!

Chris
Agreed!
I notice the author couldn't find any bird reports based on this trip.
Not unusual for sea cruising as well.
When we go on sea cruises there are few if no birdwatchers on board.Sometimes I'm the only one out on deck if the weather is not brilliant.Everyone else is inside in the bar , in the buffet or partaking in on board entertainments.Some of my most memorable birdwatching days have been seawatching on board or finding some great birds when we are in port.
I have often fancied a Danube cruise.We might give a river cruise a go one day.
 
Last edited:

Blackduck

Well-known member
Thanks for your responses. I wrote an article for a local bird periodical once on birds seen from ferries - bit of a cheat really, as I spent 3 years in Shetland, and the inter-island ferries threw up a lot of sightings.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top