Bucharest Birding: Chilling Out With The Pygmy Cormorants
There can't be many European capital cities in which a “Globally Threatened” bird species occurs, but that is the case with BucharestA. The bird in question is the Pygmy Cormorant that not only occurs but is almost guaranteed in Romania's capital in winter. And there is even better news — they seem to be increasing in number every year, turning up on most unfrozen urban wetlands from October through to March.
Fairly reliable places in Bucharest to see Europe's smallest and rarest cormorant are the Parcul Carol (Carol Park), Parcul Titan (Titan Park), Parcul Plumbuita (Plumbuita Park) and the man-made lakes of Herastrau and Floreasca along the River Colentina in the north of the city near the Village Museum. In the heart of winter from December to February, the cormorants like to sit in lakeside trees at these sites. Common Teal, Wigeon, Grey Heron, Great White Egret and Yellow-legged Gull are other wintering wetland birds, whilst a search of the conifers in the parkland at Herastrau can turn up roosting Long-eared Owls. Syrian and Green Woodpeckers are resident and after winter, in passage periods, waders such as Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Common Redshank and Common Snipe drop in.
If you find yourself in Bucharest in spring or summer you probably won't be able to chill out with the Pygmy's (and be warned that it can get really cold in Romania in winter) but there will be many other urban birding delights in store. I have actually seen Ferruginous Duck, Little Egret, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Wryneck, Green, Great Spotted and Syrian Woodpeckers, Spotted and Collared Flycatchers, Golden Oriole, Common Nightingale, Red-backed Shrike, Crested Lark, Icterine Warbler, Tree Sparrow and Hawfinch all within the city limits of Bucharest.
Many of these birds occur in the Botanical Gardens (Gradina Botanica) along with resident Grey-headed Woodpeckers and in summer Scops Owls. Parcul Tineretului (Tineretului Park) is home to several of the woodpeckers and in summer Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike and Hoopoe. Parcul Plumbuita and Gradina Cismigiu (the latter opposite the Mayor's office off Boulevard Regina Elisabeta) are other good urban parks with the usual suspects breeding.
Local birders tell me that Hobby is often seen hawking over the Parcul Herastrau and I once saw a superb male Levant Sparrowhawk over this same parkland though I am not sure if this a regular site or not. Parcul Herastrau is in the north of the city and best approached from Boulevard Aviatorilor to the south.
Now all this is capital birding by any standards but just a short way out of Bucharest and there is even more. Nesting White Storks, Marsh Harrier, Turtle Dove and Lesser Grey Shrike, amongst others, all come into play. Padurea Baneasa (Baneasa Forest) lies roughly half-way between the airport and the city centre and has breeding Hobby, Common Buzzard, Grey-headed and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Golden Oriole. Just east of Bucharest is Padurea si Lacul Cernica (Cernica Lake and Forest) which has these same birds plus Black Woodpecker. To find this site head in the direction of the monastery that shares the same name. In passage periods, particularly August and September, flocks of White Storks pass this way and raptors such as Honey Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle and a few Levant Sparrowhawks move through. Be warned however that on at weekends and on public holidays with fine weather some of these places see an influx of folks from the city that like to play loud music whilst tending their smoky sausage barbecues!
Gerard is author of Birding in Eastern Europe (Wildsounds) and Central & Eastern European Wildlife (Bradt). Check out his website and blogs:
Pygmy Cormorant (J. Burton)
Hoopoe (S. Daly)
Syrian Woodpecker (J. Burton)
White Stork (R. Tuff)
Grey Heron (A. Cook)