Pelicans are not generally the type of bird that one associates with Europe. In fact, these large birds spend a lot of their time in Africa. Like many birds however they are migratory, spending several months outside of Africa. Bird migration something that was not understood for most of human history. Some ancient thinkers believed that birds turned to water or simply disappeared in winter, only to reappear in spring. One of the more interesting discoveries made about bird migration was in the 19th century when a keen bird watcher found a giant, migratory stork in Germany that had been unsuccessfully hunted in East Africa. The bird had managed to migrant all that way with a Masai spear stuck in its body.
While it was a mystery for thousands of years where birds go in winter (from a European perspective of course), we now know some of the answers to that question and one of them in the delta of the Danube River.
The Danube River flows through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania—and also touches Ukraine—before emptying into the Black Sea. Like all rivers, once it nears its end it spreads out into countless and ever-changing streams forming a delta.
Birds that many Europeans might consider exotic, such as pelicans, come to every year to spend the summer months. With temperatures capable of reaching 40 degrees centigrade the climate isn’t too different from where a lot of the birds spend the rest of the year.
Although there are numerous tours one can take on larger motorised boats—and they are worth it to get a feel for the place—the best way to explore the delta in my opinion is my kayak or canoe. If you’re familiar with river boating you might be picturing something that isn’t quite right. While the Danube is a river like any other, the delta—again like any other—is more swamp than river or stream. Its channels and streams spread out across scores of kilometres, making it a place where one can easily spend a couple of weeks. For boaters and birdwatchers it’s the ideal place to visit.
The easiest way to reach the delta is by flying into Romania’s capital Bucharest and travelling by car, bus or train to the delta. Once there, there are plenty of outfitters able to provide hire equippment.