Eastern Europe: Wildlife Destinations
Wildlife Highlights of Eastern Europe
1. Smallest of the Baltic States, Estonia’s wetlands, forests, coastal inlets and islands are some of Europe’s top birdwatching locations – particularly during the spring migration when Matsalu Bay becomes a stopover for thousands of ducks, geese, swans, waders and cranes
en route to their Arctic breeding grounds.
2. A refuge for European bison, wolf and lynx, Poland’s Bialowieza Forest protects the largest remaining fragment of the continent’s original ‘wildwood’. A mixed forest of oak, spruce, lime, hornbeam and alder, this World Heritage Site is also home to red deer, wild boar and no less than eight species of woodpecker – black, great-spotted, green, grey-headed, lesser-spotted, middle-spotted, three-toed and white-backed.
3. The steppes of Hortobágy National Park, Hungary, host 50,000 common cranes each October as they make their way south to wintering grounds in North Africa. The grasslands also support great bustard and imperial eagle.
4. Arguably Europe’s finest wildlife destination, Romania’s natural highlights include the Black Sea coast (a migratory flyway between Eurasia and Africa), the Danube Delta and Carpathian Mountains.
5. Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains are a favourite for birdwatchers in search of eagles and vultures.
6. Croatia’s national parks include Plitvice Lakes, Paklenica and Krka.
Carpathian Mountains' star species: Brown bear • Wolf • Lynx • Golden eagle • Woodpeckers
The Carpathians of Romania are a stronghold for the European brown bear. As many as 6,000 of these impressive mammals inhabit the mountain’s forested slopes, along with perhaps half as many wolves and a much smaller population of lynx. Mountain villages like Zarnesti and Magura make ideal bases for exploring Piatra Craiului National Park where local guides can help you track all three species by identifying their prints, spoor and other signs such as territorial scratch marks. At dusk, special hides provide your best chances of seeing bears. Other wildlife in the Carpathian forests includes wild boar and red deer. Zarnesti Gorge is a good spot for chamois, wallcreeper, orchids and butterflies.
Getting there Zarnesti is 30km from the town of Brasoz and can be reached by bus, train or private vehicle.
Getting around Access to Piatra Craiului is often by traditional horse-drawn cart; hiking trails probe the national park itself.
When to go The main wolf-tracking season begins in February; bear watching starts in May when the animals emerge from hibernation.
Visitor centre Located just outside Zarnesti.
Things to do Hiking, wolf tracking, bear watching from hides, horse riding, meet local shepherds.
Places to stay Elena Guesthouse, Zarnesti (pensiuneaelena.ro) is a 16-room, family-run pension that works closely with the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project.
Further information pcrai.ro/lang-en/home
Danube Delta's' star species: Dalmatian pelican • Cormorant • Marsh tern • White-tailed eagle
A wetland paradise for over 300 species of birds, the Danube Delta oozes across 2,200 sq km of rivers, lakes, reedbeds, flooded islets and riverine forest. It’s a key nesting site for cormorant, pygmy cormorant, white pelican and Dalmatian pelican. Herons also breed in huge, mixed colonies, while other notable species include marsh tern, glossy ibis, white-tailed eagle and almost the entire world population of overwintering red-breasted geese.
Getting there Tulcea is the main gateway to the Danube Delta.
Getting around Travel through the delta on a river cruise or base yourself in local guesthouses, taking day trips by boat; some of the larger islands can be explored on foot.
When to go The best birdwatching is from April to late October.
Things to do River cruises, boat trips, birdwatching.
Places to stay Ibis Tours operates a floating hotel sleeping 20 people for delta cruises lasting up to 10 days.
Further information romaniatourism.com
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wildlife travel essentials: Eastern Europe
WHEN TO GO
Expect climate conditions ranging from Mediterranean to alpine.
GMT+1 (Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia), GMT+2 (Estonia, Romania).
WHERE TO STAY
A wide range of accommodation options is available, from B&B guesthouses to Danube Delta riverboats.