The Danube has been and still is one of Romania’s natural gems. Although it cannot be said it is the largest river on the continent, you should remember Napoleon called Danube „The King of Europe’s rivers”. Danube has a length of 2,860 km, covered from its springs in the Black Forest Mountains in Germany till the Black Sea. It gathers its over 300 tributaries from a surface of 805,300 sq. km, that is 8% of Europe’s total surface and flows into the Black Sea through a Delta that bears its name.
The Danube Delta
The Danube Delta is an exotic place, hosting more than 1,200 species of trees and plants, 300 species of birds – with unique pelicans’ colonies, 150 fish species, such as the Danube herring and the sturgeon. Out of a total surface of 5,640 sq. km, over 4,340 sq. km belong to Romanian territory. The Delta is an alluvial plane in formation, a land where life is always revived from the beginning in a fantastic interaction between the Danube and the sea. Before flowing into the Black Sea the river has three important branches: Chilia, Sulina and Sfantu Gheorghe, each of them having a maze of large and small lakes, channels, dunes and sand banks, swamps, reeds and groups of willows. An expedition to the Danube Delta means discovering the Letea Grind with its so strange wood, well-known for asymmetrically-shaped trees. It also means discovering the „Birds’ Heaven” – that is the natural parks and the birds’ colonies, such as: Petrisor-Zatone, Uzlina-Crisan, Golbovita and Sahalin Island.
The Danube Delta shelters over 3,400 species of vertebrates and invertebrates, many of them unique in Europe or even in the world.
Birds The bird population of the Delta comprises more than 300 species, 70 of which extra-European. Five main types are registered: a. Mediterranean – heron, glossy ibis, small cormorants, bald eagle, stilt, avocet, tadoma, pelican. b. European – singing birds: reed nightingale, bunting, boicus, sea swallow, seagull, sea eagle, whitetail eagle. c. Siberian – trumpeter swan, plover, common loon, small snipe, crane. d. Mongolian – bald eagle, Danube falcon. e. Chinese – egret, mute swan, big cormorant, mandarin duck. The Danube Delta is „a birds’ paradise”; the meeting place for migratory birds coming from Egypt as well as those coming from Caucasus.
Mammals Among the mammals of the ecosystem the Delta Danube houses: otters, minks, little ermines, wild boars, wild cats, vixen with black belly and during winter time, hares. Recently has emigrated and easily adapted the enot dog. More and more rarely, appear wolfs and vixen. A recent and appreciable spreading has the pheasant.
Fishes 150 species of fishes are known to be living in the Danube Delta. In its branches, common presence are the sterlet, the great bleak, the beluga, the Black Sea sturgeon, the sevruga, the mackerel, carp, the sheat fish, the zander, the pike, the barbel and the rapacious carp. The still water is home for crucian, perch and bream, while the low salinity water is populated by various species from perch and pike to grey mullet and flounder, depending on the salinity degree. The sea sector shelters mostly Acipenserides (beluga, common sturgeon) and Clupeidae (Danube mackerel). Delta’s fame is its sturgeons – beluga, common sturgeon, sevruga, sterlet, grey mullets – in four species of the Mugil genus and the mackerels.
Reptile Sand land is home to the tortoises, vipers and snake colonies.
Danube Delta’s flora comprises a variety of plants. Let’s just say the flora in this area is more complex and interesting, scientifically speaking, than anywhere else in the world. Visiting the Danube Delta, you will see plants with floating leaves – white water lily (Castalia alba), yellow water lily (Nuphar luteum), frogbit (Hydrocharis morsusrane), water caltrop (Trapa natans), pondweed (Potamogeton natans), rizac (Stratiotes aloides) or riparian and floating reed islet plants – reeeds ( Phragmites and Typha), water fern (Nephrodium thelypteris), sorrel (Rumex hidrolapatum), „Forget-me-not” (Myositis palustris), brook mint (mentha aquatica), water hemlock (Cicuta virosa). There are also land plants – white willow (Salix alba), poplar (Populus), alder (Alnus), ash tree (Fraxinus), mixed woods on the banks. And while you are enjoying your trip, don’t miss to notice the trees variety: oaks, Quercus robur, Quercus pedunculiflora, Fraxinus angustifolia, Fraxinus Pallisae, Ulmus foliacea, Populus alba, Populus canescens, Populus tremul, Shrubs – Prunus spinosa, Cartaegus, Rosa canina, Berberis vulgaris, Ligustrum vulgare, Hyppophae rhamnoides, Tamarix gallica; and the climbing plants: Vitis silvestris, Hedera helix, Humulus lupulus and the most interesting: liana, with a 25 m length in Periploca Graeca.
While you are in the Danube Delta I think you should consider as well its natural reservations.
Natural Monuments Woods
Tall trees, mostly willows and poplars grow on Delta’s land. But Delta offers you rare species easy to find on natural reservations.
Letea Wood is the most popular among tourists. Situated 7 km South of the Periprava commune (Chilia branch), it grew on the bank with the same name. I have heard you can find there Mediterranean creepers: white oaks (centuries-old, over 25 m tall), gârnita (a species of oak with scaly bark), elms, alders, white and black poplars, willow, fluffy ash tree (a botanical rarity). Letea is home for white-tailed vultures, snakes or vipers.
Another attraction for tourists is Caraorman Wood situated in the Western part of the bank with the same name – somewhere between Sulina and Sfantu Gheorghe branches. Flora and fauna are pretty much the same as in Letea Wood.
Erenciuc is the only natural alder wood in the Delta, located in Southern part of the lake with the same name. It is said to be „where the white-tailed vulture nests are”.
UNESCO Danube Delta. A Biosphere Reservation
In 1990 Romania’s Government declared the whole Danube Delta a BIOSPHERE RESERVATION.
Strictly protected areas were established with an area of 50,000 hectares.
Rosca – Buhaiova – Letea, extends with an area of 12,000 hectares in the Matita depression, in the Northern part of the Big M (Sulina branch). The lakes Rosca, Merhei and a combination of ponds, reed marshes and floating islets house pelicans, egrets, herons, glossy ibises and spoonbills colonies.
Sacalin – Zatoane stretches South of the Sfantu Gheorghe commune (over 21,000 hectares cover the littoral). It is a succession of banks with isolated lakes, marshy areas, rivers and low salinity waters, sand-clogged ponds, reeds, traversed by parallel dunes. The Zatoane lakes, in particular, are places of transit, stopover and hatching for mute swans, white, red and yellow herons, cormorants, composite colonies including pelicans.
Periteasca – Bisericuta – Gura Portitei extends to the South of the above-mentioned reservation (over 4,000 hectares). It distinguishes itself by dry banks washed by the sea or by the Razim lake. The reservation houses especially shore birds used to high salinity. It also serves as a stop for transiting birds.
Besides the above-mentioned ones, there are also other reservations: Raducu (2.500 ha), Nebunu (115 ha), Rotundu (228 ha), Potcoava (652 ha), Vatafu-Lunguletu (1.625 ha), Caraorman (2.250 ha), Saraturi-Murighiol (87 ha), Erenciuc (50 ha), Belciug (110 ha), Popina (98 ha), Capul Dolosman (125 ha), The banks of Lupilor (2.075 ha), Chituc (2.300 ha) and Istria-Sinoie (400 ha).
According to the above-mentioned protection law, any trip to the zone requires an approval from the Administration of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve (RBDD).
Due to its specific character and to the variety of its ecosystems (more than 25 natural ecosystems) the Danube Delta has drawn the attention of international specialized institutions. In 1990 Danube Delta has been included in the UNESCO Program as a „Biosphere reservation”.
A journey to the Danube Delta offers you the possibility of tasting the specific traditional food which is of course sea food: fish borsch, spitted fish, brine pickle of fish with garlic dressing, fish meat balls, etc. As wine goes well with fish you can try the wines in the region because they are excellent. At Niculitel Vineyard you can even taste white wines of Aligote and Muscat-Otonel types or red wine of Merlot type.
Celic – Dere Monastery – 29 km from Tulcea, built in 1838
Cocos Monastery – 38 km from Tulcea, built in 1838
Niculitel tombs – dated XIVth Century B.C.
Greci – 11 km from Macin. It is famous for the stone polishers of Italian origin. From here you can climb up towards Tutuiatul Peak – 467 m high. On cloudless days, you can see from up there the Danube river and even the Black Sea.
Histria fortress – 95 km from Constanta. It dates back to the VIIth Century B.C.
Take my advice: Don’t try to spend the night outdoors, especially in May and June, when mosquitoes are at their busiest time. Don’t drink Danube’s water ! If you have no choice, then decant and boil it. Don’t venture on brooks and branches, unless someone who knows the places well escorts you.