Birding in the city of Bucharest – Vacaresti wetland

Whiskered Tern feeding young with fishIn the South-Western corner of the capital of Romania, near and alongside the Dâmboviţa River, one of the nature jewels of Bucharest can be found. Park the car on the sidewalk and quickly you can see the first Whiskered Tern already, which fly croaking from the river and disappear behind you. Often the bird is carrying a small fish in its beak. Parallel to the city road there is a high dam which does not seem to promise too much. But then – if you stand on the dam – you will see a wide swampy landscape with only a few scattered willows. Otherwise, a lot of open water and almost no people. This is surprising, because right next door some pretty looking apartment buildings had been built in the last years. This is Vacaresti!
Soon you will hear the first Great Reed Warbler. A real bonus bird is the abundant Eurasian Golden Oriole. The Orioles you can hear all the time when you are walking on one of the paths that cross through the area. The paths – mainly trampled by anglers – pass the many ponds very closely. Thus keep a little distance, so the birds will not flush before you see them. If you keep quiet, you will see many birds – especially waders, ducks and herons. Last time, I had a female Common Pochard, right in the first pond. Whiskered Terns breed in the area and can be seen – as documented in the Gallery (here) – very closely feeding the youngsters.
The Vacaresti area was a development project of the ancient communist regime. Actually, planned as reservoir (flood protection and urban recreation area), this plan was abandoned after 1989 and the Vacaresti lake was created in its present form. Today, after more than 20 years, the area is a very interesting case of a natural ecological succession in an urban area. The area is approximately 155 hetares and is now home to a self-sustaining ecosystem with grasslands, lakes, temporary pools, puddles and partly an extensive reed beds. The area is home to many species of plants and animals and some of them are nor very common species. A team of botanists of the Botanical Garden Bucharest has identified two major plant communities: the Danube (Danubian) community and a community of settlement areas (anthropic community). Me, Cristian Mihai, have intensively studied the area visiting it many times in roughly 4 years (between 2007-2011) and identified more than 90 species of birds in Vacaresti area. This is about 25% of the Romanian bird species. Are included even birds with a special protection status. As there would be mentioned: Corncrake (Crex crex), Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus), Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca), Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus).
A moth with the beautiful name Geometrician (the surveyor), Prodotis stolida, was shot with the camera in Vacaresti and published in a monograph on Swedish butterflies and moths. Also the amphibian / reptile fauna is well developed. Thus, the following species occur: Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus), Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus or Rana ridibunda), European Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina Bombina), European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis), Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis), Sand Lizard ( Lacerta agilis) and the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix).
The next goal of naturalist, ornithologist and friends of the area is to achieve protection status for this area. Perhaps as a nature park. There are some similar natural parks in urban areas, but for Romania, this would be the first.
Bucharest Otopeni Airport (FRA) is the gateway to Romania. Many airlines use the Airport. If you have spare time between two business meetings and you are a birdwatcher, you might be interested to know, where you can find good places to stretch your legs and enjoy birding for typical and non-typical european birds. One of these sites is the urban area described above. This is a sites within the city limits of Bucharest which is quite accessible using the excellent public train and bus service – but you can take the taxi, too of course.
There are other places in nearer surroundings but access is a bit tricky. Please contact via the contact form , so I can give further directions or even guide you

8 thoughts on “Birding in the city of Bucharest – Vacaresti wetland”

  1. In fact they, I mean Romanian authorities, just want to still these land from real owners and came up with this new mambo jambo story.In the last 23 years they tried in many ways to still these land, which is their way of making money.
    THAT THE WAY ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES RESPECT THE LAW AND FUNNY IS THAT THEY DO HOPE THAT WE WILL LET THEM.

  2. I am visiting Bucharest this weekend (April 30 to May 4 2014. Please can you advise which is the best access point currently to this site. Many thanks. Jonathan

  3. This is a fantastic and surreal place to visit. An awesomely large wetland surrounded by the urban sprawl of Bucharest.
    I visited in early May 2014 and I could only stay for an hour as time was limited, due to extremely wet weather conditions (large downpours and huge hail stones).
    It was alive with birds, most obviously marsh terns busy catching fish in the various pools and the adjacent river to feed to their broods. I think there were both black terns and white winged black terns present.
    The reedbeds were buzzing with warblers, including great reed. And it was great to see several cuckoos around the site.
    Cattle egrets were present in good numbers as were several kestrels and a peregrine was also observed, no doubt nesting on one of the nearby blocks.
    A party of four whinchats were delightful. I only saw mallard ducks, but there were probably other species.
    I got the impression that there is a danger that the site could be getting shrubbed and converting to woodland in a larger proportion of the site. Let’s hope that there is some management to retain the wetland.
    On a bank holiday weekend, the site had a few visitors, a few fishermen, a party of students enjoying the green space and a wedding party using it for photographing their happy day.
    I saw no evidence of the type of outdoor use that sometimes destroys such habitat, such as youngsters on scramble bikes, quads etc. Perhaps the high dam walls prevents this type of access.
    I found that access from the north east corner of the site easy. It was from a ‘nice’ neighbourhood of modern apartments. I would have been more wary of entering from certain other locations.
    I hope to return again and spend a full day there.

  4. Hi Cristian,
    I will be in Bucharest in April and it would be great to have a guide to take me there, as well as any other good birding/nature spots in or near the city. Please email me if you might be able to do this.

  5. I will be in the city until Thursday 9th June. The wetlands sound interesting. Can you tell me more precisely where they are and how I can get close by public transport?

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