bears, bats and wallcreepers in the home of Count Dracula




For more pictures from our visit to Transylvania go to the foot of this page.


More than a decade ago, Phil was asked to assist with collecting DNA from European Nightjars in Transylvania. Taking blood from a creature in the land of Vlad the Impaler seemed rather appropriate! While there, he fell in love with this unspoilt region, that was largely passed over by the changes of the twentieth century.


Local villagers of Saxon and Hungarian descent showed him their traditional way of life. They also showed him more Wallcreepers in one day than he had seen in his life, so he vowed to return. In 2005 and 2007,  he visited Hungary  and  Transylvania  to lay the foundation for this special tour.


Ancient villages and Saxon churches nestle amongst forests, precipitous limestone gorges and high alpine meadows that are retained through medieval management regimes. We will avoid the stark grey hotels of the communist era and stay in small villages, with one night actually in cottages listed as a World Heritage site. We will also linger long enough at Dracula’s castle to see it as the sun sets!


With a population of roughly 3,000 European Brown Bears, the region offers a great chance to see mainland Europe’s largest carnivore. We have teamed up with the organisers of the WWF’s Large Carnivore Project to ensure that we have an excellent chance of seeing them.


In this timeless part of Eastern Europe we target bird species that are rarely seen on our other European tours. Barred, River, Moustached and Marsh Warblers are all highly prized, and we have special permission to visit Hungary’s Aquatic Warbler breeding site to see them singing. This is the rarest and most threatened of Europe’s migratory passerines. Wonderful mountain forests echo with the songs of Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers while containing healthy populations of Capercaillie, Ural Owl, Nutcracker and Three-toed Woodpecker. The spectacular Bicaz Gorge offers one of the most reliable chances to see Wallcreeper in Europe and finally the Hungarian Puzsta is a great area for Saker Falcon, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Pygmy Cormorant, among many wetland species.





We will arrive in Bucharest and drive to our guest house nestled in a small valley near Zărnesti. We will spend three nights here, with Wryneck and Black Redstart in the garden. Our first day will see us walking through the beautiful Cheile Zarnestilor (Zărnesti Gorge) below the snow-capped peak of Piatra Crăiului and exploring the surrounding meadows. We will acquaint ourselves with returning migrants like Red-backed or Lesser Grey Shrike, while Lesser Spotted Eagles hunt over the meadows.


Wolves and Lynx patrol the area but are only seen with luck. However, in the company of WWF project organisers, we will enter private meadows and woodland that lead to a purpose built and comfortable bear hide where the animals regularly appear in the early evening.


As many as nine bears can visit as they have recently emerged from hibernation and need to feed throughout the day. This promises to be one of the highlights of the trip. On our recce we also found Ural Owl quartering the nearby meadows.

On the third day, we ascend the mountains in the Bucegi Natural Park. We will visit meadows and woods where Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit and the Alpine race of Ring Ouzel breed. The forests hold Nutcracker, Black and White-backed Woodpeckers, and Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers.


In the afternoon, we will visit Bran, one of thirty castles from which Vlad Tepes defended Transylvania from the invading Turks. Impaling his enemies, he was the Romanian hero that Bram Stoker turned into Count Dracula. We will have the opportunity to accompany scientists to see some roosting bats to complete the experience!


On day four we will transfer to our base in a small Szeckler village near Harghita Mountain. On the way, we will travel through villages where the horse and cart is as popular as a family car. We will explore ancient beech forests for Grey-headed Woodpecker. Ural Owl may be hunting in the daylight. Lesser and Northern Grey Shrike breed close by.



We will spend two mornings in forests below Harghita Mountain where Capercaillies are numerous. An early start will give us a chance to see these big grouse. The woods contain Nutcracker, Crested Tit, Firecrest, Hazel Grouse, Three-toed Woodpecker, and Pygmy, Tengmalm’s and Ural Owls. The forest manager will have been monitoring these birds all winter, maximising our birding opportunities. Above the tree line, Water Pipit, Ring Ouzel and Wheatear breed, while non-bird highlights may include Camberwell Beauty and Alpine Newt.


One afternoon we will travel to Bicaz Gorge. This spectacular site has a very good population of Wallcreepers. On another afternoon, we will visit Sậnpaul Fishponds where Ferruginous Duck, Garganey, Purple Heron and Whiskered Tern feed. Wetlands always produce numerous species and here this can include Spoonbill, Savi’s and Great Reed Warbler.


On day seven we will travel to Torockó breaking our journey in Sighişoara, the ancient fortified Saxon capital of Transylvania. We will allow time to explore the beautiful narrow cobbled streets and walled city before continuing on to Torockó.



Torockó is an old Hungarian village listed by UNESCO for its fine old buildings. We have arranged to stay in some renovated cottages here providing the opportunity to experience the beautiful interior of a traditional Transylvanian house and become peasants for one night in complete comfort. The village itself has Dippers by the watermill, Black Redstarts on the roofs, Corncrake, Common Buzzard and Golden Oriole in surrounding meadows as well as Scops Owl calling at night.


The following morning, we will visit Turda Gorge where Golden Eagle nests. Alpine Swifts will be flying above us and Rock Thrushes should have begun their wonderful display flight. The thorn bushes here hold singing Barred Warblers. For those who have never seen an adult complete with a barred belly, this is a delightful in store. Later, we continue our journey across the border into Hungary.



Our final stay will be at the famous flat plains of the Hortobágy in Hungary. Here we will target the rarest migratory passerine in Europe, the Aquatic Warbler. The European population is concentrated in just a few sites that are either inaccessible or specially protected. Access to this population is normally closed at breeding time. However, the wardens have granted us a visit to see them singing in the evening. The song period lasts for just a short period soon after they arrive back from Senegal.


The next day is spent checking the puzsta and wetlands. This is another UNESCO site, home to Great Bustard, Pygmy Cormorant, and Marsh and Moustached Warblers. The first Red-footed Falcons, River Warblers, Montagu’s Harriers and Bee-eaters should be arriving. Large numbers of waders pass through, including hundreds of Ruff in breeding dress. Penduline and Bearded Tits bounce around in the reed beds. Our hotel is in the national park and has breeding Golden Orioles and Long-eared Owls close by.


Our final day sees us travelling to the airport at Budapest. En route we can see nesting Eastern Imperial Eagle and Saker Falcon. Our final addition to the mammal list is likely to be the Suslik, the staple food of these raptors.



Breakfast will normally be taken at about 7am. Visits to the mountains will involve uphill walking at a sensible pace. Day-long birdwatching excursions will be made with short and medium length walks. Bear watching involves a visit to a hide between 7pm and 10pm.



Full-board accommodation is provided, with three nights at Zarnesti, three nights at Zetea, one night at Torcho and two nights in the Hortobagy. All accommodation is of a good standard and all rooms have en suite facilities. Packed lunches will be taken every day.



All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation, local transport by mini-bus, reserve entrance fees, one evening bear-watch, soft drinks at meal-times, international flights and airport taxes.



Our optional travel insurance, payable at the time of booking. Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.



Return flights from London Heathrow to Bucharest, returning from Budapest using the scheduled services of British Airways. Outbound flight departs mid-morning, with return landing mid-evening. Shuttle flights are available on this tour for £70 return (due at time of booking), from Manchester and other regional airports.



9 nights:                    


Principal leader:


Local guide:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

12th January 2008):


Full Cost:


Single supplement:




Insurance premium:



27th April to 6th May 2008


Phil Palmer


Balazs Szigeti/Ecotours


12 clients with one leader

and a local guide



£1550 per person sharing


£1650 per person sharing






£26 due at time of booking

(£39 for age 65 to 69)

(£52 for age 70 and over)





One of the highlights of this tour will be to find a family of bears. We have the best chance in Europe to see these animals as we have teamed up with the

WWF's large carnivore project organisers working in this region.



This Wallcreeper was found on our first morning walk during our 2008 tour to Transylvania




This Barred Warbler was singing his heart out before a Red-backed Shrike got a little too close. He then a little agitated and chased it away..



The Transylvanian lifestyle has remained unchanged for centuries. As a result, we will be birdwatching in one of the most beautiful parts of Europe..




Wallcreepers will be arriving back on their breeding grounds at the time of our visit. These pictures were taken in the Bicaz Gorge where we expect to see them again.




this Festoon was taken by Gill Dale on our 2008 tour.



The Hungarian Puszta provides a home for the Aquatic Warbler.



The Hortobagy National Park in Hungary is a World Heritage Site.



This Dipper was feeding by a watermill in Transylvania.




There are more photos on our dedicated Transylvania tour photo page Click Here

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