This is a report, which means you will spend about 10 minutes for reading this text including pictures. So make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy :).
My cell phone rings — it’s a message from Tibor: ” I am in front of the house”. It’s one minute to 9:00 — so he is totally on time. Steffen and I are very excited. Quickly we pack the tripod and camera and leave the house. And there he is: our date Tibor. He is so kind to take us on his regular trip through one of the largest and most beautiful wetlands on the Danube: Kopački Rit.
We are currently in the Slavonic city of Osijek, Tibor’s hometown and dream home. He works for the Croatian Society for bird and nature protection (HDZPP) http://www.ptice.hr/ . His father, Jozsef Mikuska, was already an internationally recognized ornithologist. On a similar trip as we do today, Tibor’s passion, especially for herons and spoonbills, aroused. As he worked at Kopački Rit Nature Park for more than 10 years he has a load of expertise. We drive on holey roads in the direction of nature. Our first stop is a freshly cut meadow with round hay bales.
Here you can see Tibor and me while we are birdwatching… Binoculars are essential for birdwatching! Even a camera with a telephoto would be great, unfortunately we don’t have that 🙁
We sight herons in silver, grey and purple, later also in gold and brown. Some hooded crows croak. A black kite circles over the pleasant bustle.
On the next short drive to the Nature Park Centre we learn that propaganda is a part of spring time in Osijek. Reason are the annoying mosquitoes. A big deal for the few insecticide-spraying companies stoping these little nuisances every year. What does this have to do with Kopački Rit? People claim that the mosquitoes swarm mostly from there into the city, which is located about 10 km South. This is not true, according to Tibor, as mosquitoes mainly escape from puddles and other urban mini wetlands. Only a few of the teasers get lost here, especially as the Drava forms a natural barrier for them. And you know what? We were not even bitten once by a mosquito during the whole stay in Kopački Rit 😉 So there is no reason to dry out this wetland!
Our next stop is the Nature Park Centre. There is a new, modern visitor centre with souvenir shop, multimedia exhibition and café. The houses are covered with reed and fit perfectly into this unique landscape.
A walk along the long footbridge through the reed forest reveals many special features.
The Natura 2000 species Butomus umbellatus, or flowering rush, is one of the rarities.
We also sighted some European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), the only wild turtle in Europe, while our feet stayed dry.
During the lessons Tibor gave to us regarding the development of the Kopački Rit on the basis of a map, many coworkers and even the national park director stopped by for a short chat. Long story short: The marshland lies to the north of the tributary of the fast-flowing Drava River, flowing into the Danube. Through a sharp bend further south, the Danube is dammed up, creating this bird paradise. Due to human intervention such as dams, the area has shrunk to about 177km2 (which is still very large).
With this history kept in mind we were allowed to enter the wetland. The landscape looks really rustic — old, knotted willows stand in a mosaic of green grasses. As far as the eye can see, water skeins are woven into grass carpets – ideal conditions for many insects, fish, amphibians and birds to live a happy life. Mammals such as wild boar and roe deer also feel very much at home here.
At one of the two natural lakes we spot cormorants, night herons and moor ducks. However, the only thing Steffen is interested in is a beaver… 😉 Beside the beaver also the beautiful landscape could fascinate Steffen.
We sighted and counted more birds from inside the car. Tibor tells us that he carries out many projects with our cooperation partner EuroNatur, among others the Blue Heart Campaign and the Adriatic Flyway project.
Tibor counts all the birds on this tour and writes them down on his blue clipboard in a writing that resembles hieroglyphics for me.
Especially for the birds of prey the book of the books, Collins Bird Guide, is indispensable — at least for me as an Ornithology layman.
Here you can see an Little White Egret (Egretta Garzetta) in flight. I still can recognize this one ;). But our tour is not only about bird watching. History is also on the agenda.
In the north of the nature park lies the settlement Tikveš with a blessed chapel, an old and new castle. As the forests are saturated with game all around, it was and is a very popular hunting area. Many famous personalities have already used there rifles here. We strolled through the park and imagined how Tito, the president of Yugoslavia, got upset here. The reason can be seen in the following picture:
Tito’s beautiful hunting lodge was disfigured by an outbuilding. Only because two heads of government were by tradition not allowed to sleep under the same roof! Tito was so angry about this architectural worst-case scenario that he never entered this place again. It did not harm the nature park, as the administration was based in this beautiful place for many years.
The old castle is only a few meters away from the new one. Above the door you can see a date: July 2, 1927.
Of course we were wrong with our ideas — no wedding, no hottest summer party, no memory of a robbery, not even the day of the topping-out ceremony. It is the mark of the water level of the Danube on this day.
My birding list increased to more than 100 bird species i.a. with moor duck, night heron and pygmy cormorant. We were able to experience the Amazon of Europe point-blank — and that thanks to Tibor! We wish him and the Kopački Rit and the migratory birds all the best. These wishes include better hunting and forestry management, the appointment of the site as a national park and that people finally understand that the mosquitoes do not (only) come from here;). Thank you Tibor!
Please notice: Many birds migrate so it is important to give them space along their flyways… If you still didn’t, please sign the petition to save one of those places: Ulcinj Salina in Montenegro. We are cycling there to make aware of this area. Sign the petition here: www.savesalina.net