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The Amazon of Europe

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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) . 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:

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