We have just returned from a 10 day trip with Naturetrek to Romania. For us this was a full on experience, this is only the second time we have gone for a dedicated wildlife trip, the other being to the Shetlands four years ago with Shetland Wildlife (and David Lindo). This was a reasonably relaxed trip and very enjoyable especially with David's style of guiding. (ie we are on holiday!)
This wasn't quite the case with Naturetrek! First we had a new tour leader, that is it was his first time leading a trip, in fact his first trip quiding at all. Having said that Justin was a good bloke, although he did forget at times he should be guiding and not on holiday himself. Thankfully our local guide, Florin, (we wanted to call him Two Bob) with us for the whole trip was brilliant.He certainly made life easier for Justin.
Anyway, no birding the first day as we weren't meeting the group until 18:30 (we had come direct from Birmingham rather than with the group from Heathrow) So we had an enjoyable couple of hours having a late lunch and a couple of local beers at the airport.
Day two was an eye opener. We departed from the guest house at 9am to climb a bloody mountain! The Naturetrek description of the trip was 'easy'. This first morning was tough, it was hot, steep and rocky, we were told it was a 3km there and back walk, it turned out to be 7km! This put us to say the least in a bad mood and wondered what the rest of this 'easy' trip held for us. It was made worse by the fact we didn't see a lot. What we did see in the distance were;
Yellowhammer, Common Crossbill, Tree Pipit, a very distant Black Redstart, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Barn Swallow, Jay, Raven, Woodpigeon, Magpie, Hooded Crow, Starling, White Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat and a Nutcracker.
The Nutcracker was certainly the highlight. But it was a very brief sighting,
This photo gives and idea of the start of the walk, we came up from the road below,
An additional item of interest on the long way down was an Eastern Green Lizard;
After a very long morning we returned to the guest house for lunch, after which we had half an hour before setting out again and heading for Bran (The home of Dracula!)
The afternoon added, Linnet, Great Tit, Red-backed Shrike, Hobby, Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, White Stork, Common Swift, Collared Dove (in abundance) and Grey Wagtail. No photographs of this lot as the weather was turning a bit inclement and all the birds were a long way away.
So back to the guest house to freshen up, have a beer and a surprisingly good dinner.
Now comes the other Naturetrek bit that we can't get our heads around. After dinner while still at the table out come the checklists! (Provided by Naturetrek to everybody)
Firstly I have to say Tina and myself have our own set of rules.. ie it only counts if we both see it, also we are terrible with bird song, we have tried many times to get to know the calls, but apart from the obvious, we can't distinguish the birds at all. So we don't count heard either, because we don't know what we are hearing, even when pointed out. This applies especially in woodland with many birds calling at the same time. Both Florin and Justin, would fire off in quick succession, that's a Goldcrest, that's a Whitethroat, Firecrest, Tree Pipit etc We honestly didn't know which was which!
So when it came to the checklist, it didn't matter who had seen it or heard it it was added to the list even if it was only one of us! We keep our own list, I note down as we go along, so we didn't really partake in the nonsense, so according to Naturetrek figures we saw about 30 less species than the rest by the end of the holiday.
In fact a couple of years back we were on holiday (birding by ourseleves) on Lesvos and saw a Naturetrek group doing the checklist thing in a Taverna, we said at the time shoot us if we ever do that!
Now on the plus said once we decided how we were going to approach the holiday and do things our way, it was fine, we explained it to Justin and Florin and they accepted our approach. So despite everything I have said we had a really good time.