On day 5 we undertook habitat surveys for future beaver reintroduction sites. From base, we drove through the small town of Rucăr to the first area, past some daunting boulders and other extreme terrain.
After assessing areas at this first site, as well as finding bear prints at a ford and catching sight of a nutcracker – a bird found only in higher-altitude forested areas – we travelled to the second site. The drive took us up through a narrow and beautiful densely-forested valley, along a former logging road, now a hiking trail.
Humid, with dense, thick vegetation and fallen trees criss-crossing the narrow gorge, the area felt like a primeval forest. We carried out more habitat surveys, and found more sites suitable for beavers. FCC plans to reintroduce pairs at numerous different locations around the reserve, next spring. Using the results of surveys including today’s, they will soon choose those locations, and monitor the animals’ impacts with subsequent surveys.
On day 6 we set off on a two-day excursion to Bunea and Comisu hides. Set on or near the mountain tops, they provide beautiful views over the forested hills, sometimes gleaming in the sunlight, sometimes hidden in clouds and sometimes with mist swirling around the trees. FCC has set the hides up as a conservation enterprise, to generate income to help fund their work. They are also also interested in understanding the impact of hides and associated feeding regimes on the behaviour of wild animals.
After a break at Bunea, the largest and most luxurious of the hides, the group split and one team trekked up to the hides at Comisu. On the way, we were thrilled to find a clear lynx print in the mud beside the path. Comisu hides 1 and 2 are higher up, and enjoy stunning views out over the surrounding mountains, including the unmistakable ridge of Piatra Craiului. While the team at Comisu made no observations that evening, those at Bunea enjoyed the sight of a large stag, spotted by Mihai, the cook, by torchlight after nighfall.
Rising at dawn on day 7, the team at Comisu were able to observe a wild boar, feeding for an hour just a few metres from the hide, followed by a spectacular sunrise. The Bunea team were visited by the same stag, at 06:15. Immediately upon his departure fifteen minutes later, those still in bed were swiftly awakened by the shout of ‘bear!’, as a small brown bear made a brief appearance, scavenging for corn not eaten by other visitors the preceeding day.
After breakfast, the two teams swapped hides. The team at Comisu split into two groups for the descent to Bunea. One group took the longer route, which initially ascended, past a mountain refuge, to an area with panoramic views. From here we could clearly see patches of forest which had earlier been clear-cut, then replanted by FCC, who are working hard to reintroduce a greater diversity of tree species, in contrast to the ecologically poorer spruce monocultures, which predominate in areas with a history of silviculture.
That evening, the group at Comisu observed two roe deer – likely a female and her foal, while those at Bunea saw a magnificant stag, thought to be the same individual, followed by a large wild boar at 21:00.
On the morning of day 8, both teams made an early start to meet at the vehicles. We bade each other fond farewells, then set off, to the airport at Bucharest, and other destinations.
Thank you group 1 for being trailblazers! See you tomorrow group 2.