The Carpathians had long been on our radar, with the promise of a step back in time, beautiful wild country, and some great natural history in and around Europe's largest tracts of old-growth forest. That they also hold Europe's largest populations of brown bear, wolf and lynx only added to the appeal. So in early June we packed up the twins, field guides and optics and headed to Romania with good friends to spend a week exploring the Piatra Craiului and Bucegi massifs.
Our first day in the field started well, with bear tracks at 05:30 and a distant brown bear through the scope soon afterwards, moving off the right-hand peak in the image above. The day ended with European beaver and yellow-bellied toad by a lowland river. While the mammals were fairly thin on the ground throughout, early mornings spent scanning from a peaceful vantage were a wonderful way to start the day.
European beaver have been reintroduced to a few sites in the area and are leaving some pretty obvious signs of their return to the forest! We had good views one evening of an adult and kit.
On our last day in the forest we took a long walk up the Dambovicioara valley that cuts in to the Piatra Craiului from the south, in the hope of finding a new vantage point for scanning the peaks to the west. The going was quite tough with the girls on our backs and the valley was deeper than we had expected, with thick beech forest and then pine rising steeply from the track edges and obscuring the high clearings that we were hoping to scan. But luck turned our way towards the top of the path when I stopped for a breather and my eyes drifted in to the forest landing square on the face of a Ural owl sitting quietly about 10m away. A striking and elusive bird, the picture does it no justice - as we were carrying the girls I had only my phone and the scope with just a shoulder to rest it on!
All in all we saw 11 mammal species between us: brown bear, stone marten, red fox, red deer, roe deer, alpine chamois, wild boar, forest dormouse, European beaver, hare, and one of the mouse-eared bats. A great place.