I have just returned from a trip to Moldova to stay for a few days with my wife’s family. Moldova is a country situated between Romania and Ukraine, just north of the Black Sea. My wife’s family live on a smallholding in the countryside adjacent to a large forest which is home to European Brown Bear and Wolf, although I have not seen either near their village. I have seen European Brown Bear just over the border in Romania, however, where they are very skilled at raiding the large rubbish skips. Even though these skips have heavy metal lids that need to be opened the bears have learned how to do this with relative ease.
The really interesting thing for me whenever I visit the region in the summer is how many species of birds breed in the local area that were once common in the United Kingdom (UK) but are now scarce or absent as breeding species. The reasons are primarily down to the intensive farming practices carried out in the UK which has resulted in loss of habitat for many farmland species. In Moldova things are very different with many local farmers using handwork (scythes and hoes) rather than machinery to farm and the big farms using less fertilizer and maintaining many kilometers of hedges and trees. As a result birds like Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Red-backed Shrike are common breeding species and the woods are alive with the sound of calling Golden Orioles. Birds of prey such as Lesser Spotted Eagle and Booted Eagle also breed in the forest and are not persecuted by the local people. The buildings are ideal for Barn Swallow and House Martin to nest in and the wooden fence posts used to demarcate fields and housing plots are ideal for Greater Spotted Woodpeckers to feed on. Not only is it interesting to see the way people live in these less well developed countries but the birdlife also is very different to what most of us living in more developed countries are used to.
Almost all the species I see around my in-laws village are scarce or in the case of Red-backed Shrike, common passage migrants through Saudi Arabia where I bird-watch, although the birds I see in Saudi Arabia are generally heading further east than Moldova to the Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan areas. This adds a bit of interest whenever I see these species, as knowing the habitat they breed in, as well as the regions they pass through on migration, builds up a bigger picture of the kind of struggle some of these birds have to endure. Travelling to different countries to bird-watch is something everyone who has an opportunity should take as you learn far more from travelling and seeing than you ever do by looking at photos and drawings in field guides. There is an old proverb that says “one kilometer travelled is worth 1000 books read” meaning that the knowledge gained from travelling and interacting with local people will teach you more than reading books ever can.