White-tailed sea eagle
Salix tours take place in theLower Danube region, which is situated in the south-west of Odessa province, the largest province of the largest country in Europe (yes, it is Ukraine).
The River Danube flows 2,780 kilometres from its source in the Black Forest of Germany through eleven countries. It eventually ends by building Europe's most active and magnificent delta, on the Black Sea coast in Ukraine and Romania. The river binds together eighty million people, and a multitude of different landscapes and cultures.
As centre of biodiversity, the Lower Danube region ranks among the top sites in Europe. It holds the largest and most natural complex of wetlands, steppes, steppe-forests and riverine forests in Europe. Over 1,400 species of flowering plants have been recorded (including three species of the famous feather-grass, Stipa), as well as over 200 species of birds including several globally threatened species such as Dalmatian pelican, pygmy cormorant, red-breasted goose and white-tailed sea-eagle.
The Lower Danube region itself comprises four distinct natural zones.
The first zone is theDanube delta itself, which is recognised by UNESCO as a Transfrontier Biosphere Reserve straddling Ukraine and Romania, and over a half of its area is listed as a Natural World Heritage Site.
The second zone is a series offlooded river valleys, or "limans", lying along the northern bank of the Danube in Ukraine. Collectively, these are known as the Lower Danube Lakes. Lake Yalpug (40 km long and 10 km wide) is the largest natural freshwater lake in Ukraine, while Lakes Kartal and Kugurlui are recognised under the Ramsar Convention as wetlands of international importance for waterbirds.
The third zone is the hinterland of the wetlands: mosaics of vastopen steppes and patches of steppe-forest, some in majestic valleys, with huge numbers of plants including many rare and endemic flowers.
Fourth are the ancientriverine forests of poplars and willows lining the banks of the Danube itself and dominating the river islands.
Over 1,400 higher plant species have been recorded in the Lower Danube region. Among the most notable of these areSalvinia natans, Ephedra distachya, Minuartia bilikiana, Ornithogalum amphibolum, O. refractum, O. fimbriatum, Morchella stepicola, Nymphoides peltata, Nuphar lutea, Nymphaea alba, Iris pumila, Stipa capillata, S. lessingiana, S. pennata, Hyacinthella leucophaea, Muscari neglectum, andPeriploca graeca.
The lakes have a rich aquatic vegetation, where large areas are occupied by aquatic associations formed by attached, submerged and floating species. The most commonly occurring rooted submerged plants areCeratophyllum demersum, Potamogeton perfoliatus, P. pectinatus, Vallisneria spiralis, andElodea canadensis. The most abundant rooted species with floating leaves areNymphaea alba, Nuphar lutea andNymphoides peltata.The floating vegetation is mainly composed ofSpirodela polyrhiza, Lemna minor, Uricularia vulgaris, Stratiotes aloides, Salvinia natans, Trapa natans andHydrocharis morsus-ranae. In Lung Lake Nature Reserve there are extensive coral-like beds of charophytes.
Marshy vegetation communities in the river floodplain comprise tall-, medium-, and low-growing species of monocotyledons. The tall vegetation stands are usually greatly dominated by, if not exclusively composed ofPhragmites australis, Typha angustifolia and/orScirpus lacustris; some associations are dominated byTypha latifolia. Medium-height marsh vegetation is most frequently formed by associations ofSparganium erectum andTypha laxmannii, but stands ofGlyceria maxima andAcorus calamus also occur. Low marsh vegetation includes communities dominated byEleocharis palustris, Juncus gerardii, J. maritimus, Alisma plantago-aquatica, Sagittaria sagittifolia andBolboschoenus maritimus.
Steppe areas range from moister areas close to lake shores to drier expanses on slopes and sand dunes. The former type includes communities dominated byCalamagrostis epigeios, Elytrigia repens andBromopsis inermis, often with saline patches holdingSalicornia europaea, Suaeda prostrata, Plantago salsa andArtemisia santonica. The drier grasslands are dominated byAgrostis stolonifera andDigitaria ischaemum, withFestuca valesiaca, Stipa lessingiana, S. capillata, Agropyron pectinatum andKoeleria cristata. In early spring, the steppes are ablaze with the white, yellow and purple flowers of a range of species includingOrnithogallum, Colchicum, Gagea, Potentilla, Gallium, Trifolium, Polygala, Echium, Iris, Euphorbia andMuscari.
Riparian vegetation is represented by willow-poplar forests (principallySalix alba, S. fragilis andPopulus alba) which are located on the river levees along the main Danube channels, withTamarix ramosissima forming shrub communities near the coast.
The Lower Danube region is perhaps most famous for its birds, with a recorded total of 315 species (out of about 520 in Western Europe as a whole).
The area is of global importance for breeding populations of many waterbirds such as Dalmatian pelicanPelecanus onocrotalus, white pelicanP. crispus andpygmy cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus. In addition there are important colonies of spoonbillsPlatalea leucorodia, and several breeding pairs of white-tailed sea-eaglesHaliaeetus albicilla. In areas of fringing reeds can be found the paddyfield warblerAcrocephalus agricola, here at the western tip of its range.
The region is also a major migratory stop-over area in both spring and autumn for several million birds, especially ducks including the threatened ferruginous duckAythya nyroca, black storkC. nigra and various birds of prey, including lesser spotted eagleAquila pomarina and Levant sparrowhawkAccipiter brevipes.
In winter, the region's wetlands also hosts large flocks of ducks, swans and geese, including at times almost the entire world population of the threatened red-breasted goose Branta ruficollis.
Over a ten-day trip during spring to summer, a birder can expect to see 140-165 species. In winter some 65-80 species can be seen, including flocks of red-breasted geese and hundreds of great bustardsOtis tarda wintering near Crimea.
To date, 42 species of mammals have been recorded in the Lower Danube region. These include 23 species that are rare in Europe, such as lesser mole ratNanospalax leucodon, European minkMustela lutreola, and otterLutra lutra.
Among the rodents, the muskratOndatra zibenthicus is one of the most important wetland species and is bred for its fur in some places. Raccoon dogsNyctereutes procyonoides invaded from Moldova and are now significant predators for ground-nesting birds.
Spotted susliksCitellus suslicus are widespread, forming lively colonies. One of the largest is at Suvorovo village, where the charming animals can easily be seen from the road.
There are five species of bats, including the migratoryPlecotus austriacus which winters in the region and breeds in the Carpathians. This bat is threatened and is the subject of a conservation agreement (EuroBats) under the Bonn Convention.
Similarly, all three cetaceans are protected under another Bonn Convention Agreement (ACOBAMS). Dolphins and porpoises can occasionally be seen swimming along the delta coast.
Wild boarSus scrofa, roe deerCapreolus capreolus and introduced fallow deerDama dama are favoured for hunting.
Nine amphibian and five reptile species have been recorded in the Lower Danube region. These include the regional endemic Dobrodgean newtTriturus dobrogicus which is in the IUCN Red List. Other notable species areLacerta taurica andEremias arguta.
The most numerous amphibians are frogs:Rana ridibunda, Pelobates fuscus, Bufo viridis, Bombina bombina andHyla arborea. There are so many frogs that local people can harvest them.
Among the reptilesNatrix natrix, Lacerta agilis andEmys orbicularis are the most common species.
Salix Ltd, registered in Kilia, Odessa, no. 328588, is a Ukrainian subsidiary of FIELDFARE International Ecological Development plc.
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