Romania: Malancrav – The Woods Today…

June – August 2016

Everyone who’s set up a trail camera has had a ‘what in the name of all wonders is that?!’ moment. Malancrav is up there with the best of them.

It is not that there is no wildlife; we even have a blurry clip of red deer, the largest mammal in Transylvania.

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And a pine marten puts on a welcome show.

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It is also one of the few places where I’ve caught a buzzard on a cam.

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And then the monster strolls by.

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In the mammal book? No. Wikipedia tells me that it is a corb, also known as a Romanian raven shepherd dog, best described as a gigantic, rambling, black St Bernard. It is indigenous to Brasov where it has been driving bears away from cattle for centuries. What it is doing roaming around Malancrav’s outback by itself is a mystery. Romania has a serious stray dog problem that is not only a hazard to people, but also to wildlife – in fact sadly we see one guard dog run down and kill a hare on the outskirts of the village.

The corb is a little strange, but Trailcam 7 wins the prize. I’ve been having arguments with this camera all season; it seems to have some kind of power leakage and is chomping through 10 AA batteries a week. It buzzes, glitters and goes flat. One of my colleagues has kindly offered to leave it in front of a moving bus. But, alas, first it is stolen…by ants.

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The photograph does not do the crisis justice – there is a video clip on YouTube here.

Gingerly, very gingerly, we put Trailcam 7 into a Ziploc bag, spray it with mosquito repellent – the only weapon at hand – and carry it three miles back to camp.

Thieves, corbs and ants – who would be a trail camera?

But our next stop is the remote village of Daia, where cams keep the royal company of bears.

Romania: Richis Storms

June – August 2016

We were setting up hedgehog tracking tunnels on the woodland edge when the sky lost its light and the land turned emerald.

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Camera: off.

Survey: off.

We run, but the rain runs faster, and throws itself into hair and eyes with an almost human malice. I toss my beloved metal hiking pole into a bush because lightning couldn’t find a better conductor.

Somehow we reach the road, where the cows are waiting for evening milking and a foal grazes idly alongside his parents. The thunder and lightning are almost simultaneous. My boots have withstood the puddles but the insides are afloat. Camp is also awash, with students diving into puddles.

Morning brings sunshine – and bears, or at least their footprints, admired as we rescue my poor hiking stick. Richis is altogether rich in mammal sign. Roe deer, not least; unusually for deer, they scrape away leaves to create a sleeping space, leaving a bare patch about 60cm wide.

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It is the roe deer’s rutting season, and at night their barks sound even over the endless yapping of village dogs. The early morning teams often spot them but most of my sightings are through the army of camera traps that I’ve deployed in these woods.

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The cameras are also starting to catch some exciting carnivores. Pine martens are the larger of the two marten species that endlessly bounce, leap and climb through Transylvania.

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Amazingly, the same camera caught an edible dormouse! This is found in Britain too – it was introduced to Cheshire decades ago. It is a much larger species than the hazel dormice that I study in Surrey.

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Meanwhile, hawk-moths dazzle in camp.

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Leaving Richis is difficult. But six more villages await.