Halfway Between The Equator And The North Pole

Upon entering the narrow water thread, we are being gently rocked. It is quiet. The left and right side of our water path is bordered by high reed walls. Above them lies the blue, brilliant sky. Not one whisper, nothing. Only the ripple of water, which pats the thicket, and a light breeze of warm wind blowing through the greenish-grey pods. Suddenly, a white egret springs up flying, below the raw green willows. Then another and another... shhhh, be quiet! Look there, in the creek! The dabchicks, which are extremely playful birds, are engaged in a somersault competition, they stick their heads under the water, then quickly bring their webbed feet to the surface, shake them in the air and suddenly take out their heads from beneath the water. Then they hide again under the water and then get out again and they keep playing noisily, splashing around… We advance quietly. Coots and wild ducks spring up from the reed… whirr, whirr. One after the other, many, many of them, grey and black ones. Don't be afraid. They follow their own route. Maybe our boat disturbed them and that is why they flew away. What a beautiful sight! Look! A small island of floating reed is moving towards us. It is a floating reed islet! And now it is so close that you can almost touch it. Slowly, still rocking… These nutlets are fen figs. If only we could reach them, we could peel some and you could taste them. They are edible and they taste like chestnuts… Ohhh!... wonderful! On the shore of the distributary there are pelicans! Big, ruffled ones, with white feathers, which feed the huge bags of their chickens' beaks. They are small, covered in an almost black down and you wouldn't believe that they will grow to be as white as their parents. Here are the swans too: white and graceful, they swim near their signets dressed in grey down. What a strange thing! Why are the chicks so different from their parents?! While they are young and do not know how to hide away from the predators, the dark color of their feathers makes them almost unnoticeable. Later, they will grow to be large and powerful and will no longer fear the fiery vultures. Here is also the large cormorant. And the Dalmatian pelicans with tousled feathers behind their ears, and the white, red, yellow herons, and the common spoonbill, and the stilts… what long and thin legs they have! As if they were afraid to step. The egret, the saker falcon, the white-tailed eagle and the common kingfisher fly above us. The Delta is the paradise of birds! Only the wind and the water ripple. In a hidden gulf, the greenish mirror is studded with stars, like big tulips, with many layers of petals – white and yellow water lilies. Dozens, thousands of big, smaller and barely budded ones… nearby float the smoky water caltrops. Further on there are reed and bulrush brown walls, and also fern and water hemlock. In the distance there are branchy willows, with swinging branches so close to the water, thin, rustling poplars, alder trees and ash trees, long-thorned oaks, some of which are over 150 years old, over 25 meters high, monuments to nature conservation from the Letea and Caraorman forests. At great distances from us, there are also the spits, those sand empires which gather in dunes, and which sometimes reach seven meters in height. There, in the dryness of the sand hills, the landscapes are similar to the desert. Turtles, green and yellow lizards live there, while the white-tailed eagles spy from the trees... Quiet, be quiet! Do you hear that?! The warbles of the singing birds. The sky, the foliage resound so beautifully… it is of course Savi's warbler! But it could also be the reed bunting or the European penduline tit or the green sandpiper. We listen to it, charmed. A pair of Mandarin ducks spring up powerfully from nearby, rummaging the reed… whirr, whirr… they come to the Delta all the way from China. They can be compared to the singing swans, which arrive from Siberia, or to the griffon vulture coming from the distant Mongolian territory. During their long journey to other places of the world, the migratory birds halt in our paradise, which represents the halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, in the wonderful Danube Delta.

by Iuliu Raţiu (1930-2009)