At times, in vernal Romania, one may observe large birds migrating in triangular formation, high above towns, in a north-westerly direction. Their elongated necks remind one of our storks, still – the swift, fast propelling pinion flaps make one acknowledge a different avian species. They are the spoonbills, the shyest birds on the balta, flying from the South to nest here. Of a peculiar nature are these birds. In Holland, not too far away from the sea, lies their northernmost hatching place. From there, one must travel several thousand miles to the South to chance across the next. It is only in Siberia that one can see their nests again, as our land was bypassed by these birds. Way into the deep balta reigns an infinite sea of reed. Green leaves overlaying waters two meters deep form a nearly three-meter high canopy. Last year's plants, partly cracked during the winter storms and snow, lie felted together in an almost impenetrable spinney. Large amounts of reed floating amidst the young plants hinder the advancement of the boat. Stuf, or reed, is impossible to row through, Romanians say. – Above the canopy of reeds, large, white birds are scurrying to and fro; and, as I reach the reed in my folding boat, six of the outlandish birds flutter up. I had long in vain attempted to uncover their nests. For days, I had been after those birds and could hear the same answer anywhere, from anyone: "Yes, the spoonbills used to nest here, but they were scared away and have migrated, no one knows whereto." … Hence, the heedful birds had definitely abandoned their nesting place and their eggs – they did not, wised up by previous bad experience, dare venture into a place somewhat adulterated by man anymore. As the black wooden boat glides gently, cautiously advanced by a long pole, I become aware of a sleeping spoonbill resting in my hideout. The reed-clad deck of the folding boat is heftily daubed by the droppings of resting birds. In a jiffy, I have resumed my watching post. The reflex camera, equipped with a large telescopic lens, lies positioned in front of me at the bottom of my folding boat. As soon as the barka (i.e. boat) is out of their sight, owners of swishing wing flaps close in; and, at the heart of the clearing, barely five meters away from where I stand, a first bird lands. It cautiously performs a safety maneuver, and soon, from all parts, come the rest of the other colony's inhabitants. But who imagines they would hear whooping and hubbub similar to that of the colonies of herons, is mistaken; it all happens quietly. Barely does a single faint cawing or clanking pierce the ear. Presently, a cautious bird makes sure that no danger lurks from any of the parts. After making certain that it seems to be out of harm's way, it soars into the skies and lands precisely on its nest. Firstly, it tilts back single, tender stalks of the copse and then it settles on the hatching of the eggs. I have waited for this moment to arrive. As is said in old ornithology books, spoonbills, while hatching, would ride their nests and let their long legs droop to the left and to the right. This does not seem to happen at all with our mate over here. It has very slowly folded its legs underneath, thus it can give the eggs the warmth needed for the incubation, while the female wanders about. – The plumage of the handsome bird is of an immaculate white fading into a rusty yellow. In their third year, the purple speck is formed on the snowy plumage, but only after a fourth molting, does it become fully shaped. … but the most wonderful thing about the bird is its beak, bent towards the end in the form of a spoon, with which, similar to a duck, it ploughs through shallow, murky waters in search for food such as small frogs, crabs, mussels, and fish. A pounding wing flap startles me. One of the birds has dropped onboard my folding boat and is gleaning into my objective from a close proximity. But, as soon as I attempt to focus my camera on it, the feathered fellow shoots into the air never to return to the perilous scene. A faint crowing can be heard; the old spoon bill has come to relieve the hen from hatching duties. The chicks will stay in the nest until fully fledged and only then will they be left to their own devices by their parents. In a brief couple of months, their parents will join them, answering the ancient urge of all migratory birds to journey to the South. Albeit some had to lay down their lives over there, they are all the more happy under the scourging African sun, where people worship them as messengers of the supreme divinity and no one dares point a weapon at them. Over there, they while in flocks along with other birds currently wiped out in our parts – pelicans and great white herons, peacefully lying together on the river banks, as they unlearn the image of a less welcoming Europe. excerpted from Ein Vogelparadies an der Donau. Bilder aus Rumänien Tierwelt-Volksleben [An Avian Paradise by the Danube. Images from Romania. The Animal Kingdom and Life of the People], Ernst Wasmuth AG, Berlin-Vienna-Zurich, 1929 Translated from German 

by Hugo Adolf Bernatzik (1897-1953)