At the south-eastern corner of Montenegro, the boundary with Albania is the river Bojana. The river delta is at the eastern end of the 13km long Velika Plaza (Great Beach) that runs all the way from the old town of Ulcinj. The large river splits neatly in two a few kilometres from the sea and the triangular island it creates, Ada Bojana, belongs to Montenegro. The river that runs to the sea on the western side of the island is lined on both sides with single storey wooden houses with large terraces over the water, many of them restaurants as well as holiday homes. Here and on the waterway that runs into Ulcinj, they dip large nets into the river; fishing here is a national pastime and so, of course, is eating fresh fish.
Some of the wooden chalets that line the Bojana river in the delta.
Fishing is a shed on stilts industry on the waterway at Ulcinj.
I visited Velika Plaza and then Ada Bojana in early March just after a day and a half of heavy rain and the Bora was blowing. I tried a road down to the great beach at the Ulcinj end to check out the foreshore and found a holiday camp, ramshackle in its dowdy winter clothes and, on the sands themselves, one of a regularly dispersed fleet of hideous kinky, lifeguard lookouts. Not a sign of life or lifeguards anywhere.
Velika Plaza towards the Ulcinj end.
Further towards Ada Bojana and the flood had filled the grazing meadows and sheep were replaced by flocks of black-tailed godwits, ruff and starling; these fed hungrily even though they were uncomfortably close to the road.
Black-tailed godwits, ruff and starling in the flooded meadows.
I took the road that crosses the river onto the island and runs through dark, waterlogged woods full of scrubby willow, elm and oak to the beach. The beach, with it all round protection, is given over to nudist holiday resorts. On the day I was there, the grounds were flooded and only a woodlark, black redstart and pied wagtail flock were in occupancy. A hoopoe flipped off a patch of grass near the estuary mouth, where a few men were making repairs to the wooden buildings. It was bitterly cold in the freezing wind and I did not linger long.
Yesterday, the weather was warm and gentle and the grazing meadows were now a sea of pastoral calm with flocks of sheep keeping the turf short; a large flock of goldfinches, greenfinches and linnets also enjoyed the space as did grey plover that were widely dispersed across the grassland but must have numbered around 50. I did not cross onto Ada Bojana island but stayed on the western side of the western river and parked behind the chalets so that I could walk some of the Velika and then inspect the habitats inland. One of the key species for this area is Golden Jackal, which would be interesting to observe.
At the mouth of the estuary, a flock of noisy, feeding gulls contrasted with a sedate flock of Sandwich terns. The walk along the Velika just to the west of the river ran over low sand dunes covered in a patchwork of prostrate vegetation. Vivid blue dyer’s alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) and Sea Medick (Medicago marina) with tiny yellow flowers brought colour to the dark sand and otherwise dull and lifeless vegetation, including many tall dead stalks from last year’s flowers.
Two men were walking the long beach checking the flotsam and jetsam; three hooded crows sat on top of a downtrodden kite surfers’ building looking for their own loot. I stumbled on a good colony of early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) and perhaps O. s. sicula since one had distinctive pale pink sepals. Perhaps too a small spider orchid (O. araneola). I find Ophrys species difficult to differentiate but always enjoyable to work on with their hieroglyphic markings and rich colours. Black bog-rush (Schoenus nigricans) was also common along the edge of the path where it was waterlogged.
Early spider orchid variations upon a theme.
The long beach and dune protects an equally long kilometre wide stretch of wetland full of reed, rush and sedge from where the seep of reed buntings and witch’s whine of water rails were easily outdone by the blast of loud, chippy calls from Cetti’s warblers. One obligingly sat on the top of reed with a long trail of grass and then flew high to take it to its new nest. A lone marsh harrier danced over the trees. A cormorant was not expecting me and flapped off a small patch of water in a panic. This place, like Buljarica, is hunted and every bird that gets too close tells you this by their frenetic bid to escape. If this was a nature reserve the birds would be more docile and there would probably be wild duck and more waders than the odd ‘cheeyuyup’ call from a green sandpiper.
Beyond the wetland, a band of wet woodland, studded with white poplar, perhaps 300m wide and then farms and holiday homes surrounded by damp fields given over to pastures. I walked through the woodland, woodpeckers drummed and a pair of kingfishers were back and forth, given away by their sharp whistle, in the adjacent dykes and ponds; they may have had a nest started somewhere in a bank but not within sight. Marsh frogs plopped into the water as I passed and plastic bottles constantly popped in the sun. The litter is more often dumped by the side of the road rather than a bin. In the pastures, a few glaring Anemone hortensis under untended box bushes that made for a hedge, but in one waterlogged field a host of brilliant white narcissi (Narcissus tarzetta) in the drier but still damp edges and ridges. The field, backed by tall trees and with its handmade gate made from hazel poles, looked a fine watercolour painting.
Wild narcissus in a damp pasture.
I took the return route in the dead of the midday sun and saw little apart from a ragged short-toed eagle and a pair of ravens that idled by. Sadly, no Golden Jackal to report this time out.