Bulgaria 2007

...with Nikolay Dilchev

February 17th-24th

February 17th: Heathrow - Paris - Sofia.

We met as arranged by the Air France check in desks, though they were not opening until 06.30 which seemed quite tight given the plane was due to leave at 07.45. We checked in without incident and then joined a long queue of people waiting to get through passport/security control. No sooner had we got through then the gate was displayed on the screen and off we went. The flight was via Paris, it arrived an hour late in Bulgaria but Nikolay and his nephew Ivan were there waiting for us. We had time to spare as we were catching the overnight train to Burgas, we left the centre of Sofia and went to an area with a man- made lake and meadows. It was quite cool but we took a walk around the meadows to stretch our legs and to get a few birds on our Bulgaria list. Jays, Chaffinch and Hawfinch were visible but the stars were the pelicans - 12 Dalmatian and 1 White flying quite high above. This was a good sighting as Nikolay had not seen them over the Sofia region before at this time of the year. As the light was beginning to fade we went to the restaurant where we spent a very pleasant three hours eating, drinking and talking before having an evening tour of Sofia prior to our departure on the overnight sleeper.

February 18th : Sofia – Burgas – Lake Vaya.

Ivan had travelled down with us to Burgas to ensure we had no problems with language etc on the train and we were met at the station by Milan and Pancho. Milan would be with us for the next couple of days as Nikolay had to remain in Sofia until Monday evening and Pancho who drove us around for the rest of the week. As the train had arrived at 06.30 we went to our hotel where we had time to shower and make ourselves feel human before having breakfast and going out for a days birding. We concentrated mainly on Vaya Lake and the surrounding environs. One of the target species was White-headed Duck which Nigel found some distance out in the lake. Eventually they drifted a little closer and were also seen in flight. Our first Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harrier were also seen along the same road in an industrial area. It was a bitterly cold day especially when the wind got up but we did have some very good species for the day including a surprise find in Bewick's Swan. We had to say farewell to Ivan, he is studying to be a doctor and had got a call that he needed to go and see his professor urgently so had to leave us earlier than expected. We got back to the hotel in plenty of time to shower and relax before dinner.

February 19th : Burgas.

Given we had been on a long travelling day previously we had a slightly later breakfast and got under way in lovely sunshine, a much better day than the previous day with little wind and very good light. Today we left Burgas and birded in a large circle coming back to almost the point we had started at. One of the first sightings en-route was Common Coots on the sea which is strange for us given they are usually on lakes. Our first stop provided us with Ruddy Shelducks which Di spotted first in a quarry that had formally been disused but was now in certain areas back in operation. The rest of the day was basically driving on small roads either with open fields or through beech woodland looking for raptors and woodpeckers. Our stop for lunch added Eurasian Nuthatch and Common Treecreeper. On another road currently being up-graded we had excellent views of male and female Northern Goshawks. This was followed about half a mile down the road at least 1000 European Starlings being pursued by a Peregrine Falcon but he left the flock intact. We then arrived at a point where the coast meets the reed beds. On one side of the road is was a sandy beach with waves rolling in and on the other quite a large reed bed the latter giving us very good views of Black-necked Grebes and Black-Throated Diver. We ended our day at the large saltpans of Burgas and added Avocet, Eurasian Curlew and Northern Pintails. The second stopping point here gave us approximately 130 Dalmatian Pelicans lined in a row along one of the salt-pan walls and in among them Di located a White Pelican. Just as we were about to depart and Nigel found a White-Tailed Eagle. The weather had been much brighter today which made observation easier and nobody was as cold as they had been the previous day. Once again we were back at the hotel with plenty of time to rest and freshen up before dinner.

February 20th : Burgas - Kavarna.

Yet another bright start to the day, we were leaving the hotel today so after breakfast loaded our belongings into the vehicle and went back toward Burgas to look at an old fish farm that is no longer in production. This we did before changing direction and heading towards Kavarna which was to be our base for the next three nights. It was at Kavarna that Milan would leave us as Nikolay had come down to join us at this point. It was a mixed morning with not too many birds but we did add Common Kingfisher and heard Eurasian Penduline Tit, we tried to look for it, to no avail. Cetti’s Warblers were calling with brief glimpses of them. We journeyed on and had lunch in a roadside taverna. We then went for a walk in the woods opposite searching out woodpeckers. Lesser, Middle and Great-spotted seen and despite our efforts Grey-headed only heard; we were so close but just could not get onto the bird. We continued onto Kavarna, Pancho suddenly stopped in a village and reversed he had seen a Little Owl, it flew from where it was but then obligingly sat on a roof top nearby. A brief stop at a wetland just outside Varna gave us ducks and grebes but nothing new for our list to date. We arrived in good time allowing us to freshen up before a very sociable meal, with plenty of the owners home-made wine flowing, we all imbibed a little too much that evening.

February 21st: Kavarna – Durankulak.

Yet another bright start to the day, the weather is very un-seasonal at the moment which does affect the birds. We got off to a good start with a Syrian Woodpecker being seen in a tree just from the accommodation and this was another “first” for Nigel and Di. We headed towards Durankulak and spent most of the day in this area. In the morning we had a flock of c3000 White-fronted Geese and mixed among these were Red-breasted Geese. We stayed looking at them edging closer until lunchtime beckoned. We did at this point also run in to a couple of birders who were over from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust to count geese one from Slimbridge and the other being the warden at Caerlaveroch. After lunch we went across tracks round the back of the lakes and saw more geese also a Long-Legged Buzzard, the first for our trip. The first Common Pheasant and Eurasian Linnets were also added something we see often at home but had been elusive up to now. We ended our day on the other side of Kavarna looking for Eurasian Eagle Owl and despite it calling as soon as we got out of the van and thereafter responding to Nikolay’s call it was not obliging enough to show to us.

February 22nd: Kavarna – Durankulak – Kaliakra

Yet another fine day as we headed back towards Durankulak to look for geese. We had seen on the weather forecast the previous evening that there was a cold spell in Russia and Nikolay expected more geese today. We observed for about an hour then went on our way. A short walk along the edge of the reed beds with open fields to our left gave us views of a Saker Falcon perched in a dead tree, we walked closer so we could see it well when it flew. There was some discussion re colouring but the younger bird can be variable. Nikolay was confident that it was a Saker and we recorded it as such for the list. We headed back toward Kaliakra/Kavarna for lunch. Generally it was a quiet day with few birds about but we did have very close views of Calandra Lark and finally picked up European Greenfinch for our weeks tally. We drove across country and finally ended up in another valley where Eurasian Eagle Owl has been seen in the past but in recent years has not been so reliable. It was a bird we wanted to see so after a short walk we loaded up into the vehicle and went back to the area we had been the previous evening. When we arrived there was another group already there they had seen it earlier as it had been disturbed by workmen top of the quarry, it had now settled down near the root of a tree trunk, and until it moved you would not have known it was there had somebody not seen where it had landed. The Bulgarian guide with the other group pointed us in the right direction and we trained telescopes on it. Every so often it would move its head these were not the best views but as all of us had seen it on previous occasions. The highlight here was a Long-Legged Buzzard hovering above the cliff, with the sun shining on it you could see very well the rustic colouring on the under wings, later it was to be mobbed by approximately 40 Common Magpies. Once again we were back at the hotel in plenty of time to freshen up and for our last night in Kavarna.

February 23rd : Kavarna – Sofia.

A travelling day today given how changeable the weather can be we were not sure if we were going back by road or rail. The weather had been better than usual at this time of the year so Nikolay drove us back to Sofia. The road systems are not good in Bulgaria with no motorways and very little dual carriageway so we knew the journey would take sometime. We had a few comfort and food stops en-route. No new birds added for the trip although Nikolay had seen brief glimpses of Tree Sparrow we did not count it for the trip as non of the group observed them. To start our journey the scenery was open fields and what seemed to be many derelict buildings probably from the communist era of farming. As we got nearer to Sofia the terrain changed and we eventually were in the Balkan Range, a little snow was observed on the higher hills but nothing of any note. Our hotel was on the outskirts of the town near a local park but we rested and got ourselves ready to go out for an evening meal. We were picked up by Nikolay and went to a restaurant that he and his wife used to frequent when they were students at the university we were also joined by their two children.

February 24th : Sofia and environs.

This was the day we were to return to England. We had time to do some birding in the morning. Waiting for Nikolay to collect us outside the hotel saw quite a change in weather it was very cold and the wind was biting. The news was that it was not supposed to be good up in the mountains but a discussion ensued and we decided to head up there anyway. As it was the weather was in fact better up there than in the town. On the way up to the ski station we had excellent views of Nutcracker much lower down than Nikolay had expected, in all we recorded 10. When we reached the ski station it was fairly crowded with people and it transpired there was some event on that day. We went for a walk but it was very quiet on the birding front probably too many people. The scenery however made up for it at the top it was very clear and quite a contrast to what we had encountered lower down. The snow was what we had expected in Bulgaria and our last morning did not disappoint. We got to the airport in time for a meal before we needed to check in and to say goodbye to Nikolay, our flight was on time and we got our connection in Paris arriving in London on schedule. There was big line up at immigration so by the time we got through that our cases were coming round on the carousel and we picked them up and shared a taxi back to the Park Inn where we met Mark who had previously arrived back from leading a tour to Japan.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.

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