Bulgaria 2008

...with Mark Finn and Nikolay Dilchev

April 26th - May 5th

This early spring tour to Bulgaria was organised by Birdwatching Breaks for the East Grinstead RSPB Group. Although we had poor weather at the start and end of the tour we recorded 200 species in total a respectable total considering the conditions. We had many highlights especially the passage of White Storks over Burgas. Interesting species observed during the tour included Dalmatian Pelican, Pygmy Cormorant, Ferruginous Duck, Imperial and White-tailed Eagles, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Wallcreeper, and above average numbers of Red-footed Falcon and European Rollers and Eurasian Eagle Owls at two sites on the Black Sea. Wader migration was a little patchy this year although two Pectoral Sandpipers at a lagoon on the Black Sea was a notable sighting.

I would also like to thank Nikolay and Petar for there guiding and help within the country and Georghe for driving us safely around Bulgaria.

April 26th : Gatwick, Sofia, Pomporovo.

Weather : Overcast in Sofia, snow showers at Pomporovo 3 C/13 C.

We met up at Gatwick and checked in for our flight to Sofia the capital city of Bulgaria. Passing through customs and passport control went smoothly. Nikolay and Petar were there to meet us and help with luggage. From the airport we headed towards Plovdiv and south into the Rhodope Mountain range. A few White Storks on the outskirts of Sofia. A short stop at a service station added Barn Swallow, House Martin, Crested Lark and a singing Nightingale. Beyond Plovdiv the stony river offered us White-throated Dipper and Grey Wagtail. To our surprise snow started to fall an unusual occurrence here in late April. An evening meal of typical Bulgarian food was most welcome as the temperature started to fall.

April 27th : Pomorovo, Trigrad Gorge, Smolyan, River Arda, Krumnovgrad

Weather : Overcast in Sofia, snow showers at Pomporovo 3 C/13 C.

As dawn broke at Pomorovo a thin layer of snow covered the mountainside and conifer forest. At 0730 we made a short walk into the forest hearing Firecrest, Goldcrest, Common Crossbill and Mistle Thrush. Breakfast at 0800 followed by a rather slow and snowy journey to the Trigrad Gorge. Fast-flowing rivers held high numbers of White-throated Dippers and Grey Wagtails. The first stop added Black Redstart on the limestone cliffs. Further up the road we were treated to the spectacle of a pair of Peregrine Falcons hunting an Alpine Swift (the latter just about surviving the chase). John then located a male Wallcreeper flying along a nearby cliff-face, excellent views obtained. A short walk before lunch provided us with White and Grey Wagtails, Willow Tit and calling Crested Tits. Restaurant nearby with a most welcome log fire to dry out cloths and warm ourselves. After lunch we travelled to Krumnovgrad via Smolyan. A brief stop at the latter produced Pallid Swift, House Martin and Marsh Tits. A little further on a stop at the River Arda added the rather localised Sombre Tit, Blackcap and Rock Bunting. On our return a lone Turtle Dove feeding in a recently seeded field. After passing through a few towns and villages we entered the road to Krumnovgrad. A short stop here was productive for singing Woodlarks and Common Nightingales and sightings of Woodchat Shrike, Hawfinch, Cirl and Corn Buntings. We arrived at Krumnovgrad and checked into the hotel an experience in itself.

April 28th : Krumnovgrad, Studen Kladenetz, Dolnakula.

Weather : Mainly dry and sunny with light northeast winds 5 C/20 C

After breakfast we headed towards the village of Studen Kladenetz situated in the rolling countryside around Krumnovgrad. The first stop at a bridge provided us with House Martin, Barn Swallow and a few Red-rumped Swallows. Roadside scrub attracted several Nightingales, Common Whitethroat and Cirl Buntings. I noticed a European Roller twisting its way down to the river; luckily it perched on a post for all to see. On returning to the bus we connected with a male Spanish Sparrow perched in a dead tree. In the next village a Little Owl sitting on a square concrete block. We turned up towards the vulture feeding station via a small settlement and farm. Interesting species included Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, Northern Wheatear, Woodlark, Jay and singing Common Chiffchaffs. We parked up and immediately located a male Golden Oriole perched in a dead tree. Walking slowly towards the feeding area and onto a viewpoint. From here we could study Eurasian Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Hooded Crow and Raven squabbling over two dead sheep. Overhead Jon found the first of two Long-legged Buzzards, Black Stork and a migrant Steppe Buzzard. We stayed for sometime watching this spectacle of birds. On the way to Studen Kladenetz a Eurasian Hoopoe, White Storks and Crested Larks. Lunch was a leisurely affair in the garden of the 'vulture feeders' family. Afterwards we visited Dolnakula, another valley dotted with cliffs, rivers and scrub. On the cliffs Black Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear and a Rock Nuthatch building a nest. Out of nowhere two European Honey Buzzards and a Eurasian Hobby flew above us and promptly disappeared. Further along the road Common Stonechat, Sombre Tit and impressive numbers of Nightingale and Common Whitethroats. Across the river another two European Rollers and our first European Bee-eaters of the trip. At the last stop similar birds and a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin seen by Lynda and Lesley - we could not relocate this rather shy and retiring bird. Back to base for a welcome shower and rest before dinner.

April 29th : Krumnovgrad, Burgas.

Weather : Sunny with afternoon thunderstorms southwest winds 21 C

Checked out at Krumnovgrad for the journey to Burgas on the Black Sea coast. During the night several of us heard a calling European Scops Owl. The first birding stop of the day was along the dam beyond Studen Kladenetz. Dozens of House Martins and Eurasian Crag Martins nesting under the dam walls. On the far side of the reservoir Grey Herons and Black Storks nesting on steep cliffs. At the end of the dam a male Blue Rock Thrush a rather uncommon and localised species in Bulgaria. On the reservoirs open waters Great Cormorant and Mallard. We travelled along some poor roads for about an hour and stopped again in an area of woodland interspersed with meadows grazed by sheep. Raptors using the thermals here included Honey and Common Buzzards. Also present were a female Northern Goshawk and calling Hawfinch. Next was an area of ungrazed meadows. Nikolay found a Lesser Spotted Eagle walking in the grass looking for suitable prey. Lynda then located a pair of Montagu's Harriers flying slowly over a ploughed field. Further along the road a pale phased Booted Eagle and displaying Eurasian Skylarks. Our journey took us close to the border with Greece and the road eventually leading to Istanbul. Lunch spot today was in a valley bordered by woods and isolated trees. Calandra Larks in display flight and passing Black Kites the latter being rather uncommon. Best of all was an Imperial Eagle floating along the forest edge. We headed towards Burgas stopping for a pair of European Rollers, Isabelline Wheatears and Long-legged Buzzards. In a rather open area of country we stopped for Black-headed Wagtails. Burgas was reached during the rush hour period and heavy traffic. After passing through we checked into a hotel on the shores of the Black Sea.

April 30th : Burgas including Lake Vaya and Lake Mandra, Pomerie.

Weather : Sunny with southwest winds 27 C.

Before breakfast we visited Pomerie saltpans situated in an area dominated by hotels and building construction. On arrival we found good numbers of Black-winged Stilts, Avocet and Sandwich Terns. Exposed posts in the lagoon attracted Common and Little Terns, Mediterranean Gulls and Great Cormorants. In grassy areas the Romanian race of Yellow Wagtail, Eurasian Hoopoe and Crested Larks. On the last lagoon several pairs of Kentish Plovers. Back to base for breakfast and onto Lake Vaya in the centre of Burgas. On the lake we observed Great Crested Grebes, White and Dalmatian Pelicans, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Black Tern and two Black-crowned Night Herons. Next on the agenda was a section of causeway adjoining Lake Mandra. Along the causeway Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Northern lapwing and Common Kingfisher. At the end of the causeway next to a village Ruff and Wood Sandpipers on the waters edge. Grey and Purple Herons flew over the reeds. Muddy areas attracted House Martins and Barn Swallows plus Spanish Sparrows. In the reedbed Sedge Warbler and singing Savi's Warblers. Further on another stop added Great Reed Warblers singing from reed tops. Open waters attracted Ferruginous Duck and White-winged Terns. A bonus came in the form of a male Little Bittern. We walked along the road with a huge north bound passage of White Storks and hirundines overhead. White-tailed and Lesser Spotted Eagles were also recorded before lunch. Afterwards another section of Lake Mandra. In the fields Common Quail, Crested and Eurasian Skylarks, and above us European Honey Buzzards and Short-toed Eagle. On exposed sand bars Caspian Gull, Black-headed, Mediterranean and a single Little Gull, Whiskered Terns and a male Garganey feeding between the spits. A short walk by apple orchards added a pair of Red-backed Shrikes, Ortolan Bunting and singing Olive Tree Warbler. On the return to Burgas a stop at the cities saltpans. Species present included Common Shelduck, Ruff, Spotted Redshank. Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper and Eurasian Curlew. Back to base via Pomerie saltpans (similar birds and numbers). Another great birding day in Bulgaria.

May 1st : Pomorie, Goritsa, Varna, Kavarna.

Weather: Sunny with occasional afternoon showers 25 C

Checked out and travelled adjacent to the Black Sea towards Varna. The first birding stop was the northern section of Pomorie saltpans. Shorebirds were plentiful here including large numbers of Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Avocet and Black-winged Stilts. Among these were a few uncommon migrants - Ringed Plover, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones. In the last pan a Slender-billed Gull was found, and overhead a single Glossy Ibis. We rejoined the main road passing areas of tourist development (not good for the country and wildlife) and stopped at a disused vineyard. Larger trees attracted displaying Barred Warblers, Red-backed Shrike, Whinchat and a single Black-headed Bunting. Lunch taken at a roadside restaurant with singing Common Redstarts in nearby oak trees. After lunch we crossed the road and walked along forest trails searching for birds. Semi-collared Flycatchers quickly located as they use nest boxes. Nearby a pair of Spotted Flycatchers and singing Short-toed Treecreepers. Back to the bus and heading north passing through Varna and onto Kavarna. Our last stop provided us with a female Eurasian Eagle Owl and two owlets, a fitting end to the day.

May 2nd : Kavarna, Durankulak, Shabla, Kaliakra.

Weather: Sunny with afternoon thunderstorms southeast winds 24 C

The hotel grounds held the usual species plus Song Thrush this morning. After breakfast we headed towards the border with Romania and the village of Durankulak. En route we located Red-footed Falcons perched on telegraph wires. The road down to the reserve is in poor condition and runs through a section of reedbeds. In the latter Sedge and Reed Warblers and the first of many Marsh Harriers. We parked in the camp ground and embarked on a walk adjacent to the marsh and seashore. In the next few hours we witnessed a visible migration northwards of Great and Little Egrets, Red-footed Falcon, Eurasian Hobby, Eurasian Kestrel, Whiskered and White-winged Terns. On the lake and surrounds Grey, Purple and Squacco Herons, Eurasian Wigeon, Savi's Warbler, Bearded Reedling and Penduline Tit. On the way back to the camp area a Lesser Grey Shrike perched in a bush. Lunch taken on the north side with European Roller, Whinchat, Common Whitethroat in trackside bushes. The weather started to close in, and we decided to head towards Shabla Lake. On arrival exposed areas of mud attracted Little Stint, Grey, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Wood Sandpiper and an unexpected bonus in two Pectoral Sandpipers. Open waters held Ruddy and Common Shelducks, Ferruginous Duck, Garganey and Northern Shovelers. Last stop of the day in the steppe like habitats of Kaliakra recording Calandra and Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipit and three Stone-Curlews. The rain turned heavier as we headed to base, another good birding day along the Black Sea.

May 3rd : Kavarna, Kaliakra, Srebarna, Vetren.

Weather : Overcast with frequent rain showers southwest winds 17 C.

After leaving Kavarna we made the short journey to Cape Kaliakra and a gorge running down towards the Black Sea. The weather was poor on arrival with light rain showers. On the gorge side a male Pied Wheatear and in nearby scrub a singing Thrush Nightingale. We walked slowly towards a farm with a reedbed and cliffs on one side. In the reeds Black-crowned Night Heron, Purple Heron, Little Bittern and Little Grebe. The scrub was alive with the songs of Common Nightingale and Common Whitethroat. Near the farm we caught up with Syrian Woodpecker in dead trees. Maureen located an Eurasian Eagle Owl sitting on the cliff – great views. In willows brief views of Eurasian Penduline Tit, and overhead Red-rumped Swallow and Alpine Swifts. At the end of the road on fence-posts and scrub Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes. The weather started to close in as we headed inland to Dobric and towards the mighty River Danube. A stop for lunch near oak woods produced a female Pied Flycatcher and singing Wood Warblers. We arrived at Srebarna a large, shallow lagoon with extensive reed cover at 1600. From an elevated position we located Great and Pygmy Cormorants, Dalmatian Pelican, Ferruginous and Tufted Ducks, Common Pochard, Common Tern, and overhead White-tailed Eagle and Marsh Harrier. A short distance up the road by a village we added Lesser Whitethroat to our list. The final stop was near Vetren by the river where Nick and I watched a Levant’s Sparrowhawk being mobbed by a pair of Eurasian Nuthatches. On the river a Common Kingfisher, cormorants and a party of Glossy Ibis. Checked in at Vetren a beautifully restored complex owned by Nikolay and his wife Dora. In the evening we had an enjoyable meal and wine.

May 4th : Vetren, Nova Cherna, Sofia.

Weather : Overcast with rain showers.

We said goodbye to Dora and her sister to make the fifty kilometer drive to Nova Cherna a complex of abandoned fish ponds. On arrival Red-footed Falcons and European Rollers resting on telegraph wires. Our attention was switched to Marsh Warblers singing in a grassy meadow, good views obtained. In the marsh itself dozens of Great Reed Warblers, Sedge Warbler and a reeling Grasshopper Warbler the latter a recent colonist to northern Bulgaria. Bittern was also heard booming in the reeds whilst a Wryneck showed well being flying off and calling. The distinctive calls of Grey-headed Woodpecker sounded out but we could not locate the bird. The remainder of the day was spent traveling towards Sofia adding our final species Rook on the way. In the evening a visit to a traditional Bulgarian restaurant for our final meal in Bulgaria. Afterwards a short sightseeing tour of Sofia which has come a long way in recent years.

May 5th : Sofia, Gatwick.

An early flight back to Gatwick from Sofia. We said goodbye to Nikolay and Petar at the airport and checked in before passing passport and customs control. At Gatwick all our luggage had arrived safely. It was time to say goodbye to everyone after a thoroughly enjoyable tour to Bulgaria.

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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