Bulgaria 2018

Mark Finn
August 25th-September 1st 2018

This was our first visit back to Bulgaria after a few years and it once again confirmed to us that it is an exceptional area to watch birds. The Black Sea coast acts as a bottleneck during the migration periods. Very high numbers of waders were recorded including scarce migrants in Broad-billed Sandpiper and Collared Pratincole. Raptors passage had just started with sightings of Levant Sparrowhawk, Saker Falcon, Red-footed Falcon and Montagu's Harriers. It also appeared to be the peak time for European Bee-eaters, European Rollers and Red-backed Shrikes. Passerines in general were about in small numbers including a juvenile Barred Warbler on Cape Kaliakra.
I would like to thank Assen for his exceptional skills in finding us and showing the group around his native Bulgaria.
Our next visit is in May 2020 details of which will be available shortly via our website.

August 25th: United Kingdom, Bucharest, Vetren

Today was essentially a travel day to Bucharest in Romania where the tour commenced to Bulgaria. All of us arrived on time and set off southwards towards the border. Not too much birding along the way apart from views of White Stork and Crested Larks near the border post. Our arrival in the village of Vetren which is situated close to the River Danube. Birds around the garden included several groups of southbound Barn Swallows and Sand Martins. The end to a long travel day.

August 26th: Vetren, Lake Srebarna, Kavarna Road, Kavarna, Bulgarevo, Sveti Nikola
Daily total 70 New 70 Running 70
Weather: Hot and sunny with a NE wind 31C

Before breakfast our guide Assen had arranged a walk through the village towards the Danube. Many of the village houses had been abandoned or the residents had passed on which led to many gardens being overgrown with shrubbery and trees. This habitat proved to give the birdlife a lift in numbers particularly the summer migrants. The first sector of road towards the shop revealed Turtle Dove, Eurasian Jay, several European Golden Orioles, Syrian and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and at least two Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers calling from nearby trees. The wires were laden with migrant hirundines mainly Barn Swallow, Sand and House Martins and a few Red-rumped Swallows. In the scrub a Lesser Whitethroat showed with parties of Eurasian Tree and House Sparrows. The woodland edge added Green Woodpeckers and Spotted Flycatchers plus calling Eurasian Nuthatch and Long-tailed Tits. The Danube was rather disturbed by fisherman and low water levels resulting in a few Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls on the edges of the river. Back to base for breakfast and a visit to Lake Srebarna. The scrub around the lake added migrant Willow Warblers and Common Chiffchaffs. On the lake itself the endangered Dalmatian Pelican, Great Crested Grebe, Ferruginous Duck, Gadwall and Mallard. A few Whiskered Terns were also present with a single Black Tern. The group were soon on the road to Kavarna passing by huge fields of maize and sunflowers two valuable crops for the country. Lunch taken at the hotel followed by visiting two steppe areas notably Bulgarevo and Sveti Nikola. Before reaching these important areas a stop in the town centre added a group of Pallid Swifts. Once on the steppe we witnessed a large passage of Red-backed, Lesser Grey and Woodchat Shrikes, Tawny Pipits, Isabelline and Northern Wheatears. Near a rubbish strewn area our attention was drawn to a large flock of Alpine Swifts high above us in the sky. A stop at the nearby cliffs provided us with views of Great Cormorant, European Shag, Common Terns and a few Little Gulls. Sveti Nikola was a fitting finale as the wires had European Rollers, European Bee-eaters, Corn Bunting and a distant Osprey migrating high in the sky. The last stop was good for post winter flocks of Calandra Larks, Eurasian Hoopoe and a Common Buzzard perched on a telegraph pole.

August 27th: Kavarna, Bolata, Cape Kaliakra, Bulgarevo
Daily 70 New 24 Running 94
Weather: Hot with NE winds 33C

Outside the hotel a garden held a pair of Black Redstarts a recent breeding bird in this part of Bulgaria. The scrubby hillside attracted Spotted Flycatcher and Blackcap. After breakfast we made the short journey to the Bolata Valley which is a migration bottleneck with mature trees, scrub and limestone cliffs. On arrival a walk towards the old pumping station added Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Lesser Grey Shrike, calling Little Grebe, and overhead a steady flow of southbound European Bee-eaters and Alpine Swifts. The next hour or so produced many migrant birds of prey including European Honey and Common Buzzards, Montagu's and Western Marsh Harriers, Eurasian and Levant Sparrowhawk, Northern Goshawk, Short-toed Eagle and falcons - Eurasian Hobby, Red-footed Falcon and Eurasian Kestrel. Also present were a single Purple Heron and the commoner passerines. A detour towards the jetty and beach produced little of note so the group headed towards Cape Kaliakra and a secluded picnic spot. The entrance track held a Greater Short-toed Lark and on the sea Mediterranean Gull. After lunch a visit to Cape Kaliakra where old ruins attracted Black-eared Wheatear. A walk towards the point added Sandwich and Common Terns, a few Yelkouan Shearwaters and dozens of hirundines using the cliffs. On the return walk a shrub covered gulley had a first year Barred Warbler, Willow Warbler, Pied Wheatear and an uncommon bird in the form of a juvenile Rock Petronia. We ended the day at Bulgavero and the steppe habitats which on this occasion produced a surprise bird in Bimaculated Lark along with sightings of Calandra and Crested Larks, Isabelline Wheatear and the commoner migrants.
Mammals: European Wild Cat (1) European Souslik (1)

August 28th: Kavarna, Durankulak, Shabla
Daily 89 New 35 Running 129
Weather: Cloudy with sunny periods 33C with a N wind

This morning we headed north towards the village of Durankulak which is close to the border with Romania. Our first stop was along the road near a recently ploughed field with telegraph poles. On the field several Common Buzzards, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, a juvenile Levant Sparrowhawk and in roadside scrub a calling Common Nightingale. On arrival at Durankulak we parked up near the Black Sea and observed birds offshore including a winter plumaged Black-throated Diver, Black-necked Grebe and a steady passage of Yellow-billed, Mediterranean and Little Gulls. A walk along the beach and onto an elevated position allowed us to watch a section of the lake which produced Little Grebe, Squacco Heron, Great Egret, Ferruginous Duck and a pair of Common Kingfishers. Further along the track a scan along the shore had Sanderling and close Caspian and Common Terns. Returned to the restaurant complex for drinks and then a walk within the degraded campground. This was productive for Syrian Woodpecker, Red-breasted and Spotted Flycatchers and several European Turtle Doves. It was time to visit the lake complex at Shabla a few miles towards the south. This is an outstanding site at migration times and today proved to be exceptional. The lake is rather shallow in places and has muddy margins and reedbeds. A small patch of exposed mud was exceptional for migrant waders with sightings of Common, Broad-billed, Curlew and Wood Sandpipers, Little and Temminck's Stints, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, Dunlin and Little Ringed Plovers. On the far side of the lake Garganey, Eurasian Teal and Northern Shoveler were common along with Black-headed and a few Slender-billed Gulls. An inlet attracted Common Snipe, Common Shelduck and Pied Avocet. A bonus bird was a Spotted Crake which was located by Neil wandering along the reed edge. Before leaving the area a single Collared Pratincole and a female Bearded Reedling were seen. The remainder of the day was spent visiting cliff and steppe habitats without adding anything of note, a truly wonderful days birding along the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.

August 29th: Kavarna, Toyola, Yatata, Goritsa, Pomorie
Daily 76 New 19 Running 148
Weather: Sunny with light W winds 29C

Checked out at Kavarna with a late Common Swift being seen by clients. After breakfast a diversion to the cliffs at Toyola where an adult Eurasian Eagle Owl was found walking along a narrow gap within the cliff itself. Above the cliff hirundines were common along with a few Alpine Swifts and large flocks of migrating European Bee-eaters. On the road again with another diversion to an Ostrich farm which is run by relatives of Jean, an enjoyable time was spent here and then onto Yatata Lake. From an elevated position we located Black-crowned Night Heron, Great and Little Egrets, Dalmatian Pelicans, Purple and Grey Herons, calling Water Rails and several Common Greenshanks in flight. It was time to take the road towards Bourgas via the village of Goritsa where an enjoyable lunch was consumed. In the nearby oak woods a short walk was taken with sightings of Middle-spotted and Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers, Eurasian Nuthatch, Spotted Flycatcher and Hawfinch. The back road to Pomorie was taken which eventually leads to the large wetlands bearing the same name. Although rather degraded the shallow lagoons attract huge numbers of birds at migration times. Careful scanning added new species notably Marsh, Common and Green Sandpipers, Spotted and Common Redshanks, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Common Pochard and Great White Pelican. Near the van a few warblers were noted in the reed edge including Sedge and European Reed Warblers. Pomorie is close by our base for two nights.

August 30th: Pomarie, Bourgas Lakes
Daily 90 New 7 Running 155
Weather: Hot and sunny with a light NE wind 35C

A later start today with the first birding spot being the old salt workings close to Pomarie. This was an excellent spot to study various gulls and terns at close range as they perched on posts. The group recorded Black-headed, Yellow-legged, Mediterranean, Little and Slender-billed Gulls, Little, Common and Sandwich Terns, Great Crested, Little and Black-necked Grebes. More unusual species included Black Tern and Common Pochard. Picked up supplies and headed towards Bourgas the fourth largest town in Bulgaria. The first stop was an area of saltpans with good numbers of gulls and waders. Vaya Lake is always a productive area and today was no exception with high numbers of Dalmatian and White Pelicans, Great Crested Grebe, Great and Pygmy Cormorants. Lake Mandra is further inland and freshwater in nature. A short walk by the lake edge added Purple Heron and Black Crowned Night Heron to the list plus calling European Penduline Tits. The warm thermals were starting to attract birds which included Saker Falcon, European Honey Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle and Eurasian Marsh Harrier. Lunch was taken at another part of Mandra where exposed mud attracted many of the commoner birds. It proved to be a good spot as sightings of Lesser Spotted and White-tailed Eagles, hundreds of White Storks and low-level hirundines of which Red-rumped Swallows were numerous. In a nearby village the group witnessed hundreds of Sand Martins perched on wires ready for the southbound migration. Further stops at Poda and close to Bourgas had similar birds to earlier in the day with the addition of Broad-billed Sandpiper, Little Ringed, Kentish and Ringed Plovers, Lesser Whitethroat and Spanish Sparrow. On the way to Pomorie a pair of Montagu's Harriers showed well along with a European Roller.

August 31st: Pomorie, Vetren, Lake Srebarna
Daily 57 New 5 Final 160
Weather: Hot and sunny with light NE winds 34C

Today we left the Black Sea coast and travelled NW towards Vetren our final stop in Bulgaria. The usual birds were around Pomorie with the addition of a Little Owl perched next to a chimney in a small village. Lunch was taken en route next to a recently harvested maize field. Birds were few although the forest habitats near Goritsa added European Robins feeding on insects along the road. A garden next to a petrol station held a male Black Redstart. Checked in at Vetren and decided to meet up at 1600 hours to visit a quiet area of Lake Srebarna. This proved to be a productive spot with close views of Pygmy Cormorant, Ferruginous Duck, Syrian Woodpecker, European Turtle Dove and brief views of a male Little Bittern. The bushes attracted Red-backed Shrike, European Golden Oriole, Lesser Whitethroat and in a dead willow tree Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Common Nightingale and three Garden Warblers. A return visit to the main lake added little of note apart from a female Northern Pintail and two Hawfinches in flight.
Mammals: Brown Hare (1)

September 1st: Vetren, Bucharest, UK

An earlier breakfast and departure today as we had to return to Bucharest airport. Our journey meant taking the ferry across the Danube into Romania which was an interesting experience in itself.  Before the ferry groups of migrant European Turtle Doves on wires an increasingly rare sight in Europe today. On the Romania side roadside pools and ponds held the commoner wetland species. Arrived at the airport just before midday in plenty of time for our flights home.


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