Bulgaria is a republic occupying an area of over 110 000 square kilometres, but with a population of only 7.5 million. It is a beautiful country, with varied landscapes, fine foods and wines and superb birding. A lot of the birds are shared with other southern European countries, but some of the more noteworthy ones are Pygmy Cormorant, Levant Sparrowhawk, Isabelline Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Paddyfield Warbler, Olive-tree Warbler, Sombre Tit, Masked Shrike and Rose-coloured Starling. Raptors were not as common as I had expected, but we had excellent views of Imperial Eagles at two sites, saw several Lesser Spotted Eagles, and several Long-legged Buzzards. Some of the warblers were also either scarce or difficult to find and we did not see Barred or Eastern Orphean Warblers.
June 3 - Fly LGW0635-SOF1145. Drive to Krapets
June 4 - Lake Dourankoulak, Lake Shabla, Cape Kaliakra, Baltata Forest. Drive to Bourgas
June 5 - Wetlands near Bourgas. Drive to Eastern Rodophe Mountains via Sakar Mountains
June 6 - Eastern Rodophe Mountains
June 7 - Eastern Rodophe Mountains. Arda River and roadside stops. Drive to Plovdiv
June 8 - Drive Plovdiv to Trigrad Gorge with stops en route
June 9 - Trigrad Gorge and nearby forest. Drive to Sofia with stop at Vitosha NP. Fly SOF2215-LGW2340
June 3 2008
We arrived at Sofia on time and were met by our guide and our driver. We then commenced our long drive east, stopping only a few times, for comfort and for food. On these occasions, and also while driving, a few interesting birds were seen. We saw several White and two Black Storks, two Honey Buzzards, a few Red-rumped Swallows, six Yellow Wagtails (of the race feldegg), a Pied Wheatear, three Red-backed Shrikes, and our first Golden Oriole. It took seven hours to drive to Krapets, on the Black Sea Coast, and we finally arrived at our hotel at 2030. After a light meal and a few beers we adjourned to our rooms for an early night.
June 4 2008
We met at the car at 0600 and drove to Lake Dourankoulak, where we spent a pleasant four hours birding. The key bird here is Paddyfield Warbler and about 25 were seen easily. Their superciliums are not nearly as obvious as shown in the field guide, nor as obvious as on the juveniles that turn up in Britain in autumn. However the quiet and varied song is diagnostic. They were easier to see than the Reed Warblers. Great Reed Warblers were singing everywhere, but only two Savi´s Warblers were seen (but a few more were heard). Other interesting birds seen here were four Little Bitterns, four Squacco Herons, 10 Purple Herons, six Ferruginous Ducks, an adult male Red-footed Falcon (the only one we saw),three Collared Pratincoles, some Little ringed and Kentish Plovers, 20 Cuckoos flying in twosand threes,eight Hoopoes, seven Bee-eaters, two Rollers, some Calandra Larks, andone Tawny Pipit. We walked south until we reached a small wood. Here we found our first pair of Lesser Grey Shrikes – in the course of the day we saw 22. Our car was waiting here to take us for our much-needed breakfast. We then checked out and drove south to Shabla Lake where we had further views of some species we had seen earlier plus two Bearded Tits, more Rollers, and two Golden Orioles. After a few roadside stops, where we added Spanish Sparrow, Hawfinch, an Ortolan and 13 Black-headed Buntings tothe list, we explored Cape Kaliakri. Here we saw two Black-throated Divers, 200 Shags, 25 Calandra Larks, many Pied Wheatears, two Black-eared Wheatears, and 20 Alpine Swifts. We then drove further south to Albena where two Semi-collared Flycatchers and a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers were seen. It had been hot and sunny all day. We had a quick look at some saltpans north of Bourgas, where we saw plenty of Black-winged Stilts and Avocets, one Sandwich and five Little Terns, and 30 Mediterranean Gulls. We then found our hotel and enjoyed the local food.
June 5 2008
Another long drive and a long tiring day, but we made numerous stops along the way. The first stop was Vaya Lake, a wetland near to Bourgas where we saw many White Pelicans, and doubtless overlooked some Dalmatian Pelicans as there had been some of these here too. At a nearby site we saw eight Pygmy Cormorants. Later, when we stopped for three Honey Buzzards, we took a walk in the adjacent dry oak woodland and saw a pair of Masked Shrikes, six Hawfinches, an Eastern Bonelli´s, an Icterine, and four Olivaceous Warbler. We also stopped further down the road to view Bulgaria´s most well-known pair of Imperial Eagles and these were seen well. Nearby we managed to call out an Olive-tree Warbler, and this too gave good views. There were also12 Calandra Larks. As we proceeded along our route we encountered seven Yellow Wagtails, four Rollers, a Montagu´s Harrier, four Lesser Spotted Eagles, three Ravens and a Long-legged Buzzard. In the Eastern Rodophe Mountains we checked in to our guest house for two nights, in Borislavtsi Village, located in the Turkish area. In the course of the day we noted 35 Turtle Doves, our highest daily total. From the window of our little room on the edge of town we could look out across the countryside and see a pair of Little Owls, some Olivaceous Warblers and two Red-backed Shrikes. During the day we saw one Ortolan and many Corn and Black-headed Buntings. Nightingales were again singing everywhere. Today it was again hot and sunny.
June 6 2008
Today we drove a circuit of 180 km, searching various places in the Eastern Rodophe Mountains. At Studens Kladenets we saw our only Black Vulture and also five Black Kites, but raptors were not common here, the only other notable ones being 40 Griffon and three Egyptian Vultures, two Long-legged Buzzards, and two Hobbies. During the day we saw a Hoopoe, 100 Alpine Swifts, many Bee-eaters, two Rollers, 15 Crag Martins, 30 Red-rumped Swallows, six Blue Rock Thrushes, four Sombre Tits, 15 Red-backed, five Woodchat and three Lesser Grey Shrikes. There were also five Hawfinches, many Corn, 25 Black-headed, three Cirl, three Rock andtwo Ortolan Buntings. The weather was hot and sunny in the morning, but the afternoon became rainy and by evening this had become very heavy.
June 7 2008
Today we tried to find some of the species that we had missed yesterday, and after a lot of searching we located a Subalpine Warbler with her brood, then later we saw several more. In the same area there were two Sombre Tits, four Cirl Buntings and ten Hawfinches. We never did find Eastern Orphean Warbler. Two Short-toed Eagles flew over. We birded the mountains until 1100, then it was time to move on. It rained on and off for most of the day and it was rather cool. We stopped at a few places seeing 100 Alpine Swifts, several Cuckoos, 20 Turtle Doves 15 Crag Martins, 25 Red-rumped Swallows, three Rock Buntings, numerous Black-headed Buntings. and three Little Owls. Four Masked Shrikes were found, one bird sitting on its nest in a poplar. Somewhere we had good views of three Olive-tree and some Olivaceous Warblers. Although we saw Red-backed Shrikes everyday, today we only counted seven, and just two Woodchat Shrikes. We saw our last Lesser Grey Shrike, which had previously been a common roadside bird.We saw our highest number of Golden Orioles, which was eight,and then spent a couple of hours birding by the Arda River. Here there were a lot of Sand Martins nesting in the riverbanks, and four Little Ringed Plovers on a sandbar (one seen to settle on four eggs). Our only Kingfisher was seen here and there was also a Hoopoe, 20 Bee-eaters and three Rollers. Nightingales were heard throughout the day. A male Levant Sparrowhawk flew by and into the poplar plantation. While we searched for it we noticed a nest that contained a sitting Long-eared Owl. The poplars contained a large population of breeding Spanish Sparrows. We then had another long drive to reach Plovdiv, where we stayed at the excellent Plovdiv Guesthouse. A Scops Owl was calling nearby.
June 8 2008
Last night we were able to look at the small Roman Amphitheatre, and this morning we saw the large one, here in Bulgaria´s second largest city. We finally left Plovdiv at 0900 with another long drive ahead of us. At a known site we saw two immature Imperial Eagles sitting on a hilltop, and when they began to fly around we had superb views. Other raptors seen today were two Long-legged Buzzards a Lesser Spotted Eagle and a Short-toed Eagle. There are a lot of Susliks in the area and these are good food for many predators, but the land is being converted to vineyards in a lot of places, which makes the area poorer for wildlife. Calandra and Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipits and Ortolan Buntings were present in the grasslands. As we travelled further along the road a chance sighting of two flying Rose-coloured Starlings led to the discovery of a colony of 350 birds in a nearby quarry. They commuted from there to the nearest town where they feasted upon cherries. There was a pair of Isabelline Wheatears nearby. Our only two Lapwings were seen today and there were ten Bee-eaters and a Roller, and Black-headed Buntings were again very common along the roadside. As we began to get into the mountains we saw a Lesser Spotted Eagle. Asingle Dipper was seen on the river. When we arrived at the Trigrad Gorge it was about 1600, and we waited for a long while, but could not find the Wallcreeper. A Peregrine flew around.Most of the day it was dry, but it was more rainy in the afternoon in the mountains. From our guesthouse window in Trigrad there were three Serins and a Black Redstart.
June 9 2008
We took a pre-breakfast walk amongst the spruce forest and heard a Nutcracker and saw a Black Woodpecker. A Firecrest was singing and there were five Serins. There were four Chiffchaffs - we had only seen one previously on the trip. After breakfast we went to the gorge and after nearly three hours someone spotted the Wallcreeper. Unfortunately it was not close and also high up the cliffs, but that was our only sighting. Fifteen Black Redstarts and a Marsh Tit were seen. The Peregrine flew around the gorge repeatedly. At 1115 we decided to leave as it was a long drive to Sofia Airport. Another Dipper was seen along the river. It was raining on and off, sometimes heavily. We drove up to Vitosha NP and were lucky that it was not raining. We did not have a lot of time but had good views of four Nutcrackers, 20 Crossbills and a pair of Willow Tits of the race montanus feeding their brood in a hole in a dead conifer. Then it began to rain heavily again and we drove to the Airport for our 2215 flight back to the UK.
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Birdwatching in Bulgaria