Trip Report - Spring Tour of Bulgaria 20/05/06 to 31/05/06.

A little background may be useful. In December 2005, I booked a birdwatching trip to Bulgaria & subsequently arranged & paid for the flights & recommended vaccinations. 4 days before the tour was due to commence, I received notice that the tour was cancelled.
Via email I contacted Branta-Tours. They responded speedily to my last minute request & agreed an itinerary which broadly matched the programme offered by the original tour operator.

Departed Gatwick 10.30am on direct flight to Sofia. Arrived 15.30pm local time & met Pavel Simeonov, the principal of Branta-Tours Company.
After a swift introduction we were on the road south via the Kresna Gorge. Some
birding was done en route and within the few hours of daylight remaining, we were able to explore part of the Kresna Gorge. It became clear immediately that Pavel is not only a very skilful birder but is also tenacious in his quest to find the birds.
Level ground is at a premium in this area & although of limited duration, the first session was tiring but yielded 36 species. The highlights were White Stork(4), Long-legged Buzzard(1), Lesser-spotted Woodpecker(1), Red-rumped Swallow(30), Tawny Pipit(1), Black-eared Wheatear(2), Spotted Flycatcher2) & a single Red-backed Shrike.
At 10pm we arrived @ Melnik .Clean & comfortable accommodation in traditional
guesthouse. Welcomed by proprietor with a carafe of his own wine & the local cheese. Excellent dinner @ a local restaurant with Pavel. A grand first day which ended @ 1.00am!

Up @ 6.30am for breakfast with our host. Early start in vicinity of Rojen Monastery.
Beautiful landscape & birds galore. An early lunch was taken whilst birding.
Long but enjoyable drive into Western Rhodope Mountains.
Arrived @ Trigrad Gorge in early evening with Wallcreeper in mind. Unfortunately, the bird had not read the script so at dusk we departed for a night @ Devin.
However, the day yielded 45 new species which included Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Alpine Swift(50), Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Calandra (6) & Short-toed Larks(12),
Black-headed Wagtail(1),Dipper(2), Lesser Whitethroat(2), Olivaceous, Subalpine, Orphean(2)& Barred Warblers(1), Sombre and Crested Tits, Golden Oriole(8), Rock Sparrow(2), Hawfinch(2),Cirl(2), Rock(2), Corn(40) & Black-headed Buntings(30) & the only Crossbill of the trip.
Night @ Devin. Small family hotel where we had a pleasant meal with the owners.
Retired @ 12.30.

Up @ 6.30am & again, breakfast with hosts.
Off to the Trigrad Gorge once more. We stayed in the Gorge until mid-day but despite the combined efforts of our host Vlado , who coincidentally is a ranger in the local reserve, and another Trigrad resident, the Wallcreeper did not show. No problem!
During the afternoon we travelled into the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, where we were to meet Lupy, a friend of Pavel.
We arrived later than planned but for the best of reasons. The birds & flora en route kept us busy.
The day provided 12 new species & included Black Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Little & Scops Owls, Crag Martin(60), Isabelline Wheatear(2), Blue Rock Thrush, Olive- Tree
Warbler & Ortolan Bunting
The night was spent @ Madjarovo. From the exterior our accommodation was less than promising but it provided a perfectly adequate base, convenient for the sites which we were to visit during the following 2 days.
Dinner @ local restaurant to the accompaniment of Scops & Little Owls.
Retired @ 1.30am

Up @ 6.30am. With Lupy, we explored the Arda River valley & Studen Kladenetz Dam en route to a raptor feeding point where we had brunch.
On returning to our vehicle, we had close views of Griffon & Egyptian vultures which had temporarily left their feeding station after being disturbed by wolves.
With the temperature in the high 30s, the remainder of the day was spent exploring the Dam area & Dolna Kula at a leisurely pace.
17 new species were seen including Booted Eagle, Hobby(2), Chukar, Pallid Swift(2),
Roller(2), Hoopoe(2), Syrian Woodpecker, Woodlark(2), Sardinian Warbler(2),
Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper and Rose-coloured Starling(6).
Second night @ Madjarovo .Dinner with table for 8 @ local restaurant with friends of Pavel.
Retired around midnight.

An early start to look for Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush in the mountains around Madjarovo. Success!
Much of the morning was spent in Byala Reka area close to the Greek border. The 4WD came into its own but the terrain eventually defeated us. Back on to tarmac, we headed north via Ivaylovgrad Dam.
Around Yerusalimovo in Sakar Mountain, Pavel`s determination to find Masked Shrike(2) was rewarded after an extensive search. Red-backed(60), Lesser Grey & Woodchat Shrikes(10) were easier to find.
Near Pastrogor, we found Eastern Imperial Eagle relatively quickly.
Continuing our northerly passage, we stopped occasionally & heard Quail singing at one venue.
The day yielded 9 new species including Goshawk, Lesser Spotted Eagle and Black Woodpecker (heard). In addition, we saw(or heard) good numbers of Black Stork(12), White Stork(20), Honey Buzzard(4), Common Buzzard(30), Swift(40), Turtle Dove(60), Crested Lark(30), Woodlark(16), Nightingale(20), Golden Oriole(12), Cirl (12), Corn (40) & Black-headed Buntings (12).
Arrived @ Burgas after dark & said goodbye to Lupy. Continued to Pomorie where we stayed @ Byalata Kashta , a small comfortable hotel overlooking the Black Sea.
Dinner in a nearby restaurant with Pavel.
Retired shortly after midnight.

Excellent breakfast taken @ leisurely hour of 7.00.
A morning tour of lakes & saltpans around Burgas (Atanasovsko, Burgas& Mandra)
provided a huge contrast to previous days and as expected produced a high number of new species. For sheer volume, Great Cormorant (500), White Pelicans (100), Black-winged Stilt (120), Avocet (250), Little Stint (200), Curlew Sandpiper (80), Common Tern(120) and Little Tern (40) took the honours.
Our activity for most of the afternoon was concentrated around Ropotamo River. This
area has a variety of habitats and included wooded mountains in addition to more wetlands.
During the last hours of daylight, we returned to the saltpans around Burgas.
New species for the day totalled 42 and included Little Bittern(2), Night Heron(12),
Squacco Heron, Little Egret(12), Great Egret, Glossy Ibis(6), Spoonbill(4), Collared Pratincole (20), Kentish Plover(6), Yellow-legged (80) & Slender-billed Gulls(2), Red-crested Pochard (2), Great Reed Warbler (2) & Penduline Tit (2).
Overnight again @ Byalata Kashta, Pomorie & a fish dinner in the local restaurant in the company of the hotel owner.
Retired after midnight.

Fuelled with another super breakfast, we paid a final visit to the local saltpans to find more waders. More of the same plus Wood Sandpiper.
During the day we drove approximately 120 miles to Shabla. Our route took us close to the coast & we stopped frequently.
At Goritsa, I was introduced to Pavel's father who accompanied us into the local forest to search successfully for Semi-collared Flycatcher (3).
By mid-afternoon we had reached the Kaliakra peninsular and new species came thick & fast. Most notable of 11 new birds were Black-throated Diver, Black-necked Grebe(4), Mediterranean Sheerwater (5K), Shag(20), Red-footed Falcon, Stone Curlew, Tree Pipit, Pied Wheatear (30) & unquestionably the bird of the day, a single Finsch's Wheatear.
A heavy shower curtailed our birding for the day so we drove to Pavel's home in Shabla & met his wife Tatyana & son Pavel jnr. & to sample their excellent strawberry crop.
It was then a short journey to the Yanitza Hotel @ Krapetz where dinner was taken with Pavel's family & the hotel owners.
To bed @ midnight in a comfortable room overlooking the Black Sea.

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