Early Spring Trip Report (Bulgaria) 19-30 April 2008.

Background: I had visited the 2007 Birdfair and been impressed by the large variety of birds to be seen in Bulgaria particularly during the annual bird migrations along the west coast of the Black Sea. Later I e-mailed a couple of bird watching businesses in Bulgaria and received a prompt and positive reply from Pavel Simeonov of Branta-Tours. At 11 pm on 19 April 2008 I therefore found myself eating an excellent late dinner prepared by Pavel's charming wife Tatyana at their comfortable Branta Birding Lodge. How nice to feel so welcome. There followed ten days of intensive birding. I rapidly discovered that Pavel knew where to find the birds; was sharp eyed, very knowledgeable and impressively persistent in locating them. This resulted in my seeing 199 different species. Pavel is a musician and his accurate memory for bird song proved an immense asset, which so often enabled us to focus on the right spot to find the next bird. I have many pleasant memories and amongst them the following are special:

- Cape Kaliakra seemingly carpeted in Larks (4 types) with wild Peonies, Irises and Adonis all in flower. This is a special place and our pleasure was capped by the sight of a Pallid Harrier passing close on its route North.

- Stalking for a photo in the Sakar Hills an Imperial Eagle that had dropped to the ground.

- Waking at 3 am in Borislavtzi in the East Rhodopes, where we were staying for the night, to hear Nightingales singing (Pavel had told me the day before that they can sing 24/7 - here was the proof!)

- Standing frozen in the Trigrad Gorge waiting for a Wallcreeper to appear.

- Looking out over an evergreen forest, which seemed empty, until Pavel charmed three Nutcrackers out with their recorded calls from his minibus radio.

- Standing in a meadow above the Rila Monastery surrounded by thirty or more Ring Ouzels plus many other species, including White-backed Woodpecker, Sombre Tit and Water Pipits. We were very lucky to chance upon such a unique sight caused by an unknown event (bad weather?) which had pushed all these birds down the mountain to this spot.

From the diary:

20 April 2008.
Weather warm and sunny. Areas covered: Lake Durankulak, Black Sea shore, town of Shabla, lagoon Shabla Tusla, Cape Kaliakra and gorge near by.
The following birds were seen (Birds in italics were seen on more than one day):
Little Grebe, Cormorant (Large numbers), Pygmy Cormorant, Shag, Grey, Purple, Squacco, & Night Herons, Great & Little Egrets, Bittern, White Stork, Glossy Ibis, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Garganey, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, Mute Swan, Common & Long-legged Buzzards, Marsh & Montagu´s Harriers, Pallid Harrier, Osprey, Hobby, Red Footed Falcon, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed & Little Ringed Plover, Marsh, Wood & Common Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Little Stint, Black Winged Stilt, Stone Curlew, Collared Pratincole, Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis race), Whiskered Tern, Cuckoo, Eagle & Little Owls, Alpine Swift, Kingfisher, Hoopoe, Hooded Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Magpie, Jay, Calandra, Sky, Crested, Short Toed & Wood Larks, Swallow & Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Great & Blue Tits, Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Stonechat, Whinchat, Redstart, Savi´s, Reed & Great Reed Warblers, Whitethroat, Pied & White Collared Flycatchers, House & Spanish Sparrow, Tawny Pipit, Tree Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail (beema race), Balkan Wagtail, Starling, Green & Gold Finches, Linnet, Corn, Ortolan & Reed Buntings. Heard but not seen were a Scops Owl and a Little Crake. Also seen was a Weasel.

21 April.
Weather dry, warm and sunny. Areas covered: Southern edge of the Danube Delta (Romania).
New birds seen: White & Dalmatian Pelicans, (Former in a large flock), Spoonbill, Kentish Plover, Snipe, Black Tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Redshank, Pectoral Sandpiper, Ruff, Avocet, Sandwich, Gull Billed, Caspian, Common, Little, Black & White-winged Black Terns, Sand Martin, Bearded Tit (More often heard than seen!), Chiffchaff, Yellow Wagtails (thunbergi & dombrowski) & Woodchat Shrike. Also seen were Souslik.

22 April.
Weather warm, overcast with sun breaking through. Areas covered: Southwards along Bulgarian Black Sea coast.
New birds seen: Greenshank, Swift, Middle Spotted Woodpecker (In wood at Goritsa), Long Tailed Tit, Short Toed Tree Creeper, Nuthatch, Robin, Blackcap, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Yellow Wagtail (beema race), Hawfinch, Chaffinch.

23 April.
Weather sunny but cooler. Areas covered: Burgas Wetlands (Lakes Atanasovsko, Vaya & Poda), Ropotamo River, Strandja woodlands on Turkish Border and a visit to the ancient town of Sozopol.
New birds seen: it was a pleasure to hear today three of nature´s great singers the Nightingale, Song Thrush and Golden Oriole. Also seen were Black Stork, Tufted Duck, Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted & Booted Eagles, Yellow-legged Gull, Crag Martin, Song Thrush, Cetti´s Warbler, Dipper.

24 April.
Weather overcast and cool with some light rain later. Areas covered: we now left the Black Sea coast and for the remainder of the trip headed west through Bulgaria´s mountainous border area with Turkey and Greece. Today we travelled through the Sakar Hills and Eastern Rhodopes.
New birds seen: Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Eastern Imperial & Short Toed Eagles, Black Kite, Turtle Dove, Wood Pigeon, Roller, Green Woodpecker, Raven, Sombre Tit, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Isabelline Wheatear, Cirl Bunting. Also seen feasting on the same carcase as the Vultures was a Jackal. (If we had reached the carcase a little earlier in the day we would have also seen the Black Vultures, which live just across the border in Greece).

25 April.
Weather pleasantly warm with a cool breeze. Areas covered: Madjarovo, Studen Kladenetz Dam and Dolna Kula.
New birds seen: Sparrow Hawk, Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Bee Eater, Rock Nuthatch (On nest), Rock Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear (dark form), Black-eared Wheatear (light form), Sub-Alpine, Barred & Eastern Bonelli´s Warblers, Grey Wagtail, Rock Bunting.

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