Friday 25 May 2012

Bulgaria - day 1

We woke up pretty early, we wanted to make every minute count. I had a tick outside the front door of the hotel before we had even gone anywhere, a small group of suspiciously long-tailed Cormorants came over, I surmised they were Pygmy Cormorants, and Dancho agreed. We would see them much better later on, but for now it was excellent news as Dick and Mo hadn't come downstairs yet and I was able to grip them off even before breakfast.

A quick walk down the beach for another new one, this time Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. This was literally three minutes from the hotel. And there was a Shrike. And Bee-eaters. I began to realise that this was going to be a superb trip. The eastern olly showed extremely well, and with a little patience I was able to get a couple of good photos of it, which you get to see here.

Back for breakfast, and then a monumental day beckoned. It's a little bit of a blur where exactly we went, but mostly it was south-west towards the spot where Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria coincide. I think I got another twelve new birds, but it was all about the experience, and I've never experienced anything like it. Cuckoos were everywhere, so were Golden Orioles. Nightingales and Corn Bunting were a constant soundtrack. Shrikes, oh god, the Shrikes. Everywhere, literally every place we stopped - four species in a day, and I lost count of the individuals. I had known I'd see a few, but I was woefully unprepared for the numbers. Mind blowing, at one point I had to sit down I think.

This continued for the whole day. Every place we stopped, I could easily have birded there for days. It was a shame we kept moving on, but such is guided birding - they have an itinerary and list of targets, so onwards we went. We scored them all, including Masked Shrike at the end of the day, a most-wanted. We encountered few towns, and no other people. Once outside Burgas, life became extremely rural, and the commonest mode of transport in the countryside was Donkey and cart. It is incredibly green, and replete with crumbling Soviet era concrete buildings, and the worst roads I have ever encountered. A series of joined-up potholes would be more accurate - the impression is of a country that has seen better days, although now outside of the USSR I guess that isn't true. But a lot of the place has been left to decay for whatever reason - presumably lack of money. Who cares though, the birding was phenomenal.

By the end of the day we had notched up 14 species of raptor, including Eastern Imperial Eagle and Lesser Spotted, one of which sat next to the car and let us soak it up. The Mo thought he had died and gone to heaven I think. I lost count of the number of times he muttered "oh Christ!", and then twatted me round the head with his camera lens whilst elbowing me in the face. I enjoyed it though, which is the main thing, and we all got in on the action.

Men at work. Dick (L), Mo (R)

We did a fair few miles in order to connect with all the target birds, and our day birding was slightly curtailed by a violent rainstorm somewhere near the border, but when we got back to the hotel for much-needed cold lager at a price you could not say no too, I knew we had experienced something special. My favourite place was a hilltop near a place called Topolovgrad, I could have stayed for hours. Monumental views in every direction, with a pair of Long-legged Buzzards and Isabelline Wheatears hopping about. Hawthorn-style scrub on the slopes held Olive Tree Warbler (enormous), Orphean Warbler, and of course Red-backed Shrikes. Breathtaking birding, why oh why can't the UK be like this. The last time I had a view like that with birds like that was.....oh, wait.....Kington Golf Club in Herefordshire, three days ago!

Olive Tree Warbler
A bit of skulker, but got there in the end


  1. Nice pictures of the Olivaceous, I have recently just got back from Cyprus where I heard lots singing but only managed to see a few, very hard to pin down in the Olive groves out there. Sounds like you had a good trip.

  2. Sounds idyllic. Its what you get when you farm in a normal way and not as a factory. I am afraid that birding in this country is going to be less rewarding and harder work as time goes on. Twenty five years ago I was recording flocks of 50 Tree Sparrows on Hackney Marshes. If the Thames airport is built we might as well all move. How much is a house in Bulgaria ?.