Monday 21 May 2012

Bulgaria - the start

Where to start? I’ve just been on a four day trip to Bulgaria, and I’ve been blown away by both quantity and quality. Unless you’ve been there, or you birded in the UK in the late 1890’s, you will have no concept of what the birding there is like. Nightingales seemingly outnumber Robins by about 1000 to 1, Shrikes are common birds, Golden Orioles live in towns, and Bee-eaters are a familiar sight. If you step outside you are assaulted by a wave of sound – “Prruuuk” intermingles with the screams of Swifts, the chattering of Swallows, the fluting of Orioles, and Marsh Warblers add a background of seemingly everything else. If you have not been, you need to. Mind-blowing birding.

I could do a trip report I suppose, but I’ll leave that to Bradders, it’s more his thing. I’m just going to do my usual day by day roundup, and slap a load of photos up. And I mean a load. Although the trip was a birding trip, I can never resist pointing a lens at things, and when Dick’s head wasn’t in the way, or Mo’s elbow in my face (cheers guys!), I did manage to fire off a few shots, some of which please me a great deal. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be doing more of this, but it seems that it’s extremely difficult to actually make a living doing so, and so for now I remain in Canary Wharf, living the dream. And to think I have more Pine Grosbeak photos as well....

This was a four day trip, although it required a day travelling – with the terribly-named Wizzair, with their fetching pinky-mauve planes. At least it wasn’t Wizz-bang-Air I suppose, and the fact that I am typing this suggests that they succeeded in their primary task which was getting me there and back in one piece. This they did, though in truth I cannot recommend them as the spacing between the seats is such that you need to amputate your legs at the knee in order to experience anything like comfort, and it’s a three hour flight. Oh hang on, this is sounding like a trip report.....

Anyway, the dream team of Mo, Dick, Bradders jr and I arrived and were met at the airport by Dancho, our amiable and knowledgeable guide/driver/translator. And beer purchaser. A word at this point to the uninitiated; Bulgarian been is extremely good, and extremely cheap. And, as we found out, extremely abundant. People with less self-control than I could have quickly and easily reached the “three sheets to the wind” stage with no visible damage to their wallets. The damage to early morning birding would have been irreparable though, so I made sure to keep within my limits. Although I am very very young, far too young to talk about ageing, I have to say that this year I have begun to notice the adverse affects of alcohol far more. It could be that I am drinking far more, but I can’t really remember. Certainly the urge to reach for the corkscrew is much higher now that I am working again. Still no varifocals though, so I can’t really complain.

Where was I? Bulgaria, and the airport? And Dancho. Yes, that’s it. Dancho was our guide, via a company called Neophron, which is the tourism arm of the BSPB. We wouldn’t usually use a guide, but they were highly recommended (and we now know why!), and Bulgaria with it’s Cyrillic alphabet seemed sufficiently foreign (for want of a better word) to warrant it. So we opted for a tour, complete with minibus, hotels, food, and Dancho. At the risk of straying into trip report territory, this cost approximately 80 quid a day. Under our own steam, we likely could have done this cheaper, but to save what? 30 quid a day, 20? Neophron made it easy, stress-free (apart from Dave’s exposure compensation issues), and without a doubt got us birds that we could not have got by ourselves, so an excellent decision.

So, dump cases at hotel, retrieve optics, go birding on the shore of the Black Sea in the remaining light, and see Bee-eaters almost immediately. Here is one. Even if you only read this blog for domestic tips and dietary information, you cannot fail to be impressed with Bee-eaters. OK, so a few of the East London massive managed to twitch one in Norfolk this weekend, and well done them, but they had to drive for hours to see a miserable-looking bird sitting on a wire, depressed at its massive screw-up and wondering where all its friends were. Meanwhile I enjoyed multiple Bee-eaters at point blank range, flying over my head calling constantly. This is what birding abroad gets you, would that I could do it more frequently!

Some time ago I set up a photo website as I realised that without one the blog might just become a series of photos. That’s probably happened anyway, but in an effort to at least retain some semblance of writing, I’m going to try and keep it on the light side (yeah right - Ed.). So if you want to see more photos of Bee-eaters, please visit, where I have put a selection up. There is no obligation to purchase, but if just 100,000 of you do, I can leave Canary Wharf forever. Just think how much more blogging I could do? Hopefully that’s compelling. Errr......

We also saw this.....more later.


  1. That's the biggest shrike I've ever seen.

  2. Hi Jonathan, Thank you very much for the kind words about our trip in Bulgaria. It was really great fun. With you permission I will put an image on my blog with a story featuring the trip.
    hope you don't mind. Do you happen to know the blogs of the other people from the group or the sites where they have uploaded their reports.
    Dancho (birdwatching guide, Bulgaria)

  3. Not all, I reiterate here that it was a monumentally good trip, and we all had a great time. Your missing blog, for David/Bradders (who in fact did all the organising, not me!) is Dick, the fourth guy, doesn't have one.
    We will be back.
    All the best