Sunday 4 December 2022

Bulgaria - Day 1 and 2 - a brief foray in the Rila Mountains

Normally I would eke out any trip into day by day blog posts. This year seems to be a low-volume one, perhaps the lowest since inception with a mere 62 to date, and my chances of hitting three figures are long gone. More than ever a quick-fire dollop of Bulgaria posts might help lend an air of semi-respectability. Could I get to 80? However the sad truth is that if I attempted this most of the posts would have no illustrations. I do occasionally post just text, but as any blogger worth their salt will tell you, a photo somehow brings a post to life. Not on this trip....

Iskar Reservoir. Note the Egrets on the left hand side at their closest range

We landed mid-afternoon and headed to the mountains south of Sofia via some lakes. These lakes held almost no birds, and those birds that there were took flight the moment they even saw our car. I have never known anything like it, and I can only assume that hunting is a big thing in this area. Iskar Reservoir, promising on paper, delivered only 15 species, most of them miles away, and shortly after we arrived, even more miles away! And I am not even talking about anything exciting. Mallards and Teal, a few Egrets, not birds to get the photographic juices flowing in Eastern Europe. We carried on to Malyovitsa, arriving as dusk gathered. It was cold, but at least there were birds. Nutcrackers, Coal Tits, several Black Redstart and the chupping of Crossbill. We had an early dinner, looking forward to the trip getting going the next morning as we walked up the valley towards a mountain hut. 

There is a well-defined track. I say track, I suppose I mean stream, as for at least half of the two mile walk water rushed down and we had to pick our way rather gingerly. It was a steady climb, and the view at the top was rather good. Birds however..... there were half a dozen Alpine Chough much higher up, and Nutcrackers were reasonably numerous, but it was pretty flat, with essentially zero photographic opportunities. Now, before readers start jumping up and down and saying that I should just enjoy birding for birding's sake, remember that this was a trip specifically to try and take photographs. I am a birder, but I am also a photographer. The intensity with which I pursue these two strands is highly variable, and the last few years I think have seen me drift away quite a long way from photography and back into pure birding largely thanks to eBird. This was an attempt therefore to do something a little bit different. And it didn't really work out, simple as that.

The wrong kind of Accentor!

Nutcracker. The only shot I got!

We debated going a little higher, but it felt so flat that the effort likely wasn't warranted. What to do. Mountain areas are never going to have the density of the lower elevations, but there were so few birds that our chances of finding a friendly one were extremely low. Early October, with plenty of food around, also meant that those birds that there were widely distributed. I think we had just chosen the wrong time of year to come here. Time to change the plan.

The Black Sea coast was the obvious choice - there would be more birds. It was also not a crazy distance away, Bulgaria isn't the same scale as Turkey. We could make it by the end of the day and have a number of stops along the way, including a spot in the Besaparksi hills that we had visited on one our previous trips and had been quite birdy. Well, it had been quite birdy in May. In October there were some Stonechats...

I jest, it was quite birdy, and we had our first Crested Larks, Red-backed Shrikes and so on, there were Tree Pipits on the slopes, Chukar in the fields, and Corn Buntings in the bushes, and thus it began to feel more like the Bulgaria we knew. But it was still an absolute mission to get photographs, a series of Stonechat from the car window wasn't exactly what we had had in mind! But not matter, when the photography doesn't come off, you can just go birding. Just without a much-needed telescope.

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