2009 Bulgaria

2009 Bulgaria

After finding it very difficult to find the way out of Sofia to the Rila Mountains we managed to avoid the numerous holes in the road and finally arrived at Maljovica, booked into the slightly past it's best hotel, and managed to have quick walk before it got dark.  The Rila mountains were very scenic but birding was hard work.  One nutcracker was seen and several others were heard, but we had little else of interest.  The next couple of days were hard work on the birding front but very scenic and pleasant.


The most obvious birds were nutcrackers, they were often heard calling and less frequently seen.  Sadly they didn't hang around and this was the best I could manage.


Crossbills were common and were sometimes seen in pretty large flocks.


Scrambling around the rocks with Byron gave good views of alpine accentor.


Many butterflies were present including

Queen of Spain Fritillary


and Balkan copper


Orthoptera included

Large sword-tailed bush-cricket


and Euthystira brachyptera


It was then off to Madjarovo, in the Rhodope mountains. On the, longer than we thought, journey we saw lots of red-backed shrike, a species which turned out to be present in almost 'plague like' numbers!


The vulture centre said they could sort us out accommodation but we were rather concerned when it turned out to be a rather run down, stereotypical communist tower block!  It actually turned out to be an OK place to stay and we manage to watch scops owls out of the window one night.


Birding was rather easier here, although I managed to get very few photos, and it was the abundance of many species as well as the variety of species which impressed me.  As mentioned earlier red-backed shrikes were abundant but in the Borislavtzi area woodchat was also common and there were also a few lesser grey.  As well as plenty of white storks, a few blacks were seen.


Hawfinch was a common and easily seen bird which was certainly very different to the UK. Other birds seen included: Egyptian and griffon vultures, Levant sparrowhawk, long-legged buzzard, Syrian woodpecker, a few rollers, lots of bee-eaters,cirl buntings and eastern orphean warbler.

Silver-washed fritillary


and cardinal were very common.


But the lepidoptera highlight was definitely the superb Freyer's purple emperor.


Other butterflies included lattice brown

lattice brownweb.jpg

Grecian copper


and small bath white.

small bath white.jpg

Other wildlife included spur-thighed tortoise


a praying mantis Empusa fasciata


the wacky long-nosed grasshopper

long nosed grasshopperwewb.jpg

and dragonflies such as this small pincertail.

small pincertailweb.jpg

We then started the long journey towards the coast.  On the way we checked the Sakar mountains, mainly in an unsuccessful attempt to see imperial eagle.  We did see golden, lesser-spotted and short-toed eagle, calandra lark Levant's sparrowhawks, roller and souslik. Just outside Sliven we booked into the Hotel Sakar.  Rather more than we'd payed elsewhere but a nice room, we particularly enjoyed the huge bath, and situated in a woodland.  A superb meal was livened up by the arrival of a preying mantis Mantis religosa.


We went to bed in a very good mood.  Sadly that changed.  The sound of unbelievably loud partying - the disco system was certainly turned up to 11 - finally began to die down at 4 ish. After leaving the signs of devastation at the hotel, we tried again for the eagle in the morning and then, with me struggling to stay awake, headed for the coast seeing a few rollers and spur-thighed tortoise en-route.

The coastal birding was a bit disappointing with very few birds coming through.  The lack of raptors was particuarly disappointing.

We started at Sozopol, quite pleasant but rather more touristy than I was expecting, for a few days of beaching/birding. Nearby Poda was the best spot with about 100 white pelicans, fewer dalmation pelicans,  pygmy cormorants, lots of marsh sandpipers and masses of garganey the highlights.  Unfortunately the distances were too great and the heat haze too bad for any decent photographs.

It was then up to Balchik where Michelle and I managed to get bad food poisoning on our first night.  The only birding done the next day was from the hotel balcony.  Surprisingly this did result in 4 arctic skuas as well as  lots of little and yellow-legged gulls.  It was a few days before complete recovery but we did manage to get out.  Cape Kaliakra had the expected pied wheatears, I put the bad photos down to my weakened state.


Other birds seen here included

long-legged buzzard


lesser-spotted woodpecker, wryneck, isabelline wheatear, barred warbler, collared flycatcher and Levant sparrowhawks.  But by far the highlight was a frustrating brief views of a wildcat along the river.  Other areas visited included Lake Durankulak where I completely failed to see paddyfield warbler, not helped by fairly strong winds.  A small flock of whiskered and white-winged black terns was the highlight of this disappointing site.

The main aim of a visit to Lake Sabla was to see broad-billed sandpiper.  This was certainly successful and at least 36 were seen.  Excellent views through a scope, crap through a camera:


A rather unusual sight here was a topless woman wandering around who then removed her bottoms and proceeded to cover herself with the thick, black mud before wandering around like a creature out of  Dr Who!

The birding in Balchik itself was rather limited, but I did see a few things such as Levant sparrowhawk, orioles, Syrian woodpecker, tree

sparrows and alpine swifts.

The, sadly, it was time to head back to Sofia via a historic site at Shipla.  Anyone who has a very early flight there are no hotels near the

airport; trust me on this we spent hours looking.

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