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Summer Diary 2010

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Bulgaria in May

I spent much of the early part of this summer out of the UK; Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic and Canada, during which time I witnessed an incredibly late spring in Canada, with snow in June, one of the wettest springs ever recorded in Czech and Poland and I missed a heat wave in West Wales where my wife spent a week on holiday!

The weather in Bulgaria during the first two weeks in May was on the whole rather pleasant, but winter had not relinquished its icy grip. When we arrived on May 1st we were surprised to find people still skiing and snow boarding and even at the end of our two week holiday snow still blocked some of the paths up Mount Pirin.

Normally the migration of storks and raptors is over before May, but a few days in to our first week we witnessed the spectacle of scores of white storks soaring in the thermals. Even more exciting, was the migration northwards up the Black Sea coast of flocks of raptors just ahead of a weather front. Mixed flocks of Honey Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles and "Steppe" Buzzards provided my best views of birds of prey on migration since I visited Eilat in Israel many years ago.

Marsh Terns and Pratincoles were also on the move with both Black and White Winged Black Terns feeding over the coastal marshes.

Pied Wheatear

Bulgaria is one of the best destinations in Europe for birds - my list of nearly 200 species included some Asian specialities on the extreme edge of their range in Eastern Europe; Paddyfield Warbler and Pied Wheatear as well as mouth watering specialities like Wallcreeper and European Nutcracker.

Giant Peacock

But birds are not the only attraction; a huge variety of butterflies, moths, reptiles, amphibians and mammals only serves to demonstrate how impoverished our British fauna has become.

At the Vulture centre in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains we saw a fine example Of Europe's largest moth; the Giant Peacock Moth whose wingspan was an incredible six inches!

The day after my friend Dave and I had walked up Mount Pirin in glorious sunshine, nature showed her untamed side and rains and snow melt caused an avalanche of snow and huge boulders, which hit the town of Bansko where we were staying, flattening the shopping mall and destroying roads, cars and property. I shudder to think of the consequences of it happening the day we were up there!

Back home for the second half of June and the best chance to see and hear what birds are breeding in the local area. The expansion of the Red Kite continues in this part of the world at least, with several pairs nesting in the area including a pair with 3 young only a few miles from my home. After the harsh winter which is thought to have substantially depleted the Kingfisher population it was gratifying to find a pair feeding young at a favoured site only half a mile away. Nearby a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling in a field corner planted with Canary Grass for Game Cover. Despite being seen and heard in the latter part of June we concluded that it was an unpaired individual.

At least two pairs of Spotted Flycatchers nested in the village, a species also in decline and it was fabulous to watch their aerobatic displays as they caught flies in my garden. Of even more serious concern is the lack of Turtle Doves. Formerly quite common (they have even nested in my garden), I could only find three singing birds in a very wide area. Similarly rare are Nightingales with only three territories that I know locally where twenty years ago there were scores. Recent research has shown that over browsing by deer may be one of the most serious causes of their decline. Certainly there are far too many Fallow Deer in this area and natural regeneration of woodland and the development of a thick under-story of shrubs, so beloved of Nightingales is hampered.

On a brighter note, after the ubiquitous Woodpigeon, the most common bird in my local fen is the Yellowhammer. Its' song, likened to the phrase, " A little bit of bread and no cheese" is performed in every hedgerow and when you can hear up to four males all declaring their territory it is striking how much individual variation is in their songs. Some birds sing at a much faster pace than others and the last syllable, the" cheese" can be very short or held for several seconds.


After the Yellowhammer the Whitethroat is the next most common bird; particularly pleasing when you consider that only a few decades ago they almost disappeared from Britain when it is thought a drought in Africa prevented them from completing their migration.

Summer is of course, the best time to observe insects and a short lunchtime walk in a gravel pit reserve near Lincoln produced no less than six species of dragon and damselfly in only twenty minutes. Butterflies and bumblebees were also enjoying the mid-day sunshine as indeed do most of us humans. Let us hope that the good weather continues and that nature enthrals and amazes us with its beauty and diversity.

Ian Misselbrook
July 2010.


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