Links | Contact Us | Accessibility | About Us   

Summer Diary 2011

(Click on the images for a larger picture)

For the last few years we have started our summer with a two week tour of Bulgaria. Normally we are exposed to temperatures in the mid twenties as soon as we get off the plane. This year was the other way round. Unseasonably warm temperatures in the UK in April and May and migrant birds arriving a fortnight early was not matched in Bulgaria where we endured temperatures in the mid teens at best and found spring migration three weeks late! However, with migration in full swing during the first two weeks in May, it enabled us to assemble an impressive list of birds in two weeks, but compared with other years a relatively poor list of butterflies.

We flew in to the town of Varna which is situated about half way up the Black Sea coast. Even here in the town we saw visible evidence of migration with Black Terns hawking insects over the canals.

Our first port of call was Cape Kaliakri a peninsula that juts out to sea and is Bulgaria's premier hot spot for migrant birds. Here there is some remnant steppe habitat mixed with large areas of scrub; ideal habitat to host a spring "rush" and that is exactly what we found. Flycatchers were particularly abundant with Pied, Collared and the range restricted Semi-collared Flycatchers all showing well. Wagtails were also well represented with White (the continental sub-species of our Pied Wagtail) and at least two races of Yellow Wagtail giving good views.



Female Pied Wheatear

As well as playing host to migrants Cape Kaliakri is also the home to many interesting species. including an Asian species that is right on the edge of its range, the Pied Wheatear (see photograph) and Bulgaria's only colony of Shags, which happens to be the meditterranean sub species.

Male Pied Wheatear
The steppes provide a breeding ground for at least four species of lark, including the huge, almost Kestrel like Calandra Lark.


Wild Dwarf Iris


Kiliakri also has an amazing number of rare wild flowers, including wild peony, orchids and wild dwarf irises of a wide variety of forms and colours.

Black Veined White
The flowers in turn provide nectar for bees, butterflies, including the Black-veined White and other insects.

Red Breasted Flycatcher


After Kaliakri we journeyed further north to two wetland sites in the north-east corner of Bulgaria; Lake Sabla and Lake Durandulak. The former hosts another Asian species on the edge of its range; the Paddyfield Warbler an "LBJ" (little brown job!) much sought after by European listers. Another delightful eastern passerine is the Red Breasted Flycatcher, almost Robin like in appearance but very much a flycatcher in the way it darts out from a low perch to catch flying insects. The lake and reedbeds here provided plentiful insects for hundreds of migrating marsh terns; mostly Black Terns but also some scores of Whiskered Terns and a handful of White Winged Black Terns. Also here is the globally threatened Ferruginous Duck and a wide assortment of herons. The next site, Lake Durandulak yielded even more migrating terns - several thousand in fact; an incredible sight.


Our next port of call was the lovely Biosphere reserve of Lake Srebarna close to the River Danube and the Romanian border. Lake Srebarna is the only nesting site in Bulgaria for the rare Dalmatian Pelican and we stayed for three nights at the appropriately named Pelican House run by a charming English couple; Mike and Jerry. Here we enjoyed great hospitality, very useful local information about birds and where to see them and excellent food. Don't worry about lunch as you won't need any after the breakfast that Jerry provides!

As well as both species of Pelicans Lake Srebarna is a very important RAMSAR site for a number of other rarities including Pygmy Cormorant , Ferruginous Duck, Garganey, Glossy Ibis and most of the European herons and egrets. Migration was in full swing here too with more Marsh Terns, thousands of hirundines and numerous Red-footed Falcons and Hobbies.


After leaving Srebarna we headed south witnessing huge flocks of migrating White Storks and smaller flocks of raptors which included Honey Buzzards, Short-toed and Booted Eagles.

Wallcreeper at nest
We took in some waders at some of the wetlands north of Burgas before heading west eventually arriving at our final destination of Bansko in the alp like mountains of the Western Rhodopes. Montane species such as Saker Falcon, Alpine Chough and Ring Ouzel were added to our burgeoning list, but the real jewel in the crown was the beautiful and notoriously difficult to find Wallcreeper. This was a lifer for our friends Hugh and Marysia and undoubtedly the bird of the holiday.


Red Squirrel

The mixed beech and conifer forests were also rich in wildlife with abundant Red Squirrels, Crested Tits and Crossbills that had heavy bills like Parrot Crossbills but which crossed over at the point more like Common Crossbills. It has been suggested that there are many intermediate forms across Europe and some may qualify for separate species status.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
All the European woodpeckers breed in Bulgaria. I added Three-toed Woodpecker to my life list but only the merest glimpse, whereas I got excellent views of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker; now relatively rare in Britain.


Black Headed Bunting

Even the farmland in Bulgaria is rich in wildlife reminding us of what has been lost in the UK. Flower rich meadows support a wealth of insect life including bees and butterflies that in turn provide a rich food source for reptiles such as lizards and snakes as well as birds including the gaudy European Bee-eater.

Corn Buntings have become rare in Britain but on Bulgarian farms they are probably the most common species. In summer they are joined by Black-headed Buntings and a host of warblers, shrikes and larks.

European Bee Eaters



We returned home to find no respite from the drought affecting eastern England that really started as early as February. Barley was already in ear only inches from the ground. Wheat prices soared as predictions for harvest yields were downgraded and straw had become a valuable commodity.

Of course it did rain eventually but probably too little too late . . .

Kittiwakes with chicks



With spring migration finished and birds feeding young June is a good month to check on the fortunes of various species. For Cuckoos, Turtle Doves, Nightingales and Spotted Flycatchers things are looking pretty grim with far fewer of these summer visitors having reached our shores. Far fewer territories of some of our resident species such as Barn Owl and Kingfisher was also noted, but the cause of this decline was the hard winter and especially snow and ice cover which had prevented these species from finding food.


On a brighter note Whitethroat numbers were up again, so much so that saturation point had been surpassed in their preferred habitat and birds had moved in to crops and deep in to woodland where they had to compete with their true woodland cousins. Tree Sparrows seem to have turned a corner - we even had a pair nesting in a box in our garden.


Gannet in flight


Gannet at Bempton Cliffs


If RSPB Bempton Cliffs is anything to go by our seabirds seem to be having a good nesting season too with plenty of chicks of Kittiwakes, Auks and Gannets in evidence. As the UK's only mainland Gannetry, Bempton affords the unique opportunity of seeing these magnificent seabirds in their nesting colony without getting on a boat. Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills are all easy to see and as my photo shows, you can hone your id skills and easily separate superficially similar species like the dapper black Razorbill and the charcoal coloured Guillemot.


Guillemots and chick



Guilemot and Razorbill


So far, this summer it has been a good one for butterflies. The early spring meant that the Orange Tip enjoyed an especially long flight period and Green-veined Whites have been abundant for months. Small Tortoiseshells and Commas seem to be especially abundant and rarer species such as White Admiral, Silver washed Fritillary and Purple Emperor could be found in the right locations from June onwards.

The early emerging Dragonflies such as the Hairy Dragonfly and Large Red Damselfly mostly appeared a fortnight early but more mixed weather in late June and early July has not really favoured the mid-summer flyers like Southern Hawker, but as I write in early July there is still time for many species to appear.


Ian Misselbrook
July 2011


© All Images are the copyright of Ian Misselbrook. For further information, please

Some text may be lost if you are viewing with a low screen resolution - click here for more info