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Bulgaria 2015

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Sunrise Lake Srebarna

My wife and I have had the good fortune to visit this beautiful country four times but, until our holiday there this May, not for a few years.

We spent half of our holiday in the Pirin mountain ski resort of Bansko where my sister in law, a skiing enthusiast has an apartment and for the middle part of our holiday we toured around, covering nearly 3500 kilometres to take in some of the country's best wildlife habitats.

Dalmation Pelican

It was all worthwhile as Lake Srebarna is an internationally important nature reserve home to many endangered birds, animals and plants. Lake Srebarna hosts the only breeding colony of Dalmation Pelicans in Bulgaria. Although the birds seemed to be thriving during our visit the colony has suffered a number of setbacks.

White Stork
Some years ago it was almost wiped out by Jackals and only last year it succumbed to an outbreak of bird flu killing over 30 birds. Fortunately the survivors enjoyed a good breeding season and the colony is now recovering.

Ferruginous Duck

We enjoyed good views of some of the other endangered nesting species at Srebarna including the globally threatened Ferruginous Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Pygmy Cormorant and most of the species of Heron found in Europe including Little Bittern, Purple and Squacco Herons.


As it was peak migration time we were treated to all three Marsh Terns; Whiskered, Black and White-Winged Terns and Golden Orioles were calling everywhere. Bee-eaters were just arriving,

Black Winged Terns
but their numbers are declining due to being hunted on migration especially in the Lebanon.

Nightingales too were very common but Penduline Tits took a little longer to find.


Mike and his wife Jerry run Pelican Lake Guesthouse which is the best place to stay in the village. Mike also does bespoke tours and we engaged his services to visit some local lakes for Ruddy Shelduck and then on to the impressive gorges at Rusenski Lom. Here we caught up with some of the regions raptors including Lesser Spotted and Short-toed Eagles and Long-legged Buzzard. Despite the impressive raptors we will always remember this as "The Day of the Jackal"! We were lucky enough to see one of these wolf like predators cross the road high up on the plateau. Although it was some distance away it paused in the road just long enough for me to get a photo. Not the best quality but Jackals are very elusive in Europe and I was pleased to get a shot of any kind.

After leaving Srebarna we visited two sites in the extreme corner of Bulgaria; Lakes Durankulak and Shabla. The former produced our target species; Paddyfield Warbler an Asian species at the extreme edge of its' range in this corner of Bulgaria. A bonus species here was a huge White Tailed Eagle being mobbed by the local Yellow-legged Gulls.

We then proceeded down the Black Sea Coast staying the night at Kavarna to visit Cape Kaliakri. The steppe grassland at this site on our last visit was one of the highlights of our holiday with a rich flora including wild peonies and a host of rare orchids. Unfortunately the whole area has been turned in to a wind turbine farm and completely ruined. Not only has most of the flora been destroyed but also the wind turbines have been responsible for the deaths of many resident and migrant birds including the endangered Egyptian Vultures and other raptors including Pallid Harrier.

Pied Wheatear

The peninsula at Cape Kaliakri is still a major tourist centre but also home to another Asian species on the edge of its' range the; Pied Wheatear. Other avian attractions include the eastern Mediterranean race of the Shag and the impressively huge Alpine Swifts.

Semi-Collared Flycatcher

Further down the coast a riverine forest produced decent views of another rarity; the Semi-Collared Flycatcher.


Our next stop was Hotel Sakar in the hills of the same name. We failed to find two of the specialities of the area; Masked Shrike and eastern Imperial Eagle which we caught up with later in the holiday but we did get lovely views of my favourite songster (no not the Nightingale!) ; the Woodlark as well as several other raptors including several Levant Sparrowhawks.

Masked Shrike

We then moved on to the Eastern Rhodope Mountains where we stayed at The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) hotel and information centre. A delightful BSPB staff member, a young lady called Yana agreed to act as our guide and took us in our car to find Eastern Imperial Eagle and Masked Shrike near Svelingrad. We also visited a reintroduction site for Lesser Kestrel in the same area. Our other target bird was Olive Tree Warbler which we also located at the site for the eagles.

Isabelline Wheatear Displaying

Back in the Eastern Rhodope we got most of the remaining raptors including both Griffon and Egyptian Vultures. Also nesting on the cliff ledges were prehistoric looking Black storks.

Black Stork
Rarer passerines were also located including both Ortolan and Rock Buntings and three species of Wheatear; Northern, Eastern Black-eared and Isabelline.


p>We reluctantly left the Eastern Rhodopes, my favourite part of Bulgaria for our base at Bansko, but that was not by any means the end of our birdwatching! A day out to Trigrad Gorge in the Central Rhodope massif produced reasonable views of the iconic Wallcreeper. This beautiful bird looks more like a butterfly as it flutters up and down the face of sheer limestone cliffs. As it mostly inhabits high inaccessible cliffs Trigrad Gorge presents the best opportunity for birders to see this species.

Red-backed Shrike

Bansko itself produced a host of good birds including a pair of Collared Flycatchers in the city park, clearly on migration, Barred Warblers, Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes, Dipper, Grey and White Wagtails and the usual Black Redstarts on the rooftops.


The drive up alongside the ski- lift at Mount Virin produced some real gems. Crossbills and Nuthatches in the lower pine forest and at the higher end Nutcrackers and Ring Ouzels. Higher still in the snow fields we saw a Chamois and a huge flock of Alpine Choughs.

This account only represents a sample of the delights this country has to offer. We saw 198 different birds on this trio with only my wife and I spotting them. )n previous trips with more pairs of eyes we have easily surpassed two hundred species in a fortnight.

As well as birds Bulgaria has a good range of reptiles and amphibians and a host of butterflies most of which I am still struggling to identify from the photographs that I took.

Some areas of the country have already "benefitted" from EU investment in agriculture and have highly mechanised arable farms but in others, particularly in the more mountainous regions, you can still see them ploughing with donkeys and tilling the fields by hand. In these areas use of pesticides and herbicides is rare and this is reflected in a rich flora and insect population.

Bulgaria has not yet joined the Euro so food and drink is good and cheap. Bulgaria now produces some excellent wines, so don't be put off by the low prices as this is no reflection on the quality.

We found the majority of Bulgarian people friendly and welcoming with the younger generation well versed in English.

In conclusion I would recommend that you visit this fascinating country before it changes.


Ian Misselbrook
June 2015


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