Trip reports

York RSPB group visit to Bulgaria

York RSPB group visit to Bulgaria
Bob Coursey

Sunday, 5 March 2017

On Saturday 3rd September 18 local group members flew to Burgas on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria with Roger Barnes and Phil Palmer, our leaders from Bird Holidays. We stayed four nights at Hotel Lazuren Briag in Sarafovo followed by three nights at Hotel Yanitsa at Krapets, north of Kavarna. Both were coastal resorts situated on a major European migration flyway, known as Via Pontica (after a local Roman road), where huge numbers of birds follow the coastline southwards from northern Europe and Asia towards Africa each autumn. The area around Burgas has extensive lakes, lagoons and saltpans which attract pelicans, storks, waders, other waterbirds and soaring birds of prey, as well as many passerines. We were given expert local advice from members of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB).
Sunday September 4th Despite arriving after midnight, some early risers were rewarded by the sight of golden orioles, Syrian woodpecker, black-necked grebe and commoner warblers on the beach outside our hotel. After breakfast two minibuses took us to Lake Pomorie where large numbers of waders, terns, ducks and egrets fed happily alongside local bathers covering themselves from head to toe in black mud! Despite the competition, we saw black-winged stilts, marsh, curlew and wood sandpipers, Kentish plovers, avocet, pygmy cormorants, whiskered and white winged black terns and some delightful penduline tits. As we travelled round the lake large numbers of bee-eaters passed overhead calling and red-backed shrikes frequented the fields; both these sights were to be features of the week. Lunch in a nearby forest produced a passing booted eagle, a sombre tit and red-breasted flycatcher. Returning to the lake we saw osprey overhead and broad-billed sandpipers (right).
Monday September 5th A visit to Lake Atanasovsko produced Caspian terns and our first pelicans - over 1000 white pelicans circling spectacularly overhead on their way south (below) and smaller numbers of the local Dalmatian species. A raptor count nearby was a bit slow but Montagu's harrier, short-toed eagle, hobby and long legged buzzard were seen. Flocks of Spanish sparrows on the move became a daily feature. At Burgas Lake, where we picnicked at a BSPB centre, we recorded white-tailed eagle. Lake Mandra saw us add gull-billed tern, ferruginous duck, squacco and purple heron and, for variety, a water snake, terrapin and tortoise to our list.
Tuesday September 6th We saw a great reed warbler, being ringed (right) at Lake Atanasovsko and also recorded honey buzzard, lesser spotted and short-toed eagles on the move. A vantage point in the Balkan Range of hills rewarded us with views of three black and over 200 white storks migrating overhead, plus goshawk, hoopoe and rollers. We lunched at a cafe at Banevo by Roman baths, with our drinking water of unknown vintage drawn from the Roman well. After exploring the baths we returned to the hotel, picking up five red-necked phalaropes at some salt pans en route.
Wednesday September 7th Today we set off for our next hotel, further north along the coast, narrowly avoiding a striking miners' roadblock, and travelling via the Dulino Pass. We met some interested Russian tourists and were intrigued by a praying mantis, which obligingly perched on the hands, shirt of the author and even the head of a member! The Pass produced good views of cirl buntings, lesser grey shrike and ravens. After lunching at a restaurant nearby, we explored the Goritza Forest for woodpeckers and, after some effort, managed to see specimens of grey-headed, middle spotted, great spotted and green. We then continued north through the city of Varna, whence Dracula set sail for Whitby - but there were no reported sightings. Our new hotel proved to be more modern with a complex of chalets set around a swimming pool by the sea.
Thursday September 8th After good pre-breakfast birding with common and black redstarts, red-breasted and spotted flycatchers and whinchat in the hotel beach area, we went to the BSPB's Durankulak and Lake Shabla reserves. These host most of the world's wintering red-breasted goose population but we were too early for them. Very good views were obtained of red-breasted flycatcher (right) near the centre cafe - a smart bird. Flying over the beach we saw an immature great black-headed gull - an impressive sight. The dried -up part of Lake Shabla was a mecca for waders (and more mud-bathers!) with sightings including up to five broad-billed sandpipers, Temminck's and little stints as well as turtle dove and more ospreys moving south. Later after dinner we enjoyed a fine cake to celebrate one member's birthday!
Friday September 9th. We saw pallid swifts as we went east towards Cape Kaliakra, where the habitat was more steppe-like with rough grassland. The expected wheatears were soon found with good roadside views of black-eared, pied and northern. Woodchat and lesser grey shrike were also present, along with a handful of stone curlews, crested larks and tawny pipits. The Cape itself was once called the Despotate of Dobruja where there was a memorial to 40 maidens who reputedly tied their locks together and threw themselves into the Black Sea to escape the invading Ottomans. The excitement on our visit was limited to a cormorant of the Dalmatian race, the taking of a group photo and a souvenir shop selling mugs boasting past and present Russian Presidents' portraits. We returned via the Bolata Valley, whose cliffs are home to eagle owls. Sadly, none were found despite a long search, but further views of great reed warbler and red breasted flycatchers plus our sixth woodpecker - a lesser spotted - were a consolation.
Saturday September 10th On our way back to Burgas airport we stopped off at Pomorie again for further good views of waders and the opportunity to stock up on Black Sea mud and salts of the packaged variety. We thanked all our guides fulsomely at Burgas and Manchester for what was a very good holiday with fine weather, good catering, plenty of interesting birds - 184 species in all - and of course, excellent company!
Bob Coursey