Via Pontica flyway
September 28 to October 5
Description: This exciting tour to the western coastal
zone of the Black Sea features one of the most pronounced movements of
migratory birds occurring in Europe. The famed passage of raptors and
storks over the Bosporus is fed by a concentrated corridor of birds funnelling
along the Bulgarian coast (known as the 'Via Pontica' flyway).
Some local breeding birds will have departed the area, but numerous small
passerines, waders and waterfowl are moving down from their northern breeding
Our tour catches the migration at its peak, when countless thousands of
raptors, storks, pelicans, waders and small passerines ensure a day to
day action-filled experience. Located at the crossroads between east and
west the checklist of species promises to be one of the longest - and
most exotic - for any European tour.
Lesser Spotted, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Steppe, Long-legged and
Honey Buzzards, four species of harrier, Levant Sparrowhawk, Saker and
Red-footed Falcons are among the large cast of appetising raptors - lots
of opportunity to hone your ID skills. White and Black Storks, Dalmatian
and White Pelicans also soar overhead, while Pygmy Cormorant, Great Egret
and other herons, Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis and Crane are some of the highlights
of wetlands visited. Just about anything is possible on the wader front
- Marsh and Broad-billed Sandpipers are regular - and small passerines
often pass through in droves; Ruddy Shelduck and Ferruginous Duck are
But the tour isn't just about birds. We shall also try to find mammals
(including three marine species), of which Jackal, Marbled and Steppe
Polecats, Romanian Hamster and European Souslik are of particular interest.
To this end we embark on our well-tested and highly successful spotlighting
sorties after dark - a very popular and addictive activity. We may also
encounter amphibians and reptiles - Eastern Spadefoot (toad), Stripe-necked
Terrapin, Balkan Wall and European legless Lizard, Reddish Whip, Leopard
and Four-lined Snakes - and late wild flowers will doubtless inspire interest.
We visit some of the most important wetlands in Europe, unspoiled dunes
and beaches, pristine steppe habitats and wooded valleys, at a time when
visitors are few and the azure blue waters of the Black Sea may be enjoyed
in the warmth of early autumn sunshine.
NOTE This tour is limited to 10 participants and offered at a reduced promotional
Day 1: Flight out to Varna (via Sofia) to be met by your knowledgeable local
guide, then make the 40 mile journey to your exclusive lakeside accommodation by the Black Sea at Branta Birding Lodge, near Durankulak.
Days 2 - 4: From this very comfortable base in the Coastal Dobrudja
we visit Lakes Durankulak and Shabla, two pristine brackish wetlands lying
in the path of main migration and serving as major staging points for
large gatherings of birds: Pygmy Cormorant, Glossy Ibis, White and Dalmatian
Pelicans, Ruddy Shelduck, Ferruginous Duck and Red-crested Pochard, with
many waders and small passerines in evidence.
Cape Kaliakra is a wonderful area of steppe bounded by lofty sea cliffs
(Eagle Owls nest) and featuring several sites of archaeological note.
Looking out to sea we should see Mediterranean Shearwaters (Yelkouan race)
clipping the water surface, with a steady drift of soaring birds passing
by and, with luck, breaching dolphins. Stone Curlew, Dotterel, Hoopoe, Calandra and Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipit and flocks of Bee-eaters are among birds
we look for on the steppe, also keeping an eye out for mammals and reptiles
- this is the haunt of Steppe and Marbled Polecats, European Souslik and
Romanian Hamster. Migrating raptors and passerines frequently touch down at the cape.
Day 5: We set off on the 90 mile journey to Burgas, stopping
en route to explore Kamchiya Reserve with its renowned alluvial forest
(known as Longoz). Black, Grey-headed and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers,
and Short-toed Treecreeper are resident birds.
Nessebar, a charming Byzantine port featuring many ancient buildings,
is also visited. We shall be given a guided tour of Sozopol, near Burgas, most westerly
point along the Black Sea, continually glancing skywards at the raptors
passing overhead (Lesser Spotted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk and Steppe Buzzard amongst others). For the next two nights our base is Pomorie, a small
port just a few miles to the north of Burgas.
Days 6 & 7: Today's exploration of nearby Lake Atanosovsko
and surrounding saltpans promises a phenomenal range and quantity of birds
- far too numerous to list! This is Bulgaria's premier bird location -
in fact one of Europe's principal 'hot spots' - where just about any European
wader can turn up including Terek, Marsh and Broad-billed Sandpipers, and scene of an awesome spectacle of raptor passage.
In addition to species already seen we may with luck add Imperial, Spotted
and Steppe Eagles, Pallid Harrier and Saker. Cranes are also present in their thousands.
South of Burgas we visit the reed-fringed Lakes Mandra and Poda with
flanking water meadows and woodlands, where Spoonbill, Purple, Squacco
and Night Herons, Great and Little Egrets, Black-winged Stilt and Avocet are seen, also Bearded Tit, plus passage pipits and wagtails. We also visit Strandja Natural Park to explore the oldest Bulgarian nature reserve, where we look for White-backed Woodpecker.
Day 8: After breakfast, we set off on the return journey. Heading north we pause at the Salinas of Pomorie to see the usual show of waders. An hour will be spent in the ancient town of Nessebar featuring a great deal of traditional architecture. Birds on the scene include the Yelkouan Shearwater, Yellow-legged Gull and its sub-species michahellis. Continuing north the route ascends through the wooded hills of Eastern Balkan mountain range, bringing us to our next stop at Cape Emine. Reaching cliff-top scrub above the sea we look for cetaceans and migrating raptors. Locations are also visited where Sombre Tit and Ruddy Shelduck are resident birds.
Following our picknick and a final spot of local birdwatching you catch your return flight.