Day 8; Thu. 26 April. 09:00 breakfast for a 09:50 departure, Black Redstart, Willow Tit and Serin seen in trees just outside the guest house. Although Devin is 715 metres in altitude, the morning was windless and warm in addition to being clear and sunny.
Balkan Chamois (Rupricaria r. balcanica) was the wildlife target for the morning, searched for during stops along an ascending route immediately behind the town. Climbing through zones of Black and then Scots Pine we eventually left the main route along a dirt track, where we stopped to wander in search of Rock Partridge. Although not found we saw a Cuckoo (brown-phase female), Yellowhammer, Raven and Woodlark. A highlight was a Crested Tit, lured in for unbeatable ultra-close viewing with a recording. Owing to a deteriorating track we elected to walk rather than drive to an elevated radio mast. Passing through pines and by subalpine fields we enjoyed excellent views of Common Crossbill, Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Greater Spotted Woodpecker and, finally emerging at an overview of the greater landscape, a Lesser Whitethroat was heard singing and briefly seen. Incidental wildlife items during the walk included comparatively fresh tracks of a very large Wolf, also Badger scats.
Day 9; Fri. 27 April. After an 08:00 breakfast we departed the friendly hospitality of Vlado and Vesca at 09:00, the morning again sunny and windless though initially chilly in the shade. We drove directly to Trigrad Gorge for another attempt at Wallcreeper which, according to personal experience - also the honey-selling lady at the parking area - tend to be most active during mornings. DK scouted the lower gorge as Pavel surveyed the upper aspect, while Alpine Swifts chattered overhead, Black Redstarts sang from the rock faces and Bullfinches were seen in trees by the river. While DK heard and briefly saw a Wallcreeper, Pavel had already pinpointed an inhabited nest. Although at the far side of the gorge, we managed to adjust our position such that, through the scopes, the adult pair could be seen very well as they came and went with food for their young, occasionally pausing at the nest-site entrance. We were finally induced to take our leave (11:00).
Day 10; Sat. 28 April The regular 08:00 breakfast preceded an 08:45 trip up to the ski station, Stephen having seen a Marsh Tit by the hotel and, together with Alan, spotted a pair of close-range Common Crossbills. The morning was chilly - just a couple of degrees above freezing - the sky patchily clouded permitting occasional bursts of warming sunlight to break through. On the way up we stopped to attempt luring in a Nutcracker using a recording (i.e. we used the recording - not the Nutcracker). Within moments a Nutcracker alighted in a nearby spruce and proceeded to utter its harsh grating call. From the end of the road we then walked along a path following the contour, seeing several more Nutcrackers, including two individuals foraging on the ground nearby. Passing through groves of Norway Spruce the calls of Goldcrests and Firecrests were heard, both showing very well once lured out by a recording. Not too far ahead we entered a forest opening where the final new bird of the tour, a male Ring Ouzel, was induced to perch close by atop a spruce. Its pale-fringed body feathers were typical of the Central European race alpestris.
With time in hand we headed back to the hotel for a final coffee and to collect baggage, then headed into Sofia to look for Red Squirrels in a well-wooded park. We didn't have to wander far before one was spotted stripping shredded bark from a dead tree, clearly for use as bedding material in its drey. It was an excellent prolonged view, the animal being a dark chocolate brown, typical of Red Squirrels in this eastern region of Europe.
Notes/Comments: Eventful from start to finish would be a fair appraisal of our first early spring venture to Bulgaria. There were a great many highlights, such as the opening experience of wetland birdlife - featuring an array of birds too numerous to mention. Suffice to say that we shall not forget the flights of Pygmy Cormorants and Glossy Ibises or the Pratincoles gracefully parading about the sky overhead. And then there was the final morning at Vitosha where excellent views of Nutcracker, Firecrest and Ring Ouzel was a memorable finale. Each day presented something new and different, and each of us will be aware of personal highlights. Great Snipe, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Red-throated Pipit and Citrine Wagtail were notable rarities, but I should doubt if any of us rated those nearly so highly as the infinitely less uncommon Eagle Owl in silhouette against the evening sky. Although not alluded to in the report on a day to day basis, one heard Nightingales at virtually every stop - and at least a hundred Corn Buntings to each Nightingale.
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