Black Sea Coast

Day 4; Thu. 30 Sept. A fine morning, with wind from the north favourable for raptor passage. A 07:30 breakfast preceded an 08:30 departure for our next base, with a first stop in Kavarna to change money. Then heading out to Cape Kaliakra a pair of late departing White Storks perched close to the road. The cape itself was an excellent location of archaeological note, featuring remains of an 8th C. citadel and monument to 40 young maidens who, according to legend, knotted their hair together and leapt to their deaths rather than face violation by invading Turks. On the cliffs of the cape we saw the eastern race of Jackdaw with its whitish collar and, high above, counted 11 Alpine Swifts.
Just north of Albena, a coastal resort, we pulled in to examine a craggy escarpment where an Eagle Owl is sometimes seen at its roost. Numerous Kestrels patrolled the location and a Goshawk alighted by a bush, otherwise a dead Nightjar by the road was all that the site produced. After a few kms. lunch was taken at a very agreeable roadside restaurant where, from the balcony dining area, we experienced the first signs of main raptor passage. Large gatherings of Common Buzzards plus a few Sparrowhawks appeared on the soar, and a flock of about 30 Black Storks showed above a wooded ridge.
The busy conurbation's of Varna with its austere soviet-built apartment blocks then had to be negotiated on our way south to the next stop at Kamchia Reserve, a large tract of alluvial forest along the banks of the Kamchia River. We made a limited exploration of the southern aspect, entering along a ride flanked by a rich understorey beneath mature broad-leaved trees. This wonderful habitat was the haunt of Semi-collared Flycatcher, which was not seen, although we did add Long-tailed Tit and Nuthatch to our list, also a Black Woodpecker that was lured into view with a CD recording.
Continuing south we pulled into the roadside at an elevated point above the village of Banya to check for migrating raptors late afternoon, finding a few Common Buzzards, two Lesser Spotted Eagles and another flock of Black Storks containing a single White Stork. Our route climbed through wooded hills, emerging at a high overview of Sunny Beach coastal resort and the ancient town of Nessebar. Here we pulled in to make a short exploration of Sombre Tit habitat. The sparse ground flora contained several specimens of the exquisitely beautiful Meadow Saffron, its naked pink flowers rising from a leafless base. It wasn't long before Pavel picked up on the call of our bird, and a spot of judicious stalking among scattered bushes soon produced unbeatable views of the Sombre Tit (Parus lugubris) - an extremely handsome bird contrary to its title. It hacked into Crab Apples, extracting the seeds, which it then held between its toes and hammered open with its beak. As we headed back to the vehicle raptors began to descend to roost in these wooded hills, including a number of Marsh Harriers, a Booted Eagle and possible Levant Sparrowhawk.
Heading on down to the coast during a beautiful sunset we reached disused salinas (salt pans) beyond the unsightly facade of Sunny Beach resort, where a small gathering of waders included a Kentish Plover. Hotel Byalata kashta (White house), our base for the next three nights in Pomorie, was reached around 19:15

Day 5; Fri. 1 Oct. A beautiful sunrise greeted our rising for a 07:15 breakfast. 08:00 we set off for Lake Bourgas, a large brackish body of water south of the city of Bourgas. Arriving at the north-west end we immediately located a flock of White pelicans at the far side, with numerous Pochards in the foreground. Linking up with local conservationist/boatman Russi we were ferried out to an observation hide located in dense reedbeds. From the hide we viewed an exceedingly close gathering of Cormorants plus two Dalmatian pelicans, perched on a moored pontoon designed to attract pelicans to nest. Disturbance from hunters and illegal fishing from boats seemed to be a major problem. Two Spoonbills passed over as we headed back. From the jetty a group of perched juvenile marsh terns tested our expertise in identification - all three species were lined up.
Moving round to the industrial side of the lake towards midday we came upon a great concentration of feeding waterfowl, most notably over 1000 White Pelicans plus a few Dalmatian, Cormorants, Coots, grebes and all gull species thus far recorded. From an industrial unit we gained reasonably close elevated views, the most spectacular being of pelicans rising in flights from the lake surface - all this against the unlikely backdrop of the city. Further along Cormorants perched on collapsed pylons - collapsed through corrosion caused by the birds' acidic excrement.
Early afternoon we transferred to Lake Atanasovo, a coastal lagoon immediately to the north of Bourgas, where roofed bird-ringing tables on the perimeter dyke served as an excellent lunch facility. The shade provided welcome respite from the hot afternoon sun, the seating and backrest making our study of the sky to the north a more comfortable experience. Lesser Spotted Eagle passage was well under way, with many birds emerging from patches of cloud. Groups of Common Buzzards contained one or two Long-legged Buzzards, and Pavel provided useful diagnostic instruction on identifications of Steppe Buzzards (Buteo b. vulpinus), a couple of which passed high overhead. Among Sparrowhawks a Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes) was picked out. Several Red-footed Falcons and a Hobby were also seen.
Late afternoon a visit was made to the salinas near Pomorie, where a worthwhile collection of waders included about 30 Spotted Redshanks, several Curlew Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Dunlins, Little Stints and one or two Ruffs. We finally travelled up beyond Sunny Beach to Hanska Shatra, a restaurant in wooded hills, to observe migrant raptors coming down to roost. A Cirl Bunting and handsome male Crossbill appeared in a cypress tree by the parking area. Our timing was just about perfect, as the sky duly presented us with a show of unlimited soaring birds. Lesser Spotted Eagles numbered an estimated 200+, Common Buzzards about 150, plus around 100 Black Storks. A single Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) was the most noteworthy addition.
Back at the hotel 19:00.

Day 6; Sat. 2 Oct. 08:00 breakfast for a 09:00 departure, the morning extremely warm from the outset. Driving towards Burgas a spot decision was taken to visit the south-west aspect of Lake Atanasovo via a long access track leading through tall reed beds, principally to look for Ruddy Shelducks. A flock of garrulous Spanish Sparrows added a new species for the tour at an early stage, a second being a Bittern that rose from reeds to the left and flew across our path. Large mounds created by Lesser Mole-rats served as useful viewing platforms. Birds out in the lake shallows included a gathering of some 500 Avocets together with 200 Shelducks. About 20 Black-tailed Godwits, 15 Marsh Sandpipers, Redshanks and Spotted Redshanks were also present, plus a single Black-winged Stilt. A Stone Curlew flew off but settled out of view. Several Marsh Harriers quartered the area and a male Goshawk flew by. During a walk towards the end of the track a flock of 20 Spoonbills and 50 or so Great Egrets were seen. One or two Bearded Tits were seen and heard 'pinging', and a single Penduline Tit briefly appeared. Perhaps the most spectacular and memorable sight was that both species of pelicans departing the lake, some lifting on the soar almost directly above us while others formed chain-like skeins above the horizon to the east. About the same time Pavel, ever vigilant in his search for raptor passage, alerted us to Lesser Spotted Eagles beginning to appear overhead. We departed the area without finding the Ruddy Shelducks.
Continued travel through Bourgas led by roadside fish ponds beyond the town, where we made an impromptu stop to check out one or two waterfowl. And here they were - our Ruddy Shelducks (Casarca ferruginea)! . . . six of them, also several Gadwalls. The stop also produced a very nice Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and, among the ongoing overhead passage of raptors, a comparatively close Honey Buzzard.
Following the Black Sea coast we reached Ropotamo River, entering the nature reserve along a boardwalk leading to a platform where we had a late lunch in the heat of the afternoon. A small eutrophic lake (Arkoutino) overlooked by the platform contained a few Mallard and Teal plus female Red-crested Pochard. Numerous Marsh Frogs hopped about a blanket cover of aquatic vegetation. We then took a walk into mature alluvial forest, part of Ropotamo nature-complex. A Short-toed Treecreeper had been heard calling so, aided by CD recording, the bird was induced to make an appearance. Travelling along the Ropotamo River we stopped to watch a Grey Wagtail, eventually arriving at a boat landing from which a river excursion was planned with a view to looking for White-tailed Eagles. A sudden change in weather, however, cast doubts about the wisdom of a boat journey, the arrival of rainfall inducing us to enjoy refreshments at an open riverside bar/cafe instead. A wander around the wooded environs produced a Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Song Thrush - courtesy of Margaret - with Green and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers heard. Heading back along the Black Sea a stop at Alepu marsh, where during the outgoing journey we had seen just about all the heron species and several Pygmy Cormorants, a final stop to check for Red-crested Pochards paid off with sighting of the afternoons main target bird - White-tailed Eagle. There was in fact a pair (adults), perched at the waters edge on the far side. Rain had eased sufficiently for us to set up scopes and achieve good views, white tails and all.
The day concluded with a drive through the ancient town of Sozopol, with arrival back at Pomorie 19:25 - rain still falling.

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