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
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
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.