GLEN WILDLIFE TOUR REPORT
BULGARIA - Overwintering Red-breasted Geese
18 - 24 March 2005
Guides: David Kent and Pavel Simeonov
Day 1; Fri. 18 February After linking up at the Holiday
Inn (05:45) we travelled together to London Heathrow, Terminal 1, and
checked in following a fairly quickly resolved issue concerning tickets.
The weather at Heathrow was mild and clear following a misty start. There
was time to enjoy coffee with unlimited flapjacks in the Serviceair executive
lounge (interrupted by a fire alert evacuation) before boarding our scheduled
08:35 flight to Sofia with British Airways, which finally lifted off at
08:50. Touching down at Sofia 13:35 it was surprising to discover largely
snow-free conditions, with temperature just above freezing. After receiving
onwards flight tickets to Varna we enjoyed T/coffee in the second-floor
restaurant, duly noting Magpies and Rooks as the first birds of the tour.
The scheduled 19:00 flight took off just ten minutes late, arriving in
Varna at 19:55. Our guide Pavel Simeonov, president of Le Balkan-Bulgaria
Foundation, linked up with us at the baggage reclaim and, by 20:10, we
were heading north. Road casualty Jackal and Beech Marten were seen en
route to Hotel Kaliakra, our accommodation in Kavarna close to the Black
Sea (reached at 21:10). A tasty meal awaited us, accompanied by a welcoming
shot of rakia (Bulgaria's answer to Scotch whisky).
Day 2; Sat. 19 February Breakfast at 08:10 was followed
by departure at 09:15, the morning still, sky clouded but bright, with
temperature around 1ºC. Outside the hotel a female Sparrowhawk circled
low overhead, while a pair of Long-legged Buzzards soared above a nearby
ridge. Driving directly north to Shabla Tuzla the days quest for wildlife
began by checking the extremely calm surface of the Black Sea. Six Black-throated
Divers, a number of Black-necked Grebes, plus a scattering of Shags (subspecies
desmaresti), and Yellow-legged Gulls constituted a respectable start.
Four 'fly-by' Waxwings were seen by DK and also heard by PS. On nearby
Shabla Tuzla lagoon a collection of wildlfowl included Mallard, Wigeon
and a number of largely concealed geese most of which were White-fronts
plus a few hard-to-find Red-breasted. On flighting to an adjacent field
we were able to more clearly discern the Red-breasted Geese through scopes.
The visit also produced several Marsh Harriers, one being mobbed by a
Short-eared Owl. Moving on to a flooded area by Shabla Lake a gathering
of ducks included Wigeon, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler and two female Smew.
Further north towards Lake Durankulak a large flight of geese milling
over the sea were confirmed by Pavel to be Red-breasted - estimated at
5000 - identified by their diagnostic flight pattern. They duly dropped
down into fields above the lake, so we attempted an approach from the
north. Although unable to view the birds because of land contour, several
birds on exposed spits in the lake below presented the best views thus
far. Relocating to the south, approaching from an elevated position with
light source at its best, we finally reached a position no more than 200
metres from the birds. It was an opportune time to break into our packed
lunches. As we ate a Spotted Eagle flew by at fairly close range, we watched
nine Marsh Harriers quartering reed-beds, and several Red-crested Pochards
were spotted on a reed-fringed fish pond. It was a wonderful experience
to see the entire flock of geese occasionally take to the wing en masse,
but finally exit the scene on the arrival of two motor cyclists.
Late afternoon we travelled down a narrow track overlooking extensive
reed-beds backed by banks covered in rank grass with scattered bushes.
Water Rails called from the cover and Hen Harriers arrived to roost, including
a handsome male. A Mute Swan pair were present on a small area of open
water, at the edge of which we watched a Muskrat twice swim by with vegetation
in its mouth - likely nest-building material.
During the return drive to our accommodation in Kavarna (arriving 19:00)
a Short-eared Owl was seen in a roadside field.
Day 3; Sun. 20 February 08:00 breakfast
was followed by departure at 09:00, the starting temperature about -1ºC.,
wind free but overcast. The first House and Tree Sparrows were seen in
the hotel environs. We first drove to Cape Kaliakra discovering the sea
to be ultra calm. One or two Hen Harriers, Common Buzzards and Kestrels
were seen along the approach. Seaward viewing conditions were excellent,
with several Great Northern Divers and a gathering of over 1000 Great
Crested Grebes in view (the latter somewhat far out). Close to shore there
were a number of Cormorants, several Shags, a group of Coots and scattered
Black-necked Grebes. Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls flew by the
headland and Jackdaws (white-collared race) were active about the cliffs.
A total of five Harbour Porpoises (Black Sea subspecies) were also spotted.
Departing the area we paused for photographs, seeing a very close Long-legged
Taking a spur road to the north-east an impressive gorge was reached -
a favourite haunt of roosting Eagle Owls. A female Goshawk soaring above
the mouth of the gorge as we arrived was a worthwhile sighting, soon followed
by a significant number of Hen Harriers and Common Buzzards, alas we were
unable to find the owl though discovered ample evidence of its presence
(pools of plucked Wood Pigeon feathers). Continuing up to steppe habitat
above, more harriers hunted the area and a trio of very close Calandra
Larks added to the tally.
Duly working our way north we reached Yailata arriving at a headland with
commanding overview of the sea. The location was an archaeological site,
the surface area containing many tomb chambers hewn directly into the
rock. A flock of Linnets and a fleetingly glimpsed vole, plus buzzards
playing on the updraughts further along, were the only wildlife of note.
At 13:30 we had lunch at a nearby 'snek bar', seeing two Syrian Woodpeckers
in local gardens.
A return visit was then made to Shabla Tuzla where about ten Red-breasted
Geese grazed among Whitefronts in a roadside field. Further on at Durankulak
we visited derelict fish ponds extensively colonised by Phragmites reeds,
where Marsh and Hen Harriers were arriving to roost. In a 180º sweep
a remarkable 35 Hen Harriers were counted. On open water there were several
Wigeon and Pochard, also nine female Smew. The arrival of five poachers
with shotguns in a 4WD vehicle underlined the problems confronting Pavel
in his attempts to promote conservation of this important protected site.
As darkness fell a short visit to Pavel's home in Shabla, where we met
and enjoyed the kindly hospitality of his charming wife Tatyana and entertaining
son Pavel jnr., preceded a session of spotlighting en route to out hotel.
Several Brown Hares, excellent views of a Jackal, plus a likely Western
Polecat, was a very satisfactory result - we arrived in Kavarna 20:15.
A second spotlighting excursion after dinner produced just Brown Hares
and six moggies.
Daytime temperature had risen to 3ºC., the light remaining soft with
occasional sunshine. Late evening a rather arresting aureole encircled
a full moon.