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BULGARIA: AUTUMN MIGRATION
11th – 18th SEPTEMBER 2009

Leaders            Dave Read & Andy Shooter
Local Guide     Pavel Simeonov
Participants     Doreen Marsh, Gordon & Alison Caw, John & Sheila Richardson, Chris & Christine Watkinson, Howard Broughton and
                          Chris Hughes.

Friday 11th September
Our trip began at 19:00 with a direct flight Birmingham to Bourgas, arriving 3.5 hours later at just a little after midnight local time.  Once all our cases had been collected, we met with Pavel Simeonov, head of Branta Tours, the Bulgarian based ground agents who helped us organise much of the tour.  We then met with our driver Roman and were soon out of the airport, arriving at the Sunny Bay Hotel in Pomorie, our base for three nights just 15 minutes later.

After checking in, we had a small snack that the hotel had made for us and a cold local beer before retiring straight to bed.


Saturday 12th September

After breakfast we began by checking the sea in front of the hotel, this produced both Black & Red-necked Grebes, but little else so we continued a short distance to Pomorie Lake.  Here several species of waders, gulls and terns were noted, along with Little Egret and 4 distant Spoonbill.
 
Next we moved to Lake Atanasovsko stopping first at the migration watchpoint, though sadly due to the high winds there was no sign of any migration taking place other than three Black Storks which circled over before departing to the south.  Moving a short distance we checked an area of mud by the side of the road that held several waders, the highlights of which were a single Marsh Sandpiper and at least one Temminck’s Stint.  Moving further around the lake another stop was made, here once again were several Little Gulls, but the highlight was without doubt 11 Dalmatian Pelicans roosting on one of the embankments.

Next we visited Lake Bourgas, a huge lake skirted by tall reeds and a very busy road, with only a handful of laybys made by fisherman to observe the lake from.  This made no difference however as our sharp-eyed guide Pavel spotted our targets and guided the driver into the next layby.  Sure enough in the distance was a flock of c150 White Pelican on the lake. We didn’t stop long however, as Pavel knew another stop where closer views of the birds could be obtained.  Once there we all enjoyed fantastic views of these mammoth birds, even finding 7 Dalmatians in with the flock so a comparison of the two species could be made.  Up to 5 Squacco Herons were also observed, along with 3 Night Herons in flight and a brief Little Bittern.  Several Whiskered Terns were also noted.

Moving south again we headed for the Ropotamo River Reserve for lunch, however by now the weather was deteriorating and little of note was recorded.  With the worsening weather we decided not to continue south (into bad weather) as planned, but to return to Lake Atanasovsko instead.  This was a good move as the return journey found us a very obliging Lesser Spotted Eagle roosting by the roadside and 3 Ferruginous Ducks on a roadside pool, with another 5 in flight overhead.  Once north of Bourgas it stopped raining, allowing us a nice walk along a track close to the western shore of the lake.  Though tall reeds made viewing the lake impossible several birds of note were recorded including a male Pallid Harrier, an immature Goshawk and three migrating flocks of White Pelican consisting of a total of c600 birds.

After an excellent bird filled day, we then headed back to Pomorie for our evening meal and log call.


Sunday 13th September

After breakfast we again started with the nearby Pomorie Lake, but not before Andy spotted a distant pale phase Arctic Skua at sea in front off the hotel.  On the lake, the gulls were still present in good numbers, and were showing much better in the calmer conditions, providing us with a good opportunity to be able to compare the many Little, Black-headed, Slender-billed and Mediterranean which were present in various ages and plumages.  Also present were Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls, again in a variety of plumages.  Other birds of note included single Whimbrel and Grey Plover, a flock of 5 Hoopoe and several Yellow Wagtails.  Moving further around the lake to various viewpoints provided several waders including Ruff, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilt amongst others.  Up to 50 Black-necked Grebe and a Penduline Tit were also noted.  Returning to the van we had begun to move away from Pomorie when two eagles were seen, one a Booted, the other Short-toed.  Stopping the van to gain better views also rewarded us with a flock of 4 Levant’s Sparrowhawk overhead, which gave reasonable views despite being a bit of a neck-breaker.

Our next stop was at the Khans Tent restaurant, situated on a panoramic viewpoint above the resort of Sunny Beach, here Chris & Chris treated us all to a much-appreciated cold beer to help celebrate their wedding anniversary, which we drank while watching for raptors.  Although a few birds were noted including two Black Kites, most were Steppe Buzzard and most were very high, with only a single Lesser Spotted Eagle showing well.  However our attention was soon shifted to the surrounding scrubby hillside and pines as it became apparent that there had been a fall of passerines, with several flycatchers, warblers, chats and shrikes involved.  Amongst the commoner species were a Wood Warbler and at least 2 Red-breasted Flycatchers, however the surprise find was a late Semi-collared FlycatcherAlpine Swift and Sombre Tit were also recorded here along with Marsh, Coal and Long-tailed Tits.

Next we moved to an area of Oak woodland where a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpecker, which gave good views was amongst the highlights.  Meanwhile through the gaps in the trees, more raptors could be seen moving over, including a single Booted Eagle, and Lesser Spotted Eagle and a flock of c50 Steppe Buzzards.

Our next stop was Poroy Reservoir, however upon arrival unusually low water levels resulted in the best areas at the far end being dry, with only 3 Tawny Pipits, several Crested Larks and a few Red-rumped Swallow of note.  Moving to the dam there was plenty of water, but also plenty of fishermen and still not much in the way of birds, although Hawfinch, Song Thrush and Grey Wagtail were added to the list.

We then returned to Pomorie with just enough time to revisit the Lake, which was covered in Shelduck.  New arrivals since our morning visit included a single immature White Pelican and up to 4 Black Terns.


Monday 14th September

Today we moved north leaving Pomorie behind and heading to the small town of Durankulak, just 3 miles from the Romanian border and our base for the next four nights.  Not however before a quick stop at Pomorie Lake, which held all the usual birds with only two Shag new to add to the list.

A stop to refuel near the resort of Sunny Beach resulted in four species of raptors from the petrol station forecourt: Short-toed Eagle, Steppe Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and a very obliging male Goshawk, which gave prolonged good views.  Moving on an unscheduled stop was made at the viewpoint above Sunny Beach when one of the group (you know who you are) realised they had left their passport in the hotel back in Pomorie.  However it wasn’t a problem as Roman our very agreeable driver returned to collect it as we birded this site.  Though the numbers of migrants were clearly down on the previous day, there was still much to see with a few Red-breasted Flycatchers, and even the Semi-collared Flycatcher still present.  Perhaps the highlight for most was this very cooperative Grey-headed Woodpecker, which showed out in the open for several minutes as it sunbathed at the top of a Pine.  Meanwhile Howard and Chris had wondered off, missing the woodpecker, they did however return with a photo of a bunting they were unsure of.  Unfortunately the bird never came fully into view and hence the photo only shows part of its head, but 1st winter Pine Bunting seems most likely, though from the photo alone, it is perhaps impossible to be sure.

Our next stop was just a few miles further, at another viewpoint, though it became obvious there was little raptor movement here, other than a few very high Red-footed Falcons and Sparrowhawks, (both Eurasian and Levant’s).  There was however a significant movement of Bee-eaters with several flocks moving through totalling at least 300 birds.  A pair of Sombre Tit were also noted here as were a pair of Red-rumped Swallow.

Next we visited the Goritza Forrest, where both Middle and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker were noted along with a Short-toed Treecreeper and several Nuthatches, though sadly no sign of our target Black Woodpecker.  Time however was now pushing on and we still had several miles to go on our journey, so no further stops were made until reaching Topala, where Great Spotted Woodpecker and Woodlark were added.

Continuing, we eventually arrived at the Branta Birding Lodge, which sits overlooking Lake Durankulak, and is home to not only Pavel and his family, but also almost the entire world’s wintering population of Red-breasted Goose.  Here Tatyana  (Pavel’s wife) welcomed us, making us all feel very much at home.  Later after a short rest and a refreshing beer we enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal accompanied by a shot of Raki, a traditional drink served to guests in the Bulgarian home.


Tuesday 15th September

With Lake Durankulak on the doorstep and a little tired from the previous long day on the road, today was to be a steady day concentrating on the lake.  We started at the northeastern corner, parking in the beach car park where immediately a Syrian Woodpecker was located.  Nearby on the beach a few Sanderling and a Curlew Sandpiper were busy feeding.  Walking south we spent some time looking in the reeds for the elusive Moustached Warbler, with a slim chance of a late Paddyfield, however several Reed Warblers later and we had neither of our targets.  We did however watch an Osprey carry a large fish in off the sea, and up to 6 Pygmy Cormorants were noted in flight.  Two Caspian Terns were also recorded moving north.

Next we headed inland briefly to look for Long-legged Buzzard, and although two possible birds were found they were very distant, Steppe Buzzard however showed much better, with 5 together with a Short-toed Eagle.  We also stopped to look at a roadside Syrian Woodpecker, finding a Black Redstart and a few Yellow Wagtails, including a nice male of the race dombrowskii (Romanian Wagtail).

Lunch was taken back at the lodge, with some of the group deciding afterwards to stay there and have an easy afternoon birding from the garden, from where Marsh & Montagu’s Harrier, Hobby, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Northern Wheatear, Red-backed Shrike, Spanish Sparrow and Corn Bunting could all be seen, along with an incredible number of swallows.

The rest however headed back out, travelling a short distance before walked along a small track surrounded by pine at first, thinning to thorn scrub and eventually a small reed fringed pool.  This was alive with migrants, Red-backed Shrike and Lesser Whitethroat the most abundant species, followed closely by both Spotted and Red-breasted Flycatchers, with at least 15 of the latter, including a stunning male still in breeding plumage.  Others warblers included Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow, Wood, Garden and a single Barred.  Other highlights included a large flock of c200 Bee-eaters, another Syrian Woodpecker and a Golden Oriole.  On the pool were Little Grebe, Purple Heron, Teal and at least 3 Kingfisher.  A Muskrat was also noted here.

Next we moved to the southeastern corner, where several thousand hirundines were feeding and numerous flocks of Yellow Wagtails of mixed races were present, presumably all gathering to roost in the large reedbeds.  Another large gathering was c400 Gulls, mostly Mediterranean, which streamed in off the sea to bathe in the lake before dispersing.  Two Red-throated Pipits flew over calling and dropped into a field containing several wagtails but unfortunately could not be relocated.  Further on, an area of tall reeds held Great Reed Warbler, Savi’s Warbler and Bearded Tit, though sadly the latter was heard calling only.  Further still in an area of scrub a male Bluethroat was a fitting way to finish what had been a superb evening.

Meanwhile back at the Lodge, Tatyana had prepared a special meal for us, starting with Calamari Rings, next was delicious Crayfish, caught from Durankulak Lake, followed by a perfectly cooked Zander (also fresh from the Lake) for main course.


Wednesday 16th September

Today we headed north across the border and into Romania.  Our first stop, apart from border control was made at Lake Tekirgyol where 200+ Black-necked Grebes were gathered on the lake, and a few Ruff were found along the shoreline.

Our next stop was made on the approach to Vadu, where a few distant raptors turned out to be Red-footed Falcon, however a small flock of White Pelicans showed much better, flying directly towards us before turning over our heads and returning to the north.  Once at Vadu both Roller and Lesser Grey Shrike were immediately found, though sadly the latter soon disappeared.  Leaving the minibus behind, and walking along the track towards the lagoons gave us good views of c25 Red-footed Falcons, with adults and immatures of both sexes feeding low over the marshes.  Meanwhile a distant flock of c100 Collared Pratincole flew high over to the north, however sadly most of the group missed these.  A flock of 9 Spoonbill moved south and Bearded Tit was heard and eventually seen, as was a Reed Bunting.  Once at the lagoons there were several waders, mostly Little Stint, but also Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers and Spotted Redshank.  Luckily another flock of c50 Collared Pratincole flew over, and although still fairly high the whole group saw them, while several small flocks of Lapwing was another addition to the already long trip list.  One of the highlights here was a European Souslik, or European Ground Squirrel as it is also known, which gave good views on the lagoon embankment.

Next we moved to Istria, where a Long-legged Buzzard was perched on a Pylon and gave exceptional views both perched and in flight, with a total of three birds observed in the area.  A Lesser Spotted Eagle was also noted flyingover.  A large body of water here held good wildfowl numbers, mostly Shoveler, however sadly the marshes were completely dry, and as a result virtually birdless, though a European Pond Terrapin and another European Souslik was noted.

Moving to Sinoie our final destination for the day, it was immediately clear the birdlife here was much more numerous.  Once again large numbers of wildfowl were present, largely Shoveler with smaller numbers of Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Teal and Pintail.  Waders were also present in good numbers with c40 Golden Plover and 3 Common Snipe new for the trip.  Others included Curlew, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper and another Marsh Sandpiper, though surely the highlight was c10 Collared Pratincole, which gave reasonable views.  In the fields bordering the marshes c300 Caspian Gulls were roosting with at least 5 Caspian Terns amongst them, one of which ventured down to the lake to drink, where views were much better.  A Great White Egret also showed well here, though sadly two Spoonbills remained distant.  Other noteworthy birds here included 3 White Pelicans that circled overhead, a single Dalmatian Pelican and several Purple Herons.  Meanwhile an immature Gull-billed Tern begging an adult for food was unusual behaviour so late in the season.  A small flock of 6 Bearded Tit was noted and Marsh Harriers were almost constantly visible.

With time pushing on and the long journey ahead of us back to the Lodge, this sadly had to conclude our Romanian excursion, but with many good birds encountered it certainly whet our appetite for what this country has to offer.


Thursday 17th September

Today we stayed fairly local, starting the day with another optional pre breakfast walk at the lake looking for Moustached Warbler.  Again many Reed and Great Reed Warblers were seen though another bird showing a strong supercilium kept giving tantalising glimpses deep in the reeds, eventually the bird came into view, and was as suspected our target Moustached Warbler, with probably 3 birds seen before returning for breakfast.  The early morning walk also produced 2 Pygmy Cormorants, Osprey, Grey-headed Woodpecker and a brief Great Bittern in flight.

After breakfast we headed out to the nearby Lake Sabla, which itself proved fairly unrewarding, with only a Kingfisher of any note, the approach road however provided excellent views of both Hoopoe and Bee-eater.  Just a short drive further and we were at our next destination, Sabla Tuzla, a shallow brackish lake famous for its curative Black Sea Mud, and where there’s mud, there’s waders.  This site was certainly no exception with Ringed, Little Ringed & Kentish Plover, Ruff, Little Stint, Dunlin and both Curlew and Wood Sandpipers all feeding in the shallows.  Amongst these Howard picked out a single Broad-billed Sandpiper (our only record) and Dave found a Red-necked Phalarope.  A little further out in deeper water 6 Marsh Sandpiper were busy feeding.

Next we moved to Yalata finding a single Isabelline Wheatear on the way.  Once at Yalata, a beautiful cliff top area of steppe grassland, two Calandra Larks were soon spotted in flight, and later scoped on the deck.  A juvenile harrier flew quickly through and was almost certainly a juvenile Pallid, however its rapid departure unfortunately left identification less than 100%.  Two Tawny Pipits also showed well and while watching these, a flock of 27 Calandra Larks flew close by.

Continuing to Kaliakra we disturbed a flock of c250 Calandra Larks, which proved quite a sight, while in the distance a swirling mass of up to 5000 Starlings put on a show.  We could have easily spent longer watching their antics had we more time, but it was already getting late and we still had much to see.  Upon parking at the Cape, Andy at once spotted a 1st winter Pied Wheatear which showed reasonably well.  On the sea were several Shag, and above us 20 or so Alpine Swift showed off their aerial expertise.  Further along an adult male Pied Wheatear was seen briefly by some, before disappearing.  Luckily it was relocated in a nearby garden , where it showed well.  In the same small garden were Black Redstart, Red-backed Shrike and at least two Red-breasted Flycatchers. This was surely the Black Sea equivalent of Flamborough.  We then moved a short distance to a rocky gorge for our final target of the day, Eagle Owl.  However the first sighting of any note came when a few of the group spotted a European Polecat climbing up the cliff face.  Amazingly while watching this two Badgers were discovered when the polecat ran in front of them.  At that stage the Polecat was lost to view, however the Badgers remained on show till dark.  Meanwhile amongst all the excitement, our driver had spotted the Eagle Owl in flight, (it’s a good job someone remembered what we were there for).  Moments later it reappeared just over the ridge and briefly perched on top allowing reasonable views in the fading light.  It did this on a number of occasions; a second bird was also heard calling from nearby, as was a Long-eared Owl.


Friday 18th September

Our final day, though due to our late flight we still had a full day ahead of us, so after breakfast we said our farewells to Tatyana and made a start on our journey to Bourgas.  Our first stop was made at Kamchiya where we parked and entered the woods looking for Black Woodpecker, though sadly none could be found (woodpeckers are always difficult at this time of year). However we hadn’t given up yet and another attempt was made whilst having lunch at Goritza.  Here we soon found Lesser Spotted, two Middle Spotted and a Great Spotted, but still no Black.  Willow Tit was however another addition to the list and through the gaps in the trees Lesser Spotted Eagle and a few Booted Eagles were noted.  Back at the Café, a constant eye on the sky while having drinks yielded Levant Sparrowhawk, Steppe Buzzard and a few Red-footed Falcons, but all very high.

Continuing south we descended from the hills and were soon back at Pomorie, where we headed straight to our favourite area.  However on arrival it was clear that many of the birds had moved on, (what a difference a few days can make).  Careful searching still produced some good birds though, with the discovery of 4 Red-necked Phalaropes the highlight. 

Continuing to Lake Atanasovsko we pulled up at a small pool that held a variety of waders, including 15 Black-tailed Godwits, another new species for the trip.  Moving a short distance to another viewpoint 3 Dalmatian Pelicans were resting on an embankment.  Next we visited Lake Bourgas, where an impressive flock of some 250 White Pelicans were roosting, and in the late evening light their pink washed plumage was obvious, especially when a very clean white Mute Swan (which they dwarfed) swam by.  Further out five Dalmatian Pelicans were roosting on an old concrete pylon base, the pylon itself long since eroded by years of Cormorant droppings.  A few Squacco Herons were also noted along with a handful of Whiskered Terns.

This just about finished the day, with light fading fast we returned to Bourgas for our evening meal at a good quality bar restaurant.  With plenty of time to spare, no rush was made with our meal and a few drinks were enjoyed afterwards.

Once at the airport we checked in and moved through to departures with no hassle, though our birding wasn’t over yet as Dave and Andy whilst climbing the stairs to the plane spotted a Barn Owl fly across the runway and land briefly on top of a nearby plane.

This brought the total to an outstanding 187 species recorded during the tour, with almost too many highlights to mention, however I think most of the group would agree the good views of both Pelicans, the Lesser Spotted Eagle perched in the tree, Broad-billed Sandpiper, comparing the many gulls in various plumages, Eagle Owl, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Pied Wheatear and the many Red-breasted Flycatchers, including the stunning breeding plumage bird were certainly all contenders for the top ten.

We would like to thank everyone involved with this tour, for making it such a successful and very rewarding trip.

 

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