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|BULGARIA: AUTUMN MIGRATION
11th – 18th SEPTEMBER 2012
Leaders Dave Read.
Next we moved to Lake Atanasovsko, stopping first at the migration watch-point where we ate our packed lunch while scanning for raptors. Although there was obviously some migration taking place, the majority was very high and views were poor to say the least. Having said that we did receive good views of an immature female Levant's Sparrowhawk, with another two higher up and a good view of a dark phase Booted Eagle, again with another two higher up. In the distance there was a large group of White Pelicans roosting on the lake, with a near constant flow of birds flying in from the south to joint them. We then decided to move to the south side of the lake where we could get a better look at the Pelicans. While doing so we disturbed a Short-toed Eagle from the roadside which showed well in flight for some time. We then left the van for a while and walked down to view the pelicans and were surprised to find the first raft of birds were mainly Dalmatian Pelicans with no less than 90 birds present. However White Pelicans were by far the most numerous with an estimated 8000 birds present, with still more birds arriving all the time. Other birds here included Spotted Redshank, Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper, while in the reeds both Bearded Tit and Savi's Warbler were heard calling but not seen.
Visiting the salt pans on the opposite side of the road again produced many waders but a single Curlew was the only new addition. In the scrub surrounding the car park however were two of each Spotted and Red-breasted Flycatchers.
We then moved to Lake Mandra, where we birded for a while adding Penduline Tit before moving to the observation tower at Poda to eat lunch. From here we had good views of the marsh as well as the many birds passing over. Raptors included at least 4 Booted Eagles, a single Short-toed Eagle, a few Steppe Buzzards and many Marsh Harriers. Up to six Dalmatian Pelicans gave exceptional flight views as they passed low over the tower, which is more than can be said for the three Collared Pratincoles which remained very high. A few Caspian Terns were also seen in flight. On the marsh waders included Snipe and Wood Sandpiper both of which gave good views, however a Black-winged Stilt remained distant. There were also many Little Egrets, two Great Egrets and two very distant White-winged Terns.
Moving south again we headed for the Izvorska River mouth, a protected area on the edge of Lake Mandra to look for White-tailed Eagle; however our journey there was broken by a very obliging Lesser Spotted Eagle which gave excellent flight views low over the road. Once there up to four Ferruginous Duck were again noted along with good views of up to 11 Pygmy Cormorants roosting. Although initially there was no sign of the White-tailed Eagle our patience was rewarded when an adult flew over towards the hillside at the southwest corner of the lake where it landed in a field, allowing decent scope views.
We then headed back to the hotel, visiting the Pomorie Lake briefly, though only Green Sandpiper was added by doing so.
Another unscheduled stop was made when four migrating Black Storks were spotted, which were followed by at least 20 Lesser Spotted Eagles, all of which circled together on thermals before continuing south. Lunch was taken here and while doing so two Booted Eagles a Marsh Harrier and c150 White Pelicans also moved south.
After lunch we started to descend from the hills and while doing so sharp-eyed Pavel spotted a Middle Spotted Woodpecker from the van which showed well for some time. After a few less successful stops we were just about to give up our search for woodpecker when we found this female Grey-headed, which again gave very good views. Amazingly while watching this, a Syrian Woodpecker climbed up the very same trunk as the Grey-headed, although it didn't stay on show for long. 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 homemade apricot and plum Rakia.
Other birds of note during the journey included a male Goshawk, Pallid Swift and Red-rumped Swallow.
Then we explored an area of steppe with many telegraph wires running over were we managed to locate a total of four European Roller. Next we headed to the nearby Lake Shabla, which itself proved fairly unrewarding, with only a single Squacco Heron and a Kingfisher of any note, although the nearby fields rewarded us with an even better view of Roller (see back cover) and our only White Stork of the trip. Just a short drive further and we were at our next destination, Shabla Tuzla, a shallow brackish lake famous for its curative Black Sea Mud. Although first we stopped briefly at the sea where this Levant's Sparrow showed well and a Wryneck was found nearby. Once at the lake we visited a viewing screen where many waders including three additions, Red-necked Phalarope, Marsh Sandpiper and Temminck's Stint could be viewed. Other highlights included Broad-billed Sandpiper and Kentish Plover.
Next we moved to Yalata, a beautiful cliff-top area of steppe grassland where Isabelline Wheatear and Calandra Lark were added along with a Quail, Shag and our first Osprey. Other raptors included two juvenile Montagu's Harriers, several Marsh Harriers and an adult female Pallid Harrier which gave prolonged good views allowing all of its identification features to be noted.
Continuing to Cape Kaliakra another area of steppe was searched briefly which provided yet another Roller, up to seven Tawny Pipits and a flock of 50 Calandra Larks overhead. Upon reaching the Cape, Dave immediately spotted a Pied Wheatear which showed very well. Further along many Red-breasted Flycatchers were noted including several in a small garden which also contained Spotted Flycatcher, Common Redstart and several warblers including Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat.
We then moved a short distance to a rocky gorge for our final target of the day, Eagle Owl. A quick stop at the beach first produced a few Alpine Swifts overhead, while the narrow track to the gorge provided brief views of two Thrush Nightingales. Once in position we didn't have to wait too long before the owl was heard calling, and soon after found perched on top of the cliff allowing excellent scope views in reasonable light. It then flew off around the cliff and out of sight for a while before reappearing in flight over the cliff top and perching on a distant bush. Amazingly this was followed by another two birds which flew together in the same direction as the first.
Our next stop was made at Lake Istria, where the large body of water here held good numbers of waders and wildfowl including our only Pintail of the tour. Meanwhile numerous migrating flocks of White Pelicans were also moving over, many of which containing several hundred birds. Often amongst the pelicans raptors could also be found and although most were high, some gave reasonable views. A golden patch of activity came when in just 15 minutes we had an Osprey, a few of each Steppe Buzzard and Marsh Harrier and at least 50 Red-footed Falcons. The star bird however was a juvenile Saker which gave decent views as it circled over head.
Next we continued to a remote site in the south of the delta where Pallas's Gull ( Great Black-headed Gull ) is known to breed. Immediately on arrival one flew past and out of sight before we could really view it, but luckily we didn't have to wait long before another or the same flew back in the opposite direction. In the distance several large gulls could be seen at the mouth of the channel but were too far away to identify, however a pleasant stroll down to view them closer produced a count of 12 birds, with probably more present as only part of the spit could be viewed from the gap in the reeds. There were also several Caspian Terns moving back and forth while other sightings included single Dalmatian Pelican and Squacco Heron, up to three Kingfishers, a small flock of migrating Red-footed Falcons and a second year male Pallid Harrier.
With the long drive back to the lodge ahead of us we decided to make a start on the journey. However this planned took a turn when we located another male Pallid Harrier right by the roadside. Unfortunately it rapidly departed and despite trying to relocate it again we were unable to, we did however come across a small flock of Red-footed Falcons, which gave prolonged good views and a flock of c25 Ruddy Shelduck flew over. As we had driven some distance from the main track in search of the harrier, a new track was explored which took us close to some productive wetlands on the edge of Lake Sinoe. These were full of birds and even though time was pushing on we couldn't resist a quick look, with three Marsh Sandpipers and a Red-necked Phalarope our reward for doing so.
This sadly concluded our Romanian excursion, but with many good birds encountered it certainly whet our appetite for what this country has to offer.
Lunch was taken back at the lodge, before heading back to the lake, this time concentrating on the south eastern corner. The drive down produced a Long-legged Buzzard, while further excitement came in the way of a Wryneck on the track. There were also several Red-backed Shrikes and a few of each Northern Wheatear, Whinchat and Stonechat, though the windy conditions were making finding birds difficult. With this in mind we headed to the beach and looked out to sea for a while which produced two Arctic Skua's close in and several Black-necked Grebe. On the beach a few Sanderling and Turnstone were feeding with the more numerous Dunlin and Ringed Plover.
We then had a coffee at the campsite restaurant before again searching for migrants, though the only addition from this morning was a Common Cuckoo. During the course of the day many interesting waterbirds were noted either on the lake or in flight above it, and included several Pygmy Cormorant, up to 7 Squacco Heron, 5 Purple Heron, 4 Great Egret and a few Whiskered Tern. To finish the evening a very obliging Osprey made several unsuccessful attempts to catch prey before giving up and flying off empty handed.
After breakfast we said our farewells to Tatyana and made a start on our journey to Varna. First we quickly revisited part of Lake Durankulak, hoping the calmer conditions today would yield more, however once at the lake we soon discovered it was still windy here so quickly moved on, though we did add Meadow Pipit. We continued from here south along the coast, stopping occasionally to check the sea though this only provided lots more Black-necked Grebe and a few Shag. A quick stop was also made at Topala, though this was fairly unrewarding.
We then moved to the wooded hillsides of the Batova Forest, north of Varna. Here we were able to look for woodpeckers while scanning the skies for migrating raptors. Although no woodpeckers were seen, (September is a difficult month for woodpeckers) Green Woodpecker was heard. Raptors on the other hand were much more obliging with several Steppe Buzzards, a Booted Eagle, 2 Goshawks, 2 Levant's Sparrowhawks, 2 Hobbies, 1 Red-footed Falcon and our only Peregrine of the tour. Other birds here included several Hawfinch, two flocks of migrating White Pelicans and our only Tree Pipit.
With our birding now over for the day, it was time to continue to Varna. Once at the airport we checked in and moved through to departures with out any hassle, concluding what had been an outstanding bird filled week.
This brought the total to an exceptional 182 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, migrating Lesser Spotted Eagles, the Red-footed Falcons and Pallid Harrier in Romania, Levant's Sparrowhawk, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Pallas's Gulls, Eagle Owl, Grey-headed Woodpecker and the many Red-breasted Flycatchers, including the stunning male featured on the front cover 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 hugely rewarding trip. With a special thanks going to Tatyana for the exceptional hospitality shown to us at the Brant Birding Lodge.
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