Whilst not a Western Palearctic list-building trip, a few days spent in central Bulgaria proved fairly productive and certainly very enjoyable from a birding perspective. I was pleased to get two lifers, in the shape of Syrian Woodpecker and Sombre Tit, and there was a supporting cast of decent eastern bits, such as Black-headed Buntings, Barred and Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, Isabelline Wheatears and Lesser Grey Shrikes. Throw in plentiful numbers of farmland species seemingly in rapid decline in the west, and a very respectable list of 81 birds was attained.
|Lesser Grey Shrike, Sokolitsa, 7/6/2017|
We stayed in the proud town of Kalofer, at the foot of Mount Botev, and birds around the town and hotel included Golden Orioles, Nightingales and, best of all, a couple of Syrian Woodpeckers. The focal point of the trip was to climb Botev, 2,476 metres tall and the highest mountain in the Central Balkan range. This was achieved (extremely tough!), and birds in the treeline and adjacent scrubby plateaus included Sombre Tits and Barred and Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, as well as large numbers of Red-backed Shrikes, Wood Warblers, Hawfinches, Woodlarks and Rock Buntings.
There was only a small amount of time for birding, but a couple of hours in the scrubland and farms surrounding the village of Sokolitsa was excellent, not just for the quality of the species but also the densities. Tree Sparrows, Corn Buntings, feldegg Yellow Wagtails, Red-backed Shrikes, Hoopoes and both Calandra and Crested Larks were numerous, with Quails audible and a couple of Black Storks overhead. The grassy plains to the west of the village held a large number of Isabelline Wheatears, including recently fledged young, as well as European Ground Squirrels. A pair of Lesser Grey Shrikes showed well in the hedgerow at the south of the village, and a couple of Black-headed Buntings were surprisingly elusive in the crop fields to the east. Presumably, singing had largely ceased for this species by now.
|Black-headed Bunting, Sokolitsa, 7/6/2017|
With the great help of Dimiter from Neophron Tours, we were given gen for an Eastern Imperial Eagle site. Unfortunately, limited time and a lack of ‘scope put pay to the chances of finding this would-be lifer, but a sub-adult Golden Eagle here was some compensation. During the course of the other days, a few farmland areas were checked out, most of them bursting with the commoner of the aforementioned species as well as Turtles Doves and Grey Partridges.
This part of the world is obviously one of the economically less-off in Europe, but the people were very friendly, and tolerant of our limited/largely non-existent Bulgarian. As for the prices, a pint cost around 70p, a coffee 65p and most meals (2 courses) were around £5. The hotel cost £11 a night, each. With the quality of the birding inland this good, I’m sure the Black Sea is as good as its reputation suggests, and I’ll definitely be back to check it out one day.