BIRDWATCHING IN BULGARIA

A promotional article by Spatia Wildlife

October 2012

Bulgaria is small country sandwiched between the Danube River in the north, Greece in the south and the Black Sea in the east.  Isolated for decades during the cold war, it is still one of the least visited Eastern European countries despite being an EU member for six years already.

Goshawk by Michele Mendi

Despite a relatively small territory, the country boasts a great variety of habitats with a rich biodiversity, especially of birds. From high mountain peaks in the Balkans down to sea level, mature beach forests to riparian woodlands and wetlands to steppe grassland, Bulgaria is inhabited by 424 bird species and is among the most bird rich of European countries. There are 264 breeding species, many of them in considerable numbers.

Niobe Fritilliary by Dobromir Domuschiev

At its crossroad position in the extreme south-east corner of Europe and close proximity to Asia, Bulgaria has a number of species that occur only or mainly here in Europe and they are very attractive to birdwatchers.

Dalmatian Pelican by Dobromir Domuschiev

Bulgaria is the best place to see many species Bulgaria, such as Red-breasted geese, Rock Partridge, Hazel Grouse, White-backed Woodpecker, Olive-tree Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler, Wallcreeper, Rosy Starling and many more.

Wallcreeper by Simon Palmer

Bulgaria is also rich in raptors and all but two European diurnal raptors are found here. Levant Sparrowhawk, Long-legged Buzzard, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saker and Red-footed Falcons are all present, to name but a few. All of the European woodpeckers breed here, as well as most of the owls.

Long-legged Buzzard by Michele Mendi

This richness guarantees year round excellent birdwatching, but as everywhere in Europe, May is the most productive time in terms of species. Rosy Starling, Red-breasted and Semi-collared Flycatchers, Dalmatian and White pelicans, Pygmy cormorant,  Ruddy Shelduck, Syrian, White-backed and Three-toed woodpeckers, Barred Warbler,  Citrine Wagtail, Isabelline and Pied wheatears, Red-rumped Swallow, Masked Shrike, Sombre Tit, Rock Nuthatch, Common Rosefinch and Black-headed Bunting can all be found. A 12 day birding tour easily brings 210 plus species. 

Isabelline Wheatear by Dobromir Domuschiev

In spring birdwatching can be easily combined with butterflies. Bulgaria is the third richest butterfly country in Europe with 224 species.

Apollo by Dobromir Domuschiev

Eastern Festoon by Dobromir Domuschiev

Even large mammals continue to exist with about 600 bears and over 1000 wolves roaming the country. In total there are 100 mammal species!

Golden Jackal by Michele Mendi

Bulgaria also lies on the second largest bird migration route in Europe – Via Pontica, along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Every spring and especially the autumn hundreds of thousands of birds pass through here. The autumn migrations is more concentrated and numerous. In a single day more than 8,000 Lesser-spotted Eagles, 50 000 White Storks and 5,000 pelicans can be seen. Thousands of Steppe Buzzards and Red-footed Falcons, hundreds of Short-toed Eagles and Honey Buzzards as well as single Sakers and Pallid Harriers also fly by. Many waders including Terek, Broad-billed and Marsh Sandpipers, Red-necked Phalarope, Slender-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns, as well as passerines such as Thrush Nightingale use the wetlands and various habitats along the sea coast to build their reserves on the long way south.

Broad-billed Sandpiper by Dobromir Domuschiev

The winter is also good time as many species find favorable conditions here. The most spectacular of them is the Red-breasted Goose – this most beautiful of the geese find optimal conditions to spend the winter here – big wheat fields and two fresh water lakes, while the closeness of the sea provide mild temperatures. Unfortunately this endangered species is in a fast decline over the last 10 years.

Red-breasted Goose by Chris Knights

Red-breasted Goose by Mike Lane

Other species that spend the winter here are the Lesser White-fronted Goose, White-headed Duck, Pygmy Cormorant, Great Spotted Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard and many more.

Rough-legged Buzzard by Dobromir Domuschiev

The good populations of birds and the available infrastructure of hides also offer excellent photographic opportunities. Species such as Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Hoopoe, Roller, Wryneck and many more can be easily photographed. Common species such as woodpeckers, buntings, shrikes, finches are very plentiful here and easy to find. Even species that are hard to find anywhere else in Europe are possible and the best shots of them are often taken in Bulgaria – Rosy Starling, Wallcreeper etc.

Rose-coloured Starling by Dobromir Domuschiev

Although spring is the best time, due to the variety of species Bulgaria offers year round photography is possible. During the winter one can photograph Golden Eagles, Goshawk, Common and Long-legged buzzards, Raven, Dalmatian Pelicans and various birds on feeders – woodpeckers, Hawfinch and other finches, thrushes, Jay, tits etc. Mammals ranging from the cute Suslick to the mighty Brown Bear offer even more opportunities for wildlife photography.

Golden Eagle by Domingo Garcia

Habitats and landscapes are generally unspoiled and wild and it is a great advantage that in Bulgaria you can walk and access virtually everywhere, even on private land, so long as you do not cause damage. Vehicle access is also possible along almost every dirt track so getting heavy camera equipment in is easy and the opportunity for car window photography excellent with shrikes and buntings perched on roadside bushes. Drinking pools or simple puddles draw the birds in very successfully during Bulgaria’s hot summers.

Red-backed Shrike by Mike Walker

Despite this richness not everything is perfect and there are some species in decline over the last few years. We have lost the Saker Falcon as a breeder in the last 15 years mainly due to poaching and nest robbery for falconry. Fortunately there is a reintroduction project on the way and the increasing populations in Hungary and Ukraine results in more birds being seen on migration and during the winter. The Lesser Kestrels have also disappeared for no obvious reasons. Egyptian Vultures are also in steep decline due to poisoning and electrocution mainly on their migration routes and wintering grounds. Probably the worst example is the Red-breasted Goose – the wintering population has crashed from nearly 90,000 to less than 35,000 birds in 10 years. The reasons are not perfectly clear, as the birds cover huge distances between their breeding grounds in Siberia and the wintering grounds in Bulgaria and Romania. However, disturbance during the winter in both Bulgaria and Greece is a major factor for the decline. Shooting is not a real problem as the geese are protected and hunters avoid them as their meat is not tasteful. Ecotourism is considered as one of the main tools for changing the attitude of the hunters and farmers towards the geese. Other problems are habitat loss to and new technologies like wind turbines.

Hoopoe by Phillip Newman

Despite this Bulgaria is still very rich in birds and wildlife and can offer unforgettable experience to any visiting birdwatcher, naturalist or wildlife photographer.

Hawfinch by Michele Mendi

Bulgaria is still a relatively cheap destination in Europe and there are many options on low cost flights from the UK, which is only 3 hours away. The weather is very favourable, with 240 sunny days in a year and unlike the U.K. is not damp and wet for long periods.

More info and contacts at
www.spatiawildlife.com Some more pictures below to enjoy.

 

Goshawk by Mike Lane 

Grey-headed Woodpecker by Dobromir Domuschiev

Hawfinch by Dobromir Domuschiev

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker by Mike Lane

Nutcracker by Dennis Binda

Pigmy Owl by Michele Mendi

Poplar Admiral by Dobromir Domuschiev

Red-rumped Swallow by Mike Lane

Roller by Robert Kreinz

Syrian Woodpecker by Mike Lane

Three-toed Woodpecker by Mike Lane

Wryneck by Mike Walker