BULGARIA - via Pontica, autumn migration
along the Black Sea coast
Thursday 18th - Monday 22nd September 2014

Thursday 18th September
We all met mid-morning at a misty Luton Airport and once we had checked in, had a short wait until our flight was called. We took off a few minutes late but made up time to land at a cloudy Burgas airport at 6.00pm local time.

As the plane came in over several large lakes we noted a small flock of WHITE PELICANS that at first glance looked suspiciously like Greater Flamingos! Once our baggage was collected we met up with our guide Dobry and went off to load up the vans.

Small numbers of JACKDAWS frequented the roadsides and the front van was lucky to see a HOOPOE flying past. Arriving at a large lake, we were greeted by the sight of good numbers of LITTLE GULLS feeding on the surface of several salt ponds. A really good find was a juvenile RED-NECKED PHALAROPE seen spinning around and feeding constantly. WOOD SANDPIPERS, RUFF, RINGED & LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS were noted around the edges and on the opposite side of the lake were a large number of CORMORANTS roosting along with SANDWICH & COMMON TERNS.

LITTLE and GREAT CRESTED GREBES were located in the deeper water along with MUTE SWAN, MALLARD and GREY HERON. Several LITTLE STINTS fed on a floating mat of weed and occasional struggled to keep upright in the breezy conditions.

With the light going we headed back to the van and flushed two RED-BACKED SHRIKES from an area of Tamarisks close to the carpark.

A few minutes later we checked into our hotel which overlooked both the Black Sea and the salt lake. We met for dinner a short while later where we certainly didn't go hungry.

We then had an early night to get some rest before our first full day birding along the Black Sea coast.

Friday 19th September
Most of the group met at 7.00am for a pre-breakfast jaunt back to the salt pans and lake close to the hotel. The previous days Red-necked Phalarope wasn't present but once again we found good numbers of LITTLE GULLS and up to 25 MEDITERRANEAN GULLS amongst the more common BLACK-HEADED GULLS.

Around the edge of the pans we had good views of YELLOW WAGTAILS of the nominate race and very brief views of a calling BLACK-HEADED (feldegg). LITTLE RINGED & RINGED PLOVERS gave close views as did a very confiding WOOD SANDPIPER.

On the opposite side of the path it was much breezier but the numerous SANDWICH TERNS and COMMON TERNS seemed to enjoy it as they perched on posts in the water. The many CORMORANTS were joined by two PYGMY CORMORANTS and we could compare the two species.

A scan of the area produced GREY PLOVER, OSPREY, YELLOW-LEGGED GULL, GREENSHANK and LITTLE STINT amongst others, whilst inland we watched a large flock of SPANISH SPARROWS, two TREE SPARROWS and in a nearby tamarisk, a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER and WILLOW WARBLER were seen.

It was then back for breakfast which went down a treat and afterwards we drove a short distance to another part of the lake, where not long after getting out of the vans we spotted our first raptors of the day.

A small number of LESSER SPOTTED EAGLES drifted over with a BLACK KITE, SHORT-TOED EAGLE, LEVANT SPARROWHAWKS and STEPPE BUZZARDS thrown in for good measure. A few minutes later a mixed flock of mainly BLACK STORKS along with a few WHITE STORKS circled before drifting off to the south. This repeated itself several times and in the same area we saw more LESSER SPOTTED EAGLES plus a few BOOTED EAGLES and MARSH HARRIERS.

On the mudflats in front of us we had excellent views of both TEMMINCK'S & LITTLE STINTS, DUNLIN and RINGED and LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS. After all this excitement we decided to have a stroll along the track to another area and had only reached the first pool when a HOOPOE was seen feeding along the track. Feeding in the pool were a few AVOCET, but careful scrutiny produced a superb MARSH SANDPIPER, BLACK-WINGED STILT and two GREENSHANK.

We reached a small promontory which gave us better views of the lake and from here, GREAT CRESTED & LITTLE GREBES, BEE-EATERS, PYGMY CORMORANTS, SPOTTED REDSHANKS and good numbers of ducks were seen. Whilst scanning the horizon, we picked up a juvenile harrier that after closer inspection turned out to be a juvenile MONTAGU'S HARRIER.

With time getting on, Dobry and Steve went back to get the minibuses and when they got back the others were watching a LESSER FIERY COPPER basking in the sunshine. We left the area and headed into the foothills to an area of trees and scrub that is a migrant trap.

As soon as we got out of the vans we noted good numbers of butterflies including BROWN ARGUS, LESSER FIERY COPPER, LANG’S SHORT-TAILED BLUE, CARDINAL, GREAT BANDED GRAYLING and both WOODLAND GRAYLING and BALKAN GRAYLING.

Whilst we wandered about, Dobry prepared a fantastic picnic lunch which we enjoyed in the shade of a tree. Afterwards we checked out the area and between us located good numbers of RED-BREASTED & SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS, REDSTART, NUTHATCH and LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER.

Both GREEN and GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKERS were seen as we all walked through the trees but frustratingly, a WOOD WARBLER and CIRL BUNTING proved slightly harder to see!

It was time to head off and visit a large reservoir nearby and during the journey we found WHINCHAT, RED-BACKED SHRIKES, SPANISH SPARROWS and a feeding CARDINAL BUTTERFLY.

At the reservoir, an OSPREY was seen fishing and although it made several dives it failed to come up with any fish. The mud at the western end provided home to a single RUDDY SHELDUCK plus SHOVELER, TEAL, LITTLE STINTS, DUNLIN, SPOTTED REDSHANKS, SNIPE, WOOD SANDPIPERS and REDSHANKS.

GREAT EGRETS, 5 SPOONBILL, LITTLE EGRET and GREY HERONS stood around on the rocky edges and three winter-plumaged WHISKERED TERNS flew through. A distant raptor looked good for HOBBY but several of the group thought it might have been a PEREGRINE.

With time running out we retraced our steps and headed back down towards Burgas, when along the main road we had excellent views of two ROLLERS perched on wires.

Our last stop was an area of saltpans and as we drove along the road, alongside us flew a juvenile WHITE PELICAN. When we reached the pans the area was infested with Mosquito's so only a few foolhardy birders stayed out. They were not to be disappointed as they found 4 MARSH SANDPIPERS, GREEN SANDPIPER, BLACK TERN and more LITTLE STINTS.

It was then time to head back to the hotel where we had time to enjoy a hot shower before meeting for a pre-dinner drink. Our evening meal was again very good and we managed to order less food which made us feel a little more comfortable than the previous evening!

Saturday 20th September
Once again, we met at 7.00am for our pre-breakfast jaunt down to the saltpans, which apart from the usual suspects we added a nice flock of feeding CHIFFCHAFFS in a bush adjacent to the Salt Museum.

A few LITTLE TERNS were out over the open water and a good mixed flock of SANDWICH TERNS, MEDITERRANEAN and LITTLE GULLS and a few PYGMY CORMORANTS perched on the many posts in the water.

It was then back for breakfast and we managed to get away slightly earlier than the previous day which gave us the opportunity to check out a new lake on the edge of Burgas. On arrival, a large number of WHITE PELICANS were seen along with a few DALMATIAN PELICANS thrown in for good measure. Thousands of COOTS were spread out over the water and were interspersed with POCHARD, SHOVELER and both GREAT CRESTED and LITTLE GREBES.

A single WHITE STORK flew low over the water and feeding over the lake was a juvenile WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN, plus quite a few WHISKERED TERNS including several still in breeding plumage.

From here we headed south out of Burgas where we had brief views of a LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER and onto a large area of wetlands and surrounding hills from where we set up for a spot of raptor watching. At first it was rather quiet but it soon picked up with a few LESSER SPOTTED EAGLES drifting over plus several SPARROWHAWKS, MARSH HARRIERS and a few BLACK STORKS.

Butterflies were well represented with SPOTTED FRITILLARY, GREAT BANDED GRAYLING, CARDINAL and SMALL COPPER amongst others. Whilst watching these, a juvenile MONTAGU'S HARRIER flew through pursued by a MARSH HARRIER and SPARROWHAWK.

We left the area and drove off making several brief stops where we had good views of SQUACCO HERON which sat motionless at the edge of a river. It was then onto our lunch stop in the hills overlooking a large lake. The Mosquitos were particularly troublesome but this didn't stop us enjoying the sight of over 150 LESSER SPOTTED EAGLES plus BLACK STORKS, BOOTED and SHORT-TOED EAGLES, a male GOSHAWK, BLACK KITE and MARSH HARRIERS flying southwards.

After a very enjoyable lunch we took a walk to a reed-fringed pool where a large number of duck were present including 200 TEAL, 3 GARGANEY, 5 PINTAIL and around 15 FERRUGINOUS DUCK. A KINGFISHER was seen feeding over the pools and a LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE was seen carrying a large frog!

The remainder of the early afternoon was spent exploring the vicinity which added new birds to our ever increasing list including PURPLE HERON, HOBBY and a brief ICTERINE WARBLER. In the same area as the warbler we had good views of a second generation MAP BUTTERLY whilst an OSPREY flew over.

We rounded off the day in the saltpans to the north which gave us our first CURLEW SANDPIPERS as well as MARSH SANDPIPER, LITTLE STINT, RUFF, BLACK-WINGED STILT, DUNLIN, REDSHANK, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER and KENTISH PLOVERS.

As were about to leave, a ROLLER was seen on the telegraph wires which rounded off an excellent days birding.

Our evening meal was once again an epic adventure and with so much choice we went to bed very happy.

Sunday 21st September
We met at the slightly later time of 7.30am for our pre-breakfast walk which took us across to the beach overlooking the Black Sea. With relatively calm weather we soon picked out up to 20 BLACK-NECKED GREBES and a single RED-NECKED GREBE that showed reasonably well.

CRESTED LARKS frequented the beach as did a winter plumaged adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL. It was then the short walk back for a delicious breakfast and then off southwards, making a stop close to Burgas.

A smart juvenile WHISKERED TERN fed in front of us and a large feeding flock of WHITE PELICANS were joined by a few DALMATIANS. COOTS numbered into tens of thousands and we were lucky to have a KINGFISHER zip past in front of us!

It was then time for a spot of raptor watching from a viewpoint and although a HOBBY, SPARROWHAWK, STEPPE BUZZARD and MARSH HARRIERS livened it up, it was rather quiet. There was some compensation however with HAWFINCHES flying over plus TREE PIPITS, YELLOW WAGTAILS, WHINCHATS and lots of RED-BACKED SHRIKES.

Close to the vans were a few TREE SPARROWS plus WILLOW WARBLER and CHIFFCHAFF.

We then headed off to several new sites to the south, the first of which was productive with a flock of PYGMY CORMORANTS, 26 COMMON SNIPE, GREENSHANK, SANDWICH TERN, SPOTTED REDSHANK and lots of Mosquito's.

After around an hour we arrived at an ancient site where we had lunch amongst the trees. A few COMMON REDSTARTS flitted around and a MIDDLE-SPOTTED WOODPECKER called but remained hidden.

We had another great picnic lunch prepared by Dobry and took a slow walk towards the site noting HAWFINCH, SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER, LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER, MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER, RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER and our first ROBIN of the tour.

Eventually arriving at the village we quickly located a pair of SOMBRE TITS flitting amongst a crab apple tree before disappearing into the woods. Whilst searching for these the group discovered quite a few BLACKCAPS, NUTHATCH, HAWFINCH and more RED-BACKED SHRIKES.

With a few spots of rain in the air we strolled back, stopping to see LESSER WHITETHROAT and a very smart LATTICE BROWN butterfly on a tree.

We left the site to visit a large wetland that consisted of a huge reed-bed with pools on one side and the Black Sea on the other. Firstly scanning over the sea produced a flock of 10 RED-NECKED GREBES in summer plumage plus a few BLACK-NECKED GREBES and then we found a couple of COMMON DOLPHINS swimming southwards offshore that were seen briefly several times.

Inland, a few MUTE SWANS frequented the lake and whilst scanning the reedy edge, John found a WOOD SANDPIPER feeding and whilst trying to locate it, Steve found a juvenile LITTLE CRAKE creeping along the edge! We all managed distant views of this tiny bird and on one occasion it was joined by a small wader that was quite likely a stint.

Just before we were due to leave, three PURPLE HERONS flew in to roost on the edge of the reed-bed which rounded off our birding day rather well.

Dobry then took us to a lovely restaurant overlooking the sea at a nearby village and we had a great meal with the highlight for some being the Fig Jam!

It was then a one hour drive back to the hotel where some went to bed and others went to the bar for a nightcap.

Monday 22nd September
For our last day in Bulgaria we decided not to have an early morning walk but several of the group had a wander and came back with sightings of MARSH SANDPIPER, SANDWICH & COMMON TERNS and a few LITTLE STINT amongst others.

After breakfast we loaded up the vans and headed southwards. Scrub adjacent to the van held good numbers of RED-BACKED SHRIKE plus LESSER WHITETHROAT, CHIFFCHAFF and WILLOW WARBLER, the best bird being a juvenile WRYNECK that perched atop of some dead foliage enabling us to get the scopes on it.

We wandered along the track and came across a ringing station where local birders ring during the year. After taking a slightly dodgy looking path across and river we reached a lagoon where good numbers of birds were present. LITTLE RINGED & RINGED PLOVERS, a single GREY PLOVER, SPOTTED REDSHANKS, CURLEW, RUFF, LITTLE STINTS and COMMON SNIPE were present.

PELICANS flew overhead as did SPOONBILLS, PURPLE HERON and GREAT WHITE EGRET. As we started our walk back, a flock of 100 LAPWINGS flew into land.

Back at the ringing station we were treated to excellent views of a juvenile BEE-EATER in the hand which made a stunning photo as it was released!

We then left the area and made a brief stop at the saltpans where a ROLLER frequented the overhead wires and the usual waders were noted.

It was then an hours’ drive north to a raptor watchpoint in the hills where we were going to have lunch. As soon as we got out of the vans it became apparent that a raptor passage had begun because the sky to the north had at least 500 LESSER SPOTTED EAGLES circling!

We set up our chairs and made ourselves comfortable and during the next couple of hours were treated to the amazing sight of raptors and storks migrating just overhead and the whole experience was magical!

The majority of the birds were LESSER SPOTTED EAGLES and by the time the migration had ceased we had probably seen around 4500 of these magnificent birds. Along with these were SHORT-TOED EAGLES, BOOTED EAGLES, SPARROWHAWK, LEVANT SPARROWHAWK, GOSHAWK, MONTAGU’S HARRIER, BLACK KITE, COMMON BUZZARD, STEPPE BUZZARD, KESTREL, RED-FOOTED FALCONS and two distant PALLID HARRIERS!

Of course there were also good numbers of both WHITE & BLACK STORKS and in the surrounding area we had very good views of a tame juvenile RED-BACKED SHRIKE.

After our last picnic lunch we made the journey northwards to Varna where we said our goodbyes to Dobry who had been a great guide for the tour before we checked in for our flight home to Luton.

With a delay in taking off, we arrived back in the UK after a good flight and said farewell to the rest of the group. It was a cracking tour with many highlights and thanks to everyone for making it so successful!