Just completed a fantastic two-day customized birding trip in Bulgaria and Greece. Recently I was contacted by a Dutch birder who needed a guide for a day or two. After some discussion, we agreed to make a two-day birding trip in Southwestern Bulgaria and Northern Greece.
We started early in the morning. I collected Leander at 6.30 a.m. to set off to the field and have enough time to birdwatch. The weather was not with us when we started. Thunders and heavy rain were stopping the Sun from heating the grounds and preparing it for our first wanted birds. We were after Griffon Vulture and Golden Eagle but neither of them showed up.
We arrived at our first stop around 9.00 and it was still early for these birds of prey. At least we heard a Lesser spotted Woodpecker and got a Eurasian Sparrowhawk which was our only one for the trip. The rain had stopped but it was still fairly dark.
At our second stop, the sky started clearing up and birds started to appear. A family of Cirl Buntings was all over the place, a Blue Rock Thrush was sitting proudly on the top of the cliffs and dashing from place to place. It was definitely getting warmer. We continued further down the road to a rock formation but unfortunately, we were stopped by some road works. Nevertheless, we managed to see and photograph our first Little Owls which were sitting quietly on their chimneys.
We continued our way to the caldera of an old volcano. A beautiful place where our main target was the Rock Nuthatch. It did not turn up but we heard it calling several times and we only saw its nest. Other than that we had a good view of Levant Sparrowhawk, and we heard a Sombre Tit, more Cirl Buntings, and a possible Syrian Woodpecker.
After a light lunch, we crossed the border with Greece and headed straight to Lake Kerkini. It is an absolutely amazing place with a mindblowing number of birds. First, we visited the North-Western Corner where we recorded nearly 60 species for a couple of hours. Some of the highlights were Dalmatian Pelicans, Lesser-spotted Eagles, Masked Shrike, Spoonbills, lots of Bee-eaters, and many Spotted Flycatchers which were absolutely everywhere. A very distant scan of the mountain top produced half a dozen Alpine choughs which was quite special. It was quite hot for mid-September but well worth it.
It was getting a bit late in the afternoon and we decided to check in at the hotel, have some rest, and go out again to look for an Eagle Owl. So we did! While resting though, I just couldn’t stop myself from looking out of my hotel room balcony overlooking the lake. Spent half an hour there which produced a pair of White-tailed Eagles, one more Lesser-spotted Eagle, many bee-eaters, Cirl Bunting, and a few more goodies.
Our search for Eagle Owl wasn’t productive although we were at the right spot. Still, we managed to see a Black Woodpecker and a Blue Rock Thrush and heard a Rock Nuthatch. Thus we called it a day and retreated to a local taverna to enjoy fantastic homemade food. Our day ended with about 80 birds seen. Not bad for a traveling day.
We started the second day of our birding trip in Bulgaria and Greece before sunrise. The plan was to take a boat trip on the lake and try to approach some of the birds. We met at 6.30 again hoping to see the sunrise from the lake. On the way to the boat, we spotted a Golden Jackal which sneaked on the side of the road. Once at the harbour, the boatman was already waiting for us. Not just that, he had prepared breakfast with hot coffee and tea which we ate on the boat as he was drifting out of the harbour. What a great man! I definitely needed a coffee and this was very, very welcome.
The Sunrise from the lake was absolutely beautiful. Although there were some clouds that obscured the rising sun, we saw it later on when protruded through the clouds reflecting on the still water of the lake. Fantastic calming atmosphere!
Our first birds on the lake were the Dalmatian Pelicans which stayed resting on a small island but there wasn’t anything else. Thus we decided to go to the shall parts in the Northern side of the lake which was a great decision. It was absolutely mindblowing! I can’t describe the abundance of birds. There were literary thousands of birds. At least 2-3 thousand White and Dalmatian Pelicans, ducks, waders, gulls and flamingoes. We noted several Caspian Terns, Shelduck, a flock of 200+ Godwits, and a distant view of Lesser White-fronted Geese. Cormorants were on the wing and moving from one place to another. We spent 3 hours on the lake to enjoy this amazing birdlife show!
After the boat trip, we headed to a disused quarry to look for an Eagle Owl but the only thing we got was the alarm calls of Jays from the middle of the forest. I suppose the Eagle Owl was there but just out of sight. We noted more bee-eaters, Cirl Buntings, Hawfinches and Masked Shrikes.
The last place for the lake was again on the east embankment. I wanted us to try and approach the masses of birds that we could see from the boat and did we manage? Oh, boy! Another amazing spectacle of nature! I bet you, this place is better than the Okavango delta. It was really steaming with birds. We spent about an hour at a selected spot and noted nearly 40 species. Thousands of birds including both species of Flamingoes, Black-tailed Godwits, PIntail ducks, Shovellers, Greenshanks, Dalmatian and White Pelicans, Glossy ibis, Spoonbill, and the highlight, the first Lesser white-fronted Geese. Absolutely amazing! I just love this place!
After this birdlife show, we decided to head to Bulgaria and cross the border. There was very little queue so we passed fairly quickly which allowed us time to spend at two more sites. The first one was a place which we had to miss on the previous day because of road work. So this time we arrived well and started looking for our target birds: Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Nuthatch. We spotted the first one fairly quickly but the latter did not show up at all. We found a small oasis where birds were drinking water and we managed to tick some good birds there. The highlights must be the Eastern Black-eared Wheatear and Sombre Tit. The place sounded lively by the song of several Linnets which were very cheerful.
Our last stop for the trip was to look for the Griffon Vulture that we could not find yesterday. I was very optimistic and was really confident we would see them at their usual place but it did take some effort. I scanned thoroughly the cliffs where the birds usually roost but there was not a single bird. As we were just about to leave, my birding mate called “What is that bird?” It was a Griffon! Finally! I could not believe that we struggled to find them. Just as we have been looking at the vulture, two peregrine falcons turned up! Well, What a great end of a great trip! The sky got darker and darker and a few km after we left we entered into heavy rain! We started and ended with rain! What a coincidence!
Well, our list for the trip counts 116 species which i recon is pretty good for a couple of days in mid-September!