Skip to content

Winter birding in Bulgaria

birdwatching in bulgaria

Winter birding in Bulgaria:

two days birding around Bourgas wetlands

Winter birding in Bulgaria started today as a new assignment for monitoring the Red-breasted Geese at Bourgas wetlands. Other than the Geese i will be covering some of the wetlands around the town to monitor the White-headed duck numbers, Bewick and Whooper Swans, Dalmatian Pelicans and Pygmy Cormorants. Of course i will be looking at all other birds but these species are a priority.

Day 1: Red-breasted Geese and White-headed Ducks

The day started early way before sunrise with a nice cup of coffee. Got ready and arrived at the spot for geese at 6.30 am ready to wait for them to take off from the lake and go for grazing. Upon arrival a Barn Owl was hunting around the fields. What a promising start! And was that true? Oh, well, see for yourself!

Shortly after some light started appearing birds started moving around. One of the highlights of the day must be a flock of Dalmatian Pelicans that flew right against the blood red sky! Wow, what an experience!

winter birding in bulgaria

Dalmatian Pelicans at sunrise © Iordan Hristov 2021

Visibility improved and birds started appearing. Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard, Ruddy Shelduck, 30+ Curlews, 300+ Lapwing, Flamingoes, Avocet, and there they were: 13 Red-breasted Geese! What a start! What a superb bird that is! Distance was too high for a photo but the moment was unforgettable!

About an hour after i arrived i decided to move to another place and check the birds there. Added Pygmy Cormorants, Cirl Bunting, Teal and 80+ Egrets and herons.

sunrise at the watchpoint waiting for the Red-breasted Geese

White-headed ducks

For the afternoon i had planned to check the White-headed duck (WHDs) numbers. I had information that there was about 800+ ducks on the lake which sounded promising.

Upon arrival at the lake i had a few Pochard and only about 20 WHDs which puzzled me a bit. Thus i decided to drive around the whole lake and look for the birds. By the end of the day, I managed to find quite a few of the WHDs in different parts of the lake and the total number reached about 700 individuals. Considering that the species is listed as Endangered, finding this high number is pretty good for the bird.

Pochard is traditionally wintering in huge numbers on the lake and it take me quite some time counting them. Distance to the birds didn’t help either. The huge number of birds and great distance to them, make the lake one of the hardest to cover during monitoring activities. Anyway, I ended up with nearly 27 000 individuals for the whole lake. This diving duck is another species listed as Vulnerable thus having this number here is a real treat for us. Hope we will not loose them!

Dalmatian Pelicans were feeding in a huge group of about 250 individuals. Two White Pelicans were also around which is a bit late for them. Cormorants were helping the Pelicans feed and their number was also stunning! 5000+ Greater Cormorants were certainly taking care of the fish in the lake.

Whooper swans

At the end of the day, i checked a few more areas for wintering Whooper Swans and wasn’t disappointed. About 200 birds were sitting on the lake and enjoyed them in great afternoon light. Together with them a late Whiskered Tern made a show fishing right in front of me. In amongst the swans i found about 20 Bewicks. A few minutes later, I spotted a male  Merlin roosting on a tree and sun bathing in the last evening light. For the end of the day, i added a few White Storks that are late in their migration and will probably stay here for the winter.

That is how i ended the day with 68 species. Not bad at all!

Day 2: Duck and swans

On the second day of the monitoring my task was to visit Mandra lake at Bourgas and see the number of swans there. It was a beautiful day with clear sky and calm waters which made the experience even greater.

Bewick Swans

At the first spot which is a little bay on Mandra lake, i added 11 Pallas’s Gulls. They often stay here and the place is a personal favourite of all spots around Bourgas. Other than the gulls, Bewick Swans started arriving to drink water from the lake. A total of 40+ individuals arrived to my greatest pleasure. A wonderful surprise was a female Snow Bunting which had stopped on a sand spit right by the bank of the bay. These buntings seem to bein a bit of an influx now with about 13 individuals staying for 10 days at another spot. What a treat it was! Snow Buntings are rare visitors for us and seeing them especially in good numbers is a real pleasure.

bewick swans

Bewick swans © Iordan Hristov 2021

Right when i was ready to leave the area, decided to check the birds along a dike leading to the lake bank. Bushes around were full with berries suggesting full with birds. Loads of Bramblings, Tree Sparrows, Reed Buntings and a superb looking Redwing. Whereas not a rare bird it is always great to see an individual around.

Spent about an hour or so at the spot to list about 40 species and continued further.

Counting Ducks

The next spot at Mandra lake was really steaming with birds mostly ducks. I had three different pools to cover and all of them had hundreds of duck. Northern Shoveller, Gadwall, Ferruginous Duck, a few White-headed Ducks, Common Teal, and some real treats: 5 Red-crested Pochards, several Penduline Tit, Bearded Tit, Pygmy Cormorants, Dalmatian Pelican and a belated White-winged Black Tern in full breeding plumage. All these birds made it quite a day!

The day tally showed 73 species and 96 for the weekend. What a cracking start of the monitoring! Stay tuned for more birding stories from my monitoring of the lakes.

If interested in joining me for a day or more birding around the lakes, just drop me a line or check the description of tours that i do.

Checklist (20-21.11.2021)

Total count
1  Goshawk 2
2  Eurasian Sparrowhawk 2
3  Skylark 1
4  Kingfisher 2
5  Pintail 8
6  Shoveler 979
7  Teal 336
8  Wigeon 118
9  Mallard 310
10  Gadwall 382
11  Meadow Pipit 4
12  Water Pipit 2
13  Grey Heron 28
14  Purple Heron 1
15  Little Owl 2
16  Common Pochard 26955
17  Tufted Duck 164
18  Ferruginous Duck 3
19  Bittern 1
20  Red-breasted Goose 13
21  Goldeneye 1
22  Common Buzzard 108
23  Rough-legged Buzzard 1
24  Long-legged Buzzard 1
25  Linnet 1
26  Goldfinch 6
27  Greenfinch 1
28  Siskin 32
29  Cetti’s Warbler 7
30  Whiskered Tern 1
31  White-winged Tern 1
32  White Stork 4
33  Marsh Harrier 12
34  Hen Harrier 4
35  Hawfinch 2
36  Feral Pigeon 5
37  Stock Dove 1
38  Woodpigeon 3
39  Raven 1
40  Jackdaw 2
41  Tundra Swan 63
42  Whooper Swan 291
43  Mute Swan 253
44  Great White Egret 152
45  Cirl Bunting 1
46  Reed Bunting 1
47  Robin 4
48  Merlin 1
49  Common Kestrel 2
50  Chaffinch 4
51  Brambling 2
52  Common Coot 4250
53  Crested Lark 3
54  Common Moorhen 1
55  Great Black-headed Gull 11
56  Black-headed Gull 38
57  Red-breasted Merganser 2
58  Corn Bunting 3
59  Black Kite 1
60  Pied Wagtail 2
61  Red-crested Pochard 5
62  Eurasian Curlew 22
63  White-headed Duck 702
64  Bearded Reedling 5
65  Blue Tit 2
66  Great Tit 1
67  Tree Sparrow 20
68  Dalmatian Pelican 344
69  White Pelican 5
70  Great Cormorant 8218
71  Pygmy Cormorant 116
72  Pheasant 3
73  Greater Flamingo 70
74  Black Redstart 1
75  Chiffchaff 1
76  Willow Warbler 1
77  Magpie 3
78  Green Woodpecker 1
79  Snow Bunting 1
80  Great Crested Grebe 421
81  Black-necked Grebe 11
82  Dunnock 3
83  Water Rail 7
84  Avocet 20
85  Penduline Tit 1
86  Starling 222
87  Little Grebe 28
88  Ruddy Shelduck 7
89  Shelduck 4
90  Wren 6
91  Redwing 1
92  Blackbird 5
93  Song Thrush 1
94  Fieldfare 1
95  Barn Owl 1
96  Lapwing 360

2 thoughts on “Winter birding in Bulgaria”

  1. Read your inventory with the greatest interest. And – interestingly described. Next year I will stay a little longer before we go back to the Netherlands. Incidentally, a day after our return here in Helmond, a Black Sea Duck (Melanitta nigra) was spotted. A rare sighting here. I will send your mail to birdwatching friends in Bulgaria who may be interested in coming with you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *