Saturday, 30 April 2016

Bulgaria Trip - 25th and 26th April (Day 4-5)

We were up at the usual 05:30 and back to the same track as yesterday evening with high hopes but fairly low morale. There was but one target, see Hazel Grouse. We walked slowly, played tapes, scanned the forest floor, scanned the trees but nothing. Then at around 08:45 Minko suddenly beckoned me, he had a Hazel Grouse perched in the trees only around 20m away but as I joined him the grouse flew and all I saw was an arse-end as it disappeared downslope - do I tick it on this view was the question in my mind, far from satisfactory. I moved to a position where the bird had flown to but no sign, then out of the corner of my eye a movement as another bird flew across the track but I could not be sure it was a Hazel Grouse. The Hazel Grouse started calling and there were at least three birds present, we stalked around the area scanning but to no avail and just as we were about to give up I saw a bird fly from the ground into the trees around 75m down the slope, I frantically scanned and then there it was partly obscured and a little distant but unmistakably a male Hazel Grouse. We enjoyed the grouse for at least 5 minutes before it flew further down slope. Fantastic! And so rewarding to have spent around 12 hours looking for this species to have finally found it. I was chuffed and we headed back down the slope to the car.

Our drive to Sofia was punctuated by breakfast watching Red-rumped Swallow and Pallid Swift and a look for Three-toed Woodpecker but although we saw feeding evidence we had no luck with seeing the birds but our time was very limited here. We arrived in Sofia at 16:00 and said our goodbyes to Minko. Before checking into the Hotel Sofia Balkan for one night and a chance to explore the city. We concluded that Sofia was rather uninspiring and headed for the airport at 11:00 for our 14:20 flight back to the UK on 26th April.

Hazel Grouse - near to Yagodinska Cave

Haberlea rhodopensis - Endemic to the Rhodophe Mountains

Three-toed Woodpecker habitat

Wild Crocus 

Trip List
Total of 76 species with 3 ticks (shown in bold).

Grey Partridge
Hazel Grouse
Rock Dove
Common Woodpigeon
Eurasian Collared-dove
Alpine Swift
Pallid Swift
Common Cuckoo
White Stork
Little Ringed Plover
Yellow-legged Gull
Eurasian Buzzard
Grey-faced Woodpecker
Eurasian Green Woodpecker
Black Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Common Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Crested Lark
Eurasian Skylark
Barn Swallow
Eurasian Crag Martin
Northern House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
White Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White-throated Dipper
Northern Wren
Mistle Thrush
Song Thrush
Common Blackbird
Ring Ouzel
Common Nightingale
European Robin
Black Redstart
Common Stonechat
Common Firecrest
Common Chiffchaff
Lesser Whitethroat
Sombre Tit
Willow Tit
Coal Tit
European Crested Tit
Great Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Eurasian Nuthatch
Eurasian Treecreeper
Eurasian Jay
Common Magpie
Spotted Nutcracker
Eurasian Jackdaw
Hooded Crow
Common Raven
Common Starling
House Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Common Chaffinch
European Serin
European Greenfinch
Eurasian Siskin
European Goldfinch
Common Linnet
Red Crossbill
Eurasian Bullfinch
Corn Bunting
Rock Bunting
Cirl Bunting

Links to the Other Days of the Trip

Bulgaria Trip - 24th April (Day 3)

Again, we were up early and headed for a new site for Hazel Grouse near to Trigrad. This was a lovely area of mixed woodland with Birch, Beech, Pine and Spruce but it was raining, at times heavily and we were not optimistic about the grouse. We walked slowly scanning the track ahead. I had a glimpse of a larger bird that dropped from a Beech to the ground but it disappeared before I could identify it. The track, after passing through a meadow and then again up through more woodland, came to an end at a covered reservoir and my hopes for the grouse sank. We heard a distant Grey-headed Woodpecker but despite responding to a recording it did not come in, another Crested Tit plus Bullfinch and Nuthatch, the latter two species new for the list, were seen but little else.

Rhodopean Toothwort Lathraea rhodopea - A south Balkan 
Endemic seen near to Trigrad

Coral-root Orchid - Trigrad

Woodland near to Trigrad

Hillside near to Trigrad

We had a brief stop in the Trigrad Gorge for Wallcreeper and as we got out of the car there it was above our heads. I fumbled my camera and dropped it and as I lifted to shoot the Wallcreeper nothing happened as I pressed the shutter. I fiddled around and nothing happened so I decided simply to watch the bird as it tended the nest no more than 15 metres away. Just fantastic birds. We headed back to the hotel for an omelette and coffees and I managed to fix my camera by taking out the batteries and re-inserting.

Crag Martin perching on the sign of the Trigrad Hotel

After breakfast we headed back down the Trigrad Gorge and stopped at the 'Devil's Throat' for a quick look inside the cave, it was dark and cavernous! Back into the light and we stopped again at the Wallcreeper site, again the bird was on the cliff face above the road but we were a fraction too late and the bird flew across the ravine and landed on the opposite face. We enjoyed good views and appreciated just how difficult these birds can be to see when against a vast cliff face, I attempted a few photos to show this. A Grey-headed Woodpecker called from the slopes above.

Sign outside Devil's Throat showing the birds of the ravine

Exit of the Devils Throat

Images of Wallcreeper on the face of the Trigrad Gorge

Next stop was an area of mixed woodland lining the road where we knew there to be Grey-headed Woodpecker. As we stopped, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow and House Martin buzzed over head. A quick blast of the tape and very quickly two Grey-headed Woodpecker perched up and showed well, if a little distantly.

Red-rumped Swallow - Trigrad Gorge

Grey-headed Woodpecker - Trigrad Gorge

Before our next cave of the day we stopped in a meadow where butterflies included Mountain Argus, Clouded Yellow, Swallow-tail, Small Blue and Adonis Blue. We then spent the next hour underground in the Yagodinska Cave, a spectacular stalagmite and stalactite clad cave with spectacular mineral deposits.

Swallowtail - Buynovo Gorge

Mineral deposits in the Yagodinska Cave

Mineral deposits (stalagmites) in the Yagodinska Cave

A remarkable mineral deposit in the Yagodinska Cave

We then headed for a new site for Hazel Grouse, one that was suggested to us by local hunters at a cafe stop, they said that they regularly saw the species here and it was their best recommendation for seeing it. We drove up the road past Yagodinska Cave and turned right after a couple of kilometres onto an unmade track just after a small hydro-dam. After 500m or so a small track branched to the right and crossed the stream. We parked here, before the stream, and walked up hill. The habitat was fantastic and we found Brown Bear and Pine Marten poo plus Hazel Grouse poo but no sight of the bird. Birds here included Crested Tit, Long-tailed Tit (new for trip), Firecrest and Lesser Whitethroat. It was late and so we headed back for the hotel slightly despondent that we had not seen the grouse, we only had a couple of hours in the morning to look before having to head for Sofia and so my hopes were slipping away. We had a few beers and wine while discussing the strategy for the morning.

Fire Salamander - Buynovo Gorge

Trigrad at dusk from our balcony

Links to the Other Days of the Trip

Friday, 29 April 2016

Bulgaria Trip - 23rd April (Day 2)

We awoke to the sound of a Black Redstart singing from the tiled roofs outside our room, we quickly freshened up and were drinking shots of expresso by 06:15. Minko arrived at 06:30 and we were off. Driving along the wooded gorge we passed through the still sleeping town of Devonish and climbed the slopes above the town. Our first quick stop was for 2 Chamois that Minko spotted high on a rock outcrop. The stop also produced singing Lesser Whitethroat and Cirl Bunting. We continued our climb before stopping in a pine and spruce dominated woodland near to Lesichevo. A flock of 6 Crossbill called and sang overhead and a Firecrest showed briefly nearby, singing birds included Cuckoo, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin and Dunnock, familiar birds from home but then a distant calling Black Woodpecker showed we were birding in more distant lands. We took a short walk through the forest looking for our target Hazel Grouse seeing Firecrest, Common Treecreeper, Willow Tit and a flyover Black Woodpecker but no sign of the grouse. Bear poo complete with crushed bone seen along with evidence of foraging Wild Boar. We returned to the car and took a slow drive back towards Devonish adding Jay to the list along the way.

A short stop in Devonish produced a pair of Dipper with two fledged young, this seemed very early for these birds to have fledged chicks and the pair were busy freshening their nest with new material. Overhead were around 40 Pallid Swift, 15 Red-rumped Swallow, 25 Barn Swallow and 30 House Martin while Serin twinkled their song from the treetops.

Dipper action in Devonish. Shots 3 and 4 show the bird capturing and eating a Stone-fly larvae and the prey time can be seen as the bird surfaces. The bottom image is of a juvenile bird already manically dipping at this age. These birds are of the race aquaticus.

We headed back through the gorge towards Trigrad admiring the stunning gorge and the crystal clear waters of the Trigrad River. Minko was very excited to see two Chamois feeding on the gravel beach's lining the river and we stopped and watched as they fed on vegetation before heading up the steep cliffs and back into the forest. We stopped at a viewpoint just before the tunnel located immediately to the south of the ‘Devil’s Throat’ a deep cave said to be the route to the underworld that Orpheus took to rescue Euridice from Hades. The viewpoint was flanked by shear cliff face and just above the road was a small vertical crack where a tuft of moss could be seen, this was a Wallcreeper’s nest. We waitied and after around 10 minutes Minko and I both heard a distant calling bird.  Slowly the bird got closer until the calling was fairly loud, reverberating around the canyon and within a short while Minko spotted the bird on the cliff face above us. And there was my nemesis bird, dipping and flashing its bright crimson wings - a Wallcreeper! The bird dropped and was now within 15m of us, absolutely stunning, even Sarah let out a ‘wow’! The bird entered the nest and we could see it in the crevice freshening the nest and moving material around and then it was out and flying away along the cliff face. I followed the bird in my bins as it flitted butterfly like againist the vastness of the limestone cliffs of the gorge.

Chamois feeding along the edge of the Trigrad River, Minko said it was very unusual to see them beside the river as they are usually very high on sheer cliff faces

What can be said! The Wallcreeper is absolutely unique.

We headed back to the hotel for 11:00 for a much needed breakfast stop of scrambled egg, toast and more shots of expresso. After this we headed to the meadows above Yagodina. It was a little early in the year for the meadow flowers to be blooming but it was clear that there these were flower rich meadows. Fairly quickly we found our main target here, Sombre Tit, which enthusiastically responded to a recording. This was a surprisingly large tit with a hefty bill, large black bib and a very long (for a tit) tail. Also here were Rock BuntingLesser Whitethroat, Stonechat, Green Woodpecker and Serin.

Sombre Tit - Yagodina

Serin - Yagodina

Stonechat of race rubicola - Yagodina

Rock Bunting - Yagodina

Marsh Orchid species - Yagodina

Traditional farming methods still used in Yagodina

The village of Yagodina

Buynovo Gorge below Yagodina

Buynovo Gorge below Yagodina

We then headed back through Devin and back up the road to Lesichevo to try once more for Hazel Grouse. Around the mainly derelict village of there were at least 4 Ring Ouzel of the race alpestris with big white wing panels and scaly flanks. It started to rain and we headed for the woodland but saw little at our first stop. The next stop was a wide ride that lead for around 1km through woodland to a mammal hide we spent around 1.5 hours here as it was fairly birdy. The rain had encouraged the emergence of Fire Salamander and we saw 5 of these amazing animals. Birds included our first Crested Tit, calling Grey-headed Woodpecker and 3 fantastic Black Woodpecker but no Hazel Grouse. We headed back to the hotel for much needed cold beer and a fantastic salmon meal.

Ring Ouzel of the race alpestris which has whiter wings and more scaling than the nominate race found in the UK - Lesichevo

Crested Tit of race bureschi - Lesichevo

Cowslip - Lesichevo

Fire Salamander - Lesichevo

Black Woodpecker - Lesichevo

Links to the Other Days of the Trip