Monday, 25 July 2011

Bourgas Lakes

One day out of mine and Paul Bowden's week long tour of eastern Bulgaria was allocated to a visit to the Bourgas Lakes.

Like Srebarna they are often on the itinerary of birding tours. While both Lake Srebarna and the Bourgas Lakes are wetlands their bird life is substantially different.

Lake Srebarna is visited by some more northerly species but the Bourgas Lakes are close to the sea and coastal birds are seen. They are also on a major passage route called Via Pontica making viewing especially interesting during the passage seasons.

We visited two of the Bourgas Lakes. The first was Pomorie. It is north of Bourgas and is essentially a salt pan with salinity similar or even higher than the sea. 

The second lake we visited was Lake Mandra. This is south of Bourgas. Although it is separated from the sea by only sand banks in places, it is less saline than the sea and attracts both coastal and fresh water species.

black winged stilt at Pomorie

We visited Pomorie in late morning and again in the evening on the way back. We saw Lake Mandra in the afternoon.

Before I continue please don't expect me to write-up  every bird seen at Bourgas (just as I haven't on the other blogs on our week's tour). I aim to give a flavour. For those keen on more detail, a trip report itemising all species seen will follow later.

Looking into Pomorie wetlands

There is no doubt Pomorie is a good place to see coastal birds. 

sandwich tern at Pomorie

Since Pomorie is a coastal site it was no surprise that most of the terns were sterna rather than marsh terns.  The largest group were clearly sandwich tern and it looks like it was a breeding colony. The Collins guide map only has this place as a passage venue for this bird which looks incorrect.

mostly black headed gull

There were plenty of yellow legged gull and black headed gull as expected. A close look at the groups of black headed gull disclosed that there were also a small number of Mediterranean gull and at least a dozen or more little gull. The presence of a little gull was one of the many indications we had there that the passage had already reached this far south for some northern breeding sea birds and waders.

one of the curlew sandpiper at Pomorie

A classic example of a passage bird from the north is curlew sandpiper. At first we saw three of these birds which breed in Arctic Siberia. All had mostly chocolate-coloured summer plumage beginning to moult. Then we saw a much larger number so they weren't a fluke!

two wood sandpiper and a little stint 

All the other main sandpipers (except marsh sandpiper) were seen - green sandpiper, common sandpiper and wood sandpiper. There were arguably more of the latter. There were one or two little stint already on passage and still in essentially summer plumage. The one above is in deeper water than usual for a little stint but is clearly not a sanderling based on size comparison with the wood sandpiper alone. Sanderling is about the same size as wood sandpiper but  little stint is much smaller.

another wood sandpiper at Pomorie

There were also plenty of tringa waders - greenshank and redshank. The latter are not necessarily passage birds.  I even used to see them breeding as far south as Benghazi in Libya! We didn't see any spotted redshank. Presumably it was just a little early for them.

ruff, reeves and one redshank

A large number of both male and female ruff were on passage. Some of the males hadn't completely lost their summer ruffs.

avocet and black winged stilt

We saw both avocet and its cousin the black winged stilt. Silts certainly breed locally and it is possible avocet does too. We saw two or three occasions where there appeared to be clashes between these two birds for reasons we didn't understand.

common shelduck

The only duck on these saline pans at this time were common shelduck.

yellow wagtail

Finally concerning Pomorie, I was surprised that feldegg yellow wagtail could tolerate such salty conditions but there were several in places. I assume the salinity isn't uniform because reeds were growing in the same areas.

The second area visited was Lake Mandra. We viewed this lake by walking out along the walk leading from the Poda Information Centre. The centre was very informative about the birds and wildlife of the area. It was however extremely difficult to find! 

cormorant nests

One of the most obvious sights as soon as you leave the Centre is the very large number of cormorant and pygmy cormorant. The cormorant seem very fond of using electricity pylons for colonial nesting sites. One series of pylons which runs straight through the reserve has no  electricity wires. I wonder if they were put up specifically for the cormorants. More likely they re-routed the pylons and left the ones in place with no electricity!

yellow legged gull under a cormorant colony

Under one such pylon we saw a yellow legged gull waiting for at least an hour for some nefarious opportunity.

The walk has two bird hides. One is a little rickety but also provides the better views! 

Near the second hide we were told we were likely to see a collection of different water species. Our informant from the information centre was right.

several species including spoonbill

Although facing into the sun we could see cormorant, spoonbill, little egret and various waders including greenshank.  I wonder what the attraction of that particular spot is given how large the whole reserve is? 

On the left of the Poda Information Centre's walk is the lake but on the right hand side is the sea. The sea shore hosts many different birds from the lake.

As I turned to face the sea from the path I was met by a little ringed plover only a few feet away. 

little ringed plover

Certainly more tame than many I have come across before. Perhaps it was one of the local breeders.

oystercatcher, northern lapwing and sandpipers

There was a mixed group of oystercatcher and northern lapwing foraging on the sea shore. Moving in and out of the group were different sandpipers and  little ringed plover

Even with our short stop at Lake Mandra I well believe the fact that more species have been observed here than at the other lakes. Its well worth a much longer visit when I get time. All our trips during the birding tour week were day trips so time spent at places as far away as Lake Mandra were necessarily short.

Lake Mandra has other biodiversity too. Paul has an interest in butterflies, moths, dragonflies and damselflies as well as birds. I joined in the fun and photographed a scarlet darter below.

scarlet darter at Bourgas

This has reminded me I took a picture of a butterfly at Lake Srebarna I identified as a health fritillary which I am belatedly adding into this blog. I could get into this!

heath fritillary at Srebarna

In the next blog I will write about some of the shorter trips we made in my more immediate area. Two sets of eyes are better than one and I saw significantly more than I had managed alone.


  1. Hi Rob,

    i guess that you uploaded the wrong picture for
    "greenshank at Pomorie" since the pic shows a Wood Sand.

    good to see that the blog still lives!

    regards, pim

  2. Pim,

    Good to hear from you

    One of the problems with blogging so fast is I make slip ups. I'll change the caption straightaway