Saturday, 23 July 2011

Lake Srebarna

Lake Srebarna is a well known haunt of birders in Bulgaria and for good reason.  It is famous for its breeding damatian and white pelicans as well as a full range of European herons and bitterns. There is much more there beside these so it was no surprise that it was part of our itinerary when touring Eastern Bulgaria over the last week.

Srebarna is a lake in the Danube flood plain that was probably connected to the Danube in the distant past.

After an early start from near Varna, Paul Bowden and I arrived at Srebarna just after 9am.  We were met by local guesthouse owner, guide and bird information centre manager, Mike Black.

squacco heron watching me at Srebarna

Even at 9am it was already hot and hazy.  Some birds were obviously active despite the heat for example whiskered tern and black tern. We were determined to do some birding in the heat at least until it started to get roasting and sightings such as the terns gave us encouragement. 

One important bird to see was dalmatian pelican and we found one early on. It was on the far bank of an arm of the lake. Though it wasn't close, it stayed in sight for several minutes.

dalmatian pelican

At distance it wasn't easy at first to determine which type of pelican it was. We were pretty sure it was a dalmatian pelican and when it flew we were certain. There was very little dark area under its wings.

dalmatian pelican in flight

Later we had great opportunity to see both dalmatian pelican and white pelican from the Veranda of Mike's excellent Information Centre.

greylag and black headed gull 

Next to the dalmatian pelican were 60 greylag geese. A flock this large, this far south and in this heat is apparently quite unusual.

glossy ibis in flight

I'm not going to write this blog in chronological order but in order of loose groups of species. However when it comes to time, I can tell you that much of the best birding was in the early evening. With the exception of the pelicans and a small number of other species, we managed to see many birds we had seen earlier in the day but in much better light and heat conditions.

One of the best examples of this was glossy ibis.  A brief look at long distance during the day gave way to prolonged close contact in the evening. Like many birds here it is quite comfortable close to people.

video of a glossy ibis feeding

Even I managed to get decent video of an ibis feeding.

great egrets

There were great egret visible all day though they never came close to us. In contrast several little egret were seen within a few metres.

little egret

In different parts of the lake we kept coming across little bittern. I had good chance to see their characteristic behaviour of walking along the reeds near their edge of the water.

little bittern

We didn't see or hear any (great) bittern. However Mike told us that at least two bittern have been heard during a recent bird count exercise. 

purple heron through the heat haze in the middle of the day

Srebarna rivals Lake Mammoudchala in Azerbaijan as the place with the highest density of squacco heron that I have ever seen. I saw more of them at Srebarna than both great egret and purple heron. It numbers possibly rivalled those of little egret

The only disappointment of the whole visit was that we didn't see any black crowned night heron.

coots and duck

Coot was very common.

As for ducks, I didn't spend as much time on identification as I should. The picture below is a group of ducks which I nonchalantly thought were mallard without giving much attention in the field However there were no male mallard to be seen anywhere. The picture quality is poor as I made it as a quick record shot not for identification. However from it, I now think the duck could be garganey. Both female mallard and garganey have striped heads. The bill colour of the birds certainly looks dark and more like a garganey (rather than yellow or off-yellow like a mallard or gadwell). I am no longer sure I can see a small light blue patch on the females sides (indicative of a mallard) and finally the bird in the bottom right of the photo seems to have bolder head pattern than any type of mallard. With this much doubt I can only label the picture "Anas ducks"!

Anas ducks

Once again in Bulgaria the globally rare ferruginous duck was quite abundant here. They were easy to identify but one related bird we saw certainly was not.

possible cross between ferruginous duck and pochard

This bird isn't a pure ferriginous duck but it resembles the second version of a pochard x ferriginous duck shown in the Collins guide. It has a yellow eye, (much) more black on the tail than pure ferruginous duck, and contrast between a darker breast and a lighter flank. All these characteristics are in the written description next to the illustration in the Collins guide. However, a birder  with experience on these types of ducks has suggested it may well be a young (purebreed) pochard which are often mostly chocolate coloured.

Moving on to simpler things - Mike had told us there were some moorhen in the lake. We duly saw them in the evening as temperatures began to drop. As usual they were much shyer than their coot cousins.


There were also several mute swan seen which breed here.

mute swan

Both cormorant and pygmy cormorant are found here in significant numbers. After only getting glimpses in the day, we had a chance to see many pygmy cormorant close up in the evening both at the lake and along the Danube. More will be said about the Danube later.

a group of pygmy cormorant

Birds of prey proved an unexpected bonus at Srebarna. Even as early as 10 am we saw a short toed snake eagle soaring over us.

short toed snake eagle

Marsh harrier was a much more expected bird and there were several around all day.

female marsh harrier at Srebarna

The highlight among the birds of prey was probably a honey buzzard which flew close to the Bird Information centre while we were resting there out of the mid afternoon heat. Paul got a superb photograph which proved it. 

wood pigeon

The picture above proves the law of unexpected consequences. I had walked round part of the lake looking at a small number of trees over-hanging the lakes. There don't seem to be many.  I had supposed these might be good for black crowned night heron. I didn't see them but I snapped a wood pigeon. This bird is very common in the UK but not so in Bulgaria. We had seen it at a couple of woods during the week but I failed to photograph it. Then this one popped up unexpectedly.

As it got close to dusk, Mike suggested we should go to the Danube near-by. He told us many birds use it as a fly route to and from their roosts.

It was a fascinating visit. There was heavy traffic of different flocks in both directions. My favourite moment was when a flock of pygmy cormorants flew east down the Danube. They were flying a little higher than usual. Paul and Mike pointed out to me that the lead bird was a glossy ibis and the pygmies were following this strange one.

kingfisher on the bank of the Danube

A tame kingfisher let me get up close here. A surprising number of birds are quite tame around the Srebarna and Silistra area. 

white stork on the bank of Danube

Even tamer was this slightly oiled white stork. He was completely unconcerned about us, the fishermen and holidaymakers around. He has clearly done this walk along the "beach" before. 

Soon after this picture was taken it got dark and a great days birding had to come to an end.

I must particularly thank Mike Black and his wife Jerry for their hospitality and guidance.

I want to single out their new Information Centre whose full name is "Pelican Guesthouse Environmental Project & Info Centre". It's a real gem. It has charts and leaflets in many languages about the birds and other fauna. Look it up on google.

It was there I discovered that the Bulgarian word for greenfinch is zelenika or roughly "little green thing"!

The view of the lake from the veranda of the centre is superb and many locals and visitors like it.  There is opportunity to borrow scopes and binoculars here to improve your view. Its also a great place for lunch as we discovered.

in the summer it has some residents. There is a nest with a family of red-rumped swallow WITHIN the centre. 

red rumped swallow inside the Information centre

In the next few days, there are more blogs on my week's trip with Paul Bowden around eastern Bulgaria still to come. Hope you can find time to read them.

1 comment:

  1. In the grey-legged and black-headed gull picture, there is at least two sleder-billed gulls aswell.