Saturday 30 March 2013

The last throws of winter in Bulgaria

I was away from Saudi Arabia for 9 days until today. During that time I had domestic issues to deal with in both the UK and Bulgaria. However I did find time for some birding on three successive mornings in Bulgaria last week.

This blog reports on what I saw as I walked out of the house into a local valley each day.


On the first morning it was foggy as the warm air from the Mediterranean battled the cold air from Russia for supremacy. On second and third mornings the cold air won and there was snow on the ground.

In this part of Bulgaria, it is unusual, but not unheard of, to get snow so late in March. However the effects on the bird life were interesting. It looks like the weather had persuaded some of the winter visitors to linger longer and had stopped many of the passage migrants from travelling any further north. In short there was a log jam in my area of birds set to go north but which had been held up.

One winter visitor was dunnock. Indeed this was the first time I had seen one in my village.

house sparrow feeding on my bird table

There were a remarkable number of thrushes about. I have never seen a concentration of song thrush like it before. 

They don't breed in my area (but do just a little way further north) and I have not seen many in winter before. I can only assume they had backed up ready to go north as soon as the weather warmed.

song thrush in my garden

Loosely associating with the song thrush were several blackbird. I only observed one mistle thrush.

a very cold looking fieldfare

My village gets large numbers of fieldfare in winter. They were still present in large mobile flocks. I was very happy to see at least two redwing among them. Like the dunnock, this is the first time I had seen this species in the village.


Some species were more vocal on the first foggy but warmer morning than on the other two mornings. Singing chaffinch, great tit  and corn bunting were seemingly everywhere.

corn bunting

All three were silent on the second two days. Indeed I even failed to see a corn bunting at all.

great tit

Likewise, I saw crested lark on day one but not on days two and three.

crested lark

Instead of singing, skylark returned to flocking too.

a very cold looking skylark

Lots of magpie were about and a few jay. I hadn't really listened to fieldfare before but their tchak tchak sound fooled me at first in thinking other members of the crow family might have been present.


Given the prevailing weather conditions, I saw surprisingly few starling.


On the other hand there were remarkable numbers of robin present. Many might be migrants but at least one was carrying nesting material.


I felt a bit sorry for the summer breeders which had made it up here to this weather. 

northern wheatear

A northern wheatear was really puffed up to fight the cold.


Hoopoe were seeking out places where the snow had melted to probe for worms. There were far more hoopoe around than the normal summer population. This was another case of some passage birds stopping off.

white wagtail

Similarly there were plenty of white wagtail dotted about.

marsh harrier

Since I live so close to the Black Seaq it was not surprising that there was a steady stream of birds of prey heading north. along "Via Pontica". They were apparently all marsh harrier, hen harrier and pallid harrier. No larger birds of prey were seen.

hen harrier

Now I am back in Saudi Arabia I will see what the passage brings me in the Riyadh area this coming weekend. It should be in full swing and the weather should be a lot warmer too.

 List of birds seen in a local valley in north east Bulgaria:

Pallid harrier
Marsh harrier
Hen harrier
Song thrush
Common buzzard
Mistle thrush
Yellow legged gull
Black redstart
Collared dove
Northern wheatear
House sparrow
Tree sparrow
Great tit
White wagtail
Crested lark
Tree pipit
Corn bunting


  1. As you know, it's still Winter here - the coldest Easter on record not helped by keep moving the dates about. Looks set to be the coldest March for 60+ years!

    Migrants extremely thin on the ground with no Wheatear reported locally, my first 'proper' singing Chiffchaff yesterday.

    Roll on Lisbon and the Tagus in a months' time.

    Laurie -

  2. Laurie, it is 34C in Riyadh today! but Bulgaria was also colder than usual. Selfishly, I am hoping the cold weather in Europe will hold the migrants down here a bit longer.


  3. Hi Rob,

    I was browsing through your blog and saw the picture of the very cold lark in the snow. Judging from its size, very fine bill and pattern on the alula this is a Woodlark.

    Keep blogging, all the best,

    Pim Wolf

  4. Pim,

    I wouldn't go on size. It was very cold and completely puff up. I'll look into it. Rob