Sunday 29 May 2011

Inland towards Oreshak

Yesterday was another beautiful day. I chose to walk out of my village westward towards Oreshak.  The first part of the walk is agricultural (more about that later) but the majority of the walk is oak and birch forest with a small number of wonderful woodland meadows.  This is part of the same massive forest called Batova Forest that I have birded (usually on Sundays) from Rogachevo over 10 kilometres way.

the start of the forest as seen from near my village
I have little experience as a woodland birder but I'm learning fast. In Libya there was very little woodland and before that in Azerbaijan most of it was upland and in militarised areas.

inside the forest

I realise how important knowing your bird songs is. I know too few!  However I can tell you the forest between my village and Oreshak was far from quiet. The most common bird here  is probably chaffinch whose song I  have learnt to recognise.  I also saw a few of them! Nightingale were common in the better lit areas. Certainly there were golden oriole, another bird I can recognise by sound. There were great tit too more often near the few pine trees.

female blackbird yesterday

The collins guide describes blackbird as confiding. This is an anglo-centric view of the world. It may be confiding if regularly fed in British gardens  but in Bulgaria this bird is shy - or at least it has been with me. In woodland I occasionally catch glimpses of them but finally yesterday one perched long enough and close enough for me to get a good look albeit against a backcloth of shafts of sun gleaming through the trees. Turtle dove is not confiding anywhere and they were only seen by me when they decided to move off, typically many metres before I walked near them!

medium sized egg (blackbird?)

When I was very young, a long time ago, bird books would always include pictures of eggs. Now they never do. In the bad old days egg collecting was a hobby in its own right. Now of course we know better.  I saw this one on a narrow track in the forest. It looks like it got on the ground by natural causes. Certainly all the contents have disappeared presumably eaten. The egg was roughly 2/3 to 3/4 the length of a chicken egg. A quick look at google images and I think it could be a blackbird egg. If not the bird must be a similar size.

short toed treecreeper

I had hoped to see woodpeckers. Somehow this time they evaded me. However I was delighted to spot a short toed treecreeper and even get some sort of picture.  I was attracted by a single repeated note and the vague notion that I had seen some movement in the wood. 

I am confident it is a short toed treecreeper for two reasons. First was the single note. The (Eurasian) treecreeper makes a more complex buzzing sound apparently. Second the distribution maps tell me it the only one in my area. Now when I was birding in Libya the distribution maps in the guides were very wrong usually due to under-reporting but I am told they are more accurate here.

Nearer the edges of the wood were nesting starling (especially close to the stream at the Oreshak end). greenfinch and woodlark.

woodlark up a tree

One woodlark took evasive action when I walked towards him (without knowing it) and flew up into a tree. This behaviour is almost unique to a woodlark among European larks.

Hermann's tortoise

Every time I go into Batova forest I see new wildlife. This time it was a very large (i.e mature) tortoise. Even armed with my "Amphibians and Reptiles of Bulgaria" back home I couldn't split it between Hermann's and Mediterranean spur thighed. I didn't look at its thighs! The book says Hermann's is a much more of a forest tortoise hence the tentative identification.

red backed shrike at Oreshak

At Oreshak the far side of my forest walk, I was suddenly aware of the bright sun light. It's a beautiful spot where the forest stream comes out into the light. Here were corn bunting, red-backed shrike, starling and plenty of bee-eater.

skylark clinging on to  a rape plant on a gust of wind

After five hours there and back I returned to my village side of the forest passing by rape and wheat fields. A common quail bolted into the wheat field from the edge of the path. This is the first time I have seen one in Bulgaria. Common swift were flying overhead in a completed different manner to skylark which were also present. Yellow wagtail were also peppering the path. Now I know where most of them in my area hang out.  Black headed bunting seem to love perching on top of rape plants.  Lesser grey shrike and corn bunting were on the telephone wires as I got closer to the village.

starling in newly cut field

The journey ended back at the cut field on the village edge which I blogged about last time. The starling, yellow wagtail, corn bunting, black headed bunting and skylark were there again. Once again house martin and barn swallow flew over. No sign of turtle dove, white wagtail and kestrel this time.  However there were red-rumped swallow flying overhead, pigeon on the field with magpie and yellow legged gull making brief appearances to more than compensate.  

Friday 27 May 2011

A newly cut field

The bird it seems every birder in Bulgaria wants to see this week is rosy starling. Outside of the Caucasus, Bulgaria is probably the best place in Europe to see this bird.  It usually arrives from India about now. However it is nomadic and although some nesting colonies are in the same places every year they are notoriously well hidden.

As far as I know no one has seen it yet this year or else I would have expected it to be announced on the facebook group which looks at Bulgarian birds.

The most common sightings are in an area a few kilometres north of my village. Granted the terrain there is more steppe-like which seems to please them more than other areas. However it was not inconceivable that I would see them today when I went out for a birding walk.

I was drawn to a newly cut field on the edge of the village. These types of fields often attract large numbers of birds seeking either seeds or exposed insects and worms or both. I used to visit them regularly in Libya because they were such a magnet for birds.

newly cut field today near my village

I idly dreamed that it could attract rosy starlings!  Actually it wasn't a bad hypothesis.  The field certainly had many common starling and if rosy starling had been around I'm sure they would have joined them.

common starling in local newly cut field

The second most common bird in the field was probably yellow wagtail. This bird is similarly attracted to Libyan cut fields on passage. I had assumed the local populations of breeding yellow wagtail was small until I saw the numbers today. Just where do they hide themselves normally?

female (left) and male yellow wagtail (right) in local field

There were also significant numbers of corn bunting, black headed bunting, skylark, tawny pipit and house sparrow. There were at least two white wagtail, two turtle dove and a few linnet all crammed into one field. 

local linnet

The picture above was taken at a house near mine rather than in the field today.

At one stage the birds in the field became agitated by something and it wasn't me. First the house sparrow bolted for the trees and then some other birds followed.

female kestrel poised to dive

The reason was the appearance over-head of a female common kestrel. Kestrels rarely attack other birds so it was surprising that some of other birds bolted but they did.

common kestrel over the field 

The kestrel did dive but I think it caught a vole which I suppose is another species exposed by the field cut.

unusual view - almost directly below a kestrel

I found the 45 minutes in a cut field very interesting today. I'll try it again. Who knows next time there may be rosy starling around.

I've got two other bits of news from the past two days. First I keep seeing the short toed eagle I have reported on before. I'm pretty sure I know where it roosts now too. A friend told me he saw it the other day eating a snake right in the middle of the road between our two villages.

local short toed eagle

The second tit bit is that I have noticed that while my road has mostly barn swallow nesting, the village as a whole seems to have more house martin nests. This is especially true of the older houses.

one of many house martin nests

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Black stork is latest sighting

There are still different birds to be seen in my local patch. Before venturing wider in Bulgaria, I have vowed to keep birding my local area until I don't see anything new. Today I thought I had reached the tipping point. Then just as I was turning for home I saw a big bird in the corner of my eye, high in the air.

black stork over Klimentovo

It is only the second time I have ever seen a black stork. The other one was also in Bulgaria near Bourgas on Autumn migration a couple of years ago. The bird today could easily still be on spring migration as they are apparently one of the last birds to migrate northwards.

female stonechat near Klimentovo

One of my friends has said on facebook that I must have bought a more  expensive camera recently because some of my pictures are high quality (ed: thanks!) Actually I haven't. Its just that the summer light conditions in Bulgaria with sun behind you are near perfect compared with the blazing sun of Libya and the usual cloudiness in the UK. Also we mustn't forget that the birds themselves are at their brightest at the moment. Even the female stonechat above creates a good pose with the correct lighting. I snapped her today just before seeing the black stork.

nightingale near Rogachevo

A couple of days earlier, on Sunday I visited the woods near Rogachevo again. It's a new habit of mine to go for a two or three hour walk into the woods after Sunday lunch at Elbarr (and back this time to watch the last set of English premier league football games).  Once again the nightingales were singing loudly but less usually one exposed it self to view (see above).  I find the thrush family including nightingale are shyer in Bulgaria than in the UK for example.  Mistle thrush and especially blackbird are common in the forests but seriously easily scared off.   

local jay

Jay is also regularly present.  This time I saw my first local chaffinch deep in the forest where two pine trees mixed with the otherwise surrounding broadleaf trees.

chaffinch near Rogachevo

My strangest sighting was not a bird at all. I found a deer ahead of me on a forest path. I stopped dead immediately and to my surprise so did it. I took a photo and as soon as I moved an inch forward it disappeared into the undergrowth.  I felt privileged to share such a moment. 

I cannot identify deer. A quick look at google suggests to me it was a roe deer. Any one know for sure? Could it be a young red deer?

roe deer near Rogachevo

Saturday 21 May 2011

The lakes at Osenovo

A couple of days ago I was tipped off by some friends that there were two lakes near Osenovo which is about 10 kilometres from my home. Some other friends told me the area in question is sometimes unkindly called "the swamp". Either way it sounded like good birding territory with a different habitat so I made my way there today.

The area is actually a valley fed by a small river/large stream which bulges out in two places to create lakes that become partially over-grown with reeds in the summer. Either side of the stream is tree cover and the ground is boggy in places. I found it a beautiful setting but maybe that's because  I was looking at it from an environmentalist's perspective.

I saw two syrian woodpecker, great tit, turtle dove, plenty of starling, house sparrow and nightingale in the tree cover. In the sunnier spots there were house sparrow, corn bunting, black headed bunting, red-backed shrike and bee-eater

However it was when I came to the second larger lake which is in the open that the bird watching became more challenging for me. 

great reed warbler near Osenovo

The challenge was over the identification of a bird. At the second lake were at least two acrocephalus warbler singing their hearts out. I ruled out reed warbler because the birds at the lake have a white supercilium going beyond the eye and the tail is rounded. These features are shown well in the top picture.

second picture of a great reed warbler

The second picture above shows the bird also has a pale eye. I really wanted the bird to be a paddyfield warbler which has all these features. It is known on the Bulgarian Black sea coast but only at a few sites a little further north. Sadly I now think the bird is a great reed warbler. It's beak is so thick and large. Also the primary projections are long unlike those of a paddyfield warbler (shown on photos not presented in this blog).  

terrain - boggy with mostly young reeds

As well as great reed warbler, there were at least two large birds present. Yet again there was a little bittern. That twice recently I have seen it in a small lake with lots of cover. I also saw a single white stork.

white stork near Osenovo

My friends tell me this is a very popular place during migration for hundreds of white stork to stop over. There are also heron and egret present when the reeds are not so thick but my friends are not birders so they can't recall whether they only see these during the passage. 

stream that feeds the lakes

Along one part of stream that feeds the lakes there were plenty of house martin collecting mud for their nests. Alongside these were at least two very busy white wagtail. They were catching insects but not eating them! I presume they were being collected to feed their young near-by.

white wagtail collecting insects

There was plenty of other wild life apart from the birds. By the side of the stream I came across two European pond terrapin.

European pond terrapin

There also a blue coloured damselfly which settled right in front of me so I felt honour bound to photograph it.  

blue coloured damselfly

Finally I want to write about two other birding incidents that happened today. Both were right next to my house. First I saw a northern wheatear on top of my next door neighbour's chimney. I have never seen a northern wheatear on a house before never mind on its tallest part.

northern wheatear next door

Last but not least, there was a group of house martin outside my front gate this morning collecting mud for their nests just like their cousins did next to the woodland stream at Osenovo.

house martin outside my front gate

Thursday 19 May 2011

Black-headed bunting

In my last blog I asked whether black headed bunting was even here yet because I had failed to see it. Well today all that changed. I saw plenty and one within 30 metres of my house.

male black headed bunting near my house

Granted I birded a different area today. I went to the side of the village which has the most arable cultivation whereas the last twice I have visited more natural areas. It appears the bird likes cultivated terrain but it didn't stop me seeing one on a wire very close to my house too.

My best analysis is that it has only just arrived.  

male black-headed bunting in a field of rape

If you think a black headed bunting is easy to see then I challenge you to pick one up in a field of rapeseed!

Actually the easiest birds to see were the ones on the wires. I seem to be doing some of my best birding when I look at telephone wires.  Dont forget the rollers I saw on them last week for example.

sparrow nesting on top of a telegraph pole.

The wires always have birds. Some are quite exotic and some are mundane. Every (and I mean every) telegraph pole in the village has a house sparrow nest on its top. I can only assume that they are hollow at the top.

northern wheatear

Managed to take a better picture of one of the local northern wheatear today which is above. I am reaching the conclusion it is the only one of the four wheatear species known on the Black sea coastal area which breeds near my village. I'll have to look at the drier, more steppe like areas further up the coast to find the others I think.

yet another flock of bee-eater

Although the local bee-eater are back, I am still seeing wave after wave of bee-eater flying north. Today I saw three waves in an hour and a half.

Some of them must be like the black-headed bunting here - only in the breeding place for less than three months then they go back again!

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Something in the air

I'm still birding my local patch. I'll keep doing it until I see nothing different. Only then am I going to branch out regularly into other parts of Bulgaria.

Today I went out birding straight after my Bulgarian lesson finished. I had a vague thought I might see black headed bunting and cirl bunting which should both be around by now. I last saw cirl bunting in Morocco on a birding holiday and black headed bunting in Azerbaijan where I once worked. I had also hoped to see yellow hammer again which I last saw last week!  The plan was to increase my set of local bunting pictures.

Well none of this happened. Are black headed bunting even here yet?

Events took a completely different turn. I did see new birds for the area. I saw my first song thrush for example. However most of the excitement was in the sky. I picked out a bird of prey which at first I thought was a very light common buzzard. Then my mind returned to Libya where I last saw this bird.

local short toed eagle

It is a short toed eagle. From the picture you can see it lacks a black trailing edge which even the very lightest (adult) common buzzard have.  I also saw the bird's top side and it had a white spot over its tail again confirming a short toed eagle. If I had any doubt it was with the width of the wings and the number of "fingers" but I am confident this is just an artefact of the photo. Finally if you still have any doubt just remember its other name is short toed snake eagle and this one has what looks like the remains of a snake in its mouth!    

local house martin

Another bird I thought could only photograph in the air was house martin. I hadn't seen any land and it unusual for them to do until after breeding is finished. Today the valley had a very large number flying. There were also a few barn swallow joining in too. With the swallow family and swifts I find it very difficult to photograph in the air as they are so fast and small. I resort to rapid snaps pointing in a set direction and sooner or later I capture one.

The house martin above looks unusual to me. I can't see the fork in its tail (unlike the one below). I assume its because its tail feathers are completely splayed. I've ruled out every other bird - even crag martin doesn't come close. 

more normal looking house martin today

Barn swallow hasn't cause me anything like the same trouble. I have found it easy to see them perched. Ironically less than half an hour after I had spent so much effort getting pictures of house martin in flight I saw two of them sitting on a wire with two barn swallow right next to my home. 

two house martin and two barn swallow

The house martin are all white underneath,  have a white face and a white rump whereas the barn swallow have a red wash underneath and a deep red face. I can't tell from the photo whether the barn swallow are male or female. Females have lighter faces, slightly lighter red wash and slightly shorter tail streamers than males. 

site of bee-eater colony

Another find today was the site of my local bee-eater breeding site. I hope to visit (carefully) later in the summer when there is more activity.

In the end I have had a good birding day but it had nothing to do with buntings!

Sunday 15 May 2011

Woodland near Rogachevo

I am settling into a bit of a routine while I am grounded in Bulgaria awaiting the end of my contract in Libya and the start of my new job which will be in Saudi Arabia. 

Part of my routine is to visit Elbarr in Rogachevo for a British Sunday lunch followed by a birding trip into the surrounding woodland and meadows.  

At the moment, the start of my Sunday birding is actually at Elbarr itself. The building has 5 barn swallow nests and there is plenty of activity.

barn swallow in nest at Elbarr, Rogachevo

It looks to me like all the nests are being re-built though one of the family at Elbarr tells me that at least one of the barn swallow pairs are already sitting on eggs.  I intend to follow the progress of these pairs through the summer.

And it would appear that summer is finally with us.

part of the woodland near Rogachevo

It was a glorious afternoon during which I spent a couple of hours walking through the local woodland.  The noise of nightingale was everywhere. The sound of great tit was nearly as common. Yet more golden oriole were heard and seen along with jay, magpie, cuckoo whitethroat and blackcap.

woodlark on path through the woodland

I am always pleased when I photograph a bird for the first time. Today it was the turn of woodlarkI don't know this bird very well and the most noticeable thing about it for me was how short the tail is.

two woodlark on a path through the woodland

The woodlark were in a flock of at least four birds. They were quite shy but luckily for me they kept flying further down the path rather than flying off completely.

male red backed shrike

Following on from my last blog when I reported seeing red backed shrike for the first time this summer, I noticed several on the edges of the wood today including the male above.

spotted flycatcher

I try not to show pictures of birds which I have recently shown unless I get a better one. That's my reason for showing this one of a spotted flycatcher which is also present in large numbers in the local woodland.

long tailed tit

The same goes for the long tailed tit above which was one of a large group near the beginning of the walk.

common buzzard

I didn't see any sparrowhawk or kestrel this time but there has always been a sighting of common buzzard. 

During conversation at Elbarr, one couple told me about the scops owl living in an out house on their land and another couple  told me about an occupied  white stork's nest next to their house. I hope to bring your more news on of these in the near future.