Sunday 7 August 2011

Birding while being a tourist

I've had visitors over the last week. Sam and Jane were teachers in Libya like me.  Also like me they are Brits who don't live in Britain any more.

The similarities don't quite end there, they even went birding with me once in Libya. However their stay in Bulgaria wasn't a birding holiday. Nevertheless on a couple of occasions I took my camera on our trips and got some birding reward.

One day we visited Cape Kaliakra among other places. This gave me a chance to look for pied wheatear. Two weeks before I had visited near-by with Paul Bowden while birding. We struggled to see pied wheatear properly. However I have learnt since they were most easily seen on the Cape itself among the tourists!

pied wheatear at Cape Kaliakra

They were amazingly easy to see here and were relatively tame, although adult males were a small minority among the females and juveniles.

another picture of pied wheatear

I struggled to match their look against the book description of this bird. Indeed,  I am pretty sure some of the birds are hybrid black-eared wheatear/pied wheatear. This would not be an unusual find. This is because  northern Bulgaria is one of the few places their breeding ranges cross and they are well known to hybridise. The bird in the picture looks pure though!

female pied wheatear (possibly first year?) 

As I have said there were proportionately more females and juveniles present. These are very difficult to separate from some black-eared wheatear.

yellow legged gull at Cape Kaliakra

The gulls were quite tame too.

barn swallow nesting in rocks

Cape Kiliakra is a great place to see barn swallow nesting in rocks rather than er... barns or on houses.

There is one rock face right next to the main restaurant which was covered in them.

local cormorant

In and near the sea were several cormorant though I failed to see any shag which are also found here.

In the scrub on land were several red backed shrike to add to the diversity.

warbler between Cape Kaliakra and Balchik

We stopped on the way back towards Balchik and had lunch at the famous Mussel farm. However on one of abortive efforts to find the restaurant I came across a family of warblers on one of the few bushes right next to the cliffs in a steppe area. I have'nt identified it yet but I'll post as soon as I am sure. 

On another day we made the long day trip to Veliko Tarnavo. This old, hilly and green  city with its big and possibly best university is a big pull for tourists. I had never been there before possibly because I don't usually do "normal" tourism.  

view of the Tsarovets castle at Veliko Tarnovo

Among other parts of the city we visited the Tsarovets castle on a very hot day as it turned out. I had no expectations of seeing any birds unlike at Cape Kaliakra when I had specifically been on the look out for one species.

church at the top of Tsarovets castle, Veliko Tarnovo

It was while walking past a small group of tall trees just below the church that I got lucky. 

wood nuthatch at Tsarovets castle

Once again I have found species can be very tame at spots such as this. This time I saw some very showy wood nuthatch.

wood nuthatch on  the ground

Right next to the wood nuthatch was a family of black redstart which  allowed equally close contact.

one of several black redstart at Tsarovets castle

When we stopped for a drink in the castle there was much activity in the air with barn swallowred rumped swallow and alpine swift.  I failed to identify a couple of distant birds of prey and there was a least one white stork extremely high in the sky.

white stork high in the sky

On the way back from Veliko Tarnovo, we stopped at a cafe near a beautiful lake just before Shumen, While Sam and Jane drank "the worst Cappuccino of their lives" I went for a walk round part of the lake. 

This was a pit stop during the drive home and not a full blown birding stop. However there is no doubt the lake would have been worth a couple of hours and probably wouldn't disgrace a birding tour. 

white stork with mallard

The lake had attracted a white stork which was quite tame though the mallard around it were not. They flew off  before I could get close. 


Near the white stork on the sodden ground next to the lake were a dozen or so northern lapwing.

northern lapwing

There were almost certainly many more species I simply didn't have time to see. There were at least eight grey heron on the far side and lots of yellow wagtail around. I have made a mental note to go there again.

grey heron

Sam and Jane have moved on now so I'll probably do some local birding which is just about to get more interesting as the autumn passage begins.