Wednesday 30 May 2012

Bulgaria: back to brightly coloured things…

The last post was a bit too beige and brown to be aesthetically pleasing… so let’s return to some more striking species to conclude the Bulgarian posts (aside from a trip report, which on current form will probably take until about Christmas!)

I think I’ve already commented on the sheer abundance of many species along the Black Sea coast, resulting in us becoming a bit blase about some truly stunning birds. We must’ve easily seen over a hundred Bee-eaters (flocks of up to around 30 strong), and probably 20+ Rollers: we had 6 going north along the coast in about half an hour at one point! Not a scenario you’re likely to encounter in the UK any time soon… aside from daydreaming in the sun!


A couple of the key species for the region were less colourful, but still attractive in a monochrome fashion. At least five pairs of Pied Wheatear showed well at Cape Kaliakra, males holding territory from the various fortifications and natural rocky perches. Although I have seen one of these in the UK, and a male at that, the breeding plumage adults really are stunning.


Featuring a similar colour scheme, Semicollared Flycatcher is another tricky bird to see in a European context – but (on our experience) very easy in Bulgaria. Two stops at Gorica (beside the E87 main road, opposite a cafe) produced birds very quickly, including a pair at a nestbox, though never quite close enough for my lens. A very smart bird… and unlike the recent Flamborough Ficedula, no problem with the ID on this guy!


Red-rumped Swallows were fairly regularly seen, albeit in small numbers – experiencing a handful of birds feeding low on insects around my head as I sat quietly in a rocky streambed was one of my highlights. Although the shot below isn’t bad, I have to credit one of Jono’s very best photos – take a look at >this<, and maximise the similar image…


And finally, we’re back to shrikes again. Sadly I never got any kind of shot of a Lesser Grey (they remained fairly scarce and elusive for us), and the one and only Masked Shrike remained high in a tree… but Woodchats were common in places, with up to four in the same spot, and Red-backed Shrikes, well, possibly bird of the trip in many ways. A conservative count would be 100!



Tuesday 29 May 2012

Bulgaria: Hippos and other LBJs

Let’s start with a selection of Hippos. I quite like them, and there haven’t been enough Hippos on my blog recently. In fact none since I was in Malawi.

Ah, sorry, perhaps there’s some confusion: we saw no Hippopotami (Hippopotamuses?) in Bulgaria, but we did see a few interesting Hippolais warblers. Damn birders and their tendency to abbrev ev wd.

First up (and generally fairly easy to see at a range of sites) was Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. The following couple of shots were of an obliging singing bird on our first morning in Bourgas, before breakfast!



However, the main target from this genus was Olive-tree Warbler – and one of Dancho’s sites for these on a bushy hilltop near Topolovgrad came good, with a singing bird that showed fairly well at times. They really are massive, at least Barred Warbler size (and there were a couple of these knocking about nearby for comparison), and getting on for a Great Reed Warbler. Totally colourless, cold grey, with an Icky like pale panel in the wing. It still seems a bit surprising to believe that >this guy< was not clinched in the field, but there you are: it’s easy to screw up with unexpected species out of context. It’s still the only record in the UK, and I wouldn’t put money on a repeat any time soon.


The third and final Hippo was a surprise Icterine Warbler right on the point at Cape Kaliakra on our final morning. We hadn’t really expected one of these, since they aren’t a breeding bird in the area – but the cape is clearly an excellent migration watchpoint, and I’m sure plenty of much rarer birds must occur.


This bird was a good opportunity to reflect back on the even more unexpected Melodious Warbler that Jono and I had managed to snaffle in Leyton just before we left for the airport. When seen well, the two species aren’t too difficult to separate, Icterine showing much longer primary projection and an extensive pale wing panel (though Melody can show more than a hint of this). Anyway, well done to Stuart Fisher for finding the Leyton bird – an extraordinary record for urban London.

Another slightly unexpected bird at Cape Kaliakra was this Red-breasted Flycatcher, showing around the edge of an open-air bar / restaurant! It was typically confiding, and calling quite frequently as is often the case in the UK – brilliant, charismatic little birds, I’ll never tire of these. Look at the size of the eye relative to the head!


Returning to more warblers, the following two were pictured at the most northerly point of our trip at Durankulak, near the Romanian border. If the truth be told, the monster electrical storms and tropical-style downpours that we encountered were actually more memorable than the singing Paddyfield and Great Reed Warblers… but here’s a couple of pics anyway. You’ll note that the Paddy in particular looks more than a tad wet, but given the strength and volume of the rain, it’s a miracle it was even still alive!


And finally, I think it’s been too long without a shrike. Although they’re generally too brightly coloured to fit in with this post’s theme, I have just a thing: an especially strongly vermiculated female Red-backed.


Monday 28 May 2012

Bulgaria: raptors great and small

It’s taken me a while to get back to blogging about Bulgaria, had a bit of a mad week at work. That accounted for my failure to get to Herefordshire, where I gather there was some sort of boring brown bird – can’t remember what exactly, but I’m sure it was a three word alliteration like that, anyway.

I did catch up with the London Bonaparte’s Gull yesterday, though, which showed fairly well at Barking Bay. I’ve also nearly added Bonaparte’s Gull to my self-found list… do you get any credit for pointing out what other people have found?! You can read all about it >here< and >here<. Joking aside, well done Rich – I’ll buy you a beer at the Pommelers on Friday evening!

Anyway, Bulgaria had lots more birds than the UK, and they were pretty much all better looking than manky 1st year Bonaparte’s Gulls! Many of them were a lot bigger, too… like this impressive beast:


This is a Lesser Spotted Eagle, and a very well-behaved one at that. After Dancho, our guide, had spotted it in a roadside tree, it did the decent thing and stayed there as we coasted in gradually closer along the verge, and gave awesome views. During the remainder of the trip, we saw about half a dozen more, including a group of three, but none anything like this well. The flight profile is quite distinctive, though, with characteristically drooped wings.


Another highlight (and another tick) came in the form of Eastern Imperial Eagle, the main target of a lengthy trip SW from Bourgas to the area around Topolovgrad. The bird above was one of a pair that gave excellent scope views, hunting low over an area of rolling farmland, then circling majestically high together. It seemed a bit weird to be seeing enormous Golden-like eagles in lowland countryside!


Did I say enormous? Hmm, that leaves me with a problem describing this great lump, then. The only White-tailed Eagle was seen at the mouth of the Izvorska river, on the south side of Lake Mandra. After flying in as shown, it did what birds of prey do best for a while (ie sat around, doing nothing), before gliding over the water and grabbing a snack, probably a young Coot or Moorhen, and carrying it off into the distance!


We saw good numbers of smaller eagles, too – the one above is a Short-toed, and we also saw a number of Booted Eagles. (My photos of those are even worse than these record shots!)


The buzzard list for the trip numbered three, with Long-legged, Honey and Common seen on multiple occasions (the latter two of which are shown above). Hopefully the Common Buzzards in Bulgaria are better protected and respected than those in the UK. If you haven’t done so yet, please sign >this petition< against the DEFRA’s shocking proposal to capture Buzzards and destroy nests near pheasant shoots, despite the complete absence of any evidence showing they cause significant harm. An unbelievable waste of money, given all the alternative conservation causes in the UK.


And finally, a couple of smaller raptors. The Hobby above was hunting newly arrived passerine migrants along Cape Kaliakra, near Kavarna, giving excellent views at times. However smart they may be, though, there was no competition with this pair of Red-footed Falcons… I worried for Dave Mo’s health, he was getting so excited!


Now clearly most of the shots above aren’t going to win any prizes, but hopefully they serve to illustrate the excellent diversity of birds of prey to be found in the country. And we didn’t see everything, either! Our total list was as follows:

  1. Egyptian Vulture
  2. White-tailed Eagle
  3. Eastern Imperial Eagle
  4. Lesser Spotted Eagle
  5. Booted Eagle
  6. Short-toed Eagle
  7. Marsh Harrier
  8. Montagu’s Harrier
  9. Black Kite
  10. Honey Buzzard
  11. Common Buzzard
  12. Long-legged Buzzard
  13. Sparrowhawk
  14. Levant Sparrowhawk
  15. Hobby
  16. Red-footed Falcon
  17. Kestrel
  18. Eagle Owl (if you call that a raptor!)


Monday 21 May 2012

Bulgaria: three of the brightest and best

Jono, Dick, Dave and I got back late last night after a short but very sweet trip to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, organised and guided by Neophron Tours. Although the main focus was on catching up with as many of possible of the region’s specialities, there were more than a few decent photo opportunities along the way, including some truly spectacular birds. So, to get the ball rolling (and until I’ve got more time for photo editing), here’s my favourite three shots, showing three of the most abundant species in open countryside: Black-headed Bunting, Red-backed Shrike, and Bee-eater.

black-headed buntingred-backed shrikebee-eater

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Normal service…

… will be resumed when spring birding actually starts and we get some halfway decent weather!

Since returning from Finland and Norway, I’ve been pretty busy with work, but the birding I have managed to squeeze in hasn’t generally set the world on fire. I know one or two people (hi Dave!) have noticed the lack of blog activity, though, so here’s a few recent photos. To start with, some rather soft / distant / hazy record shots of some scarcities – Black-winged Stilts, a Wryneck (my first in spring, after 16 autumn birds!), and a Hoopoe, respectively:


… followed by a snippet of lovely Snowdonian scenery (singing Wood Warbler, Pied Fly, Redstart and Tree Pipit were all just behind me)…


… and finally (at last) one of the few vaguely worthwhile bird photos I’ve taken in the last month!