Bulgaria Birding Northeast and Vitosha Mountain Easter Weekend: March 2016

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1 Bulgaria Birding Northeast and Vitosha Mountain Easter Weekend: March 2016 St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia The Easter weekend break was a perfect opportunity to visit Bulgaria for some sightseeing and birding. Our focus was the northern Black Sea coast and the Danube River marshes near Silistra/Srebarna. The country scores high marks for historical interest, affordability, and the chance to easily see some of Europe s less common birds: Dalmatian Pelican, Pygmy Cormorant, Longlegged Buzzard, Black Woodpecker, Black Stork, etc. Our self-arranged tour looked like: Thursday, 24 March: Geneva Sofia. Overnight at the centrally-located, Sofia Balkan Hotel Friday, 25 March: Sofia Varna. Bulgarian Railways (7.5hour daytime voyage). Overnight in Varna. Saturday, 26 March: self-drive rental car to Ramsar wetland sites at Durankulak and Shabla. Detour to Kaliakra Peninsula. Overnight at Balchik (White Palace Spa Hotel, near Queen Marie s Palace). Sunday, 27 March: Balchik Srebarna. Afternoon birding with local guide, Mike Black. Overnight at the lovely Pelican Lake Guest House. Monday, 28 March: Morning birding with Mike at various sites along the Danube River. Drive back to Sofia (7 hours) birding along the way. Overnight at Sofia Balkan Hotel. Tuesday, 29 March: Birding Vitosha Mountain, 10kms from Sofia. Evening flight return to Geneva.

2 Birding along the Roman road alongside the Danube River near Silistra Bird list: (in bold are new life species for me) 1. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor at most sites 2. Greylag Goose, Anser anser at most lakes 3. Ruddy Shelduck, Tadorna ferruginea a pair near Srebarna (the result of a captive breeding programme) 4. Common Shelduck, Tadorna tadorna one at Durankulak 5. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos common everywhere 6. Gadwall, Anas strepera at Durankulak 7. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata most marshes 8. Garganey, Anas querquedula most common anas seen 9. Common Pochard, Aythya farina Shabla 10. Ferruginous Duck, Aythya nyroca Durankulak and Srebarna 11. Common Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus seen several times by roadside 12. Black-throated Loon, Gavia arctica group of three on Black Sea off Balchik 13. Little Grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis several at most sites 14. Great Crested Grebe, Podiceps cristatus common, in breeding plumage 15. Yelkouan Shearwater, Puffinus yelkouan small group flying off Kaliakra 16. Dalmatian Pelican, Pelecanus crispus colony of 60+ birds at Srebarna 17. (Great) Comorant, Phalacrocorax carbo reasonably common at all sites

3 Pelican site at Srebarna Reserve 18. (European Shag), Phalacrocorax aristotelis common at Durankulak 19. Pygmy Comorant, Phalacrocorax pygmeus seen at Srebarna only (common) 20. Great Egret, Casmerodius albus at Durankulak 21. Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea three roosting in marshes behind the beach at Balchik 22. White Stork, Ciconia ciconia hundreds seen and very common in fields throughout 23. Black Stork, Ciconia nigra group of five seen from train, close to Varna 24. Osprey, Pandion haliaetus one in flight at Srebarna 25. Black Kite, Milvus migrans several at various sites 26. (Western) Marsh Harrier, Circus aeruginosus at least one hovering over marshes at all sites My guide, Mike Black, in action pointing out the Dalmatian Pelicans, Srebarna

4 27. Hen Harrier, Circus cyaneus both sexes seen on three occasions hunting low over ploughed fields 28. Long-legged Buzzard, Buteo rufinus restricted range in SE Europe. Two seen flying, hovering and diving for prey at a hill site, approx. 30kms south of Ruse (Rousse) as indicated as a possible viewing site by Mike Black 29. Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo uncommon; two seen by roadside 30. Levant Sparrowhawk, Accipiter brevipes summer visitor to SE Europe; one adult male seen flying around Poplar trees 31. Common Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus common The white cliffs of Balchik 32. Water Rail (?), Rallus aquaticus one seen skulking in reeds at Durankulak 33. (Eurasian) Coot, Fulica atra very common at all sites 34. Green Sandpiper, Tringa ochropus one at a farm dam near Srebarna 35. Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos one on beach at Balchik 36. Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus very common at Srebarna 37. Yellow-legged Gull, Larus michahellis common at Black Sea 38. Lesser Black-backed Gull, Larus fiscus a pair at Balchik 39. (Common) Wood Pigeon, Columba palumbus common in woods 40. (Eurasian) Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaoto - common in towns 41. (Eurasian) Hoopoe, Upupa epops commonly encountered at coastal sites; ground feeding

5 Kaliakra, from where the Shearwaters were seen 42. Black Woodpecker, Drycocpus martius a pair found by Mike, excavating a nesting hole in old Poplar near the banks of the Danube. Surprisingly close to human habitations. 43. Grey-headed Woodpecker, Picus canus seen on two occasions near Srebarna 44. Syrian Woodpecker, Dendrocopos syriacus the most common woodpecker encountered 45. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos minor one pair encountered in planted wind break between wheat fields 46. Water Pipit, Anthus spinoletta several on grass close to water bodies 47. White/Pied Wagtail, Motacilla alba common; the only Motacilla seen 48. (European) Robin, Erithacus rubecula common 49. Thrush Nightingale, Luscinia luscinia heard by Mike Black; not seen 50. Black Redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros not common; but several seen at most sites 51. (Common) Stonechat, Saxicola torquatatus seen thrice close to wooded areas 52. Song Thrush, Turdus philomelos at Vitosha Mountain, close to Sofia 53. Mistle Thrush, Turdus viscivorus Vitosha Beach near Balchik

6 54. (Common) Blackbird, Turdus merula very common 55. Ring Ouzel, Turdus torquatus one well-coloured male at Vitosha 56. Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla several pairs at Black Sea coastal sites 57. (European) Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus one at Durankulak 58. (Common) Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus collybita common everywhere 59. Goldcrest, Regulus regulus several at Vitosha Mountain 60. (Winter) Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes most places 61. Great Tit, Parus major ubiquitous 62. Blue Tit, Cyanistes caeruleus two seen at Vitosha Mountain 63. Willow Tit, Poecile montanus common at Vitosha 64. (Eurasian) Nuthatch, Sitta europaea seen 3-4 times at various sites Queen Marie of Romania s Palace, Balchik (the excellent Korona Restaurant is nearby) 65. (Eurasian) Jay, Garrulus glandarius plentiful at Balchik 66. (Spotted) Nutcracker, Nucifraga caryocatactes one perched on top of conifer at Vitosha 67. (Western) Jackdaw, Corvus monedula at most sites 68. Hooded Crow, Corvus cornix common 69. (Common) Starling, Sturnus vulgaris common everywhere 70. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus in towns 71. Spanish Sparrow, Passer hispaniolensis in woods near Srebarna 72. (Eurasian) Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus common 73. (Common) Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs very common at all sites 74. Brambling, Fringilla montifringilla two seen with Chaffinches at Vitosha

7 Vitosha Mountain 75. Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis common in fields 76. Greenfinch, Chloris chloris one calling from tree top at Balchik 77. (Eurasian) Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula a brilliantly coloured pair feeding in snow at Vitosha 78. Hawfinch, Coccothraustes coccothraustes one at Shabla 79. Common (Red) Crossbill, Loxia curvirostra very common feeding on pine cones at Vitosha 80. (Common) Reed Bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus seen and calling at most marsh sites 81. Yellowhammer, Emberiza citronella small group in woods at Balchik 82. Cirl Bunting, Emberiza cirlus one at Balchik with Yellowhammers 83. Corn Bunting, Emberiza calandra very common in recently ploughed fields near Black Sea All-in-all, a great short break with some good birds. A good plan would be to return in January/February for the wintering Red-breasted and White-fronted Geese. Next time..

8 Poor photo (i-phone) of Black Woodpecker at nest hole Our wonderful hosts, Mike & Jerry Black, of Pelican Lake Guest House

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