Breakfast @ 7.45am
After resolving some problems with transport, we made our way to Durankulak Lake.
The highlight of the day arrived early in the shape of Paddyfield Warblers. A small group of birds sang & displayed in the reed bed at close range for an hour or more.
At the same time, Savi's Warbler & Bearded Tits (2) were showing well.
Lunch was taken @ a renowned fish restaurant overlooking the lake.
During the afternoon, we continued our tour of Durankulak Lake including the fledgling Branta visitor centre , & finally visited Lake Shabla & the adjacent beach.
Only 5 new birds today but most enjoyable & relaxing. New birds included Great-crested Grebe(3), Montagu's Harrier, Grey Plover & Whiskered Tern(2).
Back to Pavel's home to unwind & a little light entertainment on the piano by the maestro. For a birder, Pavel is a great musician, or should that be vice versa?
Tatyana capped the day with an excellent meal which included more of those delicious strawberries.
A second night @ Yanitza Hotel,Krapetz.

Breakfast @ 7.30am
An hour was spent around Yailata, an excellent archaeological reserve packed with wildflowers & blessed with a stunning coastline. Full of larks, particularly Calandra.
By now we had forsaken our 4WD & replaced it with a saloon car.
We said goodbye to the Black Sea & made our way in a North Easterly direction towards Srebarna Biosphere Reserve. A short lunch break en route enabled us to watch Long-legged Buzzard (3) & Lesser Spotted Eagle (6).
Srebarna has extensive reedbeds & large expanses of open water. There are many vantage points around the lake but because the reserve is huge, we were often watching birds at a long distance & heat haze can be a problem.
Nonetheless, we had good views of some Srebarna specialities, namely Dalmatian Pelicans (80) & Pygmy Cormorants (12).
During the latter part of the day, we visited Garvan Lake & after some serious lakeside exploration through thick undergrowth, Pavel was able to locate our target bird, Ruddy Shelduck with 12 chicks.
10 new birds in the day included Red-necked Grebe, Greylag Goose(2), Black Tern(4)
& Rook (30).
Arrived @ Srebarna Guest House, adjacent to reserve @ 8.00pm. Very comfortable accommodation & friendly owner, Luba, who dined with us.
Bed @ around midnight.

Awoke to calls of Cuckoo & Golden Oriole...then to breakfast...& on the road by 6.30am.
A long session of driving was interrupted by a Corncrake which flew across our path. We had earlier stopped to listen in suitable habitat to no avail!
Arrived @ Boatin Reserve in Balkan National Park late morning where we met Stoyan, the Reserve ranger. He accompanied us for the remainder of the day which basically involved searching the forest for a few target species.
Over the course of 6 hours, we had our first sighting of Black Woodpecker & also saw the following new birds:- Red-breasted Flycatcher(3),Common Redstart (heard), Marsh Tit, Pied Flycatcher, Serin(4) in addition many others seen elsewhere during the trip.
Ural Owl was seen by the Ranger, heard by the guide but not by your reporter so the bird does not make the list!
We lodged in the National Park in large comfortable rooms with fine views & no passing traffic.
Dinner was taken @ the lodge & we were joined by Sasho, another ranger friend of Pavel. Any man who brings his own salami, chilli pepper & rakhir as a prelude to dinner as Sasho did, is certainly a welcome guest.
Our main course @ dinner was trout raised 25 metres from the kitchen so was still quite fresh. You have probably guessed that this was an enjoyable evening.
Late to bed.

After the usual early breakfast, we drove to the Tsaritchina Reserve, a distance of 20kms., to meet up again with Stoyan who was to provide our 4WD transport & local knowledge.
Once aboard the 4WD, we climbed ever upwards until the track expired. Our quest for the morning was Nutcracker & after what seemed like hours but was probably only one, Stoyan located the bird. At first, we had only calls & a brief flight view but over the next hour, we enjoyed good views of the perched bird & were able to take photographs.
After a picnic lunch, we searched an open area of pine forest where we were able to add Ring Ouzel, Dunnock, Bullfinch(2), Treecreeper, Goldcrest & Sparrowhawk to our list.
Pavel then revealed his master plan to deal with our remaining time. He & I were to walk down through the beech forest & Stoyan would take the 4WD & meet us 5kms down the track.
The usual suspects were around but we had to wait some time for our first Wood Warbler which sang well & initially hid equally well.
Continuing our downward track, we finally heard a welcome sound which was followed shortly afterwards by a fleeting glimpse of a woodpecker, a White-backed Woodpecker. By this time we had been joined by Stoyan who had tired of waiting& walked up the track to meet us.
Over the course of the next hour or so, we had fine views of two White-backed Woodpeckers & again were able to take photographs.
There was just time left for me to take a short fall on the steep track but a good days birding & a cool mountain stream took any pain out of the situation.
On the drive down to our car, we met more of Pavel's friends @ Ribaritsa where we enjoyed a cooling yoghurt based drink.
After thanking Stoyan, we were off to Sofia by the most direct route.
Checked in @ Hyundai Hotel & whilst packing I discovered my hotel minibar. The sun was still up, I was still warm & a cool beer cost 60p.
What would you have done? So did I!
Our final meal was @ a Chinese restaurant & to be perfectly frank, the only one of the trip that I did not enjoy.
That single experience pales into insignificance when set against the variety & quality of meals & the friendship that I had enjoyed during the previous 11 days.

Pavel arrived bright & early to transport me to Sofia for a 7.45am flight to Gatwick.

To summarise:
Total species seen or heard (few)...201 of which 16 were new to me.
(Pavel & others undoubtedly heard a few more.)

Itinerary: Pavel & I discussed this on a daily basis & made adjustments to his basic itinerary where necessary.. I had target birds that I was anxious to see& incidentally Wallcreeper was not one of them, although I would of course love to have seen one.
We travelled close to 1200 miles & ideally an extra few days would have made it a more leisurely trip. If I'd had 20 days, I would still have wanted more.
Nonetheless, there was ample opportunity to enjoy the countryside and in some areas, the condition of the roads is simply not conducive to high speeds. Both Pavel & I took plenty of photographs during the trip & after editing, I have over 640 examples to help me to look back on 12 days well spent.

Rob Skinner



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