Black Sea Coast

Day 4; Monday 14th September

Today we moved north leaving Pomorie behind and heading to the small town of Durankulak, just 3 miles from the Romanian border and our base for the next four nights. Not however before a quick stop at Pomorie Lake, which held all the usual birds with only two Shag new to add to the list.
A stop to refuel near the resort of Sunny Beach resulted in four species of raptors from the petrol station forecourt: Short-toed Eagle, Steppe Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and a very obliging male Goshawk, which gave prolonged good views. Moving on an unscheduled stop was made at the viewpoint above Sunny Beach when one of the group (you know who you are) realised they had left their passport in the hotel back in Pomorie. However it wasn't a problem as Roman our very agreeable driver returned to collect it as we birded this site. Though the numbers of migrants were clearly down on the previous day, there was still much to see with a few Red-breasted Flycatchers, and even the Semi-collared Flycatcher still present. Perhaps the highlight for most was this very cooperative Grey-headed Woodpecker, which showed out in the open for several minutes as it sunbathed at the top of a Pine. Meanwhile Howard and Chris had wondered off, missing the woodpecker, they did however return with a photo of a bunting they were unsure of. Unfortunately the bird never came fully into view and hence the photo only shows part of its head, but 1st winter Pine Bunting seems most likely, though from the photo alone, it is perhaps impossible to be sure. Our next stop was just a few miles further, at another viewpoint, though it became obvious there was little raptor movement here, other than a few very high Red-footed Falcons and Sparrowhawks, (both Eurasian and Levant's). There was however a significant movement of bee-eaters with several flocks moving through totalling at least 300 birds. A pair of Sombre Tit were also noted here as were a pair of Red-rumped Swallow.
Next we visited the Goritza Forrest, where both Middle and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker were noted along with a Short-toed Treecreeper and several Nuthatches, though sadly no sign of our target Black Woodpecker. Time however was now pushing on and we still had several miles to go on our journey, so no further stops were made until reaching Topala, where Great Spotted Woodpecker and Woodlark were added.
Continuing, we eventually arrived at the Branta Birding Lodge, which sits overlooking Lake Durankulak, and is home to not only Pavel and his family, but also almost the entire world´s wintering population of Red-breasted Goose. Here Tatyana (Pavel´s wife) welcomed us, making us all feel very much at home. Later after a short rest and a refreshing beer we enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal accompanied by a shot of Rakia, a traditional drink served to guests in the Bulgarian home.

Day 5; Tuesday 15th September.

With Lake Durankulak on the doorstep and a little tired from the previous long day on the road, today was to be a steady day concentrating on the lake. We started at the northeastern corner, parking in the beach car park where immediately a Syrian Woodpecker was located. Nearby on the beach a few Sanderling and a Curlew Sandpiper were busy feeding. Walking south we spent some time looking in the reeds for the elusive Moustached Warbler, with a slim chance of a late Paddyfield, however several Reed Warblers later and we had neither of our targets. We did however watch an Osprey carry a large fish in off the sea, and up to 6 Pygmy Cormorants were noted in flight. Two Caspian Terns were also recorded moving north.
Next we headed inland briefly to look for Long-legged Buzzard, and although two possible birds were found they were very distant, Steppe Buzzard however showed much better, with 5 together with a Short-toed Eagle. We also stopped to look at a roadside Syrian Woodpecker, finding a Black Redstart and a few Yellow Wagtails, including a nice male of the race dombrowskii (Romanian Wagtail).
Lunch was taken back at the lodge, with some of the group deciding afterwards to stay there and have an easy afternoon birding from the garden, from where Marsh & Montagu's Harrier, Hobby, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Northern Wheatear, Red-backed Shrike, Spanish Sparrow and Corn Bunting could all be seen, along with an incredible number of swallows.
The rest however headed back out, travelling a short distance before walked along a small track surrounded by pine at first, thinning to thorn scrub and eventually a small reed fringed pool. This was alive with migrants, Red-backed Shrike and Lesser Whitethroat the most abundant species, followed closely by both Spotted and Red-breasted Flycatchers, with at least 15 of the latter, including a stunning male still in breeding plumage. Others warblers included Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow, Wood, Garden and a single Barred. Other highlights included a large flock of c200 Bee-eaters, another Syrian Woodpecker and a Golden Oriole. On the pool were Little Grebe, Purple Heron, Teal and at least 3 Kingfisher. A Muskrat was also noted here.
Next we moved to the southeastern corner, where several thousand hirundines were feeding and numerous flocks of Yellow Wagtails of mixed races were present, presumably all gathering to roost in the large reedbeds. Another large gathering was c400 Gulls, mostly Mediterranean, which streamed in off the sea to bathe in the lake before dispersing. Two Red-throated Pipits flew over calling and dropped into a field containing several wagtails but unfortunately could not be relocated. Further on, an area of tall reeds held Great Reed Warbler, Savi's Warbler and Bearded Tit, though sadly the latter was heard calling only. Further still in an area of scrub a male Bluethroat was a fitting way to finish what had been a superb evening.
Meanwhile back at the Lodge, Tatyana had prepared a special meal for us, starting with Calamari Rings, next was delicious Crayfish, caught from Durankulak Lake, followed by a perfectly cooked Zander (also fresh from the Lake) for main course.

Day 6; Wednesday 16th September.

Today we headed north across the border and into Romania. Our first stop, apart from border control was made at Lake Tekirgyol where 200+ Black-necked Grebes were gathered on the lake, and a few Ruff were found along the shoreline.
Our next stop was made on the approach to Vadu, where a few distant raptors turned out to be Redfooted Falcon, however a small flock of White Pelicans showed much better, flying directly towards us before turning over our heads and returning to the north. Once at Vadu both Roller and Lesser Grey Shrike were immediately found, though sadly the latter soon disappeared. Leaving the minibus behind, and walking along the track towards the lagoons gave us good views of c25 Redfooted Falcons, with adults and immatures of both sexes feeding low over the marshes. Meanwhile a distant flock of c100 Collared Pratincole flew high over to the north, however sadly most of the group missed these. A flock of 9 Spoonbill moved south and Bearded Tit was heard and eventually seen, as was a Reed Bunting. Once at the lagoons there were several waders, mostly Little Stint, but also Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers and Spotted Redshank. Luckily another flock of c50 Collared Pratincole flew over, and although still fairly high the whole group saw them, while several small flocks of Lapwing was another addition to the already long trip list. One of the highlights here was a European Souslik, or European Ground Squirrel as it is also known, which gave good views on the lagoon embankment.
Next we moved to Istria, where a Long-legged Buzzard was perched on a Pylon and gave exceptional views both perched and in flight, with a total of three birds observed in the area. A Lesser Spotted Eagle was also noted flying over. A large body of water here held good wildfowl numbers, mostly Shoveler, however sadly the marshes were completely dry, and as a result virtually birdless, though a European Pond Terrapin and another European Souslik was noted.
Moving to Sinoie our final destination for the day, it was immediately clear the birdlife here was much more numerous. Once again large numbers of wildfowl were present, largely Shoveler with smaller numbers of Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Teal and Pintail. Waders were also present in good numbers with c40 Golden Plover and 3 Common Snipe new for the trip. Others included Curlew, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper and another Marsh Sandpiper, though surely the highlight was c10 Collared Pratincole, which gave reasonable views. In the fields bordering the marshes c300 Caspian Gulls were roosting with at least 5 Caspian Terns amongst them, one of which ventured down to the lake to drink, where views were much better. A Great White Egret also showed well here, though sadly two Spoonbills remained distant. Other noteworthy birds here included 3 White Pelicans that circled overhead, a single Dalmatian Pelican and several Purple Herons. Meanwhile an immature Gull-billed Tern begging an adult for food was unusual behaviour so late in the season. A small flock of 6 Bearded Tit was noted and Marsh Harriers were almost constantly visible.
With time pushing on and the long journey ahead of us back to the Lodge, this sadly had to conclude our Romanian excursion, but with many good birds encountered it certainly whet our appetite for what this country has to offer.

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