Day 6; Wed. 23 February 08:00 breakfast for a 09:00 departure, the morning breezy, clear and mild. With baggage packed we set off north for Varna, stopping by Pomorie salinas on the way out. A tentative exploration along a dyke led to a succession of adventures for the passing would-be rescue vehicles that generously stopped to help tow us out, after our vehicle faltered and stranded in mud. First a medium-side truck, then a lorry, and finally a professional rescue contractor's truck floundered in the developing wallow - the day ultimately saved by a tiny Lada Niva which extricated the queue without difficulty. The weather was very nice, we lost just a couple of hours and added Redshanks and White-Wagtails to the bird list.
Our next stop was at the Pine Bunting 'hot-spot' by Banja, where we had our picnic lunch (13:00). A short way on we took the spur road to Cape Ermine where birdlife was comparatively sparse but nonetheless worthwhile. From the clifftops we could see Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea, and a good example of a Yellow-legged Gull (L. c. michahellis) flew by. Scattered bushes on the plateau produced a confiding Woodlark, two Sombre Tits and large numbers of Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers and Goldfinches.
Continuing north we reached Gorica for a coffee-and-home-made-rakia stop at the summer retreat of Pavel's genial father. During the break a Green Woodpecker was heard calling. A final and brief stop was made at the outflow of the Kamchia River, where rainfall dulled enthusiasm for exploration. We reached Hotel Orbita, our base for the night in Varna, at 18:00, later visiting an excellent restaurant for a most enjoyable last meal accompanied by folk music cabaret. - a fitting conclusion to the tour.

Day 7; Thu. 24 February 06:30 reveille for 07:00 breakfast before departure to the airport, weather in Varna extremely misty. After bidding our farewells to Pavel we boarded our flight for Sofia (scheduled for 09:30) which took off two hours late owing to the early mist. Onwards travel from Sofia was more or less on time, arriving at London Heathrow 16:10 thus concluding the tour.

Notes/Comments Winter tours within Europe by their nature tend to be modest affairs with regards to the amount of wildlife seen. This turned out to be the exception, with 105 species of birds and five mammals seen during just five full days in the field. But accruing numbers is not what our tours are about, quality of sightings being our main aim, in which respect I would like to believe there would be unanimous agreement that we achieved just that. Luck is always essential, and we certainly had it on our side with the weather and the numbers of geese still present. The event had been developed with Red-breasted Geese as a main theme, and what a memorable occasion it was to watch 5000 or more of these glamourous birds lift en masse during our lunch stop on that first day. For most of the other 'hoped-for' birds we had very good views: Pygmy Cormorant, Dalmatian Pelican, Ruddy Shelduck, Ferruginous Duck, Syrian Woodpecker, Calandra Lark and Sombre Tit etc. And, although we generally don't focus on rarities, it has to be said that the Pine Bunting was well worth the effort. Mammals were few, but the Jackal (the live one!) was a notable coupe. Wildlife aside, I'm quite sure that locational content, visits to some very special environments, comfortable well-located hotels, good food and good company are collective ingredients that also weigh importantly into final appraisal of the adventure. Ultimately the overall experience could not have been so full and rewarding without the great expertise and tireless efforts of our guide and driver Pavel, whose unerring sharp-eyed vigilance ensured that we didn't miss a thing. And, although getting the vehicle stuck in mud must have been a tremendously stressful experience for him at the time, I would like to reassure Pavel that it did not detract from enjoyment of the tour - and will simply remain a memory that constitutes a source of ongoing amusement.

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