Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Bulgaria Day 1 May 18th 2014

Down to breakfast a tad bleary eyed despite a shower I was greeted by the rest of the guys who were clients but not part of our trip although it didn't make any difference in the end anyway. We were all in it together. Four Germans and myself and Mike. Fortunately they spoke excellent English and became good friends over the coming days, in fact they helped to make the trip more memorable as we had some good laughs with them too. They had chosen what they were doing for the day, Mike and I were to be escorted by Emil, the company owner, to do some car and hide photography.
Off we set and were soon in the hills up above the town and glorious it was too. The previous night's rain had gone and was replaced by beautiful sunshine.
Bulgaria 41
We were off to a great start and soon photographing Red-backed Shrikes

Red-backed Shrike 2014-05-18

and Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting 2014-05-18
Moving on to a different area we were invited to try the drinking station and two bag hides were set up while Emil went off in search of a nesting site for use later.
Here's Mike!
Bulgaria 8
and this is my view from inside
Bulgaria 6
Actually the view was much sharper but since I dropped my little pocket camera it hasn't been quite the same !
As you can see, an old wall with a built in spring, a muddy patch and not too many birds either. In fact I didn't get to take any decent images at all despite sitting in the hide for what seemed an age.
When we spotted a herd of cattle coming our way we wondered what might happen next !
Cow herd 2014-05-18
Fortunately they were herded away from our path but the guarding dogs came our way.
Big Dog 2014-05-18
The male was a huge brute and you feel distinctly vulnerable when you know it's behind you and barking in a rather aggressive sounding manor. Needless to say we survived unscathed and as soon as a rather jubilant Emil returned, he'd found his quarry...Stone Curlew.... we headed back to the hotel for lunch.
Lunch time was an chance to spell out to everyone some of the photo opportunities that were available during the coming week. Some could only be done by one person others by two, even three if it was car photography.  Mike and I had already agreed three birding target priorities before arriving and we were delighted all three were on the list of possibilities open to us. One was Wryneck and that's where we headed in the afternoon along with Christian, one of the German guys. The other three were heading to a Hoopoe nest site which was only 40 or 50 metres away so we set off in convoy of two vehicles. On the way there a Horned Viper was seen crossing the road and our driver, Miro, a snake expert jumped out and using a stick prevented her ( he identified it as female) from disappearing into the roadside undergrowth.
Northern Horned Viper 2014-05-18
The Horned Viper is Europe's most venomous snake but that didn't stop Miro from picking it up by it's tail and risking being bitten. Placing it on a rock , the snake seemed to calm and posed for ages while we all took photo's at leisure.
Northern Horned Viper 2014-05-18 (8)
We even had time to change lenses and experiment with settings !
Northern Horned Viper 2014-05-18 (6)

The snake eventually slid off and we carried on to our designated nesting sites. Three of us were lined up in our bag hides and the vigil began. Would the Wryneck appear, it wasn't certain it would but all eyes were on a hole in a tree.
With nothing else to see it became rather boring after a couple of hours so it was decided to abandon the mission and instead investigate a flock of Rosy Starlings seen by Emil who was out spotting new possible locations still. We drove over to the reported area, 5 of us in two car convoy but the Starlings had flown from the roadside fields to more distant trees. The best views we had were the occasional fly overs, a bit disappointing for me but not so Mike who had got some cracking images at home when one had turned up locally a year or so ago. What was most significant though was that our vehicle broke down so we were transferred in to the rescue vehicle which was Emil. A roadside curb crawl produced some point blank close ups of Corn Bunting, a very common sight.
Corn Bunting 2014-05-18
but best of all Isabelline Wheatear, a species I thought I'd seen in Lesvos but probably not as it later turned out. This time it was a certainty.
Isabelline Wheatear 2014-05-18 (3)
With the light fading fast our first day was over save dinner and we reflected it had been a bit of a mixed day really with highs at the beginning and end and not much except the snake in between, in fact for me the snake was the highlight although not so much for Mike who has a less comfortable time in their proximity !
Ah well, tomorrow was another day. Dinner first !
The meal was less than memorable but the beer was free flowing as well as free. A good time was had by all.

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