Right from the outset Mike and I had decided on our top three targets for the trip, so far we had achieved the Black Woodpecker, failed as yet on the Wryneck but hadn't yet had a try for our undisputed number one..... Wallcreeper !
This little bird is high on nearly every birder's wish list for many reasons but I guess it being difficult to see increases the desirability. They are found at highish altitude between 1000-3000m and choose the most inaccessible rock faces to live, feed and breed. Did we really stand a chance of seeing one ?
We had waited until the first day of forecast solid sunshine as we were told the lighting in the gorge where the bird was to be found was pretty poor and it was best to wait until the sun was likely to illuminate the rock face. Just to add an extra element, the sun only illuminates the rock for a couple of hours a day, the rest of the time it's in shadow.
The original suggestion put to us was all 6 of us went on the first day. I made comment that that wasn't the best idea as it would mean other single person hides being empty for a whole day, besides if the whole group failed to see the bird they would all have to return the next day. No a better idea was to split in two, if group one failed, group two would spend the second day looking, and if they failed we could all decide if it was worth spending a third day( and our last) or whether the better option was to abandon the idea. Not exactly rocket science, it would need two cars for everyone anyway so it made good sense to go on separate days. I was surprised our guides hadn't thought of it too, but the boss had not been seen since day one as he was away somewhere looking for new sites. The three guides were not sufficiently experienced at organisation in my opinion.
Anyway, Mike, myself and Christian were the first party to go in search of the elusive quarry ! It was a couple of hours drive but there was no point setting off too early because of the light. We had a lie in , leaving at 7.00am ! The journey took us up in to the mountains past some spectacular scenery and massive damns. At one point we saw some low flying Alpine Swifts, a species I have yet to photograph, but it was decided to press on as the longer we had, the more chance of seeing a Wallcreeper !
On arrival we were relieved there were only three,well four with our guide.
We were parked in a small lay by with room for a couple of cars but as it was right on the road and the rock face rose vertically on the other side, we had to step over the crash barrier on to a small patch of ground to set up our tripods. There was a sheer drop behind us so care was necessary !
Looking up the gorge the view was as this
Equally spectacular looking the other way too
There wasn't much traffic but a couple of cars stopped to take scene shots, one party in particular made us very nervous ( well Mike and me particularly) as they say right on the edge of the drop on an area of slippery grass and gravel.
There was no sign of a Wallcreeper but there were a lots of Crag Martins about. Sticking my 300mm f2.8 on the camera I decided to have a go at a flight shot.
My camera was set up for auto ISO and I was amazed how it coped. However, despite me never having photographed one before I decided I would not be distracted from the main target. I returned to the 500mm with a 1.4TC on. We were waiting for the sun to come around and illuminate the cliff face when suddenly we heard a strange sound. It was totally unexpected, the Wallcreeper had flown in under our radar totally unnoticed and had began to sing. The call was quite amazing and something I wish I could share., It was nothing like the guide books description, in fact our guide said he'd never heard anything like it before.
The sound was haunting, a call for a mate but a sad yet sweet high pitched tune. Absolutely mesmorising and an absolute delight. What a bonus !
Capturing a picture was the next objective. The bird is only small, around the size of a Great Tit, but the colours are spectacular when it opens its wings.
Trouble is it opens and closes them in a fluttering motion and at high speed.
Hopping in and out of variable light was a photographic challenge and I opted for sticking with auto ISO and concentrating on freezing the action with higher shutter speeds.
Because the bird is so small I decided to stick a 2.0x TC on my 500mm lens which exacerbates the lighting problems. Maybe I should have settled for less reach ?
This one is the bare 500mm at f4, 1/4000th second to get the action frozen and ISO3200
Ah well, there were so many things I wished I had tried but during our 2.5 hours we had 4 visits and it still wasn't enough time. I have to settle for what I got which is a lot better than a lot of people have had the opportunity of.
We tried for flight shots but that is really hard !
A tiny dot on the rock face across the gorge, this is magnified around 10x by the 500mm lens !
Cropping the image doesn't give much better view
only an idea of how spectacular it could look !
I tried picking the bird up with a TC on my 500mm and tracking it across the gorge with no luck at all. I should have tried the 300mm with a 1.4 TC but I had lent that to our guide. Oh well, the what if's are part of the learning curved as well as the post event frustrations !!!!
As the sun was now out of sight we decided to go for lunch, it must have been 2.00pm. We had what was one of the best meals I ate in Bulgaria , It's called potatnik, but the spelling could be different. Sadly it had been pre ordered and was tepid but extremely tasty. We ordered meatballs on the side when we arrived and at last we enjoyed some hot food !
Pallid Swifts were nesting in the eaves of the roof and I managed a couple of distant shots, another species to add to my album.
Well satisfied we headed off back towards the hotel, hoping the Alpine Swifts were still around. By now though the harsh sunlight made it impossible and the birds were not to be seen anyway. Not to worry.
Back in Bratsigovo late afternoon we decided to have another go at Souslik. Mike hadn't been yet and my images were less than satisfactory. It was something to pass an hour or so. I found my burrow and waited. It was a battle of wills. The little head was poking slightly out of the hole and I knew he'd come out eventually and after lying still for 20 minutes up he popped !
Souslik hold your attention for a while but the call of a beer had more appeal. We had success stories to share when we got back and we unanimously decided to call it a day !