Friday, 30 May 2014

Bulgaria Day 5 May 22nd 2014

The morning was to be a visit to the Stone Curlew nest hide. There would be two of us, Christian and myself. Mike had been the previous day and seemed  to have enjoyed some interesting sights as well as the nesting birds so , although it didn't fill me with enthusiasm particularly, I went with an open mind. It was essential we got to the permanent hide and set up a second bag hide as quickly and silently as possible. Then, ensconced in our individual hides positioned next to each other we had to remain as silent as possible to minimise disturbance.
Within minutes of us settling down the female returned to sitting on her nest from where she had run to on our arrival. Obviously the tactic is to leave the nest to avoid drawing attention to it. She soon settled down and all that could be seen was her head above the grass. The male was stood out in the open on a distant hillside about 100 metres away.
It was like a game of statues. For two and a half hours nothing happened, well not with the Stone Curlews anyway. They were motionless. We did have regular appearances by a pair of Wheatear though, there was a nest right in front of the hide in a pile of rocks.The female was a regular


Annoyingly there were a few blades of grass that got in the way of every shot and it would have taken seconds to clear them with a pair of shears, something one person could do while another had set up the second hide. There would be minimum disturbance I'm sure. On the other hand if you got lucky there was a chance that the wind blew them out of the way or the bird chose the best position.
The handsome male
Northern Wheatear
and a bit of cheating with my electronic sheers applied here at home !
We did get one or two distant views, this Calandra Lark just too far away for a detailed shot but gives a nice sense of what it was like watching the sun come up over the Steppe grasslands
Calandra Lark
After two and a half hours the male made a move. In short darts, and with extreme caution he worked his way towards the hide. As the bird approached the final 10 metres, for some reason I decided to video the scene, I don't know why but I missed the opportunity for some still shots and as soon as the egg sitting exchange had been made the female headed up the hill and stood behind a bush. I couldn't get a clear view although Christian sat only a metre away managed to see the bird. He passed me some video he had shot on his mobile phone to keep me occupied, at least I could see the bird that way. Time passed by, a distant Pallid harrier was seen as well as Magpie and Jay. We were both bored and took the decision to call for an early relief, it was 11.00am and the sun starting to get harsher. No sooner had the call been made than the birds decided to exchange positions again. My luck was in again !
Stone Curlew
Never looking at each other, constantly scanning the horizon the bird on the nest started to rise.
Stone Curlew
The exchange of position was made
Stone Curlew
And this time the bird remained close by to give some photo opportunities! I have never witnessed such furtive behaviour, cautious to the extreme.
Stone Curlew
Interesting birds but..... well, I was glad to get away and leave them in peace.
We had a quick look at a nearby site for Masked Shrike and I got one half decent shot.
Masked Shrike
Then we returned to the hotel for lunch. The plan for the afternoon had been a little vague, whatever it was to be probably needed to be local. The Black Woodpecker site had been requested by Christian for a second visit, Mike decided to try another Wryneck vigil.... you had to admire his determination... I didn't fancy watching a hole in a tree for several hours, and besides Mike had requested he went on his own as I was a fidget !!!! Total concentration and silence would be required, the Wryneck are known to be cautious. Despite it being the third bird on our target list I didn't want to spend the afternoon as I had done the morning, stuck in a small hide, even less to see. Instead I decided I would request another go in the mobile hide... a car . The tracks and bushes would offer some chances for Shrikes, I was particularly interested in Masked and Woodchat Shrikes, but who knows, I might find something else as well.
And so after lunch I set off with Miro, Mike, after dropping off Christian at the Woodpecker went off to the Wryneck nest with Nicloi. On the way there Miro asked me for a favour, would I mind driving myself while he sat in the Stone Curlew hide. I was a little taken aback. He being the wildlife enthusiast and expert I had hoped he would find me the birds ! I'm a soft touch though and agreed but first we needed to communicate. I didn't have a mobile but he had two. He rang one with the other to leave me the number as the last call received and sent so that I could ring him if needed and so off I went, feeling a bit irritated, not only by Miro but myself as well. I was meant to be the client, if I wanted a self drive holiday I could have one at a fraction of the price.
I checked to the Masked Shrike site first. The bird was there, but in a poor position.
Masked Shrike
I drove away. A pair of Barn Swallow were sat preening
Barn Swallow
I decided to check out the drinking hide pool, so I parked up the vehicle and went round the vehicle checking and locking each door with the key. The hide , the only permanent one  they use, was a mess. Mike had had a session there and it had provided nothing. I decided to forget the idea and went back to the van. Starting up the ignition I triggered the alarm. I hadn't realised there was a remote locking system on the key ! With the alarm going I got out and tried locking and unlocking the vehicle. It worked thankfully and yet despite the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere, a distant figure was walking my way. Embarrassing ! I started up the ignition and it happened again. Alarm. Figure getting closer. Embarrassment. I eventually figured it out and set off but not before the passing man had given me a bemused look !
Driving back on a local road I came across a female Black-headed Bunting, I was a bit confused on ID as I dan't knowingly seen one before.
Black-headed Bunting
The males are so obvious the females less so.I'd hoped it might be Ortolan but that remains on my unseen list to this day.
Suddenly, on the other side of the road I noticed the male Black-headed Bunting was sat but much better still, a single Rose-coloured Starling remained from the huge flock of a couple of days previous.
I lined up the camera for a shot.
Rose-coloured Starling
and then the "I don't believe it" moment. The phone rang ! The Starling heard it, the Bunting flew. It was Miro. In very hushed voice, he was near the Stone Curlew nest remember, he asked "You rang me, you have problem ?" I replied that I didn't and he realised that the missed call he had was the one that put the number on the phone he had left me. He'd actually rung himself half an hour ago when he was with me but he'd only just noticed it on the phone ! Agh !!!!!
Fortunately the Starling was made of sterner stuff than the Bunting, in fact the Bunting having flown was an advantage and I got my first ever decent shot of the species.
Rose-coloured Starling
There were Lesser Grey Shrike in the area but their known territory tended to be inaccessible in the vehicle but suddenly, I spotted what I believed  was one of the pair at the top of a nearby bush. I managed a few shots as it performed acrobatics catching flies as they passed. It was only when I got home I discovered to my disappointment that it's a Wheatear behaving in a manner I haven't seen before.
Then another "I don't believe it"  moment sent the bird flying. The phone had rang again ! This time it was Nicloi who was a bit surprised to hear my voice but explained he needed to speak to Miro as his vehicle had broken down ( as it did on a daily basis it seemed). I told him I'd get Miro to ring back but the minute I hung up, the phone went in to the locked position and I couldn't figure out how to unlock it !  This was getting a bit farcical. I decided to head back to Miro without any pre warning stopping to take a shot of a Tawny Pipit.
Tawny Pipit
A good bird as I hadn't managed to take a decent one of the only other I remember seeing , and that had been a fortnight earlier in Lesvos.
Two text messages came through. They were not for me but they might be important, no one but myself knew that Miro didn't have his phone. I decided to open them and in doing so it unlocked the phone. I could now phone Miro which I did, without reading the text's. Miro was instructed to ring Nicloi to sort out his problem, he than rang me and we made arrangements for me to pick him up in an hour. Nicloi was sorted.
In due course I went to pick him up knowing that we needed to be as quick as possible to minimise disturbance. I decided to stop the vehicle just over the hill from the Stone Curlews to make sure the back tailgate door was open so everything could be thrown in quickly. It was, but when I started up the ignition the alarm went off again. After a couple of attempted solutions it seemed to have worked.
Thankfully, it hadn't happened by the nest !
 I picked Miro up and off we went, but first we needed to top up the fuel, then meet Nicloi who had actually broken down at the hotel, to swop vehicles for Nicloi to pick up Mike.
I requested that I went too as there was still the best of the evening light available so I might get some shots in yet. It seemed Nicloi was 30 minutes late for picking up Mike so he asked if we could go and get him first. Passing some superb opportunities I readily agreed though. Mike would be bored out of his box sat looking at the tree. Distant storm clouds were gathering but we were still in sunshine. Nicloi went to collect Mike and his bag hide while I remained in the van but he was soon back with the news that Mike wanted another hour as the Wryneck was in the nest ! He'd had four hours, he must have had some amazing shots. He'd had enough time on his own..I wanted a piece of the action too so decided to put a hide up next to his. If he thought I was a fidget before, I don't know what he thought this time because shut up in his hide he wasn't aware of what was going on outside. Suddenly there was a huge disturbance as I set my tripod, complete with my 500mm and brand new camera body attached, fell over and hit the ground. Embarrassed as well as concerned about my gear, I got in to my bag.
Mike seemed OK about it ! Anyway, before long the wind came up, then the clouds arrived and the start of a heavy rain shower which in all probability would stay for the duration. We decided to get out before it was too late and headed back to the van where Nicloi had parked up. Back in the van, Mike described his afternoon, how furtive the bird was. At first just the tip of the bill was showing, then half an eye. Eventually a full eye and then he got his shot. Fully expecting to be pig sick at the site of his superb capture I asked to see it. He did deserve to get something good with the effort he'd put in.
He showed it to me.
"Is that it?" I asked.
He was visibly taken aback.
"Is that it ? It took me hours to get that which you have just dismissively looked at"
Apologetic,I acknowledged that at least he'd seen the bird which was more than I had. Well, he'd seen about 10% of it, and had got an excellent picture of the bit he had seen !
Today had been farcical in every way. It wasn't over yet though ! What had happened to Christian in the Black Woodpecker hide ? Well he had found himself surrounded by machete wielding gypsies cutting firewood and creating a disturbance. One of the texts that had been sent through to me earlier had been a message to tell Miro he was leaving the hide. By the time Miro had read it Christian had walked back to the hotel which was some distance carrying all your gear. The other three had been to the Wallcreeper site but they too had fallen out with Lucky, their driver. Over what I never did find out but relationships had been soured there for some reason.
Whatever, they wouldn't be seeming much of him the next day because it had been arranged that Mike and I would move on to a new location on our way to the airport, stopping overnight for our last night somewhere different. The reason ? We had been assured that a contact there could show us Wryneck, as well as Hoopoe and Cuckoo, we also had an opportunity to spend time in a drinking pool hide too. We would set off on Friday lunch time using the harsh light of the day to travel.
We had one last morning in Bratsigovo, the question was how to spend it.
As we were going with Lucky, and his car was unsuitable for off road, the best option was the Bee-eater hide. Mike was in favour as his session the previous day had left much to be desired, Christian also wanted to do Bee-eaters on his last full morning too. I would have loved to have gone back to the Black Woodpeckers but indications were that they were about to fledge. A new guest had arrived that evening and it was only fair he had a crack at the 'peckers. I advised him he should ask to go, he told me he had been advised to go by the boss, Emil, who was now back in the hotel as he'd picked up the new guy from the airport.
With nothing much else open to me I said I would go looking for Shrikes in the area I had intended to but never made the previous evening once again
You never know, might get something worthwhile !

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