Monday, 15 June 2015

Bulgaria 2015 Day 8 & 9 Trigrad....and home of the Wallcreeper

When Mike and I had planned our original itinerary we had decided to leave the first and last nights free to allow some flexibility in travel. On the outward journey we anticipated being pretty shattered having left home at 3.00am and had broken the 364 mile journey to Durankulak at the end of the motorway near Bourgas. A sensible option as it turned out.
During the first evening at Durankulak we discussed our plans and host Pavel was of the opinion that for our last night a return via the Trigrad Gorge, home of the Wallcreeper was not a sensible option. My estimate for getting there as provided by ViaMichelin was 8.5 hours for the 364 mile journey. Pavel insisted it would take much,much longer.
He suggested we should go straight to Sofia which was 338 miles and 8.25 hours drive. There we would be able to visit a site for Firecrest,Goldcrest,Alpine Accentor and Nutcracker. My ears had pricked up at the sound of Nutcracker. It's one of those birds that you have on your list of "top want to see" as Wallcreeper had been the previous year.
The trouble was once seen is not enough for the Wallcreeper. We felt we had to go back as who knows if and when the chance would happen again.
The answer was simple really. We'd do both!
We decided that Day 8 would be written off to travel leaving at a reasonable time and not bothering with a final morning locally in Durankulak.
It turned out that ViaMichelin's estimate was about right. Including a stop for lunch it took 9 hours to get to Trigrad and we didn't go the way ViaMichelin had suggested either. Armed with a fairly large scale map provided by the hire car company we had relied largely on my portable SatNav. In actual fact the Sat Nav hasn't been updated for several years as I have a built in one in my car but I decided that most roads were unlikely to have changed during that period and I wasn't going to pay £50 to update it now as chances are I won't use it for another few years. 
With hindsight a mistake but not on this occasion.
Once off the motorway it was much slower progress up in to the mountains but the scenery was magnificent. Eventually we arrived at our destination.
Wallcreeper site
It was a bit late in the day to contemplate a photo session so instead we would return in the morning and instead prioritising finding somewhere to stay. On our previous visit we had been taken to lunch by our guide and it had been the best food we had had on the whole trip. We sought them out, agreed everything using Google Translate on my iPad and relaxed in the garden with a few beers.
Modern technology is , when it works, quite incredible. Here we were, the only guests in this mountain hotel which although pretty basic was clean and comfortable, and we could use a tablet to talk to the non English speaking owner as they had an excellent wifi connection. The only slightly strange thing was the owner could read my tablet but couldn't reply as I don't have a cyrillic keyboard!
Anyway, all worked out well. I can't remember what the total cost was but for two rooms, excellent meals and beers it was another bargain.
Next morning we left at near dawn and went in search of what else might be about. On the river we found Dipper. The light was still poor but it was my first opportunity to photograph a juvenile.
Dipper   Bulgaria
Then we messed about a bit. Me with Crag Martins, Mike with Black Redstart. Neither of us had success and we decided that it was silly not to prioritise the main attraction right from the off.
Car parking is very limited at the spot we wanted and it would be tragic if we couldn't get in!
We were first to arrive and were rewarded fairly quickly.
Wallcreeper   Bulgaria
That full frame shot taken on a  full frame camera, 500mm plus 1.4xTC gives you a clue as to how close the bird can get to you. This is probably the best site in Europe. It's not just the proximity of the bird though, it's the location which is simply stunning. The gorge echoes every sound which for most of the time is the river below and the bird sounds of Crag Martin. Occasional motor vehicles make quite a thunderous noise but don't seem to put off the Wallcreeper from this spot right on the road itself.
The most magical thing is you hear the bird before you see it. It's haunting song carries some distance but the bird is relatively tiny and not always easy to spot. It's grey feathering camouflaged well with the rock face until it opens it's wings then it looks magnificent.
Wallcreeper  Bulgaria
You are mesmerised but at the same time trying to capture that image.
Wallcreeper   Bulgaria
Photographically it's  a bit of a nightmare, down to this location as much as anything. On our photo tour visit the previous year we had been told that it was pointless going before 10.00am as the light is poor. After 10.00am the sun hits the rock face. 
The effect can be hard to cope with.
Here's a shot as it came out of the camera.
Wallcreeper   Bulgaria
With good light I have a high shutter speed to try and freeze the wing action but as you can see, contrasting light conditions make it had to judge what is required ! A small movement and the bird can be plunged in to deep shadow.
Fortunately I had managed a few shots I was happy with, well you think you are until you get home and lookout them on your computer screen!
Wallcreeper   Bulgaria
The bird seems to be on the move constantly but will stop in a nice warm patch of sunshine for a brief moment or two and open it's wings.
That's the photo opportunity and you need to consider every aspect of the cameras capabilities to decide how to go about it.
On this particular day we were blessed with several visits, more than we had had the previous year. We also had some slightly different poses too.
Wallcreeper   Bulgaria
Wallcreeper   Bulgaria
Wallcreeper   Bulgaria
but in the end the brilliant sunshine drew us to the conclusion that it was getting harder each visit.
We had originally planned to leave at 1.00pm by the latest to allow a bit of leeway on the 4.25 hour journey to Sofia as we then had to find our pre booked hotel and location. We might even get some evening birding in.
We packed up and left not long after 11.00am.
My best shots were probably taken on the earliest visits.
Wallcreeper   Bulgaria
To be honest though, it's more than just capturing the image.
Wallcreeper   Bulgaria
Trigrad had become a sort of pilgrimage. Wouldn't have missed it for the world !

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