Thursday, 28 May 2015

Bulgaria 2015 Day 5 The Tower hide.

Up at the crack of dawn, a quick double espresso and off we went, me in the driving seat. Some of the back country roads are extremely pot holed but whilst maintaining a reasonable speed I managed to avoid most of them. The headlights picked up a Wild Cat as it disappeared into the long undergrowth besides the road and a little way further on we came across a Nightjar sat in the road. It was another "lifer" for me. I have seen them in India and Africa but never the Common Nightjar we get here in Europe. Sitting perfectly still in the headlights we could have attempted photographs but we were on a mission. Sergey had instructed we had to be in the hide by 5.30 am to avoid disturbance and we decided he had miscalculated the dawn slightly, it seems to be getting light earlier than predicted.
We made it with 10 minutes to spare and in the dark and with the aid of a torch which fortunately Mike had brought we gingerly made the ascent up in to the hide.
Seen here in daylight you can see the way we had to go !
Once inside we settled down in anticipation of what might be. Named the "Oriole hide" we obviously had high hopes of capturing some half decent image of this shy beauty.
First visitor was this Great Spotted Woodpecker. In very low light the best shutter speed I could get was 1/60th of  a second. Provided the bird stayed still it might be OK.
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When it started drilling on the wood it was just a blur but then it flew under the hide and started drilling against the metal supports. What a racket ! All our efforts to get there early to minimise disturbance and we could barely hear ourselves think ! Oh well, after a while it left and then we had it.
The first visit from the male Oriole. What a stunner!
Unfortunately I got the shot all wrong. Still on a low shutter speed of 1/80th sec and the lens wide open with a 1.4 TC now attached to my 500mm lens I lacked sufficient depth of field leaving the bottom half of the bird out of focus. Ah well, hopefully it might return.
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It could have been worse of course
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I could have had the bottom half sharp and a blurred head!
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We photographers are never satisfied. We had had a result and now I was already thinking it's not good enough!
What happened next was even more so !
An Ortolan Bunting landed. It was another "lifer". Fantastic !
I immediately got the camera on it and pressed the shutter button.
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Quick, before it flies. That's a strange pose, there must be a raptor about.
Unbelievably the male landed and I was still ready with my finger on the button.
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I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Pure luck!
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I had previously increased my shutter speed to 1/320th of a second but it clearly wasn't enough.
A mixture of elation and disappointment. You don't get chances like this very often and you have to make the most of them when you do. I felt I hadn't.
Oh well, before long the next visitor was on one of the dead branches of the walnut tree.
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The light was getting better all the time, shutter increased to 1/500th was starting to get sharper images.
Two Turtle Doves on a distant wire were starting to get very friendly. The male going through the routines but the female didn't seem too keen and flew off with him following.
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We saw quite a few Turtle Doves but they are very flighty, probably as they have recently flown the gauntlet of Malta and Cyprus and enjoyed being shot at many times. This was the only record shot I took.
With the light now improving rapidly I got my first shots of the female Oriole. From my position in the hide I was the lucky one who could get on to it.
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Two hours gone and we had had a fair amount of excitement. We had been warned that after 9.00am the chances were it would not be worth staying for more Oriole shots. It was already 7.30am.
Suddenly the female returned and this time in plain view of everyone. It showed openly for several minutes but as you can see, not at her best.
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Sergey has another hide in the garden, complete with drinking pool.
Another bird which seemed elusive and yet extremely common was the male Red-backed Shrike. Very strange, the females were far more confiding, the males off the minute you got anywhere near close. A pair landed right in front of us.
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and not long afterwards this lovely Jay
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It was now 8.55 am, Mike and I were discussing what we would love to see next and both had mentioned a repeat visit of the Ortolans. As if we had a magic lamp they appeared and this time I was ready the minute I recognised the pose !
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Down he came as expected
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Even at 1/2000th of a sec there was still motion blur.
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but I was much happier with these shots.
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That was it , all over in a fraction of a second it seems.
It was past 9.00 am now, only by 2 minutes but the Oriole hasn't got a watch.
I would have missed this shot if Mike hadn't pointed out the bird had landed. I was shooting something else!
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Things did go quiet, perhaps 9.00am was the end of the action but then at 9.40 we had some cracking views of the male Red-backed Shrike.
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an straight afterwards the female Ortolan returned yet again.
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Unfortunately the male landing was aborted. I was left to rue the clipped wing and that was the last we saw of them. Still, I was very happy with what I had got.
Ortolan Bunting   BulgariaPretty satisfied already but there was more to come though. Defying predictions the male Oriole returned at 10.30.
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By now the wind had picked up a little and the leaves of the Walnut tree were being blown across my view. Once again the bottom half of the Oriole not as I would have liked but not a total disaster.

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Happy days indeed. With this amount of luck what could happen next !
In fact it was a House Sparrow. Even they look really good when they want to.
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We couldn't really ask for more. Mike and I both have a ambition to photograph Wryneck and we had hoped we might just get lucky here but it was not to be. However, we did get an opportunity with the Lesser Grey Shrike. These birds tend to stay at the top of the trees so photographing them is not always easy. The tower hide was ideal.
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We only had one visit but it offered a few alternative poses.
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although sometimes as with other birds, the wrong side of the branch was chosen.
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With the sun getting brighter and the temperature hotter we decided to leave the hide. Cautiously descending the narrow spiral steps.
We had though about returning in a few hours but eventually decided that we would return to Durankulak.
The whole trip was judged a success. Great hotel, for me three "lifers", well birds anyway. Mammals seen included the Wild Cat en route , and from the tower hide we also had a Golden Jackal in the fields below us. Locally we saw a Fox too. All in all enough to take the decision to go back to base.
Later in the after noon we went down to the reed beds on the edge of the Sunflower fields to see what was about. Not a lot in truth and the only addition to my photo portfolio for the trip was a Tree Sparrow pretending to be a warbler.
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No, this wasn't where I wanted to be. I had spent the last few days thinking about the Little Stints, the breeding plumaged Curlew Sandpipers and Grey Plovers.
We had the hides, tomorrow we would stake them out !

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Bulgaria 2015 Day 4 Bee-eater hide

Way back last year in the early planning stages of our trip we had decided that we would allow a free night at either end of our travels to enable us to a) break the journey and b) hopefully stop off at Trigrad for a second year running. The lure of the Wallcreeper too strong to resist. We had also discovered the web site of Sergey Panayotov
We considered staying there too but the basic accommodation and self -catering didn't appeal however we had ascertained that there was availability during our stay at Branta. Discussions with Pavel over dinner that Saturday night revealed he had a strong interest in visiting too. He'd never been but was keen to take a look and hopefully get Sergey to enrol in his "Bed and Birding" concept website business.

Pavel was also somewhat dismissive of the fact we could travel from Durankulak to Trigrov in the 8 hours 30minutes I claimed ViaMichelin forecast. He seemed to suggest we should head to Mount Vitosha on the outskirts of Sofia which offer good chances to see Nutcracker and Alpine Accentor. A very tempting alternative we agreed.
Pavel had agreed to half a day's birding with his German guest , we were happy to travel to Sergey's alone. Pavel wanted to come too. We arrived at a plan. The German, who didn't have transport could borrow Pavel's Pajero. He would come with us in our hire car to Segey's hides. Instead of the usual 120 euro guiding fee it would cost us 50. He wouldn't charge us for the night we planned to stay away from Branta but we would pay his hotel bill. The cost of the two hides was 70 euro a day which went to Sergey. We agreed to that arrangement and confirmed that we would leave mid morning.
First we had some early morning birding to do. Mike and I set off at around 6.00am.
Splitting up down on the beach I found a good spot to concentrate on the Great Reed Warblers.
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As they edged up the reeds they became more open to photography without the foreground clutter of reed stems.
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When they were fully in song the decibel output is more than impressive ! They don't half let rip.
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Satisfied with my efforts I moved on to getting better shots of the Black-headed Yellow Wagtail.
Yellow Wagtail
That too was singing, a far more melodious tune as well.
With his tail splayed a different view too.
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The Yellow Wagtail has a host of sub species, this is the most attractive to me.
After tipping off Mike where best to find them I went in search of the singing Golden Oriole. Extremely shy by nature getting a decent shot is a tough ask.
Golden Oriole   Bulgaria
The tower hide we were due to visit in two days time would hopefully offer better but at least I had a record shot.
Rejoining Mike for the last 30 minutes before breakfast we watched as two Cuckoo chased each other around the locality offering some great flight shots. With this one I was more than happy with the days work and it wasn't even 9.00am yet.
Cuckoo     Bulgaria
Breakfast done we headed inland to first visit the Bee-eater hide. No matter how often you see them they still have that allure, the chance to capture the perfect flight shot perhaps ?
Things didn't quite work as planned. There weren't too many Bee-eaters to begin with and the ones that were there seemed to prefer the perches on the distant opposite side of the road instead of the single perch in front of our hide which was above their nest holes.
What was the reason?
This was !
We had the most amazing displays on a regular basis from this extremely possessive and aggressive Starling who had claimed the perch as his own as it was just above his nest hole. The noise and movement of the bird was more than impressive.
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We were captivated.

Well for the first few visits anyway
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After a while we were wishing it would allow the Bee-eaters to give us some opportunities but to be fair will we ever see such a display again ?
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Make hay while the sunshine's is a sensible approach !
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We did get a few Bee-eater visits but they were few and far between and usually the only bird to land on the perch was a rather scruffy individual too !
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At least the bird did bring back a Bee instead of some other insect that has happened all too frequently in the past !
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An opportunity to catch the bird disgorging a pellet was missed too
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It just wasn't to be my day, I'll be interested to see what shots Mike got sitting next to me !
The one interesting visit though was this Isabelline Wheatear.
Isabelline Wheatear  Bulgaria
Other than that the only other species to drop by was a Jay.
Not the best of days from a photo hide, in the end we were glad to get out and have a stretch.
Bee-eater hide
However, our day wasn't over yet. We had had no part in choosing the overnight accomodation and when I initially saw it I thought this is going to be expensive. There was no signage outside, the roadside had a high security fence around the grounds.Inside it was a definite 4* quality modern build. We were however the only guests I think. Certainly we were the only car in the car park although there was one person having a beer in the garden. There appeared to be only two members of staff although there were apparently 30 bedrooms.
The bedroom balconies overlooked a large fishing lake 

and to our delight we found a Little Owl perched on the roof edge.
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He eventually flew down in to the garden so we followed it down. I managed a couple of shots from a more natural looking perch before it flew off again.
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As we found ourselves on the bar terrace we decided we might as well have a couple of beers before dinner. In fact we decided it was warm enough to have dinner there too.
The cost of a most delicious and substantial 3 course meal, beers and overnight accommodation plus the staff getting up at 4.00am to make us coffee all for the incredible sum of 86 euros or just over £60.
For all three of us!!!
Our own individual rooms each included of course !!!
Amazing !!!!

Anyway, next day we were up early as we had to be inside the Tower Hide by 5.30am to minimise disturbance. It was probably a 45 minute drive and we didn't want to cut it too fine . An early bed was called for and I went to sleep dreaming of the prospects ahead.
Did my hopes come to fruition... that follows next.