Monday, 10 July 2017

Bulgaria, June 2017 Part 9 Postscript

When you have the time to allow you to do so, it's amazing what late deals can be found but even at full price this particular holiday is excellent value.
The Bella Vista Beach Club wouldn't be my first choice venue as the day time activities are loud with a bit of a holiday camp atmosphere and the smoking I find hard to put up with.
As an aside I have written to Tui suggesting that they have the weight to try and encourage hotels to provide non smoking areas outdoors as well as indoors. As an individual you will get nowhere if you object to the hotel management but surely I can't be alone, maybe if everyone who objects wrote in we might get somewhere. It's not exactly difficult to implement after all. Anyway, I await a reply to my letter with interest.
The one unexpected factor we encountered were the number of children staying at the hotel too as we hadn't realised the school holidays start a lot earlier in Europe. The downside of the all inclusive set up is that parents allowed their children to help themselves from drink machines and ice cream tubs. The staff must be as frustrated as anyone at the mess they make. Personally for me it was the fact that some were licking the spoon before leaving it back in the ice cream.
That's my Mr Grumpy moment over so now back to the positives.
The surrounding countryside made escape from the crowds so very easy. I think a month earlier and the birdlife might be easier seen as well but the weather of course might be less settled. I'm not sure when the package tours start but you can of course fly to Sofia all the year round but it's a long drive to the coast which will take most of a day. Flying direct to Burgas with a charter flight is a great alternative.
Staying nearer to Burgas you do have the large expanse of wetlands on your doorstep and with a hire car could explore both north and south.
For me though no visit to Bulgaria can be complete without a visit to Trigrad Gorge and the magical Wallcreeper and that is certainly out of season for the Burgas flights as well as being some distance away.
Anyway, my blog pages about earlier trips will help you decide if Bulgaria is for you. 
I don't think you'd be disappointed though.

Bulgaria, June 2017 Part 8 One last time.

One last time, one last search in the hope of coming up with something interesting. Strangely the last day of a holiday usually does do just that for me so hopefully the same would apply today.
There was only one choice of direction really, I'd tried walking up the river route a couple of days before to find it impassable unless you had a pair of wellies or were prepared to take tour boots off. Instead I had stuck to the high ground of the woods in the opposite direction. A shame but such is life, who knows what I might have discovered heading that way.
It was down to butterflies again!
Balkan Marbled White   Melanargia larissa
It being Sunday though the beaches were a lot busier, even the small cove where the little Ringed Plover was nesting had a few people on it and to my dismay there was a family very close to where the nest was. One person was actually doing some beach combing within a few metres of the nest prodding and probing the shingle with a big stick, probably looking for shells.
I decided to take action!
Heading down to the beach and over to the lady with the stick who, I discovered, didn't speak English so I tried to put the message across doing my best chicken laying an egg impression. She looked bemused and nodded agreement.
My message had failed to get through and if anything I was likely to be taken away to the funny farm if she decided to phone for help!
There was only one thing to do, find the nest and show her. Without the bird being there to show me it took sometime to find it but when I did I noticed there were now 3 eggs.

Little Ringed Plover   Charadrius dubius

That was good news, and hopefully now I could show the lady she would stay well clear and instruct everyone else to do so too.
Other than my good deed for the day and a few more butterflies there wasn't much to report. A check on the Black Stork tree revealed it had left it's roosting spot which was to be expected many hours after the first sighting.
I returned to the hotel and to Claire up on the roof terrace. She told me there was a Sparrow nesting in the gutter which had been landing with materials all morning.
I was delighted to find it was a Spanish Sparrow and not the usual House Sparrow.
Spanish Sparrow     Passer hispaniolensis
My attempts to capture Swallows in flight were pretty poor.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
even worse than my efforts with the House Martins
House Martin   Delichon urbicum
I gave up!
Retreating to the shade of our room it was a few hours later I ventured out for one last look.
I was delighted to find that both of the Little Ringed Plovers were back on the beach now everyone had gone home. I'd have loved to monitor their progress further but hopefully it has had a happy ending. 
The Black Sea was once again looking very inviting now the sea had settled down again.
Cormorant    Phalacrocorax carbo
but I headed inland to the Stork roost.
It wasn't there but I could make out the outline of a European Roller, my first of the trip.
European Roller   Coracias garrulus
In trying to get on the right side of it to take advantage of the light I discovered something better!
Hermann's Tortoise  Testudo hermanni
Another tortoise and this time out in the open too, crossing a wide track.
Hermann's Tortoise  Testudo hermanni
As you can see it has a tick attached too.
Hermann's Tortoise  Testudo hermanni
Full of the tortoise's blood it will soon drop off though.
Horrible things!
By now the Roller had flown but there was one last interesting sight to witness.
A Shrike impaling it's Grasshopper victim on a thorn.
Red-backed Shrike   Lanius collurio
not so much to store it in a larder but to help it eat it's victim with greater ease than holding it.
Red-backed Shrike   Lanius collurio
bit by bit it ate the lot!
So that was it. Another trip almost over. 
One last beer in our favourite beach bar while watching someone struggle to launch their kite.
Kite runner
It was easier photographing that than birds though, especially in the beautiful magic hour light.
So, a return to the hotel, a last dinner and then home first thing in the morning with a pick up at 8.40am. Perfect, it's awful hanging around all day when you are packed and ready for the off.
Another trip over!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Bulgaria, June 2017 Part 7 The search goes on.

Over the next few days I must have wandered miles over the beaches and headlands and on deep in to the woods but my birding experiences were somewhat limited.
The hotel  we were staying in was home to hundreds of House Martins and despite the room cleaners attempts to destroy their nests whenever one was started on a room balcony the birds just began building all over again.
House Martin   Delichon urbicum
The recent rains had supplied a good supply of mud so the nests were going up as fast as they were coming down. I was one of the few that didn't have a pair on my balcony but with the neighbours we had for half our stay it's not surprising.
If one of them wasn't sleeping on the balcony after another drunken row.
Neighbours from hell
They were both out there chain smoking and being generally disgusting.
Neighbours from hell
That was the only complaint I had about our hotel.
The downstairs areas for outdoor eating, the pool bars and all the sunbed areas were full of smokers. It seems that Bulgarians are still addicted to the deadly weed but I , as a born again non smoker, am passionately anti smoking. Here in the UK only one in six adults still smoke and laws about smoking in public places are very strictly observed. 
Not so in Bulgaria.
All the indoor spaces in the hotel are non smoking but the hotel balcony is classed as outdoors by the management, they even provide ashtrays. In the UK a balcony with a roof over the top would be a no smoking area. 
One of the great joys for us northern folk is being able to eat in the great outdoors, again not pleasant when there is smoke wafting around everywhere.
Anyway, I had the woods and most paths largely to myself and that was worth the rest of it.
Remember that little beach I posted a picture of?
Silistar beach, SE Bulgaria
During the week it was deserted and I had a wander down there to see if there was anything around.
To my surprise on the patch of gravel at the far end I found a Little Ringed Plover sat on it's nest.
The give away was that the bird tried to draw me away from the nest otherwise I probably wouldn't have noticed as their camouflage is so good.
Little Ringed Plover   Charadrius dubius
Checking the nest area I discovered just the one egg.
Little Ringed Plover   Charadrius dubius
and after withdrawing to a safe distance I watched as the bird returned to sit on the nest once more.
Although most of the time I was seeing few species of birds I did find one or two new species for the trip as I went along.
Nothing spectacular
Pied Wagtail   Motacilla alba
Pied Wagtails and Starlings are common at home.
Common Starling  Sturnus vulgaris
Hooded Crows will cause a stir in North Wales.
Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix
and Common Whitethroat although not a rarity are only around in the summer months.
Common Whitethroat   Sylvia communis
Without a doubt though the biggest thrill was seeing a Cirl Bunting albeit very briefly.
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus
I'd only ever seen one once before. Mind you the Middle-spotted Woodpecker was a close second but they remained difficult to photograph.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker    Dendrocoptes medius
The locally common species at least gave me a chance to do better.
Corn Bunting    Emberiza calandra
Until I had something I was reasonably satisfied with.
Red-backed Shrike   Lanius collurio
but once again, I turned to insects to pass the time of day.
Some of them quite spectacular.
Really beautiful in fact.
Some are plain
Some are colourful
Scarlet Darter      Crocothemis erythraea
Some are pretty
Some are fascinating to look at
but the more you look the more you discover.
It's a violent world and there is horror unfolding all around us.
Balkan Marbled White and spider
The unsuspecting butterfly pounced on by a spider and what was happening with the ants I couldn't be sure.
The biggest one was being attacked by the other two and it appeared to have lost the fight too.
You are tempted it intervene but there is little point and it is after all the way of nature.
After the Legless Lizard my favourite find of the week was this tortoise which I stumbled across on a footpath.
Hermann's Tortoise  Testudo hermanni
I had to back off to get a photograph but my 500mm lens with a converter on was too much and by the time I had taken the converter off Mr Speedy was off.
Hermann's Tortoise  Testudo hermanni
He disappeared in to the thick undergrowth so I didn't get a decent shot after all. What a shame as the shell was stunning.
By now I was down to just one last day to look forward to. Claire and I had taken to wandering down to the beach for a little evening walk before having a beer or two in the most distant and quietest beach bar. 
It was on this second to last evening we discovered a Black Stork perched on a distant tree. One of the week's best birds and I didn't have my camera.
Would it be there again tomorrow? I doubted it but I would take a look anyway.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Bulgaria, June 2017 Part 6 Back on two feet.

With the poor weather seemingly behind us and with little point in hiring a car to venture anywhere nearby I had no other choices but to venture out on foot  everyday.
A simple choice of two directions.
Today it was over the headland and back in to the woods to see what I might find. 
Much the same as before but another attempt to better the photos.
Six-spot Burnet   Zygaena filipendulae
You can actually see the six spots on this one.
It's amazing how much time you can spend on one Grasshopper, especially when there are blades of grass getting in the way.
Some careful gardening required although not when your subjects (Carinal Butterfly?) land on a tall thistle.
Cardinal   Argynnis pandora
I  decided there wasn't much to be found in the woods, I'd walked for a couple of miles and heard the odd sound but nothing was clearly seen. I turned around to head back to the hotel only stopping when I saw this Southern Skimmer Dragonfly buzzing across two large puddles in the track.
Southern Skimmer  Orthetrum brunneum
With nothing else to photograph I waited a while to try and get something on this one but while doing so I heard a rustle in the dead leaf cover. 
Only this was different.
Walking along the track you are taken aback when a lizard darts for cover making a noise as it goes. I have too admit to jumping to one side on a couple of occasions, a natural reaction for me. I have seen Horned Viper in Bulgaria, Europe's most venomous snake.
This sound was the result of a slower, more deliberate movement.
My eyes suddenly caught on to what was making the noise.
Sheltopusik   Pseudopus apodus
It was too close for comfort as I hadn't a clue what I was looking at!
Backing off to a distance of 6 or 7 metres I watched as it headed my way.
Sheltopusik   Pseudopus apodus
Very slowly.
Sheltopusik   Pseudopus apodus
I think it was tired! But at least I could see it didn't have any fangs.
Sheltopusik   Pseudopus apodus
Onwards it came.
Sheltopusik   Pseudopus apodus
I was surprised it didn't seem to detect me despite my movement and proximity. It did however change direction after a while.
Sheltopusik   Pseudopus apodus
Sheltopusik   Pseudopus apodus
I spent ages just following it through the leaf litter as it searched from tree trunk to tree trunk
Sheltopusik    Pseudopus apodus
I was confident that we were both unafraid of each other but neither knew for certain if the other was a potential threat.
Sheltopusik    Pseudopus apodus
Getting a photo wasn't easy as the shade was dark and the dappled sunlight very bright. 
Sheltopusik   Pseudopus apodus
And with hindsight I wish I had had a smaller lens to try and get the whole of it's 70+cm length in the one shot.
I was barely distracted when a Nuthatch landed right next to me.
Eurasian Nuthatch   Sitta europaea

Eventually though I left the "snake" in peace to carry on it's journey through the woods.
I'd had an hours entertainment following the creature though and it was one of the highlights of the trip, if not the highlight.
Returning to the hotel I retreated to our room to try and "Google" an identity.
I came up with Javelin Sand Boa but my learned friend who lives in Bulgaria put me right when I posted a shot on the internet.
It's a Sheltopusik, also known as a Legless or Palas' Glass Lizard.
It had made my day whatever it was!