Member’s Trip Reports – 2014

Viz – Mig near Gib. A few days in Southern Spain 

Charles and Fiona Sayer

 24/3: Flight from Stanstead to Malaga. Drive to Facinas, a small town about 20k North of Tarifa and 4k from the Atlantic coast – an ideal spot to witness North-bound migration in Southern Spain.

25/3: We had a look up the Ojen valley which leads inland from Facinas into the sierras. This is an extensive area of typical Mediterranean scrub with cork oaks and pasture and makes a beautiful drive.  The road itself also leads into some spectacular craters which I was banned from attempting! Griffons were visible pretty much straight away – they are a real ‘spec-saver bird’ ie. If you don’t see one [ or even hundreds ] you should consider a trip to the aforementioned optician. Other raptors started appearing soon after 10.00am, notably a spiral of 50+ Black Kites. Booted Eagles came in singles and Short Toed Eagles were hanging in the wind over the ridges but the star of the show was an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle. A flock of 30 Bee Eaters flew through, calling evocatively as they passed. In the scrub were the usual suspects – Sardinian Warbler, Dartford Warbler, a cracking Black Eared Wheatear and Woodchat shrike. Stonechats were everywhere.

26/3: Down to the coast overlooking Morocco for raptor watching. Initially picked a site that was about 2k too far west. Several Lesser Kestrels came in, but the main action was just out of range. This required a quick relocation to Cabo Secreta, a promontory with a lighthouse, close to Gibraltar. Booted Eagles could be seen about 2 miles out to sea coming in low. They reached the cliffs, picked up the thermals, and came overhead at eyeball level. They were arriving singly at 100/hour – spectacular stuff. Also in the mix were Peregrine [1], Goshawk [1], Sparrowhawk [4], Kestrel [6], Lesser Kestrel [10], Marsh Harrier [1] and a few Kites.

The wind in the southern tip of Spain is likely to take the first time visitor unawares. If your hat blows off, it will land in Sicily – so no surprise then that from our balcony in Facinas we could see 325 wind turbines. The wind direction and strength therefore has a profound effect on where the migrating birds fly over. If you get the wrong site you are in for empty skies. Move a few miles and there can be raptors everywhere.

27/3: Repeated yesterday’s site, but arrived earlier. Kites were the first to arrive. In 90 minutes there were 6 flocks each with between 20 and 40 birds. Very few singles came over, and most flocks were mixed with Red Kites among the Black. They passed over very high and separating the 2 species was quite tricky. A few Booted Eagles were noted together with a selection of falcons. As we left there was a thermal of 100+ Griffons.

We ate a picnic lunch overlooking the Tarifa sierras. 3 Hobbies passed over and a few Lesser Kestrels.  12 Common Kestrels were hunting over the ridge in front. Hirundines were moving through continually and a selection of Larks with Corn Buntings and Stonechats were in the fields all around.

28/3: From first light large numbers of Hirundines and Swifts could be seen moving relentlessly northwards along a broad front between Facinas and the coast. We watched this spectacle for about an hour. The hirundines were very low – scrub height – in groups of about 10 or 20. We must have seen several 1000. Mostly Barn Swallows, but there were plenty of Sand Martins, House Martins, Crag Martins and Red Rumped Swallows. The swifts flew higher – again many 100’s – Pallid, Common and Alpine.

At all times Blackcaps were abundant. An early morning stroll through cork oaks and olive trees on the edge of allotments and gardens in Facinas produced 40 Blackcaps in about 100 yards. In fact everywhere was alive with them.

29/3: On the way to Montejaque we dropped in at the Laguna de Medina near Jerez. This is quite a big lake and thousands of hirundines – but no swifts – were feeding low over the water in persistent light rain. A selection of rather distant waterfowl was on view with Red Crested Pochard, Shoveler, Mallard, Coot, Great Crested and Little Grebes. 2  Purple Gallinules were in reeds directly below the hide. 3 Whiskered terns added interest. The usual warbler selection – Cetti’s, Reed, Chiffchaff, Willow, Fan Tailed, Sardinian and yet again 100’s of Blackcaps.

After an hour we continued on to the Ronda sierras at Montejaque – a pueblos blanco [white village] and caught up with a few altitudinal species. Plenty of Black Wheatears, Black Redstarts, a few Ring Ouzels [about to leave], Rock Buntings and Subalpine warbler. A Bonelli’s Eagle, with a nest which is visible from the village, showed intermittently. Temperatures here were cool, and on one night snow fell on the appropriately named Sierra de la Nieves.

In all about 102 species were seen which is only a modest list, but there are many sites nearby to increase the total if required – it’s really just a question of how much travelling you want to do. It was a bit early for some migrants, but the raptors were excellent.

20 sp of butterfly were noted including Spanish Festoon, Monarch, Cleopatra, Moroccan Orange Tip, Dappled White, Chapman’s Green Hairstreak, and Panoptes Blue.

Just 2 species of dragonfly were recorded: Lesser Emperor and Orange Featherleg.

So if you want a bit of viz-mig, give it a go. It’s easy to do, there is plenty of information, and the wallet-fatigue is not too severe.

 

Babysitting and Birding in Turkey – May 2014

reporter Mary Walker

Last winter our youngest son and his partner invited us to join them for the first foreign holiday of our two year old grandson and his older brother. Yes we would be delighted to, we replied, wondering how we could bird at the same time.

We had recently received an E mail from Soner Bekir our Istanbul bird guide, to say that he was spending the summer in Antalya, Turkey. Ah…. a solution. Messages were exchanged, he had two free days in early May. A hotel with childrens’ pools, water slides and entertainment was found nearby and the booking made.
We left England on a frosty May morning, but only a few hours later were relaxing in warm Turkish sunshine.
Next morning hugs were exchanged with Soner. We left behind the warmth of Lara Beach, with the children frolicking on their Lilos with factor 50 sun cream on. Our rucksack was packed with warm clothes as we sped out of Antalya towards the Taurus mountains, where we would bird at over 2000 metres. A brief loo stop yielded Turtle Dove, Golden Oriole and White Wagtail. We passed herds of goats being moved to their summer grazing alongside stalls selling local small sweet bananas and oranges. I did not realise that bananas were grown in Turkey.
On the way to Akseki we made a stop at one of the unnamed cemeteries. Birding was difficult as the trees were in full leaf, a light drizzle started to fall and the biting flies were a nuisance. We watched a red and fluffy Persian Squirrel, barely noticing a Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker next to him. By now we had our eye in and identified Olive Tree, Eastern Bonelli’s and Eastern Orphean Warblers, Ortolan and Cretzschmars Bunting, Lesser White Throat, and Greater, Middle Spotted and Syrian Woodpeckers, accompanied by several Hoopoes.
Through Akseki and up on the mountain track, anxiety set in as we could see snow in the distance. Sure enough when we got out of the car the weather was like a winters day in North Norfolk, but on the plus side there was a beautiful carpeting of alpine flowers and swathes of tiny red tulips. There were also deserted stone cottages and bee hives awaiting their summer arrivals.
Collars pulled up we hunted for new birds. It did not take long. A Goshawk and Long-Legged Buzzard circled above, keeping an eye on our progress. Groups of Alpine Choughs noisely passed between the rocks. Isabelline, Northern, Finsch’s and Black-Eared Wheatear sat up proud. A little searching produced White-Winged Snow Finch, Black Redstart, Rock Sparrow Horned Lark and two of the most wonderful birds we have ever seen, Red-Fronted Serin and Crimson-Winged Finch. Well worth getting cold and wet for.
Back down the mountain and calling again at Akseki for loos and a warming cup of Turkish Tea for which the proprietor refused payment.
The last call of the day was at Bogazqunt Wetlands to enjoy the Rollers, Shrikes, Yellow Wagtails, Short-Toed and Calandra Larks all moving amongst the White Storks and Hirundines.
Back to the hotel rather late to find the family had an equally rewarding day. They had bought five football strips at the local market for £20, so everyone was happy.
Day two brought with it the heaviest rain Antalya had seen in living memory. Soner suggested we visited the local zoo to see some birds. No! We head off north to Kirkgozhan marshes, and bumped our little Renault across steep field tracks in the driving rain. The goats are huddled under the trees and we spotted a Little Bittern trying to shelter. Visibility was so bad we reclined our seats and tried to snooze until the rain eased, which it didn’t. Finally we reverted to every birders game plan in bad weather – Sea watching!
Back we bumped over the marshes, the Renault spluttering and getting more and more unhappy. Finally after it had a few rests the coast was in view. I doubted we would make it. The rain was still falling too hard and was driving in from the sea so we could not attempt to put a scope through the window. So we stood outside like lunatics and the angry sea threw up some Sandwich Terns, being harassed by an Arctic Skua at us. Great excitement ensued as the Skua had been thrown off course on migration. Following it were several Cory’s Shearwater. Soner was beside himself, quickly phoning his birding friend whose sofa he was borrowing, to tell him to get here double quick. A Peregrine passed by chasing a Gull-Billed Tern.
We moved down the coast a little and attempted to take shelter in a plastic gazebo, promising not to roll the window up in case we took off in the wind.
Eventually, late in the day the weather eased and we were able to have a stroll around a strip of marshland where the River Bogacay meets the sea. The birds now came out in their multitudes. Lots of different terns, including Black Tern so Soner’s friend was phoned again. Bright orange Curlew Sandpipers, Little & Temminck’s Stints, Bee Eaters, Moustached, Barred and Olivaceous Warblers, Rufous-Tailed Robin, and Tawny Pipit. Suddenly everything lifted. A male Levant Sparrowhawk decided to sit right next to our car, glaring at us with black eyes in a very cross face.

All to soon dusk fell. I can only imagine the variety of birds we could have seen if the weather had been kinder. But there you go – every birders tale, we always want just a little more.

So back to the hotel and our baby sitting duties.

 WVBS Member’s Trip to Wales

reporters Sue Gale,Liz Bridge,Alwyn & Carol Jackson and Mary Walker

Day 1 – Thursday 19th June
All eleven of the WVBS holidaymakers managed to arrive at Burton Mere in Cheshire for the agreed 12.00 rendezvous. The weather was perfect for a wander around this relatively new RSPB reserve, which was certainly new to many of us. Although we were there for around 4 hours, we covered only a small part of the reserve trails.
Birds were seriously upstaged for part of this walk by insects, orchids and even a large fish! Luckily we had Eunice and Glenn with us to point out the intricacies of large red-eyed damselflies, and the three varieties of blue-tailed damselflies. The well-stocked ponds didn’t provide a kingfisher, but many of the fish that jumped would have been much too large for any bird to tackle. On our walk we also encountered several orchid varieties, the most spectacular being the bee orchid.
We did see birds too. Even before we left the car park Glenn had spotted a Sparrowhawk in the distance, and we had a full house of the hirundines and Swifts. Little ringed plovers were the stars of the show until Liz spotted a Garganey among the teal on the main pool. In the lovely sunshine we really didn’t mind too much that the promised little owls did not appear.
There was still much to explore when we had to tear ourselves away and continue the journey to Bangor.

Day 2– Friday 20 June 2014
England Lost! BUT we were here to find birds; AND we were in Wales!
It was a most beautiful day as we set off along the Aber Valley. We gathered at the Humpback Bridge to look for Dippers. The water rushing down the hill, twisting and turning round the rocks, was ideal for a Dipper but we had to settle for a family of Grey Wagtails bobbing and flying amongst the rocks. Was this a Pied Flycatcher we saw? Several of the group saw her very well, others just managed a female Chaffinch. A Blackcap was singing merrily and a Song Thrush showed. We began to trek alongside this lovely Welsh river towards the water fall, gaining height along the way. Call of Spotted Flycatcher and we all kept changing places on this narrow part of the path to get the best view. He didn’t mind about us, he just wanted flies. Again Grey Wagtails along the river. Up and up we ventured, listening and looking. A bridge across the water gave views of the river wending its way through the rocks and down the hill. Still no Dipper. Eventually the path opened out with grass stretches either side before the trees. Our first Redstart, a female – what a tail! A Chough was seen by a few. A Wood Warbler was heard but where was he? More Blackcaps, a Chiff Chaff starting to make himself heard, and a Willow Warbler flitting in the tops of bushes. Then, listening closely and intently, the softer song of a Garden Warbler was heard, followed by the even softer call of a Bullfinch. Meanwhile, our intrepid butterfly lady was dashing here, there and everywhere following butterflies amongst the flowers. Upwards we went. This is a lovely walk. Reaching a hillock just off the path, we had magnificent views of the waterfall, and what’s more we could see a clear ridge. Raptor delight! Scopes to the fore. A Buzzard hovering, tail stretched as wide as possible, equally its wings, and the sun shining through the feathers. No doubt that a Buzzard can hover. More raptors up there, a Peregrine, a Merlin and a Kestrel competing to be the best. Yet more Buzzards, Redstarts started a show, a male as well this time. This was brilliant, and the sun was shining and we were happy. The one and a half hours stretched to three; time to get back to our sandwiches!
A decision was made! We moved off to the Great Orme. Will the day get better? Looking over the cliff edge Guillemot and Razorbill on the sea, then flying furiously to the cliff ledges, wings flapping nineteen to the dozen. A Shag with young, Kittiwake and Fulmars flying by, and a large Great Black-backed Gull. A pair of sharp-eyes spotted an obliging Rock Pipit. But what will stay in everyone’s mind is the aerial display of flying and calling by two Peregrine, probably an adult telling the youngster in no uncertain terms that he was getting no more food.
We dragged ourselves away, more places to go. Higher and higher we drove (well done those behind the wheel) and then we lost a car! Where had this butterfly lady and her allies gone? The rest parked and went to look for Stonechat and, whilst doing so, spotted three small figures way down below. We had our Stonechat and a pair of Chough with their red bill and legs. And the butterfly hunt was successful. A sub-species of Silver-studded Blue was found amongst the flowers by the roadside. This area is the only area in the UK where this sub-species can be found, how good is that? A count of 50 female and 16 male was taken along a measured stretch, for record purposes. I think we all saw the wonderful Hummingbird Moth. Four very definite Raven flew over, calling to each other. A successful day came to a close with the roll-call for sightings, a satisfying pub meal and a walk, with birdwatching, along the quay.

Day3 – Saturday 21st June
The weather was fine and dry with sunny spells and a cool wind. Our first destination was the RSPB Comwy Reserve which lies alongside the A55 coastal road and the Conwy estuary. The reserve, which opened in 1996, was created during the construction of the Conwy tunnel where the A55 by-passes the historic town of Conwy. It comprises of two large lagoons, one shallow to attract waders and the other deep water for diving duck. These are surrounded by reedbeds, saltmarsh, grassland and scrub – a wonderful mosaic of habitats for birds and other wildlife.
The views from the visitor centre were stunning, with Conwy Castle, the Conwy valley, the mountains of the Carneddau, the estuary and reserve lagoons making a fine panorama.
We followed the trails through the reedbeds to two of the hides which overlook the lagoons, all the time looking and listening for any birds that were present and trying to ignore the traffic noise of the A55 Expressway nearby. After three hours of searching we had added Great Crested Grebe, Greylag Goose, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler, Common Sandpiper, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Lesser Whitethroat (heard) to our trip list. At the same time Eunice was searching through the sunny grassland areas for any insects and interesting plants she could find. Among many other things she drew our attention to some magnificent Bee Orchids growing by the side of the trail.
After a coffee break we headed inland up the Conwy valley to the 13th century Caerhun Church, reputedly a favourite haunt of Hawfinches. We checked the trees in the beautiful surrounding parkland of Caerhun Hall and those in the churchyard but drew a blank. However from the boundary wall we were able to scan the water meadows and meandering river below us. Our searching failed to locate any Red-breasted Merganser as we had hoped but we enjoyed views of Little Egret and a flock of roosting Shelduck.
We decided to move on to Betws-y-Coed in the hope of finding a Dipper on the river there. As the weather was so fine and warm by now and it was Saturday the only dippers we found among the thronging crowd were young men dive-bombing into the river! A patrolling Traffic Warden hastened our departure so we headed for the classical glacial valley of Nant Ffrancon south of Bethesda. Here we parked by the narrow track alongside the River Ogwen to eat our lunch and scan the surrounding mountainsides. We had chosen an idyllic spot in which to take a break. We added Cuckoo and Wheatear to our growing trip list and as we progressed slowly along the valley Mary spotted a brown owl flying low over the scrub on the hillside above us. We were unable to relocate the bird but from the description and taking into account the habitat we thought it was probably a Short-eared Owl.
Having enjoyed the valley we headed back towards Bangor to visit the North Wales Wildlife Trust’s Aber Ogwen reserve where the River Ogwen flows into the Menai Strait. We took a short walk along the edge of the estuary to a hide where two helpful and knowledgeable NWWT volunteers were very willing to point out the different species on the estuary and tell us something about their local status. Among the species present we added Eider, Goosander and Curlew to our trip list.
On the advice of the volunteers we drove east along the coast to the town of Llanfairfechan to search along the river to find a Dipper. Sure enough we located one feeding exactly where they said it would be. You can’t beat a bit of local knowledge! Whilst viewing the Dipper Liz Bridge met a local couple she had met on holiday elsewhere who very kindly recommended a local hostelry. We retired there to enjoy some sustenance and to reflect upon an excellent day’s birding.

Day 4 – Sunday 22nd June
Anglesey was our destination today. First stop was RSPB South Stack. An “event” was taking place, so we wanted to beat the crowds. One car was a little late, the occupants had been lucky enough to witness a Chough feeding noisy young.
Down the steps we climbed, laden with scopes and cameras. A magical couple of hours whizzed by, as we watched Puffins appearing to push each other off the rocks that were covered with hundreds and hundreds of Razorbills and Gulliemots. Liz B found a Bridled Guilliemot. Fulmars and Kittiwakes were busily flying in and out. A Peregrine nest was only feet away from our vantage point, still surrounded, sadly, by Puffin feathers. The juvenile had fledged three days earlier. Sea watching produced Gannets and Manx Shearwater.
Returning to the car park we found chaos. Sheep shearing was the “event”. Our convoy tried to make a hasty exit, but we were held up by the sheep taking advantage of an open gate and escaping. Expletives (in Welsh) were heard and dogs dispatched to resume order. A little bit of entertainment.
Stopping on the road-side to quickly scan a small pond, Alwyn found a Mandarin Duck, and another member a Hooded Crow.
Off the convoy departed to Holyhead Harbour. After several wrong turnings we regrouped with Alwyn, Carol, and Liz W, who had already found the Black Guillemots and several Shag.
Cemlyn Bay produced a beautiful setting for our lunch break. Batteries recharged we set off on our TERN hunt. Cemlyn Bay Nature Reserve is managed by the Wildlife Trust. Its two wardens were waiting by the notice board. We paused to “pick their brains”. They were conducting a free walk at 2PM and had no takers. Well it was exactly 2 PM, and now they had 13 WVBS members to show round. Everyone was happy.
The brackish water of the lagoon was alive with Common (95 pairs), Arctic (40 pairs – a record year), and Sandwich (2500 pairs), all continually flying out to sea, hunting for sand eels for their young. A beautiful Red-breasted Meganser with four chicks was amongst them, and a few Med Gulls mixed with the Black-headed Gulls. A walk along to the headland produced Oyster catchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, RInged Plovers, and Curlew.
Eunice surprised the wardens by finding both male and female Large skipper. The first record for Cemlyn Bay.
Last stop was RSPB Valley Headlands. Thankfully it was our last call, and not as originally planned, our first, or we may never have left this delightful site. Its two major lakes, Llyn Penrhyn and Llyn Traffwll and surrounding clusters of water are adjacent to the RAF base where Prince William did his training. It did not look very exciting so we had no great expectations. How wrong we were. Various warblers were everywhere. The young Sedge showed particularly well. The stars of the show however were a pair of Lesser Redpoll. Under Glenn’s tuition we tried very hard to learn their call. But will we remember? They were so obliging, and when seen in the scopes they were a mass of colour.
Quite fitting they were our last birds of the trip, and for most of us they were THE bird of the trip.

Back at the B&B, the logs were duly filled in. Our total number of species over the four days was 120. Pretty good we thought for the end of June. The Wood Warbler never did reveal itself. I guess we will have to organise another visit.

Thank you to everyone for making this such a successful trip. Full of birds, sunshine and friendship.

Andalucía Trip – 26th April to 3rd May 2014

Reporter Lynda Vincent

A Norfolk group including John Fielder and Lynda Vincent, and 3 others joined Mick Richardson who led the trip around Southern Andalucía . We had an early flight to Malaga where Mick met us and showed us a wide range of habitats and many birds. The group list was 193 species of birds and many butterflies and flowers! Even our guide had some lifers. The weather was ideal all week for birding- clear sunny skies with good visibility. There were many orchids and since it was Spring large areas were covered with many different species of wild flower.
26th April First stop was Gualdahorce , on the coast near Malaga, where we saw Kentish Plover, Black winged stilt, Whiskered Tern, Yellow-legged Gulls, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler , Serin and Monk Parakeets plus other birds found in the UK. We then drove west along the coast to Los Barrios marshes where the highlight was ‘just a few’ griffon vultures and also Short toed and Booted Eagles, Black Kites. We also had good views of Gibraltar and across the strait to Morocco. Our final stop that day was a hotel near Vejer del la Frontera where nearby we saw 12 Bald Ibis nesting!!.
27th April Coast, Wetlands and mountains. After a welcome night’s sleep, we visited several coastal and wetland sites. These showed many of the usual waders but an original siting of a solitary Collared Pratincole turned into 150.Nearby there were Stone Curlews, Corn Buntings, Sandwich and Gull Bill terns amongst several other species .A Cuckoo was spotted near Vejer and soon after the first of many Nightingales was heard. Moving onto La Janda , a marshy area with canals, we had amazing views of a Black winged Kite, followed by Black Kites, Night Heron, Booted Eagle, Common and Honey Buzzards and White Storks .Later, whilst looking at a Short Toed Eagle another raptor higher up proved to be a Spanish Imperial Eagle shortly followed by an Egyptian Vulture. After lunch we visited the old town of Tarifa and eventually were fortunate to see the Common Bulbuls nesting there.
28th April. The next day we continued westwards, passing Cadiz, to the town of Chipiona where we had excellent views of the target Little Terns flying around us. After seeing a few more species on the beach we continued to the Bonanza salt pans, lagoons and canals. There must have been several hundred curlew sandpipers feeding in the lagoons and a few greater flamingos. After lunch we found some roadside pools which provided a good range of birds including White Headed duck and Squacco heron .The next stop at Marisma de Alventus pools showed us many waders, Whiskered Terns and a Purple Swamp Hen.
29th April. After driving north was had a range of habitats: wetland, sierra and river valley. These gave us plenty of new species including Red Rumped Swallow, Night Heron, Black Headed Weaver, Common Waxbill, Olivaceous and Melodious Warblers Little Bittern and even more Purple Sandpipers. Near an old farm we added Spanish Sparrow and Hoopoe to the list. Later on, near the town of Osuna we saw Montagu’s Harrier and Woodchat Shrike. Our first attempt at seeing Bustards failed, but when we returned in the evening we were rewarded with good views of two.
30th April This was a day of wetland, sierra and river valleys sites in Malaga province. The first highlight was 100s of Greater Flamingos looking very pink in a lagoon. We failed to spot the Lesser lamingos that had been seen there as well. Further on near a small pool we were surprised to see a Bittern which is rare in this area. Another site in a gorge we spotted Crag martins, Alpine Swifts and Blue Rock Thrushes on the cliffs and high above a large flock of Honey Buzzards. Near Mollina we tried unsuccessfully to find a Rufous Bush Robin which had been seen before but did see a Black Wheatear.

WVBS Trip to Bulgaria – 28th May to 6th June 2014

reporter Keith Walker

Club members were invited by Steve Cale to go on an exploratory tour of Bird life in Bulgaria.
The party consisted of Steve Cale, Jan Skinner, Sel & Kathy Jones, Alan Hughes, David Hughes, Ann West, and Keith & Mary Walker.We were met late in the day, by Dimiter Georgiev our Bulgarian Guide at Varna airport, and whisked away to our hotel in Kaverna.

Our first day of action commenced with a pre breakfast walk where we saw various familiar birds including a Golden Oriole. We also saw the beautiful sight of four foxes standing on the the cliff top above Kaverna.
After breakfast we headed to the Coastal Lake of Durankulak where we saw our target birds including Paddyfield Warbler, Savi’s Warbler, Beared Tit, Ferruginous Duck, and the thick billed race of the Common Reed Bunting. We also saw the first of hundreds of Red-backed Shrike, and the common Lesser grey Shrike and various Herons and Terns. As we headed back a Little Bittern flew out of the undergrowth.
Stopping for lunch and a beer we watched Bee Eaters swooping. Words of caution had to be expressed to stop some of the group from stripping off and going for a dip in the heat – perhaps less local beer at lunchtime is the answer! Then down a country track looking for a Marsh Warbler. We spent over an hour looking, hearing it call continuously, whilst sneaking from bush to bush, but our only reward was that some of the party got a fleeting glimpse. A lovely Barred Warbler showed well at Shabla Lake together with an assortment of ducks and waders.
Back to the Hotel through Steppe landscape we saw Long -legged Buzzard and some Red-footed Falcons on the wires who obliged with very close views. Excellent views were also seen of the Calandra Larks. Through every village we travelled there were huge nests on telegraph poles and within them were White Storks and their broods, and this was a continuing feature during our trip.

Day two we visited Cape Kaliakra. Before this we stopped close by at Topola where Eagle Owls can be seen. Views of three magnificent birds perched on the cliff face. We then went onto the Cape to see amazing scenery and Pied Wheatear, tits, shag, and swifts. Onwards to Bourgas. First an unscheduled stop on the outskirts of Varna when the driver had to deliver something. Out we milled, and in the ditch at the side of the road we found an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. The bird became a very common feature during the rest of the trip. A planned stop was at the Kamchia forest where Dimiter had arranged to meet a Swede called Kurt, who had monitored migration of flycatchers for the last forty years . At various nest boxes we were shown eggs, babies and watched proud parents of Semi-collared Flycatchers feed their chicks. Other birds included Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper, Icterine Warbler and baby Nuthatch.
Whilst we were predominantly at Bourgas to look at the vast lakes, our first morning saw us head to the Dyulanski Pass in the Eastern Balkan Mountains to see more forest birds. On our journey we saw Rollers rolling, an obliging Little Owl on a chimney pot, and Wood Larks and Black-headed Buntings in the fields. The forest stop produced a Sombre Tit, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Hawfinch including a brand new fledgling calling its parents. There were also good views of Middle-spotted and Syrian Woodpecker and amazing views of a Golden Oriole. We then consumed ice creams after lunch whilst watching several Honey Buzzards who were late migrants fly by.
Then serious water birding. Firstly Atanasovsko Lake where White Pelicans, Dalmatian Pelicans, Collared Pratincole, Redshank, various Terns, and Slender billed Gull showed, together with thousands of Cormorants and a solitary Hobby. Then on to Mandra Lake where we were greeted with Booted and Lesser Spotted Eagles displaying together, and a glimpse of a White-tailed Eagle. Herons of all varieties were in evidence, and there were wild flowers and butterflies galore.
At Lake Bourgas salt-pans we picked up Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Sandwich Terns, Cetti’s, Pallid Swift and Penduline Tit.

The following morning we left Bourgas but called again en-route at Lake Bourgas to see the Penduline Tit for those who missed it the day before. We also saw Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Black -tailed Godwit, Marsh & Wood Sandpiper. Also Little, Common, Gull- billed and Sandwich Terns.
Mary & I crept away from the group to visit the next door garage for a Coffee. We had visited Bourgas before, and the centre of the town appears to be built on rafts, and at a nearby garage we had seen various migrants in the adjacent reed beds. Identical habitat was next to this garage and Mary somehow managed to spot a Reed Warbler going into a nest in the reeds. She then yelled with delight as her bins focussed on a baby Cuckoo. We were subsequently joined by the remainder of the group and a ten minute stop somehow stretched to over an hour!!
We then started the long trek south west. From the bus we spotted a Short -toed Eagle on a pylon and several Isabelline Wheatear. Lunch was at Topolgrad, which is renowned territory of the Imperial Eagle. Very soon after lunch, we were rewarded with the sight of two birds above us. This was very quickly followed by the sight of a Black Stork flying over, being pursued by both Eagles, who were determined to have it for tea! Despite the eagles working relentlessly as a team, the stork managed to elude capture and lived to fight another day. Topolgrad was another beautiful spot for flowers and butterflies and we were fascinated by the displays of a number of Sousilik. (Ground Squirrel).

We stayed for the next three nights at the Hotel Divna in Krumovgrad, which had only been opened for a month and looked grand in some ways. If only the plumbing had been connected in all the bathrooms! The hotel view was the poorer cousin of Norwich Cattle Market on a Tuesday! The town was very remote and in a picturesque valley in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains.
The birding the next day started well with Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers in the hotel ground and Nightingales in abundance in the field behind. In the valley the birding was unproductive in heavy rain and we had to abandon to a local cafe. By mid afternoon the rain had stopped and the rest of the day was sunny. Up in the hills we spotted Black-eared Wheatear, Cirl Bunting, Hobby, and better views of a Sombre Tit.

Day seven was designed to be a special treat. Early start to go into the mountains, where a dead sheep had been left at a vulture watch-point. The previous days downpour had conspired to make life difficult with very heavy mist until after 10.00. Slowly Egyptian and Griffin Vultures started to soar above. In the end there were 65+ feeding . The yellow tags on vulture legs could be clearly seen, with the birds being part of a wild Bulgarian flock of some 65 pairs. We were also lucky enough to see Ortolan Bunting and Olive -tree Warblers. Then back to the previous afternoons site where a female Levant Sparrowhawk was sitting on a nest at the top of a tree. Very difficult to see with only the tail visible. We also saw a Chuckar on a rock outcrop, and amazing views of a Black-eared Wheatear. After dinner, the group assembled in the hotel grounds looking at a Scops Owl in the tree.

Day nine saw us facing a long journey to the Western Rhodopes. We stopped at a dam just outside Krumovgrad, where we saw two Blue Rock Thrushes in the pouring rain. After lunch we rested in a picturesque alpine type village were there were two Black Redstart, Serin, Mistle Thrush and Yellowhammer. Near our new hotel at Teshel we stopped to look for a Grey-headed Woodpecker which was seen immediately and we were able to see it fly to its nest and feed at least three young.

Our last full day at Teshel started at 06.00 with Mary & I walking outside the hotel on our own, and we saw a lovely Dipper in the stream opposite, and in the bushes nearby a Willow Tit, and Serin. Those who had a slight lay in turned the other way at the hotel gate and saw a Chamois. The piece de resistance of the trip was a visit to the River Trigrad gorge, which is home to the Wallcreeper. We were primed to be patient, but as soon as we got out of the bus at the Gorge, there it was flying around very close to us. What a beautiful bird, we watched for ages, but the photographers amongst us remained insatiated!
Onto the nearby village where we saw Rock Bunting and then we went back through the Gorge and had good views of Firecrest and Goldcrest. In the afternoon we went to the forest in the Sarnena River Valley where we saw views of one of our three target birds, the Crested Tit. No signs though of the Pygmy Owl or the elusive Black Woodpecker. We did however manage to flush out a Corncrake on the way back to the hotel.

We set off for home at 06.30. Yesterday we had spent hours looking for Black Woodpecker. Today after an hour on the coach, and then on a barren tree very close to the road side there was one. The bird was very obliging and what a beautiful way to end a trip. This stop made us short of time and we had to make a mad dash for the airport.

Bulgaria is a lovely country. It must have great similarities with the UK in the 1950s before intensive farming and insecticides started to destroy our heritage. Lots of very small farms cultivated by horse and cart, fields teeming with birds, wild flowers, mammals and butterflies.Each of our group saw in excess of 170 birds and everyone will have other memories to treasure. Our Bulgarian guide Dimiter Georgiev was brilliant. He quietly found all treasures his country could offer and ensured we all saw them well. I would unreservedly recommend him and his team at Neophron to anyone fancying a visit, whether as a group or as individuals. It was fascinating to see the contrast with Steve Cale who put this trip together. Steve put his heart and soul into making this trip a success. Steve is all ebullience passion and enthusiasm, as well as having an amazing knowledge about birds and nature. The two were perfect foils to make this trip a success, and the fellowship of the group who got on so well was the icing on the cake.

 

Sun Rise over Albania.

reporter David Gibbons

We entered the police compound at Virpazar, a small village serving as the port for Skadar Lake, Montenegro, the police dog barked from its kennel and we were met by the armed officer on duty. Darko, one of three ornithologist at the Centre for Protection & Research of Birds of Montenegro (CZIP), and myself had hired the small police launch to venture onto the lake, especially its conservation area for a day of birdwatching.
The lake , the largest freshwater lake in the Balkans , 44kms. long, 10kms. wide and 9 metres deep with a water temperature, in august, of 28 º C. Some 270 bird species have been recorded here and is one of the last areas for Pelicans in Europe.
Already at 5.45 am. several traditional fishing boats were on the lake, they would not go amiss as Cambodian or Vietnamese vessels. The few tourist boats were preparing for visitors later in the morning. The lake was surrounded by mountains, 60% of the lake is owned by Montenegro the rest by Albania, buoys mark the border. Around the lake are a few traditional fishing villages and one of the few islands in the lake supports a Monastery with one single Monk . At one point the lake is 60 meters deep with an underground spring supplying water, here fish tend to congregate, and the traditional village here has several 2 storey stone buildings with poles the size of telegraph poles overhanging the lake. Nets are hung from these poles catching the fish which are dried in the upper storey and the people live on the ground floor.
The sun was now rising over the Albanian mountains, Whiskered terns , some 2000 breeding pairs on the lake this year, Yellow-legged and Black-headed gulls, Magpies, Jackdaws, Swallows, Coots, Gt. Crested and Little Grebes, Pygmy and Great Cormorants, Common Sandpipers, Grey and Squacco Herons, Little Egrets, Kingfisher, Common Terns, Redshank, Moorhens and Ferruginous Ducks were soon recorded. Nine pairs of these ducks have been recorded this year, we saw 12 individuals or 1 bird 12 times! Sand Martin, House Martins and Pallid Swifts also came into view. We had been on the small launch now for over 2 hours, no life jackets and a lot of clutter in the bow, I was asked if I could swim ! A different world! No H&S here !
Approaching the Conservation area, which in the spring and autumn migration periods would have many more thousands of birds, the reeds came into view, we went past them , the water was getting down to 2 feet and then all we had was 6 square miles of nothing but water lilies , yellow and white flowers, with dozens of Coots and Moorhens running all over them. The water was so pure and clear you just had to drink some. We could see an Albanian Police Patrol boat a little distance away, the other side of the buoys thankfully. We came across Dalmatian Pelicans and water snakes but as we tried to find Night Heron and Gt. White Egret our propeller got caught, first a fishing net and then in weed, so we had to retreat and head back to Virpazar. Before we got back to open water we saw a Gt.Reed Warbler and a Tawny Pipit, the latter are breeding a few kms . away at the approach to the airport. Two more hours passed as it seemed to take an age to get back to port, by now the Montenegro Police launch was on the lake checking out that tourist boats and fishing boats were licensed. We were also stopped but were OK as they spotted Darko, on entering the port we had great views of Lesser Grey Shrikes back to the Police compound, House Sparrows and Starlings, and coffee in the bar around the corner.

Day 2.

Darko again picked me up from our beach resort apartment at 4.30 am for the 70 kms. drive south to Ulcinj Salinas, salt pans just inland from Ulcinj a coastal resort of 12 kms of soft sand. This “Reserve” is privately owned and has planning permission for hotels and golf courses, the State cannot afford to buy it to keep it protected, the owner has let the reserve go into disrepair, tracks and paths have been washed away the only observation hide is unstable but Spanish Sparrows are nesting on it. Down a track we went into a field, I wouldn’t have taken a 4×4 but Darko took his little car to a final stop.
Hunters are a major issue in Montenegro, shooting birds for trophies, Italians travel by ferry from Bari to the port of Bar just a few kms. down the road for this reason, locals also are keen on this activity. Darko informed me that younger Italians are not so keen on hunting so this is a good sign for the future. Here at Ulcinj motor cycle tracks soon became evident, the chosen mode of transport for hunters, along with spent cartridges on the ground.
Up onto the bank of the salt pans hundreds of Swallows feeding on the ground and resting in the reeds was an amazing sight. Little Egret, Greenshank, Woodchat Shrike, Little Owl, Squacco and Grey Heron, Gt Crested and Little Grebe, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls, Collared Doves, Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Cormorant, Sand and House Martin, Common Snipe, Starling, Roller, Goldfinch, a dozen or so juvenile Collared Pratincole, Marsh Harrier, 2 Common Buzzards, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover, Dunlin, Kingfisher, Little Tern, Stone Curlew, Yellow Wagtail, Spoonbill and then 2000 or so Greater Flamingos. At times as paths disappeared under water we had to remove socks and shoes and wade on.
These basins cover 15 square kms. again one of the great areas for migrating birds in the Adriatic flyway. Only 1 km away some 100.000 people on the beaches in the height of summer don’t know that 2000 Greater Flamingos are so near!!! And that is only 1 species. Ninety percent of the population here are Albanian and we soon heard the Mosque calling people to prayer, otherwise so quiet except for the birds

Little Stint, Coot, Common sandpiper, Mallard, Gt.White Egret, Turnstone, Teal, Ringed Plover, Common Tern, a dozen Bee-eaters on the telegraph wires, Red-backed Shrike, Pallid and Alpine Swifts, Lesser Grey Shrike, and as we left we were startled as a male Nightjar flew out of the scrub by the side of us, here apparently they are a problem at night as they land on the roads. It was now 10 am. and time for breakfast, “Sweet or Salt ?” I was asked as we stopped outside a bakers. Traditional breakfast is one of these, “Sweet” is a soft milk bread roll or croissants filled with jam or chocolate, I chose the later, “Salt” is a filo pastry layered “cake” with meat or cheese fillings. Down to a Beach Bar to devour with a strong espresso.
A fantastic couple of days , only 67 species but a privilege to see these 2 areas of natural beauty at close hand my thanks go to Darko and the CZIP

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