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THE PROGRAMME FOR SPRING 2017 IS NOW ON MY

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Jan 15th - 28th. - Sri Lanka. £1750

Feb 12th -27th - Costa Rica - full

Mar 20th - 30th Morocco - 10 nights. - £1190

April 5th - 12th - Andalucia migration tour. - £750 - 2 places

April 16th - 24th - Coto Donana & Extremadura - £950 - 2 places

April 29th - 6th May. - Lesvos - £875

May 8th - 15th - Portugal - full


May 13th - 21st Bulgaria - £850

May 23rd - 30th - Andalucia birds and butterflies - £750

May 31st - June 8th. - Extremadura and Sierra de Gredos - £950

June 12th - 20th - Pyrenees and Picos de Europa - £1050


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Red-throated Bee-eater

Red-throated Bee-eater
join us for a fantastic tour of The Gambia this November

Friday, May 31, 2013

MAY 30th 2013 - BULGARIA DAY 9 – TOUR 2

CENTRAL BALKAN MOUNTAINS TO SOFIA AIRPORT

OUR FINAL DAY

Nothing much to report really. We all got up early, packed and were on the bus by 6:30am. A little birding in the car park before we set off produced a male Bullfinch (finally all the group got to see one - especially Jim from the US). Birds seen on the journey we few and far between as everyone was very sleepy, but we did find a new species for the trip in the shape of a Yellowhammer. That was number 189.

the team from L to R - Teresa, Richard, Peter, Iordan, Jim, Roz and Steve


Our departure from Sofia was more or less on time and that concluded our fantastic Tour of beautiful Bulgaria.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

MAY 29th 2013 - BULGARIA DAY 8 – TOUR 2

KRAPETS TO CENTRAL BALKAN MOUNTAINS ABOVE TROYAN WITH ONE STOP AT

Our last full day in bulgaria was spent mainly traveling from the coast of the Black Sea to the Central Balkan Mountains some 150 kilometers from Sofia.

The dynamic duo -  Iordan and myself waiting for a White backed Woodpecker


We left early and the drive was very pleasant and with not much traffic on the road we made good time. We made 3-4 stops for birding,  breakfast, lunch and coffee.

Along the way we saw a few interesting species: Black Storks (20+ in a field), White Storks, Wood Pigeon (our first for the trip), Raven, Lesser Grey Shrike and many other common species.

We made one birding stop somewhere near Provadia about an hour out of Varna where we ate our boxed breakfast. We stopped right near a cliff face where a well known pair of Golden Eagles nest, sure enough we could plainly see a bird on the nest, great result for the group, it was really great that a apir of eagles had chosen such an obliging nest site. At the same time we saw Hawfinch, Red-backed Shrike, Golden Oriole, Spanish Sparrow and Turtle Dove.

 At 3pm we arrived at our hotel in the mountains, we quickly dropped off our luggage and got ready for a walk around the hotel grounds. Unfortunately for us it was extremely windy and consequently not many birds showed. We only saw Chaffiunch, Common Redstart, White Wagtail and we heard Robin, Blackcap and we also saw another Wood Pigeon.

We decided to drive up to the peak of the mountains, some 2000 meters above sea level, and again the wind was a major hindrance. We managed to get to the sheltered side of the mountain and found a few species there:A few Linnets flew around us, a Blackcap sang and showed well, a Crossbill sat on a pine tree and stared at us.

Common Crossbill

Water Pipit (washed out by the light - this bird was much more colourful than it looks)

We then found a Water Pipit and as we followed this bird when it flew up the hillside we found a pair of Whinchats. A Ring Ouzel sang from the scrub whilst a second one was seen by just 3 of the group. We also heard a Dunnock singing.

Lastly we drove back to the hotel and 3 of went down to look for woodpeckers without success, however we did see a Bullfinch right outside the hotel, a lovely bird to finish off our list for the day.

Our total list for the tour amounted to 188 species, a great list with some super birds on it. The group were undecided about a bird of the trip,  with Rosy Starling and Wallcreeper coming close. There will be no birding tomorrow as we have to leave very early for the airport and our flight home.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

MAY 28th 2013 - BULGARIA DAY 7 – TOUR 2

KRAPETS - DURANKULAK MARSHES - SHABLA LAKE -  CAPE KALIAKRA & QUARRY

Our last full was certainly full! We started at 6:30am with a walk along the track next to the hotel. Iordan was out a little before most of us and he got some superb views of a Marsh Warbler as it sang in the scrub next to the hotel. Of course when the rest of us got out there the bird had flown!

The rest of the walk was punctuated with stops to look at some good sightings: Golden Oriole, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Black-headed Bunting and the best was saved until last, a lovely male Pied Wheatear appeared and sang to us as we approached the hotel for breakfast. Breakfast was late so we had to sit and wait on the terrace where we could sea-watch, this turned up two new species for us, a Shag and a Black-throated Diver. A large Falcon was also spotted, it was far out and flying close to the water's surface, it had a very brown back and wings, we thought it could be a Saker, but couldn't be sure from that distance.

Green Toads seen sneaking out of the swimming pool this morning
Our first stop after breakfast was at the Marshland near Durankulak, the sky was bright with fluffy white clouds but it was very breezy. On the approach track we stopped to look at a falcon perched on the wires, it was a Red-footed Falcon, the first for the two trips this spring, hoorah!

The very colourful Balkan Green Lizard

At the main reed beds we spent a lot of our time searching for Paddyfield Warbler, the local celebrity. The wind wasn't helping much either, but after a few fleeting glimpses we eventually had some great views of perched birds. In the meantime we saw many of the loud Great Reed Warbler and a Common Cuckoo perched out in the open at the back of the reed bed. The open pools held a few Ferruginous Ducks, Common Coot and Mallard. Another prized sighting was the Pygmy Cormorant, two flew over us showing very well in the morning sunshine. Other good sightings included 7 Squacco Herons, Purple Heron, Little Egret and a Marsh Harrier.

On the road to Shabla Lake we stopped to admire a Roller which was perched on the wires just off the road, splendid! At Shabla our main efforts were directed in and around the large pools found there. From the elevated hide We saw a good number of species with Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Ferruginous Duck, Garaney, Common Shelduck, Common Tern, Mute Swan and Little Egret being the most common. Howvere we did also see: Grey Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint, Little Gull, Reed Bunting and a singing Savi's Warbler eventually gave us some good views.

Great 'mouthed' Warbler
From Shabla we drove around round to the Cape Kaliakra some 40 minutes away where we spent a couple of hours walking to the point through the old castle ruins. We found several Pied Wheatears, a Northern Wheatear, White Wagtails, some obliging Bee-eaters and a Hoopoe flew back and forth carrying food. A flock of some 50 Rosy Starlings flew down to the point and back again but they never stopped. We spent quite some time watching the antics of the Bottle Nosed Dolphins and the Harbour Porpoise that were fishing down below us, many Yellow-legged Gulls were following them hoping to pick up scraps.





some of the group at the entrance to the Cape Castle


From the Cape we drove a short distance to the Kaliakra Valley where our last birding of the day consisted of a nice walk to the cove and up into the valley. A reeded pool held many Great Reed Warblers, they were singing, what a din! A pair of Pied Wheatears gave great views and further up the valley we saw Golden Oriole, Common Cuckoo, Little Grebe, Calandra Lark High above us and not much else.

An Ilex Hairstraek


a series of poor pictures of the Rosy starlings taken through the glass window of the bus










We climbed into the bus for the last time and headed off to the hotel, but before we got there we had one unscheduled stop to watch a flock of Rosy Starlings!! At last we had found a flock feeding, they were eating Cherries and perching nicely on the trees and on the ground just a few meters from the bus, excellent. We watched them for a while and ended up getting back late for dinner but hey, ho, everyone enjoyed watching the beautiful Starlings.


Monday, May 27, 2013

MAY 27th 2013 - BULGARIA DAY 6 – TOUR 2

BURGOS - POMORIE SALT PANS - VIULIMISTI PASS - BALCHIK - CHABLA - KRAPETS


Another day of transit saw us traveling up the west coast of the Black Sea passed Varna and on up towards the border with Romania. We made frequent stops and had a very successful day, the weather was again superb, clear sky with a nice cooling breeze.

Pomorie Salt pans


There wasn't an official morning walk but some of the group went out, they came back with reports of several sightings, none of which were new for the trip but some good ones anyway. Syrian Woodpecker was seen again as was Common Nightingale, Golden Oriole, Common Whitethroat and Olivaceous Warbler.

Pied Avocet in defensive mode
Great White Egrets


At 8:30am we were on the road heading northward towards Varna, after about 20 minutes on the road we stopped just north of Pomorie. A wide expanse of salt pans stretched either side of the main road north of the town and it was there that we made a short stop. A couple of Rollers seen on the wires went quickly onto the sightings list as did Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Common Shelduck, Little Egret and Common Tern. Whilst we were there a couple of Great White Egrets dropped in, whilst Gull-billed Terns joined the Common Terns over the water. A large flock of White Pelicans circled on the thermals, Common Kestrels hovered and a Marsh Harrier quartered the fields nearby. The only wader seen there was a Little Ringed Plover!

The large Bee-eater 'bank' where about 30 pairs were digging their nest holes

A 'digger' in action

Northern Wheatear posing nicely



We turned off the coast road and headed westward inland to visit the Viulimiski Pass which is famous for migrating raptors etc. Our first stop at the beginning of the pass was magical. We saw some great species in a short space of time and enjoyed the lovely spectacle of a Bee-eater colony. Here is a list of what we saw in 30 minutes:

1. Isabelline Wheatear
2. Northern Wheatear
3. Bee-eater
4. Roller
5. Hoopoe
6. Golden Oriole
7. Crested Lark
8. Spanish Sparrow
9. Common Cuckoo
10. Common Buzzard
11. Barred Warbler
12. Common Whitethroat
13. Little Ringed Plover
14. Red-rumped Swallow
15. barn Swallow
16. Common Swift
17. House Martin
18. Sand Martin
19. Corn Bunting
20. Black-headed Bunting
21. Red Backed Shrike
22. Woodchat Shrike
23. Black Stork

It was amazing really, all those birds in a matter of minutes, just shows you how good Bulgaria is.

Crested lark


At the peak of the pass we stopped to look for raptors, finding Steppe Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard and Common Kestrel. In the scrub we found a lovely male Ortolan bunting singing, Linnets, Skylarks, Hawfinch and lots of Red-backed Shrikes. As we drove back down to the coast road we drove through some open oak woodland and it was there that Iordan our Bulgarian guide spotted a Wryneck sitting in a tree. Fantastic, we reversed to the spot and we all had great views of this elusive species.

one of the many Skylarks at the top of the pass

the Wryneck taken from the bus through the window

bad light and bad picture of an Ortolan bunting singing in the pines


We enjoyed a lovely lunch in a roadside restaurant before driving through Varna and on towards the Cape of Kaliakra. On the way we stopped at some cliffs near balchik to look for an Eagle Owl. Again our guide Iordan came up trumps as he found an adult bird perched nicely on the cliff face.

The Eagle Owl sitting out but distant and fast asleep!


Our visit to the Psuedo Steppe near the Cape of Kaliakra also proved successful. Our target birds were Tawny Pipit and Stone Curlew, we got both in a short period of time. The Stone Curlews showed well, they were a pair and had inadvertently driven them off their nest as we nearly trod on a couple of eggs, we quickly retreated from the area. The tawny also showed very well for us as did Short-toed Lark, Calandra Lark, Crested lark and a Hoopoe.

A happy bunch of birders after just seeing the Stone Curlew


As we drove through the small villages on the way to our hotel we found a small flock of Rosy Starlings bathing in a roadside puddle, how fantastic was that. The birds flew up into some bushes to preen before flying off, great views were had by all of us. After that we found a couple more groups of them.

 Lastly we drove down a small track to a site where a couple of Demoiselle Cranes had been seen in recent days. Unfortunately for us they did not appear but we did see our first Stonechat plus Yellow Wagtails, Rollers, Bee-eaters, Turtle Dove, Black-headed Bunting and a few common species.


We finally made it to our hotel at 7pm, after checking in and a short break we settled down to eat a lovely dinner in the restaurant that overlooks the beach, lovely.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

MAY 26th 2013 - BULGARIA DAY 5 – TOUR 2

BURGOS AREA ALL DAY - BURGOS LAKE = MANDRA LAKE - PODA PROJECT - BURGOS SALINAS

We awoke to a beautiful morning, clear blue sky and no wind, perfect. Our walk before breakfast produced a few new sightings but it was just a pleasure to be out there. We walked along the shoreline in the wooded scrub between the hotel-strip and the beach it was buzzing with birds. A very showy Olivaceous Warbler was very nice to see, a group of Golden Orioles showed now and then and a Common Whitethroat sang from the scrub. We tracked down a drumming Syrian Woodpecker but only got a fleeting glimpse of it as it flew off. A Blackcap showed well and a Cetti's Warbler didn't.
3 views of the Olivaceous Warbler




Our visit to the Burgos Lake was superb, it was like a mirror and was covered in birds. The most spectacular sight was a feeding frenzy by the Great cormorant flock, a couple hundred of them gathered close together swimming in unison and diving for fish. This movement attracted many gulls, terns and Pelicans. Over the hour we were there the numbers built up and eventually there were about a 1000 birds feeding, incredible.

Burgos Lake


We also counted over 300 Great crested Grebes, many of which were pairing off and performing their courtship ritual. Both the White and the Dalmatian Pelicans impressed the group with their size and their flight, we also had good views of Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Night Heron, Great Reed Warbler and a Penduline Tit. Many migrating White Storks were passing overhead, we counted up to a thousand in that hour.

Common Terns and a winter plum. Whiskered Tern

Our second stop at Burgos lake produced more birds, Common, Whiskered, Little and Sandwich Terns were all seen well and a few Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls sat nearby.

We drove a little further south to look at the reed-fringed Mandra Lake from the roadside, it was fairly desolate but we picked out a few species. Garganey, Ferruginous Duck, Shoveler, Common Pochard, Mallard and Gadwall were dotted about around the fringes. Several Glossy Ibis flew in and began feeding in the reeds, we got good views of Purple Heron as at least 4 flew over and a single great White Egret did the same as we were about to leave. Marsh Harriers quartered the reeds and the pylons were covered in Great Cormorant nests, I have never seen this before, what a noisy, smelly, mess!

many pylons were covered in Great cormorant's nest like this



We ate our picnic lunch round at the back of the Mandra Lake, it was fairly quiet bird wise but we added Honey Buzzard and a Lesser Spotted Eagle to our list.

The Poda Project is a government backed conservation effort based on the edge of the Burgos Bay and the visitor's centre was built on the southern shore. We visited the site and sat on their raised terrace watching over the small pools and vast reed beds. From there we found a perched White-tailed Eagle, it was very distant but unmistakable.

I can't think why this is called a Spotted Fritillery


For the last part of the afternoon we re-visited the salt pans on the north side off the shore but found even less birds there than yesterday so we drove to the most northern section of the pans which took us a little inland. It was a good move as we found a flock of some 20 Collared Pratincoles, we had great views of them, both perched and in flight. We also found a small flock of Rosy Starlings, a Common Cuckoo and many Marsh harriers.

It was now 5pm so we decided to call it a day and set off back to hotel for any early shower.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

MAY 25th 2013 - BULGARIA DAY 4 – TOUR 2

ARDA HOTEL TO BURGAS VIA TOPOLOVGRAD WITH STOPS IN THE SAKAR HILLS, SREDETS AND BURGAS SALT PANS.

This transit day saw us travel some 200 kilometers to the east of the country to the Black Sea Coast at Burgas. It wasn't a long way but on the poor Bulgarian roads it took us all day.

 We never went for an early birding walk, so we set off at 7:45am after an early breakfast, several species were seen from the car park and along the approach track to the hotel.

The Hotel Arda - named after the river that flows just behind it, a lovely setting

Turtle Dove, Common Nightingale, Hoopoe, Common Cuckoo, Golden Oriole, Spanish Sparrow, Olivaceous Warbler, Red Backed Shrike and several others were all seen or heard near the hotel. A Little Owl sat in the chimney of the main hotel block.
Little Owl seen in the chimney shown below

you can see the owl in the tower chimney of the hotel building

The first part of the journey passed with only a few bird sightings as we drove through thick mist that only cleared after we had climbed out of the crater on the east side of Madzarovo. We then started to see White Storks, Black-headed and Corn Buntings and Red-backed Shrikes.

Our first official stop was at a traditional site for Olive Tree Warbler but we must have seen 30 other species in a very short space of time as well. The site was an Oak Woodland on a gently sloping hillside, bird song was all over the place. Cirl Bunting, Common Nightingale, Masked Shrike, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Hoopoe, Common Cuckoo, Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike and the Olive Tree Warbler were all heard within a few minutes. It took us quite while before we all saw the OTW and even then it was only fleeting views as it moved from song post to song post, but we were all happy with what we got. In the sky during the hour we stayed there we saw: Raven, Black Stork, White Stork, Common Buzzard and Long-legged Buzzard.

Short-toed lark

We bought our lunch in Topolovgrad and drove a short distance out of town to eat it. The site we chose was a good site to look for Imperial Eagle and before the bus had come to a complete stop we had seen one drifting high above us. During our lunch hour we saw one or two more Imperial Eagles drifting over on a regular basis, sometimes quite low, and we also saw  Booted Eagle and a Short-toed Eagle. On the ground and in the open scrub we added Short-toed Lark, Northern Wheatear and lots of Isabelline Wheatears,

Next we stopped in an oak woodland not too far from Burgas, we were hoping to see Semi-collared Flycatcher at a nest site. Unfortunately for us the site was surrounded by people having a Saturday Market!! Cars were parked right next to the nest hole and not a bird was in sight. We walked for a while and saw some interesting species, Common Redstart, a stunning male showing a very large white wing bar, it was of the eastern race Samamisicus, we also saw Song Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Short-toed Treecreeper and several common Species. The nest hole of a Middle Spotted Woodpecker was very active and provided some good bird watching.
looking at the Imperial Eagle near Topolovgrad




Lastly we visited the Salt Pans on the norther edge of  the bay of Burgas. It wasn't brimming with birds but we added about 20 new species to our trip list, they included about 20 Dalmatian Pelicans, Eurasian Spoonbills, Little Egret, Common Shelduck, Kentish and Common Ringed Plover, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Oystercatcher, Common, Caspian, Little and Sandwich Terns, Yellow Wagtail of the Eastern Feldegg race and a few Gadwall. A pair of Penduline Tits fed in a tree just behind us and the male showed particularly well, all the group had great views.

some of the group at Burgas Salt Pans picnic area
Looking across the salt pans to Burgas

We called it a day around 6pm and finished our journey to the hotel a few minutes away, we had seen 95 species despite being in the bus for most of the journey. A really nice dinner finished the day off with a lovely cold beer, aah!



Friday, May 24, 2013

MAY 24th 2013 - BULGARIA DAY 3 – TOUR 2

HOTEL ARDA - MARDZAROVO AREA ALL DAY

Our morning walk began in bright sunshine and ended in heavy rain! We could a huge bank of cloud in the distance and loud belows of thunder came every few minutes, this did not deter us from having a lovely hour before the rain came.



MY FAVOURITE SPECIES - THE HUMBLE CORN BUNTING!


As uusual bird song rang out from every direction, we quickly found Turtle Dove, Greenfinch, Corn Bunting Black-headed Bunting, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrow. Jackdaws, a Grey heron, Black Stork and a Raven all flew over us.

As our walk began a Hoopoe began to call, a few Bee-eaters landed on the telephone wires and a Cuckoo called out. We located a Barred Warbler from its song and a a couple of Red-backed Shrikes showed well. Then we found a Rosy Starling perched in adistant bush with a couple of Common Starling, what a beauty that one is! A Roller flew over us as we began our walk back and we had good close views of Tree and Spanish Sparrows.

JUST LOVE THIS BUTTERFLY - BLACK VEINED WHITE


At 8:45am we all climbed into the bus for the 40 minute drive to the volcanic basin around Mardhzarovo
where we spent the rest of the morning. Our walk began in some open scrub where we had a panoramic view of the old volcano ridge and the basin which is now an oak forest. A Woodlark was first on the list we saw it as a Red-backed Shrike chased it off a tree, we got good views of it on the ground. A Hawfinch then delighted us with its appearance nearby and another Barred Warbler showed intermitently. Many butterflies were on show too with Black-veined White, Latticed Brown, Large Skipper, Red Admiral, Painted lady, Knapweed Fritillery and Clouded Yellow to name but a few.

BONELLI'S WARBLERS WERE SINGING EVERYWHERE ALONG THE TRACK

We walked along the road towards the cliff face of the volcano where we had brief views of both Lesser and Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Griffon and Egyptian Vultures circled above with Peregrine Falcon and Honey Buzzard. On the cliff face we found Blue Rock Thrush, Ortolan and Rock Buntings, Crag Martin and Black-eared Wheatear. It was now getting quite warm nad humid as another great bank of cloud headed towards, thunder and lightening pursued us as we drove off to lunch.
EURASIAN OR WOOD NUTHATCH


Lunch was extended by an hour as we waited for the hail and rain storm to subside and just after it stopped we located a nest of the Golden Oriole, the female bird was sitting and the male was in close attendance. We then drove the short distance to the Arda valley on the east side of the town of Madzarovo. Our afternoon walk improved as did the weather as time went by. Soon we were watching Bonwlli's Warbler, Cirl Bunting, Lesser Whitethroat and many species seen earlier. We also got good views of Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Golden Oriole, Semi-collared Flycatcher, grey Wagtail, Little Ringed plover, Crag Martin and Red-rumped Swallow.  A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nest hole provided some entertainment as a Short-toed Treecreeper tried sveral times to enter the hole and a L S Woodpecker poked its head out and pecked at the creeper, a funny sight.

Common Nightingale


We were hoping for a sighting of Golden Eagle but I think the weather put paid to that but we did see Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Steppe Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Griffon Vulture and another Common Buzzard.

the group in the volcanic crater of yester-year

Adonis Blue

Ortolan Bunting


We jumped back into the bus at 5pm and set off for our hotel, on the way back we stopped to look at Common Whitethroat and a Little Owl.

Our 'owl & Nightjar walk' was a disaster, it was too windy and not one bird turned up! We did see lots of Fire Flies though, a fascinating sight.