Monday, 19 November 2018

Bulgaria, November 2018, Days 7 and 8 - Snowed In

I spent yesterday morning around the Monastery in Shipka and then we left for the airport. The journey to Sofia Airport from Shipka should only take about 2.5 hours but with one hour to go a blizzard started and the journey took six hours and we missed the plane back to Gatwick. The next flight was Thursday so we switched airlines to come back to Standstead later this evening. So we got an extra day in Bulgaria so visited the National Museum of Natural History. 

St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Sofia 

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Bulgaria, November 2018, Day 6, Shipka Birding

Spent the afternoon birding the fields east of Shipka village. Pristine agro-ecosystem with large numbers of Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings, Tree Sparrows, Chaffinch, Brambling and Skylarks with quartering Hen Harrier and Long-legged and Common Buzzards. Ebird list HERE 

Here's a few pics:

Syrian Woodpecker 
Marsh Tit (above  and Cirl Bunting, male (below) 

 Shipka Monastery 
 Buzludzha Monument - an old communist party conference centre 

Here's a local bird list I compiled in 2016- got a few birds to add to the list from the two trips here this year including Gull-billed Tern, Marsh Tit and Brambling. 

Shipka Area Bird List by on Scribd

Friday, 16 November 2018

Bulgaria, November 2018, Day 5- Varna Gulls

We are still waiting for the investment prices to come in so today we spent the morning at Varna bay gull watching and then in the afternoon we made our way back to Shipka. The temperature was four degrees on the coast and was minus 5 by the time we got to the Shipka Pass, which was a picture postcard snowy wintery scene (and a deadly icy descent in the car).

A nice collection of gulls at Varna. This area is a major transition area between Yellow-legged Gull and Caspian Gull so there is plenty of variation and intergrades.  Here's a few specimens, first the different age classes of typical Yellow-legged Gull, then a first-winter Caspian Gull (the only age class present), then a few presumed integrades/hybrids and finally some of the extreme variation in first-winter plumages present which has presumably been generated from the introgression between Yellow-legged and Caspian. The boundaries between variation and hybrids is subjective of course. 






 The washed out remiges of this bird could be a feature of the local transitional conditions. All pictures of the same bird. 


First-winter birds 

and an Eastern Jackdaw to wash down the gull overdose  with it's characteristic silvery neck shawl

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Bulgaria, November 2018, Day 4

A very successful day today. We met Dimiter (our inside man) and Anton (the agent) at 0930 in the Hotel to have a look at a series of selected investment plots that fitted our criteria. We were able to eliminate two of the suggestions which left us with three areas to view-  the periphery of Tyulenovo and Kamen Bryag villages. We then travelled north to view the sites, looked at surrounding properties and plots and after Anton was able to develop an advanced search image he left us to go back to the office to select additional options. We then did the inside job and met a couple of local contacts who showed us private plots and then went on to meet the Mayor of the village to see if he had anything up his sleeve. We've ended up with six options, three of which are perfect matches and we should also have additional options from Anton by tomorrow. The price per meter is ranging from 15-36 m2 so some are obviously trying it on  but with so many options we are in a good bargaining position going forward. We should have a complete bundle of options and prices by tomorrow. 

In addition to the first toe hold we get there is clearly a lot of investment options in this area where we could possibly invite joint ventures to increase the scale of the project but first, as Dimiter says , 'let us catch the first fish'.

It's impossible to not see good birds in this area. While travelling and viewing houses today we had 7 species of raptor an immature White-tailed Eagle flying along the road, two Hen Harriers, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzards, Peregrine, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. Also coveys of Grey Partridge coming up from the fields and Corn Buntings everywhere. 

 Immature White-tailed Eagle (above and below) 

 Juvenile Peregrine (above and below) 

 The Kamen Bryag mayor
 The entire map of regulated land in the area
 This is the plot deeds that we have for reference for each option 
Viewing the plots 
 Above and below- sites that meet all our criteria- within the regional search area (major migration area), within 500m of the Black sea, adjacent to a Natura 2000 site/SPA in at least one direction, room for expansion, vehicle access, mixed semi-natural habitats,  regulated to permit construction of a research cabin, electric and water available, close proximity to facilities, 4G and within budget. 

 Me and the old man ready to cut some mustard 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Bulgaria, November 2018, Days 2 and 3

Spent the last couple of days travelling to our observatory/nature reserve investment search area, refining the target, meeting with estate agents and getting in a bit of birding and nature stuff. Yesterday we left Shipka (after spending the morning in Kaz) and did the 5 hour drive to Varna where we met Dimiter- our man on the ground. We had a look round Varna harbour early this morning and then met the estate agents with Dimiter and started to make a plan for targeted viewings tomorrow. Then after a morning of planning and lunch at Happy Bar (the Bulgarian equivalent of Hooters) we spent the afternoon checking out the first search area (which we found out has been bought up by Russians anyway ahead of an illegal development plan) and then did a bit of birding at Cape Kaliakra. 

Here's a few pics from the last couple of days.

 Siskins feeding on Chicory
 Black-throated Diver in Varna Harbour 
 Black-necked Grebe 
 Crested Lark outside the Happy Bar 
 20+ Harbour Porpoise off Cape Kaliakra (also Shags, Arctic Skua, Black Redstart and a sea absolute full of jelly fish) 
 The Black Sea around Cape Kaliakra was totally packed with this very large jellyfish 
 Cape Kaliakra 
 Our observatory/nature reserve investment search area between Cape Kaliakra and Shabla. The whole region is a major migration route (the Via Pontica) with hundreds of thousands of birds migrating through each year 
Siskins again 

Monday, 12 November 2018

Bulgaria, November 2018

Currently in Bulgaria back at the Balkan Ecology Project. Heading off to the Black Sea coast today to look for a new area, in the hope of finding somewhere to buy a small property and set up a migration observation point. A long way to go with this. Today we had a look at the new plot to the east of Shipka, where we did the bioblitz last year, food production has started on that plot now. For full updates on this project see HERE .

There was a cat roaming around the fields by the lake- looked like a hybrid Wildcat. Also had Black Woodpecker flying along the ridge and large numbers of Tree Sparrow and Chaffinch to the west of the village. A few Bramblings around, Bullfinch, Crested Larks and Syrian Woodpeckers also. 

 Hybrid Wildcat- the barred dark tipped tail, barred legs and single dark stripe on tail and back are good Wildcat features. However the spotting on the flanks, the less full tail and lack of buffy snout indicate a non pure animal. 
 The stripes on the face and neck are also good Wildcat features. 
 Another shot showing the single black tail and back stripe
 An impressive looking creature nonetheless 
 The Shipka Monastery 
 Sunset over the Valley of the Roses 
Dylan at work