THE BIRDWATCHING IN BULGARIA
Bulgaria is a paradise for birdwatchers. Lying on the Balkan Peninsula, one of the most strategically important points for bird observation in Europe, Bulgaria has taken a lot from everything: waterfowl, waders, mountain and meadow bird species typical for Central and Northern Europe, passerines and raptors characteristic of the Mediterranean, steppe and even semi-desert species influenced by the proximity of The Northern Pontic regions and Asia Minor. The variety of habitats that could be found in the country is amazing. When we add the outstanding location at the end of the natural bottle-neck, formed by the second biggest migratory route in Europe (Via Pontica) we end up with a complete complex of conditions for a superb birdwatching almost all the year round, including a checklist of more than 420 species discovered by now. Bulgaria is famous for watching thousands Red-breasted Geese in winter, massive flocks of tens of thousands of pelicans, storks and incredible variety of birds of prey during migration and not the least for other specialties like Olive-tree Warbler, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Masked Shrike, Levant Sparrowhawk, Orphean Warbler, Pied Wheatear, Paddyfield Warbler, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Black-headed Bunting, Isabelline Wheatear and a whole lot more…
Brown Bear viewing is a new attractions also becoming more and more popular especially when combined with daily hikes for bear tracking, observations of Balkan Chamois, Capercaillie or a Wallcreeper.
WHEN TO WATCH BIRDS IN BULGARIA?
No doubt that the best season for birdwatching in Bulgaria is spring. For special occasions (watching migration or birds of prey displays), April could be quite sufficient, but true classic is the period May – June. This is the time when species lists are really long – at least 200 species in 10 days! But this is possible when using local guide with good field experience otherwise you should be perfectly informed for the ultimate birding sites, different ways for approaching them and not the least – more time for investigation of the territory! Conventional vacations (up to two weeks) usually include the Eastern Rodopi Mountains, the Southern Black Sea Coast and the wetlands in Maritime Dobroudzha in Northeastern Bulgaria. These sites provide opportunities for watching many birds of prey (more than 20 species sometimes!), great variety of passerines from the Mediterranean complex, some steppe species and of course – many water-connected birds.
Early summer (July – mid August) is also a nice season for birding, although many species are still busy with nesting or feeding youngsters thus remaining hardly visible! Their vocal activity is quite low which causes additional difficulties for finding the shier among them! The weather in the southern parts of the country is rather hot around noon, making the time for real birding really limited during daytime! However as a combination with a holiday along the Black Sea Coast, birding could be done within the same areas as the ones mentioned above for Spring Birding!
Early summer is nice for birdwatching in the mountains. Many interesting species, inhabiting the alpine meadows, could be encountered above 1700 m a.s.l. If you are a group you could always request for a tailor-made itinerary here.
Autumn (mid August – September) is the time for keen lovers of numerous flocks of soaring migrants along the “Via Pontica” flyway – storks, pelicans and thousands of birds of prey among them. Bird ringing could be also performed as an additional delight during days without good migration. Autumn is a nice season as regards to satisfying the interests of the whole family – members are free to choose between birding and resting along the sunny beaches of the Southern Black Sea Coast (providing also lots of other attractions like trekking, horseriding, cycling etc.).
October is the “rarities” month, offering not quantity, but quality and possible meetings with very rare or scanty species (especially by the coastal areas of Eastern Bulgaria).
Winter birdwatching is very much dependent on the weather conditions in the country. During severe winters it could be successful even during December but January and February are better. Again the target areas (hyperhaline lagoons, large lakes and gulfs) are situated along the Black Sea Coast, thus requiring several hours long land transfers from Sofia to Varna and back. Tens of thousands of geese and other waterfowl are the primal aim for birdwatchers (especially the spectacular taking off of numerous flocks of Red-breasted Geese in the morning!). During snowfalls part of the roads within the “gees” territories in the Northeastern Bulgaria may remain isolated and blocked for few days, so forecast consultation is much recommended when traveling alone.
THE BIRD RINGING IN BULGARIA
Bird ringing is a universal method in ornithology, which has already been used since the beginning of the previous century all over the world. This method gives opportunity to study the directions, terms, duration, distance and routes of migration, to determination the exact boundaries of breeding and wintering areas of species, subspecies and populations, to studying the ethology, breeding and wintering biology, to clarifying the role of birds as carriers of diseases and parasites and so on. Knowing the routes and areas with concentrations of birds, people may organize their protection and conservation of their habitats.
In Bulgaria bird ringing started in 1928 when the Bulgarian Ornithological Centre was founded at the Royal Natural History Institutes in Sofia. Till the beginning of the Second World War more than 22 000 birds were ringed and about 240 recoveries were received from number of European and African countries.
During the War this part of the building holding the Bulgarian Ornithological Centre was totally destroyed by a bomb, as a result of the frequent air-raids. Hence all archives and database were lost.
Post-war reconstruction of the Centre was a hard and long process. The correspondence and ringing activity were restored in 1961. The Bulgarian Ornithological Centre started operating on a mass scale in mid-1970s and continued in 1980s – the number of ringed birds increased 65 times, reaching 35 000 birds annually! A number of field stations and observatories started functioning – Rupite, Atanasovsko Lake, Belogradchik, Kaliakra, Dragichevo, Chernelka, Kiustendil, Lesovo, Stulpishte, Chelopechene, Dolni Bogrov.
The economic crash in Bulgaria after 1989 had especially negative influence on the activity of the Bulgarian Ornithological Centre. The lack of funds for mist-nets, maintenance of the field stations, communication and consumables made the whole process of organizing the bird ringing very difficult. During the recent years except for a number of comparatively active ringers only the station “Atanasovsko Lake” is operating and only in autumn migration. Since 1998 bird ringing is also performed at the “Kalimok” field base, which is used for breeding of threatened species of birds with the purpose of subsequent restocking into nature.
Nowadays the Bulgarian Ornithological Centre functions as a separate department at the Institute of Zoology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
Ringing permits are still being provided by Institute of Zoology (BAS) upon recommendation of the Bulgarian Ornithological Centre. However after the Biodiversity Law came into use in Bulgaria and due to the adaptation of the national legislation to that of the European Union, some changes and uncertainties are expected to occur.
Rings and ringers
Since the establishment of Bulgarian Ornithological Centre, more than 700 ringers have been working voluntarily. Annually about 100 ringers work actively. Their geographic distribution is not even since they are concentrated in the bigger cities – Sofia, Plovdiv, Bourgas, Varna, Stara Zagora etc. However they travel a lot and this network of ringers covers a great part of the country. Most of the ringers are specialized in marking only passerines.
Metal rings of Bulgarian Ornithological Centre are used all over the Bulgarian territory.
There are 11 types of rings in use. Ringers do not pay for them!
Since ringing and birdwatching often come together, there are quite good opportunities for combining both in Bulgaria. The most perfect time of doing that offer late summer, especially the period August-September! This is also the best moment as regards to watching migration of soaring migrants along the “Via Pontica” flyway, following the coastline of the Western Black Sea Coast! The spectacular view of thousands storks, pelicans and birds of prey attract each year not only birdwatchers, but also keen bird ringers, who would like to make the most satisfactory combination for their stay.