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A Report from

South East Bulgaria, 20th June - 13th July ,

Allan Finlayson

Having visited the North East of Bulgaria last year (see separate report for 2007 on this site), we decided to return again in 2008, but this time to the South East. Thus, the two reports taken together cover practically the whole of the Eastern seaboard of Bulgaria, from the Romanian border in the north to the Turkish border in the south, and give an idea of what the family birder, tied to the school holidays, might expect to see during the first two weeks of July – if they hire a car. The only significant coastal site we didn’t manage to visit in the course of the two trips was Cape Emine.

The weather was warm and sunny throughout although there was some cloud cover on some days and even a thunderstorm on one occasion.

This time, we stayed at the Santa Marina apartments, which are located about two kilometres outside the town of Sozopol. They were advertised as five star, and they certainly lived up to that description – totally faultless. The price of the holiday was, however, no more expensive than the previous year’s had been. Both trips were arranged with Balkan Holidays.

However, this type of accommodation comes at a terrible price. There was some nice woodland in the immediately vicinity of the hotel, but this was in the process of being ravaged for yet more building work – heavy lorries driving through it all day, throwing up clouds of dust. I felt sorry for the creatures (and there were plenty of them) still hanging on in these woodlands, for their days there are obviously numbered.

Worse was to follow, however, as we soon discovered that practically the whole of the coastline from Burgas to, at least, Tsarevo, seemed to be little more than a line of hotels and holiday homes. It’s a wonder any wildlife survives at all, although this narrow strip of land is reputed to be one of the best in Bulgaria for reptiles and amphibians, with 33 species recorded. In the event, we saw seven species of these – a sign of the changing times? Almost certainly, as one of the locals told us that hotels are being built at the rate of 100 per year – no wonder there is such a mess!

However, once you turn away from the coast at Tsarevo, and head inland on the E87, everything changes dramatically. You then enter the Strandzha national park, a huge area of pristine deciduous forest which stretches for mile after mile to the Turkish border and beyond. Life here could not be more different than on the coast. You can drive for miles without seeing a car, (the road by the way is OK if not brilliant) and the few villages you come across look as thought they are still as they were a couple of hundred years ago – a fascinating and beautiful place, which we fell in love with and would dearly love to revisit.

One word of warning – if you are travelling in the Strandzha area, take your passports with you. It is a sensitive border area, and you will probably be stopped by the police at the various checkpoints (as we were) to have them checked. The police were polite enough though, and we had no problems with them.

July is, of course, not the best time for birds, and I got no new lifers! Mind you, after 5 years of travelling to the Mediterranean/Black Sea at the same time of year, that is maybe not so surprising any more. But this time of year is wonderful for butterflies and also dragonflies.

Records from the apartment area are recorded as ‘Sozopol’. Woodland and wasteland around the apartment area produced some interesting species of birds and butterflies, and a small camp site beside the beach nearby had a very good wetland area full of frogs, snakes, dragonflies and a noisy Great Reed Warbler.

Records marked ‘Veleka river’ refer to the spot on the E87 trunk road between Gramatikovo and Malko Turnavo where the road crosses the river. A car can be parked by the bridge and it’s just a short walk down to the riverside, where there is abundant wildlife in a very small area.

So, in summary, if you intend to visit this area for wildlife watching, you might like to heed the following advice:

  1. If birds are your main interest, it’s probably best to avoid July and August – unless, of course, you have never been to the area before at that time of year, in which case you will see quite a lot of interest. The best place to visit in the South East at this time is the Poda nature reserve, just south of Burgas (see other reports on this website for directions etc.) where a guide can be hired to show you around.
  2. Hire a car! Admittedly, some of the roads (and the Bulgarian drivers!) leave something to be desired, but with care and commonsense you should be OK.


1. Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Ropotamo (1/7), Tsarevo (3/7), Poda (5/7), Karaagach river mouth (5/7) and Nessebur (11/7).

2. Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Recorded from Poda (5/7), and Lake Atanasovsko (13/7).

3. Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Recorded from Alepu (1/7 and 12/7) and Poda (5/7).

4. Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)
Recorded from Ropotamo (5/7).

5. White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)
About 20 seen in fields from the Burgas – Sliven road (9/7).

6. Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)
Recorded from Poda (5/7) where breeding.

7. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Recorded from Alepu (1/7), where breeding (cygnets observed).

8. Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Recorded from Poda (5/7).

9. Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
2-3 Recorded from Alepu (12/7).

10. Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Recorded from Poda (5/7).

11. Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
Recorded from Alepu (1/7) where breeding – distraction display and chicks observed.

12. Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)
Recorded from Poda (5/7) where several observed in summer plumage.

13. Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
Recorded from Poda (5/7)

14. Yellow-legged Gull (Larus cachinnans michahellis)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Tsarevo (3/7), Poda (5/7), Burgas (7/7) and Nessebur (11/7). Abundant everywhere.

15. Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)
Recorded from Nessebur (11/7).

16. Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)
Recorded from Poda (5/7).

17. Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)
Recorded from Poda (5/7), where breeding.

18. Common Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)
Recorded from Ropotamo (2/7), but anything but common.

19. Feral Pigeon (Columbia livia)
Recorded from Burgas (7/7) and Sliven (9/7).

20. Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Recorded from Tsarevo (3/7) and Sliven (9/7).

21. European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)
Recorded from Alepu (1/7) and Ropotamo (5/7).

22. Common Swift (Apus apus)
Recorded from Burgas (7/7), where abundant, and Jerava (9/7).

23. European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
Recorded from Alepu (2/7) and Sozopol (11/7).

24. Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
Recorded from Sozopol (2/7).

25. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Alepu (1/7), Ropotamo (1/7), Poda (5/7), Burgas (7/7), Kosti (8/7), Jerava (9/7), Sliven (9/7) and Nessebur (11/7). Present in large numbers everywhere.

26. Common House Martin (Delichon urbica)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Tsarevo (3/7), Poda (5/7), Karaagach river mouth (5/7), Kosti (8/7), Jerava (9/7), Grammatikovo (10/7) and Malko Turnovo (10/7). Present in large numbers everywhere.

27. Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)
Recorded from Sozopol (4/7), where a pair had apparently bred.

28. White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Ropotamo (2/7), Karaagach river mouth (5/7), Kosti (8/7), Jerava (9/7) and Malko Turnovo (10/7).

29. Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), where one singing outside the apartments.

30. Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Recorded from Sozopol (4/7), where observed in the camp site.

31. Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6) and Alepu (12/7).

32. Common Magpie (Pica pica)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Tsarevo (3/7) and Alepu (12/7).

33. Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Karaagach river mouth (5/7) and Strandzha (10/7).

34. Western Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
Recorded from Sozopol (2/7) and Malko Turnovo (10/7).

35. Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6) and Alepu (12/7).

36. Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)
Recorded from Sozopol (2/7), Burgas (7/7) and Alepu (12/7).

37. Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus)
Recorded from Alepu (1/7 and 12/7), Sozopol (2/7) and Poda (5/7).

38. Olivaceous Warbler (Hippolais pallida)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), where a pair seen, and Alepu (12/7).

39. Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
Recorded from Sozopol (3/7).

40. Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)
Recorded from Ropotamo (1/7).

41. Great Tit (Parus major)
Recorded from Sozopol (8/7).

42. Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), where juveniles observed, and Kosti (8/7). Common.

43. Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)
Recorded from Sozopol (8/7).

44. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Tsarevo (3/7), Burgas (7/7), Kosti (8/7), Jerava (9/7), Sliven (9/7), Grammatikovo (10/7), Malko Turnovo (10/7) and Nessebur (11/7).

45. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
Recorded from Burgas (7/7), Jerava (9/7) and Sliven (9/7). I have noticed, both this year and last, that this species likes town parks in Bulgaria.

46. Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6).

47. Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Tsarevo (3/7) and Jerava (9/7).

48. European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Burgas (7/7) and Malko Turnovo (10/7).

49. Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)
Recorded from Sozopol (2/7), where a family were feeding from plum trees in the campsite.

50. European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Tsarevo (3/7), Karaagach river mouth (5/7), Burgas (7/7), Jerava (9/7), Sliven (9/7), Malko Turnovo (10/7), Nessebur (11/7) and Alepu (12/7).

51. Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)
Recorded from Sozopol (8/7), where one singing from a tree in front of the apartment.

52. Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), both an adult and, on a later date, a juvenile.

53. Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra)
Recorded from Sozopol (2/7).

Unconfirmed sightings

1. There were two suspected sightings of Rufous Bush Robin – One on the cliffs at Tsarevo and one in the sea gardens in Burgas town. In neither case was I able to see the diagnostic features clearly, although the Burgas bird could only have been a Nightingale otherwise. If anyone hears of Rufous Bush Robin being recorded at either of those places, especially this year, I would be grateful if they would contact me on

2. Either a Green or Grey Headed Woodpecker was seen and heard around the apartment, but remained elusive.

3. What looked suspiciously like a flock of Pelicans was observed – distantly and fleetingly – from the bus on the way to Burgas airport to catch the flight home on 13 July. These birds were on Lake Burgas, and were glimpsed from the motorway as we passed through the city centre.

4.  An unidentified tern species was noted flying up the Ropotamo river (2/7).

A reasonable bird list, which obviously would have been bigger on a spring or autumn visit.


1. Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6).

2. Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris)
Recorded from the Silkosya Reserve, Kosti, (8/7).

3. Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)
Recorded from Kosti (8/7).

4. Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Alepu (1/7 and 12/7), Tsarevo (3/7), Kosti (8/7), Grammatikovo (10/7), Malko Turnavo (10/7) and Nessebur (11/7).

5 Clouded Yellow (Colias crocea)
Recorded from Tsarevo (3/7), Veleka river (10/7) and Alepu (12/7).

6. Large White (Pieris brassicae)
Recorded from Alepu (1/7), Ropotamo (1/7), Tsarevo (3/7), Karagaach river mouth (5/7), Malko Turnavo (10/7) and Alepu (12/7).

7. Small White (Pieris rapae)
Recorded from Burgas (7/7), Veleka river (10/7) and Alepu (12/7).

8. Eastern Bath White (Pontia edusa)
Recorded from the Karagaach river mouth (5/7) and the Veleka river (10/7).

9. Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6) and elsewhere.

10. Grecian Copper (Lycaena ottomana)
Recorded from Ropotamo (1/7) and Sozopol (4/7).

11. Sooty Copper (Lycaena tityrus)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6).

12. Lang’s Short-tailed Blue (Leptotes pirithous)
Recorded from Alepu (12/7).

13. Meleager’s Blue (Meleageria daphnis)
Recorded from the Silkosya Reserve, Kosti, (8/7).

14. Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Tsarevo (3/7), Burgas (7/7) and Malko Turnavo (10/7). Common throughout the region.

15. Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6).

16. Comma (Polygonia c-album)
Recorded from Sozopol (3/7) and Alepu (12/7).

17. Cardinal (Argynnis pandora)
Recorded from the Karagaach river mouth (5/7) and Kosti (8/7).

18. Silver Washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)
Recorded from Ropotamo (1/7).

19. Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia)
Recorded from Burgas (7/7), Kosti (8/7), Silkosya Reserve, Kosti, (8/7) and Karandila (9/7).

20. High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe)
Recorded from the Silkosya Reserve, Kosti, (8/7).

21. Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma)
Recorded from Tsarevo (3/7) and the Karagaach river mouth (5/7).

22. Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)
Recorded from Sozopol (3/7).

23. Lattice Brown (Kirinia roxelana)
One joined us for breakfast at the apartment (12/7).

24. Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera)
Recorded from Sozopol (3/7) and Alepu (12/7).

25. Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Ropotamo (1/7), Tsarevo (3/7), Karagaach river mouth (5/7), Jerava (9/7), Karandila (9/7), Strandzha forest (10/7) and Alepu (12/7). A very common species in the whole area.

26. Great Banded Grayling (Brintesia circe)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Ropotamo (1/7) and the Karagaach river mouth (5/7). 27. Dryad (Minois dryas) Recorded from the Silkosya Reserve, Kosti, (8/7), (where common) and Strandzha forest (10/7).

28. Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)
Recorded from Sozopol (10/7), Strandzha forest (10/7) and Alepu (12/7).

29. Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)
Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Ropotamo (1/7), Tsarevo (3/7), Kosti (8/7), Strandzha forest (10/7) and Alepu (12/7).

30. Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)
Recorded from the Karagaach river mouth (5/7) and Alepu (12/7).

31. Pearly Heath (Coenonympha arcania)
Recorded from Karandila (9/7).

Unconfirmed sightings

1. A Small or Essex skipper was seen near the apartment (2/7)

2. A Marbled Skipper seen at Karandila (9/7) and at the Veleka river (10/7), was almost certainly the Oriental Marbled Skipper (Charcharodus orientalis.)

As with last year’s trip, Bulgaria proved yet again to be excellent for Butterflies (and insects in general.)

Damselflies and Dragonflies

1. Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) Recorded from theVeleka river (10/7).
2. Odalisque
(Epallage fatime) Recorded from theVeleka river (10/7).
3. Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) Recorded from the Karagaach River mouth (5/7).
4. Small Redeye
(Erythromma viridulum) Recorded from the Karagaach River mouth (5/7).
5. White-legged Damselfly
(Platycnemis pennipes) Recorded from the Veleka river (10/7).
6. Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope) Recorded from Sozopol (2/7), Poda (5/7), the Karagaach River mouth (5/7) and Ropotamo (5/7).
7. Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus) Recorded from theVeleka river (10/7).
Turkish Goldenring (Cordulegaster picta) Recorded from the Strandzha forest (10/7).
9. Black-tailed Orthetrum
(Orthetrum cancellatum) Recorded from Sozopol (30/6), Poda (5/7) and the Karagaach River mouth (5/7).
10. White-tailed Orthetrum (Orthetrum albistylum) Recorded from Sozopol (2/7).
11. Southern Orthetrum (Orthetrum brunneum) Recorded from Sozopol (11/7).
12. Scarlet Darter
(Crocothemis erythraea) Recorded from Alepu (1/7), Sozopol (2/7) and the Karagaach River mouth (5/7).


1. Fallow Deer  Dama dama) A small herd beside the Ropotamo river (2/7).

Unconfirmed sightings

1. Bats were commonly observed in the evenings in Sozopol town. As one might expect, Mammals were few and far between in the heat of the summer days.

Marine Life                                                                                        

1.  Rhizostoma pulmo
This jellyfish species was common in the sea around Sozopol (4/7).


1. Hummingbird Hawk-moth  (Macroglossum stellatarum)
Seen at the apartment (8/7) and Jerava (9/7).

Unconfirmed sightings: At least 2 – but the lack of an appropriate field guide made identification impossible.

Reptiles and amphibians

1. Marsh Frog (Rana ridibunda)
Recorded from Sozopol (2/7), Karagaach river mouth (5/7), Kosti (8/7) and the Veleka river (10/7).

2. European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
Recorded from the Ropotamo river (1/7) and Sozopol (2/7).

3. Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata)
A juvenile recorded from Sozopol (4/7) and an adult at Poda (5/7).

4. Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)
Adults seen Malko Turnovo (10/7) and adults and juveniles at the Veleka river (10/7).

5. Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis taurica)
Recorded from the Silkosya Reserve, Kosti, Strandzha (8/7).

6. Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)
Recorded from Sozopol (2/7).

7. Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)
Recorded from Karagaach river mouth (5/7), and the Veleka river (10/7)

Unconfirmed sightings

1. A ‘land snake’ was observed briefly at Alepu (12/7) but was too fast to allow identification.

A reasonable list, although with 33 species recorded in the area, perhaps a little disappointing. I suspect this reflects the horrific amount of recent new building work on the coast, with the resultant loss and destruction of habitat.

On the other hand, those creatures reliant on water were usually easy to spot at any likely looking wetland.

Other Creatures                                                                                                            

Cicadas: Heard in various places, notably the Ropotamo river.

Other bugs: Shield bugs were observed in many places, particularly a red and black species.

Carpenter Bees: Several observed; one noted at Jerava on 9/7.

Beetles: A large, shiny metallic green species was observed on several occasions.

Wasps: An enormous specimen by the Karagaach river mouth on 6/7 was probably scolia maculata.

Ant Lion: Observed in two or three places, including near the apartment (2/7).

Grasshoppers: A very large specimen visited the apartment on one occasion and was duly photographed.

Crabs: A freshwater crab was seen in the Veleka river (10/7).

Ladybirds: A few observed.


    Total seen  New species Unconfirmed
  Birds 53 0 4
  Butterflies 31 5 2
  Damselflies and Dragonflies 12 2 0
  Mammals  1 0 1
  Marine Life  1 0 0
  Moths  1 0 2
  Reptiles and Amphibians  7 0 2
  TOTALS 106 8 10


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