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A Report from

Birding around Melnik, SW Bulgaria, 16-17th April 2005,


Alexander Georgiev (,

Biology student at Sofia University

Bird data for the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds collected by Iordan Hristov ( and Kostadin Georgiev (

About this trip

Since the beginning of 2005 the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) is working on a project that studies the habitats and birdlife of nine sites along the valleys of Struma and Mesta Rivers in Southwest Bulgaria. This is part of an effort to collect data for the inclusion of the sites into the NATURA 2000 network of protected areas.

It was one of these monitoring trips to the Melnik area that I joined and am reporting on here.

The volunteers that were responsible for data collection are Iordan Hristov from the BSPB and Kostadin Georgiev (Biology student at Sofia University).


Take the E 79 from Sofia towards Greece but don't go as far as that. Along the way there are various other spots, worthwhile checking for birds (e.g. Blagoevgrad fishponds - can be seen from the road and Kresna gorge). The last town you pass along the E 79 is Sandanski.

After Sandanski, watch for a turn to the right off the road and follow the sign-post to Melnik. The turn will take you east off the main E79 to the foothills of Pirin mountain.

It's easiest if you go by car since coach services in the area are not very frequent. You can also take a train from Sofia to either Sandanski or Petrich and then take a coach to Melnik. There are also services from Melnik to Rozhen monastery but again you will be dependent on their time-table.


Melnik is the most famous wine town in Bulgaria. There are a lot of vineyards and everywhere you can buy locally made red wine. It is also a very touristy place - there are plenty of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to independent land-ladies who would let rooms in their houses to travelers. Generally these rooms are kept in good condition for tourists. You can arrange accommodation on the spot, although if you are coming to Melnik during some holidays it can get a bit crowded here (e.g. February 14th, which is also Trifon Zarezan in Bulgaria - the day of grapes, wine and wine-makers). Food can be bought in stores and you can also eat in a variety of restaurants (a lot of them in traditional Bulgarian style). There is a pharmacy in town. Mobiles have fairly good coverage both in Melnik and all around the area.

Birding highlights

Melnik's climate and habitats are strongly influenced by the Mediterranean. This makes the area good for species that will not be seen in the more northern areas of the country.

The Subapline Warbler, which we saw, is typical of the scrub around the Melnik Pyramids (sandstone cones that are the dominating feature of the landscape here). Black-eared Wheatears are present, too. This is also a good place to look for Sombre Tits and Rock buntings. Woodchat Shrikes should also be common, but further on during the breeding season. The area is also great for Masked Shrikes, but again a later visit during the season should confirm this.


On Saturday we did a lengthy hike from Melnik to Rozhen Monastery and then towards Zlatolist village and back to Melnik (in a kind of circle).

Starting from Melnik you can hear and see lots of Nightingales, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Blackcaps, Goldfinches, Great Tits, Starlings, Blackbirds and some Alpine Swifts.

As you go out of the town the sandstone slopes are worth watching for Black-eared Wheatears.

There are trails that go up and down through the area (some of them pretty steep). Going over the ridges gives a really good vantage point over the whole area - good for spotting raptors such as the Common Kestrel and the Short-toed Eagle. It is from such a ridge that we spotted a Subalpine Warbler just down off us in a gully.

According to the Rough guide 'the classic trail over the hills' is 6.5 km long and it would take you 1hr 30 min to reach the monastery from Melnik. It would certainly take you quite longer if you watch birds along the way and even longer if you happen to take not the 'classic' trail and end up crawling through some thick undergrowth and slogging up the rugged terrain (which we did). On the 16th we left Melnik at 6.40 AM and reached the Rozhen Monastery just before noon. Even though it wasn't really hot (it can be baking hot here in summer) taking enough water is a good idea.

From Rozhen (1.20 PM) we took a dirt road to the village of Zlatolist (south). Birding opportunities are excellent all along the route - there is a good mix of habitats with woodland, river valleys, scrub vegetation and arable fields. By about 6 PM we reached Melnik along the 'classic trail' mentioned in the Rough Guide - one fairly steep ridge to climb over there just before arriving into town. Take care to turn left when the dirt road from Zlatolist village splits at one point. If you take the other you will finish in a sort of dead-end where the trail just melts into the landscape.

On Sunday we drove to Rozhen monastery from Melnik, parked close to the monastery and took a dirt road down towards Zlatolist village (not the same we used the previous day, though). From 6.45 AM we walked along this road till one small rickety reddish house/shed on the right side of the road and then turned back. We were back at the car by around 10.30 or so. The omni-present Nightingales, Black Birds, Great Tits were noted, also Sombre and Marsh Tits. A Whitethroat was singing off a perch and kept bringing nesting material down into a bramble bush. Middle-spotted Woodpecker was foraging in the trees just by the road. Hoopoes were flying off the meadows as we approached them.

As we reached the car and the monastery it started drizzling. Good timing.

See the photos from this trip on:

Species list:

    1. Short-toed eagle - Circaetus gallicus, 1
    2. Montagus Harrier - Circus pygargus, 1 migrant
    3. Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo, 7 but most of them are migrants.
    4. Goshawk - Accipiter gentiles, 1
    5. Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus, 3
    6. Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus, 1 pair + 2 individuals
    7. Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto, 3
    8. Common Cuckoo - Cuculus canorus, 7 calling
    9. Little Owl - Athene noctua: Can be heard in the town of Melnik itself, 1
    10. Alpine swift - Apus melba, 10
    11. Hoopoe - Upupa epops, 6
    12. Green woodpecker - Picus viridis, 4. Calls mainly.
    13. Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major, 2
    14. Syrian Woodpecker - Dendrocopos syriacus, 1
    15. Middle Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos medius, 1
    16. Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica, abundant
    17. Red-rumped Swallow - Hirundo daurica, abundant
    18. Pied Wagtail - Motacilla alba, 1
    19. Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea, 2
    20. Robin - Erithacus rubecula, 2
    21. Nightingale - Luscinia megarhynchos, Common all over the place.
    22. Black Redstart - Phoenicurus ochruros, 6
    23. Redstart - Phoenicurus phoenicurus, 1
    24. Black-eared Wheatear - Oenanthe hispanica, 2
    25. Song Thrush - Turdus philomelos, 1
    26. Blackbird - Turdus merula, abundant
    27. Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla, 20
    28. Orphean Warbler - Sylvia hortensis, 1
    29. Whitethroat - Sylvia communis, 2
    30. Subalpine Warbler - Sylvia cantillans, 2
    31. Chiffchaff - Phyloscopus collybita, 11
    32. Spotted Flycatcher - Musciapa striata, 3
    33. Collared Flycatcher - Ficedula albicollis, 1
    34. Great Tit - Parus major, common.
    35. Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus, 1
    36. Marsh Tit - Parus palustris, 2
    37. Sombre Tit - Parus lugubris, 2
    38. Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos caudatus, 3 near Rozhen Monastery
    39. Nuthatch - Sitta europaea, 1
    40. Magpie - Pica pica, Just a few close to villages.
    41. Jay - Garrulus glandarius, common in the forests around.
    42. Raven - Corvus corax, 3
    43. Starling - Sturnus vulgaris, very common.
    44. Golden oriole - Oriolus oriolus, 4
    45. House sparrow - Passer domesticus, abundant
    46. Tree sparrow - Passer montanus, abundant
    47. Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs, min 8
    48. Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis, 14
    49. Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris, 9
    50. Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes, 21
    51. Cirl Bunting - Emberiza cirlus, 30
    52. Corn Bunting - Miliaria calandra, 8
    53. Rock Bunting - Emberiza cia, 8

Further reading:

Where to Watch Birds in Bulgaria by Petar Iankov has great suggestions for birding en route from Sofia to Melnik.

Rough Guide to Bulgaria by Jonathan Bousfield & Dan Richardson gives plenty of non-birding background on this area.

Birding tours:

Neophron Ltd is the commercial arm of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds. It organizes a variety of birdwatching, wildlife and nature history tours and holidays throughout the country and the profits help support the conservation work of the Society. More on: or write to


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