Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

Black Sea Bulgaria, 15-20 February 2006,

Steve Lister


Tim Appleton put the trip together for himself and seven friends; it was organised by Neophron ( which is a branch of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, their profits being channelled into conservation work. Our guide was Dimeter (Mitko) Georgiev, who is the Neophron manager; he was excellent and the trip went without a hitch.

No cheap charter flights run in February and we had to travel scheduled with Bulgarian Air; our outward flight direct to Varna was cancelled and we had to wait nearly four hours for a connection in Sofia, wiping out the first day: a Hawfinch near the domestic terminal was scant compensation.

We spent the first three nights based in Kavarna (Hotel Kavarna – adequate rooms, good food) and then two at Bourgas (Hotel St Elijah – good but cramped rooms, good food). We travelled in a 15 seater coach, just about big enough for the eight of us and our gear.


February 16th

Early departure from Kavarna for the largely frozen Lake Durankulak, c30 minutes away. Very cold. Birded the largely frozen lake from near the observation tower. Small numbers (hundreds rather than thousands) of geese were flying around. Coffee and our packed breakfast at the Dell campsite café next to the lake. Looked at the birds on the sea.

Drove to some fields near Cape Shabla when Mitko got word of a feeding flock of Red-breasted Geese.  Managed to get to within 50 metres of them.

Another look at the sea at Tuzla, where we had lunch in a small restaurant. Afternoon spent at Tuzla and Shabla lakes, the latter completely frozen and birdless.

February 17th

Morning as yesterday as far as breakfast. Overnight rain and a rise in temperature had resulted in the lake having a little more open water. Fantastic numbers of geese had roosted on the sea and were flighting over. Drove a circuit to about 20 km inland searching without success searching for feeding flocks of geese.

Drove the short distance to Cape Kaliakra, with lunch nearby in a small restaurant, shared with a funeral party. Birded around the cape until dark.

February 18th

Light rain until mid-morning. Left Kavarna and drove to the resort of Albena, closed for the winter. Enormous numbers of geese had roosted on the sea and were flighting inland all the time we were there. Had a walk along roads skirting the adjacent Baltata Forest. Continuing on our way we stopped for a small flock of roadside White-fronts and Mitko got out, only to be back straightaway to put us on to a first-winter Lesser White-front amongst them.

Next was a quiet walk around a part of Kamchia Forest, with time spent looking for raptors over the nearby valley.  Then after lunch we made a few roadside stops along the main coast road on the way to Pomorie saltpans, possibly the most disappointing site of the trip, and arrived in Bourgas at dusk.

February 19th

All day around the Bourgas lakes. We started with Lake Vaya, viewing from the unsavoury edge of an industrial area and the roof of a half-built (or half-demolished) factory. Then we moved on to the inland end of Lake Mandra, where we found a remarkable number of raptors as well as a few thousand White-fronted Geese and a family of two adult and one first-winter Lesser White-fronts. Then on to the Poda information centre and the nearby pools. Finally a brief look at Atanassovsko Lake.

February 20th

Left Bourgas and travelled to Varna for the flight home. Took an inland route, through a wooded pass through foothills of the Eastern Balkans range. Stopped several times at likely spots. Also spent some time, mostly in the fog, at Yatata, a BSPB managed wetland area at the inland end of Lake Varna.

By lunchtime the weather was scorching hot and the outside cafes in Varna were very popular, a marked contrast to the weather we had experienced just four days earlier.

Notes on selected species

The main objective of the trip was to see the impressive flocks of Red-breasted Geese and so wildfowl in general were well recorded. Most of the counts were made by either Tim Appleton or myself but those of the goose flights are down to Mitko and his assistant, both of whom are regularly involved in goose census work.

The species selected for comment are a mix of those of most interest to visiting birders and those where we might have significant data.

Mute Swan  Cygnus olor
300-400 at Lake Durankulak on 16/2 and 17/2. There was a large number (40?) of corpses on the ice, presumably due to the harsh conditions in the week before our visit, with daytime temperatures down to -13C; one corpse had tested positive for Avian Influenza and the authorities had put down disinfected straw across the access tracks and insisted on us disinfecting our footwear before leaving.

Hundreds on the Bourgas lakes 19/2.

Whooper Swan  Cygnus cygnus
150 at Lake Durankulak 16/2 and 17/2. 24 on the sea at Albena 18/2 later flew inland. 40 on fields near Kamchia Forest 18/2. 5 on Lake Vaya, Bourgas 19/2. 1 sick-looking first-winter near the ferry across the Lake Varna ferry 20/2.

Bewick's Swan  Cygnus columbianus
1 adult with the Whoopers on Lake Vaya 19/2.

White-fronted Goose  Anser albifrons
400 over Lake Durankulak 16/2 but c20,000 over there 17/2. Many thousands over Albena 18/2. 40 at the roadside south of Albena 18/2. c4000 near Lake Mandra, Bourgas 19/2. 90 flew north over the pass north of Bourgas 20/2. 110 north of Lake Varna 20/2.

Lesser White-fronted Goose  Anser erythropus
A first-winter at the roadside south of Albena 18/2 and a pair of adults plus one first-winter near Lake Mandra, Bourgas 19/2. All were with White-fronts.

Greylag Goose  Anser anser
Hundreds at Lake Durankulak 17/2 (all appeared to be orange-billed) but only small numbers elsewhere, with none on the Bourgas lakes.

Red-breasted Goose  Branta ruficollis
250 over Lake Durankulak 16/2 but at least 5000 over there 17/2. A feeding flock of 960-1100 south of Cape Shabla 16/2. A feeding flock of 1000+ near Tuzla Lake, Shabla 16/2. Thousands over Albena 18/2. 1 at the roadside south of Albena 18/2. 3 near Lake Mandra, Bourgas 19/2. 1 north of Lake Varna 20/2.

Ruddy Shelduck  Tadorna ferruginea
2 at Lake Durankulak 17/2.

Common Shelduck  Tadorna tadorna
20 at Pomorie Lake 18/2. 380 at Lake Atanassovsko, Bourgas 19/2.

Red-crested Pochard  Netta rufina
60 feeding amongst Mute Swans at Lake Durankulak 17/2.

Ferruginous Duck  Aythya nyroca
9 on a roadside lagoon at Poda, Bourgas 19/2.

Greater Scaup  Aythya marila
40 on the sea off Shabla 16/2.

Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra
1 female on the sea of Lake Durankulak 16/2.

Velvet Scoter  Melanitta fusca
 13 on the sea at Cape Kaliakra 17/2.

Common Goldeneye  Bucephala clangula
30 on the sea off Lake Durankulak and Shabla 16/2. Similar numbers on Bourgas lakes 19/2. 6 on the sea of Albena 18/2.

Smew  Mergus albellus
25 at Lake Durankulak 16/2 and 17/2. A total of 364 on Bourgas lakes 19/2, with 330 of them on Lake Vaya.

Red-breasted Merganser  Mergus serrator
4 on the sea off Lake Durankulak 16/2. 3 off Cape Kaliakra 17/2. 1 off Albena 18/2. 3 at on the sea at Poda, Bourgas 19/2.

Goosander   Mergus mergus
1 on the sea at Lake Durankulak 16/2 and 3 on the lake itself 17/2.

White-headed Duck  Oxyura leucocephala
107+ on Bourgas lakes 19/2, with 103of them on Lake Vaya.

Black-throated Diver  Gavia arctica
1 on the sea off Lake Durankulak 17/2. A few distant unidentified divers in flight.

Great Crested Grebe  Podiceps cristatus
75 off Cape Kaliakra 17/2 otherwise small numbers.

Black-necked Grebe  Podiceps nigricollis
40 on the sea off Lake Durankulak and 15 off Shabla 16/2. 155+ off Cape Kaliakra 17/2. 26 on the sea at Poda, Bourgas 19/2.

Dalmatian Pelican  Pelecanus crispus
7 on Bourgas lakes 19/2 - 1 on Vaya and 6 around Poda.

Pygmy Cormorant  Phalacrocorax pygmeus
Probably 1000+ around Bourgas lakes 19/2, mainly at Vaya and Poda. 10+ at Yatata, Varna 20/2.

European Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis
30 off Cape Shabla 16/2 and a similar number at Cape Kaliakra 17/2.

Great Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo
200+ at Cape Kaliakra 17/2 and several flocks of up to 100 in flight over Lake Durankulak the same day. Hundreds around Lake Vaya and Poda, Bourgas 19/2.

Great White Egret  Egretta alba
4 near Kamchia Forest 18/2. 36+ at Bourgas lakes 19/2, mainly at Poda.

Black-crowned Night Heron  Nycticorax nycticorax
6 roosting along a canal north of Lake Varna 20/2.

Great Bittern  Botaurus stellaris
In the Bourgas area 1 at Poda and 1 at Lake Mandra 19/2.

Black Kite  Milvus migrans
1 near Lake Mandra, Bourgas 19/2.

White-tailed Eagle  Haliaeetus albicilla
1 immature at Lake Durankulak 16/2 and 17/2. 1 adult at Lake Mandra, Bourgas 19/2.

Western Marsh Harrier  Circus aeruginosus
Main concentrations 40+ at Lake Durankulak 17/2 and 60 around Bourgas lakes 19/2.

Hen Harrier  Circus cyaneus
4 at Lake Durankulak, 1 near Cape Shabla and 4 at Shabla lakes all 16/2. At least 10 others seen elsewhere.

Northern Goshawk  Accipiter gentilis
1 at Lake Durankulak 16/2 and 17/2. 1 perched adult at Lake Mandra and 1 at Poda 19/2. 1 at Lake Varna 20/2.

Common Buzzard  Buteo buteo
50+ around Bourgas lakes 19/2, mainly at the end of Lake Mandra. Up to 25 on other dates.

Long-legged Buzzard  Buteo rufinus
1 near Cape Kaliakra 17/2. 2 near Kamchia Forest 18/2. 3 near Lake Mandra 19/2.

Rough-legged Buzzard  Buteo lagopus
1 inland of Lake Durankulak 17/2.

Peregrine  Falco peregrinus
1 adult at Poda, Bourgas 19/2.

Northern Lapwing  Vanellus vanellus
40 at Lake Mandra, Bourgas 19/2 were newly arrived 'spring migrants'.

Great Black-headed Gull  Larus ichthyaetus
1 second-winter at Lake Mandra, Bourgas 19/2.

Little Gull  Larus minimus
10 feeding offshore at Shabla 16/2.

Slender-billed Gull  Larus genei
8 at Lake Atanassovsko, Bourgas 19/2.

Caspian Gull  Larus cachinnans
Not counted properly but hundreds on beaches in the Durankulak and Shabla areas 16/2 and 17/2, out-numbering the Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis there. Smaller numbers at Albena 18/2. Much less common at Bourgas lakes 19/2.

Eurasian Eagle Owl  Bubo bubo
1 seen well and another heard in the valley at Cape Kaliakra 17/2.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos minor
2 in Kamchia Forest 18/2.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos medius
2 in Kamchia Forest 18/2. 2 in the foothills woods 20/2.

Syrian Woodpecker  Dendrocopos syriacus
6 singles in open country around Durankulak and Shabla 16/2 and 17/2.

Calandra Lark  Melanocorypha calandra
120 in one flock near Cape Shabla 16/2.

Sombre Tit  Parus lugubris
1 near Kamchia Forest 18/2. 3+ in the foothills woodlands 20/2.

Short-toed Treecreeper  Certhia brachydactyla
4 in Baltata Forest, Albena 18/2. 2 in the foothills woodlands 20/2.

Spanish Sparrow  Passer hispaniolensis
30 in a large mixed flock north of Pomorie, 18/2.

Eurasian Siskin  Carduelis spinus
32 at Albena 18/2.

Hawfinch  Coccothraustes coccothraustes
10 at Tuzla Lake, Shabla 16/2. 25 at Poda, Bourgas 19/2. A few singles.

Cirl Bunting  Emberiza cirlus
4, including 3 males, in the foothills woodlands 20/2.

Other species recorded

Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Feral Pigeon, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Skylark, Water Pipit (heard only), White Wagtail, Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler (heard only), Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Penduline Tit (heard only), Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Hooded Crow, Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Yellowhammer (heard only), Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting. 

The total species list for the trip was 120. 


Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?