Bulgaria in Autumn

Brilliant birding along the Via Pontica - spectacular migration on the Black Sea coast!

Prices:£1795 PP, £130 single supplement. Deposit £300
Dates:8 Sep - 15 Sep 2018
More Info

Heatherlea Leader Phil Knott plus local guide.
Max group size 12 clients.
Departure from London Luton.
Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are FREE.

An exciting new tour focusing on the spectacular annual migration of thousands of birds of prey, pelicans, storks and passerines along the Black Sea Flyway, known as the Via Pontica. The tour is based in just two centres, giving a thorough exploration of the Black Sea coastline, the bottleneck for all manner of migratory and resident birds. This tour is suitable for beginners and experts alike, with most stops offering a range of easy birds, as well as identification challenges and good chances of hard to get Eastern scarcities.

The first part of the tour is dedicated to the wetlands around Bourgas, which form one of Europe’s richest bird areas with over 340 bird species recorded to date. One of the biggest attractions of the Bourgas wetlands is the huge flocks of White and Dalmatian Pelicans roosting there during migration. A prime spot will be Atanasovsko Lake – a shallow saline lagoon with traditional saltpans still maintained. The lake is of major importance for a huge number of birds, including Black-winged Stilt, Broad-billed and Curlew Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Slender-billed and Mediterranean Gulls, Gull-billed Tern and many other migrating wader and waterfowl species. We will also spend an afternoon on the main migration watch-point at this lake, watching raptor migration and we would bird the salt-pans, focusing on waders and shorebirds. The numbers of soaring birds following the Black Sea coastal flyway in autumn can rival those at the Bosphoros or the Gibraltar – endless flocks of thousands of White Storks, Lesser Spotted Eagles and Honey Buzzards and incredible numbers of Black Storks, Booted Eagles, Short-toed Eagles, Black Kites, Red-footed Falcons, Montagu’s Harriers, Levant Sparrowhawks and others pass overhead.

We will watch the weather carefully, aiming to spend one of the mornings watching the migration at Dyulinski Pass – a watch point high up in the wood-clad hills of the Eastern Balkan range, overlooking the seashore below. As we drive north from the southern Black Sea coast, we will stop to explore the coastal riverine forests and sand dunes, and later the oak forests in the Eastern Balkan range. There we can expect to find residents like the Grey-headed Woodpecker, Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treeckreeper, Hawfinch and other forest birds.

The second part of our tour takes in the northernmost part of the Bulgarian Black sea coast – Coastal Dobroudzha. It is a vast plain, rolling gradually towards the coastal sand dunes and lakes. Here are the last remnants of the Great Steppe, formerly occupying the majority of the region and a glance at the map shows that this is a topographical bottleneck for the birds on their way south. A great number of birds are likely to be present here, with many notable Eastern species including Little Bittern, Ferruginous Duck, Glossy Ibis, Caspian Tern and many more. The southern limit of this geographic area is Cape Kaliakra with its dramatic red cliffs, dominating the landscape overlooking the Black Sea. There we will watch desmarestii race Shags and migrating seabirds, checking the sparse cover as we go. Depending on a combination of several weather factors, there is the possiblity of spectacular migrant falls, where every bush can hold warblers, chats and shrikes. In more normal conditions the shrubs should still produce a good diversity of warblers and chats with chances of Icterine, River and Barred Warblers and good numbers of Red-breasted Flycatchers and Red-backed Shrikes.  On the dry, open steppe-land we can find Calandra Lark, Stone Curlew and a range of migrants, including Isabelline Wheatears, Bee-eaters, various pipits (like Tawny and Red-throated), larks (sometimes Lesser Short-toed Lark), shrikes and buntings and much more. Migrating raptors should be passing overhead all the time, including Levant Sparrowhawk, Saker and Red-footed Falcons. Some resident species like the Long-legged Buzzard and Eagle Owl will also be around and we will specifically target these iconic birds.

Outline Itinerary

Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office!

Day 1:  Arrival onto Black Sea coast, transfer to Bourgas

Arrival at Bourgas or Varna Airport (on the Black Sea coast). If time allows we will spend a few hours birding near to our hotel, getting us acquainted with the more familiar birds of Bulgaria, though anything is possible overhead, with the possibility of raptors, hirundines, swifts or Bee-eater flocks at any time. Our comfortable accommodation is in the attractive suburb of Sarafovo on the outskirts of Bourgas, where we shall spend the next 4 nights. Birds in the hotel grounds or nearby include Syrian Woodpecker, Little Owl and Black Redstart.

Days 2-3: Bourgas Lake, Atanasovsko Lake, Mandra lake and Poda lagoon

The first two days will be spent building an excellent birdlist at the rich coastal wetlands around Bourgas: Bourgas Lake, Atanasovsko Lake, Mandra lake and Poda lagoon. These sites are worth working slowly and thoroughly, due to the range of habitats and the sheer number of migrants moving along the coast.

The main species of birds likely to be seen include the White-tailed Eagle, Dalmatian and White pelicans, Pygmy Cormorant, Purple, Squacco and Night Herons, Little Bittern, Ferruginous Duck, Black-winged Stilt, Marsh Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, Kentish Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Slender-billed and Mediterranean Gulls, Gull-billed Tern, Spotted and Little Crakes, and many other migrating wader and waterfowl species.

The numbers of soaring birds following the Black Sea coastal flyway in autumn is also spectacular. In September the main migrating species include the Black Stork, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Black Kite, Red-footed Falcon, Honey Buzzard, Common Buzzard and ‘Steppe’ Buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Montagu’s Harrier and Pallid Harrier.

One highlight may be the visit to Pomorie, with its shallow saltpans and lagoon. Depending on the water level, it regularly hosts good numbers of shorebirds, with commoner waders as well as a good range of scarcities like Black-winged Stilt, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Kentish Plover and desirable eastern rarities such as Broad-billed and Marsh Sandpiper, with gulls including Slender-billed, Little and Mediterranean.

Day 4: Strandzha Mountains

On our final day in the region, we will spend our only day of the tour in an enclosed birding habitat, with a visit to the mature beech and oak forests in the Strandzha Mountains. Situated to the south of Bourgas, this is the little visited southeastern corner of Bulgaria. There we will have good chances to see the prized White-backed Woodpecker as well as more regular Black Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  we can expect a good range of more familiar woodland species too, including Short-toed Treecreeper. We head back north for our last night in the region.

Day 5: Dyulinski Pass - Kavarna

Today we transfer to the northern-eastern Bulgarian coast, to the region of Dobrudzha. We shall travel via the Dyulinski Pass in the Eastern Balkan range and the fertile Kamchia riverine forests.

There we can hope to watch the raptor migration from the main watch-points on the top of the mountain ridge. If the conditions are perfect, the spectacle can be mind-blowing, with vast, seemingly endless kettles of raptors. Keen birders will be picking out all of the individual species, whilst many will just sit or lie back and enjoy the spectacle. If the weather conditions are not perfect, we can still expect to see numerous raptors of many species. If we fancy a chance from the neck-craning raptor spotting, we will look in the nearby woods, where we hope to find some residents like the Grey-headed Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Sombre Tit, Cirl Bunting and Hawfinch. We continue north, getting settled into our accommodation. We will be staying in the town of Kavarna, right on the Black Sea coast where we will base ourselves for the next 3 nights. Birds in the hotel grounds and environs include Golden Oriole, Spanish Sparrow and even Thrush Nightingale at times!

Day 6: Durankulak and Shabla Lakes

We work locally today, with very little transfer time between each exciting stop. The open, arable area surrounding the large lakes here are perfect for birding, and almost anything can turn up. A big bird list is guaranteed, though we will need to be lucky to get good views of all of the skulking species in the lakeside reeds and scrub, such as Penduline Tit, Bearded Reedling and the numerous warblers, which in the past has included Paddyfield Warbler. Easier to spot are the large numbers of waterbirds, including Pygmy Cormorant and Ferruginous Duck among their more familiar cousins. We should see several species of tern, with Whiskered Tern the most numerous; the juvenile 'marsh' species will prove a nice ID challenge for the experts among us. If the weather allows a seawatch, we can expect to see Yelkouan Shearwaters, Black-throated Divers, Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes and the possibility of Skuas.

Day 7: Cape Kaliakra and the open Steppe

Today we have a full day excursion to nearby Cape Kaliakra, with its huge cliffs dominating over the Black Sea. Here we can observe the Mediterranean subspecies of Shag and a variety of migrating seabirds. On the dry open steppe-land we can find Calandra Lark, Stone Curlew, Corncrake, European Bee-eater, Isabelline Wheatear and various species of larks, pipits, shrikes and buntings. The shrubs could produce a great diversity of warblers (like Blackcap, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler), Red-breasted Flycatchers, Common Redstart, Whinchats and many more. Regular and expected migrating raptors include the Lesser Spotted Eagle, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Red-footed Falcon, Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Levant Sparrowhawk, Osprey, Hobby and hoardes of Steppe Buzzard. Some residents like the Long-legged Buzzard and Eagle Owl will also be around and we shall make special efforts to see these desirable species.

Day 8:  Transfer to Bourgas or Varna for departure

If time allows we will spend a few hours birding locally, before heading to the airport for our flight home.

More Holiday Information:

Accommodation: is in comfortable hotels with all rooms en suite.

Food: Breakfast is typical of Bulgaria, consisting of rolls with jam, cheese and cold meats. Cooked eggs are usually available too. Fruit juice and tea or coffee is also available. Picnic lunches will include a variety of local produce plus soft drinks, though most days we expect to either return to our hotel or a nearby taverna for meals. Lunches are usually a soup or salad followed by a main dish. Evening meals are generally local and traditional dishes, with a three course dinner of soup, salad, main dish and a dessert. Food is usually plentiful. Vegetarian and other diets are welcome - our Bulgarian guide will ensure all requirements are met.

Daily routine: There will be an optional pre-breakfast walk most mornings, checking the hotel grounds and local parks. After breakfast we will head out birding, breaking for a long and leisurely lunch before heading out again in the afternoon, usually returning around 6pm. The pace is slow, and if it is warm we always seek out shade.

Walking: The holiday is not strenuous, and walking is generally easy, on paths and tracks. Most birding is done close to our vehicle, and even on the longest walks we are never far from the minibuses, should anyone wish to go back.

Telescopes: With busy wetlands and overhead migration key features of this holiday, a telescope would be useful. Your Heatherlea guide and local guide will have telescopes available for your viewing but to make the most of the migration hotspots a scope would be advantageous

Weather: Typically, temperatures will range from 10C/50F in the early morning to perhaps 27C/85F in the heat of the day. Sunshine should be plentiful, but wind, cloud and rain are very possible. Cold weather, with temperatures as low as 5C/40F, are rare but possible. Poor weather is actually desirable at times to slow or stop migration - this can lead to falls or waves of migrants dropping in. Wall to wall sunshine is lovely - but many birds will fly high overhead!

Insects: Biting insects are not normally a problem, but we are birding close to lots of wetlands so a good insect repellent is recommended, just in case. Ticks can be a problem in Eastern Europe - but our local guide will keep us away from any likely areas.

Group: size is restricted 12 clients maximum. 6 clients or fewer and we travel in an 8 seater air-conditioned minibus with our Bulgarian guide as driver. A group of 7 or more will see us travelling in a comfortable air-conditioned 16 seat minibus with our own driver.

Flights: are by scheduled airline, from London Luton. We may be able to offer flight arrangements from another airport and/or or quote without flights so you can make your own arrangements. If you wish to add an extension either before or after your holiday, please contact us and we will be happy to arrange this for you.

Photo credits: Many thanks to Dimiter Georgiev, Mladen Vasilev, Chavdar Nikolov and Colin Bradshaw for the use of their excellent photographs.

What's included in your holiday price:

* return scheduled flight from London Luton – Varna/Bourgas, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline included limit.
* airport transfers, ground transportation, accommodation and meals as specified.
* the services of your Heatherlea leader(s) and local guides.
* The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included subject to terms and conditions. Read more....

What's not included in your holiday price:

* travel to and from departure airport before and after holiday, baggage above airline included limit
* incidental tips, expenses of a personal nature including drinks and personal insurance.

WHY CHOOSE HEATHERLEA?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;
* We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for 27 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
* Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
* Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
* All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
* Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
* Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

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The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

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