Sunday, 27 March 2011

Bulgaria 2011

Embarrassingly this is my first blog since September last year. Things have been very busy with Turnstone Ecology and we have been out and about doing various projects ranging from watching briefs to field work. We have had plenty of winter bird surveys which are now all finished and the breeding season is looking very busy. Plenty of newt surveys too which is all promising a very busy Spring season.

Bulgaria 2011 - this trip was a site visit to a proposed wind farm project in north-east Bulgaria. The purpose of the visit was to set up spring migration vantage points as well as to identify breeding bird survey transects throughout the development area and within some control areas. The breeding bird surveys will continue post-construction so the control areas are important so we will be able to assess the impacts of the operational wind farm on the breeding bird assemblage. Surveys have already been completed on the site in Spring 2009 and 2010 and we (Turnstone Ecology) were involved in setting up the autumn 2010 migration vantage point surveys. A winter trip was completed in 2011 (not by me!) to set up winter transect and activity surveys; mainly to identify if the area supports large concentrations of winter wildfowl (geese).

The trip just completed was 7 days in total - 5 days in the field and a travel day either side.

March 9th Day 1

Late flight from Gatwick with planned landing (via Budapest) in Varna at 0200. On the little twin-prop from Budapest the pilot came on the tanoy and spluttered something about snow in Varna and on the run way. Didn't fully understand what he was saying until we came down through the clouds in to a mini-blizzard. On landing someone immediately started to clap as soon as the wheels had touched the tarmac but then the plane started to slide - bit of a back end twitch (and that was not just the plane!). All ended well - no major slippage but I did have time to remark to my colleague that the clapping may have been a little premature. It is an annoying phenomenon which I wish people would stop doing.

Quick transfer to the hotel through a very snowy Varna and then straight to bed. Full day in the field planned for Day 2 and we were due to be picked up in less then 6 hours.

Day 2 - Thursday

First birds of the trip were Yellow-legged Gulls that were thinking about breeding on the building opposite the hotel - very very vocal and constantly flying around - even at night when walking the streets trying to find a restaurant.

Pick up at the hotel at 9am quick visit to the office and picked up some more detailed maps and we were off to site - about an hour and half from Varna. Our in-country support was driving a Range Rover which was certainly needed given that the snow on site was up to half a metre deep in places (with drifts much much deeper!). I was quite pleased about this as we were to self-drive after this first day and I was quite looking forward to having 3 days with a Range Rover!

The site - on the last day - note no snow now!! Water bodies still mostly frozen but managed to pick up a pair of Ruddy Shelduck on the lake together with a Green Sandpiper on the last day in the field.

Site was very snowy and bright and it was at this point that I was regretting my choice of gear that I had packed (good boots but known to leak!, lightweight spring trousers, no over-trousers and no sun-glasses!). In my defense I had checked the weather forecast and it was supposed to be sunny and warm but I obviously didn't pay attention to the fact that it had been snowing for the last few days!!

Day 2 was taken up with sorting out the vantage points for spring migration surveys, basically just wanted to switch the position of the autumn vantage points. We drove around the whole of the site and then headed back to Varna. The evenings were very cold and we popped out for dinner. I had never stayed in Varna before and it seemed quite nice but very empty - it is alot busier in the summer. This cathedral was just outside the hotel.

Day 2 was very sunny and the snow had melted very rapidly - in fact you wouldn't believe that it was so snowy in the morning. We were both nervous about how badly conditions on the site both underfoot and for the car were going to deteriorate in the rapid melt. I was expecting to have very wet feet for the next few days but as least we had the Range Rover!!

Day 3 to 5 - Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Major disappointment - no Range Rover but we got a i30 instead. A fair exchange is no robbery and this was therefore daylight!! To be fair we were probably safer in the i30 - I reckon that we could have been slightly over confident in the Range Rover and that could have led to us getting stuck with no way of rescue.

The work on the breeding bird transects started in earnest! We walked three of the transects per day through ever melting snow and very large puddles. The mud in the fields was very sticky and it was at times like walking with large muddy platform shoes - very hard work but the birding was steady but very good.


Great Grey Shrike - we had probably up to three within the survey area and all would all soon be leaving for the their breeding grounds to be replaced by Lesser Grey, Woodchat and Red-backed which all breed on site.

A slightly confusing bunting as its behaviour was very wrong - stayed very close to the ground - skulking almost until it scuttled away and flew off. Initial thoughts were something nice but on closer inspection it turned out be a Corn Bunting - which were everywhere; together with flocks of 1000's of SkyLark and plenty of Woodlark in the fields and woodland shelter belts.

Woodlark were also fairly common and we saw quite a few in the open fields but also within the adjacent woodland shelter belts.

Marsh Tit (left) put on a very good display and was probably some of the best views I have ever had and we were both very pleased to pick up this nominate race (caudatus) white-headed Long-tailed Tit - he/she was looking very cosy with a European ('normal') Long-tail.

Bird of the trip and almost certainly of the year so far. The picture really does not do this bird justice as it put on a very good display - just a shame that it didn't sit on a tree for us. Black Woodpecker!!! Good views as it flew past us on three occasions - calling in flight and looking back at two amazed English guys eating lunch. We also had Middle-spotted Woodpecker in the same area which was also a new species for me.

On the final day in the field (Sunday) the warm weather and a nice gentle (ish) southerly had started migration off and we were lucky enough to see some visible migration - Common Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Northern Goshawk (including a local bird calling over one of the wooded escarpments) and Black Stork - the latter was a lifer for my colleague (who also needs to be mentioned as all the bird pics are his - many thanks SW). We also got reports of White Stork on the final day but unfortunately we were not lucky enough to pick one up on the way to and/or at the airport.

Trip List to Follow -

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