Day 1: Sat 7 Sep Arrival, the Black Sea Coast and 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 and 3: Sun 8 Sep and Mon 9 Sep Lakes and Lagoons
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: Tue 10 Sep The Sakar Hills
The Sakar Hills are located in the southeast of Bulgaria, bordering on Turkey. It is an area of rounded hills and open valleys. The higher parts are covered with broad-leaved (oak and ash) forests, while most of the area is a step-like grassland with scattered trees, bushes and agricultural lands. Some of the rivers form steep valleys with beautiful cliffs. For many years the access to large parts of the area was restricted, which helped preservation of the typical habitats. The whole region is thinly populated with poorly developed network of roads and a few small settlements. The Sakar Mountains is Bulgaria’s Eastern Imperial Eagle stronghold. About 60 % of the national breeding population of this rare species occurs here. Other target birds today include Black Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Northern Goshawk and other raptors, plus Syrian Woodpecker, Isabelline Wheatear, Cirl Bunting. We head back north for our last night in the region.
Day 5: Wed 11 Sep Dyulinski Pass and 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: Thu 12 Sep 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: Fri 13 Sep 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: Sat 14 Sep Departure
If time allows we will spend a few hours birding locally, before heading to the airport for our flight home.