NEW! Bulgaria and Northern Greece in winter

Birding in the wetlands, forests and mountains of two wildlife rich countries

Destinations
Focus
2022 Dates
  • 31 Jan - 07 Feb 2022
Duration8 Days
Guides
2022 Price
£1895 pp
£110 single supplement. Deposit £300

pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are inc.

2024 Dates
  • 29 Jan - 05 Feb 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
Price TBC
Max Group Size 6 per guide

This tour offers exciting birding to neighbouring countries which boast a diverse range of habitats and species. Winter is a great time to visit, and we look for a number of resident/semi-resident species alongside winter migrants. Based in three centres, the first part of the tour is dedicated to the coastal wetlands around Bourgas, which form one of Europe’s richest bird areas having recorded 340 species. We visit key wetland sites and water bodies where the sheer numbers will amaze, before working our way south through the Sakar Mountains and into Greece and the Dadia Forest, then heading west to the famous Lake Kerkini National Park.

At wetland sites, it is the flocks of Dalmatian and White Pelican, Whooper Swan, Red-breasted and White-fronted Geese which initially draw the eye. We search through them for scarcer Bewick's Swan, Taiga and Tundra Bean plus rare Lesser White-fronted Goose which may be present in fair numbers. These habitats also support dense wildfowl and wader flocks, along with internationally important numbers of Pygmy Cormorant and globally threatened White-headed Duck. Greater Flamingos add a splash of colour at Lake Kerkini and among gulls we might see Pallas’s and Slender-billed.

Later in the tour we change habitats, visiting forest and woodlands including the Dadia Forest National Park and Sakar Mountain. The latter is the established stronghold for Eastern Imperial Eagle, and we might also see Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Long-legged and Rough-legged Buzzard, and we plan to visit a feeding station for Griffon and rare Black Vulture. Other possible species include Syrian, Black, Grey-headed, Middle Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Sombre Tit, Rock Nuthatch, Hawfinch, Rock and Cirl Bunting and perhaps Eagle Owl too. A great winter tour for beginners and experts alike.

Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office! Read more about our Pre-flight Service here!

Day 1: Mon 31 Jan – Arrival and transfer to Bourgas, Bulgaria
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly into Sofia Airport, then transfer east to Bourgas where we stay for the next three nights. Here, on the Black Sea coast we have great winter birding on our doorstep and if time allows, we can search for local birds perhaps including Syrian Woodpecker, Grey Partridge, Little Owl and Black Redstart.

Days 2 & 3: Tue 1 & Wed 2 Feb – The Black Sea Coast
Eastern Bulgaria is rich in birdlife at this time of year, the series of wetlands and lakes around the Black Sea coast supporting dense populations of wintering birds. Key sites include Bourgas Lake, Atanasovsko Lake, Mandra Lake and Poda lagoon and all are worth investigating thoroughly. Most conspicuous will be the large flocks of Greater White-fronted and Red-breasted Geese, and we look for Taiga and Tundra Bean, Barnacle and rare (yet regular) Lesser White-fronted Goose. Whooper Swans spend the winter in the area, and among them we should find smaller numbers of Bewick’s Swan. Pintail, Greater Scaup, Smew and perhaps a few Ferruginous Duck will be present, and White-headed Duck winter in their hundreds, making these sites of international importance for this rare and declining species. Dalmatian and White Pelican occur in roaming flocks, and the spectacle of up to 10,000 Pygmy Cormorant will be a highlight. Such numbers of potential prey inevitably attract raptors, with White-tailed Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard, Goshawk and Merlin the most likely in this habitat. Roosting gull flocks may include Pallas's, Caspian, Slender-billed and Mediterranean Gull and on walks around the wetlands we hope to see Water Pipit, Cetti's Warbler and Bearded Tit.

Day 4: Thu 3 Feb – The Sakar Hills
The Sakar Hills are on the south-east border with Turkey, an area with restricted access for many years, which has helped preserve the habitat. Most of the region is steppe-like grassland used for agriculture, with scattered trees and bushes, though high ground is covered with broad-leaved woodland of oak and ash. The Sakar Mountains are an established stronghold of Eastern Imperial Eagle in Bulgaria, with about 60% of the national breeding population of this rare species occurring here. Other targets as we explore rolling hills, and steep valleys on quiet minor roads include Long-legged Buzzard, Hen Harrier and Goshawk, and woodland in the area may give us Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted and Syrian Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Short-toed Treecreeper and Hawfinch. After a day in the mountains, we transfer south into Greece for an overnight stay near Dadia.

Day 5: Fri 4 Feb – Dadia Forest Park
A morning in the Dadia Forest National Park, where we plan to visit a feeding station hopping to see rare Black Vulture at close quarters. Flocks of Griffon Vulture can be expected, and we might also see Black Kite, White-tailed, Golden and wandering Eastern Imperial Eagle in this area. Diminutive Sombre Tit are a top target and walks in the forest can be good for woodpeckers with Black, Grey-headed, Syrian, Middle and Lesser Spotted among the possibilities. Rock and Cirl Bunting may be encountered too before we transfer west via Porto Lagos Lagoon. Desirable species at this coastal wetland include Whooper and Bewick’s Swan, Greater Flamingo, White-headed Duck, Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, Slender-billed Gull and Short-eared Owl. Overnight Kerkini for three nights. 

Day 6 & 7: Sat 5 & Sun 6 Feb Lake Kerkini
Over the next few days we explore the area of Lake Kerkini National Park in detail. Playing host to big flocks of winter waterfowl, among the species we expect to see are Dalmatian and White Pelican, Pygmy Cormorant, Whooper and Bewick’s Swan and Greater White-fronted Goose. Additionally, more than a hundred rare Lesser White-fronted Goose have wintered here in the last few years. Ducks include Ferruginous, Red-crested Pochard and Smew as well as many waders and gulls. Adding colour are Greater Flamingo, aerial predators might include Greater Spotted and White-tailed Eagle and weather permitting we take a boat trip onto the lake for unbeatable views of the gathered birds. In surrounding scrub we seek Moustached Warbler while the forests in the area support Black, Grey-headed, Middle Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Sombre Tit and Hawfinch. Venturing into mountain areas brings new possibilities such as roosting Eagle Owl, Golden Eagle, Western Rock Nuthatch and Rock Bunting.

Day 8: Mon 7 Feb - Departure
We return to Sofia for our flight back to the UK, with some last minute birding if time allows.

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).

What's included in your holiday price:

  • return scheduled flight from a London airport to Sofia. All 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.

Your Leaders:

Toby Green is a very experienced Scottish birder, who first joined us in 2013. He lives in Carrbridge, and when not guiding he is out and about exploring and birding the area. Always very popular with our groups and his fellow guides, Toby is a top birder with a great sense of humour and endless enthusiasm. We know you will enjoy birding with him! Toby leads across Scotland, with trips throughout the year all over the Highlands and Islands. You can also join Toby on many overseas adventures.

Through hillwalking, mountaineering and climbing, Toby has gained a great appreciation and love of the Scottish landscape and is a Munro completist (climbing all Scottish mountains over 3000ft). He is also a keen cyclist, having cycled many of the Alps passes plus Lands End to John O’Goats to raise money to fund Osprey satellite trackers. Toby also enjoys skiing, photography, moth trapping and more recently botany - spurred on by his wife! 

In addition to birding in Scotland, Toby has birded in many overseas countries including Goa, Cyprus, Seychelles, Spain, Costa Rica, South Africa and migration hotspots across Europe.

Toby will be joined by an expert local guide.

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.

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 enjoy the  vast numbers of birds to their fullest, a scope would be advantageous.

Weather: Temperatures, typically average from 0C/32F - 10C/50F at this time of year but variations are possible and we may experience warmer weather too. Wind, cloud and rain are all possible and we suggest you bring warm clothing, waterproofs and walking boots.

Insects: Biting insects are not normally a problem in winter, 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 a London airport. 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.

Other birding and wildlife holidays in Greece

Other birding and wildlife holidays in Bulgaria

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday in Europe?

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 over 30 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).

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The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248

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