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BULGARIA

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End of April we went to Bulgaria till May 11. It was our third visit to this very interesting country.

Our main target were the Eastern Rhodopes and the last 4 days a photosession in NE-Bulgaria, in the so called Suha Reka (see picture above)

 Bulgaria really is one of Europe's hidden secrets as far as nature is concerned. Apart from that this country is also cultural quite interesting. Old Thracian tombs are dotted here and there in the country and beautiful orthodox monastries can be found all over the nation. 

After our landing in Sofia, we drove with our rental car (Just 25 km on the counter!) to a beautiful village in the foothills of the Balkan Range, Koprivstica. We found this icon in the old orthodox church:  DSC4888

But, of course, our main object was Nature and the next day we drove across the country to the south, into the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. This area is one of the prime natural hotspots of Europe, but not so well known as, for example, the Extremadura in Spain or the Camargue in France. As a matter of fact a fantastic guide about the Rhodopes was brought out by Crossbill Guides, just a few weeks ago. Through a Bulgarian agency , called Nature Travel, we had rented a room in a guesthouse in Rabovo. " Tepavicata" it was called and Petko and Stefka were our hosts. This guesthouse is situated right next to the beautiful Arda River.

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We had a very good time in this guesthouse, it is situated quite central in the Eastern Rhodopes, close to the Studen Kladenets Dam and Lake. We explored the surrounding area and rented a photohide for photographing vultures one day. All and all we saw about 25 Griffon Vultures and 3 Egyptian Vultures, a Black Kite, Raven and a Red Fox.

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Apart from this we made a lot of small trips in the area. We found out that there must be millions of Corn Buntings in Bulgaria and also a bird like the Red-backed Shrike is very numerous.

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Near Kardzali we visited a marsh reserve, in the centre of towm, with hundreds of Little Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons nesting there. The smallest member of the Heronfamily of Europe, the Little Bittern was also present (see picture below):

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After a lovely week in the Eastern Rhodopes we went into the direction of the Black Sea, through Strandzha National Park. This area consists of hills dotted with oak forests, all the way on both sides of the border with Turkey to the coast of the Black Sea. Like in 2008 we twice saw Wild Cat! The forest edges were full with flowers and butterflies.

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In many rural areas in Bulgaria there is small scale agriculture and extensive farming with shepperds going out with their herds of sheep, goats or cows.

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On the coast we stayed 2 nights in Sinemorets, in hotel Afrodite, which we can recommend to every visitor planning to go to this part of Bulgaria.

Finally we drove along the coast to Burgas and Varna northbound and from Varna we left the coast for Dobrich, where you enter the large scale agri industry. Fields with crops as far as the eye can see are covering most of Northern Bulgaria. A huge contrast with the rest of the country. But here and there this ecological desert is changed by beautiful areas, full of birds. A famous area is Rusenski Lom, close to the city of Ruse, but the area where we were aiming at was the so-called Suha Reka ("Dry River"). In the middle of the hamlet of Ognyanovo(most of the houses are abandoned as in a lot of Bulgarian villages all over the country) there is the cottage of Nature Travel, owned by Sergey and his wife. They themselves live in Varna and we rented this cottage for 4 nights.

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It is a lovely little cottage, with two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom and a large garden with 2 photohides. We had a great time there! Ognyanovo lies on the end of the mainroad and if you want to hide yourselve for reasons you only know, this is the place...! Nightingales, Orioles, Hoopoes, Corn and Blackheaded Buntings, Shrikes: all over the place! On their website www.naturetravel.eu you can read more about the cottage and the area of Suha Reka. The most interesting hide the time we stayed in the cottage was the towerhide.(see picture below)

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The absolute highlight for me was a Hoopoe , sitting on a branche right in front of me, in first light.

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I didn't use the pondhide, but instead went to other areas close by (a few km's away from the cottage), like a steppe area with Susliks and Isabelline Wheatears. Pictures of those and many more in the album RECENT PICTURES on this website. Close to a hamlet called Capitan Dimitrovo there was a third hide, next to a wall with breeding holes for Roller, Bee-eater and Hoopoe. In fact we were too early for these species. Despite the fact that we saw many Bee-eaters and quite some Rollers, they had just arrived and were busy with each other, rather than nesting already. So, I think that the month of June would be perfect. The area where the last hide is, teems with Shrikes and Ortolan Buntings. Bare in mind that in The Netherlands the Ortolan Bunting is extinct...!

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Ortolan Bunting

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Red-backed Shrike in backlight

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Lesser Grey Shrike in last light...

This country sure deserves more visits and can have many more eco-tourists than are coming now. And why not? It is beautiful, the natural values are among the highest in Europe, the people are hospitable, the natural food is great and it is cheap for West-European standards.