Rhodope Mountains & Black Sea
A 10-day, small-group birdwatching tour to Bulgaria
Limosa’s Bulgaria birding tours will introduce you to one of Europe’s loveliest, least spoilt countries - where the birdlife is prolific. So much so that our bird list for this extraordinary trip typically runs out at 200 or more species! Our spring birdwatching tour to Bulgaria will take you south from Sofia to the scenic Rhodope Mountains, east to the Black Sea coastal wetlands and north to the valley of the River Danube - areas that are simply outstanding for birds. Regular highlights on our bird tour to Bulgaria in May include Dalmatian Pelican, Levant Sparrowhawk, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears, Paddyfield and Olive-tree Warblers, Western Rock Nuthatch, Sombre Tit, Semicollared Flycatcher and Rosy Starling among a long list of eastern specialities.
Tour Dates & Prices
Sun 9th May 2021
Tue 18th May 2021
Tour Cost: 10 Days from £1695* inc return flights from London Heathrow
* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)
- Limosa Tour Leader
- English-speaking Bulgarian ornithologist guide
- Flights - outbound from London Heathrow-Sofia, returning Bucharest-London, nonstop with British Airways
- 9 nights accommodation in Bulgaria
- All main meals - and drinking water provided
- Minibus transport
- All excursions, local guides, entry fees, permits
- All tour-based tips (local guide, driver etc) and taxes
- Map & Limosa checklist of birds
Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks & other items of a personal nature
The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights
- Brilliant birding in one of Europe’s loveliest and least spoiled countries
- 'Timeless’ countryside that's amazingly rich in birds, butterflies and wildflowers
- Lesser Spotted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk and Lesser Kestrel among numerous birds of prey
- Long list of Balkans specialities - from White and Dalmatian Pelicans to Sombre Tit and Semicollared Flycatcher
- Olive-tree and Paddyfield Warblers, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears, Rosy Starling, Black-headed Bunting
- Small group tour - maximum 10 participants
- Expertly led by Limosa’s Richard Thaxton and an English-speaking Bulgarian bird tour guide
Fly London Heathrow-Sofia. Afternoon transfer south to our first hotel. Night Satovcha
Trigrad Gorge and the Rhodope Mountains. Krumovgrad (2 nts)
We head east to explore the bird-rich wetlands of Black Sea coast. Pomorie (2 nts)
Birding the Black Sea coast, north to Lake Durankulak. Kavarna (2 nts)
Cape Kaliakra, River Danube and Lake Srebarna. Vetren (2 nts)
Nova Cherna marshes and cross the Danube into Romania. Fly Bucharest-London Heathrow
Although now a fully-fledged member of the EU, Bulgaria remains one of the least visited corners of Europe. Birds are abundant, the countryside is largely unspoilt and this beautiful country is rightly recognised as one of the continent’s most exciting birding venues - in fact, we regularly record 200 or more species on this extraordinary tour! Flanked by the Black Sea to the east and the broad sweep of the mighty River Danube to the north, not only do huge numbers of migrants funnel through Bulgaria each spring but its amazing birdlife has a definite ‘eastern’ flavour.
From Sofia, our spring birdwatching tour to Bulgaria travels first to the picturesque eastern Rhodope Mountains, close to the Greek frontier. Griffon Vulture, Long-legged Buzzard and Western Rock Nuthatch await our discovery here. Black Storks and locally rare Egyptian Vultures also nest on the cliffs, Chukars chuckle as they forage amongst the crags and Eastern Subalpine Warblers sing from scrubby slopes. With luck, we may find Wallcreeper in the region's limestone gorges, where Alpine Swifts nest. Aside from the birds, these lovely hills are simply brimming with plants and butterflies, too.
Leaving the mountains behind, we continue east towards Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, pausing as we go to search for tricky Balkans specialities such as Masked Shrike, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. Eastern Imperial Eagles nest in poplars close to open Souslik fields, White Storks share their nests with gangs of noisy Spanish Sparrows and roadside wires can be peppered with colourful Black-headed Buntings, Bee-eaters and Lesser Grey Shrikes. Another special highlight on all our recent tours here has been our visit to the Lesser Kestrel breeding colony project near Levka.
Of international standing, wetlands fringing Bulgaria's Black Sea coast hold the promise of Great White Pelican, Little Bittern, Ferruginous Duck, Pygmy Cormorant and the sought-after Paddyfield Warbler. Inland, the thickly wooded valleys and rugged limestone hills are the haunt of Lesser Spotted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk and Semicollared Flycatcher, while 'edge of range' Pied and Isabelline Wheatears, and Rosy Starling are to be looked for on jutting coastal headlands and Yelkouan Shearwater is possible offshore.
A May visit also offers exciting opportunities to find migrating waders at the coast before our route swings back inland, across the rolling steppe of Dobruja, to the fertile valley of the River Danube. Here, wonderful Lake Srebarna is a World Heritage Site, of prime importance for its breeding colony of rare Dalmatian Pelicans.
Our tour concludes with two nights at Pelican Lodge in Vetren, allowing us both the chance to explore the Srebarna and Nova Cherna wetlands in a more thorough and relaxed way, as well as dramatically reducing our return journey time as we loop north to Bucharest for our flight home (rather than having to make the long haul back to Sofia).
Full of eastern promise (and with some surprisingly good local wines!), our May tour to Bulgaria is sure to surprise and delight for the timeless countryside of the Balkans is simply bursting with birds.
Our May 2020 tour will be Limosa’s 41st visit to Bulgaria, as well as guide Richard Thaxton's fifth trip there. We shall be accompanied throughout our stay by our old friend Professor Lyubomir Profirov, a professional, English-speaking Bulgarian ornithologist and bird tour guide working for our specialist ground agents.
Day 1: FLY SOFIA, TRANSFER TO SATOVCHA
Our spring birdwatching tour to Bulgaria begins with British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital. Early afternoon arrival in Sofia, where we’ll be welcomed by our local guide and set off east through a landscape of rolling farmland.
The journey to our first hotel will take 3-4 hours, but we will also make one important stop along the way for an excellent chance of hearing Corncrake - and maybe even seeing one, if we are lucky! The likes of Ortolan Bunting, Barred Warbler and Red-backed Shrike should ensure a fine introduction to Balkan birdlife.
Turning south into the picturesque Rhodope Mountains, close to the border with northern Greece, we pass through high forest to arrive at our first hotel in time for dinner this evening. The alpine resort of Satovcha will be our base for an overnight stay. Night Satovcha
Days 2 - 3: TRIGRAD GORGE & EASTERN RHODOPE MOUNTAINS
The conifer-clad slopes at Satovcha provide a scenic backdrop for a first pre-breakfast stroll. Serins may ‘serinade’ us outside our hotel, where Pallid Swift, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Black Redstart and Red Crossbill can also be found.
Leaving Satovcha, we head to Trigrad Gorge - an area that right up until the early 1990s was out of bounds to both foreigners and Bulgarians alike. Following the course of the fast-flowing Trigrad River, this spectacular valley gradually narrows into a dramatic steep-walled chasm. Alpine Swifts and Crag Martins nest on the sheer cliff faces and Dippers bob beside the river far below. We will no doubt be distracted by the plethora of butterflies - Scarce Swallowtail, Berger’s Clouded Yellow and Eastern Wood White are possible here in May. Over the years, we have sometimes been fortunate to find the elusive Wallcreeper here, too - our May 2019 group enjoyed great views of two, flicking their wings like outsize, crimson-winged butterflies.
Still with a reasonable distance to travel to reach our next hotel, we bid farewell to the Trigrad area and continue east, heading deeper into the Rhodope range - a rugged upland landscape dominated by the remnants of extinct volcanoes.
Our destination for these two nights is the town of Krumovgrad, on the banks of the beautiful Krumovitza River. From our hotel we have the opportunity to go out in the evening to look for Scops Owl, and also to enjoy a morning walk enriched by the songs of Turtle Doves, Cuckoos, Hoopoes, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers and fluting Golden Orioles. Hawfinches and Lesser Grey Shrikes often breed in the poplars.
The Eastern Rhodope are well known as one of Europe’s most important regions for birds of prey. There are Egyptian and Griffon Vultures to watch for here, and we sometimes spot a lone Black Vulture, too. Black Storks nest on the cliff faces above the Krumovitza River, and Western Rock Nuthatches also breed nearby. Chukars chuckle as they forage amongst the crags, with handsome Eastern Black-eared Wheatears for company.
In the valley bottoms, exotic Bee-eaters and Rollers, Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes, and Black-headed and Cirl Buntings add more than a splash of Mediterranean colour to our birding, as two of Europe’s loveliest songsters - Nightingale and Woodlark - provide the soundtrack. There are also plenty of birds of more subtle attraction, including Eastern Orphean, Eastern Olivaceous and Barred Warblers, and the elusive Sombre Tit.
Aside from the birds, these lovely mountains are rich in wildflowers and butterflies, including the localised and beautiful Eastern Festoon. Two nights Krumovgrad
Days 4 - 5: EAST TO THE BLACK SEA COAST
Leaving Krumovgrad, we have a quite bit of ground to cover today as we complete the journey east from the mountains to Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. But there will be plenty to watch for along the way! One special bird to keep a keen eye open for as we push on east is Rosy Starling, an irruptive Asian species that reaches Bulgaria in small numbers most years.
The open cornfields may produce a pair or two of Montagu’s Harriers and the roadside wires may be peppered with Black-headed and Corn Buntings, and Lesser Grey Shrikes. The main highway is remarkably traffic-free and passes through some surprisingly extensive stretches of oak woodland - a habitat favoured by a number of sought-after localised specialities including Levant Sparrowhawk, Eastern Orphean and Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers and Ortolan Bunting.
Our picnic today may be taken at a newly established breeding colony of Lesser Kestrels, where a mix of wild and hand-reared birds fly about the building affording excellent views. Our visit here has been a highlight on all our recent tours.
After lunch, we have a try for Olive-tree Warbler and Masked Shrike - both can be elusive and, confusingly, the shrike’s song can mimic that of the warbler! This promises to be a memorable day for raptors, too. The European Souslik - a burrowing ground squirrel with a penchant for the open grassland here - is high on the menu for a number of birds of prey, including Lesser Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles. With any luck we might also pick up our first Red-footed Falcons of the tour on the run in to Burgas and our hotel for the next two nights in the nearby coastal resort of Pomorie.
Burgas may be a major port on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, but its wetlands support a variety of birdlife matched by few other areas in Europe - as we'll soon discover next day! Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis and Spoonbill are among a host of breeding reedbed birds, with Common and Ruddy Shelducks, Garganey and Black-winged Stilt on the lagoons and Great White Pelicans coasting overhead. Yellow-legged Gulls are much in evidence, and as we sift through them in search of the less numerous Slender-billed and Mediterranean Gulls, we might also see a lumbering White-tailed Eagle flapping heavily across the lake, putting white-winged Ferruginous Ducks to flight. Two nights Pomorie
Days 6 - 7: KAVARNA & THE BLACK SEA COAST
We will spend the first part of day six exploring the saltpans at Pomorie. Flocks of migrating waders pause here on the journey north to their Arctic breeding grounds, with the likes of Little Stint, Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper looking particularly attractive in full breeding plumage. With careful searching, we might be lucky to locate something rarer in their midst: perhaps a twirling Red-necked Phalarope or a Broad-billed Sandpiper - and we have seen Terek Sandpiper here, too!
Leaving Pomorie, we follow the Black Sea coast north towards Bulgaria's border with Romania. A hinterland of thickly wooded valleys is the haunt of Lesser Spotted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk, Icterine Warbler and other 'eastern' delights. The forest at Goritsa supports a healthy population of woodpeckers, with Grey-headed and Middle Spotted among species we could see. We’ll also be making a special effort to find the localised Semicollared Flycatcher, small numbers of which breed in nestboxes put up for them in the forest - and there are Honey Buzzards, Short-toed Treecreepers and Hawfinches to look for too, adding challenge to what promises to be another exciting day.
Our accommodation for these two nights is a small but comfortable hotel in the seaside resort of Kavarna. Newly built and recently opened, it makes an ideal base from which to explore the northernmost shores of Bulgaria's Black Sea coastal region. The small valley by the hotel is well worth checking for migrant birds feeding up in the morning - and Levant Sparrowhawks sometimes nest here!
Lake Durankulak is a mainly brackish lake which lies just to the south of the Romanian border. Smart Spanish Sparrows breed in the immense foundations of White Stork nests here, and the fringing reedbeds are home to a small population of Paddyfield Warblers, a primarily Asiatic species, nesting here at the westernmost limit of its range. Pygmy Cormorants add further to the distinctly 'eastern' flavour as we walk beside the lake, where we may also see a migrating Red-footed Falcon.
Not far from Kavarna, the dramatic limestone cliffs of Cape Kaliakra are home to dashing Alpine Swifts and the smart Pied Wheatear, the latter yet another species occurring here at the westernmost edge of its range. We might be lucky to see a party of Yelkouan Shearwaters passing by offshore or even to spot a fiery-eyed Eurasian Eagle Owl staring back at us from its home on the cliffs.
Inland of the Cape, the sky above the rolling steppe is filled with glorious lark song in spring, mostly exalted by slow flapping Calandra Larks revealing tell-tale black underwings in their curiously bat-like display. This habitat is also attractive to dry country specialists such as Stone-curlew, Short-toed Lark and the sandy coloured, 'edge of range' Isabelline Wheatear. Two nights Kavarna
Days 8 - 9: DOBRUJA STEPPE, LAKE SREBARNA AND DANUBE LOWLANDS
Heading inland, we cross the rolling cultivated steppe of the Dobruja region today to reach the extraordinarily rich valley of the River Danube. Here lies wonderful Lake Srebarna, hemmed by a mosaic of forests, vineyards and steppe, and designated a World Heritage Site of special importance for its colony of Dalmatian Pelicans - largest and rarest of the world’s seven species of pelican.
Srebarna’s reedbeds also harbour a rich variety of other wetland birds. Handsome Black-necked and Red-necked Grebes attend their floating nests, spear-billed Purple Herons hunt for fish and frogs in the shallows, and bandit-masked Penduline Tits wheeze asthmatically from the willows against a cacophony of warbler song that includes Savi’s, Marsh and the raucous Great Reed. As graceful Whiskered Terns and the occasional Black Tern drift back and forth over the open water, the sight of the localised and very lovely Large Copper butterfly will be an added delight for those who also have an appreciation of butterflies.
After a morning walk during which we will listen out for Thrush Nightingale, we have a more leisurely second day exploring the lake at Srebarna, hoping for good views of Penduline Tit and Grey-headed Woodpecker in the trees around its edge. We may also visit a good area for butterflies, one where we've seen Freyer’s Purple Emperor and Map in the past.
The lush Danube lowlands close to the border with Romania can also be good for migrants. Walking beside the great river we’ll be looking especially for nesting Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Kingfisher and Common Redstart. We'll pause to admire a colony of colourful Bee-eaters and Silver-studded Blue butterflies, while amidst the mosaic of reedbeds and oxbow lakes we can listen for the Bittern’s 'boom' and search the willows for the diminutive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. On our previous visits here, non-avian highlights in this wildlife-rich area have included Eastern Clouded Yellow, Common Glider, Norfolk Hawker and Downy Emerald.
Our hotel for these two nights is Pelican Lodge, a small and friendly, family-run village hotel close by the River Danube and Srebarna Lake. Two nights Pelican Lodge, Vetren
Day 10: NOVA CHERNA WETLANDS TO BUCHAREST, FLY LONDON
After some (optional) early morning birding today, we leave Vetren after breakfast and head west, stopping along the way at another great wetland site close to the town of Nova Cherna. This area of old fishponds is home to a wealth of birds and wildlife, with Savi’s and Great Reed Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes and sometimes Hobbies and Red-footed Falcons in the area, the latter two feasting on the numerous dragonflies.
Leaving Bulgaria, we then catch a ferry across the Danube and arrive on the Romanian shore.
Driving north from the river, we will relatively quickly find ourselves at Bucharest Airport. Bidding farewell to Lyubo and our driver here, we check-in for our British Airways afternoon flight back to London Heathrow, where our spring birdwatching tour to Bulgaria concludes at around teatime.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Bulgaria is one of Europe’s loveliest and least spoiled countries - and its birdlife is prolific. So much so that our bird list for this extraordinary tour typically runs out at 200 or more species!
Our spring circuit will take you from the scenic Rhodope Mountains, east to the Black Sea coastal wetlands and the River Danube - all areas that are outstanding for birds. Regular tour highlights include Dalmatian Pelican, Levant Sparrowhawk, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears, Paddyfield and Olive-tree Warblers, Western Rock Nuthatch, Sombre Tit, Semicollared Flycatcher and Rosy Starling among a long list of exciting 'eastern' specialities!
Flights to Bulgaria arrive into Sofia, which lies in the west of the country, and from where we work our way east to the Black Sea coast. This means that on a couple of days early in the trip we must necessarily travel a fair distance as we head across country from the mountains towards the coast. Roads can be quite slow at times – and we will obviously want to stop and look for birds, which are amazingly abundant in Bulgaria! Accordingly, on a couple of evenings we may arrive at the hotel a little later than usual, but still in reasonable time for dinner.
Spring weather in Bulgaria typically brings a mix of warm sunshine and showers, with daytime temperatures in the range of 9-20C (48-68F). In May, the average daily temperature in Sofia is 15C (58F), and a tad warmer than this at Burgas and Kavarna on the Black Sea coast.
BUTTERFLIES & DRAGONFLIES
If the weather is good, this can also be a good trip for butterflies (30-50 species possible) and dragonflies (up to 20 species)
9 nights accommodation in Bulgaria. Hotel standards are generally good, and improving throughout the country. Away from the popular seaside resorts of the Black Sea coast, hotels well inland are still largely off the beaten tourist track and tend to be a little more basic, but all are clean and comfortable. All rooms have private facilities.
All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on Day 1 and concluding with a packed lunch on Day 10.
Breakfasts and dinners will usually be taken at the hotels. Lunches will be picnics along the way. Meals are fairly simple but food - and some local wine! - is generally good.
Easy. Short walks up to about 2 miles or so, on mainly good trails over easy-moderate terrain. Sturdy walking shoes or lightweight boots with corrugated soles for grip are recommended for this tour.
We fly with British Airways, out from London Heathrow to Sofia (Bulgaria) and returning from Bucharest (Romania) to London Heathrow.
Ground transport is by small coach or minibus with local driver (according to final group size).