June 10, 2011
Trigrad to Madzharovo looks like this on Google maps.
Trigrad to Madzharovo looks like this on Google maps.
After our time with the Wallcreepers, we left Trigrad Gorge and proceeded down the mountain and along the rapidly moving river. We stopped for lunch of fresh trout at a very nice outdoor cafe. After lunch we had our final chance for dippers and I tried for a view of an adult White-fronted Dipper. Mladen found one but it was distant and by the time I had moved closer it was out of sight.
We continued to travel on to Madzharovo driving through small villages. It was an interesting drive with the villages offering a window into the lives of rural Bulgarians. This was my first observation of what terrific gardners the Bulgarians are. This would be confirmed thoughout the rest of the trip. No matter the house - rich, medium or poor - each has a garden. If the house is wealthier appearing it might have flowers, vegetables and fruit trees. A lot of cherries are grown in Bulgaria. Poor houses seemed to favor vegetable gardens. There was no such thing as wasting space to grow grass.
Finally, in one of these villages this Little Owl (Athene noctua) was spotted perched on a chimney. The dark coloring of this bird made it more special as this is much less common for Little Owl. For the trip we saw two other Little Owls each with the lighter coloring.
In the early evening we arrived at the Hotel Paradise where we stayed for two nights. This was a relatively large, very attractive with beautiful gardens, well-maintained hotel in the middle of a completely run down village consisting of the old-style Soviet era apartment blocks. The outdoor patio was very comfortable and the dining room was inviting. Apparently, it was also quite an expensive hotel. For our two nights we were the only guests. Clearly the hotel was profitable, but how?
The story goes that the hotel owner's father lived and worked in the United States. We he returned to Bulgaria with every penny he ever earned in the US, he built this hotel for his family. In 2004, the owner (daughter) built a small Christian chapel on the hotel property to honor her parents.
We were here because this is a central location for sighting both Griffon Vulture and Egyptian Vulture amongst other birds of prey. Apparently, in April and May the hotel is fully booked with birding groups. It turned out to be one of my favorite places to stay.
Sometimes the food was very attractive and I'll always regret not taking a photo of the beautiful cucumber, tomato and Bulgarian cheese salads. For this Paradise Hotel breakfast, I took a photo because the egg yokes were peach colored. The kind of chicken?
On the first morning of our stay here we birded around the hotel and found some very nice songbirds. The above is a Woodlark (Lullula arborea).
Following breakfast we set off for one of my favorite birding locations of the trip.
We saw White Stork every day and it all areas of the country. Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) was seen for the first time in this remote river valley location and a few other times elsewhere. Unlike the big, untidy nest of the White Stork stacked on someone's chimney, the Black Stork seemed for favor more remote nest locations. Mladen later showed us a Black Stork's nest with four nestlings on a rock overhang and tucked beneath a natural ledge. Both were spectacular birds, but of the two I think I found Black Stork more striking.
This was our only location to see Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumayer). When we became distracted by all of the other birds we were seeing, like the Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica) below, Mladen reminded us to focus on the nuthatch because this was the only place we would see it. We saw it well. While my photo is poor, it is still easy to see the nuthatch in the bird.
I thought the Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispaniica) was a spectacular bird, with it's silvery head, black wings and white breast, and would have liked a better photo. We never did see another.
Chukar (Alectoris chukar) is an introduced game bird in the United States that has established breeding populations in many western states. But in Bulgaria it's the real deal native species. This bird stood on its rock ledge and vocalized, unperturbed, for several minutes.
This area was also a haven for butterflies and dragonflies. I saw a beautiful white butterfly that I could not photograph and found a large and very beautiful dragonfly which grabbed Mladen's attention as possibly an undocumented species for the area. He ran back to the van for his camera. Before I could ready my own camera for a photo, the dragonfly flew and we could not find it again - a disappointment for both of us.
Amongst other raptors, we saw four Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) this morning. No matter where seen, Golden Eagle is always a thrilling bird; even Mladen gave an excited shout when he saw them. Here a Hobby is giving chase to one of the Goldens - a dreadful photo for sure, but still an interesting image.
After a picnic lunch, Mladen successfully called out a Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) which thrilled everyone, especially when it perched for prolonged looks through the spotting scope. The Wryneck is on the right and, though it's difficult to see, it's sharing the bare branches with Lesser Grey (Lanius minor) and Red-backed (Lanius collurio) shrikes.