Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bulgaria: Krapets to Sofia via the central Balkans

Evening of June 15th through departure:  our final days

Recognizing that the trip was winding down made me want to savor every sighting, bird or otherwise.  In just a few more days I would be back at work with only memories of a great birding trip and wonderful vacation.

The evening of June 15th would be our last night at the Hotel Yansita. When we returned from the day of birding we noticed that the hotel had other guests from Romania who arrived for the weekend and were swimming and relaxing by the pool.  Just before dinner I saw Mladen heading out with his camera and tripod.  Knowing where he was going, I asked to join him.  On both prior pre-breakfast walks we saw an active, singing Barred Warbler. That early in the morning the bright eastern sun made taking photographs nearly impossible.

Mladen used his phone and trusty speaker device to call the Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria).  The male responded immediately and flew to leafless branches of a tall tree across a field to continue singing.  Soon the bird flew in closer but proved to be an elusive subject for a photograph by diving into the bushes.

While waiting for a bit of time to elapse before again calling the Barred Warbler, a Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) perched on a nearby branch.  Throughout the trip I had tried many times for photos of the Red-back Shrike always with generally poor results.  This was my best opportunity and one of the two shots I took turned out to be acceptable.

Again Mladen called for the Barred Warbler and this time the female popped up and posed very nicely for just enough time for the photo below.

The largest of the Sylvia warblers, the Barred is a unique appearing bird.  Mladen played the Barred's song again.  The male bird responded and we could see it moving around in the bushes.

Finally, the male Barred Warbler popped up and presented itself just long enough for a couple of shots and the one above was the best.

After dinner several of us were sitting around the pool chatting.  Doug Woods came over to the table to report that an otter was feeding just beyond the breakwater.  We all jumped up, ran into our rooms for cameras, and ran out of the hotel courtyard to the breakwater across the street.  This turned the heads of the Romanians who, I'm sure, wondered where the fire was.  By the time I walked the thin edge of  the breakwater the otter was a bobbing head quite far out and in rapidly dimming light.  All I can say about the otter is that I saw it - sort of.   

Balchik (via Krapets) to Sofia looks like this on google maps.  The next morning it was time to leave.  We were down to our last two days of birding in Bulgaria.  Our first stop of the morning would be a return to Balchik.  We had visited Balchik in the late afternoon on June 13th to look unsuccessfully for the Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo).  The Eagle Owl is such a desirable bird that the second visit was anticipated with mixed expectations - knowledge that we were unsuccessful once, but hopes that a second visit would bring success.

Another bright, sunny morning washed out the sky over the white cliffs where we hoped to find a perched owl.  We had two spotting scopes, Carol's and Mladen's, and the rest of us searched with binoculars.  Even Dencho, the van driver, searched.  He had found the owl for another birding group.

A Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) flew over.  Mladen folded his tripod and it seemed like we were going to give up.  Instead, we all loaded up into the van and drove down the road to a different area of the cliffs and began looking again.  After a quick search over the cliffs, Mladen moved purposefully down the road and set up his scope.  He raised his arms in the air. Eagle Owl!  Oh, my goodness, I don't know about anyone else, but I couldn't believe it.

The Eagle Owl is in the right cliff cavity of this attractive rock formation.  In the heavily cropped photo below the bird is seen in the right corner of the cavity.  My photos gives the impression that we did not see the bird well.  Through the spotting scope, however, the bird was well seen. Carol even got quite a good digiscoped photo through her Zeiss scope. At times it was apparent that the bird, a fledged juvenile, was watching us. 

We allowed ourselves a bit of celebratory leisure but eventually, with happy reluctance, we moved on.  The next stop was a meadowed wetland in Botevo to look for Ruddy Shelduck.  This was a completely beautiful location.  It is here that I had my best look at Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg).  The Yellow Wagtail in Bulgaria is the subspecies feldegg, an attractive, dark-headed yellow wagtail.  

Under skies completely washed out by the bright sun, the wetlands water for the Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) is beyond the waterfall (above).  We never did see the shelduck.  That's not to say it wasn't present.  The pools of water were void of any waterfowl, but there were plenty of hiding places for waterfowl of any species in this wetland. 

I struggled to obtain an acceptable photo of any of the four shrike species we saw.  So it was with the Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator). I thought this bird was very attractive, perhaps my favorite shrike of the trip.  The only photo opportunity the Woodchat offered yielded the above effort.  

Leaving Boteva, we drove by Mladen's town of Shumen, a town with a population of just under 100,000.  We knew we would see the town where Mladen lived and I thought we would have lunch there.  But we continued to drive for twenty minutes more to an outdoor restaurant on a lake.  Before lunch was served, Mladen, never resting from finding us a good bird, scoped out the lake to make sure we wew not missing anything.  

Above, Yoav Chudnoff, our fearless and funny leader. Here I imagine that he is looking forward to the hours ahead when he can finally rest.  It was clear that the amount of planning and organization that goes into arranging a trip such as ours is enormously challenging to do well.  Yoav did it well, always the calm and masterful negotiator.    

Following lunch we embarked on our second longest travel segment of the trip to take us to the central Balkans.  Much of the trip was on highway roads and we had no birding stops to lessen the travel time. 

In the early evening we were back in the central Balkans and checking into the Hotel Sima, another out-of-season ski resort.  After the hot, sunny weather of the past four days, the cool mountain air was refreshing.      

After check-in we had time before dinner for an exploration up the mountain to see what might be around.  A Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) called from the tall, deciduous trees.  We called again for Gray-headed and White-backed woodpeckers with no success.  

Continuing up the hill to the open meadow with few scattered trees and bushes, a dog barked from the location of a bundled red tarp.  There were few birds around and Mladen suggested we call it quits in favor of returning for dinner.  We would be back in the morning.  Dinner at the Hotel Sima restaurant was very nice - with the wonderful cucumber, tomato and Bulgarian cheese salad, which I sadly realized might be my last, followed by an entree of tender pork medallions with a light gravy and potatoes.

This restaurant also had a wine selection which included wines from Bulgaria's wine growing regions, some of which we passed though on our second day of the trip.  With Bob's help we selected a couple of Bulgarian reds and a white.  I found each enjoyable.  Earlier on the trip I had a glass of red wine which I described as thin and harsh. Bob tasted it and nodded in agreement.  "It's oxidized," he said.
He explained that oxidation occurs with sloppy attention to detail in the wine-making process.

At various times on the trip we heard about Bob Traverso's passion for wine-making.  Bob was a native Californian from Italian immigrant grandparents who grew up drinking wine.  First his grandfather watered it down half and half, then a little less water until, as a kid still, he enjoyed wine with meals.  To Bob, the wines we selected for dinner, "were not great, but nice."  It was over the Hotel Sima dinner that he described for us the process of making wine from start to finish.

After dinner while many of us were still sitting around drinking wine, Yoav left to see if he could call out a Tawny Owl.  Many of us didn't even notice he was gone.  Mladen's telephone rang.  Yoav was calling to say that he had a Tawny Owl. We ran out to the dark woods behind the hotel.  On his cell phone, Yoav played the vocalization again, and immediately the Tawny Owl (Strix oluco) flew in to perch on an overhead branch and looked down on us.  A completely cute owl! Although it looks like a mini-Barred Owl (Strix varia) and is of the same family, its responsiveness to hearing its vocalization and its alert behavior reminded me of our Eastern Screech Owl (Meloscops asio).

The next morning we returned to the high meadow for our pre-breakfast walk.  Through the spotting scope we saw our only Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrenella) - see my earlier blog entry titled Buntings - of the trip, as well as male and female Whinchats (Saxicola rubetra).  While the others left to call for, yet again, the Gray-headed Woodpecker, I remained behind for this photo of the male Whinchat.  In retrospect, a good move.  The woodpecker was not seen.

When we left Hotel Sima, we drove along the road above the hotel to bird the high meadow.  Here we saw close up the tame, but free, horses that we had seen from afar the evening before.  Yoav and Dencho spent a good amount of time amongst them with Dencho taking close-up photographs.  The target bird here was Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix) and we were unsuccessful.  This high location in the central Balkans was beautiful and, with the horses and other birds we saw, it was a pleasure to be here. 

In the shadow of a gigantic, and not very attractive, cement monument built by the Russians in 1949 to honor Bulgaria's independence from the Ottoman empire, we took this group photograph.  Only Dencho, our van driver, is missing.  I thought about how Mladen, now age 32, would have been less than ten years old when the Berlin wall came down and just a couple years older when the official break-up of the Soviet Union finally occurred.  I thought of how Yoav, born in Israel and who, over 20 years ago, married a Bulgarian woman who received her Ph.D. in Bulgarian studies from Temple University in Philadelphia.  Now their daughter is a law student at Drexel University.  Considering all that has occurred between then and now, surely this must represent what is good about globalization.  I felt completely privileged to have visited this beautiful eastern European country.  

We had lunch at an attractive outdoor cafe where the young woman owner worked so hard to prepare a meal for our completely unexpected large group.  Watching her come out from the kitchen to check on our meals reminded me, again, of how hard people work.  Thinking back on this we really were not appreciative guests, leaving most of the food on our plates.  She must have wondered what hit her.  She may also have had a few thoughts about Americans.

A couple more stops to look for raptors and then we reached the outskirts of Sofia.  We had not seen the city of Sofia at all and Dencho drove us around the busy city center while Yoav called out buildings of historical, cultural, municipal and religious significance.

We arrived back at the Hotel Edi for our final night.  The Gray Wagtails were still present.  Many of us would depart early the next morning for Sofia Airport to begin our return flights.  That night at dinner we shared good birds, laughs, stories and memories.  

Just as the moon rose over the Black Sea at dusk to end a long day of birding, my Bulgaria trip was over.


Butterflies seen:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Princeton field guide: Svensson's Birds of Europe

Prior to leaving for my trip to Bulgaria, I had a discussion with Harold Eyster about the field guide Birds of Europe, second edition by Lars Svensson.

I  commented that I would be taking this field guide on the trip but that I really didn't like it.  My dislike was based on things like the heavy and awkward size of the guide, the crowded plates and small size of the bird illustrations followed by tiny, unclear range maps. 

Harold shrugged his shoulders in polite disagreement and said that he really liked this field guide and supported his statement saying simply that he thought the descriptions for each bird were excellent and that this attention to detail more than made up for the small image size of the bird illustrations.

Now that the trip is over, I will say that Harold's assessment of the Birds of Europe is by far the more accurate.  It's an excellent field guide. As soon as we began to use it in the field, Harold's reasons for liking the guide became immediately clear.  Superficial concerns about size and heaviness melted away in favor of superior descriptions matching excellent illustrations.  Where the small range maps were concerned, a study of the map of Europe was enough to make them clear.  

We had three field guides available for our perusal on the trip and the one we always defaulted to was Svensson's 2009 Birds of Europe. Anyway, how could I not like it with one of my favorite birds on the cover?

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Bulgaria: Bullfinch and Hawfinch

With the exception of my British birding friend, Malcolm Richards, who I enjoyed birding with in 2008 and 2010, I have almost no experience birding with non-American birders, especially in the United States.  For lack of this experience, I always imagine that when non-American birders prepare for their first U.S. birding trip they spend at least some time focusing on cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches and robins as birds they would really like to see.  Then I imagine that we, as their guides, rightly focus on Kirtland's Warbler and other good birds we know they should see while completely ignoring our spectacular cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches and robins.  This is all in my imagination.  Of course, we know that foreign birders will see our spectacular common backyard birds almost without even trying. Mostly. We also know, especially when considering the season, that they could easily miss some of our more common birds.  Woodpecker enthusiasts might have a hard time finding, say, a Hairy Woodpecker.  When I was birding with Malcolm in early September we missed seeing a Field Sparrow at Crosswinds Marsh.  Go figure.        

While preparing for my trip to England in June, 2010 I dearly wanted to see a Bullfinch and Hawfinch.  When studying the range maps for these two species I thought I would see both.  So, when I didn't see either, I was surprised and disappointed.

Knowing nothing about the bird in the painting or of my desire to see one, this past Christmas my mother gave me an inexpensive, but beautiful, oil on canvas bullfinch which she bought for me just because she found the bird so irresistible and could not leave it in the store.  It's been hanging in my dining room since February.  

Each time I walked into my dining room I thought about my upcoming trip to Bulgaria and of my hopes of seeing a bullfinch and a hawfinch.  Of course, I now also know that these are not common backyard birds.

As you can see by the photos below, at least with the Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), I did.  The Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) photos are not nearly as identifiable.  However, as it turned out, seeing both of these birds was difficult.

The Bullfinch was seen in Trigrad during my pre-breakfast walk around the village on the morning of our Wallcreeper day.  Carol Thompson saw it first and when our paths crossed on the road she told me about it.  A magnet pulled me to the spot.  The bird did not present itself immediately and I was both patient and impatient.  After approximately ten minutes of looking and listening, I saw movement to my right and looked just in time to see a male and female bullfinch perched on a wooden fence rail.  I got a good, but brief, look before they flew off to scrubby bushes at the back of a farm building.  The movement from
lifting my binoculars was probably enough to flush them.  Seeing the male and female together suggested they had an active nest.  I walked up a path on the other side of the building but there was no sign or sound of the birds.  I retreated back to the front of the barn and after another wait saw the male bird moving around in the trees behind the barn.  He perched in the sun and looked around.  I fumbled with my camera and had just enough time to take the terrible photograph above.        

I thought the Trigrad Bullfinches would be the only ones I saw.  Then on the last morning of our trip in the central Balkans near the Hotel Sima, another out-of-season ski resort, Mladen heard a Bullfinch call and a split second later it flew out from trees at the edge of the trail and across a short field to perch at the tip of a conifer tree. Another split-second photo opportunity yielded the above result just before the bird took off and flew away from us and out of sight.  Mladen said that in Bulgaria the Bullfinch is a bird of higher elevation habitats which explains why we saw the bird in the locations we did.  I've added this RSPB link with the Bullfinch vocalization here.  

Arguably it was even more difficult to see the Hawfinch.  Each time we were alerted to their presence when Mladen heard them.  But actually seeing one was a different challenge.  A Hawfinch would perch and as Mladen set up the scope it would fly off.  This happened every time. On the 13th, shortly after departing Nessebar, we arrived at the wooded location where we called unsuccessfully for Grey-headed Woodpecker and saw the movement of several Hawfinches in the trees - probably a family.  It was with this group of Hawfinches that we had our best chances for a good view.  Finally we decided that the best way to see the Hawfinch was in bits and pieces; that is, tail, then wing patch, then bill, head ... , etc.  As the rest of the group was leaving I stayed behind and managed the two dreadful photos above and below.  Both are obscured shots of the same bird.  Above the Hawfinch is finding a caterpillar and below the caterpillar obscures its huge bill.  The RSBP link with the Hawfinch vocalization is here.  Additionally, the RSPB synopysis offers an explanation for why the Hawfinch is so hard to see.         

In the end I saw both birds.  The challenge made it very satisfying.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bulgaria: Cape Kaliakra Reserve and nearby

Following a violent storm that ripped through my neighborhood and many other areas of southeastern Michigan on Saturday night, July 2nd, my neighbors and I lost power for the next three days.  When I returned home from work Tuesday, the 5th, we finally had our power restored. Without power I couldn't work on my blog over the weekend as I had planned.

Back to Bulgaria:  June 14th and 15th, 2011. 

Arriving at our seaside hotel in Krapets on the evening of June 13th, the next two days of birding would be day trips.  June 14th turned out to be one of my favorite days of birding because of the places we visited and the birds we saw.

We birded along the road en route to Cape Kaliakra, our first stop for the day.  About halfway between Krapets and Cape Kaliakra we saw some birds eating insects on the road.  One was larger than the others and Mladen called out - with some excitement because it was a good and unexpected bird - "pratincole," as in Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola), a bird lumped in with their waders and unlike any bird I know of in North America.  We got satisfying looks at the pratincole on the ground and in flight.  With its unique body structure and the unexpected opportunity to see it, the pratincole was possibly one of my favorite birds for the trip.  

The purpose for visiting Cape Kaliakra was to see Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) and Pied Wheatear.  Some did see the shearwater - tiny specks flying low and fast way out over the Black Sea - but this is my least favorite way to see a bird.  Knowing I would never count such a view on my trip list, I gave at best a half-hearted effort to see them. Unfortunately, efforts to see these specks over the water gave way to our group's only overt conflict of the trip.  The tension had probably been building and it was just time for release.  The conflict was later resolved, more or less satisfactorily, with a discussion after lunch.  Our group was made up of a very nice bunch of birders and disagreements were kept relatively low key.

While looking over the Cape Kaliakra cliff edge at nearby breeding plumaged Black-necked Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis), Eared Grebes to us, an interesting discussion occurred about a particular verb tense. Mladen spoke fluent English and transitioned easily between Bulgarian and English.  In the mid-2000's he lived in Maine for three or four summers in a row and spent time with many American birders.  In his job he also leads a lot of British birders around Bulgaria.  While looking at the grebes through the scope several of us commented that "it dove" when the bird ... well, ... dove.  The next person at the scope would need to relocate the grebe.  Somewhat startled, Mladen said, "Ah, you said it, that word 'dove'."  He explained that when leading a group of Brits recently he had used the same phrase, "it dove," whereupon he was quickly pounced upon by the Brits who told him there was no such word as "dove."  All of us American birders agreed that "it dove" is standard lingo when watching diving water birds.  Decide for yourself with this link conjugating the English verb "to dive.

Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka) nest on Cape Kaliakra and we saw many.  Being accustomed to people at this tourist location, they were generally easy to approach for a photograph.  Nevertheless, they still seemed to have a distance limit.  To see this handsome bird's large black eye, the image above is best viewed when enlarged.  For the trip we saw four species of wheatear; completely delightful birds that I found myself wishing we also had in North America. 

In an earlier blog entry I included a distant photo of Bee-eaters, but can there ever really be too many photos of the bejeweled Bee-eater?  The Bee-eaters at Cape Kaliakra were active along the cliffs below us so not as easily spooked, and like the Pied-Wheatear were more accustomed to people.  

Leaving Cape Kaliatra we visited some nearby fields along quite busy roads with travelers driving to and from the Cape.  By this time on the trip we had grown unaccustomed to much traffic on roads where we were birding. The overall absence of traffic in places we visited was something that I found wonderful about Bulgaria. Our target bird was an aerial specialist, the Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), and after everyone saw the bird well through the scope, I was able to sneak closer for the photo above.  Later in the afternoon we saw Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) on the steppes.  For the trip we saw five species of larks, another bird it would be very nice to have in North America.

Leaving the Calandra Lark and again driving on the relatively busy road leading to and from the tourist location of Cape Kaliatra I noticed a brown lump at the edge of the road.  Looked about the right size, right color too. Mladen also saw it.  We both called out "hedgehog!" Hedgehogs are slow-moving, nocturnal animals and we saw many dead along the road during our travels.  Seeing this hedgehog on the move during the daytime was a complete surprise.  But a surprise with grave consequences for this particular hedgehog.  Even as Dencho stopped the van three cars were approaching the hedgehog from the opposite direction.  Mladen quickly got out of the van, crossed the road and nudged the hedgehog back into the bushes.  He stomped his feet a few times so the hedgehog might think again before leaving the safety of the bushes. Just as he got the hedgehog off the road Mladen stood at the edge and allowed the three cars to pass before he returned to the van. All of this happened within seconds and, unfortunately, we had no chance to take photos.  But, had the timing of our arrival been delayed by even a minute we would have been seeing yet another dead hedgehog on the road.  We gladly preferred our photo-free experience.  

After our Calandra Lark and hedgehog moments we had lunch at a very nice roadside restaurant where we shared the outdoor patio with German diners who were workers on the nearby windfarms building and erecting windmills.

I asked Mladen why Bulgarians did not do this work.  He didn't know why but went on to explain that the wind farms in this region were illegal, having been built on environmentally sensitive land without completing the necessary environmental impact studies.  The local mayor was corrupt and had somehow got away with the contract.  I forget the details now but the corrupt mayor's palm is well-greased.  I guessed then that the company erecting the windmills was a German company and employed its own workers for the job.  Now that the windmills are erected there is no chance they would be taken down.  I thought of how we in the United States face similar environmental threats when politicians and corporations, often flying low under the radar, attempt to push through lucrative, but potentially damaging projects for the environment.

The sign above had nothing to do with our lunch restaurant, but I saw it in one of the small towns we passed through near Cape Kaliakra. This sunny area in northeast Bulgaria on the Black Sea is an affordable and attractive location for British retirees tired of their damp, gray English weather.  I imagine that this sneckbar sign in English was appealing to the area's new residents.

After lunch we visited an area with sandstone cliffs for our second unsuccessful attempt to find an Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo).  But we saw so many other great things including butterflies, dragonflies and a hunting European Honey-buzzard (Pernis apivorus)our only honey-buzzard of the trip.    

Leaving the sandstone cliffs, we saw this Hoopoe (Upupa epops) on a wire over the road.  At first I took backlit photos of the bird from the van window.  Then we turned the corner and I saw I could place the ultility pole behind the bird for an unsilhouetted view.  Using the van as a blind I took several shots from the open window.  Prior to even departing for the trip Hoopoe was one of the three birds I most wanted to see and photograph.  While we saw and heard Hoopoes several times, the look was always fleeting or from afar, and only once briefly with the crown feathers raised.  I began to think that I would not get a photo so when this opportunity occurred I was thrilled.  Such a unique bird!  As a bonus this bird was also vocalizing.

Leaving the Hoopoe we drove to the steppes, large areas of rocky meadow with wildflowers for another highly sought after bird.  Almost immediately Bob Traverso spotted a close Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus).  We froze while Mladen set up the scope. When our careful movements failed to frighten the bird we took the opportunity to load up in the van to move closer.  Mladen had never photographed a Stone Curlew so closely.  I had trouble finding the Stone Curlew in my viewfinder at the closer range yet I still managed to get a couple of decent photos.  The one below may be from the more distant range. That evening when Mladen downloaded his Stone Curlew photos to his laptop he gave me an important pointer on evaluating the appearance of a bird in a photograph.  Did the bird appear natural or did it appear frightened?  So subtle and something that I had never before considered.  Mladen had a couple of photos, clear and sharp, where the Stone Curlew seemed frightened and appeared to be running away. These were quickly deleted.    

Official birding for this day ended shortly after seeing the Stone Curlew and Lesser Short-toed Lark, but we continued to bird from the van and saw another Calandra Lark close to the road and further on a Little Owl was perched in plain view at the edge of the road.

After our morning walk followed by breakfast, we started out on Thursday, July 15th for our target bird, the Paddyfield Warbler (Acrocephalus agricola), at Lake Durankulak.  It was windy that morning and Mladen worried that we might not be able to see it.  But he heard a male singing almost as soon as we stepped off the van near a beach resort on the Black Sea where, with the exception of one fisherman, we were the only visitors.  This bird was important here because its range is so limited in Bulgaria.

This location, Lake Durankulak, was also the only place we saw Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca).

We drove to another area of the lake to look for Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus) and a handsome male immediately flew in upon hearing Mladen's recording.  A bird with such a unique appearance elicited oohs and aahs.  We heard, but did not see, Savi's Warbler (Locustella luscinioides), another target bird in this habitat.  So many old-world warblers look so much alike.

Throughout the trip Mladen used recordings to call (or, in some cases, not call) birds in.  To do this he used a tiny set of speakers that attached to his Nokia cell phone on which he had downloaded bird vocalizations.  I had never seen such a compact and field-friendly sound device.  We have iphones, ipods, blackberries, etc. all with the same capability, but it was the speaker device which really made the kit.    

Knowing that I would only bring one pair of shoes for the whole trip, I gave a lot of thought to which I would choose and finally decided on a lightweight pair of Adidas sneakers.  They were perfect and I was pleased with my selection; that is, until we birded in the meadowed habitat of Lake Durankulak and Lake Shabla.  The grass we walked through here had barbed stickers that grabbed at my mesh shoes and cotton socks.  Some of the barbs made it to my feet and pricked my skin with each step. Those who had a heavier hiking boot style of shoe did much better in this habitat.  In the van I removed my shoes and socks to pluck off the stickers that had managed to get everywhere.

Walking around the village after lunch I found another snack bar sign in both languages.  Seeing the Bulgarian words for snack bar made clearer where the translation sneckbar had come from on the first sign.

After lunch some stayed behind at the hotel to enjoy the nice pool and the rest of us went on to Shabla Lake.  I felt right at home when looking at this sign because some marksman had thought it would be a good idea to shoot it up a bit.  

A Roller was on an overhead wire and I crept closer and closer for the photograph above.  The thing is, as pretty as it is perched the Roller is truly spectacular in flight.  Too late I got the idea to try to video its flight. I thought of it only after I watched this bird take off and fly away from me unable to take my eyes off of it and knowing there was no way to switch my camera mode quickly enough.  After this I never got another chance.  

Months prior to departing for this trip, I practiced with the video mode of my camera so I would be able to use this feature with adequate confidence.  Thinking back on it now, I should have taken more video during the trip.  In the end I used it only twice - fortunately, I thought to use it early on for the Wallcreeper and many days later for the singing Corn Bunting.  Both of these videos are included in prior blog entries.   

We had seen distant Tawny Pipits (Anthus campestris) in a couple of earlier locations, but in the meadows near Lake Shabla we got to see this bird very well. 

As is seen in the photographs, the two days birding around Krapets, Cape Kaliakra, and the two lakes were hot and sunny.  Around mid-afternoon on the 15th it was clear to me that I was overdosing on sun.  I dropped out of a walk around Lake Shabla in favor of finding a shady spot to bird.  Fortunately, and thanks to SPF 50, I did not get too sunburned.  For the trip our weather was perfect.  Our only rain occurred in the late afternoon on the 14th when the heavens opened up twice for a ten minute downpour each time.  Occasionally, especially in the mountains, it was cool and overcast but we always enjoyed comfortable and good birding weather.

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Butterflies and other critters seen: