Bulgaria is a diverse and beautiful country, its geographical position and wide range of altitudes and habitats hosting an exceptional range of dragonflies, as well as many interesting birds, butterflies and other spectacular wildlife. This tour is timed to ensure sightings of a good range of dragonflies on the wing. During our ‘dragonfly-quest’ we will visit the bogs, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes in some of Bulgaria’s most beautiful settings, exploring first at the edge of the towering Balkan Mountains before moving on to the spectacular Rhodope Mountains that lie along the Greek border. Finally, travelling through the Pirin range, we will conclude our holiday with visits to the biodiversity hotspots in the Struma Valley in south-eastern Bulgaria. It will be a tour that enables us to see many of the country’s dragonflies (potentially 50 species), plus a host of other wildlife, in beautiful and often dramatic landscapes.
We begin in the shadow of the Balkan Mountains, at the picturesque village of Koprivshtitsa. Here we will look along the River Topolnitza and its tributaries for the localised Ornate Bluet (Coenagrion ornatum), together with the Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus) and goldenring (Cordulegaster) species. Our timing and elevation will mean that many dragonflies can also be watched emerging, a fascinating experience. We will also keep a watchful eye above us for the Eastern Imperial Eagles that hunt for Sousliks in the botanically rich grasslands, and search the flower-filled meadows that provide nectar for so many different insects, amongst them such stunning butterflies as the Large and Balkan Coppers and the rare Russian Heath.
Journeying south-eastwards to Madzarovo, we will pass a roadside Bee-eater colony at which Isabelline Wheatears also breed, and enjoy a picnic lunch beside the tree-lined Marica River. Here Gomphids such as River Clubtail (Gomphus flavipes) and Green Snaketail (Ophiogomphus cecilia) may be found, together with hordes of White-legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes) that seem to occur everywhere in Bulgaria. The riparian woodland echoes with the calls of Golden Orioles, whilst Lesser Grey and Masked Shrikes take advantage of the abundance of insects beside the river.
From Madzarovo we will visit the Valchi Dol Valley, a fabulous setting for the peculiar Odalisque Damselfly (Epallage fatime) that breeds along a temporary stream. The tiny hawker, Eastern Spectre (Caliaeschna microstigma) and Balkan Emerald (Somatochlora meridionalis) also frequent the stream, where patches of drying mud provide tasty salts for blue butterflies. In fact the whole area is good for butterflies, including the spectacular Eastern Festoon and tiny, but perfectly formed, Little Tiger Blue. Overhead, raptors patrol the skies, amongst them Long-legged Buzzards, and Griffon, Egyptian and even Black Vultures. We will make a pilgrimage to a cool, shady and slow-moving section of the River Deimi Dere near the Greek border. Here the Bulgarian Emerald was first discovered by Dr. Milen Marinov in 1999, although we may be a little too late in the season to see it.
Travelling higher into the Rhodope Mountains, our next base is amongst the coniferous forest through which Nutcrackers, Black Woodpeckers and Crested Tits range. From here we are able to explore sites of contrasting character. At the Smolyan Lakes both Northern Damselfly (Coenagrion hastulatum) and Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) may be found, whilst at the magnificent limestone gorge at Trigrad both Wallcreeper and the Apollo butterfly are virtually guaranteed. Finally, further westwards, in the beautiful Pirin Mountains, we will squelch past a wonderful display of orchids in Bulgaria’s largest peat bog and, lower down, look for Europe’s largest dragonfly, the Balkan Goldenring (Cordulegaster heros).
Our final base, the picturesque and historic village of Melnik with its strange, pyramid-shaped rock formations, lies amongst the foothills of the Pirin range. From here we will search for the elusive Black Pennant (Selysiothemis nigra) and Blade-tail (Lindenia tetraphylla), and a wide range of other dragonflies that breed in the old gravel workings near the Struma River. The nearby hot springs at Rupite sound an odd place to look for dragonflies, but not all of the water there is nearly boiling! In this, one of the hottest parts of the country, insects are everywhere. As well as dragonflies and butterflies, these include two truly spectacular Orthopterans: the armadillo-like Bradyporus dasypus and the huge Saga hellenica, a bush-cricket that feeds on bush-crickets!
Our journey back to Sofia gives us the chance to visit yet another of Bulgaria’s biodiversity hotspots, the Kresna Gorge. Here the insect theme continues, with various clubtails and Sombre Goldenring (Cordulegaster bidentata) to be seen, plus a host of butterflies along woodland rides — a fitting conclusion to our holiday!