Wildlife Holiday News

Spring in Bulgaria

Diane Toms travelled on our 'Spring Birding in Bulgaria' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Golden Oriole

Storkio! Storkio! The young waitress ran excitedly from the breakfast room with a huge smile on her face, informing her boss that a White Stork had landed in the hotel garden. Earlier, whilst watching dippers dashing up and down stream, darting in and out of their nest hidden in the bank, I had seen this impressive bird purposefully striding on the hillside. That it was now in the grounds was obviously an uncommon and exciting occurrence. This was the last morning of our journey through Bulgaria during which there had been many ‘Storkio!’ moments for each of us.

Flying into Sofia the ‘bird’s eye view’ revealed a terrain of forested hills and mountains, but many other diverse havens for wildlife were encountered during our travels. The Black Sea coast, the Danube, which forms much of the border with Romania, lakes, saltpans, marshes, leafy lanes, open vistas, dense woodland, mountains, valleys and river gorges make Bulgaria a very scenic country. Having a fairly sparse population and, particularly in rural areas, a slow paced traditional way of life increases the possibility of safe and productive areas for wildlife to thrive. During our rambles, listening and searching produced an abundance of sightings - birdlife, enriched by butterflies, moths, dragonflies, flowers, fungi, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.

Of course, there are larger population densities in cities and towns, with noise, urban buildings and traffic jams. Ferries and border crossings poured slow-moving streams of freight vehicles onto pot-holed roads, causing them to sway heavily in ponderous procession. We joined these but, just passing through, we did not linger! Rural roads are equally cratered, causing our progress to be slalom-like at times, as our excellent Bulgarian driver tried to give us a comfortable ride. Our large minibus, being identical to those used for daily local travel between villages and towns, was, on several occasions, hailed by villagers stepping forward on our approach. Understandably, there were fist-shakes and obvious verbal displeasure as we passed them by!

Unlike most tourists who frequent ski resorts in the mountains or beachside complexes on the Black Sea coast we were able to travel through and visit many different regions, giving us the opportunity to gain a small insight into this interesting country. Briefly we were like time travellers, see-sawing back and forth through the decades as the bus covered the miles through a country so diverse, ecologically and socially, that at times it could be confusing.

In rural areas, a traditional simple lifestyle continues, with mule carts, hand-scything, tumbledown dwellings and head-scarfed ladies planting field crops, whilst elsewhere there are huge acreages with crop sprayers and combine harvesters. From ancient sites to tenement blocks, cratered lanes to modern highways, abandoned buildings to shopping malls, traditional costume to high fashion, rock star murals to stark monuments, the contrasts are very striking. Several members of our group were sufficiently intrigued to want to discover more of Bulgaria’s past on our return.

However, for me, it was the soundtrack to this holiday which I found enthralling. On the first evening a cuckoo called incessantly till darkness fell, recommencing at dawn until it seemed in danger of losing its voice. Thereafter, calls of cuckoos accompanied us throughout our journey, sounds I now rarely hear at home. The crystal clear notes of the beautiful Wallcreeper, delivered to us directly from close range on the gorge wall facing us, and the unimpeded view of the Golden Oriole, perched in the early morning sunlight singing gloriously for many minute,s were unforgettable. In Vetren the eerie howl of the Golden Jackal was heard close by our guesthouse, and a drumming Black Woodpecker gave an outstanding ‘Woody Woodpecker’ performance, flinging woodchips from his chosen tree, so close that they were showering onto us.

Wandering along quiet lanes absorbing an assault of bird song and, in the wetter habitats of our itinerary, experiencing the cacophony of sound from the, largely unseen, but ever-present Marsh Frogs. How different this was from the sounds of my life in the UK.

Bulgaria is changing, with more economic prosperity ahead. Time will tell if this will have an affect on ecology, but at present this is a great destination for the wildlife enthusiast. During our holiday the focus on birds was excellently fulfilled, with the bonus of seeing local regions, eating traditional food and travelling with a group of like-minded, generous and humorous people. However, I had not expected to return with such wide ranging, thought provoking, beautiful and nostalgic images, memories and experiences which made this so much more than a birdwatching trip.

Read more about our 'Spring Birding in Bulgaria' holiday.