Trip to Bulgaria, 10th June 2012 - 17th June 2012

To see a list of the birds seen on this trip click here

This was a trip with Spatia Wildlife, an organisation which leads wildlife holidays in Bulgaria. This particular trip was a dedicated bird photography trip. There were 6 clients including myself on the course. I travelled with my good friend Gordon Follows. We met up with the other four participants at Sophia airport.

Sunday 10th June 2012

Depart British Airways from Heathrow to Sofia, Bulgaria, arriving 13:40 local time. We were met at the airport by one of our guides, Tisho, and boarded the waiting modern minibus for the three hour drive north to the foothills of the Balkan mountains. We stopped for a short time en route to stretch our legs and get a bite to eat and a drink. We arrived at our hotel in Gabarevo about 18:00 local time. Shortly after we gathered for dinner which was preceeded by a briefing about what was in store for the rest of the week and what our personal ‘target species’ were.

There was just time to have a look around the village which was to be our base for the week before turning in for the night.

Monday 11th June 2012 - Saturday 16th June 2012

For the rest of the week, we explored the area around Gabarevo, and were set up in hides close to particular bird species which we wanted to photograph. Often we worked in pairs, and this arrangement worked well. There was a sunken hide in the garden of one of the other guides, and this overlooked a drinking pool. This hide could not only accommodate four photographers with tripods and big lenses at a time, but it was much more comfortable and cooler than the other portable hides which could only hold two people, often at a crush, in the heat of the day.

We were very well looked after by the Spatia team, and were always supplied with plenty of water for the hide work. Generally, we would leave straight after breakfast, about 7 am, and be in the hides by 8am. We would break for lunch at the hottest part of the day, and resume photography - usually from a different hide with different species - in the mid afternoon till about 7 or 8pm, depending on how good things were going at the time. We would then return to the hotel for a shower followed by dinner.

The birds were varied, as was the success, but for my part, I managed good photos of  Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, Bee Eaters, Wrynecks, Syrian and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, three Sparrow species and the charming mammal, European Ground Squirrel. However, most popular of all were the numerous Hawfinches - a bird which is very hard to see let alone photograph in the UK - which was a regular visitor to the garden with the sunken hide. Up to 15 individuals were present at one time, including young birds, and they would be feeding as well as bathing.

Sunday 17th June 2012

We had a leisurely wander around the village in the morning before departing to Sofia for our early afternoon flight back to Heathrow.

Bulgaria was a bit of a culture shock for me. The hotel we were based in, though modern in appearance - certainly compared to other buildings in the vicinity, nevertheless had some serious faults. Slippy ceramic tiles on the bathroom floor; electrical socket directly adjacent to the shower; a room door which regularly jammed; and lack of room service all made it a poor choice.

Ignoring the hotel, the trip was a great success from the bird and photography point of view. The guides were very helpful, spoke good English (in distinction from anyone connected with the hotel), and were good drivers. They were patient and always trying to do their best for the group. I would certainly be happy to recommend Spatia to others interested in wildlife and would be happy to use them again myself.