A week of early spring birding in search of Hazel Grouse and Rock Partridge - two of the most elusive bird species in Europe, plus woodpeckers and many migrants.
Hazel Groose and Rock Patridge
Two of the most elusive bird species in Europe are the Hazel Grouse and the Rock Partridge. Their hidden nature, especially outside the breeding season, well camouflaged plumage and often the inaccessible habitat mean that they are among the least seen species on the continent.
Both have good populations in Bulgaria. The Rock Partridge, although declining, has about 800 pairs. Here they inhabit the rocky mountain slopes from 700 meters above the sea level in Western Bulgaria, while the Eastern part of the country is occupied by their cousin - the Chukar. The Hazel Grouse is more numerous about 3000 pairs and they prefer mature woodlands with rich undergrowth.
Best time to see both species is in the beginning of their breeding season, or early April. On our tour we will visit two mountain ranges searching for our targets - the Balkan range in central Bulgaria and the Rhodope Mountain in the south.
In order to increase our chances for good observations, the tour participants are restricted to seven plus leader. We will have two full days to find each of our targets and in total we expect to record 100 +birds species, including migrants in good numbers. This will be a relaxing holiday, with only two bases.
Day 1 Arrival at Sofia airport and transfer to the village of Koprivshtitsa - an architectural reserve, situated at two hours drive east of Sofia. Upon arrival and check-in, short walk in the surroundings, just before dinner. Accommodation for three nights in small family hotel.
Days 2 and 3 We will explore the nearest slopes of Stara Planina (Old Mountain), the main mountain range in Bulgaria and one that holds a considerable part of the Bulgarian Rock Partridge population. Our strategy will be to approach quietly their territories in the area, trying to locate the birds by their calls or movements. Afterwards, we will spend some time watching them in order to get really good views as eventually the birds might come to an open area allowing full view. We will need to have some walking, up to a mile or so, but this will be on relatively flat, dirt road.
The area is very good for birding in general, especially for raptors and woodpeckers and we will give it a good search once we are sorted with the Rock Partridges. Species we may found are Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Long-legged Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Merlin plus more common species such as Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard. Woodpeckers may well include 7 out of the 10 European species - namely Black, Grey-headed, Lesser Spotted, Middle Spotted, Great Spotted, Syrian and Green! Other bird species are Black Stork, Sombre Tit, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Black Redstart, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Crossbill, Goldcrest, Short-toed Treecreeper etc.
Day 4 Today we will move to our second base, the village of Mostovo, in the heart of the Rhodope mountain. On the way we will visit a reservoir where we can see many migrating storks, ducks, waders, passerines and raptors. Arrival at the small family hotel where we will spend the next 3 nights of the holiday late in the afternoon.
Days 5 and 6 Both days we will explore the woodlands nearby trying to locate the Hazel Grouses by their calls, and then we will approach them to get closer views. We have to be quiet when doing so, as this will maximize our chances. The area is also good for Rock Partridge, so we will have second chance here. Other species we expect are Black Woodpecker, Sombre Tit, Rock Bunting, Alpine Swift, Black Redstart, Black Stork, Long-legged Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Peregrine etc. Mammals we can see include Red Squirrel, Suslick, Beech Marten, Chamois, Red and Roe Deer. We may even see some footprints of Brown bears.
Day 7 Two and a half hours will bring us at the airport for your flight back home. If time allows we will have some birding en-route.