Category Archives: Bulgaria

Woodpecker Tree

Woodpecker Tree, interesting name? Well, the story goes like this. I spent five mornings, from 5am, in a tower hide 9 metres above the ground. My target was to take images of Golden Oriole, especially the brightly coloured male, however that did not go to plan, more on that in the future.

During the  periods of waiting, “woodpecker tree” was active, especially from when the sun came up until around the 10am mark. The tree was a hive of activity, with numerous buntings, shrikes and other passerines frequently visiting the tree looking for grubs and fruits.

On one of the mornings, I cannot remember which, in the space of two hours we had five woodpecker species (two of which I have never seen before) visiting and foraging as well as a “flyby” green woodpecker. The tree has also attracted a seventh species of woodpecker recently, the Grey-headed woodpecker.

Four of the species were the typical climbing woodpeckers that excavate nest holes in vertical tree trunks with the fifth species being the aberrant Eurasian Wryneck; which either uses an existing cavity in a tree or a nest box.

Probably due to the limited number of inhabitants and the traditional farming methods, the Suha Reka region of Bulgaria is truly a “mecca” for bird and nature watching and photography.

MIddle Spotted Woodpecker 1 (Bulgaria)Middle Spotted Woodpecker – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

Syrian Woodpecker 1 (Bulgaria)Syrian Woodpecker – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 (Bulgaria-Woodpecker Tree)Great Spotted Woodpecker – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1 (Bulgaria-Woodpecker Tree)Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

Eurasian Wryneck 1Eurasian Wryneck – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

If you have not already done so, check out my other posts on the Bulgaria trip including; Eurasian Hoopoe; European Bee-eater and European Roller.

European Exotic #3 – European Roller

The final article in the series of European Exotics, is the European Roller, equally as stunning as both the European Hoopoe and the European Bee-eater. The European Roller is the only member of the roller family of birds to breed in Europe. Its overall range extends into the east from Central Asia, though the Middle East and down to Morocco.

Roller 1 (Bulgaria) The European Roller is a long-distance migrant, and if we are lucky we will get one or two disoriented migrants coming to Denmark or southern Sweden each year, as long as it is warm enough. The European Roller winters in southern Africa in two distinct regions, from Senegal east to Cameroon and from Ethiopia west to Congo and south to South Africa.

Typical or the species, the European Roller’s I saw in the Suha Reka region of Bulgaris, were seen in  warm, dry, open country with scattered trees. They prefer lowland open countryside with patches of oak  forest, mature pine woodland with clearings, orchards, mixed farmland, river valleys, and plains with scattered thorny or leafy trees. In and around the valleys of Suha Reka we photographed the European Roller, we saw approximately ten pairs, this was up from three pairs in 2013. I am sure this in part is due to the efforts of Sergey from http://www.NatureTravel.eu , check out this conservation article here, 30 nest boxes were built and installed in 2013, and Sergey has plans for at least the same level in 2014.

Roller 2 (Bulgaria)

Now for the stats: The European Roller is a stocky bird, similar in size to a Jackdaw; as can be seen from the images on this blog it is mainly blue and aqua with an orange-brown back, with hints of purple and black. European Rollers often perch prominently on trees, posts or overhead wires, whilst watching for the large insects, small reptiles and rodents as well as frogs, thus making them a target for many photographers.

It nests in an unlined tree or cliff hole, and lays up to six eggs.

Roller 3 (Bulgaria)Not surprisingly, the European breeding range was formerly more extensive than today, with b long-term declines in the north and west, including extinction as a nesting bird in Sweden and Germany a long time ago. Maybe with global warming will there be a return to these northern breeding quarters?

The  European breeding population range estimated at 159,000 to 330,000 birds. When Asian breeders are added, this gives a global total population range of 277,000 to 660,000 individuals. There have been fairly rapid population declines across much of its range, so it is classed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. European population decline by 25 percent between 1990 and 2000.

Threats include hunting while on migration in around the Mediterranean, and allegedly large numbers killed for food in Oman! Agricultural practices in some countries have led to the loss of trees and hedges which provide potential nest sites and perches for hunting, and pesticides have reduced the availability of insect food. However, let’s hope initiative like the ones Sergey is undertaking in Suha Reka will be replicated by others and the Eurasian Roller can increase number in the future.

Suha Reka Valley

During the recent trip to Bulgaria, I stayed in an area known as the Suha Reka (dry river) valley. The valley and its adjacent dry riverbeds, cliffs and rocky crests is a mecca for wildlife, especially birds, butterflies and the Souslik, also known as the European Ground Squirrel.

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Souslik – Suha Reka

The image below was taken around 6am as the sun was lighting up the valley.

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Suha Reka is located in Dobrudzha, north of the town of Dobrich. The river almost entirely disappears in the karst terrain. Between the villages of Efreytor Bakalovo and Brestnitsa it forms a reservoir about 7-8 km long. The hills along the riverbed is overgrown with shrubs and forest. The open areas around the valley are occupied by agricultural lands and pastures, grassed the local cows and sheep, every day whilst I was around the area photography the nature.

Suha Reka supports approximately 200 bird species, 90 species of which are of European conservation concern (BirdLife International, 2004).

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The image above was taken around 8pm in the evening.

The Suha Reka dry riverbed is one of the most important areas in the country for the Ruddy Shelduck, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle and the Eagle Owl, where these species breed in good numbers.

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Red-backed Shrike – Suha Reka

A complex of species, typical to open and transitional habitats are presented in the area with significant breeding populations as well – Ortolan Bunting, Golden Oriole, European Roller, Stone Curlew, Barred Warbler, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrike, all of which are rare and difficult to find in Northern Europe.

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Golden Oriole – Suha Reka

If you are interested in visiting this amazing and untouched European wilderness, then I would recommend contacting Sergey at www.naturetravel.eu

 

European Exotic #1 – Eurasian Hoopoe

Just back from a few days in North Eastern Bulgaria with Sergey from http://www.NatureTravel.eu. During the trip I photographed many wonderful species, especially the “exotics” of Europe.

One of these being the Eurasian Hoopoe. A long time ago, when I was 10 years old to be precise, I saw a Hoopoe in our garden in South Africa, since this day the Hoopoe has always been a bird at the top of my list.

Eurasian Hoopoe 2The Hoopoe is a stunningly colourful bird, as can be seen from the above image, that is found across Afro-Eurasia region. Interestingly, the English name is an onomatopoetic form which imitates the cry of the bird.

As can be seen from the images, the Hoopoe is highly distinctive, with it’s long thin tapering bill, broad and rounded wings, stunning crest and wonderful plumage. Not to mention the trisyllab call; oop-oop-oop, which gives rise to its English and scientific names, although two and four syllables are also common. The Hoopoe was a wonderful companion each morning at 5am when Sergey and I were up ready for our early morning photography sessions, calling from a distant tree and vying for our attention along with Common Cuckoo, Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove and Ortolan Bunting.

Eurasian Hoopoe 1The Hoopoe is widespread in Europe, Asia, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Most European and North Asian birds migrate to the tropics in winter, in contrast the African populations are sedentary. Remarkably, the Hoopoe has been a vagrant in Alaska!! Although this was in 1975.

The Hoopoe has two basic requirements in its habitat; bare or lightly vegetated ground, which is plentyful in the Suha Reka region of Bulgaria, on which to forage and vertical surfaces with cavities, such as trees, cliffs or even walls, nestboxes, haystacks, and abandoned burrows, which to nest. Burrows being the prefered choice in Suha Reka.

Having seen and photographed the Hoppoe last week, the memories of living in South Africa as a child have been stirred and more birds are coming to the forefront of my mind, maybe an African safari is on the horizon……………….