After a couple of days break, following on from my Serbian Tour, I met up with my clients at Varna airport for this year’s Bird Photography Tour in Bulgaria. Our transfer is pretty short – it takes just over an hour to reach our rural Bulgarian village which – our base for the next 5 nights.
Our first photography session was at the Drinking Pool.. and what a difference a year makes! This time last year the pool was very quiet – now it is a hive of activity, with Finches, Tits and Woodpeckers visiting non-stop.
This is no ordinary drinking pool – it’s set around 10 metres high, part of our Tree-top Hide amongst the canopy. Aside from photography, this is a unique experience for wildlife-watching to be at eye level with a variety of birds… and the occasional Red Squirrel! Woodpeckers regularly landed in adjacent trees and Nightingales serenaded us, briefly showing themselves!
Great spotted Woodpeckers were regular visitors as were the Greenfinches, but the most active bird was the Syrian Woodpecker with different individuals coming to both drink and feed young on the pool edge. The main challenge was to capture the best reflections possible and luckily we were often blessed with calm conditions. Most of my images were composed vertically making for easier composition and ensuring I could include all the reflection.
The most exciting moment was when a male Green Woodpecker suddenly flew in and began to drink. I didn’t have the best autofocus settings set and whilst I photographed the bird, I didn’t get the head sharp enough! At least I managed a quick portrait as he perched on the opposite side before flying off! We also had a female land, but all too briefly for a picture.
Greenfinches were on mass and provided great opportunities for full reflections and drinking images. Another highlight was a pair of Hawfinches – a bird I always love to see.
One of my favourite aspects of Bulgaria are the opportunities for photography outside of hides. The surrounding habitat is so bird-rich and it’s just a case of putting in time at the right location to get good bird photos. Shooting from a vehicle we managed some lovely images of Black headed Bunting and Corn Bunting and had good views of both Woodchat Shrike and Red backed Shrike. In the past we have set up pop-up hides for various birds including Red backed Shrike, with success.
The Wryneck is a fascinating bird and they can be found, and heard, around our base. However, they are not easy to photograph! This year we had our best views and photos of this slightly bizarre bird. From a tent hide we were able to photograph a pair of Wrynecks as they returned to the nest to feed young. It was at quite a distance but by keeping the ISO low I was able to capture reasonable images, even after being significantly cropped.
The best encounter for me was coming across a Wryneck searching for ants by the roadside. The bird seemed relatively relaxed with the car and I managed a few shots – again this has been quite heavily cropped. We continue to learn about this bird – every bit of knowledge helps us to increase our chances of photographic success.
This year the Golden Orioles were difficult to photograph. Good photo opportunities are largely dependent on weather factors and food availability and this year the odds weren’t in our favour. That said, we regularly saw and heard Orioles pretty much every day and we had great views of them feeding on fruits from the Tree-top Hide – just a little too distant for photography. Last year we captured amazing Oriole images at close range. We also watched Blackbirds and Red Squirrels feeding on the fruits this season.
This year a pair of Hoopoes chose to nest very close to one of the permanent hides. The site is one of my favourite locations – a mixture of wildflower meadows and woodland with a small stream at the bottom of a bank. It’s a wonderful place to just stop and listen to the birds. Watch my Bulgaria 2023 video to hear the beautiful birdsong here During our session we had many visits from both parents and we captured some great flight shots. The light levels were always low so we had to whack up the ISO. I’ve also done a little post-processing to reduce the background noise.
You never know what’s going to turn up in Bulgaria. We saw many more birds including Linnet, Western Yellow Wagtail, Turtle Dove, Lesser grey Shrike and a Little Owl that would often sit on the roof! We also heard Scops Owl and Nightjar in the evening.
The hides are run by my good friend Terry who always goes above and beyond for his clients. We were very grateful for his efforts and for the suggestions he made on getting the most out out of each situation. Can’t wait to get back! I’ll be looking at a Winter Trip for Woodpeckers and exploring nearby wetlands for more photo tours.
Join me on a Bulgarian Tour – Email Me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird List for this Tour
Close Views / Photographable: Syrian Woodpecker, Great spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Lesser spotted Woodpecker, Red backed Shrike, Black headed Bunting, Corn Bunting, Wryneck, Hoopoe, Little Owl, Greenfinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Hawfinch, Blackbird, Jay, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Sombre Tit, Magpie
Good Views / Distant Photographs: Linnet, Western Yellow Wagtail, Scops Owl, Golden Oriole, Nightingale, Woodchat Shrike, Woodlark, Crested Lark, Lesser grey Shrike, Turtle Dove, White Stork, Collard Dove
Distant or Heard: Ortolan Bunting, Nightjar, Common Cuckoo, Common Buzzard, Whitethroat
Other Wildlife: Tree Frogs, Red Squirrel, Lizards and many, many Insects!