Bulgaria: Birding the Black Sea and Vitosha in Winter


Dates and Costs

 

06 – 14 February 2022

Price: €1,695 / $2,112 / £1,529 per person sharing – based on 6 – 8 participants, which includes the domestic flight

Single Supplement: €176 / $219 / £159

 

* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to base price when making final payments.

 

05 – 13 February 2023

Price: €1,780 / $2,218 / £1,605 per person sharing – based on 6 – 8 participants, which includes the domestic flight

Single Supplement: €185 / $230 / £167


Tour Details

Duration: 9 days
Group Size: 6 – 8
Tour Start: Sofia International Airport, Sofia, Bulgaria
Tour End: Sofia International Airport, Sofia, Bulgaria


Price includes:

Internal flight (Varna to Sofia)

All accommodation (Day 1 until Day 8 as described above, or similar)
Meals (from lunch on Day 1 until lunch on Day 9)
Drinking water – please bring a refillable water bottle
Expert international tour leader
Local bird and wildlife guide fees
Birdwatching site entrance fees (e.g. nature reserves, national parks)
All ground transport and tolls/taxes while on tour, including airport pick-up and drop-off

 

Price excludes:

International flights to/from Sofia International Airport
Expenditures due to flight cancellations/delays or other causes beyond our control (force majeure) 
Visa fees if visa required
Departure tax
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts, laundry, internet access, phone calls etc.
Any pre- or post-tour accommodation, meals, or birding/sightseeing excursions
Soft/alcoholic drinks
Personal travel insurance
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)

Bulgaria: Birding the Black Sea and Vitosha in Winter
February 2022/2023

 

Bulgaria’s position in southeast Europe results in a range of species that are not found further west on the continent. During winter, the country holds vast numbers of geese and other waterfowl that make use of this small area in Eastern Europe, and results in fantastic birding opportunities.

Bulgaria winter birding tourThe striking Spotted Nutcracker is a special of the Vitosha Mountain National Park.

 

This tour encompasses the best of Bulgarian, and indeed Eastern European, birding during the winter months and commences in the capital city of Sofia. The first birding of our tour will be in the nearby and beautiful Vitosha Mountain National Park, where we can search for forest specials like Spotted Nutcracker, Black Woodpecker, Northern Goshawk, Firecrest, Red (Common) Crossbill, and a wide range of common European woodland birds like Eurasian Blue Tit, Goldcrest, and Willow Tit.

We will then make the journey across Bulgaria from Sofia to Pomorie, on the Black Sea coast. Along the route we will make stops to look for birds like Golden Eagle and Sombre Tit.

While in the Pomorie area we will visit the nearby salt works. The standout species here are the Near Threatened (BirdLife International) Dalmatian Pelican and White-headed Duck which is an Endangered species (BirdLife International). The salt works support many other birds, including various species of shorebirds (waders) and wintering passerines. We will visit some of the region’s protected wetland sites and coastal areas while here. This area holds more interesting species with Pallas’s Gull, Whooper Swan, Tundra (Bewick’s) Swan, and White-tailed Eagle all possible here. While in the area, we will also visit the Strandzha Mountains on the Turkish border, which is home to the exceedingly rare (in Bulgaria) White-backed Woodpecker.

Bulgaria winter birding toursWe will look for the huge Dalmatian Pelican during the tour.

 

After birding around Pomorie, we will travel north along the coast to the town of Kavana. On the journey we will cross the Balkan mountain range and visit the Baltata National Reserve. This beautiful area is home to the striking Grey-headed Woodpecker and giant Black Woodpecker, while additional roadside stops in vast oak forests along this route may yield more woodpecker sightings, plus Short-toed Treecreeper.

Once in the Kavarna area we will search for the beautiful, yet classified as Vulnerable (BirdLife International), Red-breasted Goose among the tens of thousands of more common Greater White-fronted Goose. We will also visit the picturesque Kaliakra Nature Reserve and nearby Bolata Valley. This is part of Bulgaria’s last remaining steppe habitat and is another key area for wintering geese, including the prized, Red-breasted Goose. We should also come across a variety of wintering passerines, and perhaps the stunning Short-eared Owl. Huge cliffs here are home to the massive Eurasian Eagle-Owl.

The final area we will visit in this part of the country is the vast Durankulak Lake. This is a vitally important migration stopover point but is also very productive in winter. It is here that we will observe the greatest concentrations of geese so far, and hopefully add the Vulnerable (BirdLife International) Lesser White-fronted Goose to our list. This area is also good for birds of prey like Long-legged Buzzard and Rough-legged Buzzard. Sadly, this will bring our tour to an end and we will fly from Varna to Sofia and have one final birding session in Sofia ahead of our flights home.

Bulgaria winter birding tourThe coastal plains are an excellent place to find the stunning Short-eared Owl.

 

If you would like to extend your time in Eastern Europe, you could join our exciting Azerbaijan: The Enchanting East tour which runs immediately before this one. This stunning country, on the edge of the Western Palearctic, holds a huge range of interesting European and Asian birds. Highlights of our Azerbaijan tour include Marbled Duck, Ferruginous Duck, Grey-headed Swamphen, White-tailed Lapwing, Black Francolin, Little Bustard, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Red-fronted Serin, Moustached Warbler, and White-winged Lark.

 

Itinerary (9 days/8 nights)

 

Day 1. Arrival in Sofia, birding Vitosha National Park

After your morning arrival in Sofia, we will transfer the short distance to our hotel, where we check in, relax, and enjoy a group “welcome lunch”. We will spend the afternoon exploring the foothills of Vitosha Mountain National Park. Pine-clad slopes adorn this large massif, and the specials here include Spotted Nutcracker, Red (Common) Crossbill, Common Firecrest, Goldcrest, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Rock Dove (real ones!), Northern Goshawk, and various woodpeckers, including Great Spotted Woodpecker and Black Woodpecker.

If you are unable to arrive in Sofia in the morning, please arrive the night before the tour, we will happily help book extra accommodation in the city for you.

Overnight: Vitosha Витоша, near Sofia

 

Day 2. Vitosha National Park, then travel Sofia to Pomorie

We will likely have an early morning walk in Vitosha National Pak again, as we are staying right on the doorstep, and will look for the birds listed above, and others. Following that, we will then travel from Sofia to Pomorie on the southern Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. During the journey we will stop en route for some interesting species, possibly including Golden Eagle, Black Woodpecker, and Sombre Tit. On arrival in the Pomorie area, in the afternoon, we will check into our base for the next three nights and get our birding in the local area underway, providing time is available.

Overnight: Pomorie Поморие

 

Day 3. Birding Pomorie area

After breakfast at the hotel our birding will begin at the nearby salt works, Atanasovsko. Year-round, dozens of rare and interesting species of birds can be seen here and it is sure to be no different during our tour; a thoroughly exciting day is in the offing.

Species of greater interest during the winter season are the Near Threatened (BirdLife International) Dalmatian Pelican and the Endangered (BirdLife International) White-headed Duck. Other waterfowl found here include Smew, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Gadwall, Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Pygmy Cormorant, Eurasian Spoonbill, Eurasian Bittern, and Great Egret.

Large numbers of shorebirds (waders), of a wide range of species, can also be expected, such as Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Common Greenshank, and Dunlin while passerines like Water Pipit, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Common Reed Bunting, and Cetti’s Warbler are also found here.

We will also visit the freshwater Lake Burgas. This is yet another superb location for wintering geese and the many thousands of Greater White-fronted Goose should be dotted with smaller numbers of Red-breasted Goose. Ducks and swans are also found here with good numbers of Common Pochard, Mallard, Common Shelduck, Tufted Duck, and Northern Shoveler too.

The amount of prey here makes it an excellent site for wintering birds of prey. During our visit we will keep an eye out for Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Long-Legged Buzzard, plus the incredibly rare Eastern Imperial Eagle. The lake is also another excellent place to find Dalmatian Pelican.

Like other lakes in the region, the margins are made up of reedbed, woodland, and open field habitats. Highlight birds found around Lake Burgas include Grey Partridge, Syrian Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Common Kingfisher, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Sombre Tit, Calandra Lark, Eurasian Nuthatch, Hawfinch, and Cirl Bunting.

Overnight: Pomorie Поморие

Bulgaria winter birding toursWhite-headed Duck will be a target during the tour.

 

Day 4. Pomorie and Burgas

After breakfast we will continue our observations in the Burgas region. We will visit the protected areas of Lake Mandra, Bay of Chengene Skele, and Foros Bay, which are inhabited by a number of locally and globally endangered species. During this day we expect to see a similar suite of species as on Day 3, together with potential specials like Pallas’s Gull, Whooper Swan, Tundra (Bewick’s) Swan, and White-tailed Eagle.

We will also visit the Strandzha Mountains on the Turkish border where Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, and Marsh Tit are all common species. The large Black Woodpecker is also found here but can be surprisingly elusive, given its massive size. We will also target White-backed Woodpecker, but these can prove difficult to find, and Middle Spotted Woodpecker which is more common. Other birds we can expect to find here include Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Northern Raven, Eurasian Jay, Mistle Thrush, and Hawfinch. These all amount to a fantastic set of top European woodland birds.

Overnight: Pomorie Поморие

Bulgaria winter birding toursWe will look out for Brambling during the tour.

 

Day 5. Pomorie to Kavarna

Today we transfer from Pomorie to the northern Black Sea coast and the town of Kavarna. We will cross the Stara Planina (Balkan) mountain range, which sweeps down and touches the sea in this part of its lengthy range. We will make several stops on the way where we might find Cirl Bunting, Corn Bunting, Brambling, Sombre Tit, and Woodlark.

We will likely stop for our lunch break at a local restaurant in the village of Goritsa. The forested hills here are cloaked in beautiful oak forests. Interesting woodland birds around here include Great Spotted Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and European Green Woodpecker, plus Short-toed Treecreeper. The final short stop for the day, before arriving at our comfortable guesthouse in Kavarna for the next three nights, will likely be at the coastal forests of the Baltata National Reserve near Albena. Here we will search for Grey-headed Woodpecker and Black Woodpecker, depending on our sightings over the previous few days.

Overnight: Guest House Nash Dom, Kavarna Каварна

 

Day 6. Birding around Kavarna

We will have the full day available to explore this northeastern region of Bulgaria, which is the main wintering grounds for the sought-after, rather attractive, and Vulnerable (BirdLife International) Red-breasted Goose. These geese typically make use of the various agricultural fields in the local area where they roost and feed together with large numbers of Greater White-fronted Goose.

Bulgaria winter birding tourThe northeast corner of Bulgaria is Europe’s top location for wintering Red-breasted Goose.

 

We will concentrate on geese and waterfowl today as we get acquainted with the area. The scenery from the hotel is spectacular, with its glittering blue sea and the nearby rolling hills and valleys. Numerous flocks of geese can often be seen to fly or circle over the hotel as well, giving many opportunities to see these great target birds.

Overnight: Guest House Nash Dom, Kavarna Каварна

 

Day 7. Kavarna and Kaliakra

After breakfast we will visit the Kaliakra Nature Reserve together with the Bolata Valley and the village of Kamen Bryag. The main habitat around here is steppes, or grassy plains, interspersed with scrub and small stunted trees and is also traversed by surprisingly deep valleys. The coast is rocky, with impressive vertical cliffs of over 330 feet (100 meters) falling away into the clear depth of the Black Sea.

Here we will have more opportunities to observe Red-breasted Goose among the vast flocks of Greater White-fronted Goose. We should also see a range of common species, such as Eurasian Wren, Dunnock, Great Crested Grebe, Black-headed Gull, European Shag, Great Cormorant, Great Tit, Common Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Fieldfare, and Corn Bunting.

We will also search for interesting birds that winter in the area including Short-eared Owl, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Black-throated Loon (Diver), Yelkouan Shearwater, Water Pipit, Pygmy Cormorant, Hen Harrier, Rough-legged Buzzard, and Black Redstart. After lunch we will make our final visit of the day to the Topola cliffs, where we hope to see Eurasian Eagle-Owl.

Overnight: Guest House Nash Dom, Kavarna Каварна

Bulgaria winter birding tourCape Kaliakra, along the Black Sea coast, has amazing cliffs.

 

Day 8. Durankulak Lake and surroundings, evening flight Varna to Sofia

A trip to Durankulak Lake and its surrounding areas will take up the majority of our day. A large sandy beach separates the lake from the sea. The area is vitally important in winter with over 130 species regularly recorded here during the season. Here we will observe the greatest concentrations of Red-breasted Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose in Europe. The lake is also an excellent place to find Vulnerable (BirdLife International) Lesser White-fronted Goose. Other wintering waterfowl in the area include Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Tundra (Bewick’s) Swan, Whooper Swan, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Shelduck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Red-crested Pochard, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, and one of the best-looking ducks in the world – Smew.

Bulgaria winter birding tourThe vast Durankulak Lake is home to many wintering waterfowl like the stunning Tufted Duck.

 

The area is a particularly good location for birds of prey with species such as Long-legged Buzzard, Rough-legged Buzzard, White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Western Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Common Buzzard, and Northern Goshawk all found here.

Durankulak is also surrounded by woodlands, arable fields, and reedbeds which are home to several interesting species, including Syrian Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Calandra Lark, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Black Redstart, Brambling, Hawfinch, Eurasian Bittern, Pygmy Cormorant, Water Rail, Water Pipit, Long-eared Owl, Sombre Tit, Great Grey Shrike, and many others.

Bulgaria winter birding tourThe gorgeous Eurasian Bullfinch is possible during this tour.

 

Finally, in recent years the lake has held rare species including Great Bustard, Moustached Warbler, and Pallas’s Gull and so there is always the chance of something unexpected to turn up while we are here, we will keep our eyes peeled!

In the evening we will take a flight from Varna back to Sofia for the last night of the tour, where we will have our final group dinner and choose our ‘bird of the trip’!

Overnight: Sofia

 

Day 9. Sofia birding, international departure from Sofia

We will have a final morning birding session around Sofia where the city parklands might give us a few final high-quality birds like Northern Goshawk, Black Woodpecker, and a range of finches and tits.

Following lunch, we will transfer to Sofia airport, where this short but exciting tour ends, in time for your late afternoon or evening flights out of Bulgaria.

Overnight: Not included

 

 

Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, weather, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes must use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling. We plan to take one internal flight on this tour, subject to suitable weather conditions. Please do not book your return flights until late in the afternoon, or in the evening of the final day.

Download Itinerary

BULGARIA WINTER BIRDING SET-DEPARTURE TRIP REPORT 2019

This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

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