Trip review by Simeon Gigov, Tour Guide at Neophron Tours
This summer we had an inquiry from two British birders, Mike Chapman and Chris Hughes, for an autumn target birding trip including some of the hardest to see European species of birds, like the Three-toed Woodpecker, Tengmalm’s Owl, Pygmy Owl, Hazel Grouse, Rock Partridge and Spotted Nutcracker. After we negotiated the dates and the sites to visit, we also added Greater Spotted Eagle, Dalmatian and Great White Pelicans, which Mike had never seen. This very ambitious trip was booked for the end of October, for seven days covering the Rila and Western Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, Xanthi and Kerkini Lake in Greece.
The weather was very generous to us and we had mostly sunny and quiet conditions with hardly any snow even at 2000 m. It only rained during our transfers between the Rhodope Mountains and Greece and back from Kerkini to the Rila Mountains. This certainly helped us to have great observations of all our targets (except the Tengmalm’s Owl, which was only heard and seen a few times but shortly in flight). The Spotted Nutcrackers were in hundreds and we recorded more than 6 European Pygmy Owls in the Rila Mountains, with quite prolonged observations of two of them (less than 20 meters). During our transfer to the Western Rhodopes we came across and flushed a male Hazel Grouse from the road, allowing us a short, but close observation from 10 meters away.
The Three-toed Woodpecker (ssp. alpinus) wasn’t easy and we had to go twice for it, but efforts were rewarded with a fantastic scope view of a drumming male. Our stay in Greece also proved to be a great success, with a virtually 4-meter away observation (I measured that) of a calling male Rock Partridge and excellent scope views of both species of Pelicans at Porto Lagos and Kerkini Lakes, plus the Greater Spotted Eagle at Lake Kerkini. The only downside of the trip was the lack of new pictures, but as Mike and Chris wanted only good observations, I put my camera back in the case and focused on finding and getting the best views of the birds.
End of October proved again to be an excellent time for woodpeckers, owls and grouse in Bulgaria and Northern Greece and we hope to make many other successful trips for birders looking for these very difficult to find and see species. More details about the trip and all the other birds we found on it you’ll be able to read in the upcoming trip report by Chris Hughes on our website.