The tour starts in early afternoon from Sofia, as tour participants will be picked up from their hotels in the area or Sofia Airport until 14.00 h (2pm). Then we will transfer south (for about 2 hours) to the saddle between Rila and Pirin Mountains, where we will check-in for two nights in a lodge in the countryside.
Our target birds in the area will be the Pallid Swift, European Serin and Common Rosefinch. The meadows around the hotel hold various butterfly species as the Weaver’s Fritillary and Chapman’s Blue.
Today we will explore the highest parts of Pirin Mountains (Pirin National Park), looking for butterfly species typical for the subalpine and alpine habitats on the Balkans, including the Balkan Clouded Yellow, Mountain Small White, Apollo, Clouded Apollo, Balkan Copper, Higgin’s Anomalous Blue, Phalakron Blue, Amanda’s Blue, Meleager’s Blue, Blue Argus, Mountain Argus, Balkan Fritillary, Cynthia’s Fritillary, Nettle-tree Butterfly, Nicholl’s Ringlet, Bulgarian Ringlet, Eastern Large Heath, etc.
Bird species of interest here include the Alpine Accentor, Spotted Nutcracker, Water Pipit, Alpine Chough, Golden Eagle, Black Woodpecker, Ring Ouzel (ssp. alpestris), plus chances for the Rock Partridge to be seen. The area is also good to see the elusive Balkan Chamois.
Transfer further south to Melnik area. We will spend most of the day around Struma River, as well as the foothills of Pirin Mountains in the Kresna Gorge area. The birds that we can expect to see here include the Golden Eagle, Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk, Black Stork, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear (the eastern ssp. melanoleuca), Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Sombre Tit, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Golden Oriole. Butterfly species that we will try to find here include the Eastern Festoon, Lang’s Short-tailed Blue, Little Tiger Blue, Eastern Baton Blue, Nettle-tree Butterfly, Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell, Common Glider, Hungarian Glider, Southern White Admiral, White-banded Grayling, Lattice Brown, Yellow-banded Skipper, etc.
Accommodation in the town of Melnik for two nights.
We will spend the whole day around the small town of Melnik and try to find Eastern Festoon, Powdered Brimstone, Lang’s Short-tailed Blue, Little Tiger Blue, Eastern Baton Blue, Escher’s Blue, Nettle-tree Butterfly, Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell, Balkan Marbled White, Common Glider, Hungarian Glider, Southern White Admiral, White-banded Grayling, Lattice Brown, Yellow-banded Skipper, Oriental Marbled Skipper, Mediterranean Skipper, etc.
Amongst the birds the most interesting will be the European Roller, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Syrian Woodpecker, Levant Sparrowhawk, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Western Rock Nuthatch, Calandra Lark, Woodchat Shrike, Cirl Bunting, Alpine Swift, Hawfinch, etc.
Transfer west to Mesta River valley via the pass along the southern part of Pirin Mnts, where we will spend most of the day, exploring high mountains conifer forests and meadows. Here we will be looking for Apollo, Purple-shot Copper, Scarce Copper, Balkan Copper, Osiris Blue, Bosnian Blue, Mountain Argus, Escher’s Blue, Higgin’s Anomalous Blue, Phalakron Blue, False Eros Blue, Dusky Meadow Brown, Great Sooty Satyr, Balkan Fritillary, etc. Among the birds the highlights here would be the Rock Partridge (small chances), Spotted Nutcracker, Pallid Swift, European Serin, Crested Tit.
Accommodation for two nights in Gotse Delchev area.
We will spend the whole day in the border mountains between Bulgaria and Greece and along the Mesta River valley. The character and physical appearance of the mountains here change significantly from the wetter high mountain areas to the dry Mediterranean habitats, which variable flora is matched by a wonderful selection of butterflies, like Clouded Apollo, Krueper’s Small White, Anomalous Blue, Osiris Blue, Large Blue, Freyer’s Fritillary, Lesser Spotted Fritillary, Twin-spot Fritillary, Woodland Grayling, Eastern Rock Grayling, Great Banded Grayling, Delattin’s Grayling, Dils’ Grayling, Marbled Skipper, Southern Small White. In the lowland areas we will have good chances to find Large Copper, Purple-shot Copper, Lesser Fiery Cooper, Ilex Hairstreak, Little Tiger Blue, Eastern Short-tailed Blue, Reverdin’s Blue, Balkan Zephyr Blue, Freyer’s Purple Emperor, Sandy Grizzled Skipper and Eastern Greenish Black-tip.
Bird species of interest here include the Black Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Little Bittern, Ferruginous Duck, Great Reed Warbler, Ceti’s Warbler, Penduline Tit, etc.
Transfer to the northern part of Rila Mountains (for ~3 hours) via Lake Belmeken. We will spend most of the day, exploring the eastern slopes of Rila Mountains. Butterfly species that we might see here include: Apollo, Balkan Copper, Poplar Admiral, Cynthia’s Fritillary, Nicholl’s Ringlet, Ottoman Brassy Ringlet, Eastern Large Heath, etc.
In this area we will look for the Pygmy Owl, Black Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Golden Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Water Pipit, Alpine Accentor, Horned Lark (ssp. balcanica), Spotted Nutcracker. The area holds one of the biggest populations of European Souslik in Bulgaria.
Accommodation for two nights in the town of Samokov, in the foot of Rila Mountains.
We will spend the day in the northern part of Rila Mountains – in the area of the highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula – Mussala. Here we will explore the subalpine and alpine zones in Rila National Park, looking for butterfly specialties like the Apollo, Mountain Small White, Balkan Clouded Yellow, Balkan Copper, Bosnian Blue, Poplar Admiral, Shepherd’s Fritillary, Cynthia’s Fritillary, Bulgarian Ringlet, Nicholl’s Ringlet, Ottoman Brassy Ringlet, Water Ringlet, Black Ringlet, Dewy Ringlet, Eastern Large Heath, Dusky Grizzled Skipper.
Birds of interest here include the Alpine Accentor, Alpine Chough, Horned Lark, Water Pipit.
Transfer for one hour to Sofia Airport for departure.
If the departure is later in the day we can visit the higher parts of Vitosha Mnts in the southern vicinity of Sofia, where we will explore the bird and butterfly diversity of conifer forests and alpine meadows.