Bee - Eaters and Other Birds in Bulgaria

June, 2013


We've just got back from a trip to Bulgaria, a perfect destination for bird and animal lovers. It’s a place which could be easily described as true wilderness. Photographing European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) during a busy young feeding time was the main target. In general Bee-eaters breed in southern Europe and in parts of Africa and Asia. They have attempted to nest in Britain on at least five occasions. A recent pair on the Isle of Wight have the potential to become a third successfully breeding couple. Upon arrival in Sofia airport we were met by our friend ornithologist Boris Belchev who drove us to the North East of Bulgaria. We' ve settled down in a cottage located in a small village in "Suha reka" region. The area is rich in wildlife and nearly 200 species of birds are recorded here. 
The first morning we climbed to a tower hide 9 meters above the ground to photograph brightly coloured Golden Oriole. Unfortunately there was no sign of the bird. Nevertheless the tree was visited by Common and Lesser Whitethroat, Corn Bunting, Linnet, Tree Sparrow and other passerines. In the afternoon when the weather cooled down a bit, we headed to a Bee-eaters site. We saw quite a few birds but photography wise it was not the best day. 

As the birds are active feeding early in the morning, we decided to come back to the site at dawn. We set-up our hides before the sunrise and to our big relieve birds started to turn up with the first light.

There was a good bird activity, unfortunately they were not feeding the chicks. Bee-eaters are strongly migratory birds, wintering in tropical Africa, India and Sri Lanka. After a cold and long winter they had arrived back into Bulgaria 2-3 weeks later than normal. It was a bit disappointing however we still had good photo opportunities of this incredibly colourful bird.

As the name suggests bees are on the top of the menu for Bee-eaters, though they’ll prey on dragonflies, butterflies, moths – just about anything that flies.

Smaller insects are eaten while still airborne, but bees are brought back to the perch to remove a stinger for a venom free meal. Only then the food is swallowed safely.

As the name suggests bees are on the top of the menu for European Bee-eaters, though they’ll prey on dragonflies, butterflies, moths – just about anything that flies.

After a good meal, preening and stretching activities follow...

To our delight the following morning two or even three birds were landing on a perch.

There was plenty of action around.

Our morning photo sessions used to finish around 10 am as it gets hot during the day and the sun is simply too harsh. With the rising temperature Bee - eaters seemed to be less active and perched with the beaks open which helped to beat the heat.

Most of the evenings we used to spend roaming along farmland roads in the car and photographing any birds we encountered. We came up with pretty good results: Common Linnet,  Black-headed Bunting, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Turtle Dove, Lesser Grey Shrike, Red Backed Shrike, Goldfinch, Corn bunting and others. There are some of the photos:

We were happy to spot Ground Squirrel known as Suslik. They are very cute animals and generally live on or in the ground, rather than trees.

Susliks are shy and that day they were constantly disturbed by Booted Eagles what made photography a bit tricky.

While driving along the country roads all of us were really hoping for an encounter with a Hoopoe. To our big surprise, on the third evening of our trip we've spotted this remarkable black and white tipped crest. It definitely was a Hoopoe.

We photographed Hoopoe from a car. Overall we've spent probably 1.5 hours with the bird as it was disappearing in the grass, flying away and coming back again. It was one of the best photographic moments although the pictures are not exceptionally great.

Driving along the roads, we even spotted a Roller. The next day we set - up a temporary hide close to the place where the bird was seen. It was pretty quiet most of the time only couple of times these guys cheered us up.

After a few hours of waiting, a Roller landed. It was a brilliant though very short moment.

For the last morning we tried Golden Oriole tower hide again with no luck. Only we have managed to disturb an Edible Dormouse which scared Boris to death :)

Before leaving Suha river area, Boris drove us to the northern Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. We've reached Kaliakra with first light of dawn. While walking along the coast we were accompanied by Bottlenose dolphins and Alpine Swifts.

Pied Wheatear was very common and we had good photo opportunities.

The last evening of our trip we've spent in Pleven where we spotted Little Bittern, Roller, Great Reed Warbler. Little Egret came pretty close...

Overall it was a great experience with nice memories and challenging photography what made it all more rewarding. Bulgaria is a really nice place for nature lovers and it has so much to offer.