Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bulgaria Day 1

Lush spring vegetation in South Park, Sofia, Bulgaria
When my wife asked me if I wanted to come with her to Bulgaria for a weekend I jumped at the chance, despite the brevity of the stay and the long travel time (10 plus hours each way). This would be my first time in continental Europe--the first time in the midst of spring European birdsong.
Сива врана, the ubiquitous trash fiend, the Hooded Crow
It turns out that Sofia is in many ways an ideal destination for someone with my interests. The city offers a variety of large, relatively undeveloped woodland parks, one of which, South Park, is literally out the back door of the Sofia Hilton. Sofia also sits at the foot of a mountain, Mt. Vitosha, a short cab ride from the center of town.
сврака, the ubiquitous noisy Magpie
April was a very good time to visit. It was warm, migration was on, and the parks resounded with all sorts of birdsong.
кос, the ubiquitous Blackbird
I was already familiar with blackbird song from recordings, though I was thrilled to sample it live. Forgive me American robins, but blackbirds sing better than you.
Here's a taste:

Червеногръдка, the European robin
And I was quickly able to put together European robins and their thin thrushy song. But there were some intriguing songs I couldn't place--the most splendid of which was an endless mockingbird-like chain of disconnected phrases. No matter what I did, binoculars failed to reveal who that particular singer was [if you know what it was, keep it to yourself. No spoilers].
Here's a taste:
голям пъстър кълвау, the Great Spotted Woodpecker
Some birds I had seen and heard before, such as the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Japan's akagera) and the Long-tailed Tit. Others, such as the Eurasian Jay and the Blue Tit were thrillingly new (even if very common locally). The park was full of dog walkers, bike riders and children in strollers but no one seemed to mind a foreigner with binoculars.
големият синигер, the "greatest" tit
I like to think this was because of the active efforts of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, which took a grant a few years ago from the American for Bulgaria Foundation to promote birds as "ambassadors of nature" to local and international tourists. One part of the promotion--an election to choose a bird to symbolize Sofia--resulted in the Great Tit statue above. The grant also paid for a series of signs identifying birds that could be seen in the park.
на среща с птиците в нжния парк, "A meeting with birds in South Park"
Unfortunately, a number of these signs have been vandalized.
сойка, Jay rock
Nevertheless, it was nice to see explicit efforts designed to draw attention to the park's bird life. Anyone visiting Sofia should check out the BSPB's guide to finding birds in South Park.

Owl box? in Borisov Gradina
Later in the day I took a walk to the east of the Hilton to equally crowded Borisov Gradina, and then south to an extensive woodland, criss-crossed with bike trails.
Red Admiral tried to attack me
The habitats aren't as diverse as in South Park, but woodland bird song was astounding. Every once in a while, amidst the great tits, blue tits, blackcaps, and blackbirds, there would be a burst of unfamiliar song. Here's a taste:

I would have to wait until the following day to figure out what it was. (You may already know...)

Finally, here's a video compilation of some of the day's scenes.

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