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WEATHER: wet and raining to start, dry later with some evening sunshine.

Our official trip started this morning at 7am after we all arrived yesterday afternoon and transferred to our hotel in the foothills of the Vitoshi Mountains.

Yes you guessed it, it was raining when we got up for our early morning walk around the grounds of this isolated hotel at 7am. The hotel is embedded in the deep forest of beech, pine, hazel and oak, a fantastic habitat especially for woodpeckers (so Dancho our local guide told us).

We stood in the light rain watching and listening to the birds around the hotel, there was a lot of song and quite a few birds were flitted around the trees and bushes in the garden. We quickly listed a lot of common garden species, Robin, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Blackcap, Song Thrush, Great Tit and we heard a Cuckoo. A male Hawfinch was a nice find but it didn’t stay long, as for woodpeckers we heard and saw none.

Dancho joined us for breakfast and after we had loaded up the bus with our luggage we stood and birded for a while. We added Firecrest to our list and heard a Wood Warbler without seeing it.

We almost reached the snow line at the ski centre in the Vitoshi Mountains

The drive up to the ski resort in the Vitoshi mountains was interrupted by stops to look roadside birds including a good sighting of a Black Woodpecker, we got the bird in the scope after following it around for a short while, everyone got to see it. A Ring Ouzel stopped the bus a little while afterwards, it was an amazingly colourful male of the ‘alpestris’ race.

many Ring Ouzels of the 'alpestris' subspecies were seen - Tony Moore

At the top we saw a lot more Ring Ouzels they seemed to be everywhere, we also found Black Redstart, Grey Wagtail, Coal Tit, Dunnock, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird. Common Crossbills where everywhere, lots of them feeding in the trees, on the ground and in drinking in puddles.

Our main target bird was the Spotted Nutcracker and none could be seen at the ski resort so we went for a walk along the main track. We had brief views of one or two Nutcrackers but nothing in the scope. Walking further we found Yellowhammer and then Nutcrackers started to appear quite regularly, we had great scope views and everyone was happy.

Common Crossbill sitting on a cross bar - Tony Moore

anoither Crossbill shot by Tony

We search for Willow Tit without luck and a stop on the way down for a second search for Willow Tit produced Crested Tit, Common Chiffchaff, Eurasian Nuthatch and Eurasian Treecreeper. Time was pressing so we returned to Sofia and made our way across the city.

Spotted Nutcracker

an in flight shot by Tony Moore

The Western Rhodope Mountains was our next destination, a journey of some 4 hours, we spent all afternoon getting there with one or two stops along the way. At a large open expanse of cultivated land with a backdrop of quarry workings and gently sloping hills we amassed nearly 30 species in a 40 minute stop.

we saw nearly 30 species standing on this track

We saw thre Shrikes, Red-backed, Lesser Grey and Woodchat, also Bee-eaters, Rollers, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, Black-headed Bunting, Short-toed Eagle, Red-rumped Swallows and many more.

Red-backed Shrike

We picked up a few more species before we arrived at Yagodina in the Rhodope Mountains, Turtle Dove, White Stork, Yellow-legged Gull, Tree Sparrow and Dipper. One exciting find was of a Balkan Chamois, it was drinking at the side of a river down below the road.

Balkan Chamois

At Yagodina we added White Wagtail and Pallid Swift to the list and saw more Black Redstarts, red-rumped Swallows, House Martins and Barn Swallows.

A nice beer went down well with our meal of fresh trout.