2 Jul 2023
Written for Paperback
This is an area I have been researching for a future trip, so the fact that Crossbill has covered it is really timely for me. The Rhodope Mountains (also called Rodopi by some) are really superb with a small human footprint and loads of wildlife. This is around 130 km from Sofia – so near enough to be accessible, but far enough away not to be spoiled.
There is a real mix of ancient forests, hay meadows and karst limestone gorges in the Western Rhodopes, and more volcanic outcrops, oak woodlands, dry grasslands, scrub and river valleys in the Eastern Rhodopes. These unspoiled habitats host 37 species of birds of prey including Levant Sparrowhawk, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Cinereous, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures. The gorges have Wallcreeper, Western Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush and Black Stork while the ancient forests support Nutcracker, Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Black Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker and White-backed Woodpecker. The mountains also have Rock Partridge, Rock Bunting, Alpine Swift and Sombre Tit.
All Crossbill Guides follow the same basic layout with three sections. Firstly, the landscape and local history are described, including the impacts on nature conservation. Each of the main ecosystems are explored, along with geological features that affect wildlife. The second section describes the range of species that can be encountered – flora, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. The third section describes 24 routes that can be explored – mostly by car and with 20 detailed site descriptions. Rather than focus solely on the bird interest, the Crossbill Guides are always quick to point out all wildlife in the area.
Travelling to this area from the UK is particularly easy if you have good access to London. There are cheap flights from Gatwick (Easyjet), Luton (Wizz) and Stansted (Ryanair) to Sofia with summer return fares from £175 if you can be flexible. Sadly flights from elsewhere take longer so get yourself to London and start from there! And forget Plovdiv. Yes, it’s only 50 km from the main area, but it has no useful air connections if you are in the UK! And if you don’t fancy driving yourself, there are several local nature tour operators.
The thing that always strikes me about Crossbill guides is how they manage to fit so much information into a compact book. Not on birds (for me), but plants, mammals, reptiles, dragonflies … they record it all.
Bulgaria is on my list for next year! Bulagians have a saying: “Да би мирно стояло, не би чудо видяло”. It means “ “If you sit still, you won’t witness a miracle”. Basically … “get your act together and book a trip to this place!”.
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