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Instead of linking to my blog I thought I might paste a version here as it can be read in chronological order more easily. Here goes. When you have just returned from some decent weather in Spain having left your wife to suffer the rain and cold of a British Spring you feel somewhat guilty and have a need to make amends a.s.a.p. OK dear, let's see where we can go on a last minute package deal. To my surprise the cost of last minute deals seemed quite high across most of Europe and we seriously considered Cuba as an all inclusive there came in at around £800pp, then I spotted Bulgaria and the Bella Vista Beach Club in Sinemoretz on the south eastern Black Sea Coast. Now I have been to Bulgaria twice before ( with Mike whom I'd just been to Spain with!) and I have to stay it's a stunningly beautiful country for the most part with one exception. Sunny Beach and surrounds. I'd passed through previously and Mike and I had declared we wouldn't be taking a holiday with our wives there, that's for sure. My idea of holiday hell. The Bella Vista Beach Club was coming in at £420pp all inclusive for 11 nights. Half the price of Cuba and a lot less time to get there too. A quick check on Google Maps and the area looked good. Two hours south of Sunny Beach, surrounded by a national park. We read a couple of Trip Advisor reviews and took a punt and booked it to leave 17 days later. Then we read a few more TA reviews and to be honest, all the negatives that were being reported were seen as positives. It was allegedly boring, nothing to do, no shops, you had to pay extra for cocktails( at that price and they were still complaining?) it was at least a 90 minute drive from the airport even worse it was beyond hope of getting to Sunny Beach for a night out ( they obviously hadn't read the reviews or even thought to look at a map) and the food was cold, repetitive and with little choice. The latter concerned me slightly but we'd eat out if the worst came to the worst. Off we went then. An evening flight got us to Burgas for around 12.00am, there was a man waiting at arrivals to whisk us off to the hotel as we were the only ones heading that way. Thankfully, the mass of rather over excited youths we had suffered on the plane were heading to Sunny Beach. Arrival at the hotel was straight forward, a quick check in as there were just two of us and off we headed to our room. The hotel wasn't palatial by any means but what we saw was very acceptable. We had a huge room and they had even thought to leave us a picnic pack which was a nice surprise. By now it was 2.00am which even in UK time which is 2 hours behind is past my bedtime. Next morning we woke up to glorious sunshine and a view of our surrounds. Not bad, it was nearly 10.00am. We'd slept in but breakfast was served until 11.00am and there aren't many place that do so that late. The choice of food was amazing too. You name it it was there. Most people were already on the sunbeds by now so the good news was the restaurant was quiet and there was plenty of space to eat in the outdoors area. Bliss! OK at 10.00am the animation team sprung in to action, the loudspeakers were on full blast and Justin Timberlake boomed out " You've got sunshine in your pockets". This holiday camp atmosphere seemed to go down well with most of the clientele so fair do's. I note it's had over 633 million plays on Spotify and the Bella Vista wasn't far behind. It was played four or five times a day and signalled the start of another major event. " Can't stop the feeling" You end up can't stop humming the tune either. Well sunbeds and joining in the programme of activities wasn't on my agenda and fortunately there was a totally unoccupied roof terrace for wife Claire to have less intrusion from the general noise down below. Me? It was supposed to be a holiday for Claire but I was hopeful I'd be kept occupied with my camera too. I'd soon find out! T.B.C. I have taken a few European holidays in June/July time and for the most part the birding has been very poor so I wasn't too hopeful of what I'd find in Bulgaria either but I had decided to pack my 500mm lens just in case. Our baggage allowance was pretty miserable so no room for a tripod but I could hand hold the 500. Claire had suggested I take the 100-400 but I was adamant, the 500 it was! A decision I might come to regret later perhaps but one I thought worth risking. To save weight I left my heavy 1D camera at home and took the much lighter 7D2 and a back up 5D3 which also meant I could use the same batteries and charger too. No space for my laptop but I had plenty of camera cards for storage space. All set then! I bade goodbye to Claire up on the roof top terrace ( where I took this shot) and headed along to dirt road behind the beach which soon led to some open semi ploughed fields. Red-backed Shrike,Starling and Corn Bunting were all seen but the photo opportunities were not good. A pair of Turtle Doves were the best spot but that was about it. I returned to the hotel only to wait for the heat to lessen before returning for another look. My Shrike shots were not worth sharing but I was delighted when the usually elusive Nightingale came out in to the open for a brief moment or two. I have only ever seen two or three in the past so I was happy with that one, I also heard and spotted distant Golden Oriole. Things were looking interesting. If I just managed one decent subject a day I'd be happy, anything else was a bonus. Photo's weren't exactly coming thick and fast though so to make life more interesting I decided to diversify! Dragonflies in flight are as frustrating as swallows and the like but it's fun trying, well for a while anyway. If you continue too long you might be tempted to chuck your gear in the stream they were flying over. Butterflies in flight are probably even worse as they are so unpredictable, far easier to catch them sitting on a plant! I still haven't figured what that one is yet, there's a whole world of new species to discover. Once you diversify though there's no bounds to what Mother Nature has to offer, some make splendid subjects too. No, I decided I was going to be happy here for the next 10 days, well 9 full ones actually. TBC Our second day in Sinemorets was another late start. Catching up 2 hours takes a little doing when you are not forced to get out of bed so it was 9.30am before we hit breakfast. The previous evenings meal, a huge buffet selection had been a lot better than expected, I even had seconds of the Lasagne, and we had spent the evening in the downstairs bar where the G&T's were stronger than I realised! Still, once again I was ready with my camera and after Justin Timberlake had welcomed in the new day I headed off across the beach shown in the last post. I felt a little uncomfortable carrying a rather large telephoto lens amongst scantily clad sunbathers and naked children paddling in the sea and river but no one challenged me and I was thankful to reach the far corner where you can make a short scramble up on to the headland beyond. A fairly large grassland area on the cliff top overlooks the Black Sea which is currently extremely blue due to an algae which has made international news . Just like Spain, I was really impressed by this wild flower and grassland area which is protected as part of the nature park. There were butterflies everywhere. I , being more interested in birds really, targeted a Corn Bunting which had just caught a Grasshopper. Moving on across the grassland I found myself overlooking a small and well sheltered but rather rocky beach. I was only 10-15 minutes away from the hotel but it was so, so peaceful. Beyond this beach and the headland was a larger more sandy beach again which was virtually deserted. Not many people made the effort to get this far which is a shame. However this seclusion was obviously attractive to the few that favoured naked sunbathing. Once again I felt a bit ill at ease carrying a telephoto lens even if I was perched up on a cliff top far from their view. It was those few that passed me heading that way that might get the wrong impression! The answer was simple. Make sure they could see why I was there and start photographing butterflies! It was actually good fun as I found it very challenging. So much so I started realising how many different insects that were around. Our second day in Sinemorets was another late start. Catching up 2 hours takes a little doing when you are not forced to get out of bed so it was 9.30am before we hit breakfast. The previous evenings meal, a huge buffet selection had been a lot better than expected, I even had seconds of the Lasagne, and we had spent the evening in the downstairs bar where the G&T's were stronger than I realised! Still, once again I was ready with my camera and after Justin Timberlake had welcomed in the new day I headed off across the beach shown in the last post. I felt a little uncomfortable carrying a rather large telephoto lens amongst scantily clad sunbathers and naked children paddling in the sea and river but no one challenged me and I was thankful to reach the far corner where you can make a short scramble up on to the headland beyond. A fairly large grassland area on the cliff top overlooks the Black Sea which is currently extremely blue due to an algae which has made international news . Just like Spain, I was really impressed by this wild flower and grassland area which is protected as part of the nature park. There were butterflies everywhere. I , being more interested in birds really, targeted a Corn Bunting which had just caught a Grasshopper. Moving on across the grassland I found myself overlooking a small and well sheltered but rather rocky beach. I was only 10-15 minutes away from the hotel but it was so, so peaceful. Beyond this beach and the headland was a larger more sandy beach again which was virtually deserted. Not many people made the effort to get this far which is a shame. However this seclusion was obviously attractive to the few that favoured naked sunbathing. Once again I felt a bit ill at ease carrying a telephoto lens even if I was perched up on a cliff top far from their view. It was those few that passed me heading that way that might get the wrong impression! The answer was simple. Make sure they could see why I was there and start photographing butterflies! It was actually good fun as I found it very challenging. So much so I started realising how many different insects that were around. From the huge wasp like creatures to tiny little bugs Weird and wonderful shapes and colours. The biggest problem was that with my telephoto lens I had to move back 3.7m as that's the minimum focus distance. Even with a 1.4 teleconverter to magnify the image they were still probably no bigger in the frame than you could achieve using a shorter lens...... like my 100-400 where you can focus from about 1m away although if you get too close the subject is likely to fly away of course. The big problem with telephoto lenses is also the very shallow depth of field, the area were you get everything in absolute focus. You can make that area larger by altering the lens aperture ( sorry my attempts of technical detail are neither well explained or interesting to many) but in doing so it does effect shutter speeds and ISO. Even in good light the 7D2 I was using doesn't have a particularly good higher ISO performance. Anyway, it was a good cover, and I was actually enjoying this new world I was exploring. I spotted a trio of Cormorants perched on rocks at the furthest point out to sea and decided I'd take a closer look. One flew but the other two stayed for a photo before I found myself gingerly walking across the steeply sloping rocky outcrop that led to the big sandy beach........... and two naked people who were only a few metres away. Hopefully they had seen me first from their little hiding place in the mini cove and would have seen me photographing the birds, anyway I shuffled past, eyes averted and they said nothing. I decided to get off the beach a.s.a.p. just in case someone took exception! Heading inland I found it led to endless miles of woodland tracks. You can walk for ages and not see a single person. I repeated the walks at least 6 or 7 times and probably bumped in to three other groups of 2 or 3 in the whole time I was there. This is apparently one of Europes oldest original forests and it must be a wildlife heaven.It stretches for 450 square miles inland but if it's similar over the whole area it's largely oak trees growing there and they provide food and homes for countless species. The biggest problem for me was seeing what was about. There was a reasonable amount of bird song but with all the leaves views were fleeting if managed at all. Jays , love oak trees and the other woodland bird that was in evidence was the Chaffinch. I heard and saw Nuthatch,Chiffchaff but Woodpecker remained out of sight so I couldn't be sure which species it was. I wasn't too bothered about getting decent shots as I have seen them before instead I carried on photographing insects whenever I came to a tiny clearing in the forest. I have seen those big black bee-like creatures many times before but still don't know what they are called. The Burnet moth is easy to identify as we get them here in N Wales during the summer but butterflies are an altogether different problem for me as so many look so similar. I decided my shots were getting a bit better with practice too! You can see what I mean about depth of field though. If you get the right angle or a side on shot it looks better. For this Balkan Green Lizard though even F22 doesn't bring the whole body in to focus and the subsequent shutter speed of 1/320 isn't the best for hand holding a big lens. Mind you if I went any closer the Lizard would have run so there are some advantages I gained. No the biggest problem of the lot is identifying what you have seen. Where do you start looking for something like this? Anyway, for the time being it remains a mystery but if anyone want's to tell me I would appreciate the answer. Back in Bulgaria it was now mid afternoon and the sun was getting hot. Arriving back at the hotel it was too late for lunch and besides I wasn't that hungry. Instead we headed down for the pizza and burgers that are on offer from 2.30-5.30pm. Showing great restraint I limited myself to a burger without chips but decided I would try just one tiny square of pizza too. There were two types available so I relented and had both. Looking around me I noted the typical physique of my fellow diners and it did ring alarm bells. Justin Timberlake again belted out "You got sunshine in your pockets" at 4.00pm on the dot and some of the diners got up to watch the animation team and their followers performing a choreographed dance routine at the poolside . Other diners ignored them and carried on troughing. We were on holiday but guilt had already caught up with me. We had another evening of food and drink ahead of us so I suggested to Claire we went for a walk together in preparation. I took her the same headland route I had walked that morning to show her the butterflies. We reached the part overlooking the naked male sunbathers. Don't look Ethel! It was too late, she'd already got an eyeful! T.B.C. Another day ahead, same procedure as yesterday. Breakfast Conditioning with Justin at 10.00am https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru0K8uYEZWw (If you haven't heard it give it a go!) Then, leaving Claire on her sun bed I head off in the opposite direction heading up Main Street Sinemoretz. It's exactly as expected, a few restaurants, bars and shops but delightfully quiet and uncommercial as it's largely a residential area. not exactly a nightclubber's dream location then! Beyond the village there is another glorious sandy beach which is currently undeveloped but it looks like things are about to change with a couple of wooden buildings being erected. I hope they limit it to just a couple of beach bars as it's a lovely spot at the mouth of the Veleka river . Just behind the beach a pond and reed bed look potentially interesting. There are even two bird hides one which you can just see in the photograph. On the pond I find a sunbathing European Pond Turtle In the dried out bed behind the reeds a Little Ringed Plover and in the reed bed over by the river, a Great Reed Warbler. A pair of Red-backed Shrike were hunting this area too. Things were looking up on the avian front. It was Sunday but still not particularly busy on the beach, still I headed away following a track alongside the river passing a few anglers along the way. There was much bird song but the dense foiliage was once again giving me problems seeing things. Eventually though I arrived at a more open area on the edge of some farmland. Brilliant, all on one tree a Nuthatch and only my second ever confirmed sighting of Middle Spotted Woodpecker. A feeding flock of small brown warblers was moving through the bushes and I'm guessing they were all Willow Warblers. Returning towards the beach I heard a weird unrecognisable call and further investigation revealed this bird high up in deep shade but open branches. I have since asked the question as to what species and some people have been good enough to reply that it's a Nightingale and the call is actually it's alarm call. I had hoped it might be a Savi's or a Marsh Warbler, neither of which i have seen as yet but hey, Nightingales are something I have seen little of in the past. The day was certainly giving more than I'd had previously and there was more to come. On the steps of the bird hide a Lizard. A European Green Lizard I think. Arriving back at the beach car park a man was stood stark naked whilst his wife rubbed suncream on his back. Some people have no shame! Mind you his modesty was saved by a huge pot belly. Not a pretty sight and one I was hardly likely to want to photograph so he had no need to worry and neither did I despite having the big lens. There was still more to come on the track over the headland. A displaying male House Sparrow failing in trying to distract a hungry female. and this I think is an Edible Frog. I hadn't totally forgotten about the butterflies though but they had retreated in to reserve targets! All in all an excellent day. I returned for afternoon tea and this time restricted myself to two small slices of pizza and a piece of melon. The forecast for the next two days wasn't very good so I had a hire car booked from the hotel which at 24 euros a day represented pretty good value I thought. Another evening stroll with Claire then beers, dinner and G&T's. A pattern definitely had set in! T.B.C. For once the weather forecast proved accurate. Well not quite accurate but they had the right idea. The rain had other thoughts and it was 10 times heavier than expected. We watched the downpour from the bedroom balcony and it reminded me of when our home town got flooded twenty or so years ago it was that heavy. To make matters worse it was announced on the news that North Wales and the whole of the UK was in the middle of a heat wave. Typical! At least we'd reserved the car so off we went after breakfast ( what no music? no conditioning today? As it happened the animation team get a day off it seems. They'd be cursing their luck too!) First we headed south to the Turkish border which is only a few kilometres away and on passing through a two man checkpoint they appeared surprised to see anyone the rain was coming down that heavily. They waved us through and we continued on to the border village of Rezevo where the road comes to an end. Apparently there is a wildlife park in the vicinity but a) I had left my gear at the hotel deliberately as this was a trip for Claire as well as me and there was a sign up saying no photography. We sat for 20 minutes looking at the biggest flag I have ever seen whilst the rain eased off. Of course this shot wasn't taken by me using my pocket camera, it's one I found on the internet. Honest. Heading back north were waved through the checkpoint without the two smiling guards bothering to come out of the sentry hut and who would blame them. It was raining again and our car was too small to put anyone in the boot. We decided to head to Tsarevo further up the coast from Sinemoretz. It proved to be a decent sized town but a quick look was enough to convince us to continue on to Sozopol which is an old seaside town and tourist magnet. Very quaint it is too. We ignored the first huge parking area which appeared to be extremely busy, particularly with coaches off loading tour groups heading up the cobbled streets in to town. Instead we continued along the waterfront. At the end there was a circular turning area to head back again but there was also a small street heading up the hill. A policewoman on duty made no attempt to stop us so we headed up that direction. Mistake! Although there were other vehicles parked we were the only one moving and we were soon driving through narrow cobbled streets that were full of pedestrians. We edged our way through the masses and after passing through the main square we thought we had found a way out of the place only to find that pillars in the road prevented traffic entering... and worse still, us getting out! I had to return through the masses and back in to the square only to find to my horror the road we had entered town on was a one way street . Well it had to be I suppose it was very narrow. We took one of two alternatives and despite all the people, prams, pushchairs and other obstacles, got splendid views of all the old buildings and famous wooden houses. It must have taken 15 minutes driving various streets when Claire announced we were actually heading back down to the square on the street we had entered on. People dining in the pavement cafes were giving us that look which suggests all isn't quite what's expected. i.e Who are these idiots?! We were even more embarrassed now but after another 10 minutes we found a car that was reversing before taking a left turn. Instinct told me to "follow that car" and it proved right. Taking turns we would never have found we followed him out of the old town breathing a sigh of relief having done so. We never did set foot in the place though nor take a single photo which was a shame. Instead we headed back home as the weather had improved and the sun was out again. More food, more drinks, more sleep and it was day two of the hire car. I wanted to check out the countryside heading in to the mountains hoping to show Claire some similar beautiful scenes to ones I had witnessed on previous visits . It was incredibly hot now and the road was flanked by deep forest with little to see other than trees. We abandoned the idea and headed back to the hotel returning the car at lunchtime. The manager told me had he known I was a birdwatcher he could have told me where to go. Burgas! I know all about Burgas and the possibilities having been there and I also explained that, at 90kms, it was too far away to enjoy the best light of the day. Besides, Claire would not have been amused to find herself watching me taking endless photos! Instead I took another walk along the back of the beach to see what was lurking! The wind was quite strong so the sea was choppy but it was also looking quite muddy as a result of the rains the day before. The sun however was beaming down once more. One butterfly I always recognise was enjoying it too. The pools in the track had grown substantially and in places difficult to get past due to the way the track cut through the undergrowth but onwards I went. I had hardly taken a photo in 48 hours so I had withdrawal symptoms. I'd settle for anything again. you name it Flowers, Bees,unknown Damselfly like creatures. There was certainly lots of insect life around as there usually is when it's been raining. There were Grasshoppers everywhere providing a feast for the birds. and this Shrike had had it's attention drawn elsewhere enabling me to get a bit closer than my previous visit here. The birds I was really after though were the Golden Orioles I had seen flitting around distant tree tops when I had been here before. After some searching I located a tree that held at least two pairs but they insisted on staying way up high. My best effort of the male. The female possibly slightly better but neither will win a competition. By now the insects had turned the tables and i was the victim. I was being attacked by mosquitos so I abandoned what I perceived to be a fairly hopeless mission. Orioles have a reputation for being difficult to photograph so with hindsight this one I got on my visit in 2015 wasn't as disappointing as I thought at the time! Hey, the birding was secondary really. It was a sunshine break for Claire that mattered. With the weather much warmer than it had been on previous evenings we ventured out to sit by the pool for drinks both before and after dinner. Sadly in a smoke filled atmosphere on the outside dining area eating was confined to indoors. That however put me closer to the buffet area and temptation. A huge range of salad, cooked meats and cheese to start, pasta , pizza and burgers for the kids and 3 or 4 hot dishes to choose from for mains. Then there were the sweets. Those delicious filo pasty and honey delicacies, cream cakes, ice cream. It was all too much to resist. The only thing that helped me restrain myself was looking around at some of the people loading their plates. There were more Hippo's in here than you'd ever see on safari. Claire assured me I had a long way to go to catch up.... so I continued eating everything that took my fancy promising a diet when I got home. TBC
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