Cloudy until mid-morning, then hot and sunny; 17-32°C Staying at the Arda Complex
Before breakfast, with low cloud still hanging over the hills, a walk down to the Krumovitza River yielded dewy Small Pincertail and White-tailed Skimmer still at their roost sites in low vegetation. A pair of Crag Martins sat on the bridge near their mud nest underneath, while a couple of Kingfishers zoomed by. After breakfast, we spent a couple of hours in a spectacular valley near Dolna Kula, where Black Storks, Rock Nuthatches and Black-eared Wheatears nested among the crags, although fortunately the last two species had brought their young lower down. While we were waiting for the sun to burn off the clouds, a Chukar began calling and eventually a pair was found high up on the rocks. While we searched for them, we located a Short-toed Eagle and a Rock Bunting on the highest crags. Better views, however, were had of Hobbies and Cirl Bunting. As the valley began to warm rapidly, Southern Skimmers, Mallow Skipper, White-fronted Wart-biters, antlions and lots of other insects began to appear.
Moving on towards Studen Kladenetz, we stopped for a couple of Spur-thighed Tortoises on the road. Our main destination today was the lovely Valchi Dol reserve, where we had lunch at a picnic table next to a shady stream. It was towards the end of the season for the strange Odalisque damselfly, but we managed to locate a male and two females on perches above one of the few remaining sunny sections of stream. This species is the only one in its genus and is unusual in that the wings are spread at rest and the whole of the male becomes pruinose. A few Eastern Spectres patrolled along the shadier stretches of the stream and one was caught so that we could appreciate its attractive though complex colour scheme. Lots of butterflies, including Scarce Swallowtail, gathered to ‘puddle’ and an indeterminate festoon flew rapidly through. Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and a Mole Cricket were also seen in the area.
Tempted by the remote possibility of seeing Yellow-spotted Whiteface (Leucorrhinia pectoralis), which had been discovered a few weeks earlier, we decided to visit the site: a marsh adjacent to copper mine tailings near Madzharovo. Our first attempt to get to the site was thwarted when we discovered that the path had been washed away to leave a deep ravine. The alternative route took us past a local vulture conservation centre, where we took the opportunity to refresh ourselves with very welcome beer and ice cream. There Tisho and Dancho learned of a grasshopper ‘problem’ at the large expanse of poorly-vegetated tailings we would have to walk across. On arrival, we could see many insects flying over the site and as we began to walk along a track we began to appreciate the scale of the ‘problem’. At every step hundreds of grasshoppers jumped or took flight, our crude estimates putting the total number possibly between one and ten million individuals! Bulgaria is home to over 250 species of Orthoptera and putting a name to this one was not possible, but the experience was reminiscent of a locust plague. We found Green-eyed Hawkers, Emperor and Eastern Spectres patrolling a stream below the tailings, before finally reaching the marshy area where the Whiteface had been seen. The marsh was rapidly drying out and we did not see our quarry, though Colin and Dancho found what turned out to a Downy Emerald.
Our accommodation for the next two nights was the nearby Arda Complex, a new hotel right next to the Arda River and overlooked by a huge natural arch on the cliffs beyond.