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Bird Watching Holiday - Coastal Lakes and Capes

Believe it or not, a bird watching holiday is one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities in the world and Bulgaria has developed into one of the leading bird watching holiday regions worldwide over the last ten years. The country’s ideal location at a crossroads of the Balkan Peninsula has given it one of the richest birding areas in Europe. It is home to over 420 different bird species, 22 of which are extremely rare and in danger of extinction. Its unique combination of soaring mountain ranges, flatlands and dramatic sea coast all within a short distance of each other coupled with the lack of industry and large scale development has lead to this natural wonder. One of the two major European flyways known as the Via Pontica crosses Bulgarian territory and is used by many thousands of birds.

Experts have indentified 11 key birding sites although there are around 50 areas which house a wide variety of species and are of significance to the bird watcher.  Bulgaria’s inclusion in the EU Natura 2000 policy has extended the volume of natural territory now protected by law and this will encourage and conserve future birding populations.

Bird Species in Bulgaria

The number of birds visible around the leading bird watching areas are too numerous to mention but include savi and cetti warblers, avocet, collared pratincole, black-winged stilts, Kentish plover, little bitterns, ferruginous ducks, sandwich and little terns. In some regions there are thousands of black and white and storks, purple herons, white pelicans, honey and common buzzards, lesser spotted eagles and mixed into these flocks are smaller species like Levant sparrow hawks, marsh and Montague harriers, booted and short-toed eagles, red-footed falcons, hobbies, black kites and vultures. Rare species of bird include aquatic, moustached and paddy field warblers and slender-billed curlew.

Atanasovsko Lake

This shallow salt lake lies to the north-west of Bourgas and has been involved in salt production since 1906. Its location on the Via Pontica means that it attracts over 300 recorded species. The surrounding wetland is covered with marshes, fresh water canals, reed beds and salt pans and provides the perfect accommodation for a variety of bird species all year round. The northern edge of the lake is a dedicated nature reserve. The best time to visit this area on a bird watching holiday is during migration particularly if you wish to view storks and birds of prey.  During winter the lake becomes a feeding and resting ground and the lake holds the record in Bulgaria for the place with the highest number of sightings of the slender-billed curlew, which is one of the world’s most endangered bird species.

Cape Kaliakra

Cape Kaliakra in north-eastern Bulgaria was one of the country’s first dedicated nature sanctuaries. It was originally established to protect the Monk Seal. Its 50 m high vertical cliffs cover 2 km along the cape and provide ideal conditions during the breeding season for plenty of species like eagle owls and stone curlew. Throughout the year European shags feed here and often hunt together with the areas dolphin population. There are many other species of bird in this area with each season bringing a newcomer. Winter is a great time for a bird watching holiday and observing divers like grebes, cormorants and waterfowl.



Durankulak Lake

This is one of the most important wetlands on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. The eastern part of the lake is separated from the sea by narrow sand stripe and surrounded by some small groups of trees particularly on its southern and western banks. There are plenty of reed beds along the shore and this coupled with its location on the Via Pontica provide it with an impressive collection of birds all year round. It is home to the largest population of paddy field and moustached warblers in Bulgaria. During autumn and spring the area is perfect for observing the migration of storks and birds of prey. During winter many species inhabit its water including whooper and mute swans and tens of thousands of white-fronted and red-breasted geese.

Shabla Lake

This fresh-water lake is located close to Darnakulak Lake and Cape Kaliakra in north eastern Bulgaria. To the south of the lake lies a shallow lagoon, called Shablenska Tuzla. The lake is full with fish and its large reed beds close to sandy dunes attract many water-loving birds particularly during the breeding season. In autumn the area is full with species like egrets, herons and pelicans. However it is the huge winter geese population that makes Shabla Lake most fascinating; around 60-80 % of the world’s population flocks to this area in winter. The area also attracts around 150,000 water birds, particularly swans, grebes and ducks.

Bourgas Lake

Bourgas Lake is the largest natural lake in the country with a surface area of 2,760 ha. It is one of four lakes in the area around Bourgas and is surrounded by extensive reed beds. It is a major stop-over for migrating waterfowl, birds of prey and passerines. The lake never freezes over in winter and consequently thousands of waterfowl stay here during the harsh cold season.  It is also one of the most important areas in the country for the wintering Dalmatian pelicans, pygmy cormorants and white-headed ducks.

The Mandra- Poda Complex

The Mandra Lake and the Poda Lagoon lie on the southernmost area of the three Bourgas lakes. The Mandra Lake is a fresh water reservoir, whilst Poda is a shallow coastal lagoon providing a variety of different habitats in particular far-reaching reed beds, which provide cover during the breeding season, which is the best time to observe some interesting species such as purple herons, little egrets and marsh harriers. Birds that regularly feed off the lake include white pelicans and pygmy cormorants although these two species do not breed here. During autumn migration there are thousands of soaring storks, pelicans and birds of prey following the Via Pontica route. During winter the area attracts many water feeders like Dalmatian pelicans, mutes, whooper and Bewick’s swans.

Pomoriisko Lake

This lake lies close to the sea separated by only a man-made dyke and a sand bar. Like Atanasovsko Lake it is used for salt production, but its mud is said to have healing properties and there is a holistic medical centre here to treat people with this. Pomoriisko Lake is an important breeding ground for a number of interesting species like the black-winged stilt and Kentish plover. Lying like so many other bird reserves on the Via Pontica migratory route, the wetland is of special importance for observing soaring migrants as well as resting and feeding waders. During winter the lake and the adjacent sea area provide a perfect base for divers, grebes gulls and waders.




Yailite is an archaeological reserve on the Black Sea close to Kamen Briag renowned for its ancient mounds, burial vaults and caves. The area is surrounded by shrubby slopes, rocky cliffs and grassland, which provides unique habitats to a variety of species like stone curlews and calandra. During migration the area is filled with many storks, herons and birds of prey.

There is plenty to see on the coast during a Bulgarian bird watching holiday, and for more about inland bird watching see our member's area

Pictures courtesy of Ben Stansfield