Balkani Wildlife Society


Water-connected birds in the Sofia area

As a part of the Balkans migratory route – Via Aristotelis, the wetlands around Sofia have always been an important place for breeding, feeding, moulting and resting during migration for great variety of waterfowl. Along the old river beds and their overflowed banks, as well as in the large natural wetlands in the beginning of the 20th century many herons, ducks, waders and others used to breed and rest. After draining procedures on a large scale in the middle of the last century some of the biggest marshes around Sofia (Kubratovo, Dragoman and Aldomirovtsi) were partially or totally reduced. Then a number of artificial reservoirs were built – dam-lakes, deposit basins, quarries etc. The river beds were straightened and their banks – embanked. Despite this quite negative intervention in the natural habitats of the waterfowl for many of them the wetlands around Sofia still provide fairly good conditions for nesting, wintering or resting during migration. 
Since 1989 a team of over 30 persons, who are graduates of the School of ornithology and nature conservation at the Bulgarian Ornithological Centre, and the most active ones of them are recent members of Balkani Wildlife Society, started a research on the dynamics of the avifauna of the wetlands along the Iskar, Blato and Lesnovska Rivers and their tributaries. 
Since 1994 the numerical counts were performed every month simultaneously (without summer) at all wetlands around Sofia – the dam lakes Iskar, Mramor, Bezden, Kremikovtsi deposit basin, the quarry and the fish-ponds of Chelopechene and Petarch and the swamps by Dragoman, Mousachevo and Ravno Pole, which hold a greater part of the waterfowl. For the achievement of this goal the region under study was divided in three routes:

  • Iskar Dam;
  • Dragoman Marsh – Bezden Dam (including the little basin by the same village) – fish-ponds of Petarch – Mramor Dam;
  • Ravno Pole marsh – Mousachevo Marsh – Kremikovtsi deposit basin – quarry and fish-ponds of Chelopechene;

The good training of the people, carrying out the observations, is of crucial importance. Sometimes different species should be distinguished from a long distance, in bad weather conditions or only by their voice. In moments like these the field experience is obligatory in order to make the results collected equal and comparable to all others. 
Along with the ordinary waterfowl species, unexpected surprises appear from time to time. Rare as inland migrants and winter guests, birds like Scaup (Aythya marila), Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter (Clangula hyemalis, Melanitta fusca), Crane (Grus grus), Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica), Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), Knot (Calidris canutus), Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus), Gull-billed and Caspian Terns (Sterna nilotica, Sterna caspia) and many others were already registered (some of them several times) in the wetlands around Sofia. Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima) and White-tailed Lapwing (Vanellus leucurus) were recorded for the first time in Bulgaria on these places. 
After each count the data collected are being generalized in tables. Thus the information gathered throughout the years provides a basis for writing and publishing articles in scientific ornithological magazines.