Bulgaria is one of the best places in Europe for bird watching and bird photography. My recent photography trip to this country was focused on griffon vultures and golden eagles. This was a long road trip, starting in Ljubljana, Slovenia. My dad Ivan Esenko and I drove first to Sofia to meet my friend Dancho Hristov, an expert ornithologist and an excellent bird photographer. Then we drove together to Eastern Rhodopes where we were photographing vultures and eagles.
Travelling to Eastern Rhodopes Mountains
Our destination was Madzharovo town, located in Eastern Rhodopes in Arda river valley. On our first day we drove through idyllic countryside and arrived in the afternoon. We made several photo stops along the way for photography. Dancho knows his birds intimately and showed us three different kinds of owls along the way. We photographed long eared owls, Little owls and a tawny owl in different towns on the way.
When we arrived to Rhodopes, we did a short detour to small villages on the north side of Arda river. We met a friendly a friendly beekeeper and his wife at Dolni Glavanak village where they were working on their beehives. Later we made a hike near Gorno Pole to a view point above Arda river with hopes to see some flying griffon vultures. The weather was not great for photography but we enjoyed our time in nature, looking for birds and enjoying the views. The volcanic landscapes of Eastern Rhodopes are so different from anything in Slovenia!
Photographing Vultures and Eagles
Dancho has been running bird photography workshops in this area for many years with great success. He planned two full days to photograph eagles and vultures from a hide. Marin, our local guide took us to the hide with his Mitsubishi when it was still pitch dark. It is critical to go into the hide when it’s dark and leave when it’s dark again. While we were setting up our cameras in silence, he distributed some bait in strategic places – close to the hide but out of sight.
Winter is the best time to photograph golden eagles. Unfortunately vultures have already started with their breeding and they were unlikely to come to feed. Our best chance was supposed to be golden eagles – a couple is nesting nearby and there was a last year’s baby still flying with them.
Hide Photography Day 1
Our first day was super successful. In the morning there was still fog in the river valley and the sunlight was nicely diffused. We were blessed with the arrival of several vultures who flew in and sat on the rocks. These are shy creatures and most of the time they were just sitting around the bait, constantly checking for danger. Dancho correctly predicted that whey will likely leave without feeding. The mating urge was too strong. We did get a few nice photos so I consider this encounter success.
Later in the afternoon another of Dancho’s predictions came true – the arrival of the golden eagles! First, the male arrived. He landed on a distant rock before flying closer to the bait. This was perfect as we could prepare ourselves for birds in flight shots. Soon after, the female arrived and later the juvenile eagle followed. I was amazed how much bigger the female is. The eagles were gorging on the bait for more than two hours – they must have eaten a kilo of meat each! This became a bit of a nuisance for photos – their bellies were visibly inflated, looking much less elegant and noble. 🙂 Nevertheless, simply watching this incredible animals was a reward by itself. I never saw the golden eagle from this close. What a magnificent creature! Eagles left when it was already dusk and soon we were picked up and we left for a hearty dinner. And a cold Bulgarian beer.
Eagle Hide Photography Day 2
Our second day in the hide was very different. The weather in Eastern Rhodopes was sunny but extremely windy. It was unlikely the vultures would be soaring the skies in such conditions. So we were prepared for a long wait, with high hopes to see eagles once again. It was a long day of nothing. Luckily there was 5G signal at the hide and I also downloaded and managed my photos while waiting.
There were no vultures, but the eagle family returned in the late evening – just when the light got nice for photography! Once again we were able to admire these amazing birds.
Photographing Vultures and Eagles – Conclusion
Our photography trip to Eastern Rhodopes was a success. We all got some amazing images of vultures and eagles. This trip left me with a desire to come back. There are multiple reasons for this, photographing griffon vultures when they feed in big numbers, come back in spring to photograph egyptian vultures and to do some landscape photography in the area.
After Madzharovo, we continued our trip onwards to Greece. Our destination was Lake Kerkini national park where we were photographing Dalmatian pelicans. Subscribe to get notified about this upcoming post!