I headed up to Aleko (near the top of Vitosha Mountain) twice in the last week, and also managed to fit in a bit of city park birding. I can now say that I have sampled every form of public transportation up and down Aleko, and also mixed a bit of hitchhiking in there as well with my Bulgarian friend! On September 11th I headed up for some solo bird watching. I opted to take the Dragalevtsi lift up in the early am when everything was ensconced in a thick fog. This ended up being my favorite of all the ways to the top of the mountain, and was fun and fairly direct. If your curious if I sang the horn section part of ‘Into The Mystic’ by Van Morrison while I headed up on to this lovely misty mountain… why yes I did!
When I got up to Aleko it was drizzling but completely bereft of other people, which would really have to be my most favorite type of birding. I like birding when there is not a soul around and its just you and the forest. You can hear the little pitter patter of wings from super far away and when you do actually happen to hear a person it sounds like a bulldozer or a yeti or something coming through the forest. After about an hour or so the light changed drastically and the whole afternoon ended up being sunny and warm, albeit weird light from stray clouds here and there. Probably my favorite bird of the day (and a hard won lifer I’ve searched for in multiple countries) was this molting Crossbill.
I basically took the Crossbill picture and the ones below at a strange ‘quarry’ like spot right off of the restaurant area in Aleko. There are large piles of ground up rock and its probably the least scenic area for miles. For whatever reason this is where I saw all the best birds of the day. I was out with a friend last week and I was telling them how sometimes you can stumble across the most picturesque and beautiful little area that will have no birds, but you come across some weird dusty shithole of an area surrounded by aluminum type sheets and there are all the birds. I also encountered what has to be the most photogenic Tree Pipit I have ever seen. Most of the Tree Pipits Ive seen usually have the coloring of the second bird. This lovely yellow exhibited on bird below really had me over the moon. And another Tree Pipit: On the way down I opted to take the Simeonovo cable car which was more expensive, not as scenic, and dropped you off at some random parking lot/apartment complex a decent distance from the center. Sadly the car I was in also had super murky plastic windows so you were unable to really experience the view. If you are debating on which one to take I would highly recommend the Drag. lift, unless of course you have a fear of moderate heights. The bus (#66) is also an option to reach Aleko, but remember like the lifts it only runs on weekends in the summer. Its also slightly longer and you have to deal with being crowded in and having to use a bit of aggression to get a seat. I would skip this and opt for the fresh air and feet dangling that come with the Drag. lift. Whinchat also in the ‘quarry’ area: A few days later I returned to Aleko with my friend Cvetana. It was a weekday so there is no way via public transport to get to this area. Instead we opted to hitch hike with a back up plan of taking a cab if we could not find any cars heading up. Hitch hiking up the mountain ended up being painless and easy and both up and down our driver was kind and friendly. I was explaining to Cvetena that this is not really the norm in America, and hitchhiking there is not only illegal but very taboo. The whole experience hitchhiking left me feeling a bit sad and jealous that American culture is not safe, open and comfortable enough to permit this practice. Once there for the second time we had a really enjoyable day and encountered some of the same birds from my previous visit. Like before Black Redstart, Whinchat and Red Backed Shrike were all ever present. Black Redstart: Red Backed Shrike: Coal Tit: I also stopped by the Yuzen Park once and had an enjoyable day. I encountered this Semi Collared Flycatcher (a first for me!) along with some of the other usual suspects. Tomorrow I head off to Rila Mountain for a few days of bird watching! I look forward to updating you on new lifers and wonderful life experiences when I get back!
Birds Seen But Not Limited To: Aleko:
-Phylocopus (Wood & Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff)
-Red Backed Shrikes
-Long Tailed Tits
I also wanted to share these pictures of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria. Its on the the most beautiful buildings in the city and is conveniently located a few blocks from my house! I am lucky enough to get to pass it several times a week.