Durankulak Lake

The lake is situated in a high humidity zone (by the Ramsar Convention) on the Black Sea coast, 6 km from the Romanian border, 100 km from Varna, next to the village of Durankulak. It is a CORINE biotope. The region is quite big, the lake itself taking up 350 hectares. The lake is separated from the sea by a strand of sand about 120 m wide with dunes as high as 3 m. It is surrounded by step territories and agricultural fields. In the lake itself there are two small islands, one of which is an archaeological site. The undulating shores of the lake form two marsh zones – Eagle marsh and Vaklenski branch. At most places the shore is overgrown with reeds (Phragmites australis), bulrush (Typha angustifolia), and cane (Shoenoplectus triqueter). The place is attractive with its step vegetation. Several rare fish species (of a total of 17) living here. From the mammals you can see some rare species like Marbled Polecat /Vormela peregusna/ and Otter /Lutra lutra/. The most interesting subjects here however are the birds. More than 250 species can be observed in the region. About 70 of them nest here.
 

Little Bittern, lake Durankulak
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

Watching this small heron during his early morning hunt was a little surprise and a big pleasure for me. About 20 pairs are breeding here. Great Bittern is present in 2-3 pairs during the summer, but after September a dozen Bitterns arrive to winter here, replacing the Little Bittern which is  going to Africa and South Asia.

During the spring migration (March – May) excellent photographer's results can be achieved with minimum effort. Migration is intense, with lots of birds coming and going. If you are looking for bright colours and contrasts, this is your time. Taking pictures from a vehicle would be perfect for those who try to catch as many species as possible for a short period of time. The are narrow asphalt roads and dirt tracks that ensure good view and easy sighting if the Larks, Wagtails, Pipits, Chats, etc. families. The marsh areas provide good opportunities even without cover, but if you’d rather not rely on your luck only, it might be a good idea to think of some suitable disguise. The only nesting goose is the Graylag goose /Anser anser/, but you shouldn’t be surprised if you see the odd White-fronted Goose /Anser albifrons/ or Red-breasted Goose /Branta ruficollis/. Most often these are sick, exhausted or injured birds that have fallen behind their flock and they are usually gone by high summer. Waders are not a rare sight during migration too, although I personally prefer to take pictures of them at other locations (the Shabla Tuzla, for example), where they are more often and more easily found.


wildlife photography

Ruff (female) in early spring, village Durankulak
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

28 of February, one of the first spring migrants! Two birds were feeding on the asphalt road? I have not idea, what kind of food they finding there?


During the summer (end of May–begining of August) photographic trips are always interesting and with good results. However, at this time most birds are cautious and secretive and good results require information and initial preparation. The region is comparatively big and initial observations are of great help. The lake offers good opportunities for taking pictures of Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Kingfisher. Rare species, like Ferruginous Duck, are present too, about a score or so couples. They usually use the same resting places and can be approached from a cover or sometimes taken by surprise. Most surrounding territories are planes, but there are also cross-country terrains, valleys and other hidden spots where Bee-eater, Roller, Hoopoe, Syrian, Green and Middle-spotted Woodpeckers and other birds can be found. Weasels live around the lake and they can be seen at daytime. Marbled Polecat and Otter are harder to find and photograph.
 

Alighting Greyleg Geese, Orlovo blato, lake Durankulak
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

Several pairs are breeding here. They like the privacy and the small water spots amid the reed are favorite resting places during the whole year. The sea is visible on the horizon.


The autumn migration (August – November) is especially intense. The flights are concentrated and a pure pleasure to watch. Unlike the spring, this is the season of pastel colours. The weather is usually sunny and even at the end of the period the light at noon is good for photographing. The numerous flights of storks, pelicans and various birds of prey are really spectacular.

wildlife photography

Escort, lake Durankulak
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

Long-legged Buzzard in the light colored plumage phaseThe other birds (on the photo) are Rooks and Jackdaw. December. An interesting fact is that according to the maps in most field guides the Long-legged Buzzard spends the winter in the territories south of Bulgaria. This is obviously not correct. (I have observed) many birds of this species spending the winter even in the northern parts of Bulgaria. This is also true for many other species. Wrong maps or the results of global warming?


Winter (November – March) is the most challenging season. A number of north species winter here, among them the Red-breasted Goose. It is one of the smallest, the most colourful and the most endangered goose in the world. Its whole population is believed to be about 88,000 birds. The Shabla and the Durankulak lake offer a winter home to a greatly varying number of these birds, the number being directly dependent on the climatic conditions. During warm days, the birds spend the winter a bit up north, in the Danube delta. In cold times, when water there freezes the biggest part of them move down south to the Bulgarian lakes. Their number can reach up to 62,000 birds, which is over 70% of the whole population. Why is it that such a great number of birds should gather on such a relatively small territory? Scientists cite this as a typical example of a “tight spot” in the life cycle. In the winter period geese need vast unfreezing fresh-water basins, which offer drinking water and shelter for the night. The basins have to be surrounded by protecting vegetation and to border with farm fields that are not covered with snow, or where the snow cover is thin.

wildlife photography

Landing geese, Dirankulak Lake
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

An important part of the daily schedule of the geese is taking a sip from the lake at noon. The flocks fly to the lake, drink some water and after a short break fly back to the fields.


 

The Shabla and the Durankulak lake are obviously among the few places offering these conditions. As I mentioned earlier, in colder periods huge numbers of birds gather here, but in warmer periods the numbers can be very small. It is important to mention that red-breasted goose forms flocks with the White-fronted Goose (whose number at the lakes can reach 160,000 individuals) and rarer occasions with the Lesser white-fronted Goose. Individual Bean Goose may also be spotted. It is a real thrill to be at the lake on a frosty morning when thousands of birds fly up in the air with clamorous squawks and swishing wings against the rising sun!

wildlife photography

Sunset time, Orlovo blato, lake Durankulak
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev


If you are planning to come for a couple of days, photograph a Red-breasted goose and go home, I doubt it that anyone would guarantee success. You stand a real chance of taking pictures of flocks of birds flying up or landing, but an up-close and personal of a goose is a real challenge and depend a deal on luck. Naturally, good preparation is always decisive. Shelters built in advances are more than necessary. Generally, the second half of January to the end of February is the time of greatest gatherings. There are many clear (and cold!) days with good light. An important detail is that the hunting season for the white-fronted goose and the some ducks is open till the end of January. This would make birds at the end of this period shy and more cautious than usual. In February and March birds are definitely calmer. This is also the period when they start preparing for their migration north for nesting. This is the period when they would avoid unnecessary flying, preferring to feed near the lakes, accumulating mass and energy for the trip home.

Red-breasted Geese, snowy flight, lake Durankulak
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev


Red-breasted Goose, lake Durankulak
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

wildlife photography

A mixed flock, fields near the Zahari Stoyanov village
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

The red-breasted goose usually forms large flocks with birds of its own species, but sometimes/often single individuals or small group can be spotted in the flocks of white-fronted geese. In these occasions you can easily observe the difference in size between the two species.


 

At sunrise, lake Durankulak
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

I got this image from the road crossing to the village Durankulak. The same road that leads to the border with Romania. From here there is a panoramic view of the whole region. The view is especially breathtaking  in the early morning, when thousands of geese grouped in large flocks take off towards their feeding grounds with the rising sun as backdrop.


Red-breasted Geese take off, lake Durankulak
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

Unexpected moment, for me and for the geese. Roads, lakes, fields, everything was enveloped in snow. The snow and the wind had locked everything above the ground. Enthusiastically climbing a small hill I stopped in one moment. Everything stopped, only my heart rushed faster. A thousand geese were standing 70-80 meters in front of me, calmly resting on the snow carpet. Three minutes to open my bag pack and prepare the camera. A few clicks and everything was finished. The flock moved 300 meters away on the same field and I was able to see the birds like silhouettes and hear their gabbles. After this emotion I directed my steps in the opposite direction.


Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe in winter plumage, lake Durankulak
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

Another very attractive bird. You will see them along the sea shore during the winter.