East Rodopi Mountains

The End of summer. Madjarovo
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

The red rocks are the remains of the crater of a prehistoric volcano. The vertical cliffs protect the nests of Griffon and Egyptian vultures, Black Storks, Kestrels, Blue Rock Thrushes and Rock Thrushes. Down: the meandering Arda River and road dig out in the rocks.



  

In the south part of Bulgaria an extensive mountain massif, called the Rhodopes, can be found. Practically the Rhodopes are divided into two parts (East and West), which have very different geological history. It makes them very different in vegetation, animal species and their whole biodiversity in general. The relief of the two parts is also very different.

Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

The meanders of the Arda River around the town of Madjarovo

The Arda River
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

The river bed is broad, the clear waters flow slowly. The river banks are covered with thick deciduous forests and bushes. At many places the river forms broad strips some of which are filled with mud or with fine colorful sand or round stones. The old river bed has been replaced by fields and meadows whose lush grasses attract countless insects in the summer. Unfortunately, several big parts of the river have been dammed and all this beauty has been covered by the waters of the Ivaylovgrad, Studen kladenets and Kardjali dams.

  

This is a low mountain range with an average height of 330 m above sea level. It is situated in the southern part of Bulgaria. The great diversity of relief and the typical vegetation make it attractive and memorable. This is particularly obvious at the meanders of the Arda River, with the unmatched beauty of its impressive canyons cutting deep into the thick forests growing on volcanic sedimentary the mountain slopes. The place is rich in minerals, semi-precious stones and precious metals. Fossils of the inhabitants of an ancient ocean can be found on the screes along the river beds. The mountain slopes are covered with a mosaic of low drought resistant forests, rocks massifs and open grass-covered spaces.

Rock Nuthach
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

A typical pose in a typical habitat. These charming birds can be seen in the other mountains in southern Bulgaria, too, but always at small isolated places.

  

The East Rhodopes are among the places with greatest wildlife diversity in Europe. The main factors leading to this are their geographical situation, the combination of temperate and Mediterranean climate, the relief and the low level of population. This is one of the economically underdeveloped regions of Bulgaria. For the last 15 years the process of deserting the smaller towns for the bigger cities, as well as the emigration of young people abroad, deepened and the region is now running wilder than ever.

Deserted village
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

Sights like this are not a rarity in this region anymore. In many villages among the dozens of deserted buildings only a few smoking chimneys can be seen, where the last remaining people still live. Actually, there are few places in the East Rodopi where modern accommodation can be found. This is one of the reasons for this region to be relatively unknown even to Bulgarian tourists.



April
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

The Rodopi Mountains have been inhabited since times immemorial. It is difficult draw a line between wild nature and human world. The mosaic of small meadows and arable fields scattered among the wooded hills can be seen everywhere.

  

So far one reserve, four maintained reserves, eighteen protected sites and sixty-three nature monuments exist in the East Rhodopes. The big issue at the moment is the creation of a big national park, which would considerably help the preservation of this exceptional unique place.

Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

A different world, a different place in time.

The Krumovitsa River valley
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

Down in the river a black stork was striding pompously, Cirl Buntings, Orphean Warblers and Olive-tree Warblers were warbling and chirruping in the bushes. Rock Nuthatches and Black-eared Wheatears were strutting on the rocks putting on airs. Rollers, Vultures and White Storks were soaring and gliding gracefully high up in the sky. I had stopped to savour the spring, just for a few minutes. To some people this is just another river and some rocks. To the wildlife connoisseur it is Wonderland.



Autumn morning over the Arda banks
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

Part of the Griffon Vulture colony nests among the rocks here. Using the air streams over the river the birds climb and fly away in search for food.



Griffon Vulture
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

About 20 couples nest in the vicinity of the small miners town of Madjarovo. Unlike the Egyptian vultures which fly to Africa in the middle of September, the griffon vultures here round the year. Sometimes they bum around the old crater, sometimes glide away in the wind in search for carrion.



Haberlea rhodopensis.
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

A Balkan endemite that until recently was thought to be localized only in Bulgaria. Not long ago a population was found in Macedonia. You can find it in shadowy places in the rocks. Unlike any other flower, if you put a completely dry and dead plant in a humid shady place, it comes back to life. It is one of the symbols of the Rodopi Mountains.



Edible Dormouse /Glis glis/
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

I was staying at the BSPB centre, whose attic was full of these speedy fluffy balls. Typically they are nocturnal animals, but perhaps some agitation had forced this fat boy out in the mid-afternoon sun. More seconds later he hid back under the roof. There are 25 registered kinds of rodents in the Madjarovo region. The rock clefts and the numerous caves provide home for over 21 kinds of bats.



Black Vulture
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

The biggest, the blackest, the rarest. A limited number of these giants breed in the East Rodopi, most of them on the territory of Greece. Regular feeding and constant presence of Griffon and Egyptian Vultures is sure to attract Their Majesties, the Black Ones.



Autumn in the East Rodopi
Image copyright 2004 Emil Enchev

Unlike the northern parts of the country, autumn here comes 20 30 days later.



Green Lizard /Lacerta viridis/
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

Courting



Southern Festoon /Zerynthia Polyxena/
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev



Crested Lark
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

The spring in the East Rodopi is green and crisp and the summer hot and sunny. The larks have adapted perfectly to these seasons.



Black-eared Wheatear
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

They come here in the beginning of April and the rocks come alive with their happy cheeping and lively fleeting.