Rupite

  

If you take the main route from Sofia to Greece, it goes along river Struma. This river is famous as one of the best places for rafting in Bulgaria, but is equally famous among nature lovers with its beautiful surroundings and interesting natural habitats. About 20 km before the river flows into Greece it traverses a wide valley with low hills surrounded by high mountain picks. There, close to the river, is located the area called “Rupite”. Standing alone in the valley is the ancient volcano “Kojuh”, at the bottom of which there is a hot spring. Actually, for first-time visitors it would be difficult to guess that this is a volcano, as what is left from the ancient glory is just a steep hill covered with drought resistant bushes and low trees. From these steep rocks raprors watch the surroundings. In the bushes and on the ground nests warbles, buntings, shrikes, woodpeckers and many other birds.

Rock formations in the “Rupite” region.
Image copyright 2006 Emil Enchev

Habitat for many rare species of birds. In the spring and summer their slopes and the meadows below are rich with butterflies and other insects. A lot of reptiles and amphibians can be found here too.

  

For naturalists interesting is not only the volcano (actually the volcanic hills itself are most interesting with the variety of reptiles), but also the entire wide area covered with a mosaic of habitats. The surrounding hills are easy to climb but are often broken and form high rocks, niche and ledge where Rock Nuthatch, Black-eared Weatear, Rock Sparrow, Rose-coloured Starling, Raven, Long-Legged Buzzard, Kestrel, Little Owl, larks, buntings and other birds nest. The hills themselves are covered with grass and “islands” of bushes and low trees-many of them typical for the Mediterranean flora.
Many tiny and not so small brooks find their way down from the surrounding mountains. When they reach the valley of river Struma the terrain flattens so their slow waters get covered by reeds, but at some places the waters stay open and attract birds for drinking. During the July’s heat many of these springs dry out.

Green Toad / Bufo viridis/.
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev
I have seen a lot of frogs and toads before, but never in such an enormous multitude. The view was unbelievable – millions and millions of toads everywhere – along the water reservoirs in big heaps, on the roads, in the grass all around, even on the top of the dry hills. Probably from such a multitude only a minor part survives until adulthood.Eastern Spadefoot/ Pelobates syriacus/, Balkan Stream/ Rana graeca/ also can be find here.

  

In April, May and June this area turns into paradise for people who love butterflies and other insects. The place is equally famous with its herpetofauna – rare species of turtles, snakes, lizards, among which Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis), Leopard Snake (Elaphe situla) Cat Snake (Tlescopus talax), live here.
The reptiles are active from March to November, but are easiest to spot during March, April and May. In the hot summer months the chances to come across them decrease, but if you still decide to try your luck, early morning hours are most promising.
River Struma itself hold rich wild kingdom. River bed is wide and the riverbanks covered with sand or pebbles – nesting place for Little Ringed Plover.
During spring and summer on the river banks feed black storks, spoonbills and little egrets.

The dense willows along the Struma River.
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev
A nesting place Penduline Tits and a hiding place for a lot of other birds.

  

The poplar woodlands along the river are populated by Levant Sparrowhauk, Golden Oriole, Green, Great spoiled, Middle spoiled and Lesser spoiled woodpeckers.
This territory is not only a wild isolated habitat, but also an area of persistent human activity – little vegetable plots around the hills, fisheries close to the river, and few little villages with their infrastructure. Many roads and railways cross the area. Nevertheless, like most countryside regions in Bulgaria, the population is low and the lifestyle – simple. This helps for preservation of the unique biodiversity. Hope it will stay rich for years to come.

Penduline Tit
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

Bee-eater.
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev
This species is distributed in appropriate habitats in the whole country, but unlike other areas, where these birds usually nest in steep or vertical slopes, here some of the nests are in the sandy soil straight on the wild meadows.

Bee-eaters. Greeting.
Image copyright 2006 Emil Enchev

Eastern Festoon
Image copyright 2006 Emil Enchev

You will find it near rivers between March and July. Although quite numerous, they are difficult to photograph because of their sweep flight and the rare moments when they perch to feed or lay eggs.

They look like a golden brooch. When approached they prefer to fly away, and when cornered try to scare you.
Image copyright 2006 Emil Enchev

Rock Nuthatch
Image copyright 2006 Emil Enchev

Usually you will find it all over the rocks. Only in the period when the adults feed their young they often "forget" the tradition and move over to the meadows, where it is easier to find food for the voracious chicks.

Rock Nuthatch
Image copyright 2006 Emil Enchev