The northernmost part of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast is a wintering ground for thousands of geese, including almost the entire world population of the globally threatened Red-breasted Goose. The geese traditionally winter in the area around the Durankulak and Shabla lakes, and, to insure the survival of the species, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) monitors the area every winter. A couple weeks ago, I joined the local BSPB team for a few days to learn more about what they are doing and how the geese are faring.
More than 150,000 geese wintered in the area this year, including approximately 120,000 Greater White-fronted Geese. But, despite the best efforts of the BSPB, the number of Red-breasted Geese continues to plummet. Approximately 32,000 Red-breasted Geese wintered in the area this year – roughly half the number that has wintered in past years. Threats in the Durankulak and Shabla area came from illegal fishing (which forced the geese to spend some nights on the Black Sea instead of the sheltered lakes) and poaching by hunters. Citations were issued to those in violation of applicable laws, but the supposed punishments were rarely enforced. Without enhanced enforcement mechanisms, threats to the geese wintering in Bulgaria will remain real.
Seeing flocks of geese numbering in the thousands makes for quite a spectacle. It also makes it easy to forget how easily a species can be wiped out if hunting goes unregulated.
In addition to estimating geese numbers and watching for poachers, the BSPB crew conducted abdominal profiles to measure the geese's health for migrating and collected goose droppings to be tested for avian disease.
The area is rather scenic and home to several different habitat types from wetlands, to the sea, to open fields.
Common Buzzards were extremely common in the open areas, and we also saw a Rough-legged Buzzard and got great looks at this Long-legged Buzzard.
The Black Sea produced seaducks (including three very rare - for Bulgaria - Common Eiders), loons, grebes, and gulls, including several Little Gulls.
The woodlands were home to smaller landbirds, including this Great Spotted Woodpecker.
We also saw some cool mammals, including a pair of Red Foxes, a European Wildcat, and a European Polecat. Unfortunately, hunters view such animals as pests and are rewarded by the local hunting clubs for killing them.