Monday, April 12, 2010

Маджарово (Madzharovo)

Located in southern Bulgaria on the edge of the eastern Rhodopes, Маджарово (Madzharovo) is a former mining town with the look and feel of the American southwest … sort of, anyway. During the peak of mining activity more than 6,000 people called Madzharovo home. Now that number is around 500, almost all of whom are the type of characters to catch a novelist’s eye. Men far outnumber women and many drink, smoke, and play cards day and night in the town’s taverns. The town disco, which is open one night per week, draws folks from all the surrounding villages and is locally renowned for its knock-down-drag-out brawls. Think Zane Grey meets Dostoyevsky and you can begin to picture Madzharovo.

As unexpectedly interesting as all that was, I was in Madzharovo for another reason. The area is home to a Nature Conservation Center run by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds. The center’s mission is to protect the nature of the eastern Rhodopes, with a particular emphasis on Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and other birds of prey. The cliffs along the Arda River provide nesting sites for the vultures and several other threatened species, including Black Storks. I visited in the hopes of learning more about the work being done and getting some photos of the area wildlife and landscape. Unfortunately, periodic rain combined with constant cold, windy conditions made it a less than ideal time to visit. The center was also very busy and short-staffed. And while resident species were active and about, only the earliest arriving summer breeders were present. Despite all these negatives, it was a thoroughly enjoyable couple days and I plan on returning this summer to learn and see more.

Despite the wind, rain, and cold, I spent most of my two days on foot hiking. This is some of what I saw.

The same trees which produce abundant fruit in the late summer and fall blossom in the spring. If you think the cherry blossoms in D.C. are special, you'd love Bulgaria in spring. Saying it's beautiful is an understatement.

One of many Griffon Vultures seen soaring along and above the cliffs.

My tit obsession continues. This is a Blue Tit.

And this is a Great Tit.

And this a Long-tailed Tit.

European Goldfinches are common throughout Bulgaria.

I saw a few frogs, but the cold snap probably kept all the reptiles and other amphibians tucked away.

There were also a few butterflies.

And some of the wildflowers were in bloom.

It's no secret that I detest the communist-era block apartments that are so ubiquitous in central and eastern Europe. Granted, some of them are really nice inside. Still, in my opinion, they are cold, soulless, depressing places that are representative of the failures of Soviet communism. But check out this place. Sure, it’s tacky, gaudy and all that. But whoever owns it has given it some soul and made it their own.