On the eve of St. George’s each of you is thinking of how to celebrate this popular holiday – with friends or in a family atmosphere. Everyone except for a few crazy photographers, for whom May is one of the most productive months for taking photos of birds and wildlife.
So, while I was contemplating on where to go to shoot during the three days off, a tempting mail arrived in the mailbox – a proposal for a three-day shooting in the West Rhodopes. I’ve been dreaming for years to take photos of capercaillies, bears and chamois – it’s an ideal opportunity to explore the possibilities of taking photos of these animals and birds, being led by good guides, well aware of the local flora and fauna.
Translated by Maya Golemanova
The three-day photo tour was funded by the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environment Facility within the project “Promoting Friendly Forest Management, Developing Business Partnerships and Sustainable Hunting Conservation and Effective Management of Globally Significant Biodiversity in Boreal Forests of the Rila-Rhodope Array.”
The project itself was implemented by the Nature Conservation Association Biosphere in partnership with the Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation, Hunting – Fishing Company Devin and National Park “Rila”.
The purpose of the photo tour was to introduce the opportunities, the products and services for the development of alternative forms of tourism, including observation and photography of wildlife somewhere in Western Phodopes. The development of this form of alternative tourism is essential to create economic incentives for local people to protect and maintain biodiversity.
Such “events” are very important for people to understand that shooting animals is not the only option for income. In fact, by protecting birds and animals, in a relative short time, the income from photo tours will exceed those of shooting animals. This has been proven by similar practices across other European countries.
When we arrived in Devin we stayed in Guest House “Old Vine” – an excellent place to relax and stay. The house is clean and tidy, with friendly and helpful owners, so we were very pleased. It can accommodate up to 12 people. The owners also offer horse riding or boat trips.
The three-day tour was very instructive and exciting. We learned a lot about local species, their habitat and behavior and we had a marvelous time.
On Friday, after we arrived in Devin, I went straight to the bears’ shelter high in the mountains. We stayed there till dusk, while in the other shelter two other photographers were lucky enough to see a bear. Deers walked near us, grazing quietly on the lawn, and earlier that day a well-fed fox walked by.
On Saturday we got up very early – about 2:00 at night, and then with local guides we climbed up the mountain by Niva SUV. The trip lasted about an hour and a half – I never thought that you can drive an SUV on such paths. We left the cars and headed to the base. Having prepared heavy lenses, backpacks, and camouflage covers, we began our journey through the woods in search for capercaillies. When they sing they can be heard up to 100 meters and it is very exciting to listen to them. Our group couldn’t take photos of capercaillies, but our colleagues had success on the other side of the ridge where they saw and took photos of a capercaillie, only on video though. Although they were a few people, the bird was singing 20-something meters away.
Capercaillies are difficult to take photo of, not incidentally there isn’t a decent photo of Bulgarian capercaillie. I hope to have the opportunity to go with a guide again next year and to have more success.
After capercaillies, we went to watch wild goats and early afternoon we visited Teshel and the Devil’s Throat Cave. There we were lucky and took photos of a rare wallcreeper. I had the feeling (since I got up at 2 a.m.) that a whole day had already passed.
Finally we went back to the previous place to watch wild goats and we took nice pictures, including some of a fox.
I have to admit I was fascinated by the wild goats, and on Sunday morning I decided to go after dark to enjoy them again and to take photos of them, while others opted for capercaillies.
I set up my equipment in total darkness and I hid behind a bush. It was incredibly quiet and the air smelled fantastic. Once it was dawn birds started singing – each one better and more melodic than the others. A bird perched on top of the bush and I had the feeling that it was singing, standing on my left shoulder :)
Shortly after dawn, an ibex (or a wild goat) toured throughout the hill in front of me, and for about 20 minutes I had the opportunity to watch it and to take photos of it. I hid at the base of a tall bush and since I made no moves, the goat walked calmly near me and grazed. I managed to take photos and to make a video of it, which I hope I can post here in a week.
Nature around Devin is very beautiful and diverse. This picturesque location offers many opportunities for hiking, photography, and even bike riding. I hope to have the opportunity to visit it soon so I can enjoy it again.