Strandja Mountain

Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev
The rock river near the Thracian sanctuary “Begliktash” Woods filled with life. In the distance – the coast with many sheltered coves.



  

An endless chain of hills, a green ocean. Every visitor here cannot help but remain connected to it for life. A feeling of coziness and belonging that is hard to explain but undeniably true. Save for a few places, there are no giant rocks, abysses or cliffs here. Gushes and rivers are abundant, but for the biggest part of the year not very full and peacefully flowing towards the Black Sea. Nature in its wildest – it’s all around!

Bulgaria wildlife photography

Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev
Strandja in May

Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev
The Veleka River. An European-version jungle.

  

The Strandja looks like a big green spot on the map. It covers both Bulgarian and Turkish territory. The biggest part of the Bulgarian territory of the mountain forms the Strandja Wildlife Park. It comprises 5 reserves and a score of other protected areas. An important factor for the uniqueness of the place is the proximity of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Very often it is warm and sunny here, while the rest of the country is hid under clouds and cold. The period of biggest rainfall is November – December. The winter is warm and mild along the Black Sea coast and considerably colder in the inner higher parts of the mountain.

Bulgaria wildlife photography

Rhododendron ponticum
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

The plant has flowers through the whole month of May. Its beauty is well-known, its poison too. There are many legends and stories about it – like for example the one about the death of a full Byzantine army caused by the soldiers having eaten honey having too much pollen of this plant.

  

The plant diversity is impressive. At present about 1400 sorts of plants have been discovered, some of them typical for the temperate climate, others – for the Mediterranean. A considerable number of endemic and tertiary relicts can also be found here (Rhododendron ponticum, Vaccinium arctostaphylos, Daphne pontica, Mespilus germanica). Five separate vegetation zones can be differentiated, the dominant woods being oak and beech woods with thick undergrowth of evergreen bushes. At the mouths of the bigger rivers – the Veleka, the Rezovska- as well as at individual remote places near the sea, specific riparian woods can be found, with characteristic lianas and mainly ash-trees (Fraxinus oxycapra).

Bulgaria wildlife photography

Rhododendron ponticum
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

I inhaled deeply the aroma of the flowers, but I wasn’t poisoned. And yet… how strange and silent is the forest and what strange feelings get hold of my heart…



Bulgaria wildlife photography

Red deer/Cervus elaphus/
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

Most parts of the forest are easily accessible – they are criss-crossed by paths made by different animals. It is an incredible experience to take a walk in the cool autumn woods. If you’re careful enough, you can expect unexpected encounters.

European legless lizard /Ophisaurus apodus/
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

It can reach up to 150 cm length. It has no legs and its body is long and sinuous like a snake, but still it is a harmless nice lizard, whose main source of food are various insects and snails. This species is widely distributed along the Bulgarian coast as well as in some places throughout the entire country, but especially in Strandja Mountain you will encounter it even without looking for it.

  

The diverse plant life explains the variety of animal life. At present 98 endemic invertebrate species have been discovered, 12 of which relicts. The number of mammals known is 54 and the Veleka River is considered to house the densest population of otter (Lutra lutra) in Bulgaria. 258 bird species have been observed here, among them the Black Stork, Eagle Owl, Corncrake, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Lesser spotted Eagle, Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, etc. But if anything, Strandja is the land of woodpeckers. Of all European types, the three-toed woodpecker is the only one that cannot be seen here.

Bulgaria wildlife photography

Sintomis phegea
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

If butterflies are a passion of yours, from May to July is the best period to visit Strandja Mountain.

Golden Jackal /Canis aureus/ out on a hunt one afternoon
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

The jackal is cautious and wary and difficult to spot. He is not selective regarding food and often hunts in packs. The semi-open terrain of the low mountain, easy to cross and still offering enough places to hide, is perfect for the thriving species. During the last 100 years a definitive rise of the numbers of these animals was noted in this area. Every Strandja night begins with their concert, which reminds everybody that the woods here are not so typical European as we think. And yet, even with its large numbers, the Golden Jackals remain a challenge for the wildlife photographer – a lovely and difficult one.

  

Since for a long time vast areas of the mountain have been considered border areas with limited access, the ecosystem is perfectly preserved in its greatest part. The place has even influenced the people living here. They are calm, even lazy, never in a hurry. The houses are small, modest, blending into the surrounding mountain, as if always part of it. About 15 years ago free access to the mountain and to the very border with Turkey was allowed. Due to the small number of the population here and the wildlife park ”Strandja”, today this place is rich in biodiversity and still wild.

Bulgaria wildlife photography

The woods around Primorsko
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

One of my most favorite, and at the same time easily accessible places for photographing forest birds are the woods near the sea shore. These woods are in their biggest part composed of oak trees separated by many paths and glades.



Bulgaria wildlife photography

Middle spotted Woodpecker
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

Although there are many places in Bulgaria where one could photograph woodpeckers, for me Strandja Mountain is one of the best. It is heaven on earth for woodpecker fans.



Red-breasted Flycatcher (non breading plumage)
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

North Bulgaria and especially the northern face of Stara Planina are the place where this species has chosen for its breeding grounds. However, during migration you could often spot them in parks and woods along the Black See coast. Their small figures with tails pointing to the sky, vigorously dashing around, are easy to spot.



Bulgaria wildlife photography

Nightjar
Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev

I have often seen nightjars enjoying the morning sun at the outskirts of the forest. I often manage to get 2-3 meters away before they spread their wings soundlessly and fly away. Of course, having in mind their perfect camouflage, I am more often the one who is surprised when they dash from virtually under my feet.



Thracian sanctuary Begliktash
Bulgaria wildlife photography

Image copyright 2005 Emil Enchev
The Bulgarian seaside still offers charming places where human presence is rare even in the middle of the tourist season - places where Little Ringed Plover and other vulnerable species manage to raise brood. These are places that still look the same as milleniums ago. How long will this last?