Lake Kerkini Greece and Bulgaria
30th January to the 6th February 2020
Lake Kerkini is well known as the place to photograph Dalmatian pelicans. It would be a very easy trip to make by yourself. There are plenty of hotels in the area and a walk around the lake would get you close to the birds, who are very used to people. It would not be that difficult to arrange a boat trip too and buy a bucket full of fish to feed the birds.
However, we had chosen to do an organised trip and used the services of Emil Enchev at www.cometobg.com . I have known Emil for many years and was confident in his abilities.
Emil himself was already leading a tour of Belgium photographers to the Pelicans so Miro was our guide and he picked up Dickie Duckett, Geoff Trinder and myself at Sofia Airport in Bulgaria after our flight with British Airways from Gatwick. I have been with Miro before on a reptile shoot, which is his speciality.
From the airport we drove to the Spotted nutcracker site at the ski resort just outside of Sofia. It is not a long drive and the nutcrackers extremely tame. The weather did catch us out a bit. As we climbed higher the snow became thicker and the temperature dropped. With hindsight we should have put on our winter cloths lower down in drier conditions and not waited until the top car park. We had to open our suitcases in falling snow and get dressed quickly as well as sorting camera gear that was stashed for flying.
The nutcrackers are well known to photographers and a small flock quickly came down to peanuts put out close to the buildings. We took a lot of photographs over several hours. It is a species I have photographed before, but not well and I enjoyed doing them squabbling with each other in snowy conditions.
When we left we headed to Greece. Passports have to be shown as you cross the border, but it takes only a few seconds. Lake Kerkini is not far from here and we reached our hotel in plenty of time for an evening meal.
The following day was an early start and we were on the shoreline before dawn. We boarded a small boat and went to the middle of the lake and waited for sunrise. We were hoping for spectacular light to photograph the pelicans backlit, but the dawn was not so good.
Once there was enough light for flight pictures we started the outboard and headed off across the lake. Miro had a bucket full of fish and as he threw them into the air the pelicans took off and followed behind the boat. The sun was shining, shutter speeds high and the 40-150mm lens on the Olympus M1x was the ideal focal length. It was a fantastic session of flight photography lasting about an hour. The pelicans slow wing beats and spectacular shapes made it fairly easy.
We then returned to the hotel for a late breakfast and back again to the lake to explore and photograph from the shoreline. If the conditions are right there are reflection shots, wide angled shots and plenty of portraits to be had. There are a few Great-white pelicans amongst the Dalmatians, but not many other species to be photographed. Great cormorants if you are lucky.
In the late afternoon we had another session on the boat which was just as good as the first. It was a record day. I shot over 10,000 images, which I have never done before in a single day. Breezebrowser makes for quick editing and I really needed it to cope with these numbers.
Day 3 was a repeat of day 2, except we walked further around the lake looking for other options such as Coypu. We did not see any, but it looks a wonderful place that I would like to visit in the spring.
Day 4 we did a morning boat trip and then back to the hotel for breakfast. After which we headed back to Bulgaria and tried our luck at a hide for Golden eagles and Vultures near Madjarovo.
This was the main reason we booked through Emil as I did not want to travel all that distance just for pelicans. Eagles, Vultures, Jackals and even Wolves come to this hide and we would have 3 days to try.
It was three days of early starts. You enter the hide in darkness and stay until dark on the night. It is a large hide that could take 9 photographers with beds and a toilet and we were only 3. The first day was the best. We had a large number of Griffon vultures down and Golden eagles for a short period. Jackals also showed.
The next day was a complete blank and we saw little and photographed nothing. It makes for a long day, but a Kindle book and a smart phone take some of the boredom away.
The last day was interesting. It was raining and a Golden eagle came in early. The light was dismal and I mostly shot video which copes with poor light very well. The eagle left and the rain turned to snow. Now it was exciting. Anything that came would look fantastic in falling snow, which was settling on the floor.
We waited and it got better, or is it worse. Getting to the hide requires a four wheel drive with very large off road tyres and it started to occur to me we might have a problem getting out. About 2pm Miro sent us a text. "do you want to leave". No was the answer, but I worded my response differently. "Are you worried we might not get out?". The reply was "I am very worried".
So we left without any wolf pictures in the snow. And Miro was right to be worried. We decided to drive back to Sofia that night and getting down the mountain was the easy part. The road to Sofia was heavy with snow for the first 100km or so and there were times I thought we were going to have to get out and push.