Dec 6 2016
Following our visit to Perperikon, we continued on to the town of Madzharovo, where we had booked a room for the night at the Nature Reserve guest house so we could visit the Madzharovo Vulture Reserve.
It was around a 2 hour drive through the countryside, through sleepy, almost deserted villages until we entered the gorge and sheer rock faces that surround Madzharovo. We wound down to the river Arda and just on the other side of the bridge is the conservation centre, which also doubles as a small hotel with a handful of rooms and a small restaurant. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived so having settled into our room, we decided to have a bit of late lunch and then see if we could spot any vultures. The rooms were fairly basic but more than adequate for a night, of a little on the hot side as there was no air conditioning. The food in the restaurant was good and plentiful. The actual visitors centre was not open and did not seem to have much in it.
After our meal we decided to head up the road to one of the vulture watching tables and see if we could spot any of the famed Griffon and Egyptian Vultures.
We saw a couple of birds of prey circling high in sky but as we found out later, they do not tend to be out when its so hot and so early morning and later on in the evening are the best times to see them. So after searching the rock face through binoculars, we decided to head down to the river, where there was a sandy beach. After be-friending a local stray sheep dog there and having a paddle we headed back towards the town and decided to drive to the centre and see what it had to offer. And the answer is not a lot. Its a strange place, made up of mainly apartment blocks, a newly renovated tourist centre but that was closed, the odd small (closed) cafe and a newly tarmac’d car park that seemed to serve absolutely no purpose. As we found out later, Madzharovo town has a bit of a sad history. The town sprung up due to mining in the area and many families were moved there and apartment blocks built to house them. Unfortunately the miners were not told that it was actually Uranium they were mining for and soon many started to get sick and die. Over the years the mining stopped and many of the inhabitants either left or died from poisoning and the town is now the smallest in Bulgaria with less than 600 people. Radioactive waste was also apparently dumped in the river and still runs off into it according to local gossip.
So it was back to the guest house and time to walk our dog. Behind the guest house there are wooded areas and little trails. We followed one of these up until we met a track and a bird watching hide. I had read about a feeding station for the vultures and judging by the number of cow carcasses lying around this was clearly the place. But when we asked a volunteer staying and working at the conservation centre, he said that the feeding station was no longer really visited by the vultures as the tourists watching them had scared them off and that the area had also been recently cleared of bushes etc to give a clearer view from the hide, but had discouraged the birds. We decided to get up early and see what we could see in the morning and so spent a pleasant evening drinking beer and sampling the food from the restaurant.
We woke up bright and early and armed with binoculars headed down to the bridge. There were not any vultures or eagles around at this point but we were treated to a flock of black herons on the river. After breakfast we drove a little further up the road and soon spotted several vultures circling high in the air. We were told that the middle of summer is not the best time to visit, and spring or autumn offer better viewing, but we were pleased to see a few of the birds and had a pleasant stay.
Next stop was Kardzhali.