Group Meeting – 26th April 2019

Tricia Hall, the Group’s wildlife expert, delivered a fascinating reflection on a recent holiday in Bulgaria in an illustrated talk entitled ‘Birds, Butterflies and Bears’. Accompanied by her good friends Charles and Eileen Cuthbert, they flew from Gatwick to Sofia, the nation’s capital, for the start of a wildlife holiday that did not go exactly to plan. They were met by their kind and generous (but not very knowledgeable) guide, Kosta, and soon found that they were the only participants on the holiday. Kosta drove them east in a minibus stopping en-route to see butterflies where they were rewarded to see several Black-veined Whites (extinct in Britain since the 1920s).

Their first hotel was in the town of Koprivishtitsa, built in the typical style of the town with little wooden balconies and thin walls. Many of the houses there are ’National Revival’ houses and are colourfully painted. This town is also the location of the momentous April Rising of 1876 against the Ottoman rule and on a hill above the town there is a memorial to mark the event. Many Spotted Flycatchers were seen here and under a bridge Dippers were seen in the river feeding their young.

The next day they headed along the main road and visited a stunning meadow which was full of flowers: Catchflies, Vetchlings, Trefoils, Plantains and thousands of Yellow Rattles. A day-flying Speckled Yellow moth, a Boletus species and a large Bush Cricket were found, also Cuckoos, Yellowhammers and Chiffchaffs could be heard calling. There were many more highlights on the trip including an unexpected visit to a grim housing block, from the days of Soviet occupation, where Kosta’s mother had prepared a typical Bulgarian tea for them.

After an arduous trek in a four-wheel truck up a mountainside for their bear watch, many hours were spent in a small hide near to areas baited with maize, apples and fish. This eventually paid dividends when firstly a small bear came into view and then at dusk a large European bear made an appearance, but unfortunately it was already too dark to photograph it.

A further unscheduled visit took them to a Tortoise breeding area. These tortoises were mostly rescued, unwanted pets and were kept in pens on the dry slopes above the marshes and Tricia, Charles and Eileen were able to hold some of the babies. Towards the end of the holiday they found themselves near to the Serbian border where Kosta was stopped by police in case he was transporting illegal immigrants!

Upon their return to Sofia ready for their flight home they were saddened to see many buildings covered in graffiti, including the holiday company’s premises, but this did not deflect from their thorough enjoyment of the holiday.

A short AGM followed where existing committee members were re-elected unopposed.

In lieu of the regular Nature Notes slot an interesting short film was shown about the work of Ferring Country Centre made by the late Mike Hall.

To conclude the meeting Ed Miller updated the Group with the latest planning news: the ASDA application for a 24 hour extension during the Christmas period was approved by Arun DC along with the extension to the Yeoman’s premises along the A259 in Ferring. Also Quercus Nurseries have applied for a variation to extend the time they can receive deliveries.