Bulgaria | Neophron Tours | Woodpeckers, Owls and Grouse Tour

This tour gives a great opportunity to see all the nine resident species of woodpeckers occurring in Europe, plus some elusive species of owls and grouse, staying high in the wish-list of many birders.

We begin this tour exploring the Rila Mountains. This is landscape of exceptional natural beauty, boasting high peaks over 2500 m and fascinating alpine meadows dotted with glacial lakes, dense forests, spectacular rocky gorges and precipitous cliffs. On the first day of our arrival, before darkness we will check the conifer forests for Eurasian Pygmy Owl and Tengmalm’s Owl. We will spend the whole next day exploring the conifer forests of the Rila Mountains, where we will be searching for the Eurasian Pygmy Owl and Hazel Grouse, as well as for the Black and Grey-headed Woodpeckers. Other mountain species that we may expect to see here include the Great Spotted Woodpecker, Spotted Nutcracker, Ring Ouzel (ssp. alpestris), Crested Tit, Willow Tit, Firecrest, Common Crossbill, Eurasian Siskin.

On the third day we move on to the area of the Western Rhodope Mountains. On the way we will check a few places for Three-toed Woodpecker (ssp. alpinus) and Eurasian Pygmy Owl.

The next morning we will spend walking in the conifer and deciduous forests of the Western Rhodopes with good chances to see a Hazel Grouse, Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers. Other interesting birds we may expect to see here include the above mentioned White-throated Dipper and Rock Bunting, plus Sombre Tit, Marsh Tit, Bullfinch, etc.

Next we transfer to the Central Balkan Mountains with stops in the lowland deciduous forests and orchards, searching for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and European Green Woodpecker. While passing the settlements in the plains we will have excellent chances to observe the Syrian Woodpecker and Little Owl as well.

The Balkan Mountain Range, crossing the whole territory of Bulgaria from west to east, is characterized mainly with its extensive beech forests, conifer forest, mountain meadows and enormous rock formations. This site is one of the wildlife-richest parts of Bulgaria. The whole next day we will explore the area of the Central Balkan National Park. Here our target species will be the White-backed Woodpecker (ssp. lilfordi). We can also expect to see here the Black Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. In the evening we will visit some of the beech forests in the area, where we will have good chances to find the Tawny Owl and Ural Owl.

Moving on to the Western Balkan Mountains (to the north of Sofia), we will be searching for Eurasian Eagle Owl and different species of woodpeckers, accenting on those ones which we have missed or not seen well in the previous days.

For the last two days we will be based in the vicinity of Sofia. We will spend a full day in the Western Balkan Mountains searching for Rock Partridge and again, we will try to find those species of birds, which we have missed or not seen well in the previous days. Some of the species of birds likely to be seen here include the White-backed Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Black Woodpecker, Alpine Chough, Golden Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Sombre Tit, Rock Bunting and Cirl Bunting.

Top Five Birds

  1. Three-toed Woodpecker
  2. White-backed Woodpecker
  3. Pygmy Owl
  4. Rock Partridge
  5. Hazel Grouse


At Terra Incognita we support tours that do good in the world. They must help to conserve the environment, support local people, and educate their guests. Here’s what Dimiter Georgiev from Neophron Tours said to us…

What conservation activities do you support through the tour, and your wider operations?

One of our ultimate goals has always been to raise funds to help wildlife conservation in the different areas we visit during our tours in Bulgaria. Thanks to funds generated through our tours and the support of our tour participants, we recently launched a special Wildlife Conservation Fund to help conserve the national populations of a number of rare and endangered species of birds, such as the breeding Egyptian Vulture and Griffon Vulture in the Eastern Rhodopes, the Eastern Imperial Eagle in the Sakar Hills, the Semi-collared Flycatcher in the oak forests of the Eastern Balkan Range, the wintering Red-breasted Goose in the Coastal Dobroudzha and many others.

Through this tour specifically, we raise funds to put Pygmy Owl and Tengmalm’s Owl nest boxes in coniferous forests in the higher mountains in South-Western Bulgaria in order to improve the conditions there and support their breeding. We also help local Bulgarian NGOs, and the Wildllife Conservation Society in particular, in their crucial work for preservation of different biodiversity rich areas in Bulgaria and saving those areas from deterioration.

How does the tour support local people?

While organizing our tours we always try to support the local service providers (family-run hotels and restaurants, local logistics companies, etc.) and promote environment friendly tourism, believing that this will contribute to improving the life of local people and will raise their awareness to wildlife and nature conservation.

What type of environmental education activities do you incorporate into your tour?

Our tour leaders are local bird and biodiversity experts that are more than familiar with the species and places to be visited. They are wildlife enthusiasts always ready to answer your questions and show you all the peculiarities the areas can offer. Many of them have been working on, or are currently involved in different biodiversity conservation projects and eagerly share the news, results and achievements of these initiatives with our tour participants.


“The best part of the tour was finally connecting with Three-toed Woodpecker before breakfast on the last morning of the tour! We had already had some most memorable birds on the trip but this was the icing on the cake! I think our guide was almost as happy as I was, he had put so much effort into finding it!

I chose the tour becuase of the thoroughness of preparations pre-tour and then the quality of the guides on the tour itself. Apart from their knowledge of the various habitats their sheer passion and commitment shone through! If you want to see some of the most sought-after birds in Bulgaria in the company of people who really care about their environment this is the tour for you!

A wonderful tour!” Chris Day, Neophron Tours Woodpeckers, Owls & Grouse, Bulgaria April 2018.

• Experience of the tour = 5/5
• Tour’s contribution to conservation = 5/5
• Tour’s contribution to local communities = 5/5
• The education the tour = 5/5

“To select just one memory from such a fantastic trip would be far too difficult. But a few stand out moments include: prolonged daytime views of Eurasian pygmy owl singing; being surrounded by singing scops owls in a local park; a pair of displaying wallcreepers just feet in front of us; black woodpeckers asserting their territories with deep drumming and echoing calls; and breathtaking and such varied scenery throughout the whole trip.

Their overall enthusiasm was outstanding, they worked tirelessly to help us all get onto the birds as quickly as possible and making sure we all got great views. But what was more heartwarming was that they always put the bird and its welfare first! This is something which I can’t say about other tour groups. They helped explain all about the areas we visited, the birds we would be likely to see, their habits, behaviours and key features to help us ID the birds. They were sharp to calls and song which helped ensure key species were seen. Local knowledge was exceptional including the history of certain areas that really opened the groups eyes to our surroundings and helped gain a deeper understanding.

If you want to visit a country full of fauna and flora with breathtaking landscapes where you can go from snow-topped mountains to open grasslands in just a few short hours then what are you waiting for. This trip offers a great chance to see a whole range of Eastern European and Western Palearctic specialities at a comfortable pace led by amazing and friendly people who will make you feel relaxed and make sure you enjoy the trip as much as possible. James Shergold Woodpeckers, Owls and Grouse Tour – Bulgaria April 2016.

  • Experience of the tour = 5/5
  • Tour’s contribution to conservation = 5/5
  • Tour’s contribution to local communities = 5/5
  • The education the tour = 5/5



Tour Operator | Neophron Tours
Contact Name |  Dimiter Georgiev
Contact Email | info@neophron.com
Website | http://neophrontours.bg/
Tour Info | http://neophrontours.bg/tour/woodpeckers-owls-and-grouse/

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