Wild in Bulgaria When I decided to move to Bulgaria I was looking for a rural retreat, somewhere quiet where I could develop my idea for a project that would offer artists a peaceful haven in which to work. I knew that I liked living in the countryside, having had two spells of rural life in my native Scotland, one of them in the arts community that inspired me to develop UFO Studios. What I had not reckoned on was the pleasure and delight I would get from watching the teeming wildlife of this surprising country. Within the house and grounds of the property I purchased, I found many interesting old items, including a wildlife map of Bulgaria. That map indicated the native mammals and birds, but gave no mention of the fantastical nature of the insect life, or real indication of the immense variety and size of the creatures that live here. Bulgaria has many mammals and fowl, some of which are only to be found in the mountainous regions, and Ivancha is far from the mountains. Bears, wild boar, and eagles may be seen elsewhere but not here. However, in the northern part of the Turnovo region there is still much to excite and amaze. Discovering that I was sharing my home with a number of rats did not excite me though. Thankfully, my dogs soon chased them out with my older dog, Lisko, proving herself to be an excellent ratcatcher.
It was winter when I moved here and for the first month I saw very little life beyond the occasional bird, rat or mouse. Then my friend Garry arrived and told me that he could hear rats in the roofspace above his bedroom, very noisy rats. I listened and thought that the noise was terribly loud and indicated a great deal of activity that did not sound ratlike to me. It was with some relief that we learned it was indeed pine martens who were in residence up above. Whilst they made a racket that was irritating when trying to get to sleep, they did at least stay up in the attic and had no interest in roaming around our living quarters. Now, like the rats before them, they too seemed to have moved on, presumably the presence of humans and dogs not being to their liking. Spring arrived and the snows melted and a whole new, and fascinating, world appeared. The garden had been unattended for several years and had become home to a tribe of hedgehogs. We had to rescue and evict at least twenty to save them from the cruel and bloody fate of falling victim to Lisko, who killed ten or more.
And these were hedgehogs like no others I have ever seen. In Scotland, a hedgehog can sit in the palm of one hand, here they are the size of a young cat, require both hands to lift, and must weigh at least a kilo.
A woodpecker decided to carve out a nest in the apple tree beside my kitchen window. I watched it work away for several days as the pile of sawdust at the base of the tree grew larger. Then the storks suddenly appeared, which thrilled me immensely. I had seen storks many times in North Africa but to have several huge nests within the village, to watch their young grow and take flight, and to have those magnificent birds swooping low over the garden on a daily basis is wonderful. Cuckoos call and doves coo incessantly and, on walks, European bee-eaters and pheasants are frequently seen. Harrier hawks, kestrels and buzzards are also sighted hovering above the fields. And at dusk, I’ve seen a large owl and, of course, many bats. Blue and green tits, golden orioles, larks, magpies and starlings also share our space, whilst swallows swoop in and above and around the buildings constantly. April brings the loud noise of mating frogs, a number of which are found hopping about the paths with some even entering the house on occasion. And when the trees are in blossom, we hear the surprisingly soothing hum of hundreds of bees, the producers of our delicious, local honey. From late May until mid-June, we enjoy spectacular evening displays in the garden courtesy of the fireflies. There is a huge badger den on the nearby hill, although these nocturnal creatures have not been sighted. However, foxes, rabbits and hares have been and, on one occasion, my neighbour and I witnessed a large, wild cat stalking its prey in a field. On another occasion, driving out of the village just before dawn, I saw a pack of jackals. These wild dogs roam the hills and often pass by the village at night, their distinct, high-pitched howling sending the local dogs into a frenzy of barking.
Small, green lizards abound, as do the snakes which appear about the same time. The local advice is to ignore the large brown snakes which are harmless to humans but good at keeping the rodent population under control. However, we could all do without the poisonous vipers that my cat, Leo, seems adept at catching, having brought at least three home, one of which was still alive. Despite my delight at being surrounded by this abundance of wildlife, nothing could have prepared me for the weird, wonderful and sometimes scary looking insects that appear from late spring onwards. Large flying insects I cannot name, including an apparently idiotic one that is constantly flying into walls. Then there are delicate white, and common brown, moths, an abundance of butterflies in various hues, dragonflies and several types of caterpillar.
We have huge preying mantis, some a fluorescent green, others a reddish brown colour, giving them the appearance of small sticks when immobile. There are also enormous beetles and a metallic green beetle-like insect that flies. And never in my life have I seen so many ladybirds in one place, literally hundreds in the UFO garden alone. But the most weird looking insect of all is the mole cricket, a creature that looks almost reptilian but is in fact a large type of cricket that uses its paddle-shaped front legs to burrow holes in the earth, hence it’s name.
Of course there is a downside to the insect life: a tiny black insect that bites me more than my sallow-skinned neighbours, and the dreaded mosquito which plagues us all for some months. Then, as autumn approaches and the temperatures begin to fall, a multitude of flies seek refuge in the warmth of the house. These cause a real problem for a few weeks, fortunately it’s not too long before they die off.
Apart from the sheer variety of creatures, the fact that they are almost always much larger than their equivalents in the United Kingdom never ceases to amaze. Even the common garden worms are like small snakes with some measuring at least 30 centimetres long and having the girth of a forefinger. It is impossible to mention all the numerous members of the local wildlife population but perhaps the reader will appreciate that here, in the Bulgarian countryside, we are privileged to be so close to a wonderful, untamed world. May, 2012