On the warmest day of the fall we find ourselves in a place full of water, sun and winged inhabitants. However, our appearance in the “kingdom of birds” does not cause a great deal of turmoil. Exactly the opposite. A group of colorful ducks, noticed us from a distance away, were being built in several rows and, as on a captain’s command nimbly sails to our shore. There another band moored on the land, patties us in a friendly greeting and, with a clumsy twist, joins the group in an irritating manner. Then our eyes are drawn by a long-haired swan who carefully practices gracefulness on the mirror lake surface.
“From here on we have guests,” said us the smiling Anna Yancheva by the Via Pontica Fondation and a manager of the Ecopark for Biodiversity and Alternative Tourism “Vaya”, Ecopark for Biodiversity and Alternative Tourism when we pass a yellow plate with clearly defined rules of conduct for the visitors. Anna is the person who watches the well-being of the residents of the Park, which is located only 15 kilometers from Burgas, near Vaya Lake.
Children are among the most frequent visitors of Ecopark for biodiversity and alternative tourism “Vaya”. The Lake and the Ecopark are part of the European Ecological Network Natura 2000 and are a protected area, and since 2001 the site has been declared a Wetland of International Importance,” explains Anna, before taking us through the Swans’ favorite water corner inside the eco-park. Until recently, Great White Pelicans (in Bulgaria already the only migratory species, included in the Red Book as a disappeared nesting) also made them company (albeit from a decent distance), but flew south a few days ago. In the spring, however, they are waiting for them to return. The small islet in the center of the water basin, which now turned white from the European Herring and Caspian Gulls that had fallen on it, has been a reserved territory of the long-legged birds. “The Pelicans piled on it, literally stepping on one another and forming a pyramidal shape,” laughs Anna.
Rare birds choose the Ecopark as their natural habitat, because they feel that people here are not a threat but a friendly presence. And because there is enough live catch. “We try to keep the environment as close as possible to the natural environment, we have extensive fish farms and do not feed the animals,” Anna explains. “This year we finally saw a Black Stork,” she tells us.
The place has naturally become a refuge for injured birds as well. “We cooperate with the Wildlife Rescue Center in Stara Zagora, from where birds are sent here for rehabilitation,” says Ana. Many of these winged newcomers are choosing to make the Ecopark their permanent home. They are sheltered here and quite affected by poaching birds, which quickly get along with the other wildlife. At the beginning of February, the Stara Zagora Rescue Center has chosen to release over 40 birds in this Ecopark – large White-fronted Geese, Green-headed Ducks, as well as a Great White Pelican, because the environment is not only natural but also safe.
“I think our greatest achievement is that we are here. Two years ago, when there were heavy flooding in the region, everything was underwater and we had to start over. But with a persistence, volunteer work and collaboration with various NGOs, we were able to rebuild and upgrade the Ecopark,”says Ana. It is also a success that on the territory of the reserve, people and birds can interact with each other all year round and get to know each other – without fear and in harmony.
Vaya Lake in numbers and facts
Vaya is the largest Bulgarian lake and is one of the four lakes of the Burgas Lake Complex. It is a shallow freshwater/brackish liman with associated marshy areas and extensive reedbeds, which is connected to the sea by a canal with a gate, but is also filled with the waters of the Aitos, Sunderdere and Chukarska rivers, which flow into its western part. It has a volume of about 20 million m3 and its area is 27.6 km2. The length of the lake is 9.6 km, its largest width is 4.7 km, and in the middle narrows to 2.3 km.
Located in the Black Sea biogeographic area, home to nearly 270 bird species, the Bulgaria’s largest lake is a unique place over which the Via Pontica migration route and is of great importance for biodiversity, especially for birds. Over 100,000 birds, including the globally endangered Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) and the Red-breasted Goose (Branta), Europe’s endangered Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), and Gray Heron (Ardeola ralloides), Little Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus) and Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) gather here annually, during the migration and wintering period, as an important intermediate point and a place to stay for a large number of water, predatory and sparrow birds.
The lake is one of the most important places in the country, important for the European Union for the conservation of the breeding Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus). The Vaya Lake is the only place in Bulgaria where up to 7% of the Black Sea population of White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) is concentrated.
Several species of animals are listed on the lake in the IUCN Red List – 5 invertebrates, 4 fishes, 4 amphibians, 3 reptiles, 5 birds and 3 mammals.