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A river valley high in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria, excellent for mountain and forest birds, also botanically rich. Easily accessible from Bansko resort.
A river valley high in the Pirin (Пирин) Mountains between Vihren (2914 m) and Todorin Vrah (2746 m), this site holds an excellent range of alpine and subalpine birds. Above the 2,300-2,400 m tree line, the grassy slopes have Golden Eagle, Yellow-billed Chough, Common Raven, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit, Shore Lark (the Balkan subspecies balcanica with extensive black on the throat, a likely future species split), Ring Ouzel (alpine subspecies alpestris), Rock Bunting and if you are lucky, Wallcreeper.
The mixed conifer forests are important for Nutcracker (look for them collecting seed from Macedonian Pine [Pinus peuce] cones), Common Crossbill (on my visit, two different forms, one small-billed, feeding on Norway Spruce [Picea abies] cones, the other large-billed and closely resembling Parrot Crossbill, feeding on Balkan endemic Bosnian Pine [Pinus heldreichii] cones), Willow Tit (the alpine subspecies montanus), Grey-headed Woodpecker, Black Woodpecker, Goldcrest, Firecrest, Eurasian Treecreeper and Crested Tit. The alpine chalets hold breeding Pallid Swift and Crag Martin, both of which feed widely over the valley, and Black Redstart.
Lower down, the mixed woodland around Bansko holds Middle Spotted Woodpecker (which can even be seen in parks and gardens in Bansko) and Short-toed Treecreeper. Also look for passage migrants like Icterine Warbler and Wood Warbler. Open areas have Hooded Crow, European Serin, and Cirl Bunting as well as Yellowhammer. Overhead, Red-rumped Swallow feed together with more familiar House Martin and Barn Swallow. The river holds White-throated Dipper and Grey Wagtail along its full length.
The mountain resort of Bansko (Банско) has an excellent range of accomodation and can be reached easily by train or bus from the capital Sofia. From Bansko, the best option is to hire a taxi to either the Banderitsa Chalet (Хижа Бъндерица, 14 km) or Vihren Chalet (Хижа Вихрен, 16 km), where you can also stay to explore the area, or walk along the many footpaths back to Bansko.
My visit was in autumn, after most summer visitors had left. If there are other good species to be seen here in spring or summer, please leave a note below and I will add the details!
As well as the many birds, the site holds occasional Brown Bear and Wolf. It is botanically very rich, including the famous 'Байкушевата мура' ('Baikushev's pine'), an ancient Черна мура / Bosnian Pine (Pinus heldreichii) estimated to be over 1,300 years old, one of the oldest trees in the whole of Europe.
Gallery photo below of Nutcracker in the Banderitsa Valley by Amkramer, creative commons cc-by-4.0 license, from iNaturalist via Wikimedia Commons.