Eremophila alpestris balcanica (Reichenow, 1895)
Otocoris penicilata (Gould, 1824): Reiser, 1894: 63, Klain, 1909: 25.
Conservation status: in Bulgaria: Vulnerable VU [A4 a,c,e], BDA-III; International: BeC-II.
General distribution. A Holarctic species with 40 subspecies in the Holarctic and partly Latin America. The subspecies E. a. balcanica is endemic for the Balkan peninsula, after 1960 it has also been breeding in the Southern Carpathians .
Distribution and abundance in Bulgaria. Resident, during the autumn-winter period wandering also in the valleys. In the past it was numerous in the mountains – the Balkan range, Rila, Pirin, Slavyanka and the Western Rhodopes . The numbers were not estimated. It also breeds in the mountains Sredna Gora, Vasilyovska Planina and Vitosha, and in the Western Rhodopes in the mountains Batashka Planina, Pelerik, Bukova Planina and Dabrash . The breeding territory is about 70 000 ha, but below 2 200 – 2 400 m it is also inhabited by the skylark Alauda arvensis. The density of the populations in the country is 0,3 – 1 breeding pairs/ 10 ha [4; Spiridonov, unpublished information], and the numbers are 3 000 – 4 200 breeding pairs. The whole population of the subspecies is about 5 000 – 10 000 pairs .
Habitats. Meadows and pastures, including stony and rocky terrains, in the high-mountainous zone without forests, mainly on the sunlit slopes and ridges, less often in the zone of the forests, rarely under 1 400 m.
Biology. It multiplies from May to July but it appears that the Balkan subspecies has clutches in the lower parts of the mountains and in April. Feeding of a young bird that had already flown was registered on 3 May . The nest is made in a hole in the ground, hidden amongst grass tufts and stones. It has 2 clutches yearly with 3-4 (up to 6) eggs each time [2; 7]. The females incubate. With other subspecies incubation lasts for 10-14 days, and the period of stay of the young ones in the nests is 9-12 days . Food: seeds, in the summer insects and centipedes . The breeding territory of the pairs in the mountains Central Balkan range and Northeastern Rila is 3-5 ha [4; 8; Spiridonov, unpublished information].
Similar species. The subspecies Eremophila alpestris flava.
Negative factors. The succession of the Siberian juniper and the forest in the meadows after the decay of mountain sheep breeding in the last 20 years . Competition by the Skylark. Poisoning by seeds treated with pesticides during the autumn wanderings is also possible.
Conservation measures taken. Protected according to the Biological Diversity Act. Declaration of the mountains Pirin, Rila and the Central Balkans as National Parks, Vitosha mountain, the Rila Monastery and Balgarka as Natural Parks, and the buffer zone of the Alibotush Reserve. The action plans of the National Parks allow moderate pastures, maintaining the mountainous meadows and restriction of the juniper.
Conservation measures needed. Declaration of natural parks in the Western mountains Balkan range, Sredna Gora, the Western Rhodopes, Pirin and of protected territories for separate habitats of the species. Restriction of the invasion of the bush vegetation into important breeding habitats of the species.
References. 1. Munteanu, Svensson, 1997. 2. Patev, 1950. 3. Iankov, in press. 4. Spiridonov et al., 1987. 5. BirdLife International, 2004. 6. Georgiev, 1988. 7. Makatsch, 1976. 8. Spiridonov, 1984. 9. Spiridonov, 2000.
Authors: Geko Spiridonov, Georgi Stoyanov