Saturday, 17 February 2018

SPRING & SUMMER WILDLIFE TOURS TO SLOVENIA

This year we are cooperating with a local tour operator for the organization of some wildlife tours to Slovenia. For spring and summer 2018 there are four tours in program. Anyone interested in taking part to the tours can take a look below for the details and booking.


1. WOW TOUR - Woodpeckers, Owls & Wallcreepers. An early spring birding tour in the Notranjska region, concentrating on some interesting forests species such as Three-toed, Middle Spotted and White-backed Woodpecker, Ural Owl and others. Wintering Wallcreepers will still be possible to observe on the limestone cliffs of the Notranjska and Primorska regions. More info and detailed program at: info@adriawildlife.com. BOOK SOON - booking open until the end of February.


2. WILD SLOVENIA: Birds, Bears & Botany. A more general wildlife tour that will see us looking for birds in the Notranjska forests, at Cerknica lake, in the dry karstic meadows and at wetlands along the Slovene coast. During our trips we will also pay attention to the interesting and endemic flora of the region and see several species of wild orchids. From specifically-built photography hides we will have the chance to observe Brown Bears in their natural habitat. More info and detailed program at: info@wild-slovenia.com.


3. SPRING TOUR IN THE DINARIC MOUNTAINS. A general wildlife tour to the Notranjska region, looking for birds like Common Rosefinch, Barred Warbler (photo above), Corncrake, White-tailed Eagle and rare plants such as the endemic Carniolan Primrose Primula carniolica. We will visit a vast array of habitats: from wetlands and wet meadows, to mixed forests and dry grasslands. 


4. SUMMER TOUR IN THE ALPS. The focus of this tour will be the varied wildlife that inhabits the Julian Alps. Among birds we will look for Snowfinch, Alpine Chough, Wallcreeper, Rock Partridge and Griffon Vulture. The beautiful alpine flora will be a constant presence during our trips and we will see rare plants like Campanula zoysii (photo above), Potentilla nitida, Physoplexis comosa and many others. Other typical mountain animals like Alpine Marmot, Alpine Ibex, Alpine Chamois and the rare Apollo Butterfly are also expected. 


For more wildlife tours to Slovenia see WILDSLOVENIA - TOURS

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Štajerska in winter

Last week we spent a relaxed couple of days in the Štajerska region of northeastern Slovenia. We visited some of the best wetland sites in the country, trying to see the typical winter visitors of the river Drava's basin. Although this seems to be one of the worst winters in terms of wintering wildfowl numbers and rare birds, we still managed to observe some species that were interesting to us and otherwise uncommon in western Slovenia. To give you an idea about the birding potential of these areas, check the following old posts from this blog: Pannonian migration in April, Pannonia in spring, 5-star birding, Long-tailed Ducks & rare swans, Pallas's Gull.
Lake Ormož was the richest site in terms of numbers and species. 14 Smews Mergellus albellus were the biggest attraction there, but we also found another 3 at the Medvedce reservoir. These hardy northern birds are regular but scarce winter visitors to Slovenia. Most overwinter along the Drava river and at surrounding reservoirs, while small numbers descend to the wetlands of western Slovenia only in the colder winters. At lake Ormož there was also a great concentration of other diving ducks: Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula (several hundreds), Pochards Aythya ferina and Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula (some tens).

Goosanders Mergus merganser also regularly winter on large water bodies such as lakes and reservoirs, while in spring they breed on most of the larger Slovenian rivers. We observed a total of 12 individuals, both at Medvedce reservoir and lake Ormož.
Last but not least among the sawbills was a drake Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator at the Rače fishponds. It is a common winter visitor to the Adriatic coast of western Slovenia and northeast Italy, but a rare species inland.

Lake Ormož was also full of Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmeus - literally hundreds of them roosting on the dead trees sticking out of the lake. Like in many other countries, the species had a huge increase in Slovenia in recent years.

In a village near Maribor we payed a visit to a daytime roost of Long-eared Owls Asio otus and counted 44 birds in the tall pines of a garden. This species is common only in the lowlands of central and eastern Slovenia, thus not a bird we see very often.

Another lowland species, commoner in the east is Stock Dove Columba oenas. We saw several small flocks of this interesting bird, which unlike other doves, uses tree holes for nesting.

Being at Ormož lake, we couldn't skip a visit to DOPPS' brand new nature reserve - Ormoške lagune (the Ormož lagoons). This is a system of disused industrial reservoirs, converted into a nature reserve. In the above reedbed the first breeding of Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus for Slovenia was documented last year. The site is a magnet for breeding & migrant waterbirds and Otters Lutra lutra are also regularly seen. We didn't see much during our visit, but it is certainly a place we will need to revisit!
 
The artifical lake of Ormož is a water reservoir built on the river Drava. Although it has concrete riverbanks and virtually no vegetation, it is still one of the most important wintering grounds for waterbirds in Slovenia. The Ormož lagoons Nature Reserve were part of the above industrial complex - a sugar factory, now completely disused.

Snowdrops Galanthus nivalis carpeting the forest floor and riverbanks around Ormož.

Here and there also the first crocuses Crocus vernus were in flower.

In a patch of riparian forest at the Ormož lagoons Nature Reserve we also found this interesting fungus, a Scarlet Elf Cup Sarcoscypha austriaca (or S. coccinea).  S. austriaca and S. coccinea seem to be quite difficult (or impossible?) to separate in the field, however, the great majority of finds in Slovenia involve S. austriaca.
Crested Lark Galerida cristata - a common bird in areas of intensive farming.

A smart male Kestrel Falco tinnunculus posing in front of the camera.

The vast agricultural landscape of eastern Slovenia, interspersed with patches of forest, supports a huge Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus population. In winter groups of 30 or more individuals are easy to see.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Ural Owl in the Karst

Forest birds are not easy to detect, especially in winter. A considerable amount of effort is usually needed to observe secretive birds and exciting encounters are few. But when these happen, the feelings are so overwhelming that all the efforts are quickly repaid. To us, observations of difficult-to-see forest species are certainly the most satisfactory of all! One such case is when we spot a Ural Owl Strix uralensis. Although not a rare bird in Slovenian forests, is nevertheless not easy to observe. Yesterday's encounter with this owl was even more exciting, because we found it not in a classical Dinaric forest of southern Slovenia (where the species is abundant), but in a Karst's woodland, only some 8 km away from Sežana. We flushed the Ural Owl when we were walking along a forest track, but the vegetation was so thick, it was quite hard to locate the bird when it landed. The owl's colours matched perfectly the grey trunks of the surrounding forest. At the end we managed at least to take the above shots and enjoy the perched bird for a while. It was actively hunting and frequently staring at the ground as it's usual for the species. After about 15 minutes we left the bird in peace when it silently flapped away into some distant trees.
The encounter was certainly unexpected, although a few years ago we already observed 2 Ural Owls, some 3 km further to the east. The species doesn't breed in this part of Slovenia and there are only a handful of winter and autumn records for the Karst. But in recent years Ural Owl has been spreading its range westwards. Apart from increasing cases of overwintering, maybe, in a few year's time, we can even expect the first breeding in this area...

Friday, 19 January 2018

Wallcreepers, Dippers & woodpeckers

This is the perfect title summarising the birds that we most like to see in winter. Few other birds make the dull and cold winter days more livelier than the above trio. We'll start with the most interesting to foreign birders an locals alike: Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria. This rare bird lives on inaccessible cliffs in the Alps and its breeding distribution is still poorly known in Slovenia. Needless to say, it's not easy to find one in the Alps in summer. Much easier is to wait for winter and look for it on the south-facing limestone cliffs of the Karst edge (W Slovenia, NE Italy & NW Croatia). In the past week we checked some of the locations close to home and observed 3 different Wallcreepers. Two were chasing each other on the same cliff, while the third was on another location some 5 km away (above pics). The latter showed well for quite a long time and allowed us to make this short VIDEO (watch HD).

Last weekend we took part in the yearly International Waterbird Census (IWC) and were assigned to two small rivers in the Vipava valley. The rivers are fast-flowing and not very wide, so we didn't see any of the true waterbirds or wildfowl one might expect on such a census. But it was nevertheless exciting, as we counted 12 Dippers Cinclus cinclus. These smart semi-acquatic passerines are common on mountain streams in Slovenia and are frequently the only species recorded by most of the IWC volunteers counting on rivers in the north and west of the country. Some of the Dippers in the Vipava valley were already very territorial and we even observed a pair in courtship. These early breeders are in full spring mode!

Here we go again with the Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius. In recent months there has been an expansion (invasion?) from Slovenia into northeast Italy, where previously the species was totally absent. Now even in the Italian Karst, in the outskirts of Trieste, records of Middle Spots are becoming increasingly regular. The above bird was photographed in Italy, only 3 km away from the nearest Slovenian breeding grounds. It's just a matter of time, before the first breeding pair for the whole of northern Italy is found (the species only breeds locally in central and southern Italy).
Shortly after the above Middle Spot was seen, two Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor and a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius landed on nearby trees and went to roost. Soon the first Blacks will start with nest excavation and the woodpecker season will finally kick in!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Winter botany?

It's mid winter, but the botanist inside us is never at rest! In the warmer parts of the Karst, some vernal plants are making an early appearence. Actually this is the time when the very first spring flowers usually start to appear. Primroses, Helleborus and Crocuses for example are typical late-winter plants. Moreover the weather has been unusually warm recently, with temparatures rising up to 15 degrees C at times and this certainly encouraged the blooms.
Here's a selection of the plants that made us a bit more cheerful during our recent winter excursions.

Tommasini's Sandwort Moehringia tommasinii - endemic to SW Slovenia, NW Croatia and extreme NE Italy (see IUCN factsheet). It grows on sunny limestone cliffs that even in winter can support a mild microclimate, encouraging early blooms. The above shot was taken a few days ago in the Osp cliff  - the species' typical locality in Slovenia.

Welden's Crocus Crocus weldenii - a Balkanic species present at a couple of locations in the Trieste Karst, not far from the Slovenian border. There are a few doubtful historic data for Slovenia and the species has not yet been discovered in the country. However, even the small Italian population is of uncertain origins.

Primrose Primula vulgaris - the harbinger of spring?

Helleborus multifidus ssp. istriacus - very common species in the Karst.

Pale Corydalis Pseudofumaria alba - growing commonly at the Osp cliffs.
 
Arabis turrita
 
Butcher's Broom Ruscus aculeatus - a very common shrub in the Karst's termophilous woodlands.
 
Southern Polypody Polipodium australe
(also P. cambricum) - the southern relative of the Common Polypody P. vulgare. It grows on or near limestone cliffs, usually in more shaded places. It is very common at the Osp cliffs.
 
These could possibly be the leaves of a Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea, photographed a few days ago in the flysch hills near Kozina. Certainly a very early record.

Hazel Corylus avellana - catkins.

Bird's-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis - last year's plant "sprouting" from the snow.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

WILD 2017 in SLOVENIA

The time has come for the traditional yearly review of our best wildlife encounters in 2017. In this final post there is as usual a selection of plants and birds, but also butterflies - our new summer addiction! Among other things, at the beginning of 2017 we spent two months in Romania (highlights at Wild Delta Experience), while in the autumn we launched our long-term project - the WildSlovenia website. It was an important and decisive year indeed!
More exciting wildlife to come in 2018, so stay tuned and enjoy the pics! ;-)

Footprint of Lynx Lynx lynx in the snow; Mt Snežnik, January.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos; Javorniki Mts, April.
We found this female by sound and discovered it was excavating a nest-hole.

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Javorniki Mts, April.

Fritillaria orientalis; Karst, April.

Orchis pallens; Karst, April.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius; Karst, May.
Sara found the species' first nest of the Karst. Watch the video.

Paeonia officinalis; Karst, May.

Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus; Karst, May.

Neotinea ustulata; Karst, May.

Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria; Pivka temporary lakes, May.

Iris sibirica; Nanoščica river basin, May.

Lady's-slippers Cypripedium calceolus; Kamnik-Savinja Alps, May. 
The most exciting find of 2017!

Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis; Mt Nanos, May.

Watching Rock Thrush on the rocky slopes of Nanos in May.

Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia; Mt Nanos, May.

Woodland Brown Lopinga achine; Mt Slivnica, June.

Scarce Fritillary Euphydryas maturna; Mt Slivnica, June.

Purple-edged Copper Lycaena hippothoe; Mt Slivnica, June.

Clouded Apollo Parnassius mnemosyne; Mt Slivnica, June.

Field naturalist, always ready for the job: from birds to butterflies!

Nigritella lithopolitanica; Kamnik-Savinja Alps, June.

Lilium martagon; Trnovski gozd, June.

Lilium carniolicum; Southern edge of Trnovski gozd, June.

Black Storks Ciconia nigra; Ilirska Bistrica, July.

Stag Beetle Lucanus cervus; Karst, July.

This summer's largest Stag Beetle, climbing the house's wall to take off.

Lesser Grey Shrikes Lanius minor; Vipava valley, July.

Eagle Owl Bubo bubo; Karst edge in northeast Italy, July.

Echinops ritro ssp. ruthenicus; Southern edge of Trnovski gozd, July.

Gentiana lutea; Southern edge of Trnovski gozd, July.

Scarce Large Blue Phengaris teleius; Ilirska Bistrica, July.

Alpine Marmot Marmota marmota; Mt Črna prst, July.

Our new alpine cottage! :-)

Gentiana pannonica; Pokljuka plateau (Triglav National Park), August.

Peričnik waterfall (Triglav National Park), August.

Adder Vipera berus; Triglav National Park, August.

Alpine Ibex Capra ibex; Montasio plateau (northeast Italy), August.

Linaria alpina; Montasio plateau (northeast Italy), August.

Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria & Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis paphia; Triglav National Park, August.


Alpine Eryngo Eryngium alpinum; Mt Črna prst (Triglav National Park), August.
One of the most exciting and rare plants we've seen this year.

Large Copper Lycaena dispar; Nanoščica river basin, August.

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica; Škocjanski zatok, September.

Brown Bear Ursus arctos; Snežnik plateau, September.

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos; Mt Nanos, September.
We witnessed an attack to an Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra - watch the video.

 Autumn Lady's-tresses Spiranthes spiralis; Karst, September.

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus; Snežnik forests, October.

This is how we photograph Three-toed Woodpeckers!

 Autumn colours in the Dinaric mountains (Snežnik), October.

Polyporus squamosus; Snežnik forests, October.

Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum; Snežnik forests, October. Watch the video.

Ural Owl Strix uralensis; Javorniki mountains, October.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos; Snežnik forests, October.

Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris; Mt Snežnik, October.

Paul enjoying the sun on Mt Snežnik, October.

Dipper Cinclus cinclus; Planinsko polje, November.

Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria; Predjama, November. 

Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus; Bloško polje, November.

Bittern Botaurus stellaris; Škocjanski zatok, December.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius; Karst, December.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris; Snežnik forests, December.

Snowshoeing in the Snežnik forests, December.


Happy new year, see you in 2018!