Tuesday, 24 January 2017

On the tracks of Lynx and Wolf

January is a good month for following animal's tracks in the snow. Recently I made two snow-tracking visits that proved very productive. I went looking for tracks both close to home, on the Slovenian Karst and further afield in the Snežnik forests. Moreover I've also been to lake Cerknica (Cerkniško jezero) and a few other places, trying to see some live animals as well. Here and there a few woodpeckers and owls materialised in front of me, as it frequently happens. I leave you to the pics with some comments below.

Footprints of Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. Such find is the climax of a snow-tracking trip and usually the closest you can get to a wild Lynx in Slovenia. With something like 10-15 individuals in the whole country, Lynx is one of the rarest and most secretive animals of Slovenia: virtually impossible to see and a real phantom. Yesterday we were very lucky to find two sets of tracks on a snow-covered forest road. In the second photo I played a bit with the levels in photoshop to make the footprint more clearly visible.
Footprints of Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. After following the tracks for a while, we came across this large rock with many footprints in the snow nearby and a strong scent of cat urine - clearly a place where the Lynx marked the territory.
Footprints of Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx in the snow, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. Note the funny-looking ice cream shape of the footprints, made when the animal walks in the deep snow and leaves behind signs of the furry legs too.
Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx shot in 1987 and exposed in a hunting hut on mount Slavnik in southeast Slovenia (photographed in August 2016). Lynx got extinct in Slovenia at the beginning of the 20th century due to the lack of food (scarcity of its main prey - deer), lack of habitat and hunting pressures. Thereafter, hunters brought it back with a reintroduction programe in 1973 which was very successful. Lynx from the Slovak Carpathians were used for the purpose and their descendants still roam free in Slovenian forests. However nowadays the Lynx is again on the brink of extinction due to small population numbers (10-15 animals) and increasing loss of genetic diversity (inbreeding).
Tracking animals in the Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. This is one of the few bird species to be found in upland forests in the middle of winter. The above bird interrupted our lunch in the snow as it silently glided some 10 meters past us and landed on a tree nearby. It was in active hunt and didn't pay much attention to us.
Footprints of Wolf Canis lupus, Slovenian Karst, 14th January 2017. Although nearly impossible to ID for sure, due to the similarity with domestic dogs, these tracks belong most certainly to a Wolf. The most characteristic traits, typical of Wolf noticed were: the overall straight walk (for about 2 km on a forest road), the absence of any human footprints nearby, the footprint size and shape and... the opinion of an expert. Moreover Wolves are know to be present in the area where the tracks were found. In the whole of Slovenia there are about 11 packs of Wolves, concentrated mostly in the central and western part of the country, where they inhabit the Dinaric mountains. The new, updated report of the Wolf monitoring in Slovenia is available here (with summary and maps in English).
Lobaria pulmonaria, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. This rare and endangered lichen, indicator of unpolluted air, is actually very common in the forests of Snežnik. It is typically found on the rough bark of old sycamores Acer pseudoplatanus.
Neottia nidus-avis, Cerkniško jezero, 21st January 2017. The remains of a dry orchid from last summer, sprouting out of the snow.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius, Slovenian Karst, 4th January 2017. At the beginning of the month I carried out a testing census and discovered 4 territorial birds in an area that hasn't yet been systematically studied. These results, together with a recent observation from near Ilirska Bistrica, add even more knowledge to the distribution of this woodpecker, which once was thought to be very rare in western Slovenia. It looks like the species is commoner than thought in this part of the country.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Slovenian Karst, 20th January 2017. This female is spending whole days stripping off the bark from dead pines in a small woodland that I visit almost on a daily basis. Plantations of black pine Pinus nigra all over the Karst seem to be affected by some sort of bark beetle and are dying quickly. Recently I've noticed an increase of Black Woodpeckers in such affected woods.
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, Rakov Škocjan, 21st January 2017.
Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, Slovenian Karst, 4th January 2017. Feeding on a gall of Andricus caputmedusae in the canopy of a sessile oak Quercus petraea.

Friday, 13 January 2017

A visitor from the north

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer
Trieste (north-east Italy), 11th January 2017.

The local ornithological sensation around Trieste at the moment is a Great Northern Diver Gavia immer that took up residence in the bay of Duino/Devin, some 20 km away from the city of Trieste. This bird is worth mentioning because is a rare and accidental winter visitor to my area. In the northern Adriatic two species of divers spend the winter in good numbers: Black-throated Gavia arctica and Red-throated Gavia stellata. Both are especially common in the north-western corner of the gulf, close to Monfalcone, where also all 5 european species of grebes (Podiceps) share the same area in winter. Far more difficult to see at our latitudes is the northern and larger cousin of the two divers, the Great Northern Diver, which breeds mostly in North America, Iceland & Greenland. European birds winter regularly on sea coasts of northern Europe, but sometimes the odd birds stray into the continent as well. In the last 10 years or so, there hasn't been a sighting of this species in the Gulf of Trieste and the last record in the north Adriatic dates back to 2004. The above bird is thus a bit of a sensation and has attracted many observers to the small dock of Duino. Making him company in the wider area of the north Adriatic wetlands are also several other interesting northern species that different observers have reported: Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis, Smews Mergellus albellus, Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, Scaups Aythya marila, Velvet Melanitta fusca and Common Scoters M. nigra, Slavonian Grebes Podiceps auritus and large flocks of White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons with a few Lesser White-fronted Geese A. erythropus mixed within. Several Snow Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis were also seen in the previous days. Most of these birds arrived in greater numbers than in previous years and hopefully more will move in with the current front of polar weather.
I tell you a secret... all I hope is Waxwings!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 - the very best of

2016 has been amazing. In this post is a selection of my favourite moments. I didn't need to go far to see beautiful things; most of the photos below were made locally: in and around Slovenia. Forget far-away exotic dreams, there's wilderness in Europe too!
Enjoy!

Mt. Krn (2244 m), Julian Alps, January 2016.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius
Cerkniško jezero, January 2016.
The main focus of my researches this year (see here).
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
Karst edge, March 2016 
(photo: Sara Cernich).
Erythronium dens-canis
Slovenian Karst, March 2016.
Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus
Monfalcone (Italy), March 2016.
Fritillaria meleagris
Krakovski gozd, March 2016.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
Krakovski gozd, March 2016.
Wildcat Felis silvestris
Krakovski gozd, April 2016.
Scopolia carniolica
Kočevje, April 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich).
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos (ssp. lilfordi), 
Kočevje, April 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich).
Fritillaria orientalis
Italian Karst, April 2016.
Narcissus poeticus (ssp. radiiflorus), 
Slovenian Karst, April 2016.
Me inside a cave in the Notranjska region, April 2016 
(photo: Alex Hyde).
Leptodirus hochenwartii
Notranjska region, April 2016. 
Endemic cave beetle of Slovenia and north-east Italy.
Morimus funereus
Slovenian Karst, April 2016.
Paeonia officinalis
Slovenian Karst, April 2016.
Orchis simia
Slovenian Karst, April 2016.
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis
Nanos, May 2016 
(photo: Sara Cernich).
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus (ssp. alpinus), 
Javorniki, May 2016.
Selfie with the Three-toed, Javorniki, May 2016.
Białowieża primeval forest (Poland), May 2016. 
Best wildlife trip of my life - full report.
European Bison Bison bonasus
Białowieża primeval forest (Poland), May 2016
Full report.
Watching European Bison, 
Białowieża primeval forest (Poland), May 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich)
Full report.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus (ssp. tridactylus), 
Białowieża primeval forest (Poland), May 2016
Full report.
Birding Białowieża primeval forest (Poland), May 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich)
Full report.
Cypripedium calceolus
Biebrza marshes (Poland), May 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich).
Elk Alces alces
Biebrza marshes (Poland), May 2016.
Camberwell beauty Nymphalis antiopa
Biebrza marshes (Poland), May 2016.
Lilium carniolicum
Vremščica, June 2016.
Roller Coracias garrulus
Mirna river valley (Croatia), June 2016.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Central Slovenia, June 2016.
My work colleague filming the sunrise over Cerknica lake, June 2016.  
This was an unusual, but interesting job - assisting in the making of a nature film throughout summer and autumn. Based mostly in the Notranjska region, filming rare animals, plants, landscapes & more.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Central Slovenia, June 2016. 
Following a breeding pair near a nestbox gave me excellent opportunities to witness seldom-seen behaviour, like the above adult bringing a vole to a fledged juvenile.
Cephalanthera rubra
Trenta valley - Julian Alps, July 2016.
Mt. Jalovec - Julian Alps, July 2016.
Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus muta
Mt. Mangart - Julian Alps, July 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich).
Epipogium aphyllum
Trenta valley - Julian Alps, July 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich).
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
Julian Alps, July 2016.
Drosera rotundifolia
Pokljuka plateau - Julian Alps, July 2016.
Nose-horned Viper Vipera ammodytes
Breginjski Stol - Julian Alps, July 2016.
Leontopodium alpinum
Breginjski Stol - Julian Alps, July 2016.
Stemmacantha rhapontica
Breginjski Stol - Julian Alps, July 2016.
Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca
Breginjski Stol - Julian Alps, July 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich).
Spiranthes aestivalis
Bloško polje, July 2016.
Great Capricorn Beetle Cerambyx cerdo
Slovenian Karst, July 2016.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos (trail camera), 
Slovenian Karst, August 2016.
Mt. Triglav, Julian Alps, August 2016.
Campanula zoysii
Mt. Krn - Julian Alps, August 2016.
Sunrise from Mt. Krn, Julian Alps, August 2016.
Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis
Mt. Krn - Julian Alps, August 2016.
Geranium argenteum
Mt. Krn - Julian Alps, August 2016.
Armeria alpina
Mt. Krn - Julian Alps, August 2016.
Aquilegia iulia
Mt. Krn - Julian Alps, August 2016.
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
Snežnik, August 2016.
Peacock butterfly Inachis io on Telekia speciosa
Trnovski gozd, August 2016.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos
Snežnik forests, August 2016. 
Unforgettable evening with 3 different Bears on a glade, under a shining full moon!
Predatory Bush Cricket Saga pedo
Italian Karst, September 2016.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Snežnik forests, September 2016.
Red Deer Cervus elaphus
Snežnik forests, September 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich).
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius
Slovenian Karst, October 2016. 
A bird discovered at a new locality on the Karst in autumn.
European Bison Bison bonasus,  
Białowieża primeval forest (Poland), October 2016.
Second round in Poland - full report.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos (ssp. leucotos), 
Białowieża primeval forest (Poland), October 2016
(photo: Sara Cernich).
Full report.
Filming documentary at Predjama castle, October 2016.
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
Predjama castle, October 2016.
Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum
Pokljuka plateau - Julian Alps, November 2016.
Oak woodland, 
Trieste (Italy), November 2016.
Marbled Trout Salmo marmoratus
Ajdovščina, December 2016.
Local patch, Slovenian Karst, December 2016.

The very best shots from 2016 are also in my photogallery
& videos on my Youtube channel.