Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Forest life

Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Karst/Notranjska border, 19th September 2016.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius
Karst/Notranjska border, 19th September 2016.
Bark beetle Ips typographus
Karst/Notranjska border, 19th September 2016.
Note the "channels" or galleries carved into the bark.
The work of a Black Woodpecker on the forest floor under a dead spruce. 
Karst/Notranjska border, 19th September 2016.
Norway spruce Picea abies hit by the bark beetle, 
Karst/Notranjska border, 19th September 2016.
Black Woodpecker's feeding signs, 
Trnovski gozd, 4th September 2016.
Lichens in a spruce forest, 
Trnovski gozd, 4th September 2016.
Colchicum autumnale
Trnovski gozd, 4th September 2016. 
Common autumn flower on meadows and forest clearings.
Brown Bear's Ursus arctos claw marks on a spruce, 
Trnovski gozd, 4th September 2016.
Fox Vulpes vulpes
Karst/Notranjska border, 19th September 2016.
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Karst/Notranjska border, 19th September 2016.

Recently I've spent some time in various forests not far from the Karst. Yesterday evening was particularly interesting - I had up to 4 Ural Owls Strix uralensis on a forest track somewhere between the Karst and the Notranjska region. Two were showing close by (pic above), but I had not enough light for proper pics. Red Deer Cervus elaphus rutting season has now begun, so several stags were heard too, along with a Tawny Owl Strix aluco and the quintessential "chorus" of squeaking Edible Dormice Glis glis (a very good year for them!). In the afternoon I also investigated a small stand of conifers infected by the bark beetle Ips typographus and spent quite some time before spotting the tiny beetles, carved into the bark (more here). Overhead, on the dying spruces 4 Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius were exploiting the food abundance by hammering at the bark. 
A Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus was a nice bonus on the road to the forest. It was hunting on an area of open grassland, close to where a breeding pair is known to be present.
On a recent evening trip to Trnovski gozd (Trnovo forest) I enjoyed dusk by a forest glade with a singing Ural Owl Strix uralensis, 1 Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus and a Nutckracker Nucifraga caryocatactes.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Predatory Bush Cricket & autumn orchid

Predatory Bush Cricket Saga pedo on Eryngium amethystinum, Trieste Karst, 13th September 2016. This 10-12 cm long grasshopper from the Tettigoniidae family is a rare species of dry karstic grassland. As it feeds on other grasshoppers and insects, it favours areas with low grass vegetation where it can hunt them more efficently. Such areas are becoming increasingly rare on the Karst (land abandonmed and overgrowing), therefore the species' rarity. Saga pedo is listed as "vulnerable" by the IUCN and is protected by EU's Habitats Directive. Although I wander quite a lot around the Karst, I've only seen it twice before in my life. Thanks to Paul Tout for the tips and to Peter McGrath (the finder of this specimen).
Mantis religiosa on Eryngium amethystinum, Trieste Karst, 13th September 2016. One of these (common insects) was on the Saga pedo's menu a few days ago - see the photo selection in this forum (pics taken at the same location as mine).
Spiranthes spiralis, Trieste Karst, 13th September 2016. This amazing little orchid is the last representative of the orchid family to bloom (in Slovenia from late August to September/October). On the Karst is quite scarce and favours dry meadows and grazed grassland with short turf.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Three-toed Woodpeckers & bark beetles

On Monday 29th I went looking for Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus in the Trnovo forest (Trnovski gozd). This woodpecker is a conifer specialist, living in mountain forests, usually above 700 meters. The preferred habitat in Slovenia are conifer stands of Norway spruce Picea abies, but also Dinaric forest with beech Fagus sylvatica and silver fir Abies alba (Abieti-Fagetum). These birds, as other specialised woodpeckers, feed mostly on invertebrate's larvae and other insects, found under the bark of dead and/or dying conifer trees.
Following a severe ice storm a few years ago (that broke and weakened a large amount of trees) most of the conifer forests in western Slovenia are now being hit by bark beetle Ips typographus outbreaks. As I have recently experienced, in the majority of conifer and mixed forests, one can now notice a greater presence of ill and dying Norway spruce. In mountain forests, this event favours the presence of Three-toed and other woodpeckers, because of the food abundancy present on the infected trees. On the other hand, this event is seen as a plague by foresters. I therefore expect that most of the ill trees will be cut down soon and the habitat destroyed, as it is usually done in such cases.
For a better understanding of the bark beetle "problem" I strongly recommend watching these two videos about the current situation in the Bialowieza forest (Poland): Three-toed Woodpecker & Spruce power. Similar situations are also present wherever bark beetle outbreaks occur (in Slovenia too) and is difficult to let people know, that such events are actually part of a natural process and as such they bring positive effects to the forest ecosystem. This interesting article from a study in the Bohemian forest is also well recommended.
More pics about the beetle in this post.
Norway spruce Picea abies infected by bark beetles Ips typographus,
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Typical signs (carvings) made by the bark beetle Ips typographus
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

So the other day, while visiting an "infected" part of the forest, I was glad to catch up (a bit by coincidence) with a female Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, doing its favourite job - knocking on a dead spruce in search of food. The woodpecker was on a patch of forest where I've never seen the species before, probably because until not long ago, the conifers were still vital. Sharing the feeding space and exploiting the abundance of food were also two Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major (ad and juv) and a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius. Not far away I also heard a Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus (female), 
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

Trnovski gozd is mostly known for its beech stands and the other day I also visited a very nice patch of almost untouched forest. There, on the top of some forested hills, beech trees have also been affected by the ice storm and the signs are still visible several years after the event. Many trees have lost the upper parts/branches and remained almost canopy-less. 
Beech stand affected by the ice storm, 
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

Broken trees and branches create a whole variety of natural cavities that animals can exploit for nesting/roosting. Ural Owl Strix uralensis is a classical example of a bird that for nesting needs large natural cavities in trees. In a nice patch of forest I hooted a Ural Owl call and half a minute later, there it was! It sat there on the same branch for something like 20 minutes.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

The forest is now quite lively with all the juveniles of different species, forming flocks and roving around in groups. Moreover there are lots of migrants around (on their way to Africa), like Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, Wood Warblers Phylloscopus sibilatrix and Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus. Of the residents, the most obvious were: Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Willow Tit Poecile montanus, Coal Tit Periparus ater, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus, Treecreeper Certhia familiaris and Nuthatch Sitta europaea.
To round up the trip, an adult Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos put on full view, on the cliffs above Ajdovščina, on the way back home. Below is some other forest wildlife, found along the way. 
Telekia speciosa
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Peacock Butterfly Inachis io on Telekia speciosa
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Droppings of Brown Bear Ursus arctos on a forest road, 
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Epipactis helleborine
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Gentiana asclepiadea
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Impatiens noli-tangere
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Sorbus aucuparia
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Brown Bear & Golden Jackal on the Karst

Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Slovenian Karst, 16th August 2016.
Golden Jackal Canis aureus (probable), Slovenian Karst, 10th August 2016.
Fox Vulpes vulpes, Slovenian Karst, 6th August 2016.
Badger Meles meles, Slovenian Karst, 17th August 2016.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, Slovenian Karst, 10th August 2016.
Wild Boar Sus scrofa, Slovenian Karst, 13th August 2016.

The trail camera I have positioned on the Slovenian Karst, close to a woodland glade, produced quite interesting results in the last two weeks. Best of all was the apparition of a Brown Bear Ursus arctos and a probable Golden Jackal Canis aureus (the face is not clearly visible, so the ID remains 99% sure). Analysing the bear's pictures, there could be actually two of them (note the shiny eye, under the large bear) - but not yet sure about that. Bears are a regular presence on the Karst, although in small numbers and usually only passing by (especially in autumn). Jackals instead and are now expanding their range from the Balkans and their presence is recorded more regularly in these areas, although they still remain a quite rare species in Slovenia. It was also good to capture a mix of other woodland wildlife like Badger Meles meles, Wild Boar Sus scrofa ect. Hopefully more in the coming weeks!