Sunday, 17 January 2021

IWC weekend

In Slovenia the mid weekend of January is reserved for the traditional International Waterbird Census (IWC) that also takes places all over Europe and other parts of the world. Although Slovenia has some interesting wetlands (lakes, marshes, reservoirs) they are relatively small and few if compared with other countries. However it certainly has high richness of rivers and mountain streams, especially fast-flowing ones, which are home to one of the most specialised passerines of all, the Dipper Cinclus cinclus. This year we censused two small rivers in the Vipava valley that represent quite good wintering and breeding sites for Dippers, but hardly any other waterbird (except for the occasional Grey Heron Ardea cinerea or Mallard Anas platyrhynchos). The day was sunny and enjoyable and the final tally totalled 9 Dippers. It is certainly not a lot if compared to the 27 recorded last year on the alpine river Bača, but still a good total for two streams with a combined length of around 7 kilometres. Dippers are already highly territorial at this time of year and several individuals were recorded singing and displaying on the rocks.

Dipper Cinclus cinclus on the Lokavšček stream.
"Baywatch" Dipper
The rather small, but attractive Lokavšček stream, hosting good numbers of Dippers.
Some amazing geology in the Lokavšček stream.
River Hubelj close to its karstic spring.
The Slovenian & NE Italian endemic Marble Trout Salmo marmoratus (left) with an introduced Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss (right) in the river Hubelj. Note the distinctive marbled pattern on the left individual.
The southern edge of Trnovski gozd seen from the Vipava valley.
Čaven - Mala Gora, on the southern edge of Trnovski gozd.
 
After finishing the census we birder the Vipava valley, even if birds are rather thin on the ground at this time of year. While scanning the skies above the southern edge of Trnovski gozd a Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus caught our attention. A regular sight in this area in summer, when numerous birds are observed making daily migration between the Alps and Croatia, however not that common in winter. Instead, a female Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus and a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor were perhaps the two most typical winter birds to be seen around. Our souls were also livened up by the season's first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major.
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus, southern edge of Trnovski gozd.
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, Vipava valley.
 
IWC was also carried out at Škocjanski zatok NR, where at this time of year the winter birdlife is represented by good numbers of ducks of different species, a large flock of Coots Fulica atra, a mixed assortment of common waders and even a few Greylag Geese Anser anser (18 to be precise). In recent weeks the situation was rather calm, only here and there some occasional interesting birds turned up, for example: a drake Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus, Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus and occasional small numbers of Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis. Around the end of 2020 a Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus also made an appearence - a rare winter record in Slovenia (the 2nd at Škocjanski zatok in winter). On the other hand we are still missing the Bittern Botaurus stellaris, a typical winter species at the reserve.
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca intruding a flock of Mallards Anas platyrhynchos, Škocjanski zatok.
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Škocjanski zatok.
Curlew Numenius arquata, Škocjanski zatok.
Greylag Goose Anser anser, Škocjanski zatok.
Wigeon Mareca penelope, Škocjanski zatok.
Pochard Aythya ferina, Škocjanski zatok.
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus, Škocjanski zatok.
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, Škocjanski zatok.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Snowshoeing with Pygmy Owl

This winter has been so far particularly snowy, with weekly and abundant snowfalls in the mountains (as well as almost daily rainfalls in the lowlands) throughout December. Mount Snežnik, being known as the "snowy mountain", was no exception. This week we took the chance to combine some fieldwork with snowshoeing in the plateau's extensive forests. Along our track we measured a layer of 70-80 cm of snow, therefore snowshoes were rather useful. The snow was very fresh, maybe even too fresh to find any mammals' tracks - we only came across a few footprints of Fox Vulpes vulpes and Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris. As it is typical for winter, the forest was mostly silent, with only occasional small flocks of birds concentrated in specific areas. Until the early afternoon we didn't see anything unusual, only common forest birds like Coal Periparus ater & Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus, Goldcrest Regulus regulus and a Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula. Every time we visit mountain forest in winter we wonder how on earth these tiny birds manage to survive the winter in the harsh mountain envorinment. Most of the birds however concentrate in areas with conifers (where there's more food and cover), while the leaf-less beech canopies become completely empty once snow falls.
Snowshoeing in the fresh snow of mount Snežnik.
One of the several closed forest roads. At the time of writing this chain is probably completely covered by snow.
For about half an hour also a light snowfall greeted us on the way.
The surroudning peaks above 1400 metres are completely snow-encrusted.
Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
The epiphytic lichens known as tree lungworts Lobaria pulmonaria (excellent indicators of clean air), are a common sight on Sycamores Acer pseudoplatanus in the forests of Snežnik.
Bird's-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis (last year's plant).
Some beech trees have forgotten to shade their leaves.
 
In the afternoon, when passing by a stand of conifers on the edge of a dolina (sinkhole), a mixed flock of rather noisy tits caught our attention. Among them were also some loud Willow Tits Poecile montanus. Nothing unusual we thought, until an excited flock of Crossbills Loxia curvirostra joined the show and began to alarm. When Crossbills alarm in group with other birds, this often means a Pygmy Owl is around. And sure enough, after some minutes of listening and searching with bins, we realised the centre of activity was on the tree right above our heads. On the top of a silver fir Abies alba, a small and unusually rounded shape was perched - it was a beautiful Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum. Although we were standing right under the tree, the owl wasn't bothered by our presence but rather paying attention to the small birds flitting around it and alarming. This precious moment lasted for about 5 minutes, before all the mobbing stopped and the Pygmy Owl flew off on another conifer, where we couldn't relocate it anymore (they are so small!). Although we have seen the species several other times in this area (see here), it still remains a quite rare bird in the Snežnik's forests and is never easy to see. Typically inhabiting mountain conifer forests, Pygmy Owl is somehow commoner in the Alps (Pokljuka, Jelovica & Pohorje plateaus). Needles to say, this short but intense encounter made our day and we returned to the car with a smile on the face.
Typical view of a Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum sitting on the very top of a conifer.
Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum - tiny but fierce!
Watching the Pygmy Owl (and the bird's position).
Snowy greetings from Snowy mountain.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Our special 2020 - year review

These cold, short and wildlife-poor winter days are perfect for looking back at the glories of the past year that is just coming to an end. Despite all the ups and downs of this crazy Anthropocene, surprisingly, even in 2020 we managed to fully enjoy our time spent in Nature and live many memorable moments in the company of some memorable wildlife! We consider ourselves very lucky to live in an extraordinary area (SW Slovenia) that supports one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the whole of Europe. The fantastic nature around our home in the Karst of Sežana proved invaluable, especially during the lockdowns. Although in recent years we use to spend a lot of time locally, this year we did so even more, discovering amazing places and wildlife right on our doorsteps. Some of it is featured also in this post. As every year, we've been contributing our observations to the Slovenian Bird Atlas database. This year however, among all the birders in Slovenia, Domen has managed to record and submit the highest number of species for the country - that is 247 species. It is not a very high count if we compare it with some nearby countries, but almost no twitching was involved (and we went through two lockdowns). Most of the species were seen during low to mid-intensity routine birding in our usual circuits around western Slovenia, with a few exceptions of trips to the Alps in the north of the country. Of course working at Škocjanski zatok Nature Reserve helped considerably in achieving this result. The number gives an overall idea of the bird diversity that one can encounter in the area throughout a calendar year, without putting much effort into finding rarities, vagrants or difficult species. We guess that with a bit of dedication, an additional 10-15 species could be added, especially by birding in eastern Slovenia more often.
If we'd need to pick one of the many field highlights of 2020, the prize would probably go to the Alpine grouse adventure, when we visited a Black Grouse lek in the Julian Alps, enjoying also Capercaillie, Pygmy & Tengmalm's Owl, Lesser Redpolls, Golden Eagle and an amazing display of alpine flora. Worth of mention is also the second Alpine grouse adventure (summer episode) when we went looking for Ptarmigans, while the close encounter with this Brown Bear in autumn also delivered an absurd dose of excitement! Of course we shouldn't forget also our amazing find of the first leucistic wild Ural Owl for science. 
The many other memorable moments of 2020 are arranged below in a chronological selection. As this will take some time, make yourself comfortable and start scrolling!

Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis, Mt. Slavnik, January.
Descend from Slavnik with Mt. Snežnik in the distance, January.
Bittern Botaurus stellaris, Škocjanski zatok, January.
Smew Mergellus albellus, Cerkniško jezero, March.
Crane Grus grus, Cerkniško jezero, March.
Stoat Mustela erminea, Cerkniško jezero, March. Video.
Little Crake Zapornia parva, Škocjanski zatok, March.
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana, Škocjanski zatok, March.
Italian Crested Newt Triturus carnifex & Smooth Newt Lissotriton vulgaris, Škocjanski zatok, March.
Dipper Cinclus cinclus nest-building on the river Reka (Škocjanske jame), March.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Krakovski gozd, March. We discovered the first case of leucism for this species in the wild (blog). Scientific paper to be published soon.
Snake's-head Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris, Krakovski gozd, March.
Broad-leaved Anemone Anemone hortensis, Dragonja valley, March.
Nettle-tree Butterfly Libythea celtis, Karst, March.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Leiopicus medius, Karst, March. More territorial pairs were discovered during our yearly spring census across new areas of the Karst.
Dog's-tooth Violet Erythronium dens-canis, Karst, March.
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes in the garden, March. Video.
Dotterel Charadrius morinellus, Divača's airfield, March.
Southern Festoon Zerynthia polyxena, Karst, April.
Henbane Bell Scopolia carniolica, Planinsko polje, April.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra, Karst (above) & Cerkniško jezero (below), April. In spring and summer we continued to follow the two breeding pairs we know to be nesting in western Slovenia (blog).
Crane Grus grus, Škocjanski zatok, April.
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Škocjanski zatok, April.
Bird monitoring (with Black-winged Stilt) at Škocjanski zatok, April.
Birding the oak-beech forests of the Karst.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Karst, April. In spring we carried out an acoustic census and found 3-4 birds in the wooded hills on the eastern part of the Karst (blog).
Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis, Karst, April.
Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra, Karst, April.
Hidden corners of the wild Karst, April.
Lockdown birding in the Sežana municipality - watching Short-toed Eagles, April.
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus, Karst, April. Throughout spring we were witnessing regular interactions between our two local pairs.


Our favourite dolina during the April leafing.
Slender-leaved Fritillary Fritillaria orientalis, Karst, April.
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia, Karst, April.
Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica, Karst, April. A rarity we came across during our regular farmland bird monitorings (blog).
Dalmatian Wall Lizard Podarcis melisellensis, Karst, April.
Dalmatian Algyroides Algyroides nigropunctatus, Karst, April.
European Green Lizard Lacerta viridis, Karst, April.

Wryneck Jynx torquilla, Karst, April.
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Karst, April. This year we were extremely happy to have at least two different singing males around our home.
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis, Karst edge, May. A rare breeding bird along the Karst edge and an unexpected find (blog).
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius, Karst edge, May.
Ophrys sulcata, Karst edge, May.
Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea, Karst edge, May.
Tommasini's Sandwort Moeringhia tommasinii, Karst edge, May. Endemic species of the Karst around the Northern Adriatic.
Ortolan Bunting census at the Karst edge in May.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, Karst edge, May.
Carniolan Primrose Primula carniolica, Mt. Slivnica, May. Slovenian endemic species found in the Dinaric mountains.
Trumpet Gentian Gentiana clusii, Trnovski gozd, May.
Bear's-ear Primula auricula, Trnovski gozd, May.
Birding the southern edge of Trnovski gozd in May.
Relaxing above the Vipava valley, May (blog).
Wild Peony Paeonia mascula, Karst, May.
Military Orchis militaris & Burnt-tip Orchid Neotinea ustulata, Karst, May.
Limodorum Limodorum abortivum, Karst, May.
Field Cricket Gryllus campestris in the garden, May. Video.
Badger Meles meles behind our house, May.
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica, Karst, May. This year a pair nested near Divača which represents the northernmost breeding site of this very rare breeder in Slovenia.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Karst, May.
Beech Longhorn Beetle Morimus funereus, Karst, May.
Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix, Julian Alps, May. A fantastic two-day trip to a Black Grouse lek, with singing Capercaillie, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owl along the way during the night-time ascent (blog).
Lesser Redpoll Carduelis cabaret, Julian Alps, May.
Alpine Newt Ichthyosaura alpestris, Julian Alps, May.
Spring birding in Redpoll heaven (blog).
Idyllic alpine pastures in the Triglav National Park, May.
Traditional hay meadow in the Karst, June.
Dittany Dictamnus albus, Karst, June.
Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria, Karst, June.
Giant Peacock Moth Saturnia pyri, Karst, June.
Peregrine Falco peregrinus, Karst edge, May.
Catching & satellite-tagging a pair of Peregrines (same individual as in the previous pic) on the Karst edge, May (blog).
Lesser Grey Shrike census in the Vipava valley, May.
Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor, Vipava valley, June. Probably the last breeding pair in this area and a near-extinct species in Slovenia (blog).
Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus, Karst, May.
Bee-eater Merops apiaster, Landscape Park Strunjan, June. First confirmed breeding of the species in the park.
Rose-coloured Starling Pastor roseus, Škocjanski zatok, June. 2020 has seen another big invasion of the species to Slovenia and much of Europe. At least 14 birds were roosting regularly at Škocjanski zatok within a large flock of Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris.
Common Tern Sterna hirundo chick, Škocjanski zatok, June.
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, Škocjanski zatok, June. Three pairs nested in the lagoon this year, but only one fledged juveniles.
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus, Škocjanski zatok, June. A new breeding bird at the site, after an absence of 12 years; 2-3 pairs nested this year.
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Škocjanski zatok, June.
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur, Škocjanski zatok, June.
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius nesting on gravel by a railway track near Škocjanski zatok, June.
European Pond Terrapin Emys orbicularis, Škocjanski zatok, June. One of the 55 specimen recorded at the reserve.
Ortolan Bunting habitat on the Karst edge, June.
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana, Karst edge, June. This year we counted 7 birds (sadly the total for the whole of Slovenia), among which a pair was bringing food to the nest. The species is on the brink of extinction in Slovenia (blog).
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, Karst edge, June.
Black-veined White Aporia crataegi, Karst edge, June.
Geranium Argus Aricia eumedon, Mt. Nanos, June.
Clouded Apollo Parnassius mnemosyne, Mt. Nanos, June.
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis, Mt. Nanos, June. A regular, yearly appointment with this colourful species on our favourite mountain (blog).
Carniolan Lily Lilium carniolicum, Mt. Nanos, June.
Grass-leaved Iris Iris graminea, Mt. Nanos, June.
South-western slopes of Mt. Nanos, June.
False Ringlet Coenonympha oedippus, Karst, June.
Owlfly Libelloides macaronius, Karst, June.
Favourite summer pastime, Karst, June.
Marsh Helleborine Epipactis helleborine, Vipava valley, June.
Breeding habitat of Baillon's Crake Zapornia pusilla at Cerkniško jezero, June. We heard two singing birds, while up to 15 were censused this year on the lake. The species remains one of the rarest and most mysterious breeding birds in Slovenia.
Martuljek group, Julian Alps, June.
Lower Martuljek waterfall, June.
Joining the initiative Za naravo ob Savo on the river Sava, June.
Rock Soapwort Saponaria ocymoides, Julian Alps, June.
Rhaetian Poppy Papaver alpinum ssp. rhaeticum, Julian Alps, June.
Rusty-leaved Alpenrose Rhododendron ferrugineum, Julian Alps, June.
Agarikon Laricifomes officinalis, Julian Alps, June.
Alpine Heath Coenonympha gardetta, Julian Alps, June.
Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus, Iška river, July.
Large Chequered Skipper Heteropterus morpheus in the garden, July.
Goat Moth Cossus cossus in the garden (moth trap), July.
Oak Hawk-moth Marumba quercus in the garden (moth trap), July. This species was a regular catch in the moth trap, with up to 3 together in one night.
 Bombus haematurus in the garden, July.
On a botanical trip to Mt. Snežnik, July (blog).
Sub-alpine meadow with Edraianthus graminifolius, Mt. Snežnik, July.
Red Vanilla Orchid Nigritella miniata, Mt. Snežnik, July.
Carniolan Lily Lilium carniolicum ("classic" & yellow variants), Mt. Snežnik, July.
Mouse Garlic Allium angulosum, Petelinjsko jezero, July.
Solitary Clematis Clematis integrifolia, Petelinjsko jezero, July.
Dry meadows in the Karst & Mt. Nanos, July.
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus, Škocjanski zatok, July.
Queen of the Alps Eryngium alpinum, Mt. Porezen, July (blog).
Danube Gentian Gentiana pannonica, Mt. Porezen, July.
Scarce Copper Lycaena virgaureae, Mt. Porezen, July.
Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae, Škocjanski zatok, July.
Mediterranean Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis ssp. desmarestii, Landscape Park Strunjan, July.
Bee-eater Merops apiaster, Landscape Park Strunjan, August. One of several juveniles fledged this year from at least two different pairs; a new breeding site for the species (blog).
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, Landscape Park Strunjan, July.
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus, Landscape Park Strunjan, July.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus, Škocjanski zatok, August.
A rare and natural view of Mt. Triglav, where the clouds have obscured human presence (the mountain hut, the tower on the top and all the people walking on the crest).
Hike to Veliki Draški Vrh (2243 m) in the Julian Alps, August.
Ptarmigan Lagopus muta, Julian Alps, August. Stumbled into this family party during a highly enjoyable 2-day hiking trip in the heart of Triglav National Park (blog).
Zois' (Crimped) Bellflower Campanula zoysii, Julian Alps, August. Endemic of the Southeastern Limestone Alps and a quintessential presence in the Julian Alps.
False Orchid Chamorchis alpina, Julian Alps, August.
Canoeing & wild swimming in lake Cerknica, August (blog).
Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Javorniki Mts., August. A female with two cubs came out of the forest to feed on a glade in the evening (blog).
Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Mt. Snežnik, August. Close encounter with a young along a forest road.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, Mt. Snežnik, August.
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus on Mt. Vremščica with Mt. Triglav in the distance, September.
Hoopoe Upupa epops, Landscape Park Strunjan, September.
Sara at work...
... & Domen at work.
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, Cerkniško jezero, September.
Testing the new hide at Cerkniško jezero with Touty, September.
Beech Fagus sylvatica, Mt. Snežnik, September. 2020 brought an abundant crop of beech mast to the Slovenian forests, supporting the diet of a wide variety of animals.
Red Deer Cervus elaphus, Mt. Snežnik, September.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Mt. Snežnik, September.
Cep Boletus edulis, Pokljuka plateau, September.
Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris, Pokljuka plateau, September.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Pokljuka plateau, September.
Watching a Ural Owl Strix uralensis in the Dinaric forests, September (blog).
Common Dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius, Javorniki Mts., September.
Šumik waterfall on the Pohorje plateau, September.
Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria, Pohorje plateau, September.
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus in the garden, October. A self-found rarity is always exciting, especially if it's only the second non-mist-netted YBW in Slovenia (blog).
Fir Coral Tooth Fungus Hericium alpestre, Kočevski rog, October.
Birding with friends in the primeval forest of Kočevski rog, October.
Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan, Gulf of Trieste, October.
Gannet Morus bassanus, Gulf of Trieste, October (blog).
Birding in the Dinaric forests of Mt. Snežnik, during the Global Bird Weekend in October.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos, Mt. Snežnik, October (blog).
Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Mt. Snežnik, October (blog).
Happy faces of someone who just saw a bear.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Mt. Snežnik, November.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Mt. Snežnik, November. Video.
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla, Mt. Snežnik, November.
Autumn hiking on the Snežnik plateau, October.
In the wildest corners of the Snežnik mountain range, October.
Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Karst near Sežana, November (blog).
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Leiopicus medius, Karst near Sežana, November.
Sunny autumn in the Karst's oak forests, November.
Camouflaged Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Karst, November. Video.
Enjoying a sunset in the Javorniki Mts., November.
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica, Landscape Park Strunjan, December.
Wishing you a wildlife-rich 2021! Domen & Sara.