Monday, 30 April 2012

Spring weekend in Slovenia



Back for some blogging after a pleasant weekend spent birding in eastern Slovenia with a couple of friends. Friday and Saturday were spent in the Krakovo forest area (Krakovski gozd) near Kostanjevica na Krki, while yesterday we were concentrated around the Cerknica lake. In total we had 96 species of birds, including some top quality ones.
The main target was indeed the Krakovo forest: a lowland broadleaved forest east of Novo Mesto, which holds the biggest breeding density of Collared Flycatcher and Middle Spotted Woodpecker in Slovenia.
Cvelbarjev dob in the village of Malence - the second widest tree in Slovenia:

On Friday we started the walk along the main path to the forest and one of the first birds we saw was an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE! It soared low over the forest and then headed out towards the open fields. An impressive bird and an excellent start! The White-tailed Eagle is also one of the rare nesters in the Krakovo forest.
As soon as we entered the true woodland our first COLLARED FLYCATCHERS appeared - a pair nesting in a tree cavity. In the course of the day (during our circular walk around the trail) we counted a total of 15 Collared Flycatchers (both singing birds and some females). In fact, singing Collared Flycatchers are the commonest birds to be heard in the forest along with Chaffinches and Blackcaps. Some singing males gave excellent views and were really gorgeous to see with the backdrop of the green canopies.
Male Collared Flycatcher at nest (see also top of the post):


The first MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER appeared a bit later when we reached some more mature oak-tree stands (predominantly Quercus robur). The first bird gave nice views up on a tree and called as well. Later we got also nice views of another bird and heard at least 4 others. The day total was 6 Middle Spotted Woodpeckers.
The only pic I could take of a Middle Spot:

In a small woodland clearing we could do a bit of sky-watching and soon found several soaring Common Buzzards with an adult male Honey Buzzard - my first this year.
Commoner birds in and around the forest included: Nightingale, Buzzard, Hawfinch, 1 Wryneck, 2 Stonechats, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Starling (very common breeder in the forest), 1 singing Wood Warbler, 3 Woodpigeons, loads of Blackcaps in the canopy, 3 Cuckoos, Marsh Tit, 2 Willow Warblers, 1 Short-toed Treecreeper, Chiffchaff, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue and Great Tits (quite numerous inside the forest), Song Thrush, Jay, Blackbird, 1 Black Woodpecker, 1 female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Corn Bunting, Grey Heron, Tree Sparrow, Swallow and House Martin.
Other wildlife seen during the first day included: 1 Slow-worm, Salamander larvae, Yellow-bellied Toad, Peacock Butterfly, Brimstone, Scarce Swallowtail, Vole sp. (5-6 chasing each other on the woodlands floor), Agile Frog, Grass Snake, Speckled Wood, Orange Tip, 1 European Tree Frog and 1 Striped Field Mouse (Apodemus agrarius). The top butterfly sight was a Common Glider (Neptis sappho). Wildflowers included: Dactylorhiza majalis (orchid), Viola ulginosa and Leucojum aestivum.
Leucojum aestivum:

Viola ulginosa:

Forest views:



The top bird species of the area:

Dactylorhiza majalis:

Striped Field Mouse:

In the evening we also had a singing Tawny Owl from our cottage just out of Kostanjevica na Krki.
On Saturday the day began very well with two BLACK STORKS soaring over our cottage! After they circled very low over our heads, they dropped down into a woodland. Black Stork is also a rare breeder in the Krakovo forest and a speciality here.
Black Stork:


The birdlife activity around our cottage was quite impressive as well - a really nice mix of coutryside birds including: breeding Linnets, Greenfinches, 2 singing Wrynecks, 2 Cuckoos (showing extremely well), Tree Sparrow, Serin, Green Woodpecker, Starling, 1 Spotted Flycatcher (my first this year!), Black Redstart and Green Woodpecker. In the morning we also had our first singing Golden Oriole just in the "backyard".
A gorgeous male Cuckoo (see also top of the post):




Linnet (male):

Linnet (female) with nest material:

Greenfinch:

Spotted Flycatcher:

Wryneck:

Tree Sparrow:

White Storks were also seen on a daily basis - usually on one of the two nests around Šentjernej or feeding in the fields. A male Whinchat was also a new addition to the trip-list.
The rest of Saturday was spent around some unexplored part of the Krakovo forest, looking for other woodland birds. We had great views on several MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKERS and countless singing COLLARED FLYCATCHERS.
In addition to common or previously encountered birds we also saw 2 URAL OWLS being flushed/mobbed by a Jay. One of the two perched on a high branch and gave excellent views for about 15 minutes! All this in the middle of the day!
Other new birds in the forest included 3 Golden Orioles, 1 purring Turtle Dove (first of the year), 2 Tawny Owls (singing by day as well!) and 3 Eurasian Treecreepers (both treecreeper species are present in the forest).

In the evening we went to see some wet grasslands and bushy areas near the small village of Čučja Mlaka. Highlights here included a singing GRASSHOPPER WARBLER (showed well in a bush), Yellowhammer, 1 Turtle Dove, 1 female Marsh Harrier, 1 Lapwing, Cuckoo, 3 female RED-FOOTED FALCONS flying over the forest (firsts of the year), 3 Common Whitethroats, Stonechat, 2 singing Tree Pipits, 1 White Stork and a singing European Green Toad.
At night two Scops Owls were heard singing from our cottage.
The last day of the weekend was spent around the Cerknica lake (Cerkniško jezero) and surrounding areas. Here we had a nice variety of spring birds, including some new arrivals. Top highlights were 3 WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERNS quartering the reedbeds in the company of a BLACK TERN (both firsts this year). Other interesting species included: pair of White Storks on the nest at Martinjak, Yellow Wagtail, 2 f Marsh Harriers, breeding Tree Pipits, 2-3 Hobbies, 1 female/imm male Hen Harrier over the grasslands (late bird), 2 male Red-backed Shrikes (the firsts this year), 3 Common Whitethroats, several Whinchats, 5 Fieldfares, 5 Sedge Warblers, 4 Wood Sandpipers, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Raven, 8 Great Crested Grebes (breeding on the lake), 1 female GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER (showing well), 1 Greenshank, 9 Ruffs (flying flock), Spotted Flycatcher, 11 Black-winged Stilts (an interesting record for the area), 5 Garganeys, Cuckoo, 2 Wrynecks and 1 imm Night Heron.
A short stop near Planina (Planinsko polje) produced 2 Grey Wagtails on the local stream, singing Yellowhammers and a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
Further down near Postojna we stopped at the usual site for breeding Crag Martins and found several birds flying around.
Grey Wagtail:

What can I say? Birding Slovenia in spring is really awesome!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Spring birds...and flowers





Škocjanski zatok NR: this morning I finally managed to see the GLOSSY IBIS that was present in the area since a few weeks, but eluded me all the time. The fact is that the new reeds are now sprouting out the greenery and the freshwater marsh is becoming increasingly covered with high vegetation. The ibis was hidden in a kind of small canal in some high green reeds and grass. Just occasionally it ventured out of cover on the grassy bank. Below there's a pic taken at large distance and with the bird partly hidden.
Otherwise the situation was pretty calm today. Probably beacuse of the good sunny weather and stiff wind from the south, lots of migrants are moving north. Highlights included: 3 Garganeys, 1 Coot's fledged young (the first this year!), 12 Black-winged Stilts, 5 Little Ringed Plovers, 4 Ruffs, 1 Common Sandpiper, 2 Common Redshanks in the lagoon (still there...), 16 Greenshanks, 4 Wood and 1 Green Sandpiper, 18 Common Terns (on the nests), about 70 Common Swifts, 1 Alpine Swift, 100 Sand Martins, +200 Swallows (pic above), 100 House Martins, 1 Grey Wagtail, 6 Yellow Wagtails, 1 imm. male Northern Wheatear (Koper railway station), 5 Nightingales, 1 Blackcap (!), 6 singing Great Reed Warblers (one showed well - 3rd & 4th pic above), 2 Sedge Warblers and 2 male Common Whitethroats in the hedges. The Teals have almost completely disappeared (I saw just one today) and they probably took the Green-winged with them.
Glossy Ibis:


In the early afternoon I took a stroll on the Slovenian Karst, looking for some wildflowers. On the dry grasslands near Divača there were lots of Green-winged orchids (Orchis morio), Daffodils (Narcissus poeticus) and several other plants - see pics below. Birds seen included 3 Kestrels, 5 Buzzards, a pair of Stonechats, Raven, singing Skylarks, 1 Hobby, 2 Common Whitethroats (holding territories), Woodlark and Mistle Thrush. Butterfly-wise a Souther Festoon was the highlight. Also lots of Common Swifts and Swallows.
Pulsatilla montana:

Orchis morio:

Ornithogalum umbellatum:

Narcissus poeticus:

Monday, 23 April 2012

COLLARED FLYCATCHER in Trieste!!


"A usual stroll in the woodland" I thought this afternoon... but I was wrong. Having an unplanned business in Trieste, I took advantage of some free time an went in the park/woodland of Boschetto Cacciatore (aka Ferdinandeo). Here I was rewarded with a very rare passage migrant in Trieste: a male *COLLARED FLYCATCHER*. I glimpsed the bird up in the broadleaved canopy, thinking it was a male Pied Flycatcher. But when I looked through the bins... BANG! a white collar!! That was so cool. Unfortunately I could only watch it for a few seconds before it flew off in typical flycatcher speed. I then couldn't find it again. This is only the third record for the city of Trieste if I don't get wrong.
Checking randomly through my old notebooks I realised that I saw my first ever Collared Flycatcher 6 years ago on the same day - 23rd April! That was actually in Slovenia on its breeding grounds, but anyway it was my first.
In the woodland there was quite a lot of movement high up in the beautiful green canopy, with most birds being Blackcaps. Among them I also spotted 2 Willow Warblers and a female PIED FLYCATCHER - my first this year. And of course no Pied Flycatcher could be complete without its Phylloscopus counterpart: the WOOD WARBLER. I heard two different birds singing up in the trees.
Apart from that there was also a calling Cuckoo and a confident Hoopoe showed well on the woodland floor just 5 meters away from me. Other commoner birds included all sort of tits, a Nightingale, Nuthatch, Green Woodpecker (feeding on a lawn!) ect.
House Martins and Common Swifts were on the wings overhead.
It's spring again in the city...magic!
The above illustration is by Szabolcs Kokay

Sunday, 22 April 2012

"Summer is a-coming in, loudly sing Cuckoo!"


I had my first CUCKOOS of the year this morning: one was a fly-by bird a Lisert and two others were singing at Isola della Cona NR. Another notable record from today was a flock of 15 GOOSANDERS flying high over Lisert at 8.00, heading SW (to the sea).
Other birds observed between Lisert and Isola della Cona included: +10 Nightingales (migrants!), 1 male Common Whitethroat, 1 Common Tern (Lisert), Greenshank & Wood Sandpiper (both places), 3 Common Eiders offshore Lisert, Little Ringed Plover, 5 Ringed Plovers (IDC - firsts this season), 2 Yellow Wagtails (Ashy-headed), 1 Sedge Warbler, 1 Common Sandpiper, +200 Dunlins at IDC, 5 Avocets (freshwater marsh IDC), Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Marsh Harrier, Curlew, Lapwing, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, Snipe, 2 breeding-plumaged Grey Plovers (mudflats of IDC - far towards the sea), 1 female Tufted Duck, 1 Willow Warbler (hedges IDC) and good numbers of Common Swifts, Swallows, House and Sand Martins.
Cuckoo pic above taken last year in Hungary

Local patch: in the late afternoon I found this male WHINCHAT in the garden - clearly a migrant that has just dropped down with today's rain showers. There was also a movement of Swallows from the south, with +43 birds counted flying past.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

COMMON DOLPHIN from the house and HOBBY in the air!


Local patch: I had two non-planned sightings today from my home. The first highlight was on the sea and involved two marine mammals: COMMON DOLPHINS! Both were leaping regularly out of the water, showing the distinctive pattern on their sides. They were always followed by a group of gulls, so it wasn't difficult to predict where they'll reappear. These two are probably the same Common Dolphins that were present in the gulf several months ago. But the fact is that I've never seen two together. And by the way Common Dolphin is the rarest dolphin up here in the North Adriatic.
Top bird of the day insetad was a HOBBY flying over the pine woodland (13.30pm), heading E. Nearby there was a cloud of low-flying Alpine Swifts and other far-away hirundids. Also around the garden: Black Redstart, Hawfinch, 1 Buzzard (overhead) and 2 House Martins (the birds breeding nearby).
The pic above shows the Common Dolphin present last year off Miramare

Friday, 20 April 2012

First Whinchats...





This morning I was up early checking the grassland of Campo Carri, after last night's rain storm. Nothing really exciting or rare around, but a few common migrants: 5 Nightingales, 4 Willow Warblers (singing), +3 Wood Warblers (usually singing; just one seen), Blackcap (very common), 1 Common Redstart (male), 3 Chiffchaffs, mixed flock of 50 Swallows + 40 Common Swifts + about 20 House Martins, 4 Alpine Swifts, 5 Northern Wheatears (1 male and 4 females), 2 male WHINCHATS (the firsts this year), and a TREE PIPIT heard (also the first of the year).
Local birds included 2 singing Rock Buntings, several Woodlarks, usual 1-2 Mistle Thrushes, 2 Crested Tits in the pines, Hawfinch and Black Redstart.
Pics above (top to bottom): Whinchat (2x), Wheatear and Roe Deers

Local patch: the year's first NIGHTINGALE for the area was singing this morning.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Great Egret - a scarce bird in the patch


Local patch: this evening I saw 3 GREAT EGRETS from home, flying S over the sea. Surprisingly this is only the second ever record of the species in my patch. Otherwise Great Egret is a common bird around our wetlands and lowlands. Above are two birds that flew past at 18.55, the other one flew S earlier in the evening. On the sea there was a gathering of about 50 breeding-plumaged Black-necked Grebes and 3 adult MEDITERRANEAN GULLS were flying around as well.
A Raven was soaring over the pine woodland and I also had single Swallow flying past. Today I also discovered that the resident male Black Redstart, which sings on a daily basis, is in fact a first summer bird. So it looks like a female! However there's another singing bird farther down in Barcola - probably belonging to another pair.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Little Crake





Škocjanski zatok NR: had this nice Little Crake today, showing well by the second screening. As the plumage shows it is a hansome male. It was walking up and down the edge of a small reedbed and sometimes ventured away in the long grass (Corncrake-like fashion).
There was a Glossy Ibis around the reserve in the past few days, but I didn't find it this afternoon. Despite that, a singing Reed Warbler was a new bird to me this year.
Other interesting species included: 30 Ruffs, Black-winged Stilts, +200 Swallows, a few House Martins and several Sand Martins, 4 Garganeys, 4 Yellow Wagtails (all flava), 3 Lapwings, 1 Green-winged Teal (drake still present), 3 singing Sedge Warblers, 1 Nightingale, 2 Great Reed Warblers, 4 Wood Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover, 1 singing Willow Warbler, 1 Common Sandpiper, 9 Common Terns, 3 Spotted Redshanks, 1 Common Redshank (lagoon - it could be breeding this year as well), 1 Black-tailed Godwit.