Monday, 25 February 2013

WAXWINGS galore

Back again in Udine today for some additional Waxwing action. Just couldn't resist the call of the magic trill! The birds are now to be seen all over the town in different places, even if the bigger flock is still hanging around the southern suburbs, where I left it last week.
The main square in Udine (Piazza Primo Maggio) held the first WAXWINGS of the day - something about 20 birds feeding on a privet tree, which gave excellent close up views. They interchanged a few seconds of feeding frenzy to several minutes of resting on the nearby lime-trees.
In the southern part of the city (roughly the same place as last time) there was a bigger show going on, with up to 150 or more Waxwings perched on the highest plane-tree and trilling loudly. Nearby was a big garden with several privets and the birds were doing regular sallies for the berries. A nice spectacle, watching them flying overhead (last pic above) and assembling in dense flocks. At 16.20 in the afternoon the whole flock took off and headed somewhere north, maybe to roost. All in all about 200 birds seen during the day.
Also today some unusual urban birds were around in the form of a Redwing on a busy street and some Siskins, plus the numerous Hawfinches (including lots of singing birds) and a few Blackcaps.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Waxwing video & updates

Here's a short video I made in Udine the other day, starring the Waxwings feasting on the privet tree. Also a pic of a bird with erected crest, sitting on a TV aerial.

The past few days have been pretty calm with much of the time spent in the patch and around Trieste, looking for potential Waxwings in urban and suburban habitats. I'm now quite regularly checking the sites that were used by Waxwings during the invasion in 2005. Meanwhile, smaller flocks have been present almost everywhere around Udine and also in Cividale del Friuli. So, they are getting closer to Trieste!
The local patch is otherwise quiet with the most interesting birds involving a stunning breeding-plumaged Red-necked Grebe in the bay of Grignano. The sea there usually holds a few Red-breasted Mergansers, as well as the commoner Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes which are widespread along the whole patch's coast.
Interesting birds in and around the garden these days have included: 1-2 Bramblings (passing overhead), 1 Siskin (overhead as well), 6 Woodlarks (on Friday, when we had snow once again) and small parties of Hawfinches perching on the nettle-trees. Also still around, visiting the birdfeeders are Coal, Blue and Great Tits, as well as Dunnocks and commoner species.

This past week I also had the Shag roost count at Debeli rtič in Slovenia and the highlight there was an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull on the buoys, along with a Fieldfare in the trees.
Škocjanski zatok NR was also quiet on Thursday and the most interesting species were 1 Peregrine hunting over the marsh, 1 juv White-fronted Goose (grazing with 4 Greylags), 1 adult Herring Gull (in the lagoon) and 6 Lapwings.

This is it for now. Other news coming in short time...I hope.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

WAXWING INVASION

Jeeezus what a day! The city of Udine in norh-east Italy is infested by Waxwings! Something between 15 and 20 birds were seen in a garden yesterday, so I made sure I was in Udine early this morning (1 hour drive from home). When I arrived there I met a few fellow city birders and together we started the search. For almost the whole morning no Waxwings were to be seen, until 11.30 when we checked a last "good" location. As soon as we stepped out of the car, the unmistakable silvery trill greeted our ears and just above our heads we had something like 200 WAXWINGS on some high plane and nettle-trees. The birds were very vocal and mobile and kept flying all around, dropping into some nearby gardens at times. We enjoyed the first moments of the discovery almost in the middle of a busy road, looking up the high trees. Later the birds began to fly off and soon the trees were quiet. After a small walk (following the bird's calls) we were amazed to find at least 160 (conuted) Waxwings perched on a spruce in a private garden. Nearby was a privet tree (Ligustrum) which was the main attraction for the Waxwings that were regularly descending on it to feast on the berries.
After an additional half an hour of watching these fantastic northern creatures, we left the area, still with the ringing "siiiirrrrr" in our ears. Priceless!
Apart from the above pics, here are some additional ones I took:
Part of the 160-birds flock on the spruce
 

 

 Feasting on the privet berries
Feeding on the privet
As I already mentioned, the town of Udine is a good place for the species, as it attracted Waxwings on several occasions - and in winter 2009 I had my first ones right here (see this post).

While checking the green areas in the urban and suburban habitat we also saw an awful lot of Hawfinches (which were almost the commonest birds), a few Fieldfares, +15 Redwings and some nice Siskins feeding on the birdfeeders.

On the way back home, I made a quick stop on the fields around Isola della Cona NR where the main White-fronted Goose flock was foraging (up to 1500 birds). After a while and with some difficulty I managed to find the adult LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE wintering in the area. A bird I still didn't see this winter.

What a better way to round up the day?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Wildcat!

Today I got confirmation from an expert about a doubtful cat that I photographed on Saturday near Dolenja vas (Senožeče - SLO). As I initially supposed it was a WILDCAT (Felis silvestris), roving around the snow-covered fields in the middle of the day! In the above photo you can see the very bushy tail and the clearly divided black rings around the tail (the tip of the tail being completely black). The cat was also quite big and bulky for a domestic cat and ran into cover as soon as I started watching it, after I stopped the car (yes, I spotted it while driving on a country road).
As far as I know, Wildcat is a widespread mammal across Slovenia and the area where I observed it seems quite perfect. But of course is far from easy to see one during the day.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Green Woodpecker in the snow

I decided that today was the time for a stroll on the snow-covered Karst plateau. The weather was very nice if we don't take into account the extremely annoying cold wind that made several observations quite difficult.
In the afternoon I found the above female Green Woodpecker digging a hole into the snow, on a field not far from a country road. The bird remained on view for a about 5 minutes, until it flew up on the nearest oak tree, still showing well (here is a video). A common bird set in a nice wintery context.
The increasing wind in the late afternoon put a rough stop to my waiting-for-the-Wallcreeper plan. However I managed to see 3 smart ALPINE ACCENTORS on the cliffs of Mt.Stena (Glinščica valley NR) foraging in the short grass on the steep slope. I located them thanks to their frequent calls. In the area a male Peregrine was sitting on its usual perch and a pair of Ravens was constructing its nest in a crevice in the cliff. Two Rock Buntings and a male Black Redstart were also on the cliff face, but few other birds were around in the wooded areas, apart from the usual tits and a Siskin (heard).
Also the other places I visited during the day (mainly on the Slovene Karst) were quite calm and my search for a potential Rough-legged Buzzard ended with no actual lagopus in the bag. Two Fieldfares and some other commoner countryside birds were nice to see though.
Peregrine in the Glinščica valley/Val Rosandra
The first Helleborus braving the snow


Oh, and here I put a video of the Cirl Bunting I had in the garden the other day. Sorry for the black dot...it must be some kind of dirt on the inner camera lenses.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Cirl Buntings on the lawn

Local patch: this morning we woke up once again in a snow-covered scenery. As soon as I put out the mixed seeds on the lawn, a gorgeous male Cirl Bunting came down to feed! The male bird visited the lawn several times during the day, usually feeding on the smaller seeds (see above). Here a video of the bird is available. In the afternoon also a female/1st w. appeared (last pic above), but actually a flock of about 5 birds was roving around the neighbourhood for the whole day.
There was some nice hard-weather movement (as usual when it snows) and also this time some WOODLARKS were seen flying over the gardens (up to 4 birds, not many more). An unusual sighting for the area were also 3 Ravens flying over the lower part of Barcola, heading towards Trieste. Other birds of interest in and around the garden included: Marsh Tit (1 heard), 1 male Greenfinch, 1 Grey Wagtail (flew overhead), 1 Coal Tit, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Hawfinches, 1 Dunnock (see pics) and 1 Starling on the lawn. As usual, the commoner birds at the feeding station included House Sparrows, Chaffinches, plus Great and Blue Tits and a few Robins.
Dunnock
On the sea 2 Great Crested Grebes. The other day also 2 Black-necked Grebes in the same area.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Crocus weldenii

And now a bit of a botanical post, as spring is really on its way and the first flowers are beginning to appear on the woodland's floor. Yesterday I went to look for a locally rare species of crocus called Crocus weldenii (Hoppe & Fürnrohr) which grows only on a few locations on the Karst plateau around Trieste. Otherwise it is also found in the Balkans (Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania). Above there are a few photos of it I took yesterday (usually with white petals or with some purple on the outer side).
And here a commoner species - Crocus reticulatus - also a first of the year (see the clearly striped outer sides of the petals):

By the way, this morning I was awakened at 6.00 am by a singing Blackbird - another undeniable sign of the incoming spring!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

5 star birding with SHORT-EARED OWLS

What a fantastic day I had yesterday! Early in the morning I went on a trip in northeastern Slovenia with a couple of friends from DOPPS (Birdlife Slovenia) for some top-quality birding. First of all I must mention my personal highlight of the day: no less than 4 SHORT-EARED OWLS at the Medvedce reservoir! One of my top favourite birds. It was quite an experience because the owls appeared all at once at dusk and began to hunt low over the fields surrounding the reservoir. There was still enough light left to see them quite well - at least with the scope. Up to six birds were seen in the area a few days ago, so there's a kind of wintering population here.
Later we also had a perched LONG-EARED OWL by the roadside, hunting on the ground, right in the car's headlights.
The Medvedce reservoir also held a lot of wildfowl as usual, but mainly the commoner species. The Goosanders were the most interesting, along with a flock of White-fronted Geese in the fields. Three Stock Doves were nearby and a few Hen Harriers were hunting above the fields (+5 later at the roost). A small nearby wooded area produced a calling Black Woodpecker and a flock of 100 Fieldfares was feeding on the edge of a garden.

Earlier in the day we also visited several places around Ptuj and Maribor. The lake of Ptuj held more or less the same species I saw here at the beginning of January (see this post). The female LONG-TAILED DUCK was still present at the dam of Markovci, always associating with the Velvet Scoters.
Long-tailed Duck
The lake also held a nice total of 17 Smews (pic on top of the post), +7 Velvet Scoters, a lot of Goosanders, 1 male Ferruginous Duck, Goldeneyes, Pochards, Tufted Ducks and commoner species. A mixed flock of TUNDRA BEAN GEESE (118 ind.) and White-fronted Geese (+100 ind.) also landed on the lake. Quite astonishing as I never had such a big flock of Bean Geese! Also some Rooks were seen around Ptuj during the day.
Velvet Scoter with Tufted Ducks
On the surrounding fields the two BEWICK'S SWANS were still present as well (ad + juv), but there was no sign of the Whoopers - apparently gone by mid January.
Bewick's (adult and juv)
A nice urban Peregrine entertained us on the main bridge over the Drava river, in the town of Ptuj. It also landed several times on a bell tower - see below:
In the afternoon we also checked a popular LONG-EARED OWL roost in a nearby village, which held more than 15 birds, roosting on some pines. Fortunately not all the birds were on the higher branches and some were staring down at us from 8 metres away (see pics). These were actually viewed from a private garden - some friendly owners allowed access to it. In these area we also had two other Black Woodpeckers (1 seen from the car, 1 heard).
Obliging Long-eared Owls

 LEO in the scope at 60x!
We also added an additional 4 Smews (1m, 3f) at the ponds near Rače (Rački ribniki) which rose our day total to 21 Smews!
All in all a good load of birds for a single day!