Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Black Stork

Today in the afternoon I was around Divača on the Slovenian Karst and I had about 15 minutes of spare time before an appointment. With a potential Black Stork in mind I headed towards Vremska dolina, a few kilometres away, where indeed an adult BLACK STORK was soaring above the valley. I first spotted it while still driving and then continued to watch it when I stopped at the side of the road. The bird performed well for a few minutes, before dropping down into some distant fields. Always quite a thrill to watch this rare species.
A mix of luck combined with good timing and a bit of knowledge about the local breeding pair - actually the nearest to Trieste (30 min drive away).

Friday, 26 July 2013

The cliffs in summer

Local patch: I've been up on the cliffs early this morning, but the situation was very quiet as it was pretty hot. Chimney Bellflowers (Campanula pyramidalis) are now beginning to bloom out of the cliffs and today they provided the main attraction (above).
However I also managed to bag an excellent bird for the patch: CROSSBILL. Four birds flew along the karstic edge, giving their characteristic "glip-glip" calls. One of them was a stunning red male. In June I already had a flock of 10 or so Crossbills flying over my house, so this wasn't a patch year tick, but anyway a good species to see in the area. A male Honey Buzzard gliding above the woodland was also of note, along with 7 Alpine Swifts, 1 single Common Swift (now they've just disappeared) and at least 7 Rock Buntings (including juvs). Marsh Tit, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker were heard in the woodland as usual.
The other day this nice male Golden Oriole was putting on good show on a tree in front of the house. Pity I managed to take just a brief digibinning photo.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Unforgettable evening

Three magnificent Red Deer stags with massive antlers graze on the meadows along with another two diminutive Roe Deers. Down in the valley a Quail sings and Hoopoes fly around. As the sun sets, a chorus of Nightjars begins. You turn your back and find there's a full moon rising, then you point your scope towards a distant planet and find out it's the gorgeous Saturn with its distinctive rings. Night sets in and the only thing you hear is the Nightjars' churring, accompanied by the thousands of crickets and grasshoppers.
Priceless!   

Monday, 22 July 2013

It's Glossy!

Škocjanski zatok NR: the highlight this morning were 2 GLOSSY IBISES that I only managed to see in flight when they moved from one feeding area to the other. The two birds fed in some shallow pools hidden by tall reeds, so were impossible to see after landing. Fortunately they moved quite a lot and once also approached the screening so closely that I didn't need the scope to take the above pics. The species is a rare passage and summer migrant at the reserve. On a national (Slovenian) level it is also pretty rare.
Apart from the local breeding Little Bitterns (1 male seen) and a female Pochard (probably bred in the area), a few migrant waders were of note. The first 4 Lapwings of the autumn have appeared along with a few Wood Sandpipers. Still lots of other commoner waders including Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper (+22), Green Sandpiper (1), Little Ringed Plovers and so on.

Yesterday afternoon I had an interesting sighting above Duino (Trieste) which involved a SHORT-TOED EAGLE soaring and hovering on the southern slopes of Mt. Grmada. Nearby were also 2-3 quite showy Honey Buzzards.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Hoopoes

Yesterday in the late afternoon I was back on the Slovenian Karst in the same old area that I regularly visit throughout spring and summer. Red-backed Shrike was by far the most numerous species with up to 30 birds seen. But perhaps the most notable observation was that of 6 Hoopoes feeding on a recently mowed meadow. When a Sparrowhawk approached from the nearby woodland, they all took off and landed in some hawthorn and dog-rose bushes (above). A singing Quail was most probably the same bird I used to hear throughout the spring. I was glad to notice that the local farmers are mowing the meadows with great care of breeding birds and always leave large patches of rough grass for the birds to hide and nest. Thus lots of Skylarks were still around, along with some Corn Buntings and a Stonechat. A male Honey Buzzard gliding overhead was also of note.
Honey Buzzard
Everything is Allium-covered at the moment

Local patch: this morning I went to look for Common Sandpiper (a patch year-tick) at Miramare and found 5 birds on the rocks by the sea, just under the castle's wall. The species is a passage migrant in the patch area and July is usually the best month to see one. The last Common Sandpiper I saw here was back in 2006 (or something)... quite a long time ago, but actually I rarely visit the area in summer. Three Common Terns were also around as well as plenty of Shags as usual.
Yesterday evening also a singing Nightjar was heard, along with a Golden Oriole.

On Wednesday evening I counted Shags at the roost on Debeli rtič (Slovenia/Italy border) and scored a total of 482 birds. Also 24 Mediterranean Gulls in all different plumages were around, along with 11 Common Terns, a Little Egret and 4 Common Sandpipers.
Adult Med Gull

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Karstlife in summer

Had a stroll on a karstic grassland near Sežana this evening and saw a couple of birds including 6 Red-backed Shrikes (above), 3 Hoopoes (flushed from the woodland's border), 1 Melodious Warbler, 1 pale-morph male Honey Buzzard, 2 Alpine Swifts, 2 Corn Buntings and 6 Skylarks.
Also some interesting plants were around. Here's a couple of pics (can't resist...the botany side's too strong):
Today's highlight (yes, it's a grass): Chrysopogon gryllus
Chrysopogon gryllus
Allium carinatum
Allium sphaerocephalon
Allium sphaerocephalon
Centaurea cristata


Eryngium amethystinum

Monday, 15 July 2013

Waders and halophytes

Škocjanski zatok NR: back to routine monitoring today which produced a few goodies. The highlight of the morning was a gorgeous Curlew Sandpiper in almost full summer plumage - the first of the autumn! There were a few other waders around, but not great numbers; most were those seen last week including Little Ringed Plovers (incl. 2 along the railway line - above), lots of Redshanks, Black-winged Stilts, Common Sandpiper, a single Green Sandpiper ect. Today a female Little Bittern showed briefly in flight, while a Purple Heron was sitting on a high tamarisk in full view. A Turte Dove was perched on one of the bushes bordering the lagoon (2nd above) and a juvenile Nightingale was showing on the top of a dead tree (silly juvenile). Other birds also included the usual Common Terns (up to 20), Kingfisher, Yellow Wagtail, Pygmy Cormorant and some Reed Warblers.

I also took some time to photograph and identify some of the halophytes present in the brackish lagoon. All very rare species in Slovenia, which are confined to the few saltmarshes found along the coast.
Limonium angustifolium
 Atriplex portulacoides
Sarcocornia fruticosa
Salicornia europaea

Friday, 12 July 2013

PECTORAL SANDPIPER

Today early in the afternoon news about a Pectoral Sandpiper broke out. The bird was found in the morning at the Valle Canal Novo nature reserve near Marano Lagunare (NE Italy). I already missed that species back in 2007 (when one was at Isola della Cona) and I've been waiting a melanotos for ages. I just couldn't afford to miss a second opportunity. I arrived about 15 minutes before the closing time at the reserve and as I entered the main hide, one of the first birds I saw was the PECTORAL SANDPIPER! The bird was feeding some 10 metres away from the hide on a patch of mud, together with several Common and Wood Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers and Common Redshanks. It showed well for pretty much the whole time I was there and I enjoyed great views of it (pics above). I also made a short video - see here (sorry for that usual black dot). After 20 minutes I left the hide and managed to get out of the reserve in time (before getting locked in).The piece of marsh I viewed from the hide was actually full of life and waders. There were lots of Black-winged Stilts, Spotted Redshanks, Lapwings, Common Terns, 2 Ruffs and a few Greenshanks. A singing Fan-tailed Warbler was the non-wader highlight.
To round up the afternoon, I also saw a Hobby circling above Marano Lagunare and in a piece of suburban reedbed I managed to see 2 Marsh Harriers, 1 Purple and 4 Night Herons, 1 Pygmy Cormorant and several other commoner species.

Local patch: on Tuesday evening I managed to hear a flying NIGHT HERON (calling over the house), which was the 3rd record for this species in my patch. Highlights from the past few days also included a singing Nightjar (heard) and Golden Oriole on a daily basis.

I also have quite interesting news about the Cornino lake NR in the Alps which is now hosting some megas: an adult Egyptian Vulture and 3 Black Vultures are present at the feeding station, along with the usual Griffons. I was told there's also a Red Kite around, which is probably attracted by the mass of Black Kites usually present on site.
Next week I may go for a visit...

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Back to Škocjanski zatok

Common Sandpiper
Little Ringed Plover
Ashy-headed Yellow Wagtail (cinereocapilla)
Škocjanski zatok NR: yesterday morning I was back on the reserve after more than a month of absence. The situation is pretty quiet as usual in July, although there were a few signs of early movement. The highlight was an adult LITTLE TERN resting in the lagoon with the local breeding Common Terns (with lots of juveniles). It's not rare to see this species here in summer, but they are still pretty scarce, even if once they used to breed on the reserve. Every sighting of a Little Tern is thus a hope for a future nesting... who knows!
Several Little Bitterns were also nice to see - 3 different birds actually (2 f and 1 m) flying low above the reeds. The reedbeds have grown simply too tall to try and see the birds perched in full view. They usually drop down into thick cover, never to be seen again.
The first migrant waders were also obvious and the most unexpected was a summer-plumaged Dunlin in the lagoon. There were also good numbers of Common Redshank (18 birds, mostly juvs. - fledged in the lagoon), Greenshank (21), Common Sandpiper (8), Green Sandpiper (2), Little Ringed Plover (28 - mostly juvs.), Black-winged Stilt (50) and a single Curlew.
Other locally breeding birds such as the above Yellow Wagtail were also around.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Lesser Grey Shrike family


Breeding Lesser Grey Shrikes are now almost extinct in Slovenia. Perhaps the last remaining pair is the one in the Vipava valley. Yesterday I spent some time at the location and witnessed some amazing parental behaviour. There were 4 fledged and fully flying LESSER GREY SHRIKES around, along with the two adults bringing a constant food supply. The male was frequently seen flycatching (also dragonflies) or hunting other insects on the ground, while the juveniles were waiting up on the poplar trees.

Adult with a dragonfly in the beak
Adult (right) with a juvenile (left)
Juvenile
Adult
A happy family: all 4 juveniles + an adult together

Nearby was also a pair of Red-backed Shrikes and the male sat just a few metres away from the male Lesser Grey. From a front view, the only thing you could see were whitish underparts and a black mask in both species. The distinguishing feature was of course the extensive black on the forehead showed by Lesser Grey and the different bill structure (bulkier in LGS). A nice scene for comparison of both species. Note the differences below:
Lesser Grey Shrike
Red-backed Shrike
In a nearby vineyard a Hoopoe put also on show while feeding on the ground and a singing Crested Lark was also around.

Later in the morning I also had a look at the extensive upland grasslands of mount Nanos, which produced the hoped-for GOLDEN EAGLE - an adult soaring not too high above my head. If I don't go wrong, the last Golden Eagle I saw was here in the same place, back in 2010. I'm quite glad I saw one after a long time. Other raptors included a Griffon Vulture heading W, 1 Hobby (hunting), 1 Goshawk and 5 Buzzards. A few breeding passerines were also around: Chiffchaff, Common and Lesser Whitethroat, 2 pairs of Stonechat, Skylark and at least 4 singing Rock Buntings
Golden Eagle
Rock Bunting