Saturday, 29 March 2014

WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER in Slovenia

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos lilfordi
Typical tree stump shaved by White-backed Woodpecker
Brilliant morning spent in the extensive Dinaric forests of Mt. Snežnik. Had an exciting encounter with one of Slovenia's rarest breeding birds: WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER. Two territorial birds (male and female) were seen. Also both calls and drumming were heard several times in the course of the morning. A "shaved" tree stump was also a good sign of the presence of this species. Not far away from the woodpecker's location, a Brown Bear's footprint was found in the mud. Plenty of other birds in the forest seen/heard, including: Coal and Willow Tit, Buzzard, Raven, Dunnock, Goldcrest & Firecrest (both holding territories), Siskin, Bullfinch and Crossbill. A flock of +100 Woodpigeons on passage was also of note.
Bear's footprint (Ursus arctos)
Helleborus niger
Crocus vernus
Snow-covered Mt. Snežnik (1796 m)

Friday, 28 March 2014

Glinščica valley

Biscutella laevigata - typical plant of the limestone screes
Coronilla emerus ssp. emeroides
Glinščica waterfall
Upper course of the Glinščica stream
Scorzonera austriaca
Thlaspi praecox
Austropotamobium pallipes
Took a stroll in the Glinščica valley/Val Rosandra this afternoon. On the bird front the highlights included 4 singing Blue Rock Thrushes (2 seen), 1 Raven, Rock Bunting and a few Grey Wagtails. Looked hard for any breeding Dippers, but failed to find them.
The other day I had a fly-by Marsh Harrier and Kestrel over the house. At least one Willow Warbler is still in the garden (singing), while the occasional Swallow or House Martin is seen passing by.
On Wednesday in Škocjanski zatok NR the 2 Little Gulls were still present in the freshwater marsh, together with the seasonal mix (incl. 2 Garganeys). Two fly-by Yellow Wagtails were new for the year.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Wildlife spring mix

Phone-scoped Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus at 60x
Snow-covered Mt. Nanos today
Saturnia pavoniella
Coronilla emerus ssp. emeroides (left) and Euphorbia wulfenii (right) on the patch's cliffs
A few updates from the past couple of days. Saturday morning started with the first singing WILLOW WARBLER of the spring in the garden...later joined by a second bird. During the morning I visited the Glinščica valley/Val Rosandra where I found the above moth - Saturnia pavoniella. Never seen one of those before. On the non-bird front also 2 quite big Fire Salamanders Salamandra salamandra were of note. At least 3 Blue Rock Thrushes were singing, including one that performed well close to the main path. Other birds there included a few Rock Buntings, 3 Grey Wagtails along the Glinščica stream, 1 House Martin on passage and commoner birds. In the afternoon I made a quick visit to the cliffs in the patch, where the year's first ALPINE SWIFT was the highlight. The area is now covered with the yellow-flowering Euphorbia wulfenii and Coronilla emerus.
Today in the early afternoon I went for a stroll under the rain at Škocjanski zatok NR. Despite the bad weather conditions (including a south wind) 2 Little Gulls were of note, along with good numbers of Swallows over the freshwater marsh (about 100 birds). Other birds included 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Ruff, 1 female Marsh Harrier, 1 Lapwing, 3-4 Black-winged Stilts and the more usual species. The late afternoon was spent under almost clear and sunny skies on the Karst with a good variety of common grassland species like Cirl Bunting, Woodlark & Skylark, Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Linnet and Raven.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Woodland flowers

Anemone nemorosa
Anemone ranunculoides
Daphne mezereum
Erythronium dens-canis
Hacquetia epipactis
Hepatica nobilis
Isopyrum thalictroides
Scilla bifolia - today's lifer
Scilla bifolia & Hacquetia epipactis
Woodland mix: Anemone nemorosa, Hepatica nobilis, Pulmonaria sp. and Primula vulgaris
Primula vulgaris with Scilla bifolia
Pulmonaria sp.
Viola sp.
The woodland floors of the high Karst are carpeted with flowers at the moment. All the above are the typical early plants that exploit the sunlight available at this time of year, before the trees put their leaves on. Took these pics today on the Slovenian Karst (all in the same 10 or so square metres). Botany was thus the main interest, although I also had Black and Grey-headed Woodpecker in the woodland, along with other commoner species.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Little Gull

Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus - a 2nd winter if I don't go wrong.
Škocjanski zatok NR: now I'm visiting the reserve more frequently as the days are getting warmer and more spring migrants are turning up. Today was quite interesting as well - I found a LITTLE GULL resting in the freshwater marsh, which oddly was something like the 3rd of 4th record for the reserve. A good spring find anyway. It was usually seen resting on the grassy islands among the Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls and also in the air, flying low above the marsh. Also today several hirundines were seen in the form of 12 Swallows and about 10 House Martins. Today and yesterday I also saw a few House Martins in the town of Koper. They are now starting to visit the usual colony sites and will become regular from now on.
Garganey numbers were quite low today with just two or three males seen. Four Black-winged Stilts, 1 Ruff and 1 Wood Sandpiper were also still around. A male and female Ferruginous Duck was also of interest, along with 2 Pochards and a female Tufted Duck. Two Cattle Egrets are always showing well in front of the first screening.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

New spring migrants

 
Garganey Anas querquedula
Flock of 7 Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus
Škocjanski zatok NR: typical spring joy this morning when I spotted my year's first 3 SWALLOWS and later 3 HOUSE MARTINS flying over the freshwater marsh. Catching a glimpse of that really distinctive hirundine silhouette zipping through the sky is quite thrilling. The reserve was actually full of other true spring migrants, all back from Africa. About 30 Garganeys were scattered across the freshwater marsh, most were smart drakes (above). Otherwise there's now a general decline in the number of the other duck species. Other typical spring harbingers were 7 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Wood Sandpiper, 1 Black-tailed Godwit and 2 Green Sandpipers - all joining the Ruffs, Curlews and Snipes already present on site. Some winter birds are still around in the form of Water Pipit, Reed Bunting, Tufted Duck or the flock of 13 Wigeons. Two Cattle Egrets at the grazing marsh were also of interest, along with a female Ferruginous Duck in the area of deeper freshwater and the usual 6-7 Pygmy Cormorants.

Local patch: yesterday afternoon I had my record count of Garganeys on the sea - counted a total of 758 individuals which is really impressive. Other flocks of ducks included 30 Wigeons, 84 Shovelers, 15  Teals and a drake Pintail mixed among them. Still about a hundred of Common Gulls on passage.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

A spring of Cranes

Common Cranes Grus grus above the gulf (and city) of Trieste
Euphorbia wulfenii now in full bloom all over the limestone cliffs
Local patch: conditions for vis migging were excellent today, so in the late afternoon I headed up to the cliffs, hoping to see some migration going on. I was immediately lucky when I arrived on site: a flock of 37 COMMON CRANES rose up from the coast and flew past the cliffs (really close!) heading SE towards Trieste. Just the 4th record for the local patch area by the way.
The sea was otherwise quite lively as well with flocks of ducks. Yesterday I managed to see this year's first GARGANEYS in a flock of 17 birds. Today from the cliffs I spotted a raft of 75 individuals. Nearby was also a flock of 15 Teals and further out at sea a raft of 25 Wigeons.  
Common Gulls are now present in their hundreds in the gulf and are regularly seen aggregating on the sea, together with large numbers of Black-headed Gulls. Summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebes are also commonly seen in flocks of up to 30-40 ind.
The cliff area also produced two Rock Buntings, 2 Ravens but not much else.
Also 2 Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were heard earlier in the afternoon on the Karst.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Vipava & Nanos

Goosanders Mergus merganser on the river Vipava (Slovenia)
Quite productive morning in the Vipava valley with two groups of GOOSANDERS on the river Vipava being the highlight. A group was formed by three showy (and displaying) males and a female (above), the other was a pair. A total of 6 birds. Good variety of other commoner birds seen in the course of the day: Grey Wagtail (also on nest), Green Woodpecker, Cirl Bunting, Woodlark, Mistle and Song Thrush, Corn Bunting ect. A Peregrine and a lonely COMMON CRANE (on migration) were the main attraction at the limestone cliffs of Lijak. 
Midday hours were spent on the grassy plateau of mt. Nanos, mostly enjoying the sun and two GOLDEN EAGLES performing overhead. In the area also another Peregrine (with prey), 15 Ravens, 2 Crag Martins flying past and several showy Rock Buntings along the road.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Crag Martin - first hirundine of the year

Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris - taken from Field Guide to the Birds of Armenia
Today was springish even more than yesterday. I can say it was the year's first real day of warm spring, with shining sun, high temperatures and wildlife all around. The day started well with a Black-throated Diver swimming on the sea (seen from my house) and a flock of about 10 Mute Swans flying south-east.
Most of the morning was spent in Slovenia, both on the Karst and Vipava valley. The Karst was surprisingly productive, with a stop in the Komen area holding 2 Grey-headed Woodpeckers, 2 Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Cirl Bunting, Mistle and Song Thrush and the season's first Corn Buntings. All were singing or otherwise quite territorial.
Highlights in the Vipava valley were in the form of a migrating male Hen Harrier, 2 Dippers at nest (Ajdovščina), an awful lot of Grey Wagtails and both 3 common larks: Wood, Sky and Crested Lark. From the Vipava-Razdrto motorway also this year's first hirundine was spotted: a CRAG MARTIN - which gave an additional spring feel to the day. Looking forward for the first Swallows and House Martins now.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Smells like spring

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis - phone-binning at its best
Prunus mahaleb
Prunus spinosa
Finally some signs of the proper spring kicking in. The sea in the patch is quite lively at the moment, with mixed flocks of Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler stopping regularly. I'm now expecting to see the first Garganeys as well (some reported today). Also 11 Mute Swans this morning. Woodland yaffle aka Green Woodpecker is heard calling on a daily basis, along with the other birds in the chorus. Here and there a singing Blackcap too.
Checked briefly Škocjanski zatok NR in the past two days. Some new spring additions were in the form of 7 Ferruginous Ducks, flock of 8 Ruffs, 8 Lapwings, a few Snipes and Curlews. Pygmy Cormorants are numbering about 7 birds and there are still 3 to 4 Cattle Egrets present. The most interesting ducks include 9 Gadwalls, several Pochards and Tufted Ducks. Also heard a Water Rail singing. The warden also reported the first Moustached Warbler a few days ago, but when I visited it was too windy in the reedbed. Passerines included up to 7 Chiffchaffs in the bushes, 1 Stonechat and still some Reed Buntings about. The hedges by the path are in complete white bloom - mostly Prunus mahaleb (with tiny green leaves as well) and Prunus spinosa.
Lately I've been experiencing a bit of phone photography (as above), because I'm not taking my camera out very often.