Wednesday 4 November 2015

Pokljuka - Triglav National Park

Pokljuka is a large forested plateau in the Triglav National Park (north-western Slovenia). In the past the area was covered by beech and silver fir forests, which were transformed into almost pure conifer stands, through centuries of human activity. The predominant tree species today is Norway spruce Picea abies and many of the organisms that inhabit this forests belong to the fauna & flora of boreal environments. Some of them are glacial relicts (good populations of Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus ect.). Another such example is the PYGMY OWL Glaucidium passerinum which in the Alps has the strongest population of Slovenia. The Pokljuka plateau is an excellent place to observe it. Due to its partly-diurnal habits, it's not very difficult to hear one singing in the early morning and spot it perched on the top of a spruce. On Sunday I had the pleasure to watch this nice little owl for quite a while...
Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum in its typical pose: observing the surroundings from the top of a high spruce and delivering its autumn song.

The owl was as usual accompanied by a noisy flock of small forest birds (Goldcrest Regulus regulus, Coal Tit Periparus ater, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus and Willow Tit Poecile montanus) that were very nervous about its presence and kept mobbing it. The panic was justified as Pygmy Owl frequently includes small birds in its diet, hence the partly diurnal habits.
Of the other birds observed on Pokljuka, Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes was perhaps the most interesting (3-4 seen), along with Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus (2-3) and Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius (4-5) plus a good selection of common forest birds: Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Treecreeper Certhia familiaris, Brambling Fringilla montifringilla, Siskin Carduelis spinus and Crossbill Loxia curvirostra.
But now let some more photos tell the rest of the story...
An autumn-coloured larch Larix decidua stands out among Norway spruces Picea abies.
Some views on the Šijec bog with a morning frost. The small trees covering this wetland habitat are mountain pines Pinus mugo. The temperatures here were below zero in the early morning.
Mountain pine Pinus mugo in detail.
Two views on Šijec bog with mount Triglav in the background (first photo). This bog is perhaps the most well known and studied in Slovenia. It is also one of the very few raised bogs in the country and supports a selection of very interesting and localised plant species. Different species of Sphagnum mosses (for example the red one on the second pic) build up this vulnerable habitat.
Mount Triglav, Slovenia's highest peak (2864 m), as seen from the Pokljuka plateau (same mountain also in the first pic of the post).
Mount Debela peč (2014 m) peaking out from Pokljuka's conifer forests. On a higher elevation, Norway spruce P. abies is replaced by larch Larix decidua which constitutes the natural tree-line in the Alps.
Larch L. decidua in its full autumn beauty.
Two dead conifers - the perfect place for Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus which is a widespread bird on Pokljuka.
Goldcrest Regulus regulus - one of the commonest birds on Pokljuka.
Lycopodium annotinum surrounded by cranberry Vaccinium vitis-idaea - both species form a dense undergrowth in the conifer forest on the plateau, especially around bogs.
Coal Tit Periparus ater - another very common forest bird.
A late Gentiana verna, still in flower on the alpine grassland of planina Klek.
Pokljuka is the major stronghold for Brown Bear Ursus arctos in the Slovenian Alps. However, bear's numbers are significantly lower compared to those of southern Slovenia. So the chances of seeing one in the Alps are quite remote.