Thursday 14 January 2016

Cerkniško jezero in January

Smew Mergellus albellus with Goldeneye Bucephala clangula (pics by S. Cernich).

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius

A distant White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla sitting in the middle of Cerknica lake. The white tail is just visible, together with the light colour of the head, contrasting with the darker body.

Cerknica lake - now full of water (by S. Cernich).

Today was the year's most productive day in terms of birding. The weather was sunny and not too cold, so I headed to Cerkniško jezero (Cerknica lake) where I inspected the lake area and surrounding forest. After some heavy rains during the last week the lake was full of water and the snow has been washed away, even from the highest nearby mountains. As expected, the turn to the new year brought a welcome winter guest: a drake SMEW Mergellus albellus. It was swimming along 11 Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula on the north-western part of the lake, close to shore. Smews often appear in Slovenia in late December or January and reach the western part of the country around new year. They are regular but still scarce on Cerknica lake, with just small numbers every winter.
Also expected (but never guaranteed!) was a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE Haliaeetus albicilla, an adult, sitting on a pole by the lake. After sitting there for some minutes it took off and headed eastwards into the forested hills. Meanwhile, a small patch of woodland (hornbeam, hazel & oak) by the lake produced once again a smart Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius, more or less on the same site as last time I was here, in November 2015. Although very mobile, it showed well and allowed a single, "clean shot" (short video here). Nearby was also a Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus. Of the other birds present on the lake, the most notable included: Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica (1; first time I see a diver on the lake), Greylag Goose Anser anser (flock on migration), Water Rail Rallus aquaticus (1), Gadwall Anas strepera (5), Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor (2), Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus (2 f) and Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (1 f).

Worth reporting is also a WOODCOCK Scolopax rusticola that I saw yesterday afternoon on the Karst near Lipica. I was driving in a wooded area, when the bird took off from the roadside and flew across the road. I was pleased to have such a nice daylight encounter with this secretive species, which is quite difficult to see during the day.
Another interesting observation worth sharing concerns 2 Slavonian Grebes Podiceps auritus on the sea by the Sečovlje saltpans (SW Slovenia) on Saturday 9th. A regular, but rare winter species in Slovenia, with most of the records coming from the coast or the large reservoir lakes in the north-east. This seems to be a good winter as 7 individuals were reported at this location and exceptional high numbers (up to 15) are also present on the Italian side of the Gulf of Trieste.