Friday, 20 October 2017

Autumn's magic in the Dinarides

As you may have noticed, in autumn we like to wander around the Dinaric forests even more than in the other seasons. With so many repetitive posts, we hope not to bore our readers too much, but the places and wildlife we feature most (forests) are actually those most typical for Slovenia, so they are truly unavoidable. In the past ten days we have been visiting the Dinaric forests of Javorniki and Snežnik in the Notranjska region and of course seeing amazing wildlife with beautiful autumn colours. Below are the most interesting species we observed; make sure you also watch all the videos! ;-)
We are having great encounters with Pygmy Owls Glaucidium passerinum this autumn! We had no less than 5 birds in one day; two were on different locations, while three were together at the same site (maybe a family?). The last pic above even shows two inidivuals sitting on the same branch! All owls were first "whistled out", then we carefully approached and after spotting them in the conifer canopies, we could usually watch them for a long time. As they didn't really bother the presence of humans, they behaved spontaneously and allowed close views. Here's a VIDEO of two of the most showy individuals (watch HD).
Ural Owls Strix uralensis are quite abundant in the Dinaric forests and encounters like the above, sometimes happen, especially in the autumn. This species frequently hunts by day and with a bit of luck, it can be observed even along the forest roads. We watched the above individual for at least half an hour and also recorded this VIDEO (watch HD).
Of course we couldn't skip a visit to a prime Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus habitat, where we first heard and then with a bit of fieldcraft, tracked down two birds: male (last pic) and female (top 2 pics) feeding close to each other. As usual with this species, both birds allowed good views and proved to be indifferent to our presence. Here's again a VIDEO (watch HD).
Two views on the Three-toed Woodpecker habitat: from "inside" (first pic) and "outside" (second). The area is a forest reserve, where logging is not allowed and the results are clearly visible. The Three-toeds we spotted were probably accompanied by a third individual (only heard), while a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius and a singing Pygmy Owl were also nearby (the latter can be heard in the video).
There were still some beautiful autumn colours in the forest, even more accentuated by the fantastic sunny weather. Beech Fagus sylvatica trees are now turning from orange to dark red, while Sycamores Acer pseudoplatanus have already lost their leaves. We are now entering into the last stage of the autumn tree's change: leaf shedding.
We also payed attention to the forest floor and found several species of fungi. Once again, we found the rare Hericium alpestre (H. flagellatum) on a cut silver fir Abies alba. This species was already featured in one of the previous posts from Trnovski gozd.
Below are more fungi species, some of which we managed to (almost) ID, also with the help of an expert.
Ramaria sp.
Lactarius scrobiculatus - a very common fungus in the Dinaric forests.
Amanita pantherina (probably).
Amanita muscaria
Russula fragilis or R. lundelii (?)
Recently we also had an interesting encounter with two Nutcrackers Nucifraga caryocatactes (top pics), feeding in a stand of hazels Corylus avellana (last pic) in the montane part of the Karst. The two birds were regulary observed carrying hazelnuts in their beaks (second pic), together with several Jays Garrulus glandarius. Hazels are an important autumn food for Nutcrackers, so at this time of year is probably easier to observe them outside their coniferous strongholds, where they tend to be more elusive.
Hopefully more Dinaric forests' reports in the next posts!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Autumn botany & micology

Although the vegetation season of most plants is coming to an end, some species can be still found blooming late in October. So with this post we would like to officially close the botanical season (sadly!) and present some of the plants that we encountered during our recent trips in the Karst, from mid September to the beginning of October. Most of them are typical for dry karstic grasslands. 
At the end we added also some of the most interesting fungi we found in the Karst recently - something more autumnal!

Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis.
Scarce aromatic plant, found along the Karst edge, on dry grasslands.

 Winter Savory Satureja montana.
Commonest savory species in the Karst.
Satureja subspicata ssp. liburnica (with Macrolepiota procera). 
Slightly scarcer than S. montana and favouring mountain karstic meadows.

Allium ericetorum (syn. A. ochroleucum).

Allium senescens (syn. A. montanum).

Dittany Dictamnus albus (with Allium senescens).
A typical late spring flower, but sometimes blooming in the autumn as well. 

Colchicum autumnale.
Very common "autumn crocus" on meadows and woodland edges.
Dianthus balbisii ssp. liburnicus.
A scarce pink of the Karst region, still in flower in late autumn.

Aster amellus
Autumn Lady's-tresses Spiranthes spiralis.
This tiny species with a characteristic twisted stem is the last flowering orchid of the season, in bloom from late August to the beginning of October on dry meadows.

Smoke Bush Cotinus coggygria.
One of Karst's most typical plants, that turns its leaves red in autumn and adorns the karstic limestone rocks all over the warmer part of western Slovenia, northeastern Italy and northwestern Croatia.

Barberry Berberis vulgaris

Parasol Mushroom Macrolepiota procera.
Very common and prominent fungus on a variety of meadows.

Porcelain Fungus Oudemansiella mucida.
Jelly-like fungus found on rotting beech logs.

Ramaria sp.
A beautiful coral fungus growing on the forest floor.

This one we didn't ID yet. More fungi pics in the nex posts...

Thursday, 12 October 2017

A day with a Pygmy Owl

In many respects, autumn is like a second spring. Forests come to life and animals are again very active, after the long and calm summer. They seem to be more numerous and somehow more visible. Some days ago we headed to Trnovski gozd (Trnovo forest) in western Slovenia, where we enjoyed the spectacle of the orange autumn leaves and some interesting wildlife too. One of the most thrilling encounters, that one can hope for in autumn, is with Europe's smallest owl: the Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum. A combination of experience and luck gave us the possibility to spend the day in the company of this interesting species. First I whistled its song, then after some minutes the bird began to call back, so we went looking for it. After a short walk and with quite a surprise, we found the bird sitting in the canopy of a beech tree Fagus sylvatica. It remained there for a long time, not really bothering our presence, so we decided to have lunch under its tree. The bird then changed perches several times, behaving spontaneously, so we could still follow its movements, also because it was clearly indifferent with our presence and allowed a close approach.
Pygmy Owl is a rare mountain owl of conifer and mixed forests, found predominantly in the Alps, but also in the Dinaric mountains. In Trnovski gozd we know a few territories, but finding this species is never easy, so a certain amount of luck is required too. The most typical encounters are those in the last picture, when the bird perches on the top of high conifers and sings. That's how we saw it for the last time, when in the mid afternoon it began singing spontaneously once again, marking its territory.
At first, the Pygmy Owl was perched very high up in a beech canopy and the best views were had from right under the tree.
The surrounding forest looked excellent for a variety of interesting birds, due to its large amount of dead conifer and beech wood. While we were following the owl, we also heard a Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus nearby. The area is most probably a breeding site for both species as we already had them here a couple of times.
This Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus also came to investigate us, while we were busy with the Pygmy Owl. One or two Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius were calling not so far away. A truly excellent piece of forest!
Another very interesting find was that of the rare Hericium alpestre (syn. H. flagellum), a saprotrophic fungus, growing in old-growth forests on old silver firs Abies alba (more rarely also on other conifers). There are several species in the genus Hericium and all are known for their medicinal and culinary uses. But we, of course, like to see them on dead trees in their natural habitat!
The commonest bird in mountain forests at this time of year is probably the Crossbill Loxia curvirostra. Noisy flocks of this species fly around the tops of conifers and frequently perch on them. With their characteristic "crossed" bills (visible in the pics) they can easily extract spruce seeds from the cones. Male in the first two pics, female in the last.
Another beautiful, but common fungus in mountain forests is Fomitopsis pinicola, found on the bark of old conifers. Very occasionally it can also grow on deciduous trees. It is perhaps one of the prettiest fungi adorning our forests.
For the end some more beautiful colours of a mixed forest of beech and silver fir (Abieti-Fagetum) in Trnovski gozd. A spectacle worth seeing and enjoying before the leaves are shed.