Tuesday 24 January 2017

On the tracks of Lynx and Wolf

January is a good month for following animal's tracks in the snow. Recently I made two snow-tracking visits that proved very productive. I went looking for tracks both close to home, on the Slovenian Karst and further afield in the Snežnik forests. Moreover I've also been to lake Cerknica (Cerkniško jezero) and a few other places, trying to see some live animals as well. Here and there a few woodpeckers and owls materialised in front of me, as it frequently happens. I leave you to the pics with some comments below.

Footprints of Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. Such find is the climax of a snow-tracking trip and usually the closest you can get to a wild Lynx in Slovenia. With something like 10-15 individuals in the whole country, Lynx is one of the rarest and most secretive animals of Slovenia: virtually impossible to see and a real phantom. Yesterday we were very lucky to find two sets of tracks on a snow-covered forest road. In the second photo I played a bit with the levels in photoshop to make the footprint more clearly visible.
Footprints of Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. After following the tracks for a while, we came across this large rock with many footprints in the snow nearby and a strong scent of cat urine - clearly a place where the Lynx marked the territory.
Footprints of Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx in the snow, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. Note the funny-looking ice cream shape of the footprints, made when the animal walks in the deep snow and leaves behind signs of the furry legs too.
Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx shot in 1987 and exposed in a hunting hut on mount Slavnik in southeast Slovenia (photographed in August 2016). Lynx got extinct in Slovenia at the beginning of the 20th century due to the lack of food (scarcity of its main prey - deer), lack of habitat and hunting pressures. Thereafter, hunters brought it back with a reintroduction programe in 1973 which was very successful. Lynx from the Slovak Carpathians were used for the purpose and their descendants still roam free in Slovenian forests. However nowadays the Lynx is again on the brink of extinction due to small population numbers (10-15 animals) and increasing loss of genetic diversity (inbreeding).
Tracking animals in the Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. This is one of the few bird species to be found in upland forests in the middle of winter. The above bird interrupted our lunch in the snow as it silently glided some 10 meters past us and landed on a tree nearby. It was in active hunt and didn't pay much attention to us.
Footprints of Wolf Canis lupus, Slovenian Karst, 14th January 2017. Although nearly impossible to ID for sure, due to the similarity with domestic dogs, these tracks belong most certainly to a Wolf. The most characteristic traits, typical of Wolf noticed were: the overall straight walk (for about 2 km on a forest road), the absence of any human footprints nearby, the footprint size and shape and... the opinion of an expert. Moreover Wolves are know to be present in the area where the tracks were found. In the whole of Slovenia there are about 11 packs of Wolves, concentrated mostly in the central and western part of the country, where they inhabit the Dinaric mountains. The new, updated report of the Wolf monitoring in Slovenia is available here (with summary and maps in English).
Lobaria pulmonaria, Snežnik forests, 23rd January 2017. This rare and endangered lichen, indicator of unpolluted air, is actually very common in the forests of Snežnik. It is typically found on the rough bark of old sycamores Acer pseudoplatanus.
Neottia nidus-avis, Cerkniško jezero, 21st January 2017. The remains of a dry orchid from last summer, sprouting out of the snow.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius, Slovenian Karst, 4th January 2017. At the beginning of the month I carried out a testing census and discovered 4 territorial birds in an area that hasn't yet been systematically studied. These results, together with a recent observation from near Ilirska Bistrica, add even more knowledge to the distribution of this woodpecker, which once was thought to be very rare in western Slovenia. It looks like the species is commoner than thought in this part of the country.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Slovenian Karst, 20th January 2017. This female is spending whole days stripping off the bark from dead pines in a small woodland that I visit almost on a daily basis. Plantations of black pine Pinus nigra all over the Karst seem to be affected by some sort of bark beetle and are dying quickly. Recently I've noticed an increase of Black Woodpeckers in such affected woods.
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, Rakov Škocjan, 21st January 2017.
Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, Slovenian Karst, 4th January 2017. Feeding on a gall of Andricus caputmedusae in the canopy of a sessile oak Quercus petraea.