Sunday 10 September 2017

In Brown Bear's kingdom

Autumn is an excellent time for mammal watching on forest glades. A few days ago we set for a good location on the western slopes of the Snežnik plateau, to try our luck with the Brown Bear Ursus arctos. We chose an elevated point overlooking some open grassland, that Bears like to cross in the evenings. Soon after the sun set, we were lucky as we spotted a large Bear. It was a brief encounter, perhaps only half a minute long, while the animal trotted over a grassy slope, before disappearing in the vegetation. However it was on view long enough to catch it briefly in the scope and also take some pictures. 
Bears are mostly nocturnal animals and individuals that usually venture out at twilight are young or immatures, trying to avoid the older and more agressive individuals; the latter being very wary and only wandering around in pitch darkness.
Open grassy areas bordering the Snežnik forests offer great opportunities for mammal watching as many animals come out of the forest to feed at dusk. The Snežnik forests are home to a strong Brown Bear population, as well as a few packs of Wolves Canis lupus and the only few remaining Lynx Lynx lynx in Slovenia.
When darkness came, we started to hear the first rutting Red Deer Cervus elaphus - their mating season has begun! During the evening we observed several other mammals, including Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, Brown Hare Lepus europaeus and Fox Vulpes vulpes, while birds included a Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus and a Scops Owl Otus scops hunting by the road.
A nice full moon made a few brief appearances in the cloudy sky. Animals are usually more active during full moon nights. Although we didn't hear any forest owls, we know by experience that such nights are the best for wildlife observation in the Dinaric forests.
Earlier in the afternoon we also observed two female Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius feeding on a large pile of black pine logs. The trees were visibly ill and obviously still very attractive to the woodpeckers. There's currently a large disease (bark beetle or something) affecting most of the black pines in the Karst and woodpeckers are clearly taking advantage of it. This is quite great as black pines were actually introduced to the Karst in the 19th century.
Allium ericetorum (syn. A. ochroleucum) is a common species of leek on dry karstic grasslands. It is typical of the autumn and at this time of year one of the few flowering plants on grasslands. Its pinkish counterpart, Allium senescens (syn. A. montanum) is also common at the moment.