Tuesday 5 September 2017

Wetlands of eastern Slovenia

Yesterday we visited northeastern Slovenia after a long time. There are some excellent birding locations in the Štajerska region, set on the Pannonian plain. Actually two areas are known as the best birding sites in the whole of Slovenia: the Medvedce reservoir near Pragersko and the Ptuj lake. We visited both as well as another site in the vicinity, the Rače fishponds south of Maribor. These precious wetlands are important breeding sites for a great variety of waterbirds, but are also used by migratory birds as stop-over sites. Some of Slovenia's greatest rarities were recorded on the Medvedce reservoir and at lake Ptuj. Yesterday we didn't see any rarities, but we had a nice mix of wetland wildlife, some of which we are not used to see frequently.
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana at the Medvedce reservoir. The species is a scarce breeder in Slovenia, mostly at Cerkniško jezero and a few sites in eastern Slovenia. It is far easier to catch up with it during migration, when birds feed at the edge of reedbeds and sometimes allow views as above. Similarly also Little Crake Porzana parva can be observed with the same mode in this period.
Part of the Rače fishpond is covered by the beautiful Fringed Water-lily Nymphoides peltata that is superficially similar to the water lily Nymphaea alba and the yellow water-lily Nuphar luteum, but belongs to a different family, the Menyanthaceae. Waterbirds seem to favour areas covered with such floating vegetation, where they can hide and build their nests...
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca is a true bird of eastern Europe. As you move from western Slovenia to the east, this species becomes increasingly common. It is a regular breeder at fishponds, reservoirs and freshwater wetlands in eastern Slovenia and can be observed quite easily. The above birds were all photographed at the Rače fishponds. A flock was resting in the thick stand of Fringed Water-lilies.
Another very common duck species, breeding at fishponds is Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula. Similarly also Pochard Aythya ferina is quite common in this region as a breeding bird. In winter, Tufted Ducks are joined by flocks of Scapus Aythya marila arriving from the north and spending the winter in northeastern Slovenia.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus is one of the commonest birds at the fishponds and reservoirs in eastern Slovenia. They usually nest colonially on floating nests in the middle of reservoirs. One such colony, with up to ten breeding birds is present at the Rače fishponds. Yesterday we observed many fresh juveniles, still being fed by adults.
A welcome addition was one of the most beautiful butterflies, the Large Copper Lycaena dispar, which we observed repeatedly on overgrown banks along the Rače fishponds and Medvedce reservoir. In eastern Slovenia this species is much commoner than in the west, although recently we also found it closer to home (see this). The above specimen are a beautiful male (front) and a less-marked female (rear).
Close to the Large Coppers was also this Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas, a less-colourful species and probably the commonest of all coppers in Slovenia.
This juvenile Purple Heron Ardea purpurea was observed at the Rače fishponds. Individuals like this are regularly seen on migration all over Slovenia's wetlands. There are only a handful of probable breeding records of this species in the country. The first confirmed breeding is fresh from this year and involves a breeding pair at DOPPS's reserve Škocjanski zatok in southwest Slovenia.
Unlike in western Slovenia, Stock Doves Columba oenas are common in the lowland east of the country. Yesterday we observed up to 15 individuals resting on wires in farmland areas.
A view over part of the Ptuj lake with Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmeus resting on the left. This is a large artificial reservoir formed with the construction of a dam on the river Drava. It extends in the vicinity of the town of Ptuj, but nevertheless hosts a large diversity of waterbirds. In winter up to 10-20 thousand birds gather at the lake. It is also important for colonial breeding birds such as Common Tern Sterna hirundo, Black-headed Larus ridibundus and Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus. Yesterday at the lake we also observed Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus, Black Tern Chlidonias niger, Dunlin Calidris alpina and Sand Martin Riparia riparia.
On the Medvedce reservoir we observed a mixed flock of Curlews Numenius arquata and Whimbrels Numenius phaeopus (both species in the photo).
This juvenile Cuckoo Cuculus canorus was also at the Medvedce reservoir. Most of the adults are now already in Africa; only if you are lucky you can catch up with the residual juveniles, still making their way to the winter quarters.
And now a species we didn't see yesterday, but one that needs to be mentioned: the White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. Although there are only a few breeding pairs in the country, this is a quite usual raptor over eastern Slovenian skies. The above pic was taken a few years ago at the Medvedce reservoir, where it's a regular bird.
Medvedce reservoir with the Pohorje plateau rising in the back... The conifer forests over there are home to Capercaillies Tetrao urogallus, Three-toed Woodpeckers Picoides tridactylus, Pygmy Glaucidium passerinum and Tengmalm's Owls Aegolius funereus. This is Slovenia - great biodivesity over a small distance!