Tuesday 20 March 2018

Middle Spotted Woodpecker census

March is the time of year when the forests come alive with the sounds of territorial woodpeckers. Calm and sunny days are excellent for doing censuses, especially in the lowland snow-free areas of Slovenia. One such census is that for Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius, a Natura 2000 qualification species at several sites in eastern Slovenia. As such it is monitored by DOPPS - BirdLife Slovenia on a yearly basis, in the lowland forests of Krakovski gozd and along the river Mura. Since the species was (is?) considered rare in western Slovenia, a few years ago, we began with some "investigation monitoring" in the wider area of the Karst. With the help of DOPPS we prepare the census transects and then, with the help of volunteers, carry out the playback-method census (playing the species' calls on tape and awaiting for response). Since 2016 our knowledge of the species' distribution in western Slovenia has widened. Now we can say that the Middle Spotted Woodpecker in the Karst is more widely distributed than we previously thought.
This year's census is still being carried out, but for now we have already confirmed 7 Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, 4 of them in a new, previously uncensused area. Males at this time of year are very territorial and frequently "sing" spontaneously. Listen for their typical spring "mewing" song in this short VIDEO we made recently. For more about Middle Spots in the Karst see this posts and this video (watch HD).

The good thing about spring censuses is that generally, in a good Middle Spot habitat there are also all the other woodpecker species: from the very common Great Spotted Dendrocpos major and Green Picus viridis, to scarcer Lesser Spotted D. minor, Grey-headed Picus canus and Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius (above - a male).
To our great surprise, during a census on the 14th of March we also flushed this Hoopoe Upupa epops from a gravel road in some vineyards. This colourful bird usually returns from its wintering in Africa at the beginning of April. However in recent years the first Hoopoes are sometimes seen much earlier, like the individual we observed. It was certainly our earliest Hoopoe ever and an unexpected surprise.
The beautiful Dog's-tooth Violets Erythronium dens-canis are adorning the leaf litter in some woodlands around the Karst. This overall scarce flower can grow quite numerously on deep, wet soils in the flysch hills of western Slovenia. Their peak flowering time is usually the end of March, but this year, due to heavy snowfalls and low temperatures, the blooming season of many plants will be postponed.

Fire Salamanders Salamandra salamandra take advantage of the early spring rains and melting snow to emerge from hibernation. They are common throughout Slovenia, but usually seen only in wet weather or in permanently damp places. This individual was about 8 cm long.

On sunny days, hibernating butterflies emerge too. This Large Tortoiseshell Nymphalis polychloros is one of the typical early-spring Lepidoptera on the wings. At the same location there were also several Brimstones Gonepteryx rhamni and Admirals Vanessa atalanta.