February at last, and the end of winter is not that far away anymore! Birding has been the main outdoor activity recently and for good reason - birds seem to be the first animals to notice the change in season and start to be more active than usual (singing, drumming, migration ect). Škocjanski zatok Nature Reserve has become Domen's second local patch, due to his various working commitments there. You'll probably read more about this nature reserve in our future posts... This small wetland near Koper holds good numbers of waterbirds at the moment and some interesting species too. The Bittern Botaurus stellaris (above) is a regular winter guest to the reserve and it can be frequently observed from the main hides and even from the visitor center's bar. With a bit of luck and patience the reedbeds might reveal the wintering flock of Bearded Tits Panurus biarmicus (see photo) or some Penduline Tits Remiz pendulinus. Other birds of note observed in the past two days included a drake Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, 2-3 Caspian Gulls Larus cachinnans, 1 Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus and several Greylag Geese Anser anser.
Forests in the Karst are already resounding with woodpecker's first territorial drummings, including those of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor (pictured above). A few days ago, during a short morning walk in our local patch, we had 2 Lesser Spots, 2 pairs of Middle Spotted Dendrocopos medius (4 birds in total), several Great Spotted Dendrocopos major, 2 Black Dryocopus martius and 3 Green Woodpeckers Picus viridis. The forest floor is slowly coming back to life with the first blooming Istrian Hellebores Helleborus multifidus subsp. istriacus and Snowdrops Galanthus nivalis.
The limestone cliffs along the Karst edge are also providing some quality birding, usually during short afternoon sessions. The above Peregrine Falco peregrinus, photographed in the Glinščica valley, on the border with Trieste, is probably well intentioned to nest at its usual and historical site in the valley. At the same site we also observed a Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria, while not far away, a pair of Eagle Owls Bubo bubo put on show in the evening, performing a singing duet and even copulating in the cliffs in front of us! Certainly an excellent beginning to the breeding season!
This handsome Rock Bunting Emberiza cia visited our karstic garden at the end of January. Although a common species in rocky areas of the Karst, we are always delighted to have this unusual garden bird in our vegetable garden from time to time.
An abundant snowfall at the end of January covered the garden with a layer of about 15 cm of snow and many birds were attracted to the birdfeeders, including several Hawfinches Coccothraustes coccothraustes (1st photo), Greenfinches Chloris chloris & Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis (2nd photo), as well as some scarcer species like Brambling Fringilla montifringilla (3rd photo) and Siskin Carduelis spinus.
Last Sunday we also made a small incursion into Croatian territory, not far from Slovenia's southern border. We visited the Mirna river valley, where a great abundance of birds was present, including waterbirds, raptors, passerines ect, although no signs of the wintering Greater Spotted Eagle. Most interesting were a smart male Merlin Falco columbarius (phone-scoped pics above) and an unexpected and rather unseasonal flock of 6 Curlew Sandpipers Calidris ferruginea, feeding at the river mouth.