Sunday 19 May 2019

Rainy May

What used to be the best month of all, this year is actually a catastrophe. The weather has been rather wintry until a few days ago, with temperatures moving between 6 and 11 degrees for most of the past two or three weeks. Many mountain areas were covered in snow, while lower altitudes were almost constantly battered by the rain. The latter is rather normal at this time of year, but this May we actually had only about one sunny day a week. Due to the low temperatures, many insectivorous summer migrants were struggling to find food, especially those that already started breeding. Exhausted Swallows Hirundo rustica resting on the ground or in other unusual places were common to come across. Now the situation is slightly better with temperatures on the increase, although it looks like the rain will be accompanying us to the very end of May.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Despite the unfavourable weather we managed to carry out some of the fieldwork we had to do and also make the usual stroll or two around the Karst. During one of the few available sunny days we went counting migrating raptors along the ridge of mount Vremščica and observed several interesting species including Osprey Pandion haliaetus, White Ciconia ciconia and Black Stork Ciconia nigra, Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus, Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus, Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus and Goshawk Accipiter gentilis. Honey Buzzards in particular are streaming back from the south in good numbers and can be observed quite frequently these days (saw them even from home).
Among other welcome sights in the Karst were also Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, Spotted Flycatcher Muscipaca striata, Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina and the shy but colourful Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus - the real star of the woodland at the moment.
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus (male)
Male Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio
singing and eating a Field Cricket Gryllus campestris (watch the video).

After the cold spell, butterflies and other invertebrates are slowly "coming back to life". Among the most interesting species we observed were: Chequered Blue Scolitantides orion (scarce species in Slovenia, mostly found in the west of the country), Southern White Admiral Limenitis reducta and Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina. From May onwards it is usually good to take a closer look at fresh log piles at woodland edges, which usually host the chunky Beech Longhorn Beetle Morimus funereus - we found our first two of the season the other day.
Chequered Blue Scolitantides orion
Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina
Southern White Admiral Limenitis reducta
Large Wall Brown Lasiommata maera
Dalmatian Algyroides Algyroides nigropunctatus

Fortunately, regardless of the weather, there are countless orchids and other wildflowers to enjoy at this time of year. The star of the moment in broadleaved karstic woodlands is certainly the impressive Wild Peony Paeonia officinalis, while the meadows will be soon reaching the climax in orchid variety.
Wild Peony Paeonia officinalis
"Slender-leaved Asparagus" Asparagus tenuifolius
Lily of the Valley Convallaria majalis
Military Orchid Orchis militaris
Burnt-tip Orchid Neotinea ustulata
Three-toothed Orchid Neotinea tridentata
Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea
Mountain Pasqueflower Pulsatilla montana (both in flower and in seed)
 Javorka's Golden Drop Onosma javorkae (O. dalmatica/O.echioides)
Drypis spinosa subsp. jacquiniana

Meanwhile it's breeding time in Škocjanski zatok NR, where we are carrying out the usual spring monitorings of birds. Purple Heron Ardea purpurea seems to be breeding again this year, while the ducklings of the local Greylag Geese Anser anser are doing well. The brackish lagoon is full of breeding Common Terns Sterna hirundo (something between 70-100 pairs) and Little Terns Sternula albifrons (about 5-10 pairs), while from the beginning of May we've been regularly seeing returning Little Bitterns Ixobrychus minutus too. Among the most interesting species observed recently we certainly need to mention a Turnstone Arenaria interpres in the lagoon (on the 7th of May), which was a new species for the reserve (the 254th species)! Other locally interesting birds included Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola (2 in breeding plumage) & Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus (1 male). The reedbeds are now resounding with the songs of breeding Great Reed Warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus (up to 39 singing males) and Reed Warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus (47 counted), as well as migrant Marsh Acrocephalus palustris and Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus. All in all, an excellent time to learn how to identify Acros by their songs!
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus