Thursday 2 July 2020

Weekend in the Julian Alps

Another productive weekend is behind us (actually the next one is just 'round the corner!). Last Saturday we joined the first large initiative organised by Balkan River Defence called Za naravo ob Savo (To the Sava, for Nature). Over 700 people gathered along the river Sava (Slovenia's longest river) and covered its whole length to paddle, hike, bike and swim in an act of demonstration against the current government's anti-nature policies. You can read more about it on the Balkan River Defence website or here. With a couple of friends we decided to join the group of activists walking down along the first stretch of the river Sava Dolinka, starting at its spring Zelenci, near Kranjska gora (NW Slovenia).
The Dipper Cinclus cinclus was our ambassador.

Zelenci are a nature reserve encompassing a boggy area where the crystal clear waters of the Sava Dolinka originate. Due to the scorching sun and heat we didn't see much along our way, apart from several interesting plants, including some gone-over Lady's-slippers Cypripedium calceolus and the rare Rock Soapwort Saponaria ocymoides localised to just a couple of sites in the Alps. Among birds the species of note were Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius (heard), Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus, Water Rail Rallus aquaticus (local speciality), Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris and Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus (the latter breeding commonly in the villages). Butterfly numbers and diversity were depressingly low, however we managed to see a couple of False Heath Fritillaries Melitaea diamina in the boggy meadows and a few Woodland Browns Lopinga achine along the forest edges. After the event we stayed in the area and visited some of the local natural attractions like the impressive Lower Martuljek waterfall.
Zelenci Nature Reserve near Kranjska gora.
False Heath Fritillary Melitaea diamina
Spiked Rampion Phyteuma spicatum
Wood Vetch Vicia sylvatica
Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Rock Soapwort Saponaria ocymoides
The mighty Martuljek group in the northern Julian Alps near Kranjska gora.
The Martuljek stream.
The impressive Lower Martuljek waterfall.
Martuljek's gorge.

Over the weekend we lingered in the Julian Alps, trying to make the most out of the changeable weather. On Sunday we took a nice hike into some mid and high-altitude areas near Vršič (around 1600 m a.s.l.) within the Triglav National Park, to enjoy in the general alpine wildlife. Given the very high summer temperatures we mostly concentrated on plants as birds were thin on the ground. The most exciting find was Rusty-leaved Alpenrose Rhododendron ferrugineum, a rare species in Slovenia (although widespread in the Alps overall) due to its preference for acidic soils - most of the Slovenian Alps are on basic limestone. There was also the usual colourful array of alpine flowers, including local specialities or endemics like Julian Poppy Papaver alpinum ssp. ernesti-mayeri, Rhaetian Poppy Papaver alpinum ssp. rhaeticus, Traunfellner's Buttercup Ranunculus traunfellneri and many others. On a centenary larch Larix decidua we also came across two specimen of the extremely rare bracket fungus Agarikon Laricifomes officinalis. This fungus was widely collected in the past for its medicinal purposes and became very rare. Like other bracket fungi it needs large old trees to grow and develop; in Europe it only grows on larches. 
Among butterflies we were glad to see several Alpine Heaths Coenonympha gardetta and Mountain Green-veined Whites Pieris bryoniae, two typical high-altitude species found in the Alps. Other typical mountain wildlife like Alpine Marmot Marmota marmota, Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus, Alpine Swift Apus melba and Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris were also seen or heard.
Laburnum Laburnum anagyroides
The northern side of Mojstrovka above Vršič.
Alpine Toadflax Linaria alpina
Alpine Hutchinsia Hutchinsia alpina (aka Pritzelago or Hornungia alpina).
Bilberry Bumblebee Bombus monticola on 
Round-leaved Pennycress Thlaspi cepaeifolium ssp. rotundifolium
Rhaetian Poppy Papaver alpinum ssp. rhaeticum
Julian Poppy Papaver alpinum ssp. ernesti-mayeri
Dwarf Alpenrose Rhodothamnus chamaecistus
Traunfellner's Buttercup Ranunculus traunfellneri
Least Snowbell Soldanella minima
Alpine Yellow Violet Viola biflora
Mountain Avens Dryas octopetala
Striated Daphne Daphne striata
Rusty-leaved Alpenrose Rhododendron ferrugineum -
the rare one (note the rusty underside to the leathery leaves).
Hairy Alpenrose Rhododendron hirsutum -
the common species (note the soft, hairy leaves).
Alpine Clematis Clematis alpina
Alpine Butterwort Pinguicula alpina
Sternberg's Pink Dianthus sternbergii
Leafless-stemmed Speedwell Veronica aphylla
Leafless-stemmed Globularia Globularia nudicaulis
Larches Larix decidua
Agarikon Laricifomes officinalis
Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus
Crossbill Loxia curvirostra
Alpine Heath Coenonympha gardetta
Mountain Green-veined White Pieris bryoniae
Moth sp. on Larch Larix decidua.
Mount Jalovec (2645 m) rising above the Tamar valley.
Scanning for Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra

After the high-altitude hike we also spent some time lower down in the Trenta valley and around the river Soča. Here we heard several Western Bonelli's Warblers Phylloscopus bonelli and enjoyed in large numbers of Red Helleborines Cephalanthera rubra and Dark-red Helleborines Epipactis atrorubes, although we didn't find the Ghost Orchids Epipogium aphyllum we went looking for at a site where they flowered back in 2016.
In the Loška Koritnica valley we visited a place where the rare Tufted Horned Rampion Physoplexis comosa grows on some cliffs close to a spectacular waterfall. The plants were mostly blooming on inaccessible cliffs and we were only able to find them with binoculars. Fortunately our strong camera zoom allowed us some good documentative shots. The location was awesome!
River Soča in the Trenta valley.
Red Helleborine Cephalanthera rubra
Dark-red Helleborine Epipactis atrorubens
Tufted Horned Rampion Physoplexis comosa
Parabola waterfall.
The Fratarica stream in the Loška Koritnica valley.
Selfie with the waterfall.