Monday 5 October 2020

October seawatching & rarities

Strong southerly winds always bring interesting seabirds to the Gulf of Trieste. A few days ago the weather was too awful for birding elsewhere, so we headed to the coast, right on the Slovenia/Italy border, on a small headland between Ankaran and Muggia. Soon after we began scanning the sea, Sara shouted "Gannet!" - it was indeed a beautiful GANNET Morus bassanus soaring over the sea, close to shore. As these seabirds are considered rarities in the Slovenian sea (although regular in other parts of the Northern Adriatic), we were quite excited about the find and couldn't take any good photos, however the bird showed really well. In a few minutes it was already gone, gliding its was towards Ankaran and continuing along the Slovenian coast. The same morning another 3 Gannets were spotted from Piran by Daniel Bosch. Minutes after the Gannet disappeared, a train of Yelkouan Shearwaters Puffinus yelkouan went by, about 60 birds in total. Later more flocks joined and at the end we estimated a total of about 430 individuals. Although a regular pelagic seabird to the Gulf of Trieste, Yelkouan Shearwater is always an excellent find, given the fact it only appears in our waters when strong winds push flocks closer to the coast. The nearest breeding colonies of this species are in the southern part of the Adriatic, on Dalmatian islands in Croatia. Other birds observed during the seawatch were also 4 Sandwich Terns Sterna sandvicensis, several Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus, Mediterranean Shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis ssp. desmarestii and an odd Hobby Falco subbuteo coming in from the sea. Whilst driving near Muggia, in Italy we also observed a large flock of Swifts that could've been Pallids Apus pallidus, a colonial breeding bird in Trieste and easy to observe in this period (although a non-breeding rarity in Slovenia).

Gannet Morus bassanus, Gulf of Trieste.
Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan, Gulf of Trieste.


Škocjanski zatok recently also produced several interesting birds, mostly seasonal migrants that are regular to the reserve. Apart from the now well known and lingering Osprey Pandion haliaetus (here), several migrants were of note including Bluethroat Luscinia svecica, Spotted Crake Porzana porzana, Little Crake Zapornia parva, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola and the first Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor of the autumn. The latter is a winter guest to Slovenia and the first individuals appear here on the very last days of September.

Little Crake Zapornia parva, Škocjanski zatok NR.
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, Škocjanski zatok NR.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Škocjanski zatok NR.


In the past weeks we also went birding on lake Cerknica a few times. Our last visit a few days ago produced several interesting finds and even a local rarity. In a small flock of about 15 Dunlins Calidris alpina, a few Little Stints Calidris minuta and 2 Little Ringed Plovers Charadrius dubius we also spotted a lonely SANDERLING Calidris alba. A quite unusual bird to see on this site, it was actually our first Sanderling in Slovenia. The species turns up on a regular basis only at wetlands along the river Drava and coastal wetlands like the Sečovlje salinas, but is still considered a rarity in the country. We are much more used to see this species on the sandy coast of the lagoons in nearby Italy. Lake Cerknica was otherwise full of other waterbirds including common wildfowl and several Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus, while higher in the air there were various Hobbies Falco subbuteo. However the real star was an adult White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla that we enjoyed for the whole afternoon as it soared around the lake and perched at one of its favourite sites. Last but not least, while driving through the forests of Javorniki, we also flushed the first Woodcock Scolopax rusticola of the season. In the late afternoon and after a cloudy day, a beautiful "complete" rainbow materialised over the lake and rounded up perfectly yet another trip to this amazing place.

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, Cerkniško jezero.

One of the new observation points at lake Cerknica.
Lake Cerknica full of water & with a complete rainbow.
Evening rainbow over the hills in Loška dolina.