But first we'll step back a bit, because our New Year's tour of eastern Slovenia began on the last day of 2021, in the lowland alluvial forest of Krakovo (Krakovski gozd, east of Novo Mesto). We had some fieldwork there which included measuring trees and other parameters in the habitat of Middle Spotted Woodpecker Leiopicus medius for an ongoing study that Sara is carrying out. It is always great to return to this primeval lowland forest and marvel at the diameters and heights of its centenary oaks. Speaking about birds, the situation was rather quiet, as it is typical for mid-winter. However we couldn't leave the forest without our dose of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers (Krakovski gozd is the Slovenian stronghold of the species) - we heard/seen at least 5. Other interesting birds included 2 Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius and several Treecreepers Certhia familiaris. As we were driving away at twilight, we spotted our last bird of the year - a Ural Owl Strix uralensis hunting on the edge of the forest! What a better rounding up of a year filled with Ural Owls?
|Krakovski gozd - lowland alluvial forest.
|Pedunculate Oak Quercus robur is the forest's most characteristic tree.
|Neither Krakovski gozd is immune to intensive logging.
|The central, old-growth part of Krakovski gozd - a forest reserve.
|Middle Spotted Woodpecker Leiopicus medius, preening.
|Amazing tree diameters in the old-growth forest, where Middle Spot densities are the highest.
|Measuring DBH (diameter at breast height) of some large oaks.
|A cup of tea in the flooded forest.
The next morning, freshly into 2022, we were already birding along the river Drava. First of all we checked the artificial lake of Ormož, on the border with Croatia, where a Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis was reported earlier in the week. We searched hard for this (almost annual) rarity from northern Europe, but without success. However there were lots of other interesting species to keep us entertained. The lake was covered by literally hundreds of Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula, Pochards Aythya ferina and Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula, among which there were also at least 11 Smews Mergellus albellus (an increasingly scarcer winter visitor to Slovenia), several Goosanders Mergus merganser, 6 Velvet Scoters Melanitta fusca and many other commoner waterbirds.
|Birding on the artificial bank of the Ormož lake.
|The Ormož lake is an artificial reservoir on the river Drava.
|Smew Mergellus albellus - 2 of the at least 5 beautiful drakes.
Next it was the turn for a visit at the nearby Ormož Basins Nature Reserve (Ormoške lagune), a system of disused artificial pools created by the ex Ormož sugar factory. The site, now an important waterbird nesting & migration stopover area, is under the management of DOPPS-BirdLife Slovenia. Apart from birds, there are also Otters Lutra lutra & Beavers Castor fiber roaming the reserve, the former being also regularly observed by the reserve's staff (we came across its footprints). In winter the site might look rather calm at first, but as we took our time to work it properly, we managed to see several interesting species. In the vast stands of reedbed we managed to observe the elusive Bittern Botaurus stellaris, as well as flocks of Penduline Tits Remiz pendulinus and Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus, while the much rarer Bearded Tits Panurus biarmicus wintering there eluded us. Among other waterbirds there were also good numbers of Pygmy Cormorants Microcarbo pygmaeus, Gadwalls Mareca strepera and several Water Rails Rallus aquaticus (one seen). At around midday a large raptor glided in the sky above the reserve - it was an immature White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, moving slowly upriver along the nearby Drava. Later a flock of around 70 White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons passed overhead and only after photographing them and checking the photos, we noticed there were two Tundra Bean Geese Anser fabalis rossicus within the flock! Bean Geese have become real rarities in the last decades in Slovenia (as well as the whole Northern Adriatic region), despite once being the most numerous wintering geese.
|Reedbed in the Ormož basins.
|Bittern Botaurus stellaris
|Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus
|Bulrush Typha spp.
|Gadwall Mareca strepera
|Pygmy Cormorant Microcarbo pygmaeus
|White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla
|Tundra Bean Geese Anser fabalis rossicus among White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons
|Wet meadows grazed by water buffalos.
|Footprint of Otter Lutra lutra on the path in the Ormož basins Nature Reserve
In the afternoon as we were leaving the Ormož Basins Reserve we also spotted a flying flock of around 10 Rooks Corvus frugilegus, another increasingly scarce winter visitor to Slovenia. Upon advice from our friend and colleague Luka Božič, in the small town of Ormož we checked some conifers for roosting Long-eared Owls Asio otus. At first it was rather hard to spot them in the thick canopy, but after a while, at least 5 owl shapes appeared. Living in hilly western Slovenia, we are not used to see this rather common lowland species, so it is always a pleasure to observe them on a winter daytime roost.
|Long-eared Owl Asio otus at daytime roost
|The artificial lake of Ptuj.
|Ptuj's castle on the northern shores of the lake.
|Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca
|Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus
|Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
|Sunset in Ptuj near the Drava with the mountains of Boč and Donačka gora in the distance.
|Dravsko polje (the Drava plain) and the Pohorje plateau in the background.
|Greater Scaup Aythya marila
|Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina (including a romantic shot)
|Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dryobates minor
|One of the fishponds at Rače.
|Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus - we couldn't have enough of them!
|Bulrush Typha savaged by Bearded Tits.
|Polecat Mustela putorius, an uncommon mustelid in Slovenia.