Thursday, 14 February 2019

Lake Cerknica & surroundings

At the beginning of the week we payed a visit to lake Cerknica and its surroundings, after several months from our last trip there. The area seldom disappoints and winter is no exception. The lake, swelled by the recent rainfalls, was full of water and thus the waterbirds were thinly spread throughout the surface. We didn't see the hoped-for Smews Mergellus albellus (which regularly winter in small numbers on the lake), but the wildfowl assemblage was good nevertheless and included Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, Pintail Anas acuta, Shelduck Tadorna tadorna as well as about 20 White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons. Due to snow-free roads in the Javorniki mountains, we were able to make a short incursion into the Dinaric forests and were rewarded by a Ural Owl Strix uralensis, which showed shortly, but rather well. Birds in the forest are quite vocal now and they don't seem to care about the cold and cloudy weather of Notranjska anymore. On the forest floor the first early-spring flowers were beginning to emerge, as well as an interesting fungus.

Goldeneye Bucephala clangula (male) - part of a flock of 25 displaying on the lake.

Ural Owl Strix uralensis in the forests by lake Cerknica.
Christmas Rose Helleborus niger - common in the forests around the lake, but not in full bloom yet; only a few specimen were already in flower.
Primrose Primula vulgaris - just about to bloom.
Elf Cup Sarcoscypha austriaca - an uncommon fungus, typically emerging just after the snow melts on the forest floor. It feeds on the rotting remains of broadleaved trees and likes damp habitats.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius - an unexpected find of 2 territorial birds, close to the lake. At the same site also 2 Grey-headed Woodpeckers Picus canus and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor.
A karstic spring at Rakov Škocjan, erupting water only during abundant rainfalls when the underground water reservoirs are filled. Sometimes Olms Proteus anguinus might get transported out from the caves by the strong currents, thus ending up on the surface.
Lurking on the shores of lake Cerknica on an uninviting winter's day.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Late winter birding

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.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

5 million Bramblings in Slovenia!

Slovenia is witnessing an incredible winter spectacle this year, as up to 5 million Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla gather every evening on a patch of forest only 5-10 hectares big, in the Zasavje region. Quite a lot has already been written about this amazing invasion, so we'll avoid repeating and keep our words short. You can read the full accounts here or here. An excellent video recorded by DOPPS - BirdLife Slovenia can be watched here.
This event is so exceptional that we couldn't miss it, so yesterday we payed our tribute to the mega flock. We observed the "river" of Bramblings flowing past our heads and later gathering at their roost. Needles to say, trees were completely covered with Bramblings and the noise was overwhelming!

Sunday, 20 January 2019

A week in Extremadura (Spain)

We are just back from a trip to Spain (hence the lack of updates during the past week). We posted a complete trip report with photos to our travel blog - you can check it here: Extremadura trip report

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Wallcreeper - a Karst's winter speciality

In the Karst, every winter we get the opportunity to spend some time with a truly rare and attractive little bird, the Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria. The species actually breeds in Slovenia's alpine region, but is never easy to observe on its breeding grounds. On the other hand, birds descend to the limestone cliffs of the Karst in winter and are far easier to spot and observe in this region of southwestern Slovenia. At this time of year they are somehow predictable and move along an established route on a cliff, feeding as they go. The above video captured just that - the bird is constantly moving as it looks for invertebrates in crevices and fissures. We observed this individual today, on a well known cliff along the Karst edge, at a site we check a few times every winter. On the same cliff we also observed 4-5 Crag Martins Ptyonoprogne rupestris (an increasingly regular winterer in the Karst), a Peregrine Falco peregrinus and a small flock of Rock Buntings Emberiza cia. Birds are rather thin on the ground in the Karst at this time of year, but sunny cliff-sides prove rather interesting and usually produce a few but good species. 
Some days ago while taking a stroll in a local oak woodland near Sežana we stumbled upon one of our favourite birds - a Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius. The species, being a rare breeder in western Slovenia (although common in the east) is spreading its range westwards and is becoming increasingly common in oak woodlands throughout the Karst, especially in winter. This observation was interesting because it was made in a new area where we haven't seen the species before and rather close to our home too. Next time in the garden?

Saturday, 29 December 2018


Another year is coming to an end, so it's time to summarise our best wildlife moments of 2018. In spring and part of the autumn we've been busy guiding tours for different companies like Naturetrek, Honeyguide and Wildlife Worldwide, as well as local tour operators. In winter, spring and part of late summer we also carried out several censuses and bird monitorings for DOPPS-BirdLife Slovenia, as usual. In summer we concentrated mostly on butterflies, looking for species we haven't seen yet and added many lifers. However we also enjoyed in the usual botanising and birding, as well as the underwater wildlife of the Adriatic sea. 2018 has been a very successful year for Brown Bear observations: we have seen a total of 16 different bears this year, 9 of which were from bear-watching hides, while the other 7 were found by chance in the forest and were perhaps even more thrilling than those seen from the hides! Even more amazing was an extremely rare sighting of a Wolf in April, ranking among the major highlights of our entire life so far! This year we've been lucky to spend quite a lot of time in our favourite environment (forest), tracking, studying and showing to our guests iconic species such as Ural Owl and Three-toed Woodpecker.
The selection is arranged in chronological order and includes wildlife observed in Slovenia, except for a few pics that we took in nearby Trieste (Italy) or in Croatia. Somehow the photo selection seems to be getting longer every year... :-) Nevertheless, enjoy!

Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria, Karst edge, January.  
Watch the video.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, wintering in the Karst near Sežana, January. 
A local rarity.
Eagle Owl Bubo bubo, Karst edge, March.
Dog's-tooth Violet Erythronium dens-canis, Karst, March.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius, Karst, March. 
Our traditional spring census revealed 5 new territories at new locations 
in western Slovenia, where the species is scarce and localised.
Red-necked Grebes Podiceps grisegena courting at lake Cerknica, April.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis (dark morph), Loški Potok, April. 
We observed this cooperative bird several times from the beginning to the end of April, as it used a very small hunting area. We also documented one of its successful hunts (top pic).
Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Loški Potok, April. 
This year we were lucky to escort several visitors to bear-watching hides 
and thus we enjoyed several close encounters with Slovenia's most charismatic animal.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Loška dolina, April. 
A new bird discovered at a new location during a census.
Common Crane Grus grus, Planinsko polje, April.
Wolf Canis lupus (photo by Alberto Nevola), Cerkniško jezero, April. 
This truly mega encounter was certainly one of the most exciting of the whole year! We observed the wolf in complete daylight on the last day of our Wild Slovenia tour to the Notranjska region, while the group was returning home after 4 days packed with the very best of Slovenian wildlife.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Javorniki mountains, April. 
This cooperative male bear, observed at the side of a forest road
was one of the 3 bears seen during our Wild Slovenia tour.
Wildcat Felis silvestris, Loški Potok, April. 
Another excellent find during our Wild Slovenia tour to the Notranjska region.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos, Snežnik, April. 
This male was observed during our Wild Slovenia tour.
Enjoying a Ural Owl Strix uralensis in the Javorniki-Snežnik forests 
during our Wild Slovenia tour in April.
Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia, Karst, May. 
Marking the start of the "fritillary season" and the butterfly season in general.
Wild Peony Paeonia officinalis, Karst, May.
Eastern Stone Grasshopper Prionotropis hystrix, Karst edge, May. 
An Illyrian endemic grasshopper of sub-Mediterranean dry grasslands.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Loška dolina, May.  
Watch the video.
Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis, mount Snežnik, May. 
A rare breeding bird in mountain Dinaric forests.
A patch of old-growth forest on the northern slopes of mount Snežnik, where during two visits in May we observed all the main Slovenian forest specialities including Brown Bear, Ural Owl, Three-toed and White-backed Woodpecker, as well as Collared Flycatcher.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Loški Potok, May. 
One of the 9 bears observed from the hides during the Brown Bear Weekend 
organised by Wildlife Worldwide for the readers of BBC Wildlife Magazine.
Summer Bolete Boletus aestivalis (B. reticulatus), Javorniki mountains, May.
Birding in the Dinaric forests during the Brown Bear Weekend in May.
Photographing White Storks Ciconia ciconia at lake Cerknica  
during the Brown Bear Weekend in May.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Karst, May. 
Watch the video.
Carniolan Lily Lilium carniolicum, mount Nanos, May.
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis, mount Nanos, May.
Clouded Apollo Parnassius mnemosyne, mount Nanos, May.
Kojnik's Iris Iris sibirica ssp. erirrhiza, mount Nanos, June.
In early June we took around our friend Peter on a two-day general wildlife tour to southern and western Slovenia. We explored a wide variety of habitats and enjoyed mostly butterflies, plants as well as Ural Owl and a few other breeding birds.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Loška dolina, June. 
An adult male close to its nest-box which has been 
successfully occupied earlier in the season.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Javorniki mountains, June. 
After an extensive search we discovered this nest in late May and kept an eye on it until mid June. We also accompanied several small groups to see it; the guests could watch these fantastic and rare birds from a safety distance with the aim of telescopes.
Poplar Admiral Limenitis populi, Snežnik forests, June. 
This rare species is Slovenia's largest butterfly and was certainly the butterfly highlight of the year!
We saw at least two during the Naturetrek's Wild Slovenia tour in June.
Owlfly Libelloides macaronius, Karst, June. 
A common species of Karst meadows observed during
Naturetrek's Wild Slovenia tour.
Yellow Daylily Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus, Iška river, June. 
One of the plant highlights during Naturetrek's Wild Slovenia tour.
Paul in front of a stand of Scopolia carniolica on mount Slivnica, 
giving a history lesson about J.A. Scopoli to the Naturetrek group 
during the Wild Slovenia tour in June.
Naturetrek group at lake Cerknica during the Wild Slovenia tour in June.
In June we also took some time off and went canoeing on lake Cerknica, 
enjoying the freshwater wildlife, especially all the amphibious plants.
Purple Emperor Apatura iris, Rakov Škocjan, June.
Mountain pic-nic for the group during Naturetrek's Julian Alps botanical tour in June.
Carniolan Lily Lilium carniolicum, Soriška planina, June. 
One of the plant highlights during Naturetrek's Julian Alps tour.
Yellow Bellflower Campanula thyrsoides, Soriška planina, June. 
During Naturetrek's Julian Alps tour.
Red Vanilla Orchid Nigritella rubra (N. miniata), 
Pokljuka plateau (Triglav National Park), June.
During Naturetrek's Julian Alps tour.
Zois' Bellflower Campanula zoysii, Vrata valley (Triglav National Park), June.
One of the most interesting finds during Naturetrek's Julian Alps botanical tour.
Scarce Copper Lycaena virgaureae, Mostnica (Triglav National Park), June. 
The butterfly highlight during Naturetrek's Julian Alps tour.
Female Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus (photo by Peter Burgess) walking a forest road on the Pokljuka plateau (Triglav National Park), during Naturetrek's Julian Alps tour in June. Unfortunately this bird was seen only by the few lucky participants sitting in the front van.
Naturetrek's botanical group enjoying the tiny Lesser Twayblade Listera cordata 
in the forests of Pokljuka in June.
Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor, Vipava valley, July. 
Despite the very small size of the Slovenian breeding population, 
the colony in the Vipava valley seems to be doing well. 
This summer we observed several fledged juveniles.
Chasing butterflies in the dry grasslands 
at the southern edge of Trnovski gozd in July.
Styrian Ringlet Erebia stirius, southern edge of Trnovski gozd, July. 
A rather localised mountain butterfly of the South-eastern Alps.
Queen of Spain Fritillary Issoria lathonia in our garden in the Karst, July.
Apollo Parnassius apollo, southern edge of Trnovski gozd, July. 
After several fruitless visitis this and the previous summer, 
we finally found a site where we observed up to 7 
of these charismatic and very rare butterflies.
We must've seen +20 "Beech Longhorn Beetles" Morimus funereus this summer,
while on a quest to find its rarer cousin - the Rosalia Longicorn Rosalia alpina.
In July we also went on a sea & wildlife holiday to Croatia, 
where we observed, among others, several Rock Nuthatches Sitta neumayer.  
See here the complete report.
Queen of the Alps or Alpyne Eryngo Eryngium alpinum, mount Črna prst, August. 
A summer visit to the queen of all alpine plants has become traditional in recent years. 
The species is extremely rare in Slovenia and grows only on a handful of mountains.
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos with a Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus in the talons, 
on mount Nanos in August (see here for complete account on this extraordinary sighting).
Dryad Minois dryas on Amethyst Eryngo Eryngium amethystinum, Karst, August. 
Both the butterfly and the plant are characteristic sights of late summer in the Karst.
Lorkovič's Brassy Ringlet Erebia calcaria on  
Edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum, mount Vogel, August. 
This butterfly is endemic of the Julian Alps & 
Karavanke of NW Slovenia and the Alps of NE Italy.
Zois' Bellflower Campanula zoysii, mount Vogel, August. 
Endemic species of the Julian, Carnic & Kamnik-Savinja Alps 
and Karavanke (hence the t-shirt!).
Tufted Horned Rampion Physoplexis comosa, Kriški podi (Triglav National Park), August.
Lower Križ lake on the Kriški podi plateau (Triglav National Park), August.
Shepherd's Fritillary Boloria pales, Kriški podi (Triglav National Park), August. 
A rather rare high-altitude butterfly we encountered several times this year 
during our mountain excursions.
Alpine Ibex Capra ibex, Kriški podi (Triglav National Park), August.
Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra, Kriški podi (Triglav National Park), August.
Relaxing by the mountain hut at Kriški podi, after a 4 hours hike uphill.
Rosalia Longicorn Rosalia alpina, found dead in the Trenta valley, August. 
The quest goes on next year...
Goldline Sarpa salpa (above) and Greater Weaver Tracinus draco (below) 
in the Adriatic sea. More on our summer snorkeling in this post.
Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta, Duino-Devin (Gulf of Trieste), September. 
A regular, but difficult-to-see species in the Gulf of Trieste; 
this individual spents most of the summer under the sea cliffs of Duino.
Pelagic Stingray Pteroplatytrygon violacea, Trieste, October. 
A pelagic species, as the name suggests; this individual apparently lost its way 
and remained blocked in a sea canal in the town of Trieste for several weeks, 
before being caught and released into the open sea.
Large Copper Lycaena dispar, Vipava valley, September.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Loška dolina, September. 
With a few more bear sightings in autumn, our yearly tally rose to 
16 different bears seen in 2018!
Bronze Bolete Boletus aereus, Karst, September. 
A huge specimen - the most exciting mushroom find this autumn.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Karst, September. 
One of 3 birds observed repeatedly in September in a forest not far from Sežana, 
suggesting a possible colonisation of the species into western Slovenia.
Watch the video.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, mount Snežnik, September.
Primeval Dinaric forest of beech Fagus sylvatica and silver fir Abies alba 
on mount Snežnik, September.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus, Medvedce reservoir, September. 
One of two birds observed on the same day.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos, Snežnik forests, October. 
In autumn we were lucky to observe two females on the same day, 
in an area where the species' densities are rather low.
Watch the video.
Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum, Snežnik forests, October. 
This rare little owl was one of the highlights 
of the Autumn Forest Birding tour to Notranjska.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Snežnik forests, October. 
Several were observed during the Autumn Forest Birding tour.
Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa, Karst, October. 
2018 was an exceptionally productive year for nature's fruits, seeds and berries.
Autumn Emperor Moth Perisomena caecigena, Karst edge, October.
Phone-scoping a Ural Owl Strix uralensis 
in the Javorniki mountains in November.
Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga, Istria (Croatia), November. 
See post.
Yellow-billed Loon Gavia adamsii, Duino-Devin (Gulf of Trieste), December. 
A great rarity in our areas; less than 10 records exist for the whole of Italy. See post.
Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes, Postojna, December. 
Watch the video.

We'll end the post with our recent video featuring
forest birding and bear watching in Slovenia.
Enjoy & see you in 2019!