Wednesday 2 November 2011

Owl trio in the Trnovo forest

Yesterday I was back again in the Trnovski gozd (SLO) with a couple of other friends. We spent the morning looking for diurnal movement of Ural Owls and walking some really beautiful parts of the forest. In the evening we concentrated on the other owls, trying the good places by car. Before arriving to Predmeja (on the forest's border) a stop out of Ajdovščina revealed the local Great Grey Shrike sitting on the wires.
In the forest, during the afternoon/evening we got a total of at least 15 Ural Owls. We managed to see well a male in complete daylight, while it was mobbed by Jays in the beech forest. For about 15 minutes we followed its movement as it flew from tree to tree, at times perching for prolonged periods. Otherwise we did see some brief movement of other Ural Owls in the evening with the aim of the torch.
The TENGMALM'S OWLS were quite active too, with up to 6 different birds heard in the course of the evening. Only one of these gave its true "po-po-po-po" song, the others were just uttering the squeaking odd calls. We even managed to see one in flight over the conifers.
The third owl-highlight was in the form of a PYGMY OWL singing in the evening while already dark. Even if quite distant, the song was clearly audible for some minutes.
The forest was active with all the usual commoner birds including: Coal, Crested and Willow Tits, Mistle Thrushes, Siskins, several Bramblings within bigger flocks of Chaffinches, a few Meadow Pipits (flying over Mala Lazna), some Crossbills, lots of Black Redstarts, Goldcrest, Black Woodpecker (the commonest bird!), Raven and Eurasian Treecreeper.
The Edible Dormice were instead very quiet in the evening, with just a few heard squeaking.
On the way back home a total of 3 Red Foxes, 2 Brown Hares and 2 Roe Deers from the car.
The two above photos were taken two years ago in the same area (see post)
Below a view over Smrekova Draga:

Colourful fungi on the forest's floor:

A Black Woodpecker's "dining table":

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Trnovski gozd rarely disappoints

Yesterday I finally managed to re-visit the Trnovo forest (W Slovenia) after so long from the last trip there. I took a birding friend with me and together we went looking for owls and gamebirds. Just out of Ajdovščina, a GREAT GREY SHRIKE was spotted by my mate, perching on a distant wire. It flew off several times over the fields to catch some prey. Always a pleasure to see the first GGS of the winter! In the surrounding fields also a Whinchat was around with some Black Redstarts and 5 Meadow Pipits flew overhead.
The time in the forest was spent driving around the tracks and trying some good spots for Hazel Grouse (while still light) and owls (in the evening). No luck with the grouse, but the usual "dose" of owls was very welcome. Top sightings included a total of 11 Ural Owls heard (both sexes, calling and singing, sometimes in duet) but none seen. They were actually present on every spot we stopped the car. 2 TENGMALM'S OWLS were also heard calling just over our heads (odd, squeaking call; not the usual song: "po-po-po-po") and seen briefly a few times, while they flew from a fir to the other.
Other birds around included: Crossbill (a few flocks overhead), Hawfinch (heard), 2-3 calling Bullfinches, 2 Black Woodpeckers (calling), Mistle Thrush (very common -see pics above), 2 calling Nutcrackers (in an area of small spruce plantation-like growth), 1 Goshawk (heard), 1 Sparrowhawk soaring overhead, flocks of Coal Tits and Goldcrests in the conifers, along with many Dunnocks, Wrens and Robins (common forest birds) and a few Bramblings mixed with tons of Chaffinches.
We also managed to pull out several mammal species, with a lifer for both of us... In the dark, a small rodent crossed the forest road, just in front of the car, so we stopped and had a look around with the torch. And there it was: by the road a tiny COMMON DORMOUSE (Muscardinus avellanarius) staring back at us! It showed well for a couple of minutes, then we decided to leave it in peace and we left. Very distinctive were the long, furry tail, big black eyes and big pinkish snout. As the name suggests is probably quite common even here in Slovenia, but rarely seen.
On the other hand Edible Dormice were absolutely everywhere (as always), running up and down the trees and making that awful noises. We managed to see a few that crossed the road or showed for some minutes on the trees. Other mammals recorded included 1 Brown Hare, several Roe Deers and 1 Red Squirrel (black morph).
First two pics above: Mistle Thrush on spruce
Last pic: sunset over the forest - a chill in the air, the fog lifts and 4 Ural Owls start to call...

Thursday 22 September 2011

Planina & Cerkniško jezero (with special DIPPER)

I spent an enjoyable day in Slovenia and "tasted" a bit of fresh continental weather. On the way to the Cerknica lake I couldn't skip the usual stop at Planina (near Postojna). To delight me was a handsome WHITE-THROATED DIPPER, sitting on floating vegetation in the the local stream. It allowded a quite close approach, so I could take some photos (see above) - video here. It wasn't particularly worried, not even by the anglers, fishing nearby. Two metres away from it, was a nice Snipe (perching on the riverbank). I watched the Dipper for about 10-15 minutes, then suddendly heard the call of a Grey-headed Woodpecker. Another bird answered and soon I was watching two indivuduals on the same tree. They seemed to be female/juvs (see pics below).

The quite rich birdlife in the area (although common species) gave additional attraction: 4 Little Grebes in the stream, Tree Pipits overhead, tons of Hawfinches, Long-tailed, Blue, Great, Marsh and Coal Tits, Short-toed Treecreeper, Blackcap, 3 Whinchats (nearby fields), Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Blackbird, White Wagtail and few House Martins overhead. All these birds more or less at the same time.
At mid-morning I arrived on the Cerkniško lake. The most abundant bird was the Common Buzzard. All the fields were literally full of them... I think I got about +50 different Buzzards in the whole day. Along with them were many Kestrels.
Species of higher note included: Tree Pipit, 3 Stonechats (2 m and 1 f), 1 Yellowhammer, several Linnets, +5 Yellow Wagtails, some Skylarks, 3 juvenile Marsh Harriers (in different parts of the lake), 9 Great Egrets (at Dolenje Jezero), Mistle and Song Thrush, Hawfinch, Goldcrest, 1 Garden Warbler (near Otok), 2 GOSHAWKS (1 calling in the forest and 1 juvenile perching on a pole just out of Martinjak!), about 30 Crossbills (flocks near Otok), 1 Spotted Flycatcher, Crested and Coal Tits in the forest, 1 Black Woodpecker (forest), 2 Serins, 2 Willow Warblers, 6 Whinchats, 1 Northern Wheatear (1st winter near Martinjak) and 3 Honey Buzzards soaring at midday over Martinjak.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

DOTTEREL at last!!

A perfect day, for a perfect bird! I spent today's afternoon looking for Dotterels on the hillsides of the mount Vremščica in nearby Slovenia, with my friend Igor Maiorano. After almost 2 hours of walking the grassy slopes and having just heard a weak call of a probable bird, our effort was rewarded. At 17.45 two EURASIAN DOTTERELS flew over our heads, calling (it was the call we heard before!) and landed on a nearby hill top. So we went to check. The birds remained there for the whole time. The moments that followed cannot be described with simple words, but let's say that excitment was of course the prevailing feeling. We had the two birds feeding on the stony path down to 5 metres in front of us! From the plumage features I can say they were juv/1st winter birds...or something like that (see pics above). Very tame; they approached us even more when we sat down on the ground and waited. Simply gorgeous, especially with the perfect orange light of the sun setting! They showed very well on the path (and in the nearby low vegetation) until 19.00-19.30 when we left the site.
The search in the early afternoon was not too boring, as we had some other birds for good company too: 2 Kestrels, lots of Whinchats and Northern Wheatears, Skylark (being the commonest bird), 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 imm Marsh Harrier (hunting over the hills), Raven, Buzzard, 1 Honey Buzzard, 1 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling in the nearby wood, 1 Willow Warbler and a nice immature GOLDEN EAGLE being mobbed by a Common Buzzard (an interesting sightings here).

And here a photo by Igor Maiorano with 300 mm lenses:

Friday 2 September 2011

Final score: 7 BLUETHROATS!

Škocjanski zatok NR: a great day with an interesting passage of passerines, including some pretty rare ones. Early in the morning when I saw the first BLUETHROAT (first pic above) I was quite amazed by the find of this rare migrant. But when I began to see them everywhere, I realised there was a strong passage going on. I counted a total of 7 different birds in different parts of the reserve. Usually preferring reedbed-filled ditches, hedges (by the main path) and reedbed borders. The second bird was hopping on the path and feeding in the nearby hedges. The third and fourth were seen in a reedbed, usually feeding on the ground (sometimes chasing each other). While these two uttered a "tack-tack" call, a third bird called back, rising the score to 5 birds! At the end of the path, by the biggest reedbed area, I could spot 2 other Bluethroats chasing each other in flight - identified by the diagnostic reddish tail-sides. One also landed on a willow and gave some short views.

All were either 1st winter males or adult males/females in autumn plumage: with a blue band on the lower throat. Some were more colorful (having a bigger blue band) thus suggesting males.

This was undoubtely one of my best birding sights on the reserve!

Other birds of note included: 1 juv Purple Heron, 1 juv Spoonbill (the usual one), 20 Shovelers, 232 Teals (!), 2 female GARGANEY, 1 juv/female Marsh Harrier, 8 Common Sandpipers, 9 juvenile Spotted Redshanks, 18 Greenshanks, 3 Wood Sandpipers, 2 Green Sandpipers, 2 Snipes, Kingfisher, 1 singing Wryneck (always the same one), Tree Pipits on passage, 5 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Nightingales, 10 Whinchats on the grazing marsh, 1 first winter Northern Wheatear (by the railway line), 1 Fan-tailed Warbler, 3 Great Reed Warblers (in the hedges), 4 Sedge Warblers, 1 Reed Warbler, 1 juv/female Common Whitethroat (first of the autumn), +8 Blackcaps, +10 Garden Warblers and 2 juv Red-backed Shrikes.

Some waders were pretty close...

Juvenile Spotted Redshank:


Spotted Redshank and Greenshank:

Wood Sandpiper:

Not a wader, but worth a picture - Goldfinch:

Sunday 26 June 2011

Cerkniško jezero - Saturday 25th June 2011

Had some enjoyable birding yesterday on the Cerkniško jezero (Slovenia) in the company of Nikolaj Noel Christensen. The area held the usual fantastic summer mixture of great birds: 2 singing Quails, at least 4-5 COMMON ROSEFINCHES singing in bushy areas around Dolenje Jezero (some seen), Grey Wagtail, Common Whitethroat, 1 male Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, pair of White Storks at Martinjak, 1 ad WHITE-TAILED EAGLE soaring above Dolenje Jezero, 1 singing Wryneck, Linnet, Ashy-headed Yellow Wagtails, Sedge Warbler, 2-3 Tree Pipits, at least 2 singing male BARRED WARBLERS in bushy area near Dolenje Jezero (seen a female + males in flight), 1 singing Marsh Warbler, Great Crested Grebe, 2 Short-toed Eagles hovering and "hanging" (one over Otok, the other near Martinjak), 3 Honey Buzzards, 1 Hobby (Otok), Great Reed Warbler heard, 1 Bittern heard singing from Otok, 1 Great Egret, Whinchat, Skylark.
Before arriving to the lake area we stopped at Planinsko polje where another Quail was singing + some Red-backed Shrikes and Grey Wagtail.
The area just out of Postojna held the usual breeding colony of Crag Martins plus a Honey Buzzard. Also 2 White Storks were at Razdrto.
Pics above: doc shot of the Common Rosefinch and Short-toed Eagle.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Two days in the Alps with BLACK GROUSE special

I spent the last two days (Thursday and Friday) in the Italian Alps of Friuli Venezia Giulia with two other friends, trying to see some alpine gamebirds and other upland specialities.

Day 1 - Thursday 9th June:
We nearly spent the whole day at the Cornino lake Nature Reserve, near Forgaria. The main target here was a mega rarity: a Black Vulture reported in the previous days...that we dipped at the end. Instead we got another pretty much rare bird, a *LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD*, also reported in the past few days. The birds was soaring quite high with other raptors, so the views were not extremly grateful (not as those in Hungary!). Other interesting birds in the area: about 96 Griffon Vultures, lots of Ravens, 10-15 Black Kites, several singing WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLERS, singing Common Redstarts (the first for me this year), about 8 Honey Buzzards (far commoner than Common Buzzard), 2 Short-toed Eagles, 1 female Kestrel, 1 Hobby (hunting House Martins), 2 Siskins (flew overhead), Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Red Squirrels and 3 Wild Boars (see pic).
Later on the mount Cuar a quite far away singing Ural Owl. Also there Eurasian Treecreeper, Coal Tit, Bullfinch ect.
A stop near Portis (Venzone) produced: nesting Griffon Vultures and some Crag Martins plus 6 ALPINE IBEXES.
Griffon Vultures:

Wild Boar:

Day 2 - Friday 10th June:
At 03.00 am in a park in the town of Udine a Little Owl was singing.
We then headed to the Mount Oisternig (2050 m a.s.l.) on the border with Austria, to try and see some truly alpine birds. The main target were of course Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Cappercaillie ect.
We were actually very lucky with the BLACK GROUSE - no less than 4 birds! The first one (a female) was seen as we were ascending to the top of the Oisternig - it took off some 10-20 metres away from the path. The second encounter was with a stunning male. Firstly spotted at great distance as it was sitting on the ground below a spruce tree... we then approached it and got nice views. When it took off, another one followed him in flight. But the best came at the end. When we were walking back on the steep grassy slope, I almost trod on a female Black Grouse! It bursted away with great noise, hitting my leg with the wing and leaving me quite schocked! I then realised that few centimetres away from my foot there was a nest with 7 eggs!! The nest was actually well concealed in a cup of grass, beneath the top of a fallen spruce. We had a quick look at it, took some photos and left the site as soon as possible. A probably quite scary encounter for the grouse, but a great one for us!
This was of course the highlight, but there were other interesting sightings too during the day. Here are the species we had: Song and Mistle Thrush, Wren, Grey Wagtail, Goldcrest & Firecrest, Crested, Coal and Willow Tit, Eurasian Treecreeper, several Bullfinches, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, Dunnock (in upland habitat), a Siskin family, both Tree and Water Pipit (marking their upland territories), Linnet, several RING OUZELS (superb males!), 2-3 pairs of Northern Wheatear, 8 Alpine Choughs flew past, 1 ALPINE ACCENTOR, Crossbills in flight, some Honey Buzzards, 2 calling Nutcrackers (one seen), Spotted Flycatcher, 1 Black Woodpecker heard, 2 WHITE-THROATED DIPPERS (in flight and perched...on a mountain stream), 1 Buzzard and 1 male Red-backed Shrike. Mammals included: 1 male RED DEER at dawn, 1 European Hare, 1 Roe Deer, 6 ALPINE CHAMOISES and several ALPINE MARMOTS (on the grassy slopes). Also 2-3 Small Tortoiseshells on the top of the mount.
Black Grouse's nest:

Small Tortoiseshell:

Some landscape views: