Tuesday 11 December 2012

OTTER at Cerkniško jezero!

Today I had a stop at the Cerknica lake (in Slovenia) on my way back home from "official business" in Ljubljana. It proved to be a very wise idea.
It was a wonderful day for being outdoors with about -10° to -1° C (coldish), but with a bright sun shining all over the snowy countryside. There must have been about 1 metre of snow on the ground. So I had a nice walk into the snow up to the knees (and sometimes even deeper). The walk brought me to my usual "watchpoint" above the lake, where I had a good view over the main unfrozen water bodies. As soon as I began scanning, a huge perched silhouette appeared on a short pole - an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE. It was perched near the biggest water body which contained a thousand or more Mallards, +20 Teals, 9 female Tufted Ducks, a few Coots and some Mute Swans. It stayed there for a long time and sometimes changed perches - also seen on the other side of the lake in the afternoon:
Minutes after the eagle discovery, I was about to have a heart attack when a Coypu-shaped animal appeared in my scope. Coypus are of course (and unfortunately) common around freshwater places, but here one would appear a bit out of place. And after the first look I realized this was no Coypu... it was an OTTER! The animal was quite distant (maybe 1 km away), somewhere right at the centre of the lake. It was showing well, completely out of water, while feeding on the ice. I could watch it for 6 minutes and see all the main features, including the strong, smooth tail, elongated head profile and smooth fur (see pics). Sometimes it moved around a bit and showed even better. Then, after finishing its meal, it dived into the water, never to be seen again.
What an animal! In Slovenia, Otters inhabit places like the Cerknica lake, but they are far from numerous, quite localised, extremely shy and hard to see - especially by day. I still think about the Otter as a "ghost animal"... a bit like the Lynx. I think I had a considerable amount of luck today and maybe the icy conditions influenced the animal's activity.

The third highlight of the day followed shortly afterwards when I heard the characteristic call of COMMON CRANES. I looked up and saw a flock of 17 birds flying SW, high over the lake. The firsts of the season, lovely!
Otherwise it was a bit quiet, with not even a single Great Grey Shrike seen (usually present in the area). The only other thing of interest were some mid-sized flocks of Fieldfares hopping on the ice edges all around the water bodies. Also quite funny to hear two Water Rails responding to a dog's barking.
 And here some magnificent landscape views to round up the day

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Wallcreeper & Alpine Accentor

This afternoon I found two cliff specialities that are typical winter visitors along the karstic ridge, but never guaranteed. In the warm afternoon sunshine I decided to check the cliffs of mount Stena which overlooks the Glinščica valley (Val Rosandra), just minutes out of Trieste.
After the usual wait of about half an hour on my preferred clifftop, the first glimpse of crimson flashing on the distant rocks: a WALLCREEPER. At first it was quite far, but in a few minutes it flew closer and gave brilliant views for the rest of the afternoon (see above). A video here. While watching it, hopping up and down the rocks, I noticed another movement a few metres away from it. I was a small Dunnock-like bird that in my bins appeared magically as an ALPINE ACCENTOR. So I could watch both birds at close distance from one another, feeding in the same area of the cliffs. The accentor also ventured into some vegetation and looked for food among the grassy tufts growing out of the rocks. It was also quite vocal and a few times it seemed there were more birds calling, but it was quite difficult to judge the direction of the sound. When you hear a lone Alpine Accentor you always expect to see a whole flock of birds. Instead there's only one calling (a bit like the Jackdaw's call).
Alpine Accentor
Some distance away from the two birds there was also a female Black Redstart on the cliffs, along with a calling Rock Bunting. Otherwise the area was very quiet, as usual in winter. Just two Ravens passing by and a few tits and Goldcrests in the pines.

Earlier in the morning I had my weekly count at Škocjanski zatok, but there wasn't anything really of note. Maybe 2 Black-throated Divers in the lagoon and 4 migrant Lapwings were the highlight. The Great Grey Shrike by the road was also still present.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Winter goodies on the coast

Today I had a really good time along the coast, discovering some freshly arrived "winter gems". In the morning we had a walk with the local bird group at Lisert where we managed to see quite an astonishing number and diversity of grebes and divers. Best bird of the day was a handsome SLAVONIAN GREBE fishing on the sea, just metres away from the concrete bank we were standing on (pics above). Thus I had my best views ever of this northern species. Needles to say it was a season's first.
The sea was literally stuffed with divers: +30 Black-throated Divers (incl. 17 together and one breeding plumaged bird!) and +10 Red-throated Divers (pics below). Two Red-necked Grebes were also present, along with just a few Great Cresteds and about 30 Black-necked Grebes all concentrated in the bay of Panzano. In a nearby marina we picked out the first COMMON GULL of the season among a group Black-headed Gulls.
Other birds in the Lisert area included: 20 Curlews, 2 Common Eiders, Water Pipit, 6 Pintails & Shovelers, 15 Skylarks, 1 Greenshank, 1 Peregrine (soaring high above Monfalcone), 5 Common Sandpipers, several Sandwich Terns out on the sea, 2 Goldcrests, Reed Buntings & Penduline Tits in the reedbed, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Short-toed Treecreeper, both Rock and Cirl Bunting, 15 Jackdaws, 1 Stonechat, 1 Snipe and a few commoner things.
In the afternoon we went to Isola della Cona and had some additional highlights in the form of: 1 male MERLIN hunting on the saltmarsh (first of the season), 2 ringtail Hen Harriers, 1 Red-necked Grebe (Quarantia canal), 2 Tufted Ducks, about 15 Goldcrests, 6 Dunlins, 1 Marsh Harrier and other commoner marshland stuff.
Also glad to see the returning White-fronted Geese - at least 60 seen today in the freshwater marsh. But others will follow...

Sunday 11 November 2012

PALLAS'S GULL - Medvedce reservoir (NE Slovenia)

Just back after a successful twitch of the above PALLAS'S GULL (aka Great Black-headed Gull). I went to see it this morning, on the other part of the country; to be precise on Zadrževalnik Medvedce (Medvedce reservoir, NE Slovenia). The first-winter bird was discovered yesterday and fortunately it stayed around long enough for me to see it. I spotted it at 9.40 am, minutes after I arrived. I had some good views of it, also in flight, until 10.30 am when it took off and headed directly north with a Yellow-legged Gull (see last two pics). Not seen again after that.
If I don't get wrong this should be the 5th record for Slovenia...or something. The area held the usual mix of waterfowl, but the other most interesting birds were 1 male HEN HARRIER quartering the fields (first for the season for me), 2 Great Grey Shrikes and a nice flock of 45 ROOKS feeding on the ground.
Waders included something like 30 Lapwings and 2 Dunlins. Also 34 Greylag Geese and quite a lot of Penduline Tits feeding on the Typhas.

Friday 9 November 2012

Stock Dove... again

I spent some time at the airfield of Divača this afternoon, checking the always potentially good fields and grasslands.
A pleasant surprise was a STOCK DOVE sitting on a wire of the high-voltage line. It gave pretty good views in the warm autumn sunshine (see pics above). In my opinion still an interesting bird - the second I see on the Karst in a short period of time.
Two handsome Great Grey Shrikes were also present in the area; as always, sitting on the bushes right by the airfield. Needles to say, they were flushed every time a propeller took off. After a long flight, one of the shrikes landed on some low pines right next to a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. So I had both birds in the same scope's view! Later another two (clearly different) Lesser Spots called from the nearby woodland.
The area was otherwise pretty silent and calm. The only other birds of note included 5 Rock Buntings (feeding on the path), +30 Mistle Thrushes (always common on the airfield), 3 Ravens, 1 Black Woodpecker, 1 Crested and 1 Coal Tit, flock of 10 Woodlarks, a couple of Meadow Pipits on the ground, some Siskins going overhead and a female Black Redstart.
I also tried some nearby cliffs for the potential Wallcreeper, but with no success. Maybe it's still too early...

Wednesday 24 October 2012

LONG-EARED OWL at Škocjanski zatok!

Škocjanski zatok NR: when I arrived this morning I was greeted by one of the wardens who showed me the above LONG-EARED OWL sitting calmly on a fence by the hedge, not far away from the hut. It was discovered earlier in the morning in semi-darkness, when one of the wardens arrived. I think it remained there for the rest of the morning (at about 11.00 am it was still there).
It is the first record for the reserve! Not a bad start of the day.
Later in the brackish marsh I found another very interesting bird for the reserve: a BAR-TAILED GODWIT resting with some Curlews. This should be the second record for the reserve if I don't go wrong.
Other birds today included: 1 late Wryneck in the hedges (also singing!), 2 Dunlins in the lagoon, 1 Snipe, 9 Curlews, 31 Wigeons, 41 Shovelers, 53 Teals, 2 Black-necked Grebes, 7 Pygmy Cormorants, 6 Water Rails (2 crossed the path, showing very well), 491 Coots (up!), 16 Greenshanks, 2 Kingfishers, 3 Jackdaws, 2 Skylarks (on the grazing marsh), 1 Coal Tit (probably the first I see at the reserve), 2 Goldcrests, 9 Chiffchaffs, 2 Sedge Warblers, 2 Black Redstarts, 3 Song Thrushes, 5 Meadow Pipits, 11 Water Pipits (some showing well on the grazing marsh), Reed Bunting, Penduline Tit, 1 Brambling & flocks of Siskins going overhead, 1 Linnet and 1 Serin.

Thursday 27 September 2012

A week in Slovenia

Here we are again. Back at home after six days spent on a camp in Slovenia. Settled in the tiny village of Rakitovec (southernmost Karst) we explored some nearby areas, but also concentrated in finding the typical birds of the different habitats (grassland, forest, coast, wetland). It wasn't real hardcore birding, but it was good anyway. We managed to see 105 species.
The weather remained extremely changeable during all the time (cloudy with a stiff south wind and sunny sprouts, plus rain showers).
In general there was a large migratory frenzy with Jays literally everywhere and Willow Warblers calling from every bush. Also quite a lot of migrant Common Redstarts. Other common birds we used to see regularly inlcuded: Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Goshawk, Kestrel, Wheatear, Cirl and Rock Bunting, small flocks of Swallows and House Martins (flying south), Marsh, Coal & Crested Tit, Chiffchaff, Mistle Thrush, Raven (up to 20 on the Lipnik), Garden Warbler, Black Redstart, Nuthatch, Tree Pipit, Yellowhammer, Lesser Whitethroat, Whinchat, Stonechat, Pied Flycatcher, Marsh Harrier, Woodlark, Hawfinch.
Around Rakitovec we had Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on a daily basis, as well as a calling Little Owl in the evenings. Mount Lipnik (just above the village) was visited on the first day. The highlight was a Quail that we flushed on the grassy slopes on the top of the hill.
On the second day we explored the forest and meadowland around Pivka (pic on top of the post) and the nearby forest of Mašun (Snežnik mount). Here we got great views on a Tawny Owl in the evening, but weren't successfull with the other forest owls. There was the usual assortment of upland birds of conifer forests like Willow Tit, Goldcrest, Crested Tit, Crossbill and Black Woodpecker. We also saw a small group of Rock Buntings in a forest clearing at Mašun and were quite surprised to find them here in this habitat.
Mammals were at large in the evening and included Roe Deer, Brown Hare, 2 Foxes and a Beech Marten. The real spectacle though were the RED DEERS. Several rutting males were heard around the forest and two magnificent stags with huge antlers were seen at dusk, quite close to our car.
The next day we visited Škocjanski zatok nature reserve where we enjoyed a really exceptional ringing session. There were about a hundred birds caught in the nets, but included some real goodies: up to 8 BLUETHROATS, 1 juvenile GRASSHOPPER WARBLER, 3 Common Redstarts and a handsome male Wheatear (still in beautiful plumage). Other more numerous catches included Garden Warblers, 2 late Great Reed Warblers, 2 Whinchats, lots of Robins, 1 Cetti's Warbler, about 10 Blackcaps and good numbers of Reed Warblers. Of course also the odd Blue Tits got caught in the nets a few times. 
Bluethroats, Grasshopper Warbler and Wheatear
The freshwater marsh and lagoon in itself held fewer birds than expected with the highlights being a female Marsh Harrier, 2 showy Sedge Warblers and several of the already mentioned warblers in the hedges.
On Tuesday we visited the Sečovlje saltpans (salinas) and saw some more waders. The most notable were 6 juvenile Ringed Plovers, 1 Ruffs and 1 Wood Sandpiper. At the river Dragonja's estuary there was a mixed flock of 5 Pintails, several Shovelers, 1 Wigeon and Teals. A male Pochard in one of the inner saltpans was also of interest, along with a flock of 100 Alpine Swifts circling above the Dragonja's valley.
We then spent the last day on the Karst (both Slovenian and Italian) exploring different areas of cliffs and woodland. Highlights came in the form of a hunting Short-toed Eagle (watched hovering for 15 minutes), a Peregrine sitting on a crag and two Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers calling to each other and giving brilliant views.
A good couple of days!

Friday 7 September 2012

BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER at Škocjanski zatok

Škocjanski zatok NR: several good finds today on the reserve and an exceptional migration movement. The absolute highlight of the day was the above BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER - a true rarity in Slovenia, with just a few records. I had the pleasure to find this nice little peep on the far southern corner of the brackish lagoon, while finishing my weekly bird census. The bird was in the company of two Dunlins and several Common Sandpipers in what can be called the worst part of the reserve. The lagoon ends with some rough vegetation before joining the railway line (and station) of Koper and several shopping centers. Needles to say, the brackish marsh here is littered with rubbish. Well, for the birds it seems a good place though, as it usually holds some cool waders - last year the reserve's first Bar-tailed Godwit was stationing in this very spot for some days!
After dipping the Broad-billed Sandpiper at Isola della Cona, it was really good to find one for myself in Slovenia!
As I said before, the day was otherwise full of interesting birds. For example another in-the-same-place-as-last-year coincidence happened. A GRASSHOPPER WARBLER was in the hedges along the main path! (see this post) The bird remained in view for several seconds allowing to see quite well the streaked undertail coverts.
And shortly after the third goodie: BLUETHROAT! A worn bird with literally no remaining blue on the breast showed briefly on the same bush as the Locustella. It made a few calls before plunging back into cover. By the way, yesterday I also managed to see one pretty well on the other side of the reserve.
And here are the other sightings from today's count, with some numbers: 1 Black-necked Grebe, 1 imm Night Heron, 5 Wigeons, 25 Shovelers, 56 Teals, 1 female Garganey, 91 Coots, 1 singing Water Rail, 1 Black-winged Stilt, 2 Ringed Plovers (juveniles; in the lagoon), 1 summer-plumage Grey Plover (lagoon), 2 Dunlins (adults moulting to winter plumage), 1 Ruff, 6 Curlews, 7 Common Sandpipers, 32 Greenshanks, 2 Wood and 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Snipe, 2 Kingfishers, 3 Wrynecks (all three seen well in the hedges), 4 Sand Martins (flying past), 18 House Martins plus a single Swallow, 8 Tree Pipits, 13 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Nightingales, 6 Whinchats, 1 male Wheatear, 2 Sedge Warblers, 2 Reed Warblers, 2 Garden Warblers, 1 Common Whitethroat, 1 Willow Warbler, 2 Jackdaws (flying overhead) and the autumn's first 2 Reed Buntings.

Yesterday I went to look for Dotterels on the mount Vremščica - on exactly the same day as last year - see this post. This time I wasn't successful though. Bird activity was quiet but two showy NUTCRACKERS enlightened the situation. A juvenile Marsh Harrier, a Wheatear and some Meadow Pipits were otherwise the most notable birds. In the pine woodland also usual Coal and Crested Tits plus a gang of Goldcrests.

Who knows if I'll manage to see a Dotterel this year? For now I got a nice consolation!

Friday 31 August 2012

Wild North-east Slovenia

Today I had some good birding under overcast skies with a couple of Slovene friends. We visited the Medvedce reservoir area (Pragersko) in north-eastern Slovenia. The reservoir was full of water and thus full of birds. Huge numbers of Coots (up to 4000) and wildfowl gathered there, including something like 50 Ferruginous Ducks and all the other commoner ducks (incl. Pochards, Tufted Ducks, Garganeys..). Also large numbers of Great Crested and Little Grebes, Grey and Great Egrets and so on.
All this large movement of birds attracts one or two WHITE-TAILED EAGLES a day - we had two adults perched in the middle of the reservoir (see pic), giving excellent views, also when flying overhead.
A BITTERN walking on some floating vegetation was another highlight, with a female/imm Little Bittern flying nearby almost at the same time. Also smaller numbers of Purple Herons in the area (usually juveniles).
The third coolest birds in my opinion were STOCK DOVES which we saw in different areas during the day. I'm usually not used to see this birds out of the winter season, so it was nice to had them around.
In the area also plenty of other good birds which included: Common and Wood Sandpipers, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, huge mixed flocks of Greenfinch, Linnet & Tree Sparrow, several Ravens, 2 Red-backed Shrikes, a few Stonechats with a couple of migrating Whinchats, 1 Wryneck showing well on a pole, several Willow Warblers, 1 Garden Warbler, Tree Pipits passing overhead, 2 Common Whitethroats, Yellowhammer, 5-6 Marsh Harriers, 10 Greenshanks, 3 Water Rails (also seen), 1 Hobby (flying and perched in a field), 2 Sedge Warblers (firsts of the autumn), a few Snipes, Ruff, something like 5 Dunlins and 2 Little Stints, flock of 13 Black-tailed Godwits, 1 Turtle Dove, 1 juvenile Peregrine (sitting in a field), 10 Curlews, 2 Black-necked Grebes.
Later we moved to the Ormož lake where a mixed group of juvenile LITTLE GULLS and Black Terns was fishing over the water's surface. Here another stunning adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE was found resting on a muddy island in the middle of the lake. In the surrounding trees also the nice mix of common canopy migrants like Wood Warblers, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, 1 Chiffchaff and a Nightingale.
A fly-by Cuckoo at the end of the day was seen from the car.

Local patch: yesterday in the evening I had a quick check with the scope which produced 2 PIED FLYCATCHERS at the edge of the deciduous woodland, sitting on a dead tree and catching insects. A good species to score from home!

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Bluethroat invasion begins

Škocjanski zatok NR: the weekly bird monitoring produced some good species this morning with several highlights. The first came in the form of 3 different BLUETHROATS - a good start to celebrate the beginning of the autumn season! All three birds were seen in the freshwater marsh area, feeding on the ground by the edge of some reedbeds. Two had a clear and brilliant bluish collar, the third instead was more monochrome with no blue at all (maybe a 1st winter female). Of course I only managed to photograph the least colorful.
Another good find was a juvenile MONTAGU'S HARRIER quartering over the brackish lagoon. It sat down on the saltings a few times as if it caught something.
Two KNOTS were also in the lagoon area, along with several commoner waders and the first Wigeon of the season here on the reserve.
Other birds of note included: 2 Black-necked Grebes, 12 Shovelers, 164 Teals, 1 Spotted Crake (in a ditch by the path, as usual), 2 singing Water Rails, 2 remaining Black-winged Stilts, 1 Ruff, 3 Curlew, 7 Common Sandpipers, 1 Common Redshank, 30 Greenshanks, 3 Wood Sandpipers, 1 Snipe, 2 Kingfishers, a few migrating Swallows and House Martins, several Tree Pipits passing overhead, 4 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Nightingales, 6 Whinchats (grazing marsh), 4 Reed Warblers, 1 Icterine Warbler (on the hedges along the lagoon), 3 Garden Warblers, 2 Common Whitethroats and several Blackcaps.

Local patch: yesterday morning I had a quite successful session of sky-watching which resulted in 4 Marsh Harriers on migration over the ridge, 2 Common Buzzards and 3 juvenile GOSHAWKS soaring over the woodland. Alpine Swifts still present in good numbers, with some individuals flying above the house as well. Also a Coal Tit in the garden, heard more or less on a regular basis.

Thursday 23 August 2012

August migration brings new birds

Škocjanski zatok NR: some exciting birding going on today during the weekly count on the reserve. First of all, as I mentioned in the previous posts the freshwater marsh is in the process of being mowned so there's a lot of open space with grassland now. In front of the first screening in the area I call grazing marsh there was a nice party of Whinchats this morning. They were sitting on the wired fences giving good views at the side of the screening. Two first-winter Wheatears were also a welcome sight - both birds frequently hopping and perching on a Caterpillar digger.
The first surprise of the day was a ridiculously confiding SPOTTED CRAKE feeding in a ditch by the path. I could watch the bird as close as 2-3 meters for about 15 minutes, while noisy joggers and walkers were passing nearby, maybe 5 meters away. Here's a video of it.
The second big highlight of the day was on the wader front in the brackish lagoon where I found a juvenile KNOT. It may seem odd but this bird it's quite scarce here in the North Adriatic region. It's certainly not as rare and unusual as a Red-necked Phalarope, but anyway always a good bird. On migration it is usually found in small numbers on the muddy shores around the extensive lagoon areas on the Italian side (like the river Isonzo's estuary for example). I've never seen one in Škocjanski zatok though.
For a good company the Knot had also 2 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers nearby, along with several Greenshanks and 2 Common Redshanks. Other waders included 1 Ruff, 5 Curlews, 11 Common Sandpipers, 1 Green Sandpiper, 5 Wood Sandpipers, 2 remaining Black-winged Stilts 1 Little Ringed Plover and a Snipe.
In the hedges at least two Garden Warblers were present along with good numbers of migrant Nightingales ("whistling" all around), a few Reed Warblers, Blackcaps and two Great Reed Warblers.
There was a slight vis-mig movement in the air with the first autumn Tree Pipits passing overhead, a Skylark heard and several Yellow Wagtails.
I was also glad to see a Kingfisher after so long I haven't seen one on the reserve.
A Black-necked Grebe was also present in the lagoon with quite high numbers of Little Egrets and dabbling ducks on the increase (Mallard the commonest, followed by Teal and up to 15 Shovelers). The freshwater marsh held also the usual 3-4 Night Herons with the odd migrant Purple Heron (juvenile) and an unexpected Squacco Heron.
I had some problems with my pc in the past few days, so I cannot upload more than a few images. Above is the best pic I have of today's Spotted Crake and a documentative shot of the Knot.

Monday 13 August 2012

Circaetus gallicus on show

Yesterday I made an afternoon visit to the Barred Warbler site on the Slovenian Karst. As I imagined there were no Barred Warblers left in the area (they've already departed for Africa). However I was there to see some other birds that are usually worth a visit. One of them is the Short-toed Eagle. After some time of birding in the area I noticed a perched bird on the very top of a distant weather antenna of some kind. At first I thought it was a Hooded Crow, but when I got it in the scope I discovered a SHORT-TOED EAGLE! I then tried to approach the antenna and managed to get about 100 metres away from it. The bird remained there for at least an hour and allowed excellent views. Surely the best views I've ever had of a Short-toed Eagle! A couple of pics here (and above):

It then took off and made a few circles, above the grassland where it was promptly mobbed by a Common Buzzard:

Well, this sighting alone was worth the visit, but the area was actually full of other interesting birds. As I imagined there were several small migrants around: 1 Hoopoe (flushed from the path), 4 Northern Wheatears (first fo the autumn), 2 Lesser Whitethroats (showing well in the bushes), 3 Spotted Flycatchers, +6 Wood Warblers (mixed within a mobile flock of Blue and Great Tits), 3 Pied Flycatchers and 3 Whinchats.
Showy Wood Warblers:

Pied Flycatchers:

Spotted Flycatcher:

In the sky there was a quite strong and compact flock of migrating Common Swifts with several Alpine Swifts mixed among them, plus the usual Swallows and House Martins.
Other (supposed) non migrants included 1 calling Tawny Pipit, 2 Kestrels, +20 Red-backed Shrikes, 2 Ravens, +20 Mistle Thrushes, 1 Sparrowhawk, 4 Skylarks (incl. some juveniles), 1 calling Black Woodpecker, 1 showy female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Marsh Tit, Woodlark, Chiffchaff and some Cirl Buntings.
Also of note was this Red Fox that passed not too far from where I left the car:

A view on the area: