Monday, 31 December 2012

My year 2012 - a review

2012 started brilliantly with a trip to Norfolk and Suffolk (England) in January. Highlights of the trip included: SHORELARK (pic above by Paolo Grion), DARTFORD WARBLER, COUES'S ARCTIC REDPOLL, WESTERN SANDPIPER, ICELAND GULL and many more.

PALLAS'S WARBLER I went to twitch near Treviso (NE Italy) with a group of friends -  one of this year's big highlights. The pic of the bird was taken by Igor Maiorano.

 RED-BREASTED GOOSE within the big flock of White-fronts wintering around Isola della Cona (NE Italy). The same flock also held 4 LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE.

ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD that I found near Divača (SLO) in February. A bird that I'm particularly proud of.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL found by myself at Škocjanski zatok nature reserve (Slovenia) at the end of March. The first record for the reserve and the second ever for Slovenia.

Trip to Krakovski gozd (Slovenia) in April. Highlights included: COLLARED FLYCATCHER, MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER, WHITE-TAILED EAGLE, BLACK STORK.

 My first self-caught CORNCRAKE during a ringing session for the species on Breginjski Stol (Slovenia) in June.

BLACK VULTURE I went to twitch in July at the Cornino lake nature reserve (NE Italy).

One of the LESSER KESTRELS I went to see on the island of Rab (Croatia) in July. This is a male - part of a 25-30 pairs strong colony.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE at Caneo, by the river Isonzo's estuary (NE Italy). Almost annual here, but still a rarity.

 The first BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER for Škocjanski zatok nature reserve (Slovenia). A bird I found in September.

YELKOUAN SHEARWATERS - part of a big invasion of seabirds in local patch waters (off Miramare) on the 27th of October. The same day I also saw my first ever CORY'S SHEARWATERS and 8 KITTIWAKES - all true rarities in the Gulf of Trieste. Surely the most memorable day of birding in my local patch...ever!

PALLAS'S GULL I went to see on the Medvedce reservoir (NE Slovenia) in November. The 5th for Slovenia.

A non-bird highlight - OTTER on the Cerknica lake (Slovenia) in December. Still one of the year's best wildlife sightings.

 And last but not least - some other notable highlights of this year:
  • HAZEL GROUSE - twitch in the Trnovo forest in Slovenia (October).
  • BOOTED EAGLE - a light-morph bird wintering near Aquileia (NE Italy).
  • BARRED WARBLERS - small population breeding on the Slovenian Karst (spring).
  • FIELDFARE - invasion in the local patch's gardens (February).
  • COLLARED FLYCATCHER - migrant male I found in a park in the town of Trieste (April).
  • RED-RUMPED SWALLOW - good numbers seen this year, including a successfully breeding pair near Monfalcone (NE Italy).
  • BLUETHROAT - good numbers seen on autumn migration, especially at Škocjanski zatok nature reserve (Slovenia).
  • JACK SNIPE - a well-enjoyed bird, feeding in the freshwater marsh at Škocjanski zatok NR in April.
  • STONE CURLEW, ORTOLAN BUNTING, LESSER GREY and WOODCHAT SHRIKE - all seen in a single day in May on the Magredi grasslands near Pordenone (NE Italy). In the same area in February I also enjoyed the local wintering PINE BUNTINGS.
  • SMEW - scarce winter visitor seen both in January/February and December 2012 at Valle Cavanata nature reserve (NE Italy).
  • SLAVONIAN GREBE - record numbers for me in a single day: 5 birds seen on the coast between Monfalcone and Grado (December).

A for a nice ending here's one of the NIGHTJARS aka GOATSUCKERS I most enjoyed this summer on the Karst:

Hopefully another great year is on the way... roll on tomorrow!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Fen Tiger is back

Another sunny day spent on the coast doing some high quality birding. The above Bittern was a major star - seen on the river Timava at Lisert when the tide was low and the bird came out of the reedbed.
The area also held 2 SLAVONIAN GREBES on the sea, 3 Red-throated Divers, 1 Red-necked Grebe, 1 Common Eider, a few Red-breasted Mergansers and a Peregrine passing overhead. The usual Alpine Chamoises were spotted on the nearby mount Grmada and the estuary part of the Timava held a nice gathering of 20 Curlews on the exposed mudflats.
Also cool to find a WALLCREEPER on the Duino cliffs (TS), literally overlooking the sea. It was very far, but well enjoyed through the scope. Nearby and adult Peregrine was perching on a rock, while a Sardinian Warbler was chatting in a nearby evergreen bush. The sea here held an additional Red-throated Diver and a quick count revealed at least 58 Common Eiders swimming among the buoys (in front of Duino's castle).
Otherwise pretty much the same as the previous days with: 1 drake SMEW, 3 Flamingos (juvs), 3 Scaups, 10 Goldeneyes still present in Valle Cavanata NR; and +10 Velvet Scoters, 3 SLAVONIAN GREBES, 7 Black-throated Divers, 1 Red-throated Diver, 1 Red-necked Grebe in the Gulf of Panzano near Monfalcone.
Here and there also a ringtail Hen Harrier flying past.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Great day on the coast

Today I had an exciting day out with lots of good-quality birds and some nice weather. I had in plan to check the coastal areas from Grado to Monfalcone and that's more or less what I did.
I started in the morning with a high tide at the wader roost on the beach of Grado. There were about 300 Curlews resting with +600 Dunlins and lots of Grey Plovers, but also at least 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, 13 Kentish Plovers and 3 winter-plumaged Oystercatchers. A good mix. The sea held the first true highlight of the day - a SLAVONIAN GREBE swimming along some Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes. Close nearby, floating on the sea I spotted a raft of 53 GOLDENEYES (the firsts of the season). Two odd Crossbills and a Siskin flew over the beach, giving their flight call.
All the stretch of sea between Monfalcone and Grado was actually stuffed with Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, along with groups of Red-breasted Mergansers, Goldeneyes and Wigeons.
The next stop was Valle Cavanata nature reserve where I was quite surprised to find 5 FLAMINGOS resting on the main scrape (see pic). The reserve is a good place for the species, but usually they only appear in single figures. Another good bird here was a Spoonbill - very scarce in winter.
Flamingos and Great Egret
The Averto canal, which marks the end of the reserve, provided some additional highlights. Goldeneyes here were particularly tame and gave brilliant views (see also above):
There were about 500 Pochards resting on the water and among them I also found the beautiful drake SMEW (reported here two weeks ago) which showed well, even if a bit distant. Two female Scaups were escorting it around and also a few Tufted Ducks were present.
 Smew with female Scaup
Smew with Pochard
Later in the day I went to Isola della Cona NR. Before visiting the main freshwater marsh, I planned a small "Jack Snipe mission" which proved to be successful. In and area of wet meadow (Juncus growth) I first flushed 4 noisy Common Snipes and eventually also a JACK SNIPE. It flew off silently, literally from underneath my feet, before dropping down again in a nearby marsh.
The reserve held the usual variety of ducks and geese (incl. 450 White-fronted Geese) plus: 2 BITTERNS (firsts of the season for me), 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 female Goldeneyes, 3 Tufted Ducks, 1 Pochard, 2 Hen Harriers (male and female), +100 Lapwings, Marsh Harrier and other seasonal stuff.
To round up the day nicely I also had a look around Marina Nova - close to the harbour of Monfalcone. The sea here was again really productive with a nice group of 13 VELVET SCOTERS, 4 Black-throated Divers, 1 Red-necked Grebe, a few Goldeneyes and then an astonishing 4 SLAVONIAN GREBES (fishing together in one of the harbour's main canals).
A ringtail Hen Harrier quartering over the nearby reedbed at dusk was the final bird of the day.
 One of the Velvet Scoters

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Winter gulls

Škocjanski zatok NR: after a few weeks of absence, today I was back on the reserve for my weekly bird monitoring. Bird-wise it was rather good, despite the thick fog and miserable weather. As soon as I arrived on the freshwater marsh, a ringtail Hen Harrier put on show in front of the first screening. Then 2 Greylag Geese were discovered grazing on the wet grassland.
The lagoon and freshwater marsh held considerable numbers of Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls and among them I also found a few goodies. The first was a CASPIAN GULL in first-winter plumage. It was too far to take pics, but anyway a good record (first of the season). Probably there were others around, but I had little time to check properly all the gulls. The next and more obvious was an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL - still a kind of rarity here.
Last but no least came the Common Gull. First one, then two and then I counted at least 8 birds - all first winters and all resting among Black-headed Gulls in the freshwater marsh (see above).
I looked hard for the first Goldeneyes or Bitterns of the season, but with no success. Instead I found 1 Black-throated Diver in the lagoon, 2 Tufted Ducks, 6 Pochards and a nice pair of Gadwalls (uncommon bird on the reserve).
Coots today numbered 707 birds, while there were also the usual Greenshanks around, a few Curlews on the grazing marsh, Water Rail & Penduline Tits in the reedbeds ect. Not bad.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Greenfinches on the feeder

Local patch: today I was really glad to find two female Greenfinches sitting on the tube-feeder and munching the sunflower seeds. If I remember well it's just the second time I see a Greenfinch up on my beloved feeder. They tend to be quite shy birds, but when they show up, they are very aggressive against other birds. While sitting on the feeder (above), the two females didn't allow any Great Tits to come closer. When they left it was feeding frenzy again with up to 15 Great, 3 Blue and 1 Coal Tit.

Sunday, 23 December 2012


It's been a calm weekend. Nothing really out of the ordinary. Yesterday evening I went to check the local pair of EAGLE OWLS that nest just of of the town of Trieste - the male was singing for at least half an hour, but I couldn't see it perching on the rocks. Also two Great Grey Shrikes on the Slovenian Karst were of note (see pic above).

Local patch: this morning I had a look at the sea, which was quite calm and foggy. Out of Grignano I had a distant male COMMON EIDER; probably the same bird seen here a few weeks ago. On the sea also 2 Red-necked Grebes, 1 Great Crested Grebe, a group of 4 Black-necked Grebes (Grignano), 2 Black-throated Divers in front of Miramare's castle, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Cormorant and a few Sandwich Terns.
Earlier in the morning I woke up with a Buzzard perched on the chimney in front of my window:
This is probably the same old wintering bird that we used to see perched like a hen on the roofs, trees, tv aerials and poles in the past years.
Nice to see you back!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

White-billed Diver from Austria (winter 2009)

Don't worry... it's "just" a White-billed Diver. The one from January 2009 I went to see on the river Drau in Austria. A great twitch and a handsome bird. I thought I would share this pics now, during a moment of lack of updates.
Birding in the last week has been really slow...or actually non-existent. Apart for some garden checks, I didn't raise my bins for anything else really. Birdfeeder activity is a bit slower now, but still with good numbers of tits, Chaffinches ect.
I'm glad a Coal Tit is visiting regularly now. Here and there a Goldcrest in the pines, a Hawfinch overhead or a Black Redstart on the roof...that's it.
So here instead I'll write about some interesting birds that were seen around the coast, but I didn't see (last Friday onwards):
-Smew: 1 male on the Averto canal (Valle Cavanata NR) - the star of the moment
-Slavonian Grebe: 1 on the sea at Miramare on Sunday (a potential patch-tick for me), plus several others seen between Monfalcone and Grado
-Greater Scaup: both on the Averto and Quarantia canals (Isola della Cona)
-Goldeneye: good numbers on Averto, Quarantia, Isonzo river ect. I still haven't got it this season!
-Ferruginous Duck: 1 on the Averto canal, same place as the Slav.Grebe
-Golden Plover: small flocks around Fossalon
Plus usual assortment of Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, Red-necked Grebes, Bitterns, Merlins and these kind of cool winter birds.
Yesterday I learnt I also missed a Red-crested Pochard in Škocjanski zatok.
Well, I'm still not complaining at all...cause... I've seen an Otter last week and what can I ask more?

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

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Redwings on the kaki

Local patch: great joy today when I discovered 3 REDWINGS feasting on a kaki tree in a distant garden. Only the 2nd ever record for the patch. Today's observation confirmed my initial thoughts about yesterday's ufo bird.
The three birds fed on the four remaining kaki fruits for about half an hour, interchanging with 3 aggressive Blackbirds. The tree in question was quite distant, somewhere in a garden I couldn't access, thus the lack of even any documentative shots. I think the above picture by Steve Round would do as well.
Some WOODLARKS were still around this morning as they flew over the garden. Otherwise pretty much the same as yesterday.
In the afternoon I took a nice stroll in the woodland and despite the pretty quiet atmosphere it was great to walk in the deep fresh snow (up to the heels). Birds like Goldcrest, Hawfinch, Marsh Tit, Short-toed Treecreper ect. were the most obvious.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Garden under the snow

Local patch: today I woke up to a wonderful sight - snow everywhere! During the night we had a good snowstorm with NE wind and by the morning there were something like 20 cm of snow on the ground. Quite a lot for a coastal standard! Needles to say, the birdfeeder proved to be essential for the birds in the garden. Up to 15-20 Chaffinches were present today on the lawn, with 5-10 House Sparrows and countless Great Tits. Also one or two Blue Tits on the fatballs and the usual Coal Tit - being quite regular now at the feeder.
But best of all were the small flocks of WOODLARKS flying over the gardens (and landing in some), driven down to the coast due to the snow-covered Karst. It happens almost always when it snows.
Another example of the hard-weather movement were FIELDFARES. In the morning I saw small, loose groups of birds flying along the ridge, heading SE. Also a fly-by Mistle Thrush was cool to see (increasingly regular now). A small non-identified object that flew over the house, could have possibly been a Redwing, but it was too far to identify properly. Pity!
Other birds recorded during the day included 1 Chiffchaff on the pine in the garden, 1 Raven along the karstic ridge, 2 Buzzards (one is the local wintering bird), 1 Hawfinch on a distant tree, then Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird ect.
 This is how the "feeder area" looked like today
 Great Tit
 Coal Tit
 Blue Tit & Chaffinch
 Blue Tit
 Sparrow mix & Chaffinch
 The local wintering Buzzard