Monday 30 April 2012

Spring weekend in Slovenia

Back for some blogging after a pleasant weekend spent birding in eastern Slovenia with a couple of friends. Friday and Saturday were spent in the Krakovo forest area (Krakovski gozd) near Kostanjevica na Krki, while yesterday we were concentrated around the Cerknica lake. In total we had 96 species of birds, including some top quality ones.
The main target was indeed the Krakovo forest: a lowland broadleaved forest east of Novo Mesto, which holds the biggest breeding density of Collared Flycatcher and Middle Spotted Woodpecker in Slovenia.
Cvelbarjev dob in the village of Malence - the second widest tree in Slovenia:

On Friday we started the walk along the main path to the forest and one of the first birds we saw was an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE! It soared low over the forest and then headed out towards the open fields. An impressive bird and an excellent start! The White-tailed Eagle is also one of the rare nesters in the Krakovo forest.
As soon as we entered the true woodland our first COLLARED FLYCATCHERS appeared - a pair nesting in a tree cavity. In the course of the day (during our circular walk around the trail) we counted a total of 15 Collared Flycatchers (both singing birds and some females). In fact, singing Collared Flycatchers are the commonest birds to be heard in the forest along with Chaffinches and Blackcaps. Some singing males gave excellent views and were really gorgeous to see with the backdrop of the green canopies.
Male Collared Flycatcher at nest (see also top of the post):

The first MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER appeared a bit later when we reached some more mature oak-tree stands (predominantly Quercus robur). The first bird gave nice views up on a tree and called as well. Later we got also nice views of another bird and heard at least 4 others. The day total was 6 Middle Spotted Woodpeckers.
The only pic I could take of a Middle Spot:

In a small woodland clearing we could do a bit of sky-watching and soon found several soaring Common Buzzards with an adult male Honey Buzzard - my first this year.
Commoner birds in and around the forest included: Nightingale, Buzzard, Hawfinch, 1 Wryneck, 2 Stonechats, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Starling (very common breeder in the forest), 1 singing Wood Warbler, 3 Woodpigeons, loads of Blackcaps in the canopy, 3 Cuckoos, Marsh Tit, 2 Willow Warblers, 1 Short-toed Treecreeper, Chiffchaff, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue and Great Tits (quite numerous inside the forest), Song Thrush, Jay, Blackbird, 1 Black Woodpecker, 1 female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Corn Bunting, Grey Heron, Tree Sparrow, Swallow and House Martin.
Other wildlife seen during the first day included: 1 Slow-worm, Salamander larvae, Yellow-bellied Toad, Peacock Butterfly, Brimstone, Scarce Swallowtail, Vole sp. (5-6 chasing each other on the woodlands floor), Agile Frog, Grass Snake, Speckled Wood, Orange Tip, 1 European Tree Frog and 1 Striped Field Mouse (Apodemus agrarius). The top butterfly sight was a Common Glider (Neptis sappho). Wildflowers included: Dactylorhiza majalis (orchid), Viola ulginosa and Leucojum aestivum.
Leucojum aestivum:

Viola ulginosa:

Forest views:

The top bird species of the area:

Dactylorhiza majalis:

Striped Field Mouse:

In the evening we also had a singing Tawny Owl from our cottage just out of Kostanjevica na Krki.
On Saturday the day began very well with two BLACK STORKS soaring over our cottage! After they circled very low over our heads, they dropped down into a woodland. Black Stork is also a rare breeder in the Krakovo forest and a speciality here.
Black Stork:

The birdlife activity around our cottage was quite impressive as well - a really nice mix of coutryside birds including: breeding Linnets, Greenfinches, 2 singing Wrynecks, 2 Cuckoos (showing extremely well), Tree Sparrow, Serin, Green Woodpecker, Starling, 1 Spotted Flycatcher (my first this year!), Black Redstart and Green Woodpecker. In the morning we also had our first singing Golden Oriole just in the "backyard".
A gorgeous male Cuckoo (see also top of the post):

Linnet (male):

Linnet (female) with nest material:


Spotted Flycatcher:


Tree Sparrow:

White Storks were also seen on a daily basis - usually on one of the two nests around Šentjernej or feeding in the fields. A male Whinchat was also a new addition to the trip-list.
The rest of Saturday was spent around some unexplored part of the Krakovo forest, looking for other woodland birds. We had great views on several MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKERS and countless singing COLLARED FLYCATCHERS.
In addition to common or previously encountered birds we also saw 2 URAL OWLS being flushed/mobbed by a Jay. One of the two perched on a high branch and gave excellent views for about 15 minutes! All this in the middle of the day!
Other new birds in the forest included 3 Golden Orioles, 1 purring Turtle Dove (first of the year), 2 Tawny Owls (singing by day as well!) and 3 Eurasian Treecreepers (both treecreeper species are present in the forest).

In the evening we went to see some wet grasslands and bushy areas near the small village of Čučja Mlaka. Highlights here included a singing GRASSHOPPER WARBLER (showed well in a bush), Yellowhammer, 1 Turtle Dove, 1 female Marsh Harrier, 1 Lapwing, Cuckoo, 3 female RED-FOOTED FALCONS flying over the forest (firsts of the year), 3 Common Whitethroats, Stonechat, 2 singing Tree Pipits, 1 White Stork and a singing European Green Toad.
At night two Scops Owls were heard singing from our cottage.
The last day of the weekend was spent around the Cerknica lake (Cerkniško jezero) and surrounding areas. Here we had a nice variety of spring birds, including some new arrivals. Top highlights were 3 WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERNS quartering the reedbeds in the company of a BLACK TERN (both firsts this year). Other interesting species included: pair of White Storks on the nest at Martinjak, Yellow Wagtail, 2 f Marsh Harriers, breeding Tree Pipits, 2-3 Hobbies, 1 female/imm male Hen Harrier over the grasslands (late bird), 2 male Red-backed Shrikes (the firsts this year), 3 Common Whitethroats, several Whinchats, 5 Fieldfares, 5 Sedge Warblers, 4 Wood Sandpipers, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Raven, 8 Great Crested Grebes (breeding on the lake), 1 female GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER (showing well), 1 Greenshank, 9 Ruffs (flying flock), Spotted Flycatcher, 11 Black-winged Stilts (an interesting record for the area), 5 Garganeys, Cuckoo, 2 Wrynecks and 1 imm Night Heron.
A short stop near Planina (Planinsko polje) produced 2 Grey Wagtails on the local stream, singing Yellowhammers and a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
Further down near Postojna we stopped at the usual site for breeding Crag Martins and found several birds flying around.
Grey Wagtail:

What can I say? Birding Slovenia in spring is really awesome!