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.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Migrants all around

As I predicted yesterday, the atmosphere was really special this morning, with a pleasant "smell" of migration and autumn. The air was very fresh in the morning and the skies were absolutely clear after last evening's rainstorm. A really magic atmosphere. I decided that Lisert was the best place to go looking for migrants.
The hedges, bushes and poplar-trees were full of Pied Flycatchers - this was the commonest migrant during the day (2nd pic). Along with them were loads of Spotted Flycatchers and an awful lot of Nightingales whistling all around. The hedges also produced a very nice WRYNECK that showed well on a dead branch (see pic above). I found this bird more or less in the same area as the one I saw in spring.
Also an Icterine Warbler was around with nice numbers of Garden Warblers feeding on blackberries (about 10) along with 2 Common Whitethroats and a single Lesser Whitethroat. I only managed to see one Wood Warbler in the poplars' canopies.
At a certain point a male Cuckoo flew past and rose panic among the small birds (they confused it with a Sparrowhawk...actually me too!).
Other small migrants included a few Reed Warblers, 4 Red-backed Shrikes, Yellow Wagtails flying overhead flocks of Swallows and House Martins and a Turtle Dove flying overhead.
The inner pond held a juvenile LITTLE CRAKE feeding at the edge of the reedbed with some Moorhens and several Wood Sandpipers (plus ducks in the form of Teals and Shovelers).
In the same area a Water Rail sang from the depths of the reedbed, along with the usual Cetti's Warblers.
Highlight of the morning were 3 KNOTS (juveniles) feeding in the brackish marsh by the tidal creek. Close nearby were 2 Grey Plovers in summer plumage, a few Greenshanks, Common Sandpiper, 1 Curlew and 1 Whimbrel.
Later in the morning I went to Isola della Cona where a Broad-billed Sandpiper was seen a few days ago. Although I scanned all the single waders I didn't find the bird which wasn't seen yesterday either. Instead I got the usual numbers of waders including all the commonest species plus 2 Grey Plovers, 1 Marsh Sandpiper, 13 Curlew Sandpipers (mostly juveniles), flock of 10 Little Stints and one Temminck's Stint, 1 adult Ringed Plover and 3 Black-tailed Godwits.
The most interesting sighting here was a SHORT-TOED EAGLE hovering above the freshwater marsh at 11 o'clock. Later two Honey Buzzards arrived from the sea and headed west.
On the main scrape there was a big flock of Med Gulls, containing at least 100 birds.
Also here lots of migrant passerines like Pied Flycatchers and Garden Warblers and the only two Wheatears of the day.
Not a bad morning, but now I think I really need a Dotterel...

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Whitethroat on figs

Local patch: we finally got some proper rainfalls today, so I was quite keen to check the garden in between the rain showers. There were indeed some migrants around and the best find was a COMMOM WHITETHROAT feeding on a fig tree. There was also a steady flow of Swallows passing through with single birds or small flocks. I counted about 30 birds. A female Golden Oriole showing well on a dead tree at the woodland's edge was probably also a migrant.
At 14.20 pm a juvenile Honey Buzzard came in from the sea (and flew low over the house), apparently blown by the wind or driven by the storm. Clearly not one of the local birds. Also around was a juvenile Sparrowhawk perching on a spruce and a Coal Tit in the garden.
The sea produced a high number of Med Gulls with 13 birds counted flying past and a single Sandwich Tern fishing in front of the coast.
Two nights ago I also heard a singing Scops Owl which represented the latest record for the species in the local patch.
Tomorrow I'm going to have another "migrant session" somewhere around the coastal wetlands. Hopefully the storm this evening will bring some scarce birds down!
Illustration by Szabolcs Kokay

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Monty saved the day

Went on the Cerknica lake today with a couple of friends (including a visiting German birder). As everywhere across Slovenia the area was very dry with hardly any water in the lake itself. The situation was pretty dry even bird-wise. Notable numbers of Spotted and Pied Flycatchers were around (the latter predominant in wooded areas) and other migrants included lots of Whinchats, several Wheatears, a few Wood Warblers and a Garden Warbler. Best bird of the day was a male MONTAGU'S HARRIER hunting above the extensive meadow areas and giving some nice close flight views (horrible pic above). A pair of Honey Buzzards also performed pretty well in front of us. Common Buzzards instead were perhaps the most numerous raptor (if not the commonest species!) with up to 50 birds seen during the day. Raptor-wise it was still a bit poor with just a brief Hobby flying past and 4 Marsh Harriers over the reedbeds.
In the sky migration was evident in the form of large flocks of House Martins with several Swallows mixed among and a single Common Swift.
A stop at Planina revealed more or less the same species, with the addition of 4 Willow Warblers (autumn's first) feeding by the side of the local stream. Also two Kingfishers nearby, 2 Grey Wagtails, but no sign of the Dipper.
Other commonest species seen either at Cerknica lake or Planina (or both) included: Hawfinch, Linnet, Red-backed Shrike, Chiffchaff, Yellow Wagtail, Raven, Black Redstart, Tree Pipit, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, 6 Common Sandpiper & 1 Wood Sandpiper (Cerknica), 5 Great Egrets and Coal Tit.
On the mammal front a female RED DEER was quite unusual to be seen trotting around on the meadows in complete daylight.
The Crag Martins were as usual at their breeding colony near Postojna and easily viewed from the main road.

Later in the afternoon, on the way back home we made a stop at the Barred Warbler site on the Karst and were delighted to see both Short-toed Eagle (drifting past) and a juvenile Goshawk being mobbed by some Ravens. Also this area held about 15 Wheatears and a few Whinchats, plus the local Woodlarks and a Skylark (heard).

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, 20 August 2012

First crake of the autumn

Skocjanski zatok NR: I made a short visit to the reserve this afternoon on the way home from Koper. As I skipped the bird monitoring last week, I was glad to see how's the situation in the area. Part of the freshwater marsh has now been mowed and it already looks very good. All it needs now is some more rainwater. The highlight this afternoon was my first LITTLE CRAKE of the autumn, that unfortunately I just glimpsed as it run into a canal by the path. Migration was also clearly visible in the form of 4 Whinchats on the grazing marsh, 1 Red-backed Shrike and most interestingly a juvenile SPOONBILL resting in the marsh with lots of Grey Herons and Little Egrets. Teal numbers have increased considerably and the brackish lagoon looks also quite autumnish with gatherings of Coots and wildfowl.
The biggest reedbed was alive with Starlings (numbered something like 800 birds) and Swallows, preparing to roost in the area.
Otherwise pretty much the same birds: 2 Reed Warblers, 10 Greenshanks, 1 female Sparrowhawk (showing well at 6 meters), Black-winged Stilt, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 immature Night Heron, 4 Common Sandpipers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 1 Garganey and 1 Great Reed Warbler.
I was scope-less so I couldn't check the distant birds and the potentially good waders. Thus I missed the opportunity to confirm the identification of a small flying wader as a Little Stint.
I think I'll have a proper look later in the week.

By the way, you may have noticed the overall black-and-white appearance of the text in the last posts... Well I'm now pretty tired to paint every single species name in a different colour, so here's the new look of the blog! Good birds will be highlighted with some nice big letters instead and really special birds in red.

...and as I lacked a proper photo from today, above is a brilliant painting by artist Szabolcs Kokay (depicting a female Little Crake).

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Went to see this nice little RED-NECKED PHALAROPE today. The bird was found by a friend of mine in the Caneo area on the Isonzo's rivermouth. By midday I was quickly alerted of the rarity, jumped into the car and drove to the place. I found myself on location with other two birders and together we watched the little wader for at least half an hour. We tried to approach the small muddy scrape in which it was feeding, walking in the thick mud and rush vegetation through the brackish marsh.
We got quite close to the bird that allowed excellent views. This was surely the best of the three Red-necked Phalaropes I've ever seen.
I also managed to record a short video that can be viewed here.
The brackish pond contained also a summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper, 1 Ruff, 1 Grey Plover (winter plumage), 1 Snipe, lots of Wood and Common Sandpipers, a Lapwing, several Curlews and Black-winged Stilts. A Fan-tailed Warbler and +20 Bee-eaters were also around. Actually it is a nice little place for waders, that I rarely visit when I'm in the area.
In the afternoon I couldn't skip a short visit to Isola della Cona NR which was also alive with waders. All the main freshwater habitats were dried, except one scrape that was obviously full of birds. The best sightings included 2 MARSH SANDPIPERS (first of the autumn for me) plus all the other Tringa species, 2 Whimbrels (landed in the freshwater marsh), 10 Ruffs, 3 juvenile Black Terns, 5 Little Stints, 2 Temminck's Stints (first this autumn), 3 Black-tailed Godwits, 3 Dunlins (summer plumage), 2 Med Gulls plus most of the dabbling ducks.
Passerine migrants included lots of Garden Warblers in the hedges, along with a few Wood Warblers on the poplars, 3 Nightingales, a Spotted Flycatcher and several juvenile Yellow Wagtails on the grazing marsh.
Not bad for an unplanned afternoon's birding!

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:

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Red-rumped Swallows in the patch!

Local patch: it's getting even better down here! This morning while I was having the usual check of the patch some hirundines flying above the woodland caught my attention. So I scoped them and realised they were RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS! The second ever record for the patch and a true rarity! I counted at least 5 birds in flight that remained on view for at least 1 hour.
Other birds included a male Honey Buzzard gliding eastwards and 2 Sparrowhawks over the woodland.
The above pic is a documentative shot of the first Red-rumped Swallows for the patch in April 2008.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Local patch livens up

Local patch: finally something rather good to report from the patch in the form of a KESTREL soaring in the bright sky this morning. A Common Buzzard and a male Sparrowhawk were also around, enjoying the fresh and dry breeze in the air. The day seemed particularly good for migration as large flocks of House Martins and Common Swifts were passing high overhead. Mixed among them were also the Alpine Swifts from around Monte Grisa. In the evening two migrating GREAT EGRETS above the karstic ridge represented only the 3rd record for the species in the patch, so a quite good score as well (the one above was took at Isola della Cona NR). They were heading west, presumably arriving from the east.
Let the games begin!

Thursday, 9 August 2012


Škocjanski zatok NR: more autumn migrants are moving through. This morning the passage was quite evident. Highlights included a Whinchat on the grazing marsh, a Garden Warbler in the hedges, 1 female/imm Kentish Plover in the far southern corner of the lagoon (first pic above), a fly-by juvenile Cuckoo (clearly a migrant) and a juvenile Marsh Harrier. Also quite good to see the first 2 returning Black-necked Grebes swimming in the lagoon (2nd pic above). The 3 juvenile Black Terns were still around as were most of the wader species. Other commoner birds included: 6 Night Herons, 2 Shovelers, +20 Teals (increasing), 5 Garganeys (even if in eclipse plumage, some were clearly males), 3 female Pochards, 1 male Tufted Duck, 7 Curlews, 15 Common, 7 Wood and 4 Green Sandpipers, 1 Common Redshank, 25 Greenshanks, 1 Snipe, 1 juv Med Gull, 7 Common Terns, 4 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Nightingale and decreasing numbers of Great Reed and Reed Warblers (the latter slightly more numerous now).
The reserve wardens have started to mow some parts of the freshwater marsh, so it'll be quite exciting and full of birds in the next weeks.
Here's an adult Night Heron with some buildings of the industrial area in the background. I like the composition: nature-industry

Monday, 6 August 2012

Nanos & Trnovski gozd

Too hot on the coast for my likings, so today I went to take some "refreshment" on the hills and mountainsides in nearby Slovenia.
First of all, early in the morning, a stop on the grassland of Dane (near Sežana) was a must. To my great astonishment the path through the meadows was covered in Hoopoes! When I arrived something like 15 Hoopoes took off from the ground, only to settle down a few meters further. They fed frenetically and after a while flew off again and landed in a loose flock on some nearby pines. I managed to count at least 15 birds, but I'm sure there were more around. For me it was quite unusual to see this kind of large gathering (probably a group on migration).
In the nearby woodland a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was calling and there were several Red-backed Shrikes and Mistle Thrushes around as well.
One of the Hoopoes that showed well on a tree - always a great bird to see:

Hoopoes on the ground:

Later in the morning I spent a few hours trying to see some raptors on the grassy rocky slopes of mount Nanos. The raptor-watch session went well, except I didn't see any of the usual Golden Eagles. I was told an adult bird was found dead some time ago, so this could be the cause of their absence. Anyway what I got on the raptor front was: 1 BLACK KITE (heading S), 2 Sparrowhawks, 4 Common Buzzards, +5 Honey Buzzards (one also displaying with the characteristic "applause"-see pics), +7 Kestrels, 1 Goshawk and 6 Griffon Vultures on passage (flew NW at 12.05 am).
Honey Buzzard's appaluse display (clapping the uppersides of the wings):

One of the six Griffons:

I was also quite glad to see my first 2 Wood Warblers of the autumn and 1 Lesser Whitethroat in the low pines on the wind-swept meadows. Overhead flocks of House Martins, Swallows and single Common Swifts were clearly on migration as well.
Other things of note included an odd Cormorant flying east (!), +14 Ravens, 1 calling Black Woodpecker plus usual woodland stuff.
I also had a very close encounter with an Alpine Chamois that trotted past me on the rocky grassland.
The Chamois then decided to plunge down into a ravine:

View on the grassy slopes of mount Nanos - the true top is hidden:

In the afternoon it was time for some woodland birding that took me in the Trnovo forest (Trnovski gozd), not too far from the northern-western slopes of mount Nanos. The forest was of course very quiet (not the best time to visit) but I managed to attract a Pygmy Owl with my superb whistle imitation! Also around were the usual forest species and upland goodies like Willow Tit, Goldcrest, Coal and Crested Tit, Crossbills ect. On the forest's edge I managed to pull out another few migrants in the form of a nice female Pied Flycatcher, a Spotted Flycatcher and a smart male Cuckoo flying over the road.
Cyclamen purpurascens:

Southern slopes of the Trnovo forest:

By the way... if you were wondering, the photo on the top of the post shows a forest sign in the Nanos area which signalises the presence of Brown Bears.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Autumn is here!

Local patch: yesterday night I added species number 151 to my patch list - a truly unexpected GREEN SANDPIPER. I heard one calling in the night sky, while I was falling asleep in my bed with the opened window. Maybe it was part of a bigger flock. Surely it was a bird on migration as are hundreds of other waders at the moment.
In the morning the odd Honey Buzzard was soaring over the woodland. Now pretty much a daily sight from the house. Otherwise all very calm around the gardens.

Škocjanski zatok NR: the August movement continues with a steady supply of the first migrants. Top bird of the day was a MOUSTACHED WARBLER giving excellent views in the bushes along the lagoon. I think it's one of the earliest autumn records of the species in the reserve. Actually this year everything seems so early!
Another bird of note was a singing Fan-tailed Warbler in the freshwater marsh - now almost a scarcity here (it used to breed years ago on the reserve). It was quite a long time from my last one...
Four juvenile Black Terns were still around - probably the same birds as last week. Other birds included: 78 Little Egrets (high number), 1 juv Purple Heron (migrant), 2 Shovelers, 2 Teals, 4 Garganeys, 5 Curlews, 28 Common Sandpiper (commonest wader now), 17 Greenshanks, 9 Wood Sandpipers, flock of 7 Green Sandpipers, 7 Snipes, 3 juvenile Med Gulls (both in the lagoon and fw marsh), 2 Common Swifts (we're running out of these now!), 4 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Nightingales, 1 Melodious Warbler and 1 calling Penduline Tit. Plus the last remaining Black-winged Stilts, Common Terns, Reed warblers ect.
Pics above: Moustached Warbler (first two), Black Terns resting in the lagoon, Common Sandpiper and juvenile Med Gull.