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:

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.