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!