Saturday 19 January 2013

IWC on the Slovene coast

Had a busy day on the Slovene coast, counting for the IWC (International Waterbirds Census). I had a couple of coastal transects between the towns of Koper and Izola. The top highlight appeared right at the beginning when I spotted 6 female VELVET SCOTERS in the bay of Koper. They gave good flight views before landing distantly on the sea. Other birds seen during the census included: 3 Red-breasted Mergansers, 2 Great Egrets (over the sea), 4 Black-necked Grebes, 27 Great Crested Grebes, 21 Cormorants, 3 Common Gulls, 2 Shags, 1 Med Gull and 1 first winter Caspian Gulls (Izola harbour).
Later in the day I checked Škocjanski zatok NR, which held some newly arrived northern guests: 19 White-fronted Geese (arrived overnight). The flock was quite flighty and wary and always on the move between the grazing marsh and some other fields in the Srmin area, out of the reserve.
Otherwise pretty much the same in the wetland, with the usual numbers of wildfowl, but an astonishing number of gulls. A flock of about 800 Black-headed Gulls and 500 Yellow-legged Gulls held also at least 3 first winter Caspian Gulls and 48 Common Gulls.

In the Srmin area (near Ankaran) I also checked a newly built "sewage farm" or some kind of strange reservoir, which held twice the number of gulls. Among the three commonest species I also found at least 6 additional Caspian Gulls, this time also two nice adults and some sub-adults.
Two adult Caspian Gulls

A Fieldfare was in the nearby fields, along with Meadow Pipits and about 40 Jackdaws.
My final stop was in the evening in the bay of Lazaret - Debeli Rtič (near Ankaran) where I had to count the Shags at the roost. There was a miserable total of 29 Shags and 122 Cormorants. The sea here held additional common grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers and most surprisingly, a lone White-fronted Goose (it didn't seem too handsome). The final highlight came at the end when I spotted an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL on one of the buoys.
A quite gull-y day I must say (I probably broke my record for Caspian Gulls in a day!)

Wednesday 9 January 2013


Today I spent an exciting day in the far north-east of Slovenia. I visited the lake of Ptuj (Ptuj reservoir) to see a couple of rarities reported there since last week. As I arrived to the south-eastern part of the lake, at the dam close to Markovci, literally the first bird in my scope was the LONG-TAILED DUCK. This bird, which was a female, was the main target of the trip. I was really relieved to find it so quickly. It was swimming with a group of 9 Velvet Scoters, which showed all very well (see above), quite close to the reservoir's concrete bank. After about 15 minutes I was watching it, the whole group (including the Long-tailed Duck) took off and headed to the central part of the lake (last two pics above). Later in the day I couldn't find them again.
From the dam at Markovci I then checked the rest of the wildfowl which included some very interesting birds. The first which caught my attention were 4 drake SMEWS. The commonest duck was Mallard, with probably more than a thousand birds on the lake. Both Tufted Ducks and Pochards were also abundant, along with the funny-displaying Goldeneyes, which formed good groups as well. A few Pintails, Gadwalls and some more Wigeons were also around. Other interesting sawbills included about 23 GOOSANDERS (both sexes) in a big raft in the middle of the lake. I didn't find any of the reported rarest grebes (Red-necked and Slavonian), but a Red-throated Diver was quite good as well. A few Pygmy Cormorants were also present, along with at least 20 Common Gulls and flocks of Rooks in the surrounding farmland.

Female Velvet Scoter
Mixed wildfowl on the lake, including a raft of Goosanders in the background

Next stop were the open fields close to the lake where I went looking for the two reported rare swan species.
Not long after I discovered a small muddy road going through the fields (sewage works area), I spotted some white dots in the distance. I approached a few hundred metres and soon I had in the scope 4 yellow-billed swans among some 15 Mute Swans.
Two were adult WHOOPER SWANS and some metres away from them were feeding also 2 BEWICK'S SWANS (adult and juvenile). Comparison here was possible due to the presence of both species; a bit like at Welney WWT in Britain! I never imagined I would see both species together in Slovenia. I know Bewick's is the second record for the country and probably there are no more than 10 records for Whooper in Slovenia, so both true rarities!

 Two adult Whoopers

Adult Bewick's

 Juvenile Bewick's

In the afternoon I went to check the Medvedce reservoir - a must-stop on the way home. Also here Mallards were the most numerous and among them I managed to pull out a 6 GOOSANDERS, some Wigeons and Teals. A Great Grey Shrike was as usual present in the surroundings and about 24 White-fronted Geese were grazing on the nearby fields. A nice ending to the day were four Hen Harriers preparing to roost (2 males and 2 females) on the central part of the reservoir.
By the way I also heard that flocks of Waxwings have been seen in Maribor and other parts in NE Slovenia, but today I didn't have time to go and look for them.
Well, I can't complain... I had an excellent day regardless!

Sunday 6 January 2013

From Wallcreepers to Caspian Gulls

Here's a few updates from the last three days. On Friday I was doing my usual monitoring in Škocjanski zatok NR. The highlight there were at least 3 first-winter CASPIAN GULLS mixed within a flock of 170 Yellow-legged Gulls and about 800 Black-necked Gulls in the freshwater marsh. Also of note were 11 first-winter Common Gulls and a summer-plumaged Black-headed Gull (complete hood).
A ringtail Hen Harrier was quartering the grazing marsh and reedbeds, while a Peregrine was seen flying past, heading towards the port of Koper. Other birds around included 2 Greylag Geese (still present in the freshwater part), 50 Shovelers, 30 Wigeons, 250 Teals, 4 male Pochards, 2 female Tufted Ducks, 6 Pygmy Cormorants, 2 Water Rails, 15 Greenshanks, 10 Curlews, 11 Snipes (flock in flight), +20 Penduline Tits, a few Goldcrests, 6 Jackdaws, 1 Chiffchaff, Hawfinch, Reed and Cirl Buntings.
1st winter Caspian Gull

Yesterday instead I spent another lovely and warm sunny day out on the Karst (Italian side). I was leading a group of biology students on a birdwatching trip. In the beech woodland near Bazovica we had several species of woodpeckers. Earlier in the morning I had great views of a female Grey-headed Woodpecker. Later we also observed 1 Black Woodpecker (female + 1 male heard calling), 2 territorial Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and a few Great Spotted Woodpeckers. The local Nuthatches, Short-toed Treecreepers and Marsh Tits were quite vocal and territorial too.
On the Mt. Stena (in the Glinščica valley NR) after a long wait, we were lucky enough to see both WALLCREEPER and ALPINE ACCENTOR - the two winter specialities here. The Alpine Accentor (1 or maybe 2) showed briefly on some rocks along the cliff-face and gave a few flight calls. The Wallcreeper instead was really obliging and showed superbly and close on the sunbaked rocks.
The pine woodland held the usual Coal and Crested Tits.

Alpine Accentor
In the evening we then went to listen to the Eagle Owl, just out of the town of Trieste. When we arrived to the spot, a male Goshawk greeted us with close flight views. At dusk the male EAGLE OWL started to sing and we soon spotted it perching in full view on a rock. The best possible end to a karstic field excursion!

Wednesday 2 January 2013

1st January - Cerkniško jezero

I needed to start well the new year, so yesterday I visited the Cerknica lake in Slovenia. Compared to my last visit (in December), this time the lake was almost completely ice-free and there was more wildfowl scattered around. Snow on the ground was absent, so walking around was again relatively easy!
The first birds noticed were +20 Goldeneyes, along with a few grebes and more interestingly 2 redhead SMEWS (first 2 pics above). The usual wintering flock of at least 1000 Mallards was present, but unfortunately it didn't contain many other species. Some Wigeons were heard, along with a single male Pintail swimming around and 4 Tufted Ducks. Four Shelducks were also of interest.
In the nearby fields at least 3 Great Grey Shrikes were seen and it was quite interesting to see 3 Grey-headed Woodpeckers in different woodland habitats (a male above). On the fields around Martinjak 4 Hen Harriers were hunting (all females except one). Other birds around the lake included the usual forest mix of Crested, Marsh and Coal Tit, Siskin, Mistle Thrush, Hawfinch and so on.
Later in the day, other parts of the Notranjska region were visited, from Postojna to Pivka and Ilirska Bistrica, back to the Karst. Birds seen in the rest of the day included 4 other Great Grey Shrikes, a couple of Ravens, 1 Peregrine (perching on the cliffs at Podstenje) and lots of Common Buzzards - accurately checked in the search of a Rough-legged.
Oh, and I must mention my first bird of the year - a Blackbird in the garden (07.30 am).