Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Garden stuff

Local patch: these last few days were pretty calm with no birding done apart from the usual checks of the garden and my home surroundings. Birds of note yesterday included 5 Mute Swans swimming on the sea - always a quite odd bird to see here. A remaining Mute Swan was also seen today, along with a group of 9 Great Crested Grebes.
Top bird at the feeder was a Goldfinch a few days ago (see first pic) that came down to feed on the lawn. Otherwise pretty much the same species: Coal, Blue and Great Tits, House Sparrows & Chaffinches, Blackcap, Dunnock, Robin, ect. Usually a Goldcrest or two is present in the conifers and up to four Hawfinches are seen sitting on the highest treetops. The usual pair of Sparrowhawks is also on patrol (see above). Today a Grey Wagtail passed over the house and a party of 5-7 Long-tailed Tits is now seen regularly as well (last pic).
Other more or less daily birds include Cirl Bunting, Black Redstart, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay and a load of migrant Blackbirds.
Yet there are some signs of springs in the form of singing Great and Blue Tits and a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker was also heard the other day.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

RED-BREASTED GOOSE and other goodies

An excellent day spent in the field with sunny skies, cold northeasterly wind and freezy temperatures. Today I checked several sites around Monfalcone and Isola della Cona NR.
The highlight of the day was actually quite unexpected. On the fields of Terranova (out of Isola della Cona NR) a stunning RED-BREASTED GOOSE was just found earlier in the morning, so luckily enough I was nearby and went to have a look. I think I was the second person to see it, after the finder (which reported me the news). It was feeding in a flock of about 1500 White-fronted Geese on a field not far from the local road. The whole flock was easily watched from the road, without disturbing the birds and I enjoyed the Red-breasted Goose for nearly two hours (some pics above). I'm very happy with this find, because I was actually expecting one of the rare geese to turn up here one of these days. In fact, later in the day, an adult Lesser White-fronted Goose was also spotted in the same flock.
Before and after my visit to Terranova there were some other good birds to keep me entertained. Earlier in the morning I checked the harbour of Monfalcone (Marina Nova) which held 4 SLAVONIAN GREBES, 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Common Gulls and the usual load of commoner grebes, Goldeneyes, Red-breasted Mergansers ect. In a small wooded area at least 5 Redwings were feeding on some ivy berries along with lots of Blackbirds.
Slavonian Grebe
 Red-throated Diver

A visit to Isola della Cona NR produced a well-enjoyed JACK SNIPE (good flight views - flushed with 15 Common Snipes), 1 Temminck's Stint (a wintering bird present in the area), several Hen Harriers (both sexes), 1 male MERLIN (perched on a bush), several Goldeneyes, 1 Green Sandpiper, +150 Lapwings, + 45 Pygmy Cormorants, a few Tufted Ducks, lots of Gadwalls and other commoner ducks. The distant mudflats were covered with Dunlins and usual.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Wintertime in the marsh

Škocjanski zatok NR: today was a cloudy and not particularly special day on the reserve. Water levels were very high in the brackish lagoon, so the freshwater part was invaded by all those lagoon inhabitants. 12 Greenshanks were present on the grazing marsh in front of the first screening. Among them was also a nice Spotted Redshank - a quite unusual bird for the season. Most Curlews were also feeding on the grassy patches in the freshwater marsh, along with grazing Wigeons and Mallards. Quite a lot of drake ducks were performing their courtship display as spring is getting closer day after day. The most interesting "pieces" of wildfowl included 1 female Gadwall (present also during the last two weeks), 2 Tufted Ducks and 6 Pochards. But strangely still no Goldeneyes here.
Coots numbered 604 birds and also the 2 Greylag Geese were still present, though there was no sign of the White-fronted Goose flock.
There was an awful lot of gulls in front of the last screening, but today I didn't really bother to find a Caspian or whatsoever. About 25 Common Gulls instead were obvious.
The reedbed held the usual flocks of Penduline Tits and Reed Buntings, but still no Bearded Tit or Bittern (...this is almost dreaming).
By the reserve's "feeding site" it was interesting to see the hunting technique of a female Sparrowhawk which walked on the ground under the thick bushes, stalking small birds in the grass.
However there ARE good birds around: one of the wardens reported me that three Long-eared Owls were seen earlier this morning, while still dark and a female Merlin was seen here on Saturday, by one of my friends. It's just a matter of luck!
Above some pics from today (top to bottom): Spotted Redshank, Curlew, Shovelers, Wigeons and two Tufted Ducks.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Fuscus returns

Local patch: the LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL is back! The bird was first seen by an observer early this morning, so later I went to have a look. I found it swimming on the sea (above), not far from Miramare.
The bird is an adult and most probably is the well-known wintering bird, returning to the area year after year (first seen in 2004-2005 if I remember well).
Also around was a single juvenile Common Gull which was actually the season's first in my patch. Also quite a lot of Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes on the sea, along with a Red-necked Grebe in the bay of Grignano. No sign of any diver though. About 5 Sandwich Terns were noisily patrolling the coastline, while other birds included a single Med Gull and a few juvenile Shags. Three Siskins passed overhead, giving their calls.
Juvenile Common Gull with Black-headed Gulls
Yesterday morning my attention was caught by some bunting calls, just out of my window. I expected the usual Cirl Buntings, but when I looked up on the tree where they were perched I was delighted to find 3 Rock Buntings. Two were adults and one was probably a juvenile. Rock Bunting is a breeding species in the upper part of the patch, but a rare visitor to the gardens. This is probably the fourth time I have it in the garden.
In these days several Hawfinches are to be seen around the wider area of Barcola; usually they perch on the highest trees on view:

Sunday, 20 January 2013


This morning I went to Torviscosa (Udine), to see a GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE. The juvenile bird was almost immediately on show when me and a couple of friends arrived. It remained perched on some dead trees for much of our stay, getting soaked really hard under the constant rain (above). A few times it also changed perch, making small flights around.
A quite distinctive bird with dark brown (almost black) plumage, a lot of white spotting on the wings and a buffish-brown nape.
It was great to see it, because the last (and only) time I saw this species was back in 2009 in Egypt. In northern Italy, Greater Spotted Eagle is a quite rare winter visitor, but almost annual. This year I was lucky to have it so close to home. The bird seems quite settled in the area (first seen a week ago) and is almost always found on the same two or three dead trees. Nearby there's a small wetland, so the perfect wintering habitat for the species.
Although the wider area of Torviscosa is usually rich with farmland birds, today we failed to see any other interesting bird, probably due to the incessant rain.
One or two Red-throated Divers in the nearby canals were actually of note.

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!)

Friday, 18 January 2013

Thrushes, finches and buntings

Local patch: I've been still confined to the local area in the past few days, which actually provided some good stuff. On Wednesday 5 REDWINGS flew over the garden in the morning, along with a Mistle Thrush. The sea finally held 1 Black-necked Grebe and a few Great Crested Grebes and surprisingly also a Sandwich Tern.
Today the garden activity was also quite lively with the highlight in the form of the season's first BRAMBLING flying overhead (it dropped down somewhere in the neighbourhood). Also around these days are small flocks of Cirl Buntings which regularly come to feed in the different "wilder" gardens and vineyards. Today a nice male (first pic above) came to inspect my lawn and tried some small seeds I put out. Hopefully some more buntings will be now coming down on the lawn. Other common birds around included: 1 Black Redstart, 1 Coal Tit, Great & Green Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Goldcrest, 3 Hawfinches (sitting on the distant plane-trees), 2 Greenfinches and a nice flock of 19 Great Crested Grebes on the sea.
Earlier this morning, on my way to Koper I also had a flock of about 15 FIELDFARES flying across the motorway. Cool!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Woodlarks in the garden

Local patch: yesterday we had a snowy night once again and this morning the patch was covered in a soft white carpet. Actually the quantity of snow on the ground was really miserable here at my home, but on the Karst it was enough to push the usual flocks of Woodlarks down to the coast. To my immense joy, today early in the afternoon, the first birds I heard when I stepped out on my terrace were WOODLARKS. A flock of at least 15 birds went by, flying low over the rooftops, before dropping down into a nearby open garden with some rough vegetation (above is a single bird, part of the flock). The flock remained there for at least an hour, probably feeding on some small seeds. Sometimes one or two birds took off and made a few flights around the neighbourhood. The same area actually attracted also a numerous flock of Chaffinches, a few Goldfinches and some Cirl Buntings (1 male & 1 female seen).
Another highlight of the day were 3 Mistle Thrushes flying in front of the house, over the suburban area. Nice to see was also a flock of 7 Hawfinches, 1 suburban Buzzard (perching on a chimney), a few Black Redstarts of the birdfeeder today: a male Greenfinch.

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!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Greenfinch is back

Local patch: just wanted to post these two images of a handsome male Greenfinch foraging on the birdfeeder...once again. It's now becoming increasingly regular. Otherwise pretty much the same usual garden activity. Lots of birds now already began to sing - Blue, Coal and Great Tits, Black Redstart, Short-toed Treecreeper, Blackcap, Wren...I just need to hear the first Blackbird which I think will be quite soon. Hopefully more serious birding tomorrow.

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).