Thursday, 30 May 2013

Turning into ferns

Local patch: it's very quiet here and also due to the lack of time for any serious birding, I'm turning to my botany side these days. More precisely to fern ID. Yesterday I just pulled out a few ferns from the walls in the neighbourhood and identified them. Quite common and easy-to-tell species though: Ceterach officinarum (above 1st), Asplenium trichomanes and Asplenium ruta-muraria (above 2nd).
The other day I had a male Honey Buzzard catching a thermal above the woodland, along with a Raven, but otherwise it's pretty much the same old stuff (Black Redstart, Nightingale, occasional Golden Oriole ect.).

Today instead I was happy to see a Hoopoe flying over a road near Opčine with some food in the beak. Unfortunately it was outside the patch boundary so it won't go on my patch-yearlist. Real pity.

Škocjanski zatok NR: this morning I also had a small guided walk around the reserve with a bunch of schoolchildren. The weather was miserable so we only checked the freshwater marsh. In between the rain showers I managed to see a Hobby dashing thorough the wetland, a few Sand Martins, 1 Marsh Harrier and heard a Marsh Warbler (my first this season)...that eventually ended into the ringer's net. So we had a look at it at least in the hand. Also around were tons of Reed, Great Reed and a few Melodious Warblers, as usual in this season. Also a Pygmy Cormorant perching on the highest tree in the area.

Meanwhile at Isola della Cona NR...someone found this (!!). Unfortunately the news was put out quite late, otherwise it would be already on my list!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Red-footed Falcons

Spent the afternoon on the Slovenian Karst watching a pair of RED-FOOTED FALCONS (above) and listening to some BARRED WARBLERS holding territories. Up to 5 Kestrels were also quite busy with the hovering and hunting. Also a good amount of the usual countryside birds like Red-backed Shrike, Corn Bunting, Cuckoo, Skylark, loads of Swallows and Common Swifts and so on.

Local patch: yesterday evening I had the first singing NIGHTJAR for the patch this year. Always a thrill to hear it just "behind" the house. Also a good dusk-chorus of Nightingales, accompanied by Golden Oriole, Green Woodpecker, Blackcap and Robin.
The situation on the cliffs is more or less as usual with good numbers of Common and Alpine Swifts, 1 Blue Rock Thrush on territory, a few Rock Buntings and the local Ravens.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Trnovski gozd, plants and Lesser Grey Shrikes

Quite busy with university at the moment. Actually today's trip to Trnovski gozd (Trnovo forest) in Slovenia was a guided excursion with our botany professor. We had a quite good weather during the day and saw a good array of rare plant species, endemics and interesting stuff, for example Primula carniolica, Primula auricula (pic above) and P. veris, Daphne cneorum, Artemisia nitida, Gentiana clusii and so on.
On the bird front the morning was quite poor with just a couple of Cuckoos singing in the forest, along with a calling Grey-headed Woodpecker, Bullfinch, Lesser Whitethroat, Rock Bunting and commoner stuff. The hedges around the village of Lokavec yielded a singing Icterine Warbler and a Common Redstart.
Primula carniolica
Primula veris
Daphne cneorum
Gentiana clusii

The afternoon was more productive with 3 nice LESSER GREY SHRIKES in the Vipava valley (see below).

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Local Cuckoo

Local patch: it's been a calm week and I have nothing really brilliant to report, although a singing Cuckoo is present in the neighbourhood. From home I can now hear a bird calling in the nearby woodland almost every day, usually in the evening. It's the first singing Cuckoo in the patch this year, so I'm quite glad. The only other Cuckoo I had here was the one on 1st April.
If I'd be out on my balcony every day then I'd probably see Honey Buzzard also on a daily basis. Two days ago I had a female gliding past the woodland and the species is now quite regular in the patch's airspace. Also a female Kestrel flew by the other day. Otherwise pretty much the same with Alpine Swifts and the pair of Ravens providing the greatest entertainment during balcony-birding.
Nightingales and Black Redstart still tuned in to turbo mode.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Cres island

I'm back from a weekend of university fieldwork on the Croatian islands of Cres and Lošinj. We visited different habitats from the sea-coast to the meadows, woodlands and ponds for sampling invertebrates and other wildlife. Techniques used included a bit of rock-pooling, butterfly and insect-catching with the nets and catchers, pond-dipping and so on. We then had quite a good time analysing and identifying the samples we collected. An awful lot of stuff from beetles, flies, snails, worms ect ect.
Highlight birds I managed to see during the three-days on Cres included: Woodchat Shrike (up to 3), Subalpine Warbler (very common), Short-toed Eagle (1), Griffon Vulture (very common), Black-eared Wheatear (1), Turtle Dove (fairly common in wooded areas), Black Kite (1), Scops Owl (1), Melodious Warbler (1-2), Great Reed Warbler (1), Alpine Swift, Bee-eater (small flocks usually seen passing high overhead), Red-backed Shrike (2), Yellow Wagtail (+10). Also had 3 reptile lifers: European Glass Lizard (Ophiosaurus apodus), Sharp-snouted Wall Lizard (Podarcis oxycephala) and Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis).

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Patch news

Local patch: it's been a relatively calm week since today when I found a nice migrant RED-BACKED SHRIKE in the garden. The female bird landed on a high conifer and remained there for several minutes (last pic above). It's always a pleasure to find a Red-backed Shrike in the patch, even if it's not a real rarity in the area. I suppose they are more or less annual here, but still a bit scarce.
Today the atmosphere was that typical of late spring and the other highlight were 2 Honey Buzzards (females), flying along the karstic edge and about 4 Common Buzzards catching a thermal.
The most interesting birds I use to see or hear on a daily basis now also include Golden Oriole, Nightingale, Long-tailed Tit (pair breeding in the area), Serin, Common Swift & House Martin and a nice male Black Redstart. The latter has a stable territory right around my house and usually sings from the rooftops, chimneys or TV aerials of the surrounding buildings (first two photos).
Yesterday I also heard a singing Wood Warbler from the nearby deciduous woodland and this year's first Hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor) was roving around our local road at night.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Dusk chorus with Short-eared Owl

Yesterday afternoon I spent some time on the dry meadowland called Magredi, near Pordenone. The extensive open areas were covered in flowering orchids (mostly Orchis morio, Neotinea tridentata and Ophrys sp.) and other wildflowers. The highlight of the day came as a bit of a surprise: a SHORT-EARED OWL hunting at dusk above the meadows. It first took off from an earth heap in a field were it was perched and then began to fly around. The light was still good enough to see it well for some minutes.
Almost at the same time the local STONE CURLEWS performed a "dusk chorus" with about 4 or 5 birds calling. One was also seen in flight and 4 birds were seen earlier in the afternoon.
A nearby singing Nightjar was also exciting to hear as it was the first for me this year. Singing Common Quails, Nightingales, Cuckoos and Corn Buntings added a bit of atmosphere to the dusk chorus.
Earlier in the afternoon two first-of-the-year Hippolais were heard: a singing Icterine Warbler and a Melodious Warbler.
The area held a good variety of grassland and woodland species including: Whinchat, 2 Hoopoes, Lapwing (territorial displays), Golden Oriole, 2 Marsh Harriers, 3 Hobbies, Skylark, 2 Montagu's Harriers (both females), 1 Sedge Warbler (clearly a migrant), Stonechat, 1 Wryneck, 1 Black Kite, Red-backed Shrike, Woodlark, Crested Lark, 2 Common Whitethroats, 1 Spotted Flycatcher and 1 Scops Owl singing in the evening.
Short-eared Owl by Szabolcs Kokay

Friday, 3 May 2013

It's all about hawthorns

I've been out on the Slovenian Karst this morning, mainly in the breeding area of the BARRED WARBLERS. I'm glad they are finally back as today I found at least 4 singing males. They were not so easy too see this time, because they kept hidden in the thick hawthorn bushes. But with a bit of fieldcraft and waiting I managed to get some really brilliant views of the males with their distinctive yellow eyes. The shots (above) instead are quite poor, because I just learned that photographing Barred Warblers is far from easy!
The area was so lively with countryside birds that it was difficult to follow all the going-ons and birds songs all around. During the scanning of the bushes I even managed to find a rarity in the form of a WOODCHAT SHRIKE - the second this year! It showed well on the top of the hawthorns and allowed some shots (below).
Woodchat Shrike
The area was also stuffed with Red-backed Shrikes (15 or more I guess). Most were males, with just 3 females around.
Red-backed Shrike - male
Then I was greeted by no less that two migrant MONTAGU'S HARRIERS (male and female) hunting above the meadows. Other raptors also included Hobby (3 - hunting insects over the grass), a single Kestrel, Honey Buzzard (2-3), several Common Buzzards and with a bit of waiting also the local SHORT-TOED EAGLE materialised in the sky. After a steep glide it landed on the top of an oak tree (see pic).
Short-toed Eagle
As I said there was a good variety of other common birds that included: Corn Bunting, 2 Wood Warblers, 1 Tree Pipit, +10 Skylarks, 3 Woodlarks, 2 Golden Orioles, 3-4 singing Lesser Whitethroats, +8 Common Whitethroats, 5 Whinchats, 2 singing Cuckoos, 2 Yellowhammers, 3 Wrynecks, 3 Hoopoes (only heard), Crossbill (passed overhead), Chiffchaff, 1 Black Woodpecker, Hawfinch, Mistle Thrush, 5 Sand Martins (migrating overhead), Linnet, Serin and a single Nightingale.
Interesting to note that up on the Karst the hawthorns (Crataegus) are not yet in bloom as opposed to the same bushes in full white colour down here on the coast.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Acros, herons and Honey Buzzard

Škocjanski zatok NR: back on the reserve after two weeks of absence, just to find it overgrown with reeds, grass and a full explosion of green in the hedges. The visibility over much of the freshwater marsh is now quite limited (as usual in summer), but at least there's a lot of cover for breeding birds. The area was not particularly rich in bird biodiversity today, but the most notable thing was a good Acrocephalus presence. During my morning walk I counted an astonishing 41 singing Sedge Warblers, 38 Great Reed Warblers and 13 Reed Warblers (year's first by the way). All these in the length of the 2 km long circular path. Also Nightingales were in bigger numbers than usual with 9 birds recorded and Cetti's Warblers numbered 7 singing individuals.
Of the other birds, these were the most notable: 4 Night Herons, 5 Purple Herons (above), 1 Wryneck (singing), 2 Whinchats and a male Red-backed Shrike. Waders included the more or less usual Black-winged Stilts (23), Little Ringed Plover (1), Common Redshank (3), Wood Sandpiper (2) and so on. About 24 Common Terns now on the nests in the brackish lagoon.
Great Reed Warbler

Local patch: the first days of May are the proper time to see a returning Honey Buzzard and yesterday I had my first one just over the house. It was a nice male and it even circled for a while with one of the local Common Buzzards (second pic), before gliding E.
Also a Grey Heron flying SE along the coast, 1 Golden Oriole singing (almost daily now) and usual seasonal stuff like Nightingale, 2 Ravens, Black Redstart, Common Swifts and House Martins.
 Honey Buzzard