Tuesday 30 July 2013

Black Stork

Today in the afternoon I was around Divača on the Slovenian Karst and I had about 15 minutes of spare time before an appointment. With a potential Black Stork in mind I headed towards Vremska dolina, a few kilometres away, where indeed an adult BLACK STORK was soaring above the valley. I first spotted it while still driving and then continued to watch it when I stopped at the side of the road. The bird performed well for a few minutes, before dropping down into some distant fields. Always quite a thrill to watch this rare species.
A mix of luck combined with good timing and a bit of knowledge about the local breeding pair - actually the nearest to Trieste (30 min drive away).

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Unforgettable evening

Three magnificent Red Deer stags with massive antlers graze on the meadows along with another two diminutive Roe Deers. Down in the valley a Quail sings and Hoopoes fly around. As the sun sets, a chorus of Nightjars begins. You turn your back and find there's a full moon rising, then you point your scope towards a distant planet and find out it's the gorgeous Saturn with its distinctive rings. Night sets in and the only thing you hear is the Nightjars' churring, accompanied by the thousands of crickets and grasshoppers.

Friday 19 July 2013


Yesterday in the late afternoon I was back on the Slovenian Karst in the same old area that I regularly visit throughout spring and summer. Red-backed Shrike was by far the most numerous species with up to 30 birds seen. But perhaps the most notable observation was that of 6 Hoopoes feeding on a recently mowed meadow. When a Sparrowhawk approached from the nearby woodland, they all took off and landed in some hawthorn and dog-rose bushes (above). A singing Quail was most probably the same bird I used to hear throughout the spring. I was glad to notice that the local farmers are mowing the meadows with great care of breeding birds and always leave large patches of rough grass for the birds to hide and nest. Thus lots of Skylarks were still around, along with some Corn Buntings and a Stonechat. A male Honey Buzzard gliding overhead was also of note.
Honey Buzzard
Everything is Allium-covered at the moment

Local patch: this morning I went to look for Common Sandpiper (a patch year-tick) at Miramare and found 5 birds on the rocks by the sea, just under the castle's wall. The species is a passage migrant in the patch area and July is usually the best month to see one. The last Common Sandpiper I saw here was back in 2006 (or something)... quite a long time ago, but actually I rarely visit the area in summer. Three Common Terns were also around as well as plenty of Shags as usual.
Yesterday evening also a singing Nightjar was heard, along with a Golden Oriole.

On Wednesday evening I counted Shags at the roost on Debeli rtič (Slovenia/Italy border) and scored a total of 482 birds. Also 24 Mediterranean Gulls in all different plumages were around, along with 11 Common Terns, a Little Egret and 4 Common Sandpipers.
Adult Med Gull

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Karstlife in summer

Had a stroll on a karstic grassland near Sežana this evening and saw a couple of birds including 6 Red-backed Shrikes (above), 3 Hoopoes (flushed from the woodland's border), 1 Melodious Warbler, 1 pale-morph male Honey Buzzard, 2 Alpine Swifts, 2 Corn Buntings and 6 Skylarks.
Also some interesting plants were around. Here's a couple of pics (can't resist...the botany side's too strong):
Today's highlight (yes, it's a grass): Chrysopogon gryllus
Chrysopogon gryllus
Allium carinatum
Allium sphaerocephalon
Allium sphaerocephalon
Centaurea cristata

Eryngium amethystinum

Monday 15 July 2013

Waders and halophytes

Škocjanski zatok NR: back to routine monitoring today which produced a few goodies. The highlight of the morning was a gorgeous Curlew Sandpiper in almost full summer plumage - the first of the autumn! There were a few other waders around, but not great numbers; most were those seen last week including Little Ringed Plovers (incl. 2 along the railway line - above), lots of Redshanks, Black-winged Stilts, Common Sandpiper, a single Green Sandpiper ect. Today a female Little Bittern showed briefly in flight, while a Purple Heron was sitting on a high tamarisk in full view. A Turte Dove was perched on one of the bushes bordering the lagoon (2nd above) and a juvenile Nightingale was showing on the top of a dead tree (silly juvenile). Other birds also included the usual Common Terns (up to 20), Kingfisher, Yellow Wagtail, Pygmy Cormorant and some Reed Warblers.

I also took some time to photograph and identify some of the halophytes present in the brackish lagoon. All very rare species in Slovenia, which are confined to the few saltmarshes found along the coast.
Limonium angustifolium
 Atriplex portulacoides
Sarcocornia fruticosa
Salicornia europaea

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Back to Škocjanski zatok

Common Sandpiper
Little Ringed Plover
Ashy-headed Yellow Wagtail (cinereocapilla)
Škocjanski zatok NR: yesterday morning I was back on the reserve after more than a month of absence. The situation is pretty quiet as usual in July, although there were a few signs of early movement. The highlight was an adult LITTLE TERN resting in the lagoon with the local breeding Common Terns (with lots of juveniles). It's not rare to see this species here in summer, but they are still pretty scarce, even if once they used to breed on the reserve. Every sighting of a Little Tern is thus a hope for a future nesting... who knows!
Several Little Bitterns were also nice to see - 3 different birds actually (2 f and 1 m) flying low above the reeds. The reedbeds have grown simply too tall to try and see the birds perched in full view. They usually drop down into thick cover, never to be seen again.
The first migrant waders were also obvious and the most unexpected was a summer-plumaged Dunlin in the lagoon. There were also good numbers of Common Redshank (18 birds, mostly juvs. - fledged in the lagoon), Greenshank (21), Common Sandpiper (8), Green Sandpiper (2), Little Ringed Plover (28 - mostly juvs.), Black-winged Stilt (50) and a single Curlew.
Other locally breeding birds such as the above Yellow Wagtail were also around.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Lesser Grey Shrike family

Breeding Lesser Grey Shrikes are now almost extinct in Slovenia. Perhaps the last remaining pair is the one in the Vipava valley. Yesterday I spent some time at the location and witnessed some amazing parental behaviour. There were 4 fledged and fully flying LESSER GREY SHRIKES around, along with the two adults bringing a constant food supply. The male was frequently seen flycatching (also dragonflies) or hunting other insects on the ground, while the juveniles were waiting up on the poplar trees.

Adult with a dragonfly in the beak
Adult (right) with a juvenile (left)
A happy family: all 4 juveniles + an adult together

Nearby was also a pair of Red-backed Shrikes and the male sat just a few metres away from the male Lesser Grey. From a front view, the only thing you could see were whitish underparts and a black mask in both species. The distinguishing feature was of course the extensive black on the forehead showed by Lesser Grey and the different bill structure (bulkier in LGS). A nice scene for comparison of both species. Note the differences below:
Lesser Grey Shrike
Red-backed Shrike
In a nearby vineyard a Hoopoe put also on show while feeding on the ground and a singing Crested Lark was also around.

Later in the morning I also had a look at the extensive upland grasslands of mount Nanos, which produced the hoped-for GOLDEN EAGLE - an adult soaring not too high above my head. If I don't go wrong, the last Golden Eagle I saw was here in the same place, back in 2010. I'm quite glad I saw one after a long time. Other raptors included a Griffon Vulture heading W, 1 Hobby (hunting), 1 Goshawk and 5 Buzzards. A few breeding passerines were also around: Chiffchaff, Common and Lesser Whitethroat, 2 pairs of Stonechat, Skylark and at least 4 singing Rock Buntings
Golden Eagle
Rock Bunting

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Cerkniško jezero - Rosefinch paradise

The Cerknica lake (or Cerkniško jezero) in Slovenia is a spectacular place that rarely disappoints. Yesterday was no exception when I ventured there for the evening with a friend. We started birding early in the afternoon around Postojna where we saw the local colony of Crag Martins, nesting along with good numbers of House Martins. We then checked the village of Planina and surroundings where a pair of White Storks was rising a brood in their nest. Here and in the other villages around the Cerknica lake the countryside birdlife was abundant (things like Black Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Linnet, Tree Sparrow, Skylark ect.).
After a few hours of birding the lake we amassed a good number of interesting species of which the highlight was with no doubt COMMON ROSEFINCH. At least 3 singing males were heard in different scrubby areas on wet meadows. One male bird in particular put on good show and allowed the best views while perched on low bushes (pics above) and a female was also close nearby (pictured in the last photo on the right).
During the afternoon we had a good selection of birds including: a SHORT-TOED EAGLE (soaring with a snake in the talons), Common Quail (2 singing males), Marsh Warbler (3), Great and Little Egret, Great Reed Warbler, White Stork (another local nest), Whinchat (quite common), Yellowhammer (5), Red-backed Shrike, Common Whitethroat (3), Yellow Wagtail (nesting behavoiur), Great Crested Grebes (families of ads+juvs), Honey Buzzard (4), Teal (about 30), Shelduck (1, I think this is a quite interesting record for the area), Marsh Harrier (1 f), Sedge Warbler (4), Golden Oriole (2), Tree Pipit (1), Hobby (1 hunting), Fieldfare (5, nesting birds in the area). A flock of about 30 or so Black-headed Gulls on the lake also contained an adult Mediterranean Gull which was fine.
Other interesting birds came shortly after the sunset in the form of the first singing CORNCRAKES. At the end of the evening we recorded at least 8 singing males around the lake. Not a very high number for the area, but of course the season is a bit late, so they tend not to be so territorial at the moment.
Shortly after also two GRASSHOPPER WARBLERS began to sing - which came as a bit of a surprise... a pleasant surprise!
We then headed for some "night safari" along the roads around the lake and encountered a few mammal species as well: Roe and Red Deer, Fox (2) and a Beech Marten.
Our last night stop on the lake's shores produced yet another two goodies. In a chorus of Marsh Frogs we managed to pick out the calls of both Porzanas breeding in the area: first a LITTLE CRAKE and then also a SPOTTED CRAKE. After a while both birds were heard singing together, so direct comparison was possible.
What a better way to round up the day?
View over part of the lake (with Mt. Slivnica in the background)