Monday 30 September 2013

Berries galore

Blackthorn Prunus spinosa
If you don't like berries then look away now. Jokes apart, here's a post about berry-bearing bushes I photographed this autumn on the Karst and around Slovenia. Most are widespread species which are easily found in this season. Now I know why berries seem so irresistible to birds... such a nice variety and probably also many different tastes.
Cornelian Cherry Cornus mas
Common Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Alder Buckthorn Frangula alnus (or Rhamnus frangula)
St Lucie Cherry Prunus mahaleb
Blackthorn Prunus spinosa
Purging Buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica
Dog Rose Rosa canina
Common Whitebeam Sorbus aria
Rowan Sorbus aucuparia
Rowan Sorbus aucuparia
Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus
Laurestine Viburnum tinus
Common Juniper Juniperus communis

Thursday 26 September 2013

Ural Owls and Golden Eagles

Yesterday me and a friend payed a visit to the Nanos plateau and the Trnovo forest (Trnovski gozd) in Slovenia. The weather was not the best, but we managed to avoid rain showers despite the heavy overcast skies.
First target bird of the day was the GOLDEN EAGLE which we found after about an hour's wait on the grassy slopes of Mt. Nanos (at 900 m). First two juvenile birds soared lazily above the grassy hillsides, later followed by an adult. All three birds then performed for some 15 min or more while flying one close to the other, calling at each other and sometimes landing on the top of the surrounding hills. They must've been part of a brood raised in the area. Very pleasing to see the juveniles flying around and quite an encounter I must admit.
Minutes later a Nutcracker flew along the Nanos rocky edge and landed on the top of a spruce for some seconds. My first this year. Later in the day we also heard several others around the Trnovo forest and saw about 3 different birds (all perched on spruces or in flight).
We visited the Trnovo forest mainly for the evening owl session which was very productive in the end. At dusk we managed to see two stunning URAL OWLS, still in good light, as they perched on the side branches of a spruce at the edge of a forest glade. Later we recorded at least 9 other singing (and calling) Ural Owls which raised our tally to 11 birds. All types of songs (male, female, duet) and calls were heard and up to 4 birds were singing simultaneously. All were more or less concentrated to the same area of conifer forest. Other owl species heard included both TENGMALM'S OWL (1-2) and  an unexpected Tawny Owl.
Before the owl session we had time for some birding around the forest and we thus managed to see the common species like Coal, Crested and Willow Tit, Goldcrest, Crossbill, Bullfinch, Raven, Dunnock & Wren, Song and Mistle Thrush and others. We were also quite lucky to see another GOLDEN EAGLE soaring above Lokavec, in front of the cliffs of the Trnovo's edge - an area where a pair breeds. So this was our 4th Golden Eagle of the day!
Mammals at night included Roe and Red Deer (rutting), Fox, Brown Hare and Edible Dormouse.
As I took no bird pics at all I uploaded some old Ural Owl shots from 2009 (above) - photographed in complete daylight in Trnovski gozd.

Škocjanski zatok NR: just a quick update from Wednesday when I saw 7 GLOSSY IBISES in the freshwater marsh, along with the White Stork which is still present and a female Marsh Harrier.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Biocamp in Slovenia

Mt.Slavnik - 1028 m (photo by Neža Gregorič)
Here I am, back home and blogging, after the last couple of days spent in Slovenia on a biology camp of university students. I was leading the birdwatching group which was rather successful in finding almost all the main targets and a few goodies as well.
I'll start with the "big day" spent at Cerkniško jezero (Cerknica lake) where we saw an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE, along with several other raptors like Peregrine (2), Hobby, a female Hen Harrier (first of the season), Marsh Harrier, and commoner ones. The water bodies held a mixed flock of 6 Wigeons, 11 Pintails, Teals and Mallards. In the evening we listened to 3 singing URAL OWLS in the forests above the lake and glimpsed one in flight too. Somewhere down by the lake a Tawny Owl was also singing and several rutting Red Deers were also heard. An overflying Night Heron (calling) above the forest was a bit unusual to hear.
A must-stop along the river Unica on Planinsko polje produced the hoped-for DIPPER - actually 3 handsome birds performing well on the fast flowing stream. Here's a short video of a bird feeding underwater. In the same area also 2 Kingfishers and several Grey Wagtails were also seen.
Dippers on the river Unica
Another day was spent on the Karst on the outskirts of Trieste, where we visited some woodland habitats and heathland-grassland. Woodland produced a few woodpecker species including a nice Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, while a raptor-watch session on "Campo Carri" delivered a Short-toed Eagle, 7 GRIFFON VULTURES (migrating SE), a Peregrine, a juvenile female Goshwak, several Sparrowhawks and Common Buzzards. In the afternoon we had a walk in the Glinščica valley where we saw Blue Rock Thrush. Interesting was the presence of +30 Jackdaws in the industrial area of Bagnoli/Boljunec - a scarce bird in Trieste.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker male (by Neža Gregorič)

A day was spent walking the grassy hillsides above Rakitovec and enjoying the sun, as well as some raptors. The main target here was Rock Partridge, which we missed, but we managed to see a GOLDEN EAGLE and the season's first Meadow Pipits flying overhead.
And of course no trip is complete without a visit to wetlands. On one day we worked the Slovene coast from Škocjanski zatok NR to the Sečovlje saltpans. Škocjanski zatok produced Hobby, a migrant White Stork, Marsh Harrier, 2 Common Terns and an eclipse plumaged Red-breasted Merganser in the lagoon, plus other commoner waterbirds. On the Sečovlje saltpans we were successful in finding at least 5 Kentish Plovers, a real speciality of this area.
White Stork following a tractor in the freshwater marsh
Hobby over Škocjanski zatok (by Neža Gregorič)
Throughout all the trips we also saw common migrants and other local birds on a daily basis - things like Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear, Tree Pipit, Swallow + House Martin (sometimes in huge flocks), Grey Wagtail, Alpine Swift (+100 on the coast), Marsh Harrier, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Black and Common Redstart, Red-backed Shrike, Skylark and Woodlark, Yellow Wagtail, Hawfinch, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Rock Bunting, Raven, Jay and others were all fairly common.
Whinchat in Škocjanski zatok (by Neža Gregorič)
Wheatear on Cerkniško jezero (by Neža Gregorič)

Friday 13 September 2013

Autumn vespertinus

Red-backed Shrike
Cyclamen purpurascens now in full swing
Allium montanum
Forest landscape on the Snežnik plateau (Mt. Snežnik is the highest top)
Came across 3 juvenile RED-FOOTED FALCONS this afternoon at Divača's airfield. All three were hovering and catching food on the grassland close to the runway and were regularly "flushed" by small passing-by aircrafts. It's not rare to see this species here in spring, but I don't think I ever saw one in autumn. That's probably because in autumn relatively few birds are passing through Slovenia if compared to spring.
Here's a sum of the other birds I also saw today: Wheatear (1), Whinchat (1), Lesser Whitetheroat (2), Cirl Bunting, Black Woodpecker (3 different birds) Alpine Swift (+15), Grey Wagtail, Raven, Spotted Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike (2 juvs), Woodlark (10), Coal & Crested Tit and lots of migrant Swallows + House Martins. Jays are beginning to appear a bit everywhere, which is in the norm of their autumn influx. But now most of the Karst is slowly emptying as the summer migrants are heading back to Africa. Even Red-backed Shrikes are becoming scarce.
The wildflower season is also nearly over, but a few species are still blooming or are in full flowering explosion right now, like wild cyclamens (above) or different Allium species.
I think I'll miss all the wildflowers in the coming months...

Friday 6 September 2013

The Dotterel that wasn't was a Lapwing! This afternoon I was up again on mount Vremščica (1026 m) in Slovenia to check the site fidelity of the Dotterel (do you remember 2 years ago, same site, same day?). Today up there it was all nice and well, pity I got the wrong wader... a Lapwing! At this point I think that a Lapwing in upland habitat in Slovenia is far rarer than a Dotterel, but the joy wasn't really the same. Anyway it was a good and interesting find, I was quite amazed. Well, but migration is right that - strange birds in strange places. The bird was perched on the ground in an area of short, tundra-like grass and some rocks - the perfect place you would expect to see a Dotterel. After some people walked along a path towards it, the bird took off, made a few calls as it circled and disappeared westwards.
Last week's juvenile Montagu's Harrier was still there, performing well for the whole afternoon while hunting over the "moors". Other birds seen on Vremščica's plateau and surrounding areas also included: Wheatear (2 males), Whinchat (7), Common Redstart (5 males), Spotted Flycatcher (1), Willow Warbler (1 calling), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (1 male feeding on a whitebeam), Alpine Swift, Raven (12), Black Woodpecker (1 heard), Mistle Thrush, Red-backed Shrike (4 juvs), Skylark, Chiffchaff, Kestrel. At sunset also a group of 10 Red Deers was seen feeding on an open meadow.
No Dotterels found, but all in all a good afternoon. Below are some more pics, including some botanical ones (berry season at its best!):
Male Wheatear
Heather Calluna vulgaris
Rowan Sorbus aucuparia
Whitebeam Sorbus aria
Cornelian cherry Cornus mas
Life's not that bad after all

Sunday 1 September 2013

Early autumn on the Karst

The unmistakable silhouette of Mt. Nanos
It's been a calm couple of days with no particular "serious" birding being done. This afternoon and on Friday I visited the Glinščica valley (Val Rosandra) while accompanying a group of people. Not many birds were to be seen except 4 Blue Rock Thrushes, a few Wood Warblers in the trees, Alpine Swifts overhead, 1 Honey Buzzard and common woodland birds. White-clawed Crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) in the Glinščica stream were good to see though. 
Drypis spinosa ssp. jacquiniana - the most characteristic plant on limestone screes
Grasses on limestone scree in the Glinščica valley
White-clawed Crayfish Austropotamobium pallipes
Yesterday instead I went to look for Dotterels on mount Vremščica with a friend, but of course without success. A juvenile MONTAGU'S HARRIER was seen hunting over the grassy slopes and a few Wheatears and Whinchats were of note, along with this autumn's first Tree Pipits calling overhead. A juvenile Tawny Pipit and a family of Stonechats represented the local breeders. Also 2 Red-backed Shrikes, but not many around now. Spotted and Pied Flycatchers are common in wooded areas at the moment. Also the first migrating flocks of House Martins and Swallows are beginning to appear in the skies. Some parts of Vremščica's grassy slopes are now appearing purple-covered with flowering heather (Calluna vulgaris).

Local patch: a few days ago a Peregrine put on brief show when it appeared above the karstic ridge, mobbed by a female Sparrowhawk. The same day also 2 Honey Buzzards, Alpine Swifts, 2 Ravens, 1 female Golden Oriole, Nightingale, Swallows flying past and a good movement of migrant House Martins. Short-toed Treecreeper and Nuthatch now quite regularly heard from the house, while the sea holds a Med Gull or two.