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

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Pallid Swifts in Trieste

Pallid Swift by Igor Maiorano
It's been a few weeks since a small nucleus of Pallid Swifts has been discovered in the town of Trieste. The city skies are full of Common Swifts until late July, so finding a Pallid is a real challenge. Most of the sightings of this rarer species are from September to November when they are probably the only swifts to be seen in town. This year some small "colonies" have been found and in the last few days, late breeding has been presumed.
Yesterday me and a couple of friends went on San Giusto's castle in the city centre to try and find the birds. We were soon successful as we saw a flock of +30 swifts of which 2-3 were identified as PALLID SWIFTS for sure. These few swifts were the most showy within the group and we could see all the main characters to rule out Common Swift. However the rest of the flock remained distant and in bad light for most of the afternoon, so we couldn't be sure about their identity.
Pallid Swifts probably represent most of the flock, but there could be some Commons mixed among them as well. Anyway we also saw a Pallid Swift entering a hole in a high building at mid afternoon, which again suggested breeding.
This is a case that needs further investigation and in the next weeks we'll try to get better views of the swifts and hopefully photographs.
While swift-watching on the castle's tower we also saw two unusual urban migrants: a Whinchat and a Wheatear, both on the castle's wall and nearby rooftops.
All in all an interesting urban birding afternoon.

Local patch: at the moment I'm having a female Common Redstart in the garden, seen from my terrace a few minutes ago. Yesterday also a migrant Willow Warbler was in the neighbourhood.

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)

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Autumn migration influx

Wheatear and Whinchat sharing the same perch
Wheatear male
Common Redstart male
Quick update from the last few days on the Karst (both Slovene and Italian side). There's a quite good passage of small passerines at the moment with Wheatears and Whinchats being the commonest species in open grassland areas. Bramlbe bushes, hedges and small patches of woodland usually hold Common and Lesser Whitethroat, Pied Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff, with occasional small parties of Stonechat. Here and there still a few juvenile Red-backed Shrikes are to be found. Also a Tawny Pipit seen today; but the most prominent Anthus is the Tree Pipit, having a good migration passage these days (also heard over the patch).
Today I also heard the season's first Siskins and saw Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail along the river Reka. Also quite a strong passage of +100 House Martins and lots of Swallows too. Most notable raptors today included a Short-toed Eagle and a migrating Marsh Harrier.

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...

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Local migrants

Local patch: an interesting day beginning in the morning with overcast skies and a stiff northeasterly. After midday the sky cleared and it started to look promising for vis migging. Indeed in the early afternoon I managed to spot a few interesting birds from the house. The first was a female Honey Buzzard, very high up in the sky, migrating southwards. Minutes later a Tree Pipit called overhead and then I found a Whinchat (juv) in the garden, quickly followed by a female Marsh Harrier above the ridge, heading southeast. So I decided to head for the cliffs and have some vis migging there. At first it was quite calm, but then, late in the afternoon a flock of +25 House Martins, 10 Swallows and +10 Alpine Swifts suddenly appeared in the sky. Mixed among them was also a Common Swift. A Grey Heron migrating, again very high up overhead, was also of note. While walking back my usual woodland path a BLACK WOODPECKER called from the pine woodland - patch year tick!  One or two Rock Buntings were also seen along the limestone cliffs, but were pretty shy today.
Yesterday in between rain showers and strong northeasterly wind a total of 67 House Martins passed the patch, divided in smaller flocks, while the season's first Sandwich Tern was seen flying along the coast. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Prince Caspian

Today I spent most of my time birding with a friend around Isola della Cona, Lisert, Valle Cavanata and the Duino/Devin cliffs. A quick stop at the cliffs, early morning, produced two smart Blue Rock Thrush males, a flock of screaming Alpine Swifts and about 20 Common Eiders on the sea - some males already sporting the breeding plumage (later seen quite closely from Duino's quay). Also some Sandwich Terns were of note.
A quick check of the RED-RUMPED SWALLOW site at Lisert revealed 2 adult birds flying low above our heads.
At Isola della Cona NR an unexpected surprise in the form of CASPIAN TERN was the major highlight of the day. The bird was only seen in flight as it passed low above the main hide, heading W towards the Isonzo river. Unfortunately it was only seen briefly and we couldn't find it again later. However I was very pleased to see a Caspian Tern after so long - my last one being in Egypt back in 2009 (pictured above).
The freshwater marsh at Isola della Cona held a good variety of waders and wildfowl, which were all flushed when a Peregrine passed through. The most interesting birds here included: Dunlin (+10), Curlew Sandpiper (+10), Little Stint (3), Black-tailed Godwit (2), Ruff (6), Green and Common Sandpiper, Spotted and Common Redshank, Snipe, Little Ringed Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, Med Gull (20), Bee-eater (+20), Marsh Harrier (1), Common Redstart (1 female), Spotted Flycatcher (1), Whinchat, Fan-tailed Warbler (2 at Caneo), Reed Warbler and all common dabbling ducks (most still in eclipse plumage). A brief visit to Valle Cavanata NR added to the list a Grey Plover in the main reservoir, plus a Pied Flycatcher and a Willow Warbler sharing the same tree.

On Sunday I had a guided walk in the Glinščica valley (Val Rosandra) on the outskirts of Trieste, but it was a more general - naturalistic one. However I managed to see a couple of migrant Wheatears on MT. Stena, a few Willow Warblers and some Crested Tits in the pine woodland. Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail were also two good finds along the Glinščica stream.

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

Monday, 2 September 2013


Another twitch brought me to Valle Canal Novo in Marano Lagunare today, this time for a much sought-after wader: Terek Sandpiper. At first it was quite difficult to find it among the hundreds other waders scattered all over the marsh, but with joined forces of two fellow twitchers who arrived on site, we soon had the TEREK SANDPIPER in our scopes. It then allowed quite good views (sometimes very close to the hide we were standing in) for the rest of the afternoon - that was about 2 and a half hours. I only managed a few shots for documentation (above). Terek Sand, being a WP tick, rises my list to 390 species (according to Netfugl). Now just 10 more till the 400 barrier!
The situation in the marsh was otherwise far from boring as waders kept us well entertained. The scrape was literally covered with Snipes (+200), Curlew Sandpipers (100), Lapwings, Spotted Redshanks, Grey Plovers (+50), Ruffs (+50), Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints (+30) and smaller numbers of Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Green & Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Curlews. Of the most interesting species a BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER was the major attraction after the Terek (probably one of the 9 birds reported here a few weeks ago). I still didn't see it this year, so it was quite nice to catch up with this annual rare. A single KNOT, a quite unseasonal GOLDEN PLOVER and 2 Avocets were also among the highlights.
A large flock of Teals held also good numbers of Garganeys (+20) among them and Spoonbill, Purple Heron, Common Tern, Fan-tailed Warbler, Yellow Wagtail were also seen. The hedges held several Garden Warblers, a few Pied Flycatchers and a Red-backed Shrike which all added a good taste of autumn to the afternoon.

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.