Saturday 29 March 2014


White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos lilfordi
Typical tree stump shaved by White-backed Woodpecker
Brilliant morning spent in the extensive Dinaric forests of Mt. Snežnik. Had an exciting encounter with one of Slovenia's rarest breeding birds: WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER. Two territorial birds (male and female) were seen. Also both calls and drumming were heard several times in the course of the morning. A "shaved" tree stump was also a good sign of the presence of this species. Not far away from the woodpecker's location, a Brown Bear's footprint was found in the mud. Plenty of other birds in the forest seen/heard, including: Coal and Willow Tit, Buzzard, Raven, Dunnock, Goldcrest & Firecrest (both holding territories), Siskin, Bullfinch and Crossbill. A flock of +100 Woodpigeons on passage was also of note.
Bear's footprint (Ursus arctos)
Helleborus niger
Crocus vernus
Snow-covered Mt. Snežnik (1796 m)

Friday 28 March 2014

Glinščica valley

Biscutella laevigata - typical plant of the limestone screes
Coronilla emerus ssp. emeroides
Glinščica waterfall
Upper course of the Glinščica stream
Scorzonera austriaca
Thlaspi praecox
Austropotamobium pallipes
Took a stroll in the Glinščica valley/Val Rosandra this afternoon. On the bird front the highlights included 4 singing Blue Rock Thrushes (2 seen), 1 Raven, Rock Bunting and a few Grey Wagtails. Looked hard for any breeding Dippers, but failed to find them.
The other day I had a fly-by Marsh Harrier and Kestrel over the house. At least one Willow Warbler is still in the garden (singing), while the occasional Swallow or House Martin is seen passing by.
On Wednesday in Škocjanski zatok NR the 2 Little Gulls were still present in the freshwater marsh, together with the seasonal mix (incl. 2 Garganeys). Two fly-by Yellow Wagtails were new for the year.

Monday 24 March 2014

Wildlife spring mix

Phone-scoped Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus at 60x
Snow-covered Mt. Nanos today
Saturnia pavoniella
Coronilla emerus ssp. emeroides (left) and Euphorbia wulfenii (right) on the patch's cliffs
A few updates from the past couple of days. Saturday morning started with the first singing WILLOW WARBLER of the spring in the garden...later joined by a second bird. During the morning I visited the Glinščica valley/Val Rosandra where I found the above moth - Saturnia pavoniella. Never seen one of those before. On the non-bird front also 2 quite big Fire Salamanders Salamandra salamandra were of note. At least 3 Blue Rock Thrushes were singing, including one that performed well close to the main path. Other birds there included a few Rock Buntings, 3 Grey Wagtails along the Glinščica stream, 1 House Martin on passage and commoner birds. In the afternoon I made a quick visit to the cliffs in the patch, where the year's first ALPINE SWIFT was the highlight. The area is now covered with the yellow-flowering Euphorbia wulfenii and Coronilla emerus.
Today in the early afternoon I went for a stroll under the rain at Škocjanski zatok NR. Despite the bad weather conditions (including a south wind) 2 Little Gulls were of note, along with good numbers of Swallows over the freshwater marsh (about 100 birds). Other birds included 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Ruff, 1 female Marsh Harrier, 1 Lapwing, 3-4 Black-winged Stilts and the more usual species. The late afternoon was spent under almost clear and sunny skies on the Karst with a good variety of common grassland species like Cirl Bunting, Woodlark & Skylark, Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Linnet and Raven.

Friday 21 March 2014

Woodland flowers

Anemone nemorosa
Anemone ranunculoides
Daphne mezereum
Erythronium dens-canis
Hacquetia epipactis
Hepatica nobilis
Isopyrum thalictroides
Scilla bifolia - today's lifer
Scilla bifolia & Hacquetia epipactis
Woodland mix: Anemone nemorosa, Hepatica nobilis, Pulmonaria sp. and Primula vulgaris
Primula vulgaris with Scilla bifolia
Pulmonaria sp.
Viola sp.
The woodland floors of the high Karst are carpeted with flowers at the moment. All the above are the typical early plants that exploit the sunlight available at this time of year, before the trees put their leaves on. Took these pics today on the Slovenian Karst (all in the same 10 or so square metres). Botany was thus the main interest, although I also had Black and Grey-headed Woodpecker in the woodland, along with other commoner species.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Little Gull

Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus - a 2nd winter if I don't go wrong.
Škocjanski zatok NR: now I'm visiting the reserve more frequently as the days are getting warmer and more spring migrants are turning up. Today was quite interesting as well - I found a LITTLE GULL resting in the freshwater marsh, which oddly was something like the 3rd of 4th record for the reserve. A good spring find anyway. It was usually seen resting on the grassy islands among the Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls and also in the air, flying low above the marsh. Also today several hirundines were seen in the form of 12 Swallows and about 10 House Martins. Today and yesterday I also saw a few House Martins in the town of Koper. They are now starting to visit the usual colony sites and will become regular from now on.
Garganey numbers were quite low today with just two or three males seen. Four Black-winged Stilts, 1 Ruff and 1 Wood Sandpiper were also still around. A male and female Ferruginous Duck was also of interest, along with 2 Pochards and a female Tufted Duck. Two Cattle Egrets are always showing well in front of the first screening.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

New spring migrants

Garganey Anas querquedula
Flock of 7 Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus
Škocjanski zatok NR: typical spring joy this morning when I spotted my year's first 3 SWALLOWS and later 3 HOUSE MARTINS flying over the freshwater marsh. Catching a glimpse of that really distinctive hirundine silhouette zipping through the sky is quite thrilling. The reserve was actually full of other true spring migrants, all back from Africa. About 30 Garganeys were scattered across the freshwater marsh, most were smart drakes (above). Otherwise there's now a general decline in the number of the other duck species. Other typical spring harbingers were 7 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Wood Sandpiper, 1 Black-tailed Godwit and 2 Green Sandpipers - all joining the Ruffs, Curlews and Snipes already present on site. Some winter birds are still around in the form of Water Pipit, Reed Bunting, Tufted Duck or the flock of 13 Wigeons. Two Cattle Egrets at the grazing marsh were also of interest, along with a female Ferruginous Duck in the area of deeper freshwater and the usual 6-7 Pygmy Cormorants.

Local patch: yesterday afternoon I had my record count of Garganeys on the sea - counted a total of 758 individuals which is really impressive. Other flocks of ducks included 30 Wigeons, 84 Shovelers, 15  Teals and a drake Pintail mixed among them. Still about a hundred of Common Gulls on passage.

Sunday 16 March 2014

A spring of Cranes

Common Cranes Grus grus above the gulf (and city) of Trieste
Euphorbia wulfenii now in full bloom all over the limestone cliffs
Local patch: conditions for vis migging were excellent today, so in the late afternoon I headed up to the cliffs, hoping to see some migration going on. I was immediately lucky when I arrived on site: a flock of 37 COMMON CRANES rose up from the coast and flew past the cliffs (really close!) heading SE towards Trieste. Just the 4th record for the local patch area by the way.
The sea was otherwise quite lively as well with flocks of ducks. Yesterday I managed to see this year's first GARGANEYS in a flock of 17 birds. Today from the cliffs I spotted a raft of 75 individuals. Nearby was also a flock of 15 Teals and further out at sea a raft of 25 Wigeons.  
Common Gulls are now present in their hundreds in the gulf and are regularly seen aggregating on the sea, together with large numbers of Black-headed Gulls. Summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebes are also commonly seen in flocks of up to 30-40 ind.
The cliff area also produced two Rock Buntings, 2 Ravens but not much else.
Also 2 Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were heard earlier in the afternoon on the Karst.

Friday 14 March 2014

Vipava & Nanos

Goosanders Mergus merganser on the river Vipava (Slovenia)
Quite productive morning in the Vipava valley with two groups of GOOSANDERS on the river Vipava being the highlight. A group was formed by three showy (and displaying) males and a female (above), the other was a pair. A total of 6 birds. Good variety of other commoner birds seen in the course of the day: Grey Wagtail (also on nest), Green Woodpecker, Cirl Bunting, Woodlark, Mistle and Song Thrush, Corn Bunting ect. A Peregrine and a lonely COMMON CRANE (on migration) were the main attraction at the limestone cliffs of Lijak. 
Midday hours were spent on the grassy plateau of mt. Nanos, mostly enjoying the sun and two GOLDEN EAGLES performing overhead. In the area also another Peregrine (with prey), 15 Ravens, 2 Crag Martins flying past and several showy Rock Buntings along the road.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Eagle Owl census on the Karst

Eagle Owl plate at the Škocjan caves
Cliff birds of the Škocjan caves
Velika Dolina (karstic sinkhole) with the river Reka on the bottom
Potentilla tommasiniana
Yesterday I attended the traditional, yearly Eagle Owl census on the Karst, organised by DOPPS - BirdLife Slovenia. With a couple of friends we checked a census point which was unfortunately owl-less, although we had some Grey Herons migrating overhead. Nevertheless a good sunny day spent roving around the Slovenian Karst. Some birding earlier in the day produced a Great Grey Shrike, 3 Lapwings on migration and a Peregrine (with prey) at the airfield of Divača, plus another Peregrine later at Škocjanske jame (Škocjan caves). Also commoner birds like Woodlark, Raven, Rock Bunting, Green Woodpecker were seen. More interesting was the botany front with Bear's Ear (Primula auricula) seen in flower at two of the known locations on the Karst (see this post) - one is the massive sinkhole Velika dolina at the Škocjan caves. Also good to see the first flowering Potentilla tommasiniana (karstic endemism) and the first early sprouts of Pulsatilla montana.
The day was rounded up with a singing Tawny Owl in the evening.