Tuesday 29 April 2014

Spring migrants on the Karst

Hoopoe Upupa epops from the car
Female Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
Ringtail Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
Iris illyrica
Onosma javorkae
Trifolium rubens
Stipa eriocaulis (grass)
Spent the past two days strolling around on the Karst in search of migrants. The weather has been quite variable, with regular rain showers as well as sprouts of sun. Yesterday was "harrier day" at the airfield of Divača and nearby areas. At least 5 ringtails were around. I could only identify 3 MONTAGU'S HARRIER (including a transitional male) and a Hen Harrier for sure. Two female Marsh Harriers were also on passage. Other highlights yesterday included a showy Hoopoe, Wheatear (3), Stonechat (2), Whinchat (4), Cuckoo (2), Common Whitethroat (4), Tawny Pipit (3) and Corn Bunting. 
Today I checked Campo Carri in the hope of finding a Woodchat Shrike (it's the perfect date), but the situation was not very lively with migrants. And the weather was quite unstable with rain showers coming and going. However I heard my first Golden Oriole of the year, saw the first Red-backed Shrike (female), a few Wheatears, 1 Whinchat, 3 Tawny Pipits and 1 Wood Warbler. Raptors included a distant male Goshawk and a nice SHORT-TOED EAGLE watched hovering over the hilly karstic countryside for most of my stay.
A final stop at the cliffs of Mt.Grisa produced a singing male SUBALPINE WARBLER in the bushes by the road. Another nice year's first to round up the day.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Red-footed Falcons & orchids

Male Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus
Yesterday in the afternoon I made a short visit to the open areas around the airfield of Divača. The grasslands were carpeted with orchids, mostly Orchis morio which here is very abundant. Also lots of Daffodils Narcissus poeticus and many others. On the bird front I was very glad to see two RED-FOOTED FALCONS (a male and a female) hunting above the meadows in the company of several Kestrels. A SHORT-TOED EAGLE gliding low above the airfield was also nice to see and there was also a ringtail harrier which unfortunately will remaind unidentified (doubt between Hen and Pallid). In the hedges my first Common Whitethroats of the season were singing and several Corn Buntings, Skylarks and 3 Stonechats were on territories. Also 2 Cuckoos singing and in the air a good passage of Swallows, House Martins and some Common Swifts.
Both yesterday and today I had a Wood Warbler singing in one of the gardens around my home.
Fritillaria orientalis (tenella). Not an orchid, but a rare plant in Slovenia, confined to the Karst's dry meadows.
Neotinea tridentata
Apparently a hybrid between Orchis simia and Orchis militaris
Scope view over the meadows - the patches of purple are made up of Orchis morio. Literally tons of them!
Narcissus poeticus and Orchis morio
Part of the meadows as seen through the scope. The white spots are Daffodils Narcissus poeticus. A real abundance of wildflowers.

Friday 25 April 2014

Picoides tridactylus again

Female Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus drumming
Not much birding in the last week, except for a second THREE-TOED WOODPECKER mission. Also this time with no less than 4 birds heard drumming and two of them (females) seen very well in a sort of a territorial fight. Still preferring the broken spruces to the rotten ones for drumming. Most of the birds in the forest were mainly those seen last week, except for a singing URAL OWL in complete daylight (added to the chorus of 2 drumming Three-toeds!).
A quick routine visit of the Cerknica lake produced once again several good birds in the form of: 1 ad WHITE-TAILED EAGLE, 1 juv Montagu's Harrier, 3 Red-footed Falcons (year's first), 2 Hobby (also year's first), 1 Red-necked Grebe, 3 Sedge Warblers on territories, 2 breeding Fieldfares, 2 pairs of White Storks (on nests), Wryneck, Black Woodpecker, Yellow Wagtail, 3 Marsh Harriers, 1 Cuckoo, 1 Whinchat and mixed duck species (incl. Garganey).

Friday 18 April 2014

Three-toed Woodpecker

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus
Most of today's morning was spent in the extensive conifer forests of Mt. Snežnik plateau. I was successful with no less than 4 territorial THREE-TOED WOODPECKERS. The first sound I heard when I arrived on site was a drumming I could no identify for sure. Later I realised it was a Three-toed. Two of the four individuals heard drumming were also seen...really well I must say. They were quite tame and kept feeding for several minutes on the dead spruces above my head. Interesting to note that the most favourite drumming posts were the spruces broken by the ice this past winter. They sound quite differently from the dead and decaying ones.
The above photos are a documentation attempt, as always. Too much adrenaline to take proper pics.
Of the woodpeckers I also had a singing Grey-headed and a male Black Woodpecker (seen hammering a dead spruce).
Other birds in the forest were mainly the usual species like Bullfinch (3), Crested & Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Eurasian Treecreeper, Dunnock, Wren, Woodpigeon, Siskin. Also at least 3 singing Cuckoos.
Next on the plan was a quick round visit of Cerkniško jezero (Cerknica lake) which to my amazement was quite lively. The White Storks have returned on their nests in the village of Martinjak and one bird was also seen feeding on a wet meadow. The large water bodies were full of wildfowl, mostly Garganey (+120), Shoveler, Teal, Mallard, Wigeon (7), Pintail (5), Gadwall (3) and Ferruginous Duck (5). The highlight here was hearing a booming BITTERN, while watching a summer-plumaged RED-NECKED GREBE - a speciality of the lake (the only breeding site of the species in Slovenia). Other interesting birds included: Fieldfare (3), Wryneck (2), Yellow Wagtail, Marsh Harrier (1), Black-winged Stilt (8), Curlew (2) and some courting Great Crested Grebes.
The last stop of the day was at Planinsko polje, where I was surprised and thrilled to see an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE taking off from the fields. In peaceful flight it then flew south-west towards Postojna. Also here the local pair of White Storks was on the nest. A singing Tree Pipit was a new bird of the season for me and in the orchards there were several Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers and another Wryneck.
Omphalodes verna
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena
White Stork Ciconia ciconia

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Migration update

 Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
New spring migrants are on the way. Today (and partly yesterday) at Škocjanski zatok NR I had some year's firsts in the form of Sand Martin (about 40 today), 2 Purple Herons, 1 Squacco Heron, several Little Ringed Plovers and 2 singing Great Reed Warblers. However the major highlight today was a BLACK KITE flying over the freshwater marsh. In general there was a good movement of birds. Together with the Sand Martins, there were lots of Swallows and a few House Martins, as well as Common Swifts (+20) and a single Alpine Swift (yesterday). Ten flava Yellow Wagtails and a male Whinchat were good to see on the grazing marsh. Other birds, already recorded in the previous visits included things like Little Gull (2), Lapwing, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff (+25), Black-winged Stilt, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper (1 in the lagoon), Redshank, Common Tern (10) and Marsh Harrier (1 f).

On Sunday I had a small guided trip to the karstic lake of Doberdob which was quite unproductive in terms of migrants and/or waterbirds. However we managed to see an adult Night Heron, a few Common and Alpine Swifts, heard a Water Rail, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a distant Cuckoo and a load of Nightingales. In the early afternoon I saw my first two SHORT-TOED EAGLES of the season (soaring together), which were quite cool to see again.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Stalking Cuckoos

Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Grim and cloudy day but still good enough to be on the Karst enjoying some spring sights. I'm still in a Cuckoo mood as they are now singing from almost every woodland. This morning I heard 7 of them; 6 were relatively close to each other. A bird in particular was especially collaborative while singing and catching caterpillars from an exposed perch (above). A singing Hoopoe on the top of a bush was a similar thrilling sight. Other good birds included 2 Wrynecks, 1 male Common Redstart (year's first), 4 Northern Wheatears, 1 Grey-headed Woodpecker, Rock, Cirl & Corn Buntings plus Yellowhammer and loads of commoner species.
Singing Hoopoe Upupa epops. Note the inflated throat.
Male Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Male Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
A flock of +20 Common Swifts above the local patch, earlier this morning was a welcome sight. My firsts were seen just yesterday in the late afternoon on the cliffs of Mt.Grisa, where among the several Alpine Swifts I also had 1-2 Pallid Swifts migrating past. On the vis-mig front a flock of about 70 Curlews was of note and a female Marsh Harrier was seen flying above the sea. Nightingale is now regularly heard singing in the patch (from the house) as well.
Two days ago I had my first Wood Warbler of the year, singing in a patch of woodland, together in a chorus with Willow Warbler and Chiffhcaff. The same evening I also had a double chorus of Scops and Tawny Owl.

And to round up with some flowers...
Paeonia officinalis
Iris illyrica

Wednesday 9 April 2014

A heavy dose of spring in the vein

Male Cuckoo Cuculus canorus - the first I see this year
Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra
Orchis morio (left), Pulsatilla montana (center), Alyssum montanum (right)
Orchis morio in two colour varieties
Narcissus poeticus
Vicia grandiflora
Globularia punctata
Globularia cordifolia
Pulsatilla montana
Pleasant spring afternoon spent on the Slovenian Karst. Lots of wildflowers on the meadows and several good spring birds like Cuckoo (at least 3), Hoopoe (1 singing), Cirl & Corn Bunting, Skylark & Woodlark, Lesser Spotted, Green and Black Woodpecker (4 of the latter). A massive female Goshawk chasing a Woodpigeon was also a good sight. The most satisfying encounter was that with one of the three singing Cuckoos - a bird perched on the top of a high oak (above). Spotted after a long stalk through the woodlands. Success at the end!

Yesterday at Škocjanski zatok I also had my first Nightingales of the year. At least 3 birds were singing in the hedges. One also showed briefly.
The lonely Common Crane was still present in the freshwater marsh, but it flew north-east in the late morning. One Little Gull was still around. Otherwise more or less the usual seasonal birds.