Thursday 31 July 2014

A summer day on the Karst

Allium carinatum with mt. Vremščica (1027 m) in the background.
Enjoyed a nice all-day visit to the Slovenian Karst, concentrating in the area of Divača. A lot of rain this summer (including today) means that the karstic grasslands, usually dry at this time of year, are now green like in April and are hosting carpets of multi-coloured flowers. The three main (commonest) species forming these carpets are Allium carinatum, Betonica officinalis and Veronica barrelieri.
Today also lots of interesting birds. Started well in the morning with two juvenile BARRED WARBLERS Sylvia nisoria, showing nicely in a bush, in an area I've never seen them before.
Juvenile Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria.
Supporting cast on the grasslands included Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, Hoopoe Upupa epops (4-5), Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus, Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra, Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis (on passage), Lesser Whiethroat Sylvia curruca (migrant), Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella, Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos (migrant) and Alpine Swift Apus melba (+30).
A check of Škocjanske jame (Škocjan caves) produced two Crag Martins Ptyonoprogne rupestris that this year are breeding in the area.
Also several woodland birds with the most noteworthy being 2 Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius, 3 showy Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus (lured on pishing), Coal Tit Periparus ater, and a Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata.
In the hottest hours of the day also a lot of raptor movement; first in the morning Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, Common Buzzard Buteo buteo and Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus, then on mount Vremščica in the afternoon also a juvenile Goshawk Accipiter gentilis and a GRIFFON VULTURE Gyps fulvus and to round up the day nicely, a Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus perched in full view on a pine (see below).
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Allium carinatum
Allium sphaerocephalon
Campanula glomerata
Dianthus sylvestris ssp. tergestinus
Eryngium amethystinum
Minuartia capillacea
Satureja subspicata
Mix of Allium carinatum, A. sphaerocephalon & Veronica barrelieri; also Euphorbia sp. in the back.
Betonica officinalis (violet flowers) and Veronica barrelieri (blue flowers).

Sunday 27 July 2014

Waders on the move

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Škocjanski zatok NR: yesterday the brackish marsh was alive with lots of waders. A Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea (in breeding-like plumage) was a welcome, but expected sight - always on time as every year in July. Also typical of this month are good numbers of Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos - counted 45 of them (compared with the 4 last week!). Three plover species were to be seen together: Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula (1), Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius (5) and Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus (3). A rare sight in Škocjanski zatok as Ringed Plover is quite scarce. Among the other commoner species like Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Common Redshank Tringa totanus, Curlew Numenius arquata and Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola, also a Little Stint Calidris minuta, a Ruff Philomachus pugnax and a Snipe Gallinago gallinago were feeding on the mudflats. Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus have now decreased in numbers and there are just a few juveniles around. Three Little Terns Sternula albifrons were also present among the Common Terns Sterna hirundo. Other birds of note were a male Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus (24 - a high number for the area), Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur (2) and a singing Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis.

After the monitoring I went to check the limestone cliffs at Osp. Here I saw 2 Blue Rock Thrushes Monticola solitarius, 16 Alpine Swifts Apus melba and a Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus.
Also had 4 by-the-way Hoopoes Upupa epops the other day.

Thursday 24 July 2014

MAGIC Snežnik

Edraianthus graminifolius
Yesterday with a friend we went on mount Snežnik (1797 m), which is the highest non-alpine Slovenian peak. It belongs to the Dinaric mountains and its slopes and plateaus are covered with vast forests that extent into Croatia as well. Home of the Brown Bear, Wolf, Lynx and many others. The higher part of the mount is also a paradise for botanists as it holds a mix of different floras, including a lot of alpine elements.
We first walked on the top, passing through Mali Snežnik (1694 m) and enjoying the rich flora on the way up. Multi-coloured carpets of flowers on every step; increasing in biodiversity as you approach the peak. In the late afternoon we descended and spent the evening in the forest.
First a selection of wildflowers... birds (& other wildlife) to follow.
Edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum - the main botanical joy of the day.
Edraianthus graminifolius - a speciality of Mt. Snežnik; quite common around the top, but found only on a few other locations in Slovenia.
Scabiosa silenifolia - also typical for the Snežnik area.
Gentiana lutea ssp. symphyandra
Achillea clavenae
Aster alpinus
Helianthemum nummularium and Achillea clavenae
Heliosperma sp., Campanula cochleariifolia & Achillea clavenae
Floral mix (incl. Pulsatilla alpina, Phyteuma orbiculare ect.) near Snežnik's top.
Parnassia palustris
Floral mix 2: Achillea clavenae & Rhododendron hirsutum.
Floral carpet near the top.
On the bird front the highlight were URAL OWLS Strix uralensis. One was heard in the late afternoon as we were descending from Snežnik's top through the beech woodland. The second was seen in the evening, performing above our heads and showing brilliantly. Both were probably juveniles (told by their calls and behaviour). On the very top of Snežnik I was very glad to spot a juvenile ROCK THRUSH Monticola saxatilis. I'm not sure if it was a bird born in the area (that would be an interesting record) or one that came from somewhere else. Other upland birds included Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta (2), Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, Dunnock Prunella modularis, Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca, Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, Siskin Carduelis spinus and lower down in the forest also Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula (very showy), Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus, Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus ect.
While we were descending from the top, on the rocky path, my friend and I almost trod on a melanistic ADDER Vipera berus. The animal was sun-bathing on the rocks, just a few centimetres away from where we put our feet! After rising its head a bit and hissing to us, it slowly slipped away under the rocks. As far as I know melanistic adders are not very common, but on Snežnik, this form seems to be commoner than the usual one.
A few metres down the path we also had a Slow-worm Anguis fragilis and later in the beech forest we had an amphibian encounter: two Alpine Salamanders Salamandra atra.
Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra
Other animals seen in the evening included 3 Foxes Vulpes vulpes, a Brown Hare Lepus europaeus and a Beech Marten Martes foina. No luck with the hoped-for Brown Bear...
Below are a few more landscape pics.
Veliki Snežnik (1797 m)
Mali Snežnik (1694 m)
Looking north-east from Mali Snežnik.
On top of Veliki Snežnik, looking east.
Mountain pine Pinus mugo covering much of Snežnik's upper part, from 1400 m upwards.
Looking south from the top. The mountains in the background are in Croatia.
A sinkhole near the top (it was full of snow).
Looking northwards. Two dolines with vegetation inversion are visible.
View from the path, looking westwards. The doline Grda draga is visible on the bottom of the valley and Mt. Nanos is also just visible in the distant haze.

Monday 21 July 2014

Smrekova draga, Mali Golak, Kucelj

Gentiana lutea ssp. symphyandra
Potentilla caulescens growing out of the rocks by the road on mount Čaven.
Centaurea rupestris
Epipactis atrorubens
Onobrychis alba - a rare plant in Slovenia: found only on the southern edge of Trnovski gozd and on a few locations in the Vipava valley.
Sambucus racemosa
Cyclamen purpurascens - a sight of the incoming autumn...
Daphne mezereum - very attractive, but very poisonous.
Rhododendron hirsutum coming to the end of its flowering season in Trnovski gozd.
Pinguicula alpina with a fly caught on its sticky leaves. A semi-carnivorous plant.
Sphagnum nemoreum (moss) found in the stands of Pinus mugo on the bottom of Smrekova draga.
Vaccinium myrtillus
Lonicera nigra with berries
Lycopodium sp. (a common moss in Smrekova draga)
"The Rock" on the bottom of Smrekova draga; covered with Pinus mugo, Rhododendron hirsutum (pinkish flowers), Juniperus communis and Salix sp.
Norway spruce Picea abies forest on the bottom of Smrekova draga. A community known as Lonicero caeruleae-Piceetum. Phytocenology is so cool!
Spent an interesting day botanising in Trnovski gozd. Visited the karstic doline of Smrekova draga, the top of mt. Mali Golak (1495 m) in the forest interior and mt. Kucelj (1237 m) on the southern edge of the forest. So combined species of moister microclimates (Smrekova draga) with forest species and heat-loving species of upland karstic grassland (Kucelj). Needles to say I didn't pay much attention to birds (which are not very active at this time of year) and only saw a few Crossbills Loxia curvirostra, Willow Tits Poecile montanus, Raven Corvus corax, Rock Bunting Emberiza cia, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, heard a few Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus and commoner forest birds.