Sunday 31 August 2014

Heading back to Africa

Adult male Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe in autumn plumage.
1st winter Wheatear O. oenanthe
Spring-looking adult male Wheatear O. oenanthe
Collaborative Wryneck Jynx torquilla hopping on the path...
...not so collaborative Wryneck.
Hoopoe Upupa epops
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus (note dangling legs).
Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus
Yesterday I've been out on the Karst for most of the day. Plenty of migrants around, although not in big numbers. First did a late-morning raptor session on the Italian Karst, then transfered to the Slovenian side for some more passerines. Birds of note included: Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus (1), Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus (4 - migrants), Alpine Swift Apus melba (70), Common Swift Apus apus (+4), Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe (4), Whinchat Saxicola rubetra (+10), Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca (1), Wryneck Jynx torquilla (1), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor (1 male), Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio (3), Hoopoe Upupa epops (1), Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis (good passage), Garden Warbler Sylvia borin (1), Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita, Woodlark Lullua arborea (20), Raven Corvus corax (5), Rock Bunting Emberiza cia (1).

Friday 29 August 2014

Poldanovec - Trnovski gozd

Mt. Poldanovec
Pleasant day spent hiking in the Trnovo forest: on mount Poldanovec (morning) and mount Kucelj (evening). Poldanovec (1299 m) is one of the highest tops in Trnovski gozd and its northern rocky slopes mark the end of the plateau. Thus it hosts an interesting array of alpine plants. Saw a couple of them although the main flowering season it's a bit over.
Campanula cespitosa
Euphrasia salisburgensis
Salix sp. (maybe retusa?) on top of mt. Poldanovec
Leontopodium alpinum growing out of a rock hanging over a steep ravine.
View from the top of Poldanovec down into the Trebuša valley, with the Julian Alps in the background.
On the top. The green cushion on the rocks are the leaves of Dryas octopetala, a typically alpine plant.
View on mt. Krn through the beech woodland.
Epipactis helleborine
Gentiana asclepiadea - very common in the forest.
Larch Larix decidua - the Poldanovec area is the southernmost native location for the species outside the Alpine region.
Birds were few - highlight being two calling Nutcrackers Nucifraga caryocatactes. Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hyploeuca and Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis were the most obvious migrants, along with a fly-by Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus and a Whinchat Saxicola rubetra. Forest species included Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus, both Willow Poecile montanus & Marsh Tit P. palustris, Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus, Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Crossbill Loxia curvirostra and Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius.
Euphrasia liburnica on Mala Lazna - one of the two locations where this species grows in Slovenia.
Allium ericetorum on mt. Kucelj.
View from mt. Kucelj towards the Nanos plateau. The top of mount Nanos is on the right, while far back on the left, mt. Snežnik is also visible (volcano shape). In the valley, the town of Vipava with its extensive limestone cliffs. 
Sunset on Kucelj with its distinctive shadow over the southern edge of Trnovski gozd.
Last pic before going home...

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Bluethroat time

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica hopping on the mud... the company of a Whinchat Saxicola rubetra - can you see them?
Škocjanski zatok NR: It's that time of year again. The time when the freshwater marsh's water levels are very low and there's a lot of exposed mud at the edge of the reedbeds. These are the perfect conditions for finding the migrant BLUETHROATS Luscinia svecica that hop on the mud in search of food. This morning during my weekly census I had three of these wonderful little birds. Two where chasing each other in flight, showing the distinctive red tails, while a third bird was showing well on the ground. Also had two Bluethroats together plus a Whinchat Saxicola rubetra in the same field of view.
The weather was pretty miserable with low clouds and drizzle. Actually the perfect conditions for grounded migrants. Of the most interesting birds I had a Wryneck Jynx torquilla, a female Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, 2 Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe, 8 Whinchats Saxicola rubetra and 2 Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca. As I was finishing the circular path, I noticed a raptor in the sky. It looked like a Marsh Harrier, but it wasn't. It was a Black Kite Milvus migrans - the second I see this year on the reserve!

Local patch: yesterday I had some pretty good sighting for my home area after a long while. No less than 4 Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca were in the neighbour's garden, frequently flying around and chasing each other. Other migrants were also a Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus and a Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita and a flock of +15 Swallows Hirundo rustica was darting overhead. A loose group of 18 Common Swifts Apus apus on migration was also of note, as was a female/imm fly-by Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus. Here and there also the occasional Jay Garrulus glandarius in the gardens - a clear sign of autumn.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Evening with the Urals

Ural Owl Strix uralensis sat nicely on a tree.
The perfect place to wait for dusk - in Brown Bear's kingdom.
Another evening spent in the Dinaric forests of Snežnik's plateau. On a large forest glade, me and my friend were treated to the spectacle of a hunting URAL OWL Strix uralensis. It was just around sunset time so there was still a good light. The bird suddenly flew out of the forest and landed on a spruce at the edge of the glade, from where it made regular flights (and plunges) over the open areas of grass. We watched it doing so for about 10 minutes, before it silently disappeared back in the forest. The light was good for watching, but of course not enough for good photos, hence the bad quality of the images. Nearby we had a second bird calling - a female which was somewhere on a spruce, but invisible to us. Earlier in the evening, while we were driving through the forest, we also saw a flying Ural Owl from the car. The night was otherwise very silent with no singing (or calling) birds recorded, although a rutting Red Deer Cervus elaphus was heard.
While driving back home we also had a Tawny Owl Strix aluco on some roadside pines, but most interesting was the encounter with a BADGER Meles meles running at the side of the road and then squeezing itself under a fence. This was by the way my third ever (alive) Badger.

On Sunday I had some business work in Monfalcone, so I went to check the Lisert wetland for two hours or so. The brackish marsh held an adult WHOOPER SWAN Cygnus cygnus - which is a long-staying individual of unknown origin. It bears no rings and earlier this summer it was recorded in several other nearby wetlands, so it is capable of flying. Moreover its shy behaviour suggests a wild origin. Anyway a summering record of a Whooper Swan is very odd, as these birds are quite rare in winter as well.
The area also held a few migrants in the form of a nice Wryneck Jynx torquilla, 3 Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, a Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, a Hobby Falco subbuteo and a flock of noisy Bee-eaters Merops apiaster (+20) mobbing a Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. A Water Rail Rallus aquaticus singing from the reedbed was also cool to hear after a long time. The buoys at sea held the usual flocks of Common Eiders Somateria mollissima (17) and several Sandwich Terns Sterna sandvicensis.
On the botany front, I couldn't miss the speciality of the area - Cephalaria leucantha (aka "Scabiosa trenta") which grows quite commonly along the rocky coast from Trieste to Monfalcone, especially at the side of the main road near the latter. See here why this plant is so interesting.
Cephalaria leucantha - Julius Kugy's legendary plant.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Nanos Gold

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos - first one in flight and then two (adults) perched together.
Yesterday was a fresh and sunny day and I spent it on the grassy plateau of mount Nanos, at around 800 metres. The main focus were raptors and at the end I was quite happy with the results. First mention goes to the resident GOLDEN EAGLES Aquila chrysaetos which required a bit of waiting and scanning to be seen, but provided the biggest interest. Two adult birds (probaby a pair) were sat on a hill for most of the time I was up there (see pics).
Common Buzzards Buteo buteo were outnumbered by Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus (7 birds) which were also quite vocal - probably a family party or something. Apart from the resident Kestrels Falco tinnunculus (2), Sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus (2) and Ravens Corvus corax (2), the most welcome was a Peregrine Falco peregrinus.
Peregrine Falco peregrinus
Of the other birds, a special mention goes to an interesting migrant: a RING OUZEL Turdus torquatus (female) hiding in some small pine trees. This is the second time I see the species on migration on Nanos, but the first time I see one in autumn, when they are much scarcer in my opinion. So a good find.
Migration was otherwise constantly visible with streams of House Martins Delichon urbicum passing at regular intervals (hundreds). Mixed among them were also some Swallows Hirundo rustica, but not in such big numbers. A flock of 14 Crossbills Loxia curvirostra was also of note and some Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis were also passing overhead at times. Three Crag Martins Ptyonoprogne rupestris and a few Rock Buntings Emberiza cia were seen along the steep rocky slopes by the road. Two Stonechats Saxicola torquatus and a Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio were either migrants or local breeders. "Calls from the forest" included numerous Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus and a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius.
Not really full of wildflowers (the peak season here is already over), but still a good variety of typical upland karstic plants. Wild garlics (Allium) are now in full bloom (represented by the two species below) and are forming impressive carpets in some places.
Allium ericetorum/ochroleucum (light yellow one) and Allium senescens/montanum (pinkish)
Knautia fleischmannii - an endemic plant in Slovenia
Aconitum variegatum
Carlina acaulis
Sanguisorba officinalis on Nanos' grassy plateau.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

The master of snakes

The white beast: Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Spent a few hours on the karstic grasslands of Divača this afternoon. The main star was the above Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus perched on a pine for half an hour or so. Watched it from about 400m away - great scope views. Always impressive to see those cracking yellow eyes.
Also plenty of small migrant birds around in the bushes making the overall scene quite autumn-ish: Whinchats Saxicola rubetra and Stonechats Saxicola torquatus on every bush, lots of Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 2 Lesser Whitethroats Sylvia curruca, 2 Garden Warblers S. borin (1st of the autumn), 3 Common Whitethroats S. communis, 1 Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta, a nice Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina (1st of the season), Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos and a Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe on Divača's airfield. On the higher trees also 2 Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata and a Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, along with small flocks of migrant Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis making a stop. A single female/imm Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio was probably also on migration as the local breeders seemed already gone. Of the local birds a juvenile Goshawk Accipiter gentilis, 4 Cirl Buntings Emberiza cirlus (one still feeding its youngs), Woodlark Lullua arborea, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus and a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius calling from the woods.
All in all a quite productive couple of hours!
Female Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis looking a bit like a Ian Lewington's painting.
Male Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus
Allium senescens (montanum) now in full bloom.