Tuesday 30 September 2014

Ural surprise!!

Female Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Struck gold once again during one of my afternoon strolls. In a mixed oak-beech forest on the Slovenian Karst I stumbled across a pair of URAL OWLS Strix uralensis in complete daylight! While I was taking flower pics, my attention was caught by a singing female. I looked around and found it sat in full view some 50 metres away from me on a beech branch. Seconds of shock! It soon flew off, so I followed the bird and re-found it, perched again in full view. But most surprisingly, minutes later it was joined by a male and both were then perched nearby (also same field of view!). They even sang a short duet. I followed the movements of the female for some 20 minutes or more and had great views of it. It didn't seem too disturbed by my presence. The above shots were taken with camera held on bins - a real challenge with adrenaline in the veins! The show came to an end when first the male and then the female flew out of view, followed by noisy Jays Garrulus glandarius.
In my personal opinion this is a really interesting find. Ural Owls are widespread in the Dinaric forests (from Snežnik to Trnovski gozd), but less so in other parts of the country, especially the Karst, where they are occasional vagrants (not breeders). As these two birds seemed a pair I'll have to check next spring for a potential breeding.
Supporting cast in the forest was mainly woodpecker-based: Grey-headed Picus canus (a vocal pair, male seen well), Green Picus viridis (1), Black Dryocopus martius (2 - one even drumming), Lesser Spotted Dendrocopos minor (1) and Great Spotted Dendrocopos major (2-3).

Otherwise still many summer migrants around. Today I heard several Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus on passage, seen 2 Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio (despite the fact I went out looking for the first Great Greys) and Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe.
Yesterday my garden held a Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus (female), a Garden Warbler Sylvia borin and a Lesser Whiethroat Sylvia curruca.
This morning also the first flock of 50 Woodpigeons Columba palumbus on migration over the patch.

Sunday 28 September 2014

Autumnal Karstlife

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius - male
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major - male
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
The first migrant Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Hyssopus officinalis - a scarce plant on the Karst, but very abundant on a dry grassland in the Glinščica/Val Rosandra nature reserve. It is a medicinal plant with a lovely smell which attracts lots of insects...
...the grassland was buzzing with thousands of bees
Blue carpet
Also good for butterflies - a Swallowtail Papilio machaon
And good for crickets too
Sedum album
Amelanchier ovalis - usually blooming in May
Daphne alpina - another odd plant in flower now (usually blooming in April/May)
Asparagus tenuifolius with fruits
Praying Mantis Mantis religiosa on Allium senescens/montanum
Aster amellus
Salvia glutinosa found on the bottom of some fresh dolines
Beech Fagus sylvatica - on the Karst around Trieste only found as a planted tree from the 19th century - like the one above in Globoka dolina/Dolina degli Abeti.
Mt. Nanos from mt. Vremščiča
I've spent the last couple of days wandering the Karst (both Italy and Slovenia), mainly exploring new areas of woodland in search of good woodpecker habitat. No more luck with the Middle Spot, but I've had Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius almost on a daily basis and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos minor seem to be doing well in many woodlands around the Karst (heard singing commonly). Not to mention the Great Spots Dendrocopos major that are "infesting" in some woodlands and Green Woodpeckers Picus viridis which are always common. Notable birds from this week included also: Tawny Owl Strix aluco (seen at a cave's entrance), Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus (good influx - now outnumbering Goldcrests R. regulus), Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta, Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis, Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus (common, also in the garden), Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca (including one in the garden today), Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes (also overflies in the garden), House Martin Delichon urbicum (a few on passage), Swallow Hirundo rustica (last seen on Wednesday), Hobby Falco subbuteo, Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita, Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea (over the house), Coal Tit Periparus ater (small invasions; in the garden too), Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, Song Thrush Turdus philomelos (first migrants, today), Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus (forming autumn flocks of +30 birds), Rock Emberiza cia & Cirl Bunting E. cirlus and of course tons of Jays Garrulus glandarius (all carrying their lovely acorns).
Especially wonderful was the extensive flowering carpet of Hyssopus officinalis on mount Stena (Glinščica/Val Rosandra valley) this afternoon. Also still several species of common flowers having their last bloom before the winter... actually a sad time of year for botany lovers...

Wednesday 24 September 2014


Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius by Igor Maiorano
Middle Spot - my record shot with phone on bins
Turkey Oak Quercus cerris - making up a good woodland habitat for woodpeckers
This afternoon while I was having a stroll on the Italian Karst I came across an amazing and very rare bird: a MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER Dendrocopos medius. Firstly I heard an odd "Great Spotted Woodpecker" that resembled a White-backed. While I had a check at the calls on my phone I played the White-backed which sounded perfectly the same! But the bird that materialised in front of me a few seconds after was actually a Middle Spot! I've never heard one doing that type of calls, thus I was a bit confused. Fortunately the bird remained on view for a few seconds and showed well so allowed me some quick documentation shots (second pic above). Later I was joined by a friend, with a proper camera and we managed to relocate the bird. His shot (above) was made while we had the bird on a tree some 5 metres away from us.
This is an amazing find and one I'm very proud of. Middle Spotted Woodpeckers are breeding birds in Slovenia, especially the eastern part, but are recorded sparsely in other parts of the country. The Karst area is not a place where you would expect to find one. And as far as I know there aren't many records (if any) on the Karst in the province of Trieste. Anyway this is the first time I see one outside Slovenia.
The woodland area where I found the bird seems very good for other woodpekcers too. During my afternoon visit I also heard 2 Lesser Spotted Dendrocopos minor, 3 Great Spotted Dendrocopos major, 1 Black Dryocopus martius and 2 Green Woodpeckers Picus viridis.
After the Middle Spots, the most amazing find was actually that of a female Teal Anas crecca, perched on a dry stony wall in the Karstic shrubland! Most probably an exhausted bird on migration that stopped in one of the most unprobable places for the species - far away from any source of water - and almost in a woodland!
Amazing day. Thanks to Igor for joining me and documenting the rarity.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Autumn in the Dinaric mountains

Mali Snežnik (left) & Veliki Snežnik (right)
Beech Fagus sylvatica turning into autumn colours
Volovja reber
Looking towards the Snežnik forests
Landscape shot of Volovja reber (click to enlarge)
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo vs Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus passing very low
Campanula cespitosa
Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus
Gentianella sp.
Jay Garrulus glandarius carrying an acorn
First day of autumn! Very pleasant weather today with sunny skies and a little breeze, with quite low temperatures for the season (quite cold in the uplands). Spent the morning staring at the blue skies at Volovja reber (Ilirska Bistrica) and the afternoon in the Snežnik's forests.
Birds of note included: Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes (3), Raven Corvus corax (+15), Buzzard Buteo buteo (2), Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus (1), Crested, Coal & Willow Tit (Lophophanes cristatus, Periparus ater, Poecile montanus), Hobby Falco subbuteo (1), Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus (2), Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis (1), Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe (1), Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus (2), Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula (2), Crossbill Loxia curvirostra (20), Goldcrest Regulus regulus, Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris.
Also a Red Deer Cervus elaphus (stag) rutting in the middle of the afternoon and Jays Garrulus glandarius carrying acorns a bit everywhere. Typical scenes of the early autumn.

Friday 19 September 2014

Bear videos & update

Here and here I uploaded two videos of the Brown Bear from Sunday. I still think of it as one of the most exciting wildlife encounters in my life.

In the last week I just went for a stroll or two on the Karst and saw things like Goshawk Accipiter gentilis, Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus, Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius (including one today - seen from the car), migrant mix like Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis, Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata ect. Also one of the few (the last?) remaining juvenile Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio before departure.
Here are two typical autumn flowers from the Karst:
Calluna vulgaris with Mt. Nanos in the background
Colchicum autumnale
Quite cool to see was a Lesser Whitethtroat Sylvia curruca in the garden when I looked out from my window some days ago. Robins Erithacus rubecula are on the increase and there's a nice movement of Coal Tits Periparus ater and Jays Garrulus glandarius around my house. Also around the odd Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus and Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla. All in all good autumn mix.
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
On Wednesday the most interesting bird at Škocjanski zatok NR was a Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus (above), whereas a Peregrine Falco peregrinus was the highlight last week.
In these two weeks at the reserve also a passage of migrants like Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Garden Warbler Sylvia borin & Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca and the first Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus of the autumn. Coots Fulica atra are having an incredible increase (683 counted on Wednesday) and there's a smaller increase in duck numbers too: Teal Anas crecca (100), Wigeon Anas penelope (3), Shoveler Anas clypeata (34) and a few Pochards Aythya ferina. Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmeus are down instead with just 2 birds remaining, after the very high numbers in summer. 7-8 Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis are still present in the lagoon, along with some Great Crested Grebes Podiceps cristatus.
On Wednedays I also saw my last Swallows Hirundo rustica so far - hirundines in general becoming quite scarce now.

Last week I was also at Lisert where I had a Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus, a Hobby Falco subbuteo, a Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca and a Peregrine Falco peregrinus. I also visited shortly the cliffs at Duino/Devin which produced a juvenile Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius, but most interesting where the plants - see below.
Smilax aspera fruits
Teucrium flavum
Galeopsis angustifolia

That's all for now. Stay tuned.

Sunday 14 September 2014

BROWN BEAR (Ursus arctos)

Adult Brown Bear Ursus arctos as seen through binoculars, down to 25 metres
Basically a huge peluche
Nice little claws
In its natural habitat
Last view...
...before saying farewell
Saw the above BROWN BEAR Ursus arctos yesterday in Slovenia's Dinaric forests. Watched it for 50 minutes. A wild animal. A lifer. The biggest European carnivore. Impressive. Amazing. Thrilling.
Also close to the bear a male Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes, upland forest bird mix and a Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos earlier in the morning. Evening rounded up with a rutting Red Deer Cervus elaphus.
Bear videos: here & here.