Thursday 30 October 2014

Limestone Wallcreeper

The true limestone bird
Winter habitat of the Wallcreeper in the Glinščica/Val Rosandra nature reserve
Yesterday I went to the Glinščica valley (Val Rosandra) on the outskirts of Trieste. My target was the WALLCREEPER Tichodroma muraria which I almost immediately found, when I began scanning the limestone cliffs. It remained on view for a few minutes, showing off the beautiful crimson colours in its wings, before it suddenly disappeared. Shortly afterwards I located two ALPINE ACCENTORS Prunella collaris feeding on the grassy turfs under the cliffs.
These two species are usually found together in the winter months along the limestone cliffs of the Karstic edge. Both belong to the same breeding habitat in the alpine region and share the wintering sites as well. So it's always good to find both species on the same day.
Another very interesting sighting was that of a calling, fly-by BEARDED TIT Panurus biarmicus. Despite my effort I couldn't locate the bird. Bearded Tits are rare winter (and passage) visitors to the wetlands I use to visit in Italy and Slovenia, so I was pretty amazed to get this species on visible migration, outside its expected habitat.
Showy Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus were performing in the pines as usual
One of the several Wrens Troglodytes troglodytes wintering in my local patch
Today I also had a female Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus in the garden, which was a nice change after the many (daily) sightings of Goldcrests Regulus regulus in the past weeks.

Sunday 26 October 2014

In Brown Bear's kingdom

Welcome to the kingdom of bears
Krokar primary (virgin) forest in the fog
Predominant forest type with lots of conifers
Kočevska Reka
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius - female
Spent the whole weekend roving in the forests of Kočevje with a group of friends. The area represents the largest forest system in Slovenia and along with the Snežnik plateau and Gorski Kotar (in nearby Croatia) makes up one of the largest wilderness areas in Europe.
Highlights included a BROWN BEAR Ursus arctos seen at twilight on a forest glade, a confiding Ural Owl Strix uralensis, Grey-headed Picus canus & Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius and Peregrine Falco peregrinus.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Forests that just keep on giving...

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius
Another sunny Sunday spent on the Snežnik plateau, this time including also a walk to the mountain's top (1796 m). Bird of the day was a MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER Dendrocopos medius found by mistake when looking for Three-toeds in a conifer forest. Actually very odd to see a Middle Spot in this habitat. The bird was quite showy and vocal too.
Middle Spot on a Norway spruce Picea abies - unusual to see this bird on conifers
video here
A distant THREE-TOED WOODPECKER Picoides tridactylus was also heard (calling) and on the same spot there were also a Grey-headed Picus canus and 3 Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius.
Overall pretty much the same mix of forest birds as last Sunday, including several Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla and good passage of small passerines. Black Redstarts Phoenicurus ochruros were literally on every bush in the upper part of the mountain (something like +80 ind.).
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros - male (commoner than females)
Black Redstart female
Two or three RING OUZELS Turdus torquatus in the mountain pines Pinus mugo were a bonus species for the day. Just saw them briefly or heard them calling. At least one was a male.
Two unexpected raptors were a juvenile Hobby Falco subbuteo and a Peregrine Falco peregrinus. Both aggressively mobbed by the resident Ravens Corvus corax.
A nice sight were also 7 Ravens feeding on a fresh Roe Deer's carcass in the forest.
Lichens on a conifer
Mountain pine Pinus mugo
Small cliff face on Mali Snežnik (the "Lesser Snežnik")
A look eastwards from the mountain's top. Forests extending into Croatia as well. The cliffs above the Kolpa valley are visible.

Below a couple of shots from the past days, taken on the Karst. My new superzoom camera seems to be doing a good job.
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius - female
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis

Friday 17 October 2014

Siberian Phyllosc

My first Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus
On Wednesday I took my new camera out on a twitch. The first proper bird it took a picture of was a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER Phylloscopus inornatus which I went to see at Isola della Cona (Italy). On arrival there were no other people around and I almost immediately found the bird feeding on a low willow (Salix) tree. All around it where tens of other Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and some Goldcrests Regulus regulus all feeding frenetically in the bushes. After about half an hour of very good (and close) views it became more furtive. As a small crowd of people assembled it gave just occasional and brief views. Later the local ringer decided to catch the bird, so we put up the mist nets and after a few hours of tactical waiting the Yellow-browed Warbler finally got caught! Nice to have a tiny creature from Siberia in the hands.
Siberian waif in the hand
Checking the ID...
...and the wing formula
This was btw the first Yellow-browed Warbler for Isola della Cona nature reserve, so everyone on site was very happy.
Apart from the main target of the twitch I saw an Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta from the bar and 4 overflying Swallows Hirundo rustica. I didn't even bother too much to check the area from the main hide. I don't like smelly wetlands full of people anymore.

Other birds of note earlier this week included a PALLID SWIFT Apus pallidus over my house and a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor at Škocjanski zatok. Also quite a lot of late-autumn movement in the form of Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos everywhere, Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla & Siskins Carduelis spinus going overhead and so on. A Whinchat Saxicola rubetra and a few Reed/Marsh Warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus/palustris at Škocjanski zatok were the only remaining summer migrants, along with the Swallows.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

White-backed Woodpeckers in the autumn forest

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos by Martin Senič
On Sunday me and a couple of friends spent the day in the extensive forests of the Snežnik plateau. Despite the fact we didn't see the (hoped for) Brown Bear Ursus arctos, we were lucky to find two WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKERS Dendrocopos leucotos (ssp. lilfordi). The first was a quite collaborative female which allowed good views (the best I've ever had of a White-backed). My friend also managed to obtain some good shots (above and below) when the bird was on the trees above our heads. Hours later we heard a second individual on a different location. It's always thrilling to have a close encounter with one of Slovenia's rarest breeding birds.
Female White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos by Martin Senič
In the early afternoon we were quite surprised when we flushed a WALLCREEPER Tichodroma muraria from a very small rocky face by the forest road. This was most probably a bird on migration that stopped in the area for a short time; nevertheless the encounter was very exciting as it was totally unexpected.
During the day we visited some amazing parts of the Snežnik forests, including some old beech woodlands and spruce-covered Karstic dolines where common mountain birds were present (all tit species, Crossbills Loxia curvirostra, Siskins Carduelis spinus, Ravens Corvus corax ect.).
Autumn colours in the forest - Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus
Mixed forest with Norway Spruce Picea abies and Beech Fagus sylvatica
A Silver Fir Abies alba in mountain beech forest
A look towards Croatia - forests as far as the eye can see
Apart from a good movement of Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis overhead, there were also large flocks of Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs on the move, with several Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla mixed among them.
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
On the mammal front the highlight were the footprints (and droppings) of a massive Brown Bear Ursus arctos. In the evening we also saw Red Deer Cervus elaphus (4), Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus (3) and Brown Hare Lepus europaeus (1). 
Brown Bear's footprints

Last week I also re-visited the site of the Karstic URAL OWLS Strix uralensis and in the evening the pair appeared in front of me once again! They showed brilliantly for some 15 minutes or so, before it became dark enough for them to "disappear" in the beech trees where they were perched. A noisy Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius kept mobbing them all the time, while a distant Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus was calling. Magic moments.

Monday 6 October 2014

Bear's footprints!

Brown Bear's (Ursus arctos) footprints
Today I returned to the forest where I found the Ural Owl last week, to do some exploring. I had in mind a dream encounter - to find a Brown Bear. There are now several bears scattered around the the Karst (especially the Slovenian one) as a consequence of the massive disturb caused by loggers clearing Slovenia's forests after the severe ice damage from last winter. So a lot of bears have dispersed in other forest habitats that they usually don't inhabit. Moreover they seem to be especially active now as they gather food for the winter storage. And everyone going around on casual walks seems to find them with a certain ease (including several of my friends).
Today I was not very optimistic because I knew I was out of the core habitat area of bears. So of course I was very delighted when I found the above footprints. And not just one footprint but an awful lot of them! These probably involve more than one bear. I've seen bear's footprints on several occasions, but always singles or doubles. On the forest road I also found what I think is most probably a bear's dropping.
The muddy areas around puddles on the paths had also other footprints of Canis sp. and Felis sp. I couldn't ID for sure - they are still under examination. One of the puddles also held a nice Yellow-bellied Toad Bombina variegata.
There was a bit of wind today so birds were not very cooperative. I managed to hear a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor, some Crossbills Loxia curvirostra and Siskins Carduelis spinus, but the highlight on the bird-front was a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor earlier in the day.