Thursday 26 February 2015


Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus - frequently in the company of Magpies.
On Monday me and a couple of friends went to see a BLACK-WINGED KITE Elanus caeruleus that was found near Pordenone (north-east Italy) the day before. The bird was not so cooperative and was quite flighty - we couldn't approach it under 400-500 metres. But nevertheless scopes proved to be the best solutions and we thus had great views of the bird for most of the afternoon. As the area where it was staying were open grassy fields with scattered trees, it wasn't difficult to locate, even if it moved. Most of the time it kept sitting on perches and started to hunt in the late afternoon. A really odd-looking bird in flight from a European point of view. Not certainly a type of jizz we are used to see here!
Black-winged Kite is predominantly an African and Asian species, with part of the African population stretching also to SW Europe. Birds that are found outside this areas are considered big rarities and there are probably less than 10 records of the species in Italy. In fact, this was the first record of Black-winged Kite for the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. In Slovenia it hasn't been recorded yet.

Worth reporting is also this flock of 53 COMMON CRANES Grus grus in the Sečovlje saltpans (salinas), on the Slovene coast, yesterday in the late afternoon. The flock appeared in the sky, then landed in the salinas and rested there for some time, before taking off again and heading over the Dragonja river into nearby Croatia. A nice spectacle, as these are my first Cranes in a while.
Flock of Common Cranes Grus grus

Saturday 21 February 2015

Middle Spotted Woodpeckers

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius - number 1...

...and number 2!

The Middle Spotted Woodpecker I found in January (see here) prompted me to go and look for the species also in other suitable habitats of the Slovenian Karst. So yesterday I went, partly with that intention, and at the end of the day I found not one, but two (!) different MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKERS Dendrocopos medius. The first was in a mature oak woodland (a silent but showy bird) and the second on the edge of it, sitting on a black poplar and giving its territorial call.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker is a bird with a patchy distribution in Slovenia. It is most common in the east of the country and actually quite rare in the west. On the Karst there are just a few records (less than 5, including mine), although the species' presence might be underestimated. Actually I'm sure no one ever made a proper census. The Karst is nowadays mostly covered by shrub and oak woodland and some older stands might hold unknown breeding populations. So the species might be more common here than we might think.

I was of course very happy to find two new locations, but also because at the end of the day I contacted all the other common woodpecker species. Great Spotted Dendrocopos major was quite common (7 ind.), along with Lesser Spotted Dendrocopos minor (3 seen, 1 heard); whereas 3 Black Dryocopus martius, 2 Green Picus viridis and 3 Grey-headed Woodpeckers Picus canus were only heard calling.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor

Apart from these I was also pleased to pull out a Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris among the numerous Short-toeds Certhia brachydactyla. In most of Slovenia, Eurasian Treecreeper is a species of the higher altitudes, usually inhabiting upland forests, like the plateaus of Snežnik, Trnovski gozd or the Alpine region. Short-toed instead is found at lower levels and in the lowlands and is also far commoner. So it's usually quite easy to tell them apart, by habitat alone. The places I visited today, although on the Karst, are maybe something in between and have both species present together. Or it might be that I found a wintering bird that descended to lower levels - it happens in winter.
I could confirm the ID also because the bird was both singing and delivering its calls. Moreover the underparts were clean, pure white and contrasting with the back. All in all typical familiaris.
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
The commonest species yesterday were Nuthatch Sitta europaea, Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla and Marsh Tit Poecile palustris - all literally on every step. Also of note were some Fieldfares Turdus pilaris, a Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes and singing Mistle Thrushes Turdus viscivorus (it's spring!).
The day was rounded up perfectly with a showy Fox Vulpes vulpes in the late afternoon.
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes

Friday 20 February 2015

Crimson-winged Butterfly-bird!

Aptly-named Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
Last week I made a short visit to the cliffs of the Glinščica/Val Rosandra valley, near Trieste. Above is the result. Saw two WALLCREEPERS Tichodroma muraria together, which is not a very common sight. They showed perfectly and close and in the red light of the setting sun. However it's not easy taking pics of the bird with opened wings! So a video captures the jizz quite better (watch in 720p). Nearby was a small flock of Alpine Accentors Prunella collaris.
Both species are two typical altitudinal migrants. They breed in the Alpine region and in autumn descend to lower levels. Wallcreeper is a tough bird to find in summer, but fortunately not so in winter. The limestone cliffs of the Karst are the preferred wintering habitat, where these birds can find invertebrate prey even in winter. They also regularly winter on the cliffs of Devin/Duino near Trieste, where you can watch Wallcreepers climbing the cliffs, just metres above the sea!
The relatively restricted wintering habitats in Slovenia make them far more easier to find that in the Alps, where every cliff could potentially hold one. Nevertheless, even here, it's always a thrill to see that magic flick of crimson!

Saturday 14 February 2015

Early spring woodland flowers

Welcome to the first truly botanical post of the year! Here's a selection of the few wildflowers to be found on the Karst at this time of year.
The above species is Crocus weldenii (Hoppe & Fürnrohr), a plant I already mentioned a couple of times. So reassuming: it has a Balkanic distribution and the few places where it grows on the Karst (near Trieste and Gorizia) represent the north-westernmost points of its distribution. These areas are also the only known sites in Italy. On the Karst it is extremely localised to just a handful of locations, where however it can be really abundant and hard to miss. It starts blooming at the end of January/beginning of February and at the moment it is at its best possible splendour. From an identification point of view it is rather similar to Crocus vernus (especially subsp. albiflorus) - the only difference been in the bulb's structure and shape. But here on the Karst, where Crocus weldenii grows, there's only one possible confusion species - see below.

 Crocus reticulatus is the commonest member of its family in the Karst region and south-west Slovenia - actually a typical Karstic flower. It's distinguished from the other Crocuses, by the dark stripes on the outer side of the petals (see above). 

Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop) - one of the commonest early flowers on damp woodland floors. The species is especially abundant in the Karstic dolines (sinkholes) which represent a perfect microclimate of cool air, favouring woodland associations otherwise rare on the Karst (esp. Asaro-Carpinetum betuli).

 Primula vulgaris (primrose). Another very common species in woodlands.

Helleborus multifidus ssp. istriacus - a common woodland flower with a complicated taxonomic status (very similar to H. odorus). On the Karst though, the above species seems to be the most widespread. This is a rather bleak version of its more continental counterpart - H. niger which has large white flowers and is of course far more photogenic than this.

Monday 9 February 2015

Snowy Pyrrhulas

Male Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Views on the snow-covered countryside. Mt. Nanos in the last pic.
Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris with snow.
The characteristic wind+snow effect on a beech tree Fagus sylvatica, caused by our local and particularly strong north-east wind burja (bora in Italian).
Last week was a "snow week" in Slovenia. It snowed several consecutive days and sparsely also on the Karst plateau, near Trieste. On a sunny and windless day I decided to take a walk into the woodlands of the inner Karst in Slovenia. There were about 10-15 cm of fresh, untrodden snow on the path I took. The birds were in general very quiet and kept gathered in some parts of the woodland. The highlight was a flock of 8 Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula (6 males and 2 females). They were real gems in the otherwise bleak, snowy countryside. They also allowed quite close views, when feeding on the buds of a wild cherry tree Prunus avium. Bullfinch is a resident breeding bird in Slovenia, favouring higher mountainous areas for breeding, where it inhabits mixed forests. The Alpine region and the Dinaric plateaus are two example of such places. In autumn and winter, birds descend to lower levels and are also joined by foreign birds from other parts of Europe (especially from the north). In some years irruptions occur and the species can be quite numerous. On these occasions, birds of the nominate subspecies (P. pyrrhula pyrrhula), also known as Northern Bullfinch and originating from Russia can be found in the flocks. They can be identified by their trumpeting call (as well as their larger size - almost impossible to see in the field). The winter of 2004/2005 was such a year, where it was relatively common to hear this trumpeting calls within a flock of Bullfinches in parts of Slovenia and north-east Italy.

The only other signs of presence of wildlife in the woodlands were the many tracks left by Red Fox Vulpes vulpes, Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus & Red Deer Cervus elaphus, rodents, Brown Hare Lepus europaeus and some unidentified cat Felis sp. and dog Canis sp. Here and there also a lonely Fieldfare Turdus pilaris, especially around the villages.
Crossroad of different paths, including Red Fox, Red and Roe Deer.

Later last week I also spent a few hours in the fields of Terranova (Staranzano, Italy), scanning the flocks of White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons in the hope of finding at least one of the 3 Lesser White-fronted Geese Anser erythropus, present there this winter. The quest was really hard, and at the end I failed, but instead I saw a Tundra Bean Goose Anser fabalis rossicus and a flock of +30 Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria. A quick check of Valle Cavanata produced also a large flock of +200 Flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus, all tightly packed together, sheltering from the wind. Quite interesting was also the presence of 19 Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia.

Sunday 1 February 2015

January update

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius

Here we are...blogging back again. The first month of 2015 has been quite good and stuffed with typical winter bird sightings, so below there's a quick review of what I saw in January.
SMEW Mergellus albellus on Cerkniško jezero - a group of at least 5 birds was present (2 males, 3 females), along with +20 Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula. Also the usual Dipper Cinclus cinclus on the river Unica.

Male Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus at Orleška Draga (Sežana). Also there a flock of +40 Fieldfares Turdus pilaris, but most interesting, several REDWINGS Turdus iliacus in the ivies. In general lots of Fieldfares and Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula out on the Karst.
Helleborus multifidus - one of the earliest flowers on the Karst

Crocus weldenii - a Karst specialty (see here)

Dipper Cinclus cinclus holding territory (singing) on the Hubelj river in Ajdovščina. Another bird (female?) was nearby.

 Primula vulgaris on the January woodland floor - Trnovski gozd

Tussilago farfara

WALLCREEPER Tichodroma muraria at Škocjanske jame. Saw this species about 4 or 5 times in January. Mostly on this location. One was in the Glinščica valley (Val Rosandra) along with 7 Alpine Accentors Prunella collaris and two overwintering Crag Martins Ptyonoprogne rupestris (present in the area since December).

Highlight of the month was of course this MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER Dendrocopos medius I found on the Slovenian Karst, where a small population is present. I had some random searches for it in the last two years, but failed to find it. After a whole morning of roving in the woodlands, this little gem just appeared in front of me. It showed well for more than two hours in the glorious winter sunshine. Alongside it, for comparison, were a male Great Spotted Dendrocopos major and a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor.

Dipper Cinclus cinclus, well camouflaged, on the river Reka, near Škocjanske jame. In about 1.5 - 2 km of river I counted 4 of these pretty little birds. A location close to home, I never really checked. It was well worth it!

Snowdrops Galanthus nivalis, sprouting at large by the river Reka.

Adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL Larus fuscus in the local patch (Barcola), in the company of a juvenile Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis. These pics are fresh from today. This individual is most probably the old bird that winters on this stretch of coast since 2004/2005. I saw my first LBBG 10 years ago, in might well be this same bird.
Today I also found a SLAVONIAN GREBE Podiceps auritus in the bay of Grignano, which is the 2nd record for the patch. Otherwise pretty much usual birds on the sea like 4 Black-throated Divers Gavia arctica, Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes Podiceps cristatus & nigricollis ect.
And the male Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala I saw in December seems to be wintering in the garden (saw it a couple of times).

That's it for now. By the way I made a small renewal in my old Flickr gallery and added a selection of my favourite shots, so I have them all together in one place. The link can be also found on the top bar, under the header. Enjoy.