Monday 27 April 2015

Cerkniško jezero & Javorniki forest

Some days ago I was on a pleasant trip to the Cerknica lake (Cerkniško jezero) with a group of university students. Our main subject was botany, but in a place like this, it was hard to stick only to plants. I must say that early in the morning I had a good feeling for the day: I woke up at home, to the sound of a singing Cuckoo Cuculus canorus and a trilling Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix.
And it actually proved to be a very good day bird-wise. The wetland habitats of the lake itself produced the typical exciting mix that Cerkniško has to offer. A booming BITTERN Botaurus stellaris was heard for most of the day, while from the same reedbed habitat a LITTLE CRAKE Porzana parva was delivering its song. We also managed to see a RED-NECKED GREBE Podiceps grisegena in perfect breeding plumage. Cerkniško jezero is the only place in Slovenia where this species breeds.
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena

The water bodies held a nice big flock of Shovelers Anas clypeata and Garganeys Anas querquedula, while a male Goldeneye Bucephala clangula looked a bit out of place in this season. The reedbeds were quartered by several Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus, but most interestingly by tens of RED-FOOTED FALCONS Falco vespertinus. All over the lake and surrounding areas I've counted about 30-40 Red-footed Falcons. Cerkniško jezero is an important stop-over site for this species during migration. "Good days" in late April and May can produce flocks of several hundred birds.
Migrants were also represented with a few waders specie: Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola, Ruff Philomachus pugnax, Greenshank Tringa nebularia. Of the breeding birds we also had Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, Yellow Wagtails Motacilla flava, White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Peregrine Falco peregrinus, Fieldfare Turdus pilaris, Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella and a Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus hovering above the grasslands.

Botanising was mainly restricted to the forest edge, grassland and small woodlands, so the plants were mainly the typical representatives of the Dinaric forests of silver fir and beech (Abieti-Fagetum). I didn't have time to take many photos, so here are just some of the +60 species we had:
Aremonia agrimonoides
Paris quadrifolia
Cardamine bulbifera
Asarum europaeum - leaves (above) and the odd flower (below).
Myosotis sp.
Omphalodes verna
Beech Fagus sylvatica

In the late afternoon we made a small incursion into the mixed forests of Javorniki, above the lake. We heard two drumming THREE-TOED WOODPECKERS Picoides tridactylus and at the same time "flushed" a URAL OWL Strix uralensis while walking on a forest road. The owl was then seen two more times, once perched, once in flight (briefly), while a female Three-toed was observed drumming on a broken beech tree. It's the first time I see a Three-toed on a deciduous tree. It looked odd!
Watching the Three-toed Woodpecker
Supporting cast in the Dinaric forest included Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus, Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus & Goldcrest R. regulus and a singing Tawny Owl Strix aluco in the evening. All in all an excellent day in the field!

Wednesday 22 April 2015

My sub-Mediterranean patch

A few days ago I took a nice, long walk around the wooded area of my local patch. It is very didactic to see, especially in spring, how the vegetation (and animals too) changes between different locations within one area. The area lies on the south-facing slope that descends from the Karstic plateau to the sea, a few kilometres north-west of Trieste. The climate is sub-Mediterranean and it is reflected on the vegetation. Most of the woodland lies on flysch soils, rich in water, that in turn support a quite rich and lush vegetation at this time of year. I noticed that few other places are so much green and "lushy" in these weeks. The wood's predominant trees are oaks and similar warmth-loving species: Quercus petraea, Fraxinus ornus, Quercus pubescens and Ostrya carpinifolia. Here and there I also noticed a few Quercus cerris.
Fraxinus ornus in flower
Quercus pubescens (male flowers)
Quercus petraea
Of the most interesting bird species, I found a nice male Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca and heard two Wood Warblers Phylloscopus sibilatrix. Both species are typical migrants that I encounter in this kind of habitat. Common breeding species in the oak woodland include Green Picus viridis and Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major, Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes, Nuthatch Sitta europaea, Marsh Tit Poecile palustris and Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor probably also breeds here.
Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Oak woodland
One of the most interesting plant species I found is Cistus salviifolius. I realised it grows in my patch just a few months ago and the other day I found some specimens in flower. This is one of the few locations where the species grows in the area of Trieste and it represents the northern limit of its distribution. Cistus (family Cistaceae) is a typical genus of the Mediterranean region and C. salviifolius is the only member of this genus to be present here.
Cistus salviifolius
A small woodland clearing where C.salvifolius grows (bushy plant with dark green leaves on the ground)
Another interesting species of this region is Carpinus orientalis. As the name suggests it has an oriental distribution, from south-east Europe to the Middle East. In some places around Trieste there are entire woods made up of these and other termophilic trees.
Carpinus orientalis
Most of the wildflowers have now already finished with their blooming, as the trees have put their leaves on. Here and there you can still find something more colorful, like the species below.
Genista pilosa/decumbens
Euphorbia verrucosa
Thymus sp.
As I mentioned, most of the area is on flysch soil. However there's also a transitional part where limestone (calcareous) terrain is present and here the vegetation changes abruptly. From a rich and green oak woodland you find yourself on an open rocky grassland, with sparse bushes that are typically Mediterranean like Pistacia terebinthus and Paliurus spina-christii. The flowers here haven't reached their blooming climax yet (they will do so in May/June), but some are nevertheless prominent.
Iris illyrica
Polygala nicaaensis
Prunus mahaleb
Warbler prime habitat (Coronilla emerus ssp. emeroides in flower)
The above bushes are a perfect habitat for Mediterranean Sylvias. Indeed both Subalpine Sylvia cantillans and Sardinian Warblers S. melanocephala breed in the area and the other day I had 2 of the former and one of the latter.
Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans
To add some additional Med atmosphere to the area, a nice RED-RUMPED SWALLOW Cercopis daurica (3rd record for the patch) was present in a mixed flock of 30 House Martins Delichon urbicum and 15 Common Swifts Apus apus. Within a larger flock of hirundines I also managed to pick out a few Sand Martins Riparia riparia and some Alpine Swifts Apus melba.
The Red-rumped Swallow kept me entertained while the Subalpine Warbler was not showing, so I even managed to take some shots.
Red-rumped Swallow Cercopis daurica
Apart from that I was also happy with a singing Hoopoe Upupa epops. All in all a very interesting selection of species for the patch standards.
Two days ago I also had my first Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus and Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris of the year.

To round up the post, a short selection of some specialties of the Glinščica/Val Rosandra valley, fresh from today. All three are plants typical of steep limestone screes.
Biscutella laevigata
Festuca spectabilis ssp. carniolica (B. laevigata on the left)
Drypis spinosa ssp. jacquiniana (green "bush") with B. laevigata
Male Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius

Saturday 18 April 2015

They are back...

Unmistakable silhouette - Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. Slovenian Karst.
First Hoopoe Upupa epops of the year. Slovenian Karst.
Early shoots of a young beech Fagus sylvatica. Slovenian Karst.
Petasites hybridus. Slovenian Karst.
Symphytum tuberosum. Slovenian Karst.
Black dot = Black Stork Ciconia nigra feeding at Cerkniško jezero.
Lathyrus vernus. Cerkniško jezero.
Polygala chamaebuxus. Cerkniško jezero.
Vicia oroboides. Cerkniško jezero.
Viscum abietis - a parasite on silver fir Abies alba. Cerkniško jezero.
Aposeris foetida (with leaves of Geranium nodosum nearby). Cerkniško jezero.
First Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans (female) of the year. Monte Grisa (Trieste).
Algyroides nigropunctatus - a Balkanic lizard with the edge of its distribution in the wider area of Trieste. Monte Grisa (Trieste).
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia with Euphorbia wulfenii. Monte Grisa (Trieste).
Blooming on the cliffs: Prunus mahaleb, Euphorbia wulfenii and Coronilla emerus ssp. emeroides. Monte Grisa (Trieste).
Prunus mahaleb. Monte Grisa (Trieste).
Lots of new arrivals in the last week including Cuckoos Cuculus canorus and Hoopoes Upupa epops on the Karst, Scops Owl Otus scops in the local patch, first singing Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos and lots of spring activity around the cliffs, including several singing Sardinian Warblers Sylvia melanocephala and the first Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans. At Isola della Cona NR also the first Sand Martins Riparia riparia and Purple Heron Ardea purpurea.
But the most notable birds were a BLACK STORK Ciconia nigra at Cerkniško jezero and two Stock Doves Columba oenas at Ljubljansko barje.