Tuesday 23 June 2015

Nanos plateau

Lilium carniolicum in its full beauty (despite the cloudy weather). This is a quite frequent flower on the high-Karstic dry grasslands like those on Nanos, but also in the Alps. It shares its habitat with the similar L. bulbiferum (see below). Also Trifolium montanum in the second photo.
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis (male).
Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra (young).
Iris sibirica ssp. erirrhiza - a subspecies endemic to Slovenia, found on dry limestone grasslands on the high-Karst plateaus like Nanos, Snežnik, Trnovski gozd, Čičarija ect. Has its locus typicus on mount Kojnik in Čičarija (SW Slovenia).
Lilium bulbiferum (note Gladiolus illyricus in the back).
Libelloides macaronius. Not a moth, neither a dragonfly, but a colorful insect from the order Neuroptera.
Astragalus carniolicus
Saxifraga crustata & Astragalus carniolicus
Iris graminea in the beech woodland.
Allium victorialis - scarcer than the conspecific A. ursinum. Growing more or less in the same places where A. ursinum bloomed half a month ago. In Slovenia it is found in the Alpine region and Dinaric mountains.
Laserpitium siler & Rosa pendulina in the background.
Drypis spinosa ssp. jacquiniana - a typical plant of rocky limestone screes exposed to the south.
Nanos is the kingdom of Rock Bunting Emberiza cia!
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus with one of the several paragliders present yesterday.
Nanos' grassy plateau.
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus with food for the brood, in a hedge on the Karst.
Young Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
A quick visit to the grassy plateau of Nanos yesterday produced a nice variety of wildlife. The most interesting were a Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis (video here) and Lilium carniolicum in flower across the dry grasslands. Supporting cast included a Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra and about 10 Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus on passage. Lots of Rock Buntings Emberiza cia, Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis, Stonechats Saxicola torquatus and Skylarks Alauda arvensis. All in all a typical Nanos scene (only missed the Golden Eagle).

During the past two weeks there was a nice movement of Yelkouan Shearwaters Puffinus yelkouan on the sea in front of my house. I saw flocks of 20 and up to 100 birds passing quite close to shore several times. June is the top month for the species and my local patch is perhaps one of the best places to see it.
Part of a flock of +100 Yelkouan Shearwaters Puffinus yelkouan.

Monday 15 June 2015

Red-breasted Flycatchers & Nigritellas in the Alps

Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva is one of the rarest breeding birds in Slovenia. The population's stronghold is in the Alps (northern Slovenia), although there are smaller concentrations in the south of the country too (Kočevje forests for example). In the Alps it inhabits valleys with predominant deciduous forest and forested slopes. As a secondary cavity-nester the species needs mature trees with a good proportion of decaying wood and a lot of holes in it. On some locations it can be fairly common, but in general it is considered rare and localised.
This bird was on my wish-to-see-in-Slovenia list for quite a while. On Saturday I happened to be exactly in the right place and after a good hour of walking and searching I finally heard two singing individuals. With this species (as with most of the woodland birds) song is everything. If you cannot hear it, then you don't stand a chance of seeing it. For about 10 minutes I looked hard, without spotting the bird, although I had it above my head. It was singing from somewhere quite high on a tree. When it moved I finally caught a glimpse. And from then on it was just pleasure (video here)...
Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva. Usually delivering its song from the lateral branches of beech trees, but also frequently from Norway spruce. Another male was singing no more than 80-100 metres away. Amazingly the first male was also ringed (note the metal ring on the right leg). Video of the first male here (watch at 720p and volume to max; 2 birds can be heard singing).

Then it was time for the botanical part of the day: an afternoon visit to the grassy plateau of Velika Planina, in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. The main target here was an endemic species of orchid: Nigritella lithopolitanica. This plant was described as a species on its own in 1978 by Vlado Ravnik who also named it after the town of Kamnik in northern Slovenia (lithopolitos = greek for Kamnik). It is found exclusively in the Kamniško-Savinjske Alpe mountain range and Velika Planina is a typical location (although nearby mt. Krvavec is the locus classicus).
Nigritella lithopolitanica (with Clematis alpina in the last photo).
A typical scene from Velika Planina.
Rhododendron hirsutum starting to bloom. In the background, part of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps.
Floral rock garden with Globularia cordifolia and Anthyllis vulneraria subsp. alpestris.
Lilium carniolicum
Lilium martagon
Coeloglossum viride (orchid)
Pedicularis verticillata
Astrantia carniolica
Moneses uniflora
Pseudorchis albida (orchid)
Vaccinium vitis-idaea (also known as...cranberry)
Antennaria dioica
Saxifraga cuneifolia
Veratrum album
Triturus alpestris (male) - good numbers of these in a small watering place for cattle.

Monday 8 June 2015

Botanical delights on Snežnik

Cypripedium calceolus
Mount Snežnik is (together with Trnovski gozd) one of the 3 most interesting botanical localities in Slovenia. This mountain has, similarly to Trnovski gozd, different biogeographical influences which can be readily recognised by looking at the flora. With 1796 m it is the highest non-alpine mountain in Slovenia. Thus some of the plants found there belong to the alpine floristic element and are at their south-easternmost edge of distribution. But in one little patch of ground, one can also find a mix of Balkanic, sub-Mediterranean, Illiric (Eastern Adriatic) and central European species of plants.
The most amazing species of the botanical trip I had on Saturday was Cypripedium calceolus (or Lady's-slipper orchid) which is actually not one of the true specialties of Snežnik. However it is an overall rare plant in Slovenia (also endangered and Natura 2000 species), found mostly in the northern part of the country, in the Alps. In the south it is very rare and I saw it in one of the two known localities for mount Snežnik. Only 7 specimens were in flower. Below a selection of pics of this beautiful plant and of the other most interesting species we had.
Cypripedium calceolus - the swollen, boat-shaped labellum acts as a trap for insects that are lured and fall in it. The internal walls are slippery, preventing the insects from going out, except for the area around the pollinia. By escaping through this "passage" the insects collect new pollen and/or pollinate the plant.
From bottom to top. The white "line" is the path we took.
From top to bottom. View extending south-eastwards to nearby Croatia.
Androsace villosa (alpine species)
Gentiana clusii (blue) and Helianthemum alpestre (yellow). Both alpine species.
Pulsatilla alpina (clearly alpine).
Pulsatilla alpina and Trollius europaeus
Looking at the south-eastern slope of Snežnik.
Bartsia alpina (still... clearly alpine).
Heliosperma pusillum
Lathyrus occidentalis
Ranunculus traunfellneri - alpine species with its south-easternmost point of distribution on Snežnik.
Potentilla crantzii. Again, mostly an alpine plant with a disjunction on Snežnik.
Arabis scopoliana - has its stronghold on Mt. Snežnik, although it was first described by Scopoli on mount Nanos, which represents its north-western edge of distribution. Found from Slovenia down to Albania along the Adriatic (Illiric distribution).
Trinia carniolica (T. glauca subsp. carniolica). Firstly found and described by A. Kerner on Snežnik at the end of the 19th century. Another plant with an Illiric/Balkanic distribution, stretching from the Julian Alps to Albania.
Carex kitaibeliana (sedge) with its only location in Slovenia on Snežnik.
Polygala alpestris subsp. croatica
Cirsium waldsteinii
Lonicera alpigena
Ribes petraeum
Ribes alpinum
Rosa pendulina
Veronica urticifolia
View from Snežnik towards its northern slopes, with two of the main dolines (sinkholes) with temperature and vegetational inversion. Note the structure and extent of the different tree associations.
More about wildflowers on Snežnik in this post from July 2014.

During last week I also had a short afternoon visit to Cerkniško jezero and Planinsko polje. It was good both on the birding and botanical front. During a walk through wet meadows I had 4-5 singing COMMON ROSEFINCHES Carpodacus erythrinus and a BLACK STORK Ciconia nigra landed in a meadow nearby. I also had typical birds of Cerkniško jezero like Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, Quail Coturnix coturnix and Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, while on Planinsko polje I was greeted by 3 singing CORNCRAKES Crex crex and several Barred Warblers Sylvia nisoria
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
Eriophorum angustifolium
Orchis palustris
Scilla litardierei - a rare plant with its only location in Slovenia on Planinsko polje.
Gladiolus illyricus