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.