Friday 25 September 2015

Karst and Adriatic coast

Hyssopus officinalis, a prominent autumn-flowering plant of the Mediterranean region, but a quite localised species in the area of Trieste, distributed on some localities along the Karst edge. Here photographed on the rocky cliffs of Monte Grisa, near Trieste. In the background, the Adriatic sea (Gulf of Trieste) with Miramare's castle visible along the coast.
Colias croceus on Hyssopus officinalis, Monte Grisa, Trieste. A few Alpine Swifts Apus melba are still present around their nesting cliffs in the company of some noisy Sardinian Warblers Sylvia melanocephala in the evergreen bushes - making up a typical Med scene.
Horn-nosed Viper Vipera ammodytes at the Carsiana botanical garden. In the past week I "discovered" another two vipers, so at least 3 individuals present in the garden. They are quite showy. I presume the above is a male ("V" shape on the head).
Campanula pyramidalis, Monte Grisa, Trieste. Probably the most prominent flower of sunny, rocky cliffs at this time of year. Common on the Karst, but especially along the Adriatic coast.
Kontovel with part of the Trieste's coast, with the town of Monfalcone in the back. Part of the river Isonzo/Soča estuary is visible to the left (sandy line on the sea).
Flock of Yelkouan Shearwaters Puffinus yelkouan flying on a windy day, on the sea near Trieste. Our typical north-easterly wind burja/bora brought nice numbers of these close to coast recently. I've seen flocks of up to 140 individuals from home on several occasions in the past weeks.
Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Carsiana botanical garden, Trieste. One of the many that passed through in the last week.
Common Redstart Phoenicururs phoenicurus at Carsiana. Quite good passage of migrants recently, including: Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis, Siskin Carduelis spinus and Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava flying overhead on a regular basis, Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus, Goldcrest R. regulus and Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus in the trees and some welcome residents like Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor and singing (!) Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus.

Friday 18 September 2015

Vipera ammodytes & Algyroides

Horn-nosed Viper Vipera ammodytes
Damlatian Algyroides Algyroides nigropunctatus

Yesterday I photographed the above Horn-nosed Viper Vipera ammodytes on a stony wall on the Karst. More precisely within the area of the Carsiana botanical garden (near Trieste), which encompasses an area of typical Karstic "rocky field". With a bit of patience the viper allowed good views down to 3 metres, while it basked in the morning sunshine. I watched it for at least half an hour. A quite cooperative animal I must say. The pics were taken with the zoom on my camera at approximately 40x.
Horn-nosed Viper is considered the most venomous snake species in Europe, although its venom is rarely fatal to humans. Its distribution stretches mainly through the Balkans to the Middle East. In Slovenia it is most abundant right on the Karst (west of the country), although seeing one is not that easy, unless you go around turning stones. They usually stick around sunny, rocky places, dry stony grasslands, limestone cliffs ect. In several years of wandering these areas I only saw it a couple of times. If I were a herpetologist the things would be clearly different.  
The limestone rocks also held another typical reptile of the Karst: the Dalmatian Algyroides Algyroides nigropunctatus. Although in the photo it looks like an ordinary lizard, it is usually far brighter with a nice blue throat & head and reddish rest of the body. The individual in the pic was either a female or a juvenile (males are brighter). This species is distributed along the Adriatic coast (western Balkan peninsula). Not far from Trieste, near the town of Gorica/Gorizia, it reaches its north-westernmost point of distribution. Around Trieste it is an abundant species both on the coast and on the Karst and also easy to see (had 5 of them together yesterday).

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Thematic galleries

As you may have noticed, recently I added to the blog some thematic galleries of my images, from different regions of Slovenia. Each photo-gallery comprises a selection of the most representative animals, plants and landscapes of Slovenia's main natural regions. For now there are three of them: Alps, Dinaric Mountains and the Karst (links also available on the bar to the right). These three together actually represent a good half of Slovenia and are the regions in which I'm most concentrated (thus so well documented). I'd like to think these galleries could serve as a sort of "collage postcard" to show in one place all the main natural attractions (mainly birds and plants) of Slovenia. In the future I might add some other galleries covering other regions/habitats too.
For viewing the photos in the best possible arrangement, I recommend switching to the smaller format - click on the central icon of these three, found in the top right corner of the page:

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Cerkniško jezero & Bloško polje

Cerkniško jezero in western Slovenia is a great place, regardless of the season. Although September is already late for its most typical bird specialties (Scarlet Rosefinch, Barred Warbler, Corncrake, Red-necked Grebe ect.), there's still quite a lot to see. Yesterday me and a friend payed a visit to this site and the nearby Bloško polje. Weather-wise it was a great day of early autumn, with nice sunshine and a slight wind. Soon after arriving on site we already had a juvenile Goshawk Accipiter gentilis spreding panic among the Great White Egrets Casmerodius albus. A look at the sky and among the several Common Buzzards Buteo buteo we were soon watching an immature BLACK STORK Ciconia nigra, soaring above the wet grasslands. Later, while roving around the Cerknica lake, looking mostly for flowers, we also added to the list: Hobby Falco subbuteo (3-4), Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (2-3), Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella, Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio (2 juv), Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus (one of the few waterbirds seen), Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava, Spotted Muscicapa striata and Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca and a few commoner birds. Along one of the forest roads we (twice) came across some Brown Bear's droppings.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra. A summer visitor to Cerkniško jezero, probably breeding somewhere in the forests around the lake. It is otherwise a rare species in Slovenia, with most of the breeding pairs concentrated in eastern Slovenia. This individual, being an immature is probably one of this year's juveniles born in the area.
Gentiana pneumonanthe - a protected species in Slovenia which thrives on wet grasslands, bogs and heathlands and flowers later in the season. It is quite commonly found on some meadows around Cerkniško jezero and Bloško polje.
Succisa pratensis - very abundant; forming "carpets" on the wet meadows.
Colchicum autumnale - as the name says, an autumnal species, resembling a Crocus. Common on meadows and in woodlands at this time of year.
Allium angulosum (what's left of it). Fairly common on wet grasslands, but yesterday most were already in seed.
Viburnum opulus - a common bush at Cerkniško jezero, with very attractive, but poisonous berries.
Droppings of Brown Bear Ursus arctos on the forest road near Cerkniško jezero.

In the early afternoon we visited the nearby wet meadows and bogs of Bloško polje. This site is located east of Cerkniško jezero and is home to some rare and endangered plant and animal species (especially orchids, dragonflies, butterflies). The best time to visit is late spring (May/June), so yesterday we were a bit out of season. However we still managed to find a couple of interesting flowers and most interestingly, some Otter's droppings on a stone by the Bloščica stream. One or two Kingfishers Alcedo atthis were a bit odd to see in an almost forest environment (at the edge of the wet meadows). Here we also heard a Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes, a few Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Tree Pipts Anthus trivialis and saw a Fieldfare Turdus pilaris.
Bloško polje with mount Snežnik in the distance.
One of the droppings of Otter Lutra lutra; containing pieces of crayfish's carapace and fish scales. Otter is found both on Bloško polje and on Cerkniško jezero (see here), although is very difficult to see. Its presence is usually detected by finding droppings which contain fish material and are found on exposed places by the streams and rivers in which it lives.
Gentianella germanica
Mentha aquatica - the wonderful smell of this plant is a constant presence while you walk on a wet meadow!
The Bloščica stream is one of the few watercourses in Slovenia which still have a natural course. It flows through Bloško polje, creating scenic meanders and areas of wet meadows and bogs (increasingly rare and endangered habitats in Slovenia).
Calopteryx virgo
Sorbus aucuparia
Bloško polje (with Velike Bloke's bell tower) and the Dinaric forests in the back.

Later in the afternoon we returned to Cerkniško jezero for an evening session and awaited darkness by the (dry) lake. Here we heard a Black Dryocopus martius and a Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus calling from the forest, while Water Rails Rallus aquaticus were calling from the reeds.
Later at dusk, an immature WHITE-TAILED EAGLE Haliaeetus albicilla flew above our heads, heading to roost and represented (after the Black Stork) the second bird highlight of the day. Shortly afterwards a female Tawny Owl Strix aluco called from the forest.
In the evening, we rounded up the day with a WILDCAT Felis silvestris, crossing the forest road by the lake.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus (buck) at dusk.
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla flies from Cerknica towards Otok, just after sunset.

Sunday 6 September 2015

Dotterel's return

Old images of Dotterel Charadrius morinellus on mt. Vremščica, 6th September 2011.
Today, after four long years, magic repeated on mount Vremščica, where I encountered the second DOTTEREL Charadrius morinellus of my life. Incredibly, the date coincides precisely with my first encounter, on the same mountain! This time however, I only saw it flying past; maybe an even rarer sight, as I witnessed to active visible migration. I heard the bird's flight call, before I got to see it. It was flying quite high and arrived from the north; then made a wide circle above Vremščica's grassy plateau and headed west, towards the Adriatic sea. I lost it in the distance, after a few minutes of enjoyable observation. I could notice the overall sandy colouring and a darker belly, so perhaps it was an adult.
Since 2011, I regularly pay a few autumn visits to the site, especially around the magic day - 6th September. Once again it proved an excellent idea.
The day was perfect for visible migration - a slight, but constant north-easterly wind, cool temperatures and strong sunshine. A Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus and a Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus flying south were the most notable birds after the Dotterel. Quite a lot of Common Buzzards Buteo buteo around and one Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus. But not many other migrants, except for a Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus, a fly-by Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava and some Swallows Hirundo rustica & House Martins Delichon urbicum.
Some late-summer/autumn flowers were nice to see too and rounded up an excellent sunny morning. Otherwise it was well worth for the panoramas alone.
Landscape view: from west (left) to north (right).
Gentianella austriaca
View from Vremščica's plateau northwards: rocky ridge of Nanos and Trnovski gozd in the front; snow-covered Julian Alps with mt. Triglav in the far back.
View over the Karst (both Slovenian and Italian), to the Adriatic sea (Gulf of Trieste) and the Grado-Marano lagoon. The visibility was so good that even Venice and the Euganei hills above Verona were visible in the distance.