Wednesday 28 October 2015

Neusiedler See - Austria

Back from a long weekend spent birding in the Neusiedler See National Park (Neusiedl lake) in eastern Austria. Lots of great birds on a daily basis, including some of the local birding specialties...
Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca (last photo by Sara Cernich). Up to three birds together were seen on the grassy plains of the Waasen-Hansag Conservation Zone in two different days. The first photo shows an adult, the second a nice trio, while the last shows a juvenile, perched on a pole in the fields. Imperial Eagle was one of the targets of this trip, along with Saker Falco cherrug that was readily spotted from the road on the first day (an adult hunting in the fields near the town of Eisenstadt).
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus (lower pic by Sara Cernich) - another of the main targets. The male shown above was performing well, along with a female and a third individual in a garden in the town of Illmitz. Video of the female here (watch at 720p). Syrian Woodpeckers were seen on a daily basis at different urban sites (parkland, roadside trees, gardens ect.) in the towns of St. Andra, Illmitz and Apetlon.
Red Kite Milvus milvus. A nice bonus species, seen twice during the trip: on the fields at the Waasen-Hansag area and at the Oberstinkersee near Illmitz (bird above). Other interesting raptors seen included: 1-2 White-tailed Eagles Haliaeetus albicilla (immature), Merlin Falco columbarius, Peregrine Falco peregrinus, Goshawk Accipiter gentilis and lots of Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus & smaller numbers of Marsh Harriers C. aeruginosus.
Long-eared Owl Asio otus in a cypress at the cemetery of Apetlon. At least 7 birds were counted roosting in the trees.
Lange Lacke - one of the many shallow, saline lakes scattered on the plains east of lake Neusiedl. This one was perhaps the most productive. Thousands of birds here - mostly Greylag Geese Anser anser (the most numerous bird at all!) with a few hundred White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons, about 50 Tundra Bean Geese Anser fabalis ssp. rossicus and two smart Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis (of unknown origin). Also all sorts of other common wildfowl in large numbers.
Tripolium pannonicum (or Aster tripolium ssp. pannonicus) - perhaps the most typical flower of Neusiedler See National Park, growing commonly on the shores of the salty lakes and in full bloom at this time of year.
Salicornia sp. - another characteristic plant indicating the salinity of these pools (usually found on the seashore).
A typical inhabitant of the salty lakes - Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta on the Oberstinkersee. The only Avocet of the trip. Other waders included small flocks of Dunlin Calidris alpina, Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus, Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Curlew Numenius arquata and a single Snipe Gallinago gallinago.
The Zicklacke near Illmitz - one of the several salty pools were Mallard Anas platyrhynchos was always the most numerous bird. Rarer ducks included a few Red-crested Pochards Netta rufina seen in one of the lakes west of Illmitz (4 ind.) and in the Warmsee, north of Apetlon (1 female).
The Warmsee near Apetlon, produced the above Baltic Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus ssp. fuscus. The mantle colour was deep black and the bird in flight showed yellow legs, plus very long wings (primary projection when perched). It is the first time I see a nominate fuscus.
Lapwings Vanellus vanellus over the Warmsee - the only two flocks seen were near Apetlon.
A view over the Lange Lacke (photo by Sara Cernich) with tens of wind turbines in the far distance - an almost constant "background presence" in these windy plains.
The shores of lake Neusiedl with some exposed wet grassland where Greylag Geese Anser anser and semi-wild horses grazed.
Reedbed west of Illmitz where several Bearded Tits Panurus biarmicus were seen. Other typical birds of this habitat included: Bittern Botaurus stellaris, Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus and Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus (apparently a scarce species here). A single Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia was also seen.
Danube Crested Newt Triturus dobrogicus near the Lange Lacke - a species (sometimes still treated as a subspecies of T. cristatus) with its distrubution stretching from the Danube river basin to part of central and eastern Europe, down to the Balkans.
Two views of the typical steppe (puszta) near the Lange Lacke. This is the home of the Souslik (or Ground squirrel) Spermophilus citellus, which unfortunately was already hibernating underground at this time of year. Common birds on these vast plains and nearby farmland included Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, Rook Corvus frugilegus, large numbers of Tree Sparrows Passer montanus & Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella. Two Stock Doves Columba oenas were also seen in a field. 
Evening fog rising over the grasslands at the Waasen-Hansag where Great Bustards Otis tarda and Short-eared Owls Asio flammeus breed in spring.
Racka sheep - a characteristic Hungarian breed with spiral-shaped horns. Photographed in the Ferto area, on the Hungarian side of lake Neusiedl.
Mangalitza pig - another Hungarian breed, typical of these areas.
Sunset over Neusiedl lake - actually the second largest lake in Central Europe.
Sunset with a flock of about 80 Cranes Grus grus, migrating south-westwards above the Lange Lacke (photo Sara Cernich). The first Cranes of the season! Another flock was also heard over the Waasen-Hansag Conservation Zone.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Autumn magic on Snežnik

Brown Bear Ursus arctos (last year's photo) - yesterday evening I surprised one on a forest road on the south-western slopes of the Snežnik plateau. It was a large individual and it clumsily ran away into the forest, so I could follow its movements with a torch for a while. Few things in the natural world are as exciting as seeing a bear!
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos ssp. lilfordi (male) - heard one calling yesterday in the forests of the Snežnik plateau. In autumn and winter they seem to have quite vast feeding territories and are not easy to find. The Snežnik forests are the stronghold of this rare species in Slovenia.
White-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker habitat on a steep rocky slope on the Snežnik plateau.
The autumn colours of Snežnik's forests were at the very best in the last few days. Impressive variations of red, orange and yellow from beech Fagus sylvatica and sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, contrasting with the dark greens of silver fir Abies alba and Norway spruce Picea abies.
On Friday I came across this Horn-nosed Viper Vipera ammodytes on a karstic meadow near Sežana. Sept-Oct looks like a good period to see vipers, before they start hibernating.

I've spent the last couple of days on the Snežnik plateau and nearby areas. As mentioned above, yesterday I had a BROWN BEAR Ursus arctos and a White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos. On Saturday me and three other friends were taking part in a bird-race organised by DOPPS (BirdLife Slovenia), where different teams tried to score the greatest number of species seen/heard in a single morning around the town of Ilirska Bistrica (SW Slovenia) and nearby areas (including the Snežnik forests). Our team scored 59 species, while the winning team had 75. Our best bird was a Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria on some small roadside cliffs in the middle of the Snežnik forests. It's interesting to notice that last year I had one almost in the same area and in the same period. October seems like a good time for migrating Wallcreepers stopping at unusual sites. Most of the other birds recorded during the race were common species, except for a migrant Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus we had on a field near Ilirska Bistrica. We also had up to 6-7 Great Grey Shrikes Lanius excubitor, a few Dippers Cinclus cinclus along the river Reka and a few late summer-migrants.

To round up this post, I recommend watching this short video produced by the team from the newly-opened Karst Museum in Postojna. It shows amazing footage of Slovenian caves, cave-dwelling animals, as well as other animals, plants and landscapes of the Notranjska region (including mount Snežnik and its forests at the beginning of the video). Well worth a watch!

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Autumn flowers and birds

Spiranthes spiralis - spontaneous apparition in a meadow at the Carsiana botanical garden (Trieste). This is the latest orchid of the season, in flower from the end of August to October. In Slovenia it is quite scarce and locally rare, although some meadows can be full of it. Grows predominantly on dry grassland. Note the twisted stem and thus the flowers arranged in a spiral.
First Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor of the season, yesterday on the Slovenian Karst. They always appear on the Karst at the beginning of October and remain here to spend the winter (until March).
Calluna vulgaris - in full bloom at the moment on acidic grasslands on the Karst.
Aster linosyris - found this one in the woodland in my local patch. It is considered a scarce species on the Trieste Karst. A warmth-loving plant, usually in flower later in the season (for example in full bloom now at the Carsiana botanical garden).
Dianthus tergestinus (D. sylvestris ssp. tergestinus) - an endemic species of the W Balkans; named after the city of Trieste. It is common on the Karst in spring. In the photo, note also a Hummingbird Hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum.
Cyclamen purpurascens - very common and prominent wildflower at this time of year.