Friday 27 November 2015


Only a Dipper Cinclus cinclus could fancy a plunge in a cold stream in these freezing conditions. The weather has been quite wintry in the last week or so, with strong and cold northeasterly winds (locally known as burja/bora). The first snow has fallen over most of Slovenia and it still persists on the higher altitudes. Also some parts of the higher Karst are still white at the moment.
Today I was in Postojna where I visited the Karst Museum (which I strongly recommend) and on the river Unica I saw 3 showy Dippers. As usual quite funny-looking and full of character as they dive and try to fight the current. On this link a (bad quality) video, filmed from inside the car, in which you can hear Status Quo playing on the radio!
Other notable observations that enlivened my week included the first two Slavonian Grebes Podiceps auritus and Black-throated Divers Gavia arctica of the winter (on the sea near Monfalcone, north-east Italy), a passage Redwing Turdus iliacus on the Karst and a distant howl from a Golden Jackal Canis aureus on the Italy/Slovenia border near Gorizia/Gorica. My first jackal actually.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Flamingos & lowland owls

Flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus - small part of a flock of +900 birds!
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Birding from a hide...sometimes.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius - an artistic shot taken on the Karst recently.

From time to time I visit the coastal wetlands in north-eastern Italy, not far from Trieste. On Saturday I guided a trip there and visited Isola della Cona, Valle Cavanata and areas near Grado. The main attraction was a large flock of FLAMINGOS Phoenicopterus roseus present in the pools of Valle Cavanata. Other observers in the previous days counted at least 900 individuals so this was certainly the biggest flock of Flamingos I've ever seen. The species is becoming increasingly regular in larger numbers at this wetland site and it is colonising the lagoons near Grado and Marano, spreading from its nearest nesting grounds close to Venice. I was also impressed by the large number of Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmeus in Valle Cavanata - about 30 or more. A showy Water Rail Rallus aquaticus was also performing very well in front of the hide (above), so the group was quite happy.
After enjoying a nice variety of wetland birds between Valle Cavanata and Isola della Cona, in the afternoon we visited a day-time roost of Long-eared Owls Asio otus, where 4 birds were taking a nap on a pine. We waited dusk nearby and were rewarded first with a Little Owl Athene noctua perched on a pole and later with a gorgeous BARN OWL Tyto alba sitting on a window sill in the ruins of an old farm. Instead of a photo, here's an old Barn Owl video I uploaded on my Youtube page recently.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Owls and woodpeckers in Trnovski gozd

On Sunday I was in Trnovski gozd (Trnovo forest) enjoying forest owls and woodpeckers. The highlight was a TENGMALM'S OWL Aegolius funereus which I attracted by imitating (whistling) its song. The bird responded quickly and showed brilliantly for a few minutes in a conifer tree, twisting and waving its head with the characteristic "astonished" look. So far the best views I've ever had of this difficult-to-see species. The picture is from a Natura 2000 information panel in Trnovski gozd.
PYGMY OWL Glaucidium passerinum (second pic by Sara Cernich) - two of these were singing close to the Tengmalm's' location. One of them was easy to spot as it had a "cloud" of small, buzzing birds around it (mainly Coal Periparus ater and Willow Tit Poecile montanus). The show went on till dark when one bird was still delivering its song from a spruce (last pic). Looks like a good year for Pygmy Owl in Trnovski gozd.
Female Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus (by Sara Cernich) - at least two birds were seen; one on the same trees as the Pygmy Owl (difficult to choose where to watch!). Both were females and both were frequently mobbed by Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major, while feeding on dead spruces. Other woodpeckers included a Grey-headed Picus canus and two Black Dryocopus martius (while recently I had again two Middle Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos medius on the Slovenian Karst).
A small group of old conifers, where the first Three-toe was seen. Woodpeckers prefer dying trees (like the above) to those already dead from a long time. Dying trees have still large amounts of bark and support a richer invertebrate fauna.
Mature conifer forest with a lot of decaying wood - the climax habitat for woodpeckers and owls. Black Woodpecker's feeding holes can be seen in the photo.
Autumn-coloured larches Larix decidua.
Large fungus (possibly the largest I've ever seen) growing out of a dead Norway spruce Picea abies. For me these fungi are usually a good indicator of forest maturity and wilderness.
Iceland moss Cetraria islandica - a rare moss in Trnovski gozd, which is otherwise a widespread boreal species (N Europe, N America). It is very sensitive to air pollution, so is a good indicator of clean, unpolluted air. In the past it was traditionally used in pharmacy/medicine.
Sphagnum nemoreum (capillifolium).
Mt. Krn in the Julian Alps (see this post) is usually visible from Trnovski gozd.

I'll round up the post with a nice "flick of crimson" from a Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria, two weeks ago at the Škocjan caves (Škocjanske jame) near Divača. One of the many Wallcreepers that spend the winter on the Karst.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Pokljuka - Triglav National Park

Pokljuka is a large forested plateau in the Triglav National Park (north-western Slovenia). In the past the area was covered by beech and silver fir forests, which were transformed into almost pure conifer stands, through centuries of human activity. The predominant tree species today is Norway spruce Picea abies and many of the organisms that inhabit this forests belong to the fauna & flora of boreal environments. Some of them are glacial relicts (good populations of Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus ect.). Another such example is the PYGMY OWL Glaucidium passerinum which in the Alps has the strongest population of Slovenia. The Pokljuka plateau is an excellent place to observe it. Due to its partly-diurnal habits, it's not very difficult to hear one singing in the early morning and spot it perched on the top of a spruce. On Sunday I had the pleasure to watch this nice little owl for quite a while...
Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum in its typical pose: observing the surroundings from the top of a high spruce and delivering its autumn song.

The owl was as usual accompanied by a noisy flock of small forest birds (Goldcrest Regulus regulus, Coal Tit Periparus ater, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus and Willow Tit Poecile montanus) that were very nervous about its presence and kept mobbing it. The panic was justified as Pygmy Owl frequently includes small birds in its diet, hence the partly diurnal habits.
Of the other birds observed on Pokljuka, Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes was perhaps the most interesting (3-4 seen), along with Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus (2-3) and Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius (4-5) plus a good selection of common forest birds: Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Treecreeper Certhia familiaris, Brambling Fringilla montifringilla, Siskin Carduelis spinus and Crossbill Loxia curvirostra.
But now let some more photos tell the rest of the story...
An autumn-coloured larch Larix decidua stands out among Norway spruces Picea abies.
Some views on the Šijec bog with a morning frost. The small trees covering this wetland habitat are mountain pines Pinus mugo. The temperatures here were below zero in the early morning.
Mountain pine Pinus mugo in detail.
Two views on Šijec bog with mount Triglav in the background (first photo). This bog is perhaps the most well known and studied in Slovenia. It is also one of the very few raised bogs in the country and supports a selection of very interesting and localised plant species. Different species of Sphagnum mosses (for example the red one on the second pic) build up this vulnerable habitat.
Mount Triglav, Slovenia's highest peak (2864 m), as seen from the Pokljuka plateau (same mountain also in the first pic of the post).
Mount Debela peč (2014 m) peaking out from Pokljuka's conifer forests. On a higher elevation, Norway spruce P. abies is replaced by larch Larix decidua which constitutes the natural tree-line in the Alps.
Larch L. decidua in its full autumn beauty.
Two dead conifers - the perfect place for Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus which is a widespread bird on Pokljuka.
Goldcrest Regulus regulus - one of the commonest birds on Pokljuka.
Lycopodium annotinum surrounded by cranberry Vaccinium vitis-idaea - both species form a dense undergrowth in the conifer forest on the plateau, especially around bogs.
Coal Tit Periparus ater - another very common forest bird.
A late Gentiana verna, still in flower on the alpine grassland of planina Klek.
Pokljuka is the major stronghold for Brown Bear Ursus arctos in the Slovenian Alps. However, bear's numbers are significantly lower compared to those of southern Slovenia. So the chances of seeing one in the Alps are quite remote.