Thursday 3 March 2016

Škocjanski zatok nature reserve - OPENED again!

Yesterday I attended the official re-opening of Škocjanski zatok nature reserve near Koper (on the coast of Slovenia). The area was closed to the public for more than a year, due to construction works of the new infrastructure (info center, hides, observation towers...). Now the reserve is finally opened again to the public. The new impressive visitor center, as well as the main observation tower, offer a spectacular view over the freshwater marsh and brackish lagoon. These are probably the best observation hides I've ever visited (only compared to some of those seen in the UK or Austria). For more info about Škocjanski zatok nature reserve see the official website.
My friend Paul Tout also wrote something about the inauguration of the reserve in his blog. Worth reading to get an overview of the past, present and future of Škocjanski zatok.
The freshwater marsh, looking north towards the new visitor center, with Srmin hill in the background.
Two views on the new central observation tower, which allows to have a 360° view over the whole reserve. It is located on a bank between the freshwater marsh and the brackish lagoon. Its interiors (on 3 floors) are amazing.
Inside the observation tower - 3rd floor. All the hides are equipped with bird ID plates of every kind.
Part of the freshwater marsh with a new screening (the port of Koper in the back).
Freshwater marsh with the town of Koper in the background.
Brackish marsh (the part of the reserve connected with the sea through a canal) and Koper's shopping centers in the back.
The new visitor center at the edge of the reserve, overlooking the freshwater marsh. For a bit of geography: the highest mountain in the far back is Slavnik, rising high over tha Karst plateau (white "line").
Entrance to the nature reserve - through a busy road by the industrial estate and port of Koper.
After the celebratory openings we were greeted by a flock of about 150 Cranes Grus grus on migration (heading north). In the past two weeks there's been an exceptionally good passage of Cranes over north-east Italy and part of Slovenia. At the reserve we enjoyed mostly common wetland birds.

And now, as a tribute to this great nature reserve, a selection of some typical birds that can be observed at Škocjanski zatok in different seasons. The photos were taken between 2010 and 2014, while I used to carry out a regular (weekly) bird monitoring at the reserve. At the end also a few rarities.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis - a few individuals are usually present at Škocjanski zatok throughout the year. This is the most reliable site to see Cattle Egret in Slovenia. Above, with the Istrian autochthonous breed of cattle - boškarin.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus is a common summer breeding bird both at the freshwater marsh and in the brackish lagoon. More than 30 pairs nested in 2015.
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus used to breed in the brackish lagoon until recently. Nowadays it has become just an occasional spring/summer passage bird.
Little Tern Sternula albifrons - after several years of absence as a breeding bird, this small tern is now once again nesting with a few pairs in the brackish lagoon.
Common Tern Sterna hirundo - the breeding population of this species at Škocjanski zatok has steeply increased in the last years. In 2015 more than 100 pairs nested.
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus - a constant, all-year-round presence at Škocjanski zatok. Numbers of this species have been increasing in the last years, although there was no sign of breeding on the reserve yet.
Curlew Numenius arquata is perhaps the commonest wader, along with Greenshank Tringa nebularia. Both species are seen in almost all seasons, although they don't breed in Škocjanski zatok.
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides - only a passage bird, usually seen in spring and early summer.
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea - as with the previous, usually seen in spring and summer (non-breeder).
Moustached Warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon. The reedbeds of Škocjanski zatok in March are an excellent site to catch up with this early Acro. Some birds are also seen in the autumn (and rarely in winter).
Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus - autumn and winter visitor (in small flocks) in the reserve's reedbeds.
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus - the commonest breeding Acro in summer.
Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus - a rare winter visitor to Škocjanski zatok, usually in small numbers.
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti is one of the commonest passerines at the reserve (all-year-round).
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica - at the end of August and in early September this species can be seen quite frequently at reedbed edges in Škocjanski zatok.
Garganey Anas querquedula - the real harbinger of spring in the wetlands (especially common in March).
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus - the only one I've ever seen in Škocjanski zatok. This species is probably commoner than though, especially in winter.
Little Crake Porzana parva (male) - regular passage bird in spring and autumn.
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana - another regular migrant, especially in spring. It's not too unusual to see one in a water ditch by the reserve's main path.
Yellow Wagtails Motacilla flava on migration. Different subspecies on the same tree: flava (blue-grey head & white supercilium), cinereocapilla (grey head & no supercilium) and feldegg (black head). Subspecies cinereocapilla is also a common breeder in the lagoon.
Merlin Falco columbarius - a scarce winter visitor, arriving especially in the harshest winters.
Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis. I found this "2nd for Slovenia" in late March 2012, during a session of my weekly bird monitoring. It was one of the biggest rarities to be ever recorded in Škocjanski zatok. This duck is also the only American species recorded in Slovenia so far.
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus - another self-found rarity: the first for Škocjanski zatok (in September 2012).