Wednesday 11 May 2016

Three-toed Woodpecker - in deep

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Javorniki Mts., 6th May 2016. A male excavating a nest-hole. Video here (watch in HD, full volume).
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus - female, Javorniki Mts., 6th May 2016.
Mixed forest of beech and silver fir (Abieti-Fagetum dinaricum), Javorniki Mts., 6th May 2016.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus - young male, Javorniki Mts., 6th May 2016.
Lobaria pulmonaria, Javorniki Mts., 6th May 2016. An uncommon lichen species and a good indicator of clean, unpolluted air (negatively affected by habitat loss; declining in Europe). You don't see it so often in Slovenian forests either.
Fresh droppings of Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Javorniki Mts., 6th May 2016.
Hoopoe Upupa epops, Javorniki Mts., 6th May 2016.
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla - immature, Cerkniško jezero, 6th May 2016.
Eriophorum angustifolium, Cerkniško jezero, 6th May 2016.
Leucojum aestivum, Cerkniško jezero, 6th May 2016.

Last week I carried out the second round of the Three-toed Woodpecker census for DOPPS (BirdLife Slovenia). This census, like many others carried annually by DOPPS, is some sort of "health check" of Natura 2000's Special Protection Areas (SPA), involving monitoring of the qualifying species (species for which an SPA was designated) and other species of national conservation concern.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus inhabits coniferous forests, with a good proportion of decaying (dead or dying) conifer trees, usually at higher altitudes (above 700-800 m a.s.l.). In Slovenia the population's stronghold is in the Dinaric mountains (Snežnik, Kočevje, Trnovski gozd) and in the Alps (Julian Alps and Pohorje).
My transect in the Javorniki mountains (part of Snežnik's forests) this time produced no less than 5 Three-toed Woodpeckers, whereas during the first census (10th April) I only had 2 (a pair). It was a very welcome surprise as I was already beginning to worry that the recent forestry works in that area might have ruined drastically the species' habitat. A serious problem for woodpeckers and other forest animals is the removal of dead and decaying trees from a forest. This practice is usually done with the aim of eradicating bark beetles which are considered a serious problem for the forest economy, because they affect and kill many trees. On the other side, these creatures are an important (integral) part of the forest ecosystem (food for woodpeckers!) and their numbers and fluctuations are regulated by nature. Forests can regulate without the help of humans - it's humans that depend on forests for exploitation!
That said, during the last census I was also very glad to find a very noisy and confiding pair of Three-toed Woodpeckers excavating a nest-hole on a Norway spruce Picea abies, some 4 metres above the ground. They didn't really bother my presence and allowed very close views: this video is the result.
The mountain forests at this time of year are full of life and the census was carried out with a very pleasant contour of forest birds like singing Cuckoos Cuculus canorus (up to 12!), Willow Tits Poecile montanus, Treecreepers Certhia familiaris, Firecrests Regulus ignicapillus, Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and so on. Surprising was a Hoopoe Upupa epops feeding on the ground on a forest road and a flock of Bee-eaters Merops apiaster on migration (my first this year).
Later in the day I had a quick check of Cerkniško jezero (Cerknica lake) and saw an immature White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla perched on a pole by the lake. Also good was to see many Whinchats Saxicola rubetra holding territories (Cerknica lake is their breeding stronghold in Slovenia), a Wryneck Jynx torquilla in one of the villages and a Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca (a rare breeder of the lake).

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Mt. Nanos & Vipava valley

Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis (male), Mt. Nanos, 3rd May 2016.
Rock Thrush's breeding habitat on Mt. Nanos, 3rd May 2016.
Gentiana verna ssp. tergestina, Mt. Nanos, 3rd May 2016.
Amelanchier ovalis, Mt. Nanos, 3rd May 2016.
Erysimum sylvestre, Mt. Nanos, 3rd May 2016.
Sempervivum tectorum, Mt. Nanos, 3rd May 2016.
Onosma javorkae (O. echioides), Mt. Nanos, 3rd May 2016.
Geranium sanguineum, Mt. Nanos, 3rd May 2016.
Iris illyrica, Mt. Nanos, 3rd May 2016.
Nanos' rocky edge and south-west facing slopes, 3rd May 2016.
View from the edge to the Vipava valley and Karst, 3rd May 2016.
Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla, Vipava valley, 3rd May 2016.
Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor, Vipava valley, 3rd May 2016.
Cows in the Vipava valley (Trnovski gozd in the back), 3rd May 2016.

On Tuesday 3rd May I visited the grassy meadows on the Nanos plateau and the nearby Vipava valley (Vipavska dolina) in western Slovenia. The weather was changeable (as it happens in spring) and unfortunately the overcast sky didn't allow me to take good pictures. The rocky grasslands on Nanos (at about 880 m a.s.l.) are coming back to life after the winter sleep, although the flowering season is quite late compared to the valley. Still a lot of the "early flowers" up there. The most interesting sighting was a male Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius holding territory on the same rocky ridge as a pair of Rock Thrushes Monticola saxatilis. I've never seen the two species together in the same place, although I know it happens in some areas in Slovenia. Blue Rock Thrush usually inhabits the lower (and warmer) cliffs on a mountain, whereas Rock Thrush loves higher-laying rocky ridges and mountain pastures. Nanos is a known breeding area for Rock Thrushes, where I usually find them every spring - see here and here (for better pics!).
Instead of the local pair of Golden Eagles Aquila chrysaetos, I observed two Short-toed Eagles Circaetus gallicus, flying together near Nanos's edge and "hanging" in the wind. Year's first Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus on migration and a Hobby Falco subbuteo performing an insect-hunt were also very welcome sights. Locally breeding birds included a singing Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca, Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, Rock Bunting Emberiza cia, Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis, Woodlark Lullula arborea & Skylark Alauda arvensis, plus Cuckoo Cuculus canorus and Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus in the forest.

Later on the same day I visited some areas in the Vipava valley where I observed a pair of Short-toed Larks Calandrella brachydactyla on their breeding grounds. Although breeding has not been confirmed yet, one or two singing birds in two consecutive years indicate that. In the area there were also singing Crested Larks Galerida cristata and Skylarks Alauda arvensis and song comparison of the 3 larks was easy (I've actually never heard a Short-toed's song before). The territorial birds in the Vipava valley represent the only known (probable) breeding of Short-toed Lark in Slovenia in recent times (breeding reported in the 19th century).
Another species of national importance, living in the Vipava valley, is the Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor. The bird's stronghold in Slovenia (just a few pairs actually) is restricted to a small area of poplar trees in Vipava's rural countryside. I check the site every season and once again I was glad to see the birds returning - observed a nice male, delivering the parrot-like song from trees and posts.
Nearby, perched on a wire, was also a beautiful male Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus (I've seen a few on migration in the past days) and additional atmosphere was provided by singing Corn Buntings Miliaria calandra and Wrynecks Jynx torquilla.