Thursday 30 June 2016

Mountain meadows on Nanos

Lilium carniolicum, Nanos, 28th June 2016. Quite frequent species on the sunny, grassy slopes of mount Nanos, but still, always a thrill to see. This species got its name from Carniola (historical region of Slovenia) and is also present in other parts of the country, usually favouring sunny, open areas on a higher elevation.
Lush meadows on Nanos plateau, 28th June 2016. With Filipendula vulgaris, Gladiolus illyricus, Cirsium pannonicum, Rhinanthus sp. ect. A real spectacle with tens of different colorful species.
Gladiolus illyricus, Nanos, 28th June 2016. Common on Nanos where it can form nice pink "carpets" in the late-spring grass.
Satyrium spini, Nanos, 28th June 2016.
Astragalus carniolicus, Nanos, 28th June 2016. Nanos is the locus typicus of this species that is quite frequent among limestone rocks.
Rocky ridge near Nanos' top and forested hills separating the Karst from the Vipava valley, 28th June 2016.
Genista sericea, Nanos, 28th June 2016. In full bloom now on the most sunny rocky spots on Nanos (especially around the summit). Can form large yellow cushions, visible at a long distance.
Steep grassy slope close to the summit, Nanos, 28th June 2016. A quite hostile, wind-swept environment, but still, full of interesting forms of life. Lilium carniolicum here is very common and Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis breeds among the rocks.
Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra, Nanos, 28th June 2016. Three young individuals in summer coat. Chamois is frequently seen resting on the limestone screes or sometimes grazing the lush green meadows on the plateau.
Rosa sp., Nanos, 28th June 2016.
Sempervivum tectorum (rosette - leaves), Nanos, 28th June 2016. Common species of houseleek, found throughout Slovenia; on the karstic limestones can be really abundant.
Traunsteinera globosa, Nanos, 28th June 2016. Quite frequent species on mountain meadows, along with the very common Gymnadenia conopsea.
Iris sibirica ssp. erirrhiza, Nanos, 28th June 2016. Unlike the nominate subspecies sibirica, which is found in wet, lowland areas, the endemic ssp. erirrhiza (or "Kojnik's Iris") is a plant of dry grasslands. It grows commonly on Nanos, Banjščice & Snežnik plateaus and Čičarija - where on mount Kojnik has its locus typicus.
Allium victorialis, Nanos, 28th June 2016. Scarce montane species that blooms later than Allium ursinum and is usually commoner in the Alps.
Coenonympha arcania, Nanos, 28th June 2016. Very common butterfly these days. Some brambles (Rubus sp.) had tens of specimen resting on the leaves.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus (two males), Nanos, 28th June 2016.
Coenonympha oedippus, Karst near Trieste, 29th June 2016. My friend Paul Tout showed me this one, close to his garden, on the Karst. On a small clearing in scrubby habitat, a few specimen emerge every season, at this time of year. C. oedippus is usually found on wet meadows and bogs, but a population on the Karst (in Slovenia, Italy and Croatia) inhabits dry grassland areas. The above specimen thus belongs to the "dry grassland ecological type". It is a rare species in Slovenia and overall declining in Europe, due to habitat loss. Also Natura 2000 species.

The other day I spent the afternoon on the beautiful grassy slopes of mount Nanos and waited the sunset on a rock. In the evening I was quite surprised to hear a Corncrake Crex crex singing a couple of times. The habitat up there looks good for them, but as far as I know, no breeding population is present. It may happen that from time to time one or two males stop on migration and hold "empty territories" for a season. Also around in the evening were several singing Nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Rollers in Croatia

Roller Coracias garrulus, Mirna valley, Croatia, 21st June 2016.
Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala, Mirna valley, Croatia, 21st June 2016.
Hoopoe Upupa epops, Mirna valley, Croatia, 21st June 2016.
Bee-eater Merops apiaster, Mirna valley, Croatia, 21st June 2016.

A few days ago I visited a location in nearby Croatia for some "colourful" mediterranean birding. The Mirna river valley in Istria (70 km from Trieste) is an excellent location for some rare breeding birds which can be usually found more abundantly southern down in the Mediterranean region. One of them is the Roller Coracias garrulus. In the past it used to breed in Slovenia as well, but it's now mostly extinct. One or two pairs still breed irregularly from time to time, in the extreme north-east of the country, on the border with Austria (Pannonian population). The Mirna valley hosts (at least) a pair of this gorgeous bird, so there I went. The pair can be watched at a safety distance from a local road. The nest is located high up in an old woodpecker hole on some dead poplars. Male and female were regularly perched on dead branches by the nest-hole and on other outposts, looking for insects.
The valley is also known for its Black-headed Buntings Emberiza melanocephala which breed in the overgrown banks of the river itself and in the nearby fields. This location represents the north-western edge of the species' world distribution. During my visit I had at least 3 different singing males. Of the other colorful birds there were also breeding Bee-eaters Merops apiaster in the riverbanks and several Hoopoes Upupa epops along the road. An additional touch of Mediterranean was provided by some colonies of up to 30 Spanish Sparrows Passer hispaniolensis, nesting in the old farm houses.

Monday 20 June 2016

Ural Owls & rare plants

Recently I've been following a pair of Ural Owls Strix uralensis in central Slovenia for work. The pair was nesting in a study nest-box in a forest of beech and fir (Abieti-Fagetum dinaricum aka Omphalodo-Fagetum). The two chicks have left the nest a few days ago and now they mostly perch on mid-height branches of beech trees, where they wait to be fed by adults. This happens mostly at night and a few times in the early morning as well. Sitting calmly under a tree and waiting patiently, one can observe the two adult birds (especially the female) quite well and close-by.
Ural Owl is a widespread bird in the forests of Slovenia, especially in the south of the country. The extensive forests of the Snežnik plateau and Kočevje, together with Trnovski gozd (Trnovo forest) are the areas that host the largest populations in the country. Other smaller populations are scattered around central and western Slovenia as well and reach as far north as the Alps. North-eastwards there are a few isolated populations even in the lowland Pannonian region of the country. This owl inhabits mostly mountain forests of beech Fagus sylvatica & silver fir Abies alba, although the lowland populations are known to inhabit oak-hornbeam stands (Quercus sp., Carpinus betulus). 
Its main prey, the Edible Dormouse Glis glis, is directly linked to the beech forests as it is greatly dependent on beech mast availability. In years when beech forests produce a lot of mast, dormice thrive and so do the owls. But in some years, the production of mast can be so low that Ural Owls don't breed at all, because of the lack of food (rodents in general). Thus the numbers of Ural Owls fluctuate from year to year, depending on their ecological cycle. At the moment the Slovenian population is recovering after a catastrophic season we had a few years ago.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis (female), central Slovenia, 17th June 2016.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis (male), central Slovenia, 17th June 2016.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis (1st chick), central Slovenia, 17th June 2016.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis (2nd chick), central Slovenia, 17th June 2016.

Other then on the owls, of course I've been also keeping an eye on the ground. The main addition to my "botany curriculum" was the beautiful Cephalanthera rubra, which I've never seen before and I've found in an area south of Ljubljana. The other two species of Cephalanthera (the white-flowered longifolia and damasonium) are common in Slovenia and frequently encountered in forests from late April to June. But the third representative of the genus is scarcer and absent from the areas I usually "work". So I needed extra efforts to find one (actually found at least 6 specimen). Below some images of this nice flower and a few other forest plants.
Cephalanthera rubra, Brezovica pri Borovnici, 17th June 2016.
Veratrum album, Rakitna plateau, 18th June 2016.
Lilium martagon, Rakitna plateau, 17th June 2016.
Lobaria pulmonaria on Acer pseudoplatanus, Snežnik plateau, 15th June 2016.
Iris graminea, Rakitna plateau, 17th June 2016.
Platanthera chlorantha, Rakitna plateau, 17th June 2016.

During my work I've been also checking Cerkniško jezero (Cerknica lake) quite frequently and enjoying its wet meadows full of flowers and birds. Worth to mention are: a singing Spotted Crake Porzana porzana (rare breeder at the lake), a male Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus, 2 Common Rosefinches Carpodacus erythrinus, 1 Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria, several Hobbies Falco subbuteo, Corncrake Crex crex (commonly heard; 2 seen), Quail Coturnix coturnix and 14 Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis (rare bird in Slovenia).
Yesterday I went to Bloška planota as well (some 20 min from the lake) and was very glad to find the tiny carnivorous Drosera anglica, among other interesting plants of bog habitat.
In general the wet meadows are now still full of colorful (and rare) plant species that I already featured in the previous post; below is just a quick selection of the latest.
Drosera anglica, Bloška planota, 19th June 2016. Note the mosquitoes caught on the leaves' sticky hairs (last pic). These plants use insects and other invertebrates to supplement the poor mineral nutrition of the boggy soil in which they grow.
Eriophorum angustifolium/latifolium, Bloška planota, 19th June 2016.
Epipactis palustris, Cerkniško jezero, 19th June 2016. Scarce orchid of wet meadows; just one single flower was already in bloom (most start to do so in July).
Iris sibirica, Cerkniško jezero, 19th June 2016.
Digitalis grandiflora, Cerkniško jezero, 18th June 2016.
A view on part of the Cerknica lake from the watchpoint near Dolenja vas, 18th June 2016.
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio (male), Planinsko polje, 19th June 2016.
Anacamptis pyramidalis, Divača, 15th June 2016. A common orchid on meadows around Slovenia at this time of year.
Stipa eriocaulis, Divača, 15th June 2016. Karst's most characteristic grass - in its full beauty now over dry stony grasslands.