Wednesday 31 August 2016

Three-toed Woodpeckers & bark beetles

On Monday 29th I went looking for Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus in the Trnovo forest (Trnovski gozd). This woodpecker is a conifer specialist, living in mountain forests, usually above 700 meters. The preferred habitat in Slovenia are conifer stands of Norway spruce Picea abies, but also Dinaric forest with beech Fagus sylvatica and silver fir Abies alba (Abieti-Fagetum). These birds, as other specialised woodpeckers, feed mostly on invertebrate's larvae and other insects, found under the bark of dead and/or dying conifer trees.
Following a severe ice storm a few years ago (that broke and weakened a large amount of trees) most of the conifer forests in western Slovenia are now being hit by bark beetle Ips typographus outbreaks. As I have recently experienced, in the majority of conifer and mixed forests, one can now notice a greater presence of ill and dying Norway spruce. In mountain forests, this event favours the presence of Three-toed and other woodpeckers, because of the food abundancy present on the infected trees. On the other hand, this event is seen as a plague by foresters. I therefore expect that most of the ill trees will be cut down soon and the habitat destroyed, as it is usually done in such cases.
For a better understanding of the bark beetle "problem" I strongly recommend watching these two videos about the current situation in the Bialowieza forest (Poland): Three-toed Woodpecker & Spruce power. Similar situations are also present wherever bark beetle outbreaks occur (in Slovenia too) and is difficult to let people know, that such events are actually part of a natural process and as such they bring positive effects to the forest ecosystem. This interesting article from a study in the Bohemian forest is also well recommended.
More pics about the beetle in this post.
Norway spruce Picea abies infected by bark beetles Ips typographus,
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Typical signs (carvings) made by the bark beetle Ips typographus
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

So the other day, while visiting an "infected" part of the forest, I was glad to catch up (a bit by coincidence) with a female Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, doing its favourite job - knocking on a dead spruce in search of food. The woodpecker was on a patch of forest where I've never seen the species before, probably because until not long ago, the conifers were still vital. Sharing the feeding space and exploiting the abundance of food were also two Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major (ad and juv) and a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius. Not far away I also heard a Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus.
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus (female), 
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

Trnovski gozd is mostly known for its beech stands and the other day I also visited a very nice patch of almost untouched forest. There, on the top of some forested hills, beech trees have also been affected by the ice storm and the signs are still visible several years after the event. Many trees have lost the upper parts/branches and remained almost canopy-less. 
Beech stand affected by the ice storm, 
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

Broken trees and branches create a whole variety of natural cavities that animals can exploit for nesting/roosting. Ural Owl Strix uralensis is a classical example of a bird that for nesting needs large natural cavities in trees. In a nice patch of forest I hooted a Ural Owl call and half a minute later, there it was! It sat there on the same branch for something like 20 minutes.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

The forest is now quite lively with all the juveniles of different species, forming flocks and roving around in groups. Moreover there are lots of migrants around (on their way to Africa), like Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, Wood Warblers Phylloscopus sibilatrix and Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus. Of the residents, the most obvious were: Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Willow Tit Poecile montanus, Coal Tit Periparus ater, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus, Treecreeper Certhia familiaris and Nuthatch Sitta europaea.
To round up the trip, an adult Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos put on full view, on the cliffs above Ajdovščina, on the way back home. Below is some other forest wildlife, found along the way. 
Telekia speciosa
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Peacock Butterfly Inachis io on Telekia speciosa
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Droppings of Brown Bear Ursus arctos on a forest road, 
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Epipactis helleborine
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Gentiana asclepiadea
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Impatiens noli-tangere
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.
Sorbus aucuparia
Trnovski gozd, 29th August 2016.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Brown Bear & Golden Jackal on the Karst

Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Slovenian Karst, 16th August 2016.
Golden Jackal Canis aureus (probable), Slovenian Karst, 10th August 2016.
Fox Vulpes vulpes, Slovenian Karst, 6th August 2016.
Badger Meles meles, Slovenian Karst, 17th August 2016.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, Slovenian Karst, 10th August 2016.
Wild Boar Sus scrofa, Slovenian Karst, 13th August 2016.

The trail camera I have positioned on the Slovenian Karst, close to a woodland glade, produced quite interesting results in the last two weeks. Best of all was the apparition of a Brown Bear Ursus arctos and a probable Golden Jackal Canis aureus (the face is not clearly visible, so the ID remains 99% sure). Analysing the bear's pictures, there could be actually two of them (note the shiny eye, under the large bear) - but not yet sure about that. Bears are a regular presence on the Karst, although in small numbers and usually only passing by (especially in autumn). Jackals instead and are now expanding their range from the Balkans and their presence is recorded more regularly in these areas, although they still remain a quite rare species in Slovenia. It was also good to capture a mix of other woodland wildlife like Badger Meles meles, Wild Boar Sus scrofa ect. Hopefully more in the coming weeks!

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Evening with the Bears

Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Snežnik, 15th August 2016.
Comfortable mobile obs for mammal watching - equipped with scope.
Red Deer Cervus elaphus (young female), Snežnik, 15th August 2016.
Red Deer Cervus elaphus (adult female), Snežnik, 15th August 2016.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus (female), Snežnik, 15th August 2016.
Aptly dressed pair of shorts.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to witness some amazing night wildlife action in the remote Dinaric forests. After a leisurely stroll into Snežnik's forests, me and my girlfriend decided to wait for darkness on the edge of a forest glade, where earlier in the afternoon we found some bear's droppings. The glade we chose proved quickly very good as 3 Roe Deers Capreolus capreolus and 1 Fox Vulpes vulpes were already feeding at the site in good afternoon sunlight. When the sun set over the hills and darkness slowly began to fall, a young female Red Deer Cervus elaphus emerged from the forest, followed later by her mother. After some more or less regular apparitions of up to 7 Roe & 2 Red Deers, at 20.30... a BROWN BEAR Ursus arctos appeared in the middle of the glade! It was mid-sized and funnily had a quite light back, resembling a silver-back gorrilla. The light was now quickly fading, so we mostly enjoyed it through binoculars and neglected photography - the light was too weak for proper pics, so we only managed some documentation shots (above). The bear slowly walked to the center of the glade, 170 meters away from us, where it began to forage under a game feeder. After an initial short period of twilight darkness, an almost full moon began to rise in the sky and cast a bright white light over the glade. Therefore the moon gave us the opportunity to witness some amazing night life for a longer time than initially thought. The bear was showing well, so I decided to mount the telescope inside the car (our mobile hide!). Meanwhile also a Wild Boar Sus scrofa payed a visit to the glade, but didn't to approach the bear too much. The bear remained there for one hour and a half, until... two other bears appeared! The newcomers were a giant female followed by her young (this year's or one year old cub). The mother scared off the first bear and took its place at the feeder. However the first bear still remained nearby and could still be observed feeding on the edge of the glade. After two hours and a half of intense bear watching, the three individuals dispersed in different directions; the female even left with an annoyed "bark" (or actually "roar"). Impressive!
The evening was one of the most productive I've ever had in terms of mammals as we also added to the list 3 Beech Martens Martes foina (one carrying a chicken egg!), 1 Brown Hare Lepus europaeus and Dormouse Glis glis. With the above mentioned Bear, Red & Roe Deer, Fox & Wild Boar we reached 8 species in total.
More Bear posts here and here.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Mount Krn - Alpine paradise

I spent the past two days hiking on mount Krn in the Julian Alps and in the nearby mountain range. Below follows a step by step report of the wildlife (with landscapes) encountered along the way. (Similar trip to Krn in this post).
Mount Krn (the left, whitish summit) is 2244 meters high. Here an initial view from the starting point - Planina Kuhinja (991 m).
Cirsium eriophorum & cow - both are very common at altitudes around 1000 m, on the mountain pastures.
Gentiana cruciata is another quite common flower on mountain pastures.
Aconitum angustifolium - an endemic species in the Krn-Bohinj mountain range and a few other localities in western Slovenia. Common and very prominent on Krn where it grows at almost all altitudes, from pastures to the very summit.
Two record shots of an Apollo Parnassius apollo - a rare butterfly found on sunny grassy slopes, where the larvae feed on Sedum album. The adult butterflies like purple and reddish-coloured flowers, hence they are frequently seen on Carduus & Cirsium species. Very mobile and quite restless in sunny weather - thus difficult to photograph.
The way up through some wonderful mountain flower meadows, full of butterflies.
Dianthus monspessulanus (D. hyssopifolius) is very common on the sunny, grassy slopes.
Steep grassy slopes of Krn, looking south-eastwards.
Rdeči rob in the distance. This is a characteristic reddish mountain, sticking out of the predominantly white-coloured limestone. One of the most interesting geological phenomena in the Julian Alps (and Slovenia).
Somewhere half way to the summit.
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus - frequently seen exploiting thermals above Krn's slopes. Saw up to 11 birds together, followed later by two superb Golden Eagles Aquila chrysaetos.
Clouded Apollo Parnassius mnemosyne - another record shot of a rare and restless butterfly.
Campanula scheuchzeri
Mountain meadows with Scabiosa lucida, Cirsium, Rumex, Hypericum and a lot more (Krn's summit visible in the back).
Scorzonera rosea
Scabiosa lucida
The first bunch of Geranium argenteum, one of Krn's most typical flowers. It is very common around the top of the mountain, where grassy meadows give way to rocky terrain.
 Nigritella rhellicani
Saxifraga squarrosa
Getting closer to the top!
Potentilla nitida starts to appear around 2000 m.a.s.l. and above, where the terrain gets rockier.
Mountain hut close to the summit.
View from one of the coolest benches in Slovenia - by Krn's mountain hut, looking down into the valley.
Conquered the summit - on the top of mount Krn!
Views toward mount Triglav (Slovenia's highest peak) and surrounding alpine landscape in the Triglav National Park - Goldhorn's kingdom.
Sunset from Krn's hut - a view over the mountains that border with Italy (Kanin mountain range).
Something completely different is the sunrise at 05.55 from Krn's summit, looking north-east. As usual, Triglav is the most prominent landmark.
Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris is a common bird around Krn's summit - saw different family parties of more that 20 birds. Also a few Alpine Choughs Pyrrhocorax graculus were around.
Even more interesting was the Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis. I didn't really expect it, so I was very glad to see two of them on the summit.
View down to the Soča valley and Krn's mountain pastures (south-west slopes).
Potentilla nitida in full bloom.
Krn's rocky summit.
Phyteuma sieberi is quite common on the northern rocky slopes and screes.
 Saxifraga crustata
Achillea atrata - a counterpart of the commoner A. clavennae.
Krn's north-eastern slopes - a completely different world from the sunny grassy ridges sloping to the south. Here Marmots Marmota marmota are frequently heard alarming.
Cerastium carinthiacum/uniflorum
Mt. Vrh nad Peski & sheep.
Geranium argenteum in its full beauty. Entire sub-alpine grasslands are covered with this beautiful flower which has very characteristic silver-coloured leaves. In Slovenia it is rare and found mostly in the Krn mountain range (southernmost chain of the Julian Alps).
Dianthus sternbergii growing in swathes on rocky screes. 
Screes in the Vrh nad Peski valley.
Armeria alpina is a beautiful flower that gives colour to the white screes.
Papaver alpinum ssp. victoris - endemic poppy of the Krn-Bohinj mountains.
Aquilegia iulia - Slovenian endemic species. Once thought to be A. bertolonii (which is mostly distributed in the Western Alps of Italy) and now regarded as a separate species. It grows on rocky mountain meadows and screes in the southern Julian Alps, part of the Kamnik Alps and in Trnovski gozd (Trnovo forest).
Lužnica lake (Jezero v Lužnici) - one of the three alpine lakes around Krn.
Campanula zoysii - one of the most interesting alpine flowers at all. It is a very old, ice age relict, found in the Julian, Kamnik & Carnic Alps and Karavanke mountains, as well as in the northern edge of Trnovski gozd. Unlike other Campanula species, it has a distinctive conical "bell" with a very narrow opening. Its pollination strategy remains a mystery.
Potentilla clusiana
Aster alpinus
Aconitum angustifolium
The descend reveals Krn's grassy slopes from another prospective.
Quite steep descend on the slopes south-east from mount Krn.
Linum viscosum on the way back, at the edge of a mountain pasture.
Gentiana cruciata - once again down on the grassy plateau of Planina Kuhinja.
A last look at mount Krn from Planina Kuhinja. Goodbye!