Thursday 22 February 2018

Lower course of the river Soča-Isonzo

We don't usually publish posts regarding places outside Slovenia, but this time, giving the lack of other observations, we will do so. Last week we visited the lower course of the river Soča/Isonzo in northeastern Italy, only 12 km from the Slovenian border and some 24 km to the southwest of Gorica. The river Soča originates in the heart of the Julian Alps, in the Trenta valley in northwestern Slovenia. It then flows for the majority of its course through western Slovenia, before finishing its last 43 kilometers in Italy (known there as Isonzo). Near the town of Monfalcone it flows into the Adriatic sea and Gulf of Trieste. The last kilometers of the river and its estuary are protected under the famous Foce dell'Isonzo Nature Reserve (also known as Isola della Cona) - one of Italy's top birding destinations. The lower course in and around the reserve hosts the very few remaining pockets of lowland riparian forests. This is the habitat visited during our last trip.
Our friend and expert ornithologist Paolo Utmar showed us some secret pockets of beautiful riparian forest built up by huge black poplars Populus nigra. Our mission was (once again) to look for woodpeckers. The site hosts breeding Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor that were both heard, plus the occasional Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus. Along the river we observed a pair of Goosanders Mergus merganser and a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (both breeding birds here) plus 6 Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula and a male Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus (winter visitors).
But our main target was to check weather the habitat was also good for Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius. And it clearly was! After a short blast of playback, a Middle Spot flew in and perched on a very tall poplar. The views were enough to confirm it - we were looking at the first Middle Spotted Woodpecker for the Foce dell'Isonzo Nature Reserve! A new addition to the already very long bird list of the area! As we already mentioned in other posts, Middle Spots have been fastly colonising the northeast of Italy in recent months. Giving their increased observations at different sites in the Trieste Karst and in Friuli, we thought well to check the right habitat also along the lower course of the Isonzo. Once again this species surprised us and proved there could be soon a new breeding woodpecker in the forests of northeast Italy.
After our excitement for finding the Middle Spot, we headed to some fields near Grado were a flock of Common Cranes Grus grus was reported some days earlier. To our surprise the birds were still there and were also quite close to a local road, so we could watch them at close quarters, without disturbing them. There were 7 individuals in total: 5 adults and 2 immatures. Cranes are only passage migrants through northeast Italy (and also Slovenia), but sometimes small flocks decide to spend the winter in the farmlands and wetlands of Friuli. But Crane migration has just began, so these might be migrants after all. In the coming weeks, like every year, hundreds of Cranes will migrate through Italy and Slovenia, heading to their breeding quarters in central and northern Europe.

Saturday 17 February 2018


This year we are cooperating with a local tour operator for the organization of some wildlife tours to Slovenia. For spring and summer 2018 there are four tours in program. Anyone interested in taking part to the tours can take a look below for the details and booking.

1. WOW TOUR - Woodpeckers, Owls & Wallcreepers. An early spring birding tour in the Notranjska region, concentrating on some interesting forests species such as Three-toed, Middle Spotted and White-backed Woodpecker, Ural Owl and others. Wintering Wallcreepers will still be possible to observe on the limestone cliffs of the Notranjska and Primorska regions. More info and detailed program at: BOOK SOON - booking open until the end of February.

2. WILD SLOVENIA: Birds, Bears & Botany. A more general wildlife tour that will see us looking for birds in the Notranjska forests, at Cerknica lake, in the dry karstic meadows and at wetlands along the Slovene coast. During our trips we will also pay attention to the interesting and endemic flora of the region and see several species of wild orchids. From specifically-built photography hides we will have the chance to observe Brown Bears in their natural habitat. More info and detailed program at:

3. SPRING TOUR IN THE DINARIC MOUNTAINS. A general wildlife tour to the Notranjska region, looking for birds like Common Rosefinch, Barred Warbler (photo above), Corncrake, White-tailed Eagle and rare plants such as the endemic Carniolan Primrose Primula carniolica. We will visit a vast array of habitats: from wetlands and wet meadows, to mixed forests and dry grasslands. 

4. SUMMER TOUR IN THE ALPS. The focus of this tour will be the varied wildlife that inhabits the Julian Alps. Among birds we will look for Snowfinch, Alpine Chough, Wallcreeper, Rock Partridge and Griffon Vulture. The beautiful alpine flora will be a constant presence during our trips and we will see rare plants like Campanula zoysii (photo above), Potentilla nitida, Physoplexis comosa and many others. Other typical mountain animals like Alpine Marmot, Alpine Ibex, Alpine Chamois and the rare Apollo Butterfly are also expected. 

For more wildlife tours to Slovenia see WILDSLOVENIA - TOURS

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Štajerska in winter

Last week we spent a relaxed couple of days in the Štajerska region of northeastern Slovenia. We visited some of the best wetland sites in the country, trying to see the typical winter visitors of the river Drava's basin. Although this seems to be one of the worst winters in terms of wintering wildfowl numbers and rare birds, we still managed to observe some species that were interesting to us and otherwise uncommon in western Slovenia. To give you an idea about the birding potential of these areas, check the following old posts from this blog: Pannonian migration in April, Pannonia in spring, 5-star birding, Long-tailed Ducks & rare swans, Pallas's Gull.
Lake Ormož was the richest site in terms of numbers and species. 14 Smews Mergellus albellus were the biggest attraction there, but we also found another 3 at the Medvedce reservoir. These hardy northern birds are regular but scarce winter visitors to Slovenia. Most overwinter along the Drava river and at surrounding reservoirs, while small numbers descend to the wetlands of western Slovenia only in the colder winters. At lake Ormož there was also a great concentration of other diving ducks: Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula (several hundreds), Pochards Aythya ferina and Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula (some tens).

Goosanders Mergus merganser also regularly winter on large water bodies such as lakes and reservoirs, while in spring they breed on most of the larger Slovenian rivers. We observed a total of 12 individuals, both at Medvedce reservoir and lake Ormož.
Last but not least among the sawbills was a drake Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator at the Rače fishponds. It is a common winter visitor to the Adriatic coast of western Slovenia and northeast Italy, but a rare species inland.

Lake Ormož was also full of Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmeus - literally hundreds of them roosting on the dead trees sticking out of the lake. Like in many other countries, the species had a huge increase in Slovenia in recent years.

In a village near Maribor we payed a visit to a daytime roost of Long-eared Owls Asio otus and counted 44 birds in the tall pines of a garden. This species is common only in the lowlands of central and eastern Slovenia, thus not a bird we see very often.

Another lowland species, commoner in the east is Stock Dove Columba oenas. We saw several small flocks of this interesting bird, which unlike other doves, uses tree holes for nesting.

Being at Ormož lake, we couldn't skip a visit to DOPPS' brand new nature reserve - Ormoške lagune (the Ormož lagoons). This is a system of disused industrial reservoirs, converted into a nature reserve. In the above reedbed the first breeding of Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus for Slovenia was documented last year. The site is a magnet for breeding & migrant waterbirds and Otters Lutra lutra are also regularly seen. We didn't see much during our visit, but it is certainly a place we will need to revisit!
The artifical lake of Ormož is a water reservoir built on the river Drava. Although it has concrete riverbanks and virtually no vegetation, it is still one of the most important wintering grounds for waterbirds in Slovenia. The Ormož lagoons Nature Reserve were part of the above industrial complex - a sugar factory, now completely disused.

Snowdrops Galanthus nivalis carpeting the forest floor and riverbanks around Ormož.

Here and there also the first crocuses Crocus vernus were in flower.

In a patch of riparian forest at the Ormož lagoons Nature Reserve we also found this interesting fungus, a Scarlet Elf Cup Sarcoscypha austriaca (or S. coccinea).  S. austriaca and S. coccinea seem to be quite difficult (or impossible?) to separate in the field, however, the great majority of finds in Slovenia involve S. austriaca.
Crested Lark Galerida cristata - a common bird in areas of intensive farming.

A smart male Kestrel Falco tinnunculus posing in front of the camera.

The vast agricultural landscape of eastern Slovenia, interspersed with patches of forest, supports a huge Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus population. In winter groups of 30 or more individuals are easy to see.