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.