Tuesday 24 April 2018

Bear-watching & chocolate Ural Owls

Yesterday we were again at work in the Dinaric forests. In the morning we had to check a set of nestboxes for Ural Owl Strix uralensis, while in the afternoon we had a more leisurely time, accompanying some clients at a bear-watching session in the hides (see slovenianbears.com). After about 4 hours of waiting, a beautiful mother Brown Bear Ursus arctos and her cub silently appeared, as if by magic! It was around sunsent and light was fading fast, but we still managed to take a couple of shots and a series of videos. The bears remained in front of the hide for about half an hour, right until a Tawny Owl Strix aluco started to sing, announcing the descend of night.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos - adult female.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos - cub.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos - both adult mum and cub. Funny moment at min 0:27, when a Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus drums overhead and the bear gets slightly scared!

The morning was also very productive. Out of 10 nestboxes checked, one was occupied by a Ural Owl Strix uralensis. As the bird was probably incubating the eggs, we left the area quickly and didn't take any pics. But fortunately we had other Ural Owls to enjoy. We were lucky to observe again the melanistic individual that we already had at the beginning of April (see post), as well as to find a second dark-coloured individual. A local ornithologist told us that 10% of the Ural Owls of this region are melanistic. Moreover we also saw 3 of the commoner, light/grey-coloured individuals. Of the other birds we had Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus, Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes and Peregrine Falco peregrinus.
As usual there was a nice supporting cast of forest flora, among which Scopolia carniolica was the most interesting find (found only at one site). The forest floor by now is literally carpeted by Blue-eyed Mary Omphalodes verna and the leaves of beech Fagus sylvatica have turned to their beautiful light-green colour.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis - melanistic bird (the same featured in this post).
Ural Owl Strix uralensis - grey-morph bird.
Scopolia carniolica
Blue-eyed Mary Omphalodes verna
Morning view on the northern slopes of Mt. Snežnik (1796 m).

In a few days we'll be back to Notranjska for a tour, so hopefully more interesting updates to come. A busy season is about to begin, so expect shorter posts and a greater activity with photos on Facebook. See you soon!

Friday 20 April 2018

Karstic spring immersion

It's that exciting time of year again! When that magic substance called chlorophyll is the absolute dominator and everything turns green again. Over the past week we've been enjoying the spring awakening of wildlife in the Karst, usually quite close to home, in the surroundings of Sežana and Divača. The vegetation season is late this year, approximately 10 days later than usual, but by now, real spring seems to have finally kicked in. The Karst's woodlands are slowly turning to a pleasant light green, while some woodlands closer to the coast have already did so a week ago. In woodlands the time of vernal flowers is almost over, but the spectacle has now moved out in the open, on dry karstic grasslands that are becoming alive with spring colours. The first orchids have appeared and we have already seen Pale-flowered Orchis pallens & Green-winged Orchids Anacamptis morio.
On the bird front there is, as usual, the joy of the first returning summer migrants enliving woodlands and orchards such as Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, Hoopoe Upupa epops, Wryneck Jynx torquilla, Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, Scops Owl Otus scops, Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis, Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Alpine Swift Apus melba ect. Of the more interesting migrants we already observed a male Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus and the first Bee-eaters Merops apiaster of the season. A Black Stork Ciconia nigra and a Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus migrating over Sežana were also noteworthy. Here are some photos...

 Hoopoe Upupa epops - we've seen and heard several birds in a few days, including the one in the lower pic, feeding behind our house (clearly a migrant).

 Cuckoo Cuculus canorus - the woods are finally echoing with their songs. Note the photobombing by a curious Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella in the lower pic.

Beech Fagus sylvatica - fresh green leaves are sprouting in the wetter forests of the Karst.

Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius - this pair is still busy with nest-hole excavation.

Pale-flowered Orchid Orchis pallens in a patch of broadleaved woodland near Divača. This is a rather scarce species in Slovenia, but locally it can grow in denser stands. It is also one of the first spring orchids to emerge.

Wrynecks Jynx torquilla are back in the orchards and vineyards.

Nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos are also back from Africa and their melodious songs (watch the video) can be commonly heard in the Karst's shrubland and warmer broadleaved woodlands.

Sessile Oak Quercus petraea with blossoming Wild Cherries Prunus avium.

Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix - a regular migrant in broadleaved woodlands.

Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus (male) - a passage migrant in small numbers at some grassland areas of the Karst. Their peak migration time in Slovenia is at the end of April and beginning of May, when large flocks gather at such sites as Cerkniško jezero and Ljubljansko barje.

Black Stork Ciconia nigra - soaring over Lipica; a rare passage migrant to the Karst.

Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio - the commonest orchid on dry limestone grasslands.

 Pheasant's-eye Narcissus Narcissus poeticus ssp. radiiflorus - like every year, some meadows are carpeted with them.

Mountain Pasqueflower Pulsatilla montana is a typical early spring species of karstic grasslands. In the photo it is surrounded by Compact Grape-hyacinth Muscari botryoides.

"Trieste's Gentian" Gentiana verna ssp. tergestina - an endemic subspecies inhabiting dry grasslands of western Slovenia, northeastern Italy and northwestern Croatia (named after the city of Trieste).

Tommasini's Cinquefoil Potentilla tommasiniana - another Illyrian-Balkanic endemic, named after M. Tommasini, a 19th century botanist from Trieste. Common species on dry karstic grasslands.

Fritillaria orientalis - increasingly scarce species of dry limestone grasslands in the Karst. 

Globularia Globularia punctata - a common spring flower on dry grasslands.

Bear's Ear Primula auricula - an alpine species growing rarely also in some Karstic dolines (sinkholes) as an ice age relict.

Dalmatian Algyroides Algyroides nigropunctatus - a rather common lizard of limestone habitats along the eastern Adriatic coasts. In Slovenia it reaches the north-westernmost edge of distribution.

Southern Festoon Zerynthia polyxena - this attractive butterfly can be commonly found in some grassland areas of the Karst, where its food plant (Aristolochia sp.) grows. However it can be quite tricky to photograph as it frequently rests in the tall grass.

Orange Tip Anthocharis cardamines

Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi

Green-veined White Pieris napi

Read more about the Karst and its grasslands on our website.

Sunday 8 April 2018

Notranjska - it touches you inside

We are back from an intese week of surveying and scouting in the forests of Notranjska (Inner Carniola, a region of Slovenia), for the purposes of some upcoming wildlife tours. Our base was in Loška dolina and we explored the Dinaric forests of Snežnik, Javorniki, Racna gora and Loški Potok, but also regularly checked Cerkniško jezero (Cerknica lake) and nearby areas. On Javorniki we also carried out a census of Three-toed Woodpecker for DOPPS-BirdLife Slovenia. 
April is a busy season and due to our lack of time, this post will be shorter in words, but richer with photos.

 Ural Owl Strix uralensis (melanistic form).
A quite rare dark morph typical of the southern ssp. macroura (the one inhabiting Slovenia). About 5 to 15% of the Slovenian Ural Owl population are dark-coloured individuals such as the one above, seen on two different occasions in the forests of Loški Potok. We observed it hunting in daylight, while it even caught a mouse in front of our eyes! VIDEO (watch HD).

Ural Owl Strix uralensis (light morph).
We observed/heard up to 6 of these, both in the forests of Loški Potok & Racna gora and in the Javorniki mountains. The species reaches very high population densities in this region.

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus.
4 birds (2 m & 2 f) were found during a census for DOPPS-BirdLife Slovenia in the Javorniki mountains, while another 3 drumming females were observed in the Snežnik forests and on Racna gora.

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus.
Male drumming on a broken beech tree in the Javorniki mountains (chainsaw in the background).

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius.
More commonly heard than seen in the vast Dinaric forests. We had up to 2-3 a day, as well as several Grey-headed Woodpeckers Picus canus on a daily basis.

Dinaric forests of beech and silver fir (Abieti-Fagetum) - Black & Three-toed Woodpecker habitat.

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena.
Performing an amazing courtship display on lake Cerknica (the specie's only breeding site in Slovenia).

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla.
Soaring above lake Cerknica and scaring off the wildfowl (including Pintails Anas acuta - see pic).

 Common Crane Grus grus.
A flock of 2 adults and 4 juveniles resting in the flooded fields of Planinsko polje.

Hoopoe Upupa epops.
 Feeding by a gravel road at lake Cerknica.

White Stork Ciconia ciconia.
 Up to 4 occupied nests in the areas between Cerkniško jezero and Planina, including the characteristic nest in a tree (lower pic).

Swallow Hirundo rustica.
Now finally common in villages and towns, along with House Martins Delichon urbica and Swifts Apus apus. The forests are also echoing with the songs of the first returning Cuckoos Cuculus canorus. 
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea.
A nest from the noisy colony in Loška dolina.

Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
A common breeding bird at Cerkniško jezero and Loška dolina.

Scopolia carniolica.
We found this interesting and very typical plant for Slovenia at just one site in the forests of Notranjska, where it is not as common as in Kočevska and other regions.

Blue-eyed Mary Omphalodes verna
One of the most characteristic flowers of Slovenian Dinaric forests.

Hacquetia epipactis.

Toothwort Lathraea squamaria.

Hollowroot Birthwort Corydalis cava.

Alternate-leaved Golden-saxifrage Chrysosplenium alternifolium & Ramsons Allium ursinum.

Mezereon Daphne mezereum.

Snake's-head Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris.
An endangered and very rare plant in Slovenia, found only in a couple of wet meadows and riparian forests. The above pic isn't from Notranjska, but from one of its classical locations at Ljubljansko barje (near Ljubljana). We visited the site on the 2nd of April and vast numbers were in bloom.