Thursday 26 July 2018

Summer appointment with the Queen

Queen of the Alps - Alpine Eryngo Eryngium alpinum

Hairy Alpenrose Rhododendron hirsutum

White Adder's-mouth Malaxis monophyllos

Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra

Yellow-spotted Ringlet Erebia manto

Purple Emperor Apatura iris

Like every summer in recent years, also this time we made our traditional ascent to one of the very few mountains in Slovenia that is still home to the iconic Queen of the Alps or Alpine Eryngo Eryngium alpinum. This attractive plant was a once-widespread species on the mountain pastures of the Slovenian Alps (and elsewhere in the Alpine range), but was almost extirpated by intensive collecting. Nowadays the species is strictly protected, but it has become so rare that it can be only found on a few, quite inaccessible mountain slopes of the southern Julian Alps. Most of its strongholds (with the biggest stands containing up to 1000 plants) are found in the mountains south of Bohinj. Mount Črna prst (1844 m) is one of them and it has become a place we visit on a yearly basis, not only for its Queens, but also for the other alpine flora it hosts. A few days ago we visited the same place as last year (see this post) and found the Queens in an even better stage of bloom. However we noticed that there were far less specimen than the +800 we had last year and estimated no more than 200. But the season is still a bit early for the species as it is just starting to bloom and other specimen might be lurking in the shade of the tall undergrowth. For similar posts on the species, take a look at these posts from previous years: 2015, 2017, 2017.
Apart from a colourful multitude of alpine plants we also spotted a single White Adder's-mouth Malaxis monophyllos, a rare orchid found mostly in the wet mountainous regions of northern Slovenia. On the animal front we observed a juvenile Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, an Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra, heard a Marmot Marmota marmota and almost trod on two adult Adders Vipera berus on the path! Among butterflies the most interesting finds included a single Purple Emperor Apatura iris and several Yellow-spotted Ringlets Erebia manto.

Saturday 21 July 2018

The search for the Apollo

The Apollo Parnassius apollo is certainly one of the most beautiful butterflies in Europe, but sadly also a fast-declining one. Due to its beauty, it has always been a highly-prized species among collectors. However the main reason of the species' decline remains, as for many other species, habitat loss. Apollos live in warm and dry rocky grasslands, usually on mountain slopes. The habitat must contain a particular element - the presence of White Stonecrop Sedum album - the larval feeding plant. The abandonment of grazing in many areas throughout the Slovenian mountains has led to the overgrowing of grasslands and areas where the feeding plant grows. Thus, a once-widespread species all over the Slovenian Alps, the Apollo went extinct in many areas and today it can be found only in western Slovenia. Its main strongholds remain on the steep south-facing mountains above the Soča valley in NW Slovenia and on the southern edge of the Trnovo forest (Trnovski gozd). The latter is a disjuncted location from the rest of its Alpine range and is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and consequently local extinction.
In the past years we had several encounters with the Apollo in the Julian Alps, but since then, we always wanted to see them closer to home, in the meadows of Trnovski gozd. A few days ago we set for a trip to the forest's southern edge, where rocky grasslands are alive with butterflies and colourful mountain flowers.
After a quite productive morning with lots of interesting butterflies, we finally stumbled into the first patch of White Stonecrop Sedum album. A few more steps along the limestone karstic edge and we were soon greeted by no less than three Apollos, dancing in the soft summer wind and occasionally perching to feed...
The adult's favourite feeding plants are different purple and pink-coloured Compositae, especially thistles Carduus sp. and plume thistles Cirsium sp., but also scabious Scabiosa sp. Our Apollos were most frequently feeding on Alpine Thistle Carduus defloratus. They were showing amazingly well and with a bit of patience we could have them feeding at a few centimeters away from our cameras. This also allowed to take the above short video. On their rocky slope, where the stonecrop abunded, we counted at least 7 specimen!
Making company to the Apollo (sometimes feeding on the same flower) were also a few Styrian Ringlets Erebia stirius. These interesting butterflies are widespread in the Slovenian Alps, but only found at a few sites outside of the alpine chain. One of these sites is the southern edge of Trnovski gozd and mount Nanos, where they inhabit rocky slopes, screes and limestone cliffs. The specimen in the lower picture above is feeding on this year's first flowering Liburnian Savory Satureja subspicata ssp. liburnica (an autumnal species).
The dry rocky grasslands at the edge of Trnovski gozd are extremely rich in plant & butterfly species. The meadows are completely covered in flowers from the end of April to the beginning of September and many species seem to be constantly in flower throughout the summer.
In the rockier places White Stonecrop Sedum album and other species of the same genus are accompanied by the succulent rosettes of Common Houseleek Sempervivum tectorum
Here and there, in the mountain meadows of Trnovski gozd one can still find some Edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum adorning the rocks. This species is one of the several alpine ones found in Trnovski gozd, outside their usual alpine distribution range (ice age relicts). Edelweiss was commoner in the past in Trnovski gozd, but due to uncontrolled collecting and habitat loss (overgrowing meadows), it has become quite rare and localised. It is thus, always a pleasure to find some nice bunches like the above, in hidden places, off the usual mountaineering tracks.
The meadows are also full of two species of pink, the more attractive being the fringed Montpellier's Pink Dianthus monspessulanus (or D. hyssopifolius), which resembles the high-altitude, alpine Sternberg's Pink Dianthus sternbergii (not found outside the Alps). The other abundant pink on dry karstic meadows is the Trieste's Pink Dianthus tergestinus (or D. sylvestris ssp. tergestinus) which sports a deep-pink colour of the petals.
Two beautiful bellflowers include the very common Clustered Bellflower Campanula glomerata (top pic) and the more attractive and rare Spiked Bellflower Campanula spicata (lower pic). The latter grows on steep rocky slopes and limestone cliffs. In Slovenia it is more of a mountain species.
In the Trnovo forest itself, butterflies are especially attracted to the flowers on forest glades or along roads. The above Peacock Aglais io was feeding on Heartleaf Oxeye Telekia speciosa, a common forest Compositae in the Dinaric mountains.
The above High Brown Fritillary Argynnis adippe was instead attracted to a Cabbage Thistle Cirsium oleraceum growing at the side of the forest road.
Perhaps the most surprising find of the day was the above Nettle-tree Butterfly Libythea celtis, that visited some puddles in a forest glade. This south European species is most at home in warm Mediterranean places, where its larval plant, Nettle Tree Celtis australis grows. In Slovenia it is common in the sub-Mediterranean west of the country and probably some individuals venture into the Trnovo forest from the warm Vipava valley.
Last but not least, while checking some wood piles at the side of the road, we found several Beech Longhorn Beetles Morimus funereus, including a very dark individual. In summer we regularly check all the fresh beech logs we see, in the hope of finding the rare Rosalia Longicorn Rosalia alpina. We really hope that we'll be able to show you this amazing species in one of the next posts!

Learn more about butterflies on our website:
Butterflies of Slovenia

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Holidays in Wild Dalmatia

On this blog we don't normally post material from outside Slovenia, but this time we'll make an exception, due to the extremely interesting content of the post. Summer is holiday time, so even at WildSlovenia we sometimes take a "private break" and wander away on a longer trip. This time we visited the central Dalmatian coast in Croatia on a "sea & wildlife trip". Thus we enjoyed the clean and beautiful Croatian sea, as well as some local bird specialities & other wildlife typical of the region. The areas we visited included: the Lake Vrana Nature Park (south of Zadar), the Paklenica National Park (near Starigrad Paklenica), the island of Pag, the Velebit mountains and several other sites in between and on the way home. As usual, below is a selection of photos arranged in a more or less "habitat order", showing both the wildlife and the landscape. Being a truly summer trip, we also enjoyed in snorkeling (on a daily basis) and took some underwater photos with a GoPro. The Adriatic sea is not as rich as the tropics, but still, with a bit of perseverance, one can find some amazing wildlife here too. You'll find some fish photos at the end of the post. Enjoy!
The Velebit mountains dropping down by the Adriatic sea, in the Paklenica National Park. The rocky scrubland is the habitat of an interesting array of birds.

Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer, Paklenica National Park. 
A common inhabitant of rocky areas; we saw/heard up to 10 in a morning.

Sombre Tit Poecile lugubris, Paklenica National Park. 
A quite scarce bird in scrubby areas with oaks on rocky slopes.
We struggled a bit with this species, but at the end we observed a family of 3 individuals.

Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca, Paklenica National Park. 
A common species in rocky habitats; at dawn one day we observed a flock of about 8-10, including two juveniles.

Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia crassirostris, Paklenica National Park. 
Another relatively common species in scrubland areas on stony slopes. We had at least 5 individuals one morning, including 3 singing males.

The Hermit Chazara briseis, Paklenica National Park.
An interesting butterfly of dry rocky habitats in southern Europe. The above individual is feeding on Cephalaria leucantha - an abundant plant in Dalmatia.

Southern Comma Polygonia egea, Paklenica National Park. 

Limestone mountains in the Paklenica National Park. 

Wall Brown Lasiommata megera & corroded limestone, Paklenica National Park. 

Waldstein's Bellflower Campanula waldsteiniana, Paklenica National Park. 
An endemic species of rocky cracks in the southern Velebit mountains.

Adriatic Bellflower Campanula fenestrellata, Paklenica National Park. 
Another endemic species of central and southern Velebit mountains, commonly found in the Velika and Mala Paklenica canyons.

Pyramidal Bellflower Campanula pyramidalis, Paklenica National Park. 
A very common species all along the Adriatic coast of Croatia, but also in Slovenia and NE Italy.

Savory Satureja subspicata, Paklenica National Park. 

Southern Globethistle Echinops ritro, Paklenica National Park. 

Amethyst Eryngo Eryngium amethystinum, Paklenica National Park. 
Like in the dry grasslands of the Karst in Slovenia, this species is very abundant all over the limestone Croatian coast & mountains.

Edraianthus tenuifolius, Velebit mountains near Senj. 
A Balkan endemic species of dry grasslands and rocky areas.

The Velebit mountains, Paklenica National Park. 

Hoopoe Upupa epops, Paklenica National Park. 

View from Paklenica National Park to the Adriatic sea and the large stony island of Pag.

Dry rocky grasslands on the island of Pag. Another habitat for a whole variety of species.

Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus, island of Pag. 
The species is very common in certain areas of the island. We saw the above bird, hiding among rocks (can you see it?) and heard several other birds calling repeatedly, especially at dusk.

Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca, island of Pag. 
Also here this species is very common and can be seen quite easily, especially around dusk and dawn. We saw at least 5 (and heard some more) one evening.

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, island of Pag. 
A common bird of dry grasslands.

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus, island of Pag. 
The rocky grasslands are a paradise for reptiles and obviously for their hunters as well.

Yellow Star-thistle Centaurea solstitialis, island of Pag. 

Field Eryngo Eryngium campestre, island of Pag. 
Common on Pag as it is the Amethyst Eryngo elsewhere.

Drypis spinosa, island of Pag. 

Common Golden Thistle Scolymus hispanicus, island of Pag. 

Crested Lark Galerida cristata, island of Pag. 
A very common species of rocky grasslands. In the same habitat on Pag, Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra & Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla are also found in smaller numbers.

Velo Blato - a large freshwater lake on the island of Pag, where lots of birds gather, especially during migration. Here we saw among others: Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus, Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus and Purple Heron Ardea purpurea.

Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus & Night Heron Nyctocorax nycticorax, Velo Blato (island of Pag). 
There was a flock of 17 Glossy Ibises on the lake.

Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus, island of Pag. 
A common breeding species in rough grasslands and fields, both on Pag and on the coast. The most numerous raptor we saw during the trip!

Black Pennant Selysiothemis nigra, island of Pag. 
A rare dragonfly confined to some Mediterranean wetlands. Pag is a known site for the species, although we also found one at lake Vrana, on the coast. 

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator, island of Pag. 
We saw this species on several occasions, both on Pag and on the mainland, in cultivated areas.

Little Owl Athene noctua, island of Pag. 
Common on the island, especially in the shepherds' old buildings and along dry stone walls.

Hermann's Tortoise Testudo hermanni, mainland near the island of Pag. 
We helped this tortoise cross a busy road, after we almost run over it. Quite a moment as this was a lifer for us! This species is one of the few native European tortoises. It lives in southern Europe, inhabiting dry bushy areas and meadows. 

Lake Vrana and the limestone hills above Vrana village.

Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus, lake Vrana. 
The lake is home to Croatia's largest breeding population of this south-east European species.

Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis, lake Vrana. 
A very common bird around lake Vrana and in the surrounding framlands. In the evenings we watched huge flocks (500-1000 or more) gather in the lake's reedbeds to roost.

Bee-eater Merops apiaster, lake Vrana. 
Another common bird in open areas, usually seen perched on wires.

Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur, lake Vrana. 
This colourful dove is one of the commonest species of bird encountered in Dalmatia. It is frequently seen as an urban bird too.

Tree Grayling Neohipparchia statilinus, lake Vrana.

Southern Gatekeeper Pyronia cecilia, lake Vrana.

Queen of Spain Fritillary Issoria lathonia, lake Vrana.

Great Capricorn Beetle Cerambyx cerdo, Paklenica National Park.

Turkish Gecko Hemidactylus turcicus, Pakoštane.

Snorkeling in the Adriatic sea...

Greater Weever Trachinus draco, Pakoštane. 
This species was frequently seen during our dives in different areas along the Dalmatian coast. It is principally known by being one of the most venomous fish in the Mediterranean 
(strong venom in its dorsal spines). It is a bottom-dwelling species that usually buries itself into the sand.

Red-black Triplefin Tripterygion tripteronotum, island of Pag.

Peacock Blenny Salaria pavo, island of Pag.

Red Mullet Mullus surmuletus, Pakoštane.

Black Goby Gobius niger, Pakoštane.

Goldline Sarpa salpa, Annular Seabream Diplodus annularis, East Atlantic Peacock Wrasse Symphodus tinca, Ocellated Wrasse Symphodus ocellatus, Pakoštane.

White Seabream Diplodus sargus (left) & Painted Comber Serranus scriba (right), Pakoštane.

Mediterranean Rainbow Wrasse Coris julis, Starigrad.

Spiral Tube-worm Sabella spallanzanii, Pakoštane.

Sunset over the Velebit mountains & the Adriatic sea.