Monday 28 October 2019

Veliki Golak with Three-toed Woodpeckers

Last weekend the weather was excellent for a mountain hike, so we decided to visit the Trnovo forest (Trnovski gozd) once again, to walk on the Golaki mountains. A week ago we hiked on Mali Golak (1495 m), while this time it was the turn of Veliki Golak (1480 m), a nearby peak, but much wilder than the first and seldom visited. Actually we were alone for most of the day and didn't meet anyone else on the mountain. The Golaki mountains are typically Dinaric, dominated by exensive beech Fagus sylvatica forests with silver fir Abies alba (Abieti-Fagetum dinaricum), while the very summits are covered by small stands of Mountain Pine Pinus mugo. The forests on the northern slopes have been severely hit by the infamous ice storm from a few years ago. However the area hasn't been "cleaned" from dead and damaged trees as it lies within a forest reserve. Therefore the forest now still hosts large quantities of dead wood and especially standing dead trees. A really excellent habitat for White-backed Dendrocopos leucotos and Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus and certainly worth a visit in the breeding season.
During our walk up we encountered several common forest birds, like Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, as well as small flocks of Rock Buntings Emberiza cia in the most exposed and rockiest areas.

Beech forest damaged by an ice storm with typical grasses species establishing in the clearings.
Rock Buntings seem to like these open forest type of habitats.
Subalpine beech forest in rocky areas around hilltops.
Tinder Fungus Fomes fomentarius
Saprophytic fungus
Hairy Alpenrose Rhododendron hirsutum in buds, already waiting for the spring.
Towards the summit of the Golaki mountains.
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia
The top of Veliki Golak (1480 m) with Mali Golak (1495 m) in the background.
Mountain Pine Pinus mugo
Northern slopes of Golaki.
A look north-east towards the Julian Alps (the highest peak is Triglav).
A look north with mount Krn and Vrh nad Peski in the Julian Alps.
Looking south, mount Snežnik is visible in the distance.

Passerine migration was boosted by the excellent weather conditions (sun and light northeasterly breeze) and a constant passage of small birds was visible above the mountain tops. The commonest were Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs and Brambling Fringilla montifringilla, but Siskin Spinus spinus, Dunnock Prunella modularis, Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Linnet Linaria cannabina, Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis and even a Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus were also observed. The first Redwings Turdus iliacus of the season, feeding on the forest floor cheered us up too. The most interesting encounter during the ascent was a beautiful Red Deer Cervus elaphus stag sporting a large set of antlers - something you don't often come across, as adult males are generally very shy. Indeed we could only watch it for a few seconds as it retreated out from view on a steep slope. Finally in the late afternoon we also found and observed again one of our favourite birds - a Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus. There were both male and female (probably the same pair from last time), although the female proved once again to be more cooperative and allowed us to record a decent video:

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, female.
Spruce trees attacked by bark beetles.
An old forestry house with some serious problems on the roof.
Mount Triglav waving goodbye in the distance.

Monday 21 October 2019

Three-toed Woodpeckers in Trnovski gozd

On Sunday we were again in the forest of Trnovo (Trnovski gozd), walking on the Golaki mountains with some friends. The weather was (once again) rather depressing with heavy clouds, fog and wind. Not ideal for forest birding. And the view from the top of the highest peak in Trnovski gozd, Mali Golak (1495 m) was only down to a few meters! However the wind slowed down in the early afternoon, right at the time when we found ourselves walking in an area of spruce forest "infected" by bark beetles. The mixture between large vital trees, standing dead ones and those ill or dying was apparently irresitible to woodpeckers... and to us of course! The "pecking" on the dry trunks was audible all around. So we went to investigate the source of the nearest sound and soon we were watching a stunning male Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus. His female was nearby, feeding on the same group of trees and somehow cooperated a bit better than the male (video). However both birds were quite mobile in their feeding frenzy and they didn't allow us too close (unlike usually with this species). Confusingly, other woodpeckers were feeding in the same group of trees and making other pecking sounds: two Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus, a male Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius and at least a Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major. After about an hour of watching the Three-toeds, we checked the wider area and found several old nest-holes in some standing dead conifers. The area looked like a woodpecker paradise - we were clearly in our element! Later we realised that the foresters intentionally spared this area from logging (despite a massive presence of bark beetles), because it lies within a forest reserve, where logging is not allowed. Let's hope it will stay so also in the future! Because of intensive logging nowadays forest reserves seem to be the only suitable places to find Three-toed Woodpecker.

Female Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus
Old Three-toed Woodpecker's nesting hole (probably this year's).
Dying Norway Spruces Picea abies affected by bark beetles.
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus

Apart from woodpeckers the forest of Trnovo was generally very quiet, maybe also because of the bad weather. We had the usual mountain forest species like Treecreeper Certhia familiaris, Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Willow Tit Poecile montanus and some migrant Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla. Most of the beech trees in the higher parts of the forest (above 1200 meters) were already leaf-less, whereas some autumn colours were still visible at around 1000 meters and lower down. On the forest floor there were still several species of fungi to enjoy, including some new to us.
Foggy forest.
Some autumn colours, but terrible light.
Tawny Grisette Amanita fulva
Yellowfoot Cantharellus (Craterellus) tubaeformis
Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa
Clouded Agaric Clitocybe nebularis
Stinking Russula Russula foetens
Tree Lungwort Lobaria pulmonaria - an indicator of unpolluted air, common in Slovenian forests.

Saturday 19 October 2019

Autumn wildlife in the Karst

In the last ten days or so we've been regularly around, although mostly in our usual circuit in the Karst. We also had two guided trips at lake Cerknica (Cerkniško jezero) and although the weather was quite a disaster we still managed to see a couple of interesting species. The highlight was a daylight encounter with a Golden Jackal Canis aureus, crossing a main road near Gorenje Jezero in complete daylight. Observations of this recently-arrived species, which has spread naturally into Slovenia from south-eastern Europe, are increasing and its range is expanding fast. Jackals are now quite common in central and especially western Slovenia. We also regularly hear them howling not far from were we live in the Karst. Other interesting observations at lake Cerknica included a juvenile Rook Corvus frugilegus (a rather rare bird in this part of Slovenia), the first Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus of the season, Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus, Peregrine Falco peregrinus, Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, a late Swallow Hirundo rustica and good numbers of late-autumn migrant passerines (thrushes, finches, warblers ect).
Rook Corvus frugilegus, Cerkniško jezero.
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, Cerkniško jezero.
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus, Cerkniško jezero.
Swallow Hirundo rustica, Cerkniško jezero.
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla, Cerkniško jezero.
Jay Garrulus glandarius, Cerkniško jezero.
Buckwheat Fagopyrum esculentum, Cerkniško jezero.
Slovenia's most traditional source of food.
Fir Coral Tooth Fungus Hericium alpestre, Javorniki mountains.

Wallcreepers Tichodroma muraria have probably arrived to most of their wintering sites as after our sighting at Trnovski gozd, we also observed an individual at a traditional site in the Karst. Meanwhile in the forest woodpeckers provide the greatest interest. During our short walks close to home we regularly see or hear Black Dryocopus martius, Grey-headed Picus canus, Middle Spotted Dendrocopos medius and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor, as well as the commoner Green Picus viridis and Great Spotted Dendrocopos major. Some days ago great excitement was also provided by a male Ural Owl Strix uralensis in a forest not far from Sežana, where in the past we regularly observed this species. At least one Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor is also back at its tradtional wintering ground in an extensive farmland area and we are happy to observe it on a regular basis.
Spot the Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius, Karst.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Karst.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor, Karst.
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, Karst.
Flaky Puffball Lycoperdon mammiforme, Karst.
A rare fungus found on calcareous soil.
Russula sp., Karst.
Panther Cap Amanita pantherina, Karst.
Field Mushroom Agaricus campestris, Karst.
Parasol Mushroom Macrolepiota procera, Karst.
Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa - before and after.