Sunday 30 August 2020

Autumn has BEARly started

After the relatively slow and regular summer tempo, with weekend hikes to the Alps, regular dives into the sea and mostly work from the office, by the end of August our attention shifts back to our favourite region - the Dinaric mountains. Somehow this is the time when we have already made the most of "seasonal wildlife" (butterflies, insects and plants) and we get attracted again to the mighty forests and their inhabitants. In the past week we had a fantastic couple of days/sessions spent between mount Snežnik and lake Cerknica, enjoying the area's special wildlife. All started very well with a productive afternoon-evening session at a forest glade on the Snežnik plateau. Even before arriving to the place where we'd wait dusk and watch for mammals, we were lucky to spot a young Brown Bear Ursus arctos along a forest road. As is the case with young individuals, the bear was a bit curious and allowed us some good views, before calmly walking away into the vegetation.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos & our friend Matthew, Mt. Snežnik.

After enjoying the young bear for a couple of minutes, it was time to scan a large forest glade and wait for dusk. Already present were a couple of Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, including a handsome male with beautiful antlers. As the sun set over the hills and twilight began to descend we were treated to the beautiful sight of a Ural Owl Strix uralensis gliding out of the forest and hunting on the meadows. It remained in view for a couple of minutes, during which we also saw it catching and eating a rodent. At twilight a blanket of mist began to rise over the ground and right then a Brown Bear emerged from the forest, making only a brief appearance. Light was very poor and this time we could only make out the general silhouette and size of the animal. Later the first Edible Dormice Glis glis began to scream in the trees overhead and a Tawny Owl Strix aluco called from the distance. When we were driving back home we also spotted other mammals along the road: Red Deer Cervus elaphus, Fox Vulpes vulpes and Eastern Hedgehog Erinaceus concolor.

Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, Mt. Snežnik.
Misty glade in the Snežnik forests.


A couple of days later we decided to do some "wild canoeing" and headed to lake Cerknica. This karstic (intermittent) lake should be mostly dry in summer, but this year the frequent rainfalls have kept it quite full. Now, in times of migration, the shallow waters of the lake provide habitat for migrating waders. While canoeing we managed to approach a nice adult Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, feeding on the muddy shore of the lake. This is a regular migrant through Slovenia, although usually in small numbers and only locally at the largest wetlands, therefore it was a good find for us. From the canoe we also had an amazing view over the sky and looked hard to spot a White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, however only Hobby Falco subbuteo, Goshawk Accipiter gentilis and other commoner raptors were showing. Among other birds seen/heard from the canoe were Kingfisher Alcedo atthis, Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava, Greenshank Tringa nebularia, White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Willow Tit Poecile montanus and Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus. Despite the partly cloudy skies, the temperature was quite hot, so at the end we decided to take a swim into the lake. It was well worth it!

Canoeing on lake Cerknica.
Amphibious Bistort Polygonum amphibium (Persicaria amphibia), lake Cerknica.
Marsh Gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe, lake Cerknica.
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula from the canoe, lake Cerknica.
Suhadolca cave on the lake's NW shore.
The compulsory stop at Suhadolca cave.
Wild swimming in the lake.


In the early afternoon it was time to take a look at the new educational trail Drvošec, recently inaugurated by the Notranjska Regional Park (Notranjski Regijski Park). This trail lies on the lake's western shores and includes several excellent watching platforms with nice views over the lake, as well as info boards and "totems" describing the local fauna & flora. It runs through mixed Dinaric forest, mostly on flat terrain and is easily accessible from the village of Dolenje Jezero. Other tourist infrastructure is being developed within the Regional Park, so the area should be even more visitor-friendly in the future. For more, follow the Park's website & FB page. We took advantage of the beautiful Kuharca and Klejni vrh observation points to take a look over the lake's floodplain. The central part of the lake was quite dry and farmers were busy cutting the reeds, however we managed to spot two Black Storks Ciconia nigra resting in the middle of the lake, in the company of at least 75 Great Egrets Ardea alba. Also interesting were two juvenile Montagu's Harriers Circus pygargus and several Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus that have decided to stop on the lake during their southward migration. In the forest we heard Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus and Raven Corvus corax.

Kuharca observation point, lake Cerknica.
Klejni vrh observation point, lake Cerknica.
Views over the central part of the Cerknica lake's floodplain.
Great Egret Ardea alba, lake Cerknica.
Vast wet meadows on the central and southern part of lake Cerknica.

On the Drvošec educational trail special attention is given to the typical animals of the forest...
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos
Edible Dormouse Glis glis

Brown Bear Ursus arctos

Brown Bear's droppings in the Javorniki-Snežnik forests.

And who others than the Brown Bear could've been the main protagonist of our evening adventure in the forest? Late in the afternoon we headed up to the Javorniki-Snežnik mountains, not far from lake Cerknica, to try again our luck with some casual bear encounters. On the forest road we found some fresh bear's droppings and minutes later were quietly positioned near a forest glade, waiting for some mammal movement. The wait can sometimes last long and bears don't emerge until it's pretty dark, however this time we were extremely lucky. After about 10 minutes from our arrival, a mother Brown Bear with two little cubs appeared at the edge of the glade. The light was still good so we had excellent (although distant) views. The family remained around the glade until darkness fell and we could enjoy them for one hour and a half! When it became too dark to see anything, the dormice's calls started to echo through the forest and it was time to head home.

Brown Bear Ursus arctos (female with cubs), Javorniki-Snežnik forests.

In the previous weeks we also visited Trnovski gozd (Trnovo forest, in the NW part of the Dinaric mountains) and mount Sveta Trojica near Pivka. It was mostly sightseeing and we didn't see much wildlife, apart from some typical late summer plants of the Dinaric forests, like the impressive Heartleaf Oxeye Telekia speciosa and the very common Willow Gentian Gentiana asclepiadea. On Sveta Trojica Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria was extremely common on the flowers along the forest road with several dozen individuals seen. On a beech log we also found a very dark Beech Longhorn Beetle Morimus funereus, probably the last one this season.

Heartleaf Oxeye Telekia speciosa, Trnovski gozd.

Willow Gentian Gentiana asclepiadea, Trnovski gozd.
Campanula cespitosa, Trnovski gozd.
Wooly Thistle Cirsium eriophorum, Trnovski gozd.
Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria, Sveta Trojica.
Beech Longhorn Beetle Morimus funereus, Sveta Trojica.
Endless forests from mount Sveta Trojica to Snežnik.
Great Yellow Gentian Gentiana lutea, Sveta Trojica.
The view east from Sveta Trojica to the Javorniki mountains.
A look NW from Sveta Trojica and the dry grasslands of Poček near Postojna.
Selfie with Paul on Sveta Trojica.

Wednesday 26 August 2020

The start of autumn migration

Osprey Pandion haliaetus, Škocjanski zatok NR.
Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria, Škocjanski zatok NR.
Knot Calidris canutus, Škocjanski zatok NR.
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, Škocjanski zatok NR.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis on podolic cattle, Škocjanski zatok NR.
Freshwater turtle census at Škocjanski zatok NR.

Another short post just to keep up with the advancing autumn season and migration. Routine work at Škocjanski zatok NR as well as Strunjan was the main source of birding recently. Migration is kicking in and the past weeks already brought several interesting sightings. Sara was very lucky to spot the first Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus for Strunjan (a rare migrant bird in Slovenia), while Domen was mainly entertained by the almost daily presence of an Osprey Pandion haliaetus at Škocjanski zatok (still present at the time of writing). Wader numbers at Škocjanski zatok should be higher and more variety would also be expected in this season, but so far we've been happy with the sight of two rather rare birds: a summer-plumaged Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria and a 1st winter Knot Calidris canutus. Other observers also reported Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia and Black Tern Chlidonias niger about two weeks ago. Commoner migrants also included Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Hobby Falco subbuteo, Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, Wheathear Oenanthe oenanthe and Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio. Some of the interesting breeding birds (that have finished breeding) like Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus and Little Tern Sternula albifrons are also around in "residual" numbers. Regular (weekly) sightings from Škocjanski zatok can be found on the reserve's website or FB page.