Tuesday 24 August 2021

UnBEARable forest desires

In late summer the call of the Dinaric forests becomes irresistible and it is not unusual that we find ourselves on the Snežnik plateau on a weekly basis, or even more often so! This time Domen took Paul & Davide on a trip to the extensive and well preserved forests on the plateau's interior (check Paul's tweets for more "live from the field" action). The aim was to explore new areas of almost-primeval forest and to see some of the typical wildlife inhabiting these mountains. Among birds the most prominent species were again migrants, the commonest being Wood Warblers Phylloscopus sibilatrix (heard/seen tens of them), followed by Pied Ficedula hypoleuca and Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata, while overhead were flocks of migrating House Martins Delichon urbicum and a few Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus. Of the resident birds the most interesting were a couple of Ural Owls Strix uralensis found along the way, including a pair showing in a conifer stand, but not well enough for photography. Woodpeckers (Three-toed & White-back), the main targets of the trip, this time where nowhere to be found, also probably because of the wind, making locating birds difficult. Nevertheless we enjoyed thoroughfully in the sight of some really nice natural-looking forests.

Dry limestone meadows on the NW edge of the Snežnik plateau, with Mt. Vremščica towering in the distance.
Mt. Snežnik and its extensive forests.
Enjoying some views on a marvellous and wild dolina.
Wild dolinas are Domen's favourite.
Beech forest on a steep limestone slope.
Overlooking another dolina with Pinus mugo on the bottom.
Dead wood in the primeval forest.
Tinder Fungus Fomes fomentarius, an omnipresent element of beech forests (pics by Davide Scridel).
Rotting beech with Artist's Bracket Ganoderma applanatum.
One of the several karstic sinkholes, with snow on the bottom, creating a special microclimate for alpine plants...
"Little Alpine Catchfly" Heliosperma pusillum, an alpine species found on Snežnik's summit and on the bottom of dolinas.
Alpine Yellow Violet Viola biflora, another alpine element.
Alpine Honeysuckle Lonicera alpigena, need to say more?
Willow Gentian Gentiana asclepiadea now in full bloom.
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Buzzard Buteo buteo
A very happy boy...
...just found his trophy!
Red Deer Cervus elaphus - part of a herd of 12 grazing on a meadow.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus
Signs of bears are all around. Here a dismembered rotten trunk...
...some claw marks...
...and some bear's droppings.


Given the abundant signs of the presence of Brown Bears Ursus arctos, we decided it was good to try our luck on a "bear hunt", staying out for the night and making the most of the twilight hours, the time when large mammals are most active. Sat quietly waiting for the sunset at the edge of the forest, we were very soon treated to the exciting apparition of a male bear, walking in full view about 250 metres away from us. The bear didn't linger much and moved on decisively into the forest, in the opposite direction from where it came. Only about 25 minutes later, a second bear, this time a young female arrived on the meadow galloping, then came to a halt, sat down for a moment, scratched a bit and continued her way. Despite both bears making only a quick appearence, we had some of the best views of these majestic animals so far, still in good light and well before twilight. What an excellent way to round up an amazing day spent in the forest!

Male Brown Bear Ursus arctos
A more relaxed female Brown Bear Ursus arctos
Paul has managed to record this short video of the two bears.
A summer moon rising above the Gulf of Kvarner and illuminating the bay of Rijeka (HR).
Only a few days to the full moon.
The boys going to bed...
...while Touty tweets under the moonlight. Goodnight, to the next adventure!

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Summer escape to the forest

Although we live in the warmer, sub-Mediterranean part of Slovenia, the Karst still has a quite cool climate compared to the coast. Summer evenings and nights are therefore always fresh and enjoyable. However, last week's heat wave (+ 32 degrees C) was simply too much and we therefore decided to retreat to the Dinaric mountains for a couple of days. The Alps are also a strong draw at this time of year, but August is the peak tourist season and mountain paths (as well as huts) can be absurdly crowded. So the escape to the mountain forests of mount Snežnik seemed more appropriate. Indeed, during our two days in the wild, we barely encountered a human being - how lovely! We visited some nice patches of older, unmanaged forest, mostly exploring new areas, but also hoping to see some wildlife of course. Despite the altitude (1200-1500 metres a.s.l.), temperatures were rather high here too, but the wildlife didn't seem to notice that. The forest life was very active for this time of year and both birds and mammals gave us good entertainment. 

First day we walked through a wild area of predominantly beech forest, with lots of dead wood and interesting fungi. Here we spotted a family of White-backed Woodpeckers Dendrocopos leucotos ssp. lilfordi (3 individuals) as soon as we entered an unmanaged part of the forest and then we observed a group of Red Deer Cervus elaphus stags with beautiful antlers, freshly "cleaned" from velvet. Some small patches of mountain meadows (old abandoned pastures) hosted interesting representatives of Snežnik's flora, including the typically Dinaric Campion-leaved Scabious Scabiosa silenifolia, as well as alpine species like Edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum. On the other side, most of the other plants in flower at the moment are the typical harbingers of autumn. Icing on the cake was a stunning male Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus showing nicely at the side of a forest road.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos ssp. lilfordi (male).
Fresh White-back's feeding signs.
Old White-back's feeding signs.
Probable feeding signs of Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius (note larger wood chips than above).
On the lookout for forest wildlife.
Mount Snežnik and its forests.
Edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum
Campion-leaved Scabious Scabiosa silenifolia - endemic to the Dinaric mountains & Apennines.
Grass-of-Parnassus Parnassia palustris
Liburnian Dwarf Gentian Gentianella liburnica
Bellflower Campanula sp. (if on Snežnik, then it must be something not quite ordinary).
Stemless Carline Thistle Carlina acaulis
Willow Gentian Gentiana asclepiadea
European Cotoneaster Cotoneaster integerrimus
View eastwards from a mugo pine outcrop to mount Snežnik.
A small part of the extensive forests on the Snežnik plateau.
View NW with mount Nanos in the distance and the town of Pivka in the valley.
Resting in a small clearing where last autumn we saw the bear featured here.
The work of a hungry bear, digging for wood-boring larvae in a decaying beech trunk.
One of the several puddles in the forest - the only source of water for wildlife on the Snežnik plateau.
Brown Bear's footprint by the puddle.
Unusually flat, clear and circular sites in the forest indicate old charcoal burning areas (if we are not mistaken, these were active on Snežnik until approx. the 1950s).
Charcoal remains still abundant on the ground.
Natural bridge in limestone.
Surely the largest and oldest Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus we know (completely hollow).
Decaying wood with fungal surprise...
Dryad's Saddle Polyporus squamosus - an uncommon bracket fungus we've seen only a couple of times.
Artist's Bracket Ganoderma applanatum
Lurid Bolete Boletus luridus
Dutchman's Pipe (Yellow Bird's-nest) Monotropa hypopitys - an uncommon chlorophyll-lacking parasite.
Sowbread Cyclamen purpurascens
Wood Ragwort Senecio fuchsii (S. ovatus)
Peacock Butterfly Aglais io on Sambucus ebulus
Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae on Eupatorium cannabinum
A lovely (and rather large) forest clearing, once used for grazing.
Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus (male).
Beehives in the forest with electric fencing against hungry bears.
An inquisitive Fox Vulpes vulpes

The next morning we visited an area of mixed forest with some old conifer stands, where we came across a hooting Ural Owl Strix uralensis and several other common forest birds. We searched for Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, but with no success. However, walking a steep rocky forest slope we "flushed" a Brown Bear Ursus arctos that we actually only heard grunting and running away, around 50 metres away from us. The forest was also alive with the calls and flitting movements of summer migrants on their way back to Africa: Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, Wood Warblers Phylloscopus sibilatrix and Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata, while large clouds of House Martins Delichon urbicum and Swifts Apus apus were circling overhead. All in all an excellent couple of days in the forest!

Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Stand of Norway Spruce Picea abies on the edge of a karstic dolina.
Greedy Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris carrying a fungus up a tree.
Brown Bear's claw marks and the sign of a forest reserve (double blue line). Bears know where it's nice!
Natural forest with decaying wood.
One of the many karstic sinkholes, probably leading into a cave.
Small horizontal sinkhole (cave?), perhaps a bear's den.
Brown Bear's signs are everywhere. Here some raspberry-flavoured droppings.
Beeches Fagus sylvatica in the subalpine belt, curved by the action of the strong wind and snow-cover.
Above the treeline and up into the Mountain Pine Pinus mugo stands.
Sara working her way into (or out of?) the impenetrable Pinus mugo.
Nice view northeast to the Loška dolina valley.
Northern slope of mount Snežnik.
Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris collecting Pinus mugo cones at the tree line.
Young Robin Erithacus rubecula in the thick Mountain Pine stand.
Beech trees in the subalpine belt form some amazing shapes.
Selfie on the "Mother Beech" (in Slovenia beech is the mother of trees).