Wednesday 1 September 2021

Early autumn in the Dinaric mountains

The last week or so has seen us back in the field for multiple raptor counts near Pivka, at the same location as in spring. The area is rather good for long hours of census, as the wide view and vicinity of the forest edge allow good birding throughout the day, even at times when raptors are not passing. The raptor passage was actually quite weak, but on the other hand rather good and "steady" at the neighbouring census location above Postojna (most birds are obviously passing there!). However we were still satisfied at the diversity of raptors. At this time of year the general migratory direction is from northeast to southwest, with the birds coming low over the Javorniki mountains, through two main "passes". The commonest migrants were Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus and Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus, with the occasional Hobby Falco subbuteo, Kestrel Falco tinnunculus and Common Buzzard Buteo buteo also passing by. Among the residents, the most interesting was certainly the local pair of Golden Eagles Aquila chrysaetos, as well as a Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus perched on the top of a fir. Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus and Goshawk Accipiter gentilis, both probably residents, were also of note. A typical feature of late summer & autumn in the Dinaric mountains are also large flocks of Ravens Corvus corax, patrolling the grasslands and forest edge. There was also a good passage of smaller birds with Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis, House Martin Delichon urbicum, Swallow Hirundo rustica and Swift Apus apus going overhead, while in the bushes and trees there were Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus, Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Whinchat Saxicola rubetra and the like. The dry grasslands were still full of Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio (mostly juveniles), probably involving local birds as well as migrants. In the fields between Pivka and Postojna we also had two adult White Storks Ciconia ciconia.

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra perched on Cannabis sativa.
Dry limestone grasslands in the Dinaric region.
Counting migrating raptors in the hills above Pivka.

Late summer and early autumn is also the time when Nutcrackers Nucifraga caryocatactes become more prominent and more easily observable. The species is nowadays a rather scarce (or even rare) breeder in the Dinaric forests, while somehow more numerous in the Alps and is never easy to observe "properly". Although pretty shy, these birds are now rather busy searching for nuts and seeds and their distinctive calls give them away on their regular forays in the hazel stands at the edge of the forest. During our raptor counts we were able to see small numbers of them (max. a loose flock of 7), including a nice bird that posed long enough for some photos. Sharing the same food resource with the Nutcrackers was also a Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris of the nice red morph (most squirrels here are usually dark brown or black).
Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes
Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris
Although in late summer and early autumn the dry limestone meadows become really dry and consequently quite depleated in terms of wildlife, some butterflies still linger on the late-flowering plants. Typical inhabitants of such rocky and grassy habitats, exploiting the blooms of Liburnian Savory Satureja subspicata subsp. liburnica & Amethyst Eryngo Eryngium amethystinum include Dryad Minois dryas, Great Banded Grayling Brintesia circe, Chalkhill Lysandra coridon & Common Blue Polyommatus icarus, Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus, Weaver's Fritillary Boloria dia, Silver-spotted Skipper Hesperia comma, as well as many Honey Bees Apis mellifera.
Dryad Minois dryas
Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus on Satureja liburnica
Chalkhill Blue Lysandra coridon
Chalkhill Blue Lysandra coridon (left) & Common Blue Polyommatus icarus (right)
Honey Bee Apis mellifera on Satureja liburnica
Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus on Eryngium amethystinum
Amethyst Eryngo Eryngium amethystinum
Eastern Bath White Pontia edusa
Praying Mantis Mantis religiosa
Wasp Spider Argiope bruennichi
Limestone grasslands & Dinaric forests in early autumn.
During the last weekend we had family duties, babysitting our nephew & niece, so we didn't have great expectations for thrilling wildlife encounters or the like. But we were wrong. Taking the kids to see the new Mašun forest educational trail & large carnivore exibition, the trip soon transformed into a wildlife safari. Driving on the forest roads of the Snežnik & Javorniki mountains in the afternoon, we first stopped to admire some fresh and large bear's droppings in the middle of the road. Further on we spotted a Ural Owl Strix uralensis from the car. The bird was motionless, hunting from a perch and so concentrated it didn't even want to turn its head towards us. We even witnessed a (failed) hunting attempt. The kids were excited!
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Brown Bear's dropping on a forest road.

As we continued driving, further on we noticed some unusual looking "stumps with ears" by the side of the road, about 150 metres away from us. Upon stopping the car we immediately realised we were looking at three Brown Bears Ursus arctos! They were small cubs and upon seeing us, they slowly crossed the road and disappeared into the vegetation. Their mother should be around, we thought. Very close by there happened to be a forest glade, so when we drove past it, we managed to spot the whole family again, this time also seeing the large female. It all lasted a few seconds, before the four animals disappeared once again in the thick cover of the forest. Wow! 
Driving out of the forest, we also spotted a small herd of Red Deer Cervus elaphus, a few Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, a Fox Vulpes vulpes and a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, thus rounding up perfectly this short but intense wildlife safari!
Those are not stumps...
...but cute little Brown Bears Ursus arctos!
Slowly moving away into the forest.
The mother Brown Bear making sure everything is ok.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus buck in the woodland behind our house (Karst).