Monday 11 October 2021

From autumn to winter

Autumn is upon us. Actually these last few days feel already like winter, with low temperatures, a persistent burja (northeasterly) and the first snow in the mountains. Recently we have been active in the field only at weekends, except for our regular bird monitorings at work, on the coast. In the last days of September we enjoyed the rut of Red Deer Cervus elaphus in the hills close to home, on the eastern edges of the Karst. Red Deer used to be more of a continental/mountain species until some decades ago, but it experienced a strong expansion in recent years, colonising also the (once-barren) Karst. Nowadays in some areas it even outnumbers Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus. Not far from our home we have a nice "rutting area" where several stags gather. The rather thick foliage and steep rocky slopes make it quite difficult to see any of the rutting stags, that are usually well hidden in the forest. However, hinds (females) with calves are easier to spot. In the same area, where the habitat gets even steeper and rockier, with exposed cliffs and boulders, Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra is also present in small numbers. These animals belong to the population present on mount Nanos that has also been expanding recently. Supporting cast to our afternoon visits on the rutting stage also included the "ordinary" but always pleasing mix of our 6 lowland woodpecker species: from Middle Spotted Leiopicus medius to Black Dryocopus martius and everything in bewteen.

Red Deer Cervus elaphus - hind on a limestone scree.
Red Deer Cervus elaphus - hinds approaching the rutting grounds.
Red Deer Cervus elaphus - up to 4 stags rutting together in the valley (volume to max!).
A puddle in the forest, where Red Deer roll in the mud.
Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra on a limestone scree.
Raven Corvus corax


At the beginning of October we were again in our favourite area, the Snežnik plateau, enjoying a taste of the beautiful autumn colours produced by beech trees Fagus sylvatica (a thank to Silvio Davison for some of the pics in this blog!). At higher altitudes (1300-1400 m) the colours were already spectacular, while lower down (1000 and below) the forest was still green. Despite some nasty and unpredicted wind, we managed to find several interesting species, among which the highlights were two Pygmy Owls Glaucidium passerinum. One was only heard, while the second showed itself pretty well in the early evening. We first spotted its distinctive shape on the top of a fir, while later it moved lower down the tree, on a more hidden and shaded branch. Among other birds there were also several Nutcrackers Nucifraga caryocatactes, Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus and large numbers of Ravens Corvus corax (flock of 50 feeding on a glade), while overhead the first flocks of migrating Woodpigeons Columba palumbus were passing in their hundreds. Apart from many Red & Roe Deer and a showy young Fox Vulpes vulpes, in the evening we also had good views of a female Brown Bear Ursus arctos with cub that we "flushed" from the forest road.

Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum - typical view.
Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum (phone-scoping shots & video)
Pygmy Owl habitat in the Dinarides.
The very best of autumn colours in the Dinaric mountains (Beech Fagus sylvatica).
A young and handsome Fox Vulpes vulpes by the side of the road.
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
Raven Corvus corax
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus on migration (part of a flock).
Cep (Penny Bun) Boletus edulis
Mt. Snežnik from its northern slopes.


Last weekend (10th Oct) we attended the annual regional bird race "Ptičarijada", organised by DOPPS-BirdLife Slovenia. This year the race was taking place in the wider area of Bohinj & Bled in northern Slovenia. Although it was a cold and windy day, with terrible conditions for forest birding (our primary target was the Pokljuka plateau), we managed to record a nice diversity of birds, totalling 63 species (in about 8 hours). It wasn't that bad, given the almost total absence of water bodies with decent habitat for waterbirds in the region. Highlights included Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum (heard on Pokljuka), Red Kite Milvus milvus (rare migrant through Slovenia), first Woodcock Scolopax rusticola & Brambling Fringilla montifringilla of the season, Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, Woodlark Lullula arborea (regional rarity), Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes and Goosander Mergus merganser. Some of the other teams also had Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus by the airport of Lesce. Also the season's first snow greeted us on the surrounding mountains - it arrived very early this year!

Bitterly cold on the Pokljuka plateau at dawn (1 degree C while watching this scene).
Red Kite Milvus milvus near Koritno (Bled).
Checking the river Sava for Dipper Cinclus cinclus & Goosander Mergus merganser.
The girls in action at lake Bled.
Bled's castle on top of a potential Wallcreeper's cliff.
Mt. Stol (2236 m, Karavanke Mts).
Mt. Begunjščica (2060 m, Karavanke Mts.) & the church of Sv. Peter.


Meanwhile, the early autumn time has been relatively quiet at Škocjanski zatok, mostly due to mainteinance work at the nature reserve and consequently the freshwater marsh being almost completely dry. However some of the seasonal goodies were still to be found with a bit of perseverance. The autumn's highlight is always represented by good numbers of Bluethroats Luscinia svecica making a stopover at the reserve. Although the best time with greater numbers is the end of August and the first week of September (15 seen in one day this year!), single birds lingered to the very end of September. Other birds of note in the same month included Black Stork Ciconia nigra, White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca and Little Crake Zapornia parva. In the very first days of October a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, the true harbinger of winter, announced the arrival of the cold season.

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Little Crake Zapornia parva
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor