Monday 1 November 2021

Autumn colours in the Karst

Not much time for blogging lately and actually not much to report either. We are steadily advancing into the calmer (and most depressing) part of the year, when we need to be happy of the little things. Abundance of wildlife, diversity and colour seem already a distant memory. Mountain forests are falling silent as the last beech leaves are leaving the canopies. However the resident birds are still around. It is just more difficult to find them as they are mostly silent and roving in flocks. Recently we went tracking White-backed Woodpeckers Dendrocopos leucotos ssp. lilfordi on our usual circuits on mount Snežnik. Visiting a known territory, we located a fleeting female feeding at mid-height in the trees. The photos below show the typical feeding behaviour of the female, usually favouring rotten snags on live beeches, rather than feeding on the ground as males do more often. In our experience, following a female in the canopies is much more difficult than a male on the ground.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos ssp. lilfordi - before the peck...
...and after the peck.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos ssp. lilfordi (by Davide Scridel)
Beech snag in White-backed Woodpecker's habitat.

During our wanderings, we came (as usual) across a few Ural Owls Strix uralensis hunting along forest roads, including a quite dark, grey-morph individual (see photos). After the spring explosion, voles have literally disappeared from the forest floor and we guess the owls are now probably struggling to find food and are moving to other areas. This might explain the relative difficulty of seeing Ural Owls this autumn, when compared to spring. Nevertheless there were some other birds to keep us company like Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes, Brambling Fringilla montifringilla and the season's first Redwing Turdus iliacus. Among mammals we regularly saw Red Deer Cervus elaphus (including some shy stags with cool antlers) and even Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra in the subalpine forest on Snežnik's higher rocky outcrops. Signs of the presence of large carnivores aren't difficult to notice in these forests, as they are often found on forest roads. Thus we came across several fresh & old droppings of Wolf Canis lupus, as well as droppings & claw marks of Brown Bear Ursus arctos.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis - grey morph (note dark-barred facial mask).
Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris
Brown Bear's claw marks on a fallen trunk.
Bear's droppings containing some corn (from hunter's feeding stations).
Fresh (above) & old (below) scat of Wolf Canis lupus
Autumn in the Dinaric forests.
Wild places.
Beech Fagus sylvatica in its late-autumn phase.
Veliki Snežnik's summit dominating the forested plateau.
Morning mist over the Reka river valley.

Recently most of the time has been spent locally in the Karst around Sežana. Late October and early November is the best time to enjoy the amazing autumn colours of the karstic shrubs and meadows, where the typical Smoke Bush Cotinus coggygria steals the show. However the cold and unpleasant burja wind persisted for most of October and made birding in the Karst's woodlands and meadows quite impossible. Nevertheless we were very glad when we found a Middle Spotted Woodpecker Leiopicus medius on a hill close to home, as well as other goodies such as Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Brambling Fringilla montifringilla and the first Common Cranes Grus grus of the season, migrating south-west (heard only on Oct 18).

Montpellier Maple Acer monspessulanus - a typical tree of the karstic shrub.
Smoke Bush Cotinus coggygria - the autumn essence of the Karst.
Limestone scree on the top of a karstic hill, covered in Smoke Bush.
Karstic oak woodland - home of a recent coloniser, the Middle Spotted Woodpecker.
Autumn colours in the oak woodlands.
Views E and SE from Stari tabor (603 m), a panoramic hill between Sežana and Lokev.
Stari tabor (603 m) with mount Nanos in the distance.
Smoke Bush stealing the show... and Sara stealing the Smoke Bush!