Sunday, 19 October 2014

Forests that just keep on giving...

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius
Another sunny Sunday spent on the Snežnik plateau, this time including also a walk to the mountain's top (1796 m). Bird of the day was a MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER Dendrocopos medius found by mistake when looking for Three-toeds in a conifer forest. Actually very odd to see a Middle Spot in this habitat. The bird was quite showy and vocal too.
Middle Spot on a Norway spruce Picea abies - unusual to see this bird on conifers
video here
A distant THREE-TOED WOODPECKER Picoides tridactylus was also heard (calling) and on the same spot there were also a Grey-headed Picus canus and 3 Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius.
Overall pretty much the same mix of forest birds as last Sunday, including several Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla and good passage of small passerines. Black Redstarts Phoenicurus ochruros were literally on every bush in the upper part of the mountain (something like +80 ind.).
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros - male (commoner than females)
Black Redstart female
Two or three RING OUZELS Turdus torquatus in the mountain pines Pinus mugo were a bonus species for the day. Just saw them briefly or heard them calling. At least one was a male.
Two unexpected raptors were a juvenile Hobby Falco subbuteo and a Peregrine Falco peregrinus. Both aggressively mobbed by the resident Ravens Corvus corax.
A nice sight were also 7 Ravens feeding on a fresh Roe Deer's carcass in the forest.
Lichens on a conifer
Mountain pine Pinus mugo
Small cliff face on Mali Snežnik (the "Lesser Snežnik")
A look eastwards from the mountain's top. Forests extending into Croatia as well. The cliffs above the Kolpa valley are visible.

Below a couple of shots from the past days, taken on the Karst. My new superzoom camera seems to be doing a good job.
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius - female
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis

Friday, 17 October 2014

Siberian Phyllosc

My first Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus
On Wednesday I took my new camera out on a twitch. The first proper bird it took a picture of was a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER Phylloscopus inornatus which I went to see at Isola della Cona (Italy). On arrival there were no other people around and I almost immediately found the bird feeding on a low willow (Salix) tree. All around it where tens of other Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and some Goldcrests Regulus regulus all feeding frenetically in the bushes. After about half an hour of very good (and close) views it became more furtive. As a small crowd of people assembled it gave just occasional and brief views. Later the local ringer decided to catch the bird, so we put up the mist nets and after a few hours of tactical waiting the Yellow-browed Warbler finally got caught! Nice to have a tiny creature from Siberia in the hands.
Siberian waif in the hand
Checking the ID...
...and the wing formula
This was btw the first Yellow-browed Warbler for Isola della Cona nature reserve, so everyone on site was very happy.
Apart from the main target of the twitch I saw an Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta from the bar and 4 overflying Swallows Hirundo rustica. I didn't even bother too much to check the area from the main hide. I don't like smelly wetlands full of people anymore.

Other birds of note earlier this week included a PALLID SWIFT Apus pallidus over my house and a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor at Škocjanski zatok. Also quite a lot of late-autumn movement in the form of Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos everywhere, Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla & Siskins Carduelis spinus going overhead and so on. A Whinchat Saxicola rubetra and a few Reed/Marsh Warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus/palustris at Škocjanski zatok were the only remaining summer migrants, along with the Swallows.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

White-backed Woodpeckers in the autumn forest

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos by Martin Senič
On Sunday me and a couple of friends spent the day in the extensive forests of the Snežnik plateau. Despite the fact we didn't see the (hoped for) Brown Bear Ursus arctos, we were lucky to find two WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKERS Dendrocopos leucotos (ssp. lilfordi). The first was a quite collaborative female which allowed good views (the best I've ever had of a White-backed). My friend also managed to obtain some good shots (above and below) when the bird was on the trees above our heads. Hours later we heard a second individual on a different location. It's always thrilling to have a close encounter with one of Slovenia's rarest breeding birds.
Female White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos by Martin Senič
In the early afternoon we were quite surprised when we flushed a WALLCREEPER Tichodroma muraria from a very small rocky face by the forest road. This was most probably a bird on migration that stopped in the area for a short time; nevertheless the encounter was very exciting as it was totally unexpected.
During the day we visited some amazing parts of the Snežnik forests, including some old beech woodlands and spruce-covered Karstic dolines where common mountain birds were present (all tit species, Crossbills Loxia curvirostra, Siskins Carduelis spinus, Ravens Corvus corax ect.).
Autumn colours in the forest - Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus
Mixed forest with Norway Spruce Picea abies and Beech Fagus sylvatica
A Silver Fir Abies alba in mountain beech forest
A look towards Croatia - forests as far as the eye can see
Apart from a good movement of Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis overhead, there were also large flocks of Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs on the move, with several Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla mixed among them.
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
On the mammal front the highlight were the footprints (and droppings) of a massive Brown Bear Ursus arctos. In the evening we also saw Red Deer Cervus elaphus (4), Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus (3) and Brown Hare Lepus europaeus (1). 
Brown Bear's footprints

Last week I also re-visited the site of the Karstic URAL OWLS Strix uralensis and in the evening the pair appeared in front of me once again! They showed brilliantly for some 15 minutes or so, before it became dark enough for them to "disappear" in the beech trees where they were perched. A noisy Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius kept mobbing them all the time, while a distant Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus was calling. Magic moments.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Bear's footprints!

Brown Bear's (Ursus arctos) footprints
Today I returned to the forest where I found the Ural Owl last week, to do some exploring. I had in mind a dream encounter - to find a Brown Bear. There are now several bears scattered around the the Karst (especially the Slovenian one) as a consequence of the massive disturb caused by loggers clearing Slovenia's forests after the severe ice damage from last winter. So a lot of bears have dispersed in other forest habitats that they usually don't inhabit. Moreover they seem to be especially active now as they gather food for the winter storage. And everyone going around on casual walks seems to find them with a certain ease (including several of my friends).
Today I was not very optimistic because I knew I was out of the core habitat area of bears. So of course I was very delighted when I found the above footprints. And not just one footprint but an awful lot of them! These probably involve more than one bear. I've seen bear's footprints on several occasions, but always singles or doubles. On the forest road I also found what I think is most probably a bear's dropping.
The muddy areas around puddles on the paths had also other footprints of Canis sp. and Felis sp. I couldn't ID for sure - they are still under examination. One of the puddles also held a nice Yellow-bellied Toad Bombina variegata.
There was a bit of wind today so birds were not very cooperative. I managed to hear a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor, some Crossbills Loxia curvirostra and Siskins Carduelis spinus, but the highlight on the bird-front was a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor earlier in the day.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Lanius excubitor is back!

Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor - frequently seen hovering (last pic)
Yesterday I saw my first two GREAT GREY SHRIKES Lanius excubitor of the season. Both on the Karst: one at the airfield of Divača (typical place for the species) and one on the grasslands of Dane near Sežana.
Still around some Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe and Whinchats Saxicola rubetra, but also the first late-autumn newcomers like Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos (in good numbers), Dunnocks Prunella modularis, Wrens Troglodytes troglodytes, Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis and lots of Coal Tits Periparus ater. Not to mention the Robins Erithacus rubecula which are now everywhere.
Still present in my garden are a Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca, and Crested Lophophanes cristatus & Coal Tit Periparus ater. Newcomers include a few Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos and one or two Hawfinches Coccothraustes coccothraustes on a daily basis.

Also two Campanula lifers for me recently:
Campanula persicifolia
Campanula bononiensis

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Ural surprise!!

Female Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Struck gold once again during one of my afternoon strolls. In a mixed oak-beech forest on the Slovenian Karst I stumbled across a pair of URAL OWLS Strix uralensis in complete daylight! While I was taking flower pics, my attention was caught by a singing female. I looked around and found it sat in full view some 50 metres away from me on a beech branch. Seconds of shock! It soon flew off, so I followed the bird and re-found it, perched again in full view. But most surprisingly, minutes later it was joined by a male and both were then perched nearby (also same field of view!). They even sang a short duet. I followed the movements of the female for some 20 minutes or more and had great views of it. It didn't seem too disturbed by my presence. The above shots were taken with camera held on bins - a real challenge with adrenaline in the veins! The show came to an end when first the male and then the female flew out of view, followed by noisy Jays Garrulus glandarius.
In my personal opinion this is a really interesting find. Ural Owls are widespread in the Dinaric forests (from Snežnik to Trnovski gozd), but less so in other parts of the country, especially the Karst, where they are occasional vagrants (not breeders). As these two birds seemed a pair I'll have to check next spring for a potential breeding.
Supporting cast in the forest was mainly woodpecker-based: Grey-headed Picus canus (a vocal pair, male seen well), Green Picus viridis (1), Black Dryocopus martius (2 - one even drumming), Lesser Spotted Dendrocopos minor (1) and Great Spotted Dendrocopos major (2-3).

Otherwise still many summer migrants around. Today I heard several Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus on passage, seen 2 Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio (despite the fact I went out looking for the first Great Greys) and Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe.
Yesterday my garden held a Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus (female), a Garden Warbler Sylvia borin and a Lesser Whiethroat Sylvia curruca.
This morning also the first flock of 50 Woodpigeons Columba palumbus on migration over the patch.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Autumnal Karstlife

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius - male
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major - male
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
The first migrant Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Hyssopus officinalis - a scarce plant on the Karst, but very abundant on a dry grassland in the Glinščica/Val Rosandra nature reserve. It is a medicinal plant with a lovely smell which attracts lots of insects...
...the grassland was buzzing with thousands of bees
Blue carpet
Also good for butterflies - a Swallowtail Papilio machaon
And good for crickets too
Sedum album
Amelanchier ovalis - usually blooming in May
Daphne alpina - another odd plant in flower now (usually blooming in April/May)
Asparagus tenuifolius with fruits
Praying Mantis Mantis religiosa on Allium senescens/montanum
Aster amellus
Salvia glutinosa found on the bottom of some fresh dolines
Beech Fagus sylvatica - on the Karst around Trieste only found as a planted tree from the 19th century - like the one above in Globoka dolina/Dolina degli Abeti.
Mt. Nanos from mt. Vremščiča
I've spent the last couple of days wandering the Karst (both Italy and Slovenia), mainly exploring new areas of woodland in search of good woodpecker habitat. No more luck with the Middle Spot, but I've had Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius almost on a daily basis and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos minor seem to be doing well in many woodlands around the Karst (heard singing commonly). Not to mention the Great Spots Dendrocopos major that are "infesting" in some woodlands and Green Woodpeckers Picus viridis which are always common. Notable birds from this week included also: Tawny Owl Strix aluco (seen at a cave's entrance), Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus (good influx - now outnumbering Goldcrests R. regulus), Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta, Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis, Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus (common, also in the garden), Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca (including one in the garden today), Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes (also overflies in the garden), House Martin Delichon urbicum (a few on passage), Swallow Hirundo rustica (last seen on Wednesday), Hobby Falco subbuteo, Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita, Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea (over the house), Coal Tit Periparus ater (small invasions; in the garden too), Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, Song Thrush Turdus philomelos (first migrants, today), Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus (forming autumn flocks of +30 birds), Rock Emberiza cia & Cirl Bunting E. cirlus and of course tons of Jays Garrulus glandarius (all carrying their lovely acorns).
Especially wonderful was the extensive flowering carpet of Hyssopus officinalis on mount Stena (Glinščica/Val Rosandra valley) this afternoon. Also still several species of common flowers having their last bloom before the winter... actually a sad time of year for botany lovers...
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