Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The master of snakes

The white beast: Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Spent a few hours on the karstic grasslands of Divača this afternoon. The main star was the above Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus perched on a pine for half an hour or so. Watched it from about 400m away - great scope views. Always impressive to see those cracking yellow eyes.
Also plenty of small migrant birds around in the bushes making the overall scene quite autumn-ish: Whinchats Saxicola rubetra and Stonechats Saxicola torquatus on every bush, lots of Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 2 Lesser Whitethroats Sylvia curruca, 2 Garden Warblers S. borin (1st of the autumn), 3 Common Whitethroats S. communis, 1 Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta, a nice Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina (1st of the season), Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos and a Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe on Divača's airfield. On the higher trees also 2 Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata and a Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, along with small flocks of migrant Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis making a stop. A single female/imm Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio was probably also on migration as the local breeders seemed already gone. Of the local birds a juvenile Goshawk Accipiter gentilis, 4 Cirl Buntings Emberiza cirlus (one still feeding its youngs), Woodlark Lullua arborea, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus and a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius calling from the woods.
All in all a quite productive couple of hours!
Female Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis looking a bit like a Ian Lewington's painting.
Male Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus
Allium senescens (montanum) now in full bloom.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

In Griffon land

Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus - forming an impressive thermal of +100 birds. Many of them were also perched on the evergreen Holm Oaks Quercus ilex in the cliffs.
Today early in the morning I headed to the Cornino lake nature reserve (northeast Italy) with a friend. We went there with the mission of seeing a Black Vulture which has been present in the area since June - same mode as the one back in 2012 I went to twitch. But this time the feeding station (usually supplied with carrions) was empty and we didn't see the bird. However there were of course lots of Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus perched on the rocky cliffs above the feeding station. By mid morning most of the flock was in the air simultaneously (see above). We counted at least 125 individuals.
Despite the dip it was still interesting on the raptor front: first a Hobby Falco subbuteo, then a female Goshawk Accipiter gentilis and then a pair of Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus were in the air. The only animals on the feeding station were Ravens Corvus corax and a hungry Fox Vulpes vulpes.
Above the cliffs, together with the raptors were also some Crag Martins Ptyonoprogne rupestris and large numbers of House Martins Delichon urbicum (pre-migration flocks). The woodlands nearby offered a migrant Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, a Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus and other commoner species.
Later in the day, on the way home we made a stop at Valle Cavanata where 34 Flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus where on show, two of which also carring colour rings. Good to see there were also a juvenile Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, 30 Grey Plovers Pluvialis squatarola (some still in breeding plumage) and a flock of about 140 Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus.
Flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus and Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmeus
The last week has been relatively quiet. The highlight at Škocjanski zatok two days ago was my first Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca of the autumn.
My local patch also offered a few goodies. I was most glad with two Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus present for a couple of days in front of my house (quite showy and vocal). The sea also provided some sort of interest: a short seawatch yesterday revealed two Sandwich Terns Sterna sandvicensis very busy with fishing activities, accompanied by a Common Tern Sterna hirundo and a passage of 10 Med Gulls Larus melanocephalus. The occasional (autumn) Swallow Hirundo rustica has also been seen flying southwards. Yes, it's that time of year again...

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Mangrt - Alpine immersion part 3

Mt. Mangrt (2679 m) with Rhododendron hirsutum in the foreground.
Yesterday another dose of alpine experiences, both botanical (prevailing) and birding. This time was the turn of Mangrtsko sedlo, a high-altitude plateau at the feet of mount Mangrt (2679 m), the 4th highest peak in the Julian Alps. The plateau ranges from approximately 1900 to 2072 metres. The Mangrt mountain range is set in north-western Slovenia, extending into Italy as well (its northern part).
On the bird front the scene was dominated by common alpine breeding species like Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta, Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros and Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe - all seen in family parties. A check of the cliffs looking down on the Italian side, revealed a dreamed-for, but unexpected WALLCREEPER Tichodroma muraria. It was a female, showing well in the cliff face for some minutes. It is always very pleasing to see the species on its breeding grounds in the Alps - here the potential good habitats are literally everywhere, as opposed to the restricted (and well known) wintering sites they use on the Karst.
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
More alpine atmosphere was created by a noisy flock of 40 Alpine Choughs Pyrrhocorax graculus soaring overhead, a couple of Alpine Accentors Prunella collaris and some Alpine Marmots Marmota marmota.
Alpine Marmots Marmota marmota
For the Mangrt speciality, Rock Ptarmigan, it was too late in the day and the area too disturbed by people walking around. No luck with the Snowfinches either, which were usually breeding in the area, but in the last few years seem disappeared.
A fly-by Alpine Swift Apus melba, House Martins Delichon urbicum, Ravens Corvus corax, a Hobby Falco subbuteo and a Kestrel Falco tinnunculus were dominating the sky-scene, along with the already mentioned Choughs.
Down at the upper edge of the forest, Crossbills Loxia curvirostra, Siskins Carduelis spinus, Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus and Goldcrests Regulus regulus were common. A Rock Bunting Emberiza cia was also heard.
Speaking botanically, the plateau was full of the common alpine flowers I have already seen on Kanin and Breginjski Stol, but with the addition of many extra species. A (long-ish) selection of the best shots follows below.
Dryas octopetala
Campanula cochleariifolia
Dianthus sylvestris
Geum montanum
Nigritella rhellicani
Potentilla nitida
Polygonum viviparum
Aconitum lycoctonum
Petrocallis pyrenaica
Leontopodium alpinum
Saxifraga aizoides
Saxifraga squarrosa
Sedum atratum
Euphrasia picta
Aquilegia nigricans
Pedicularis rosea
Salix reticulata
Salix serpillifolia

And some panoramic views - breathtaking!
Imposing mt. Mangrt above the plateau.
Mangrt's northern side with steep cliffs overlooking the valley and the two Mangrt's lakes (in Italy).
View west from the plateau - those snow-covered mountains belong to the Kanin range, on the Italian side. An "inverse" pic can be found in the Kanin's post: here
View from the plateau towards Loška Koritnica, with Log pod Mangrtom down in the valley (Slovenian side).

The perfect way to round up the trip was a stop on the emerald river Soča in the Trenta valley, where a Dipper Cinclus cinclus said farewell.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Primary forest

It's always amazing to see such big old trees and a lot of rotten wood on the forest floor. Full of fungal and woodpecker activity - in the last pic the work of a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius.

Yesterday in the afternoon I visited a patch of primary (virgin) forest with a friend. It is found in the northern part of Trnovski gozd and it's mainly made up by old beech trees Fagus sylvatica, mixed with the occasional silver fir Abies alba and sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus. Looks like a great place for woodpeckers; especially good for the rarer species like White-backed, which is present with a few pairs in Trnovski gozd. I'll need to revisit in spring.
Gentiana asclepiadea
Cyclamen purpurascens
Aconitum degenii ssp. paniculatum
During our roving in the forest we had some interesting birds, but none of them was seen. A good find was that of a THREE-TOED WOODPECKER Picoides tridactylus only heard drumming (for several minutes) down in a wooded valley where I saw one in May. Not really unexpected, but still a bit strange to hear it drumming at this time of year. Nearby were also two vocal Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius, one of which was also drumming. Otherwise more or less the usual species of upland forests like Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Willow Tit Poecile montanus, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus, Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris ect.
We also waited for dusk in the forest and then listened to URAL OWLS Strix uralensis. Although we heard 7 birds (in different areas of the forest), they don't seem to be so active at this time of year. We only had "barking" or calling birds. Only one of them also delivered a short song. Nevertheless a good evening, with the addition of 2 Red Deers Cervus elaphus seen (and one heard rutting), lots of Edible Dormice Glis glis, a Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus and a Beech Marten Martes foina.
When I got home, a more warmth-loving nocturnal bird was singing down the road: a Scops Owl Otus scops.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Ural Owl from Snežnik

Ural Owl Strix uralensis, photographed by Matteo Skodler. This is the juvenile bird we were watching above our heads two weeks ago - post here.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

A summer day on the Karst

Allium carinatum with mt. Vremščica (1027 m) in the background.
Enjoyed a nice all-day visit to the Slovenian Karst, concentrating in the area of Divača. A lot of rain this summer (including today) means that the karstic grasslands, usually dry at this time of year, are now green like in April and are hosting carpets of multi-coloured flowers. The three main (commonest) species forming these carpets are Allium carinatum, Betonica officinalis and Veronica barrelieri.
Today also lots of interesting birds. Started well in the morning with two juvenile BARRED WARBLERS Sylvia nisoria, showing nicely in a bush, in an area I've never seen them before.
Juvenile Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria.
Supporting cast on the grasslands included Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, Hoopoe Upupa epops (4-5), Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus, Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra, Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis (on passage), Lesser Whiethroat Sylvia curruca (migrant), Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella, Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos (migrant) and Alpine Swift Apus melba (+30).
A check of Škocjanske jame (Škocjan caves) produced two Crag Martins Ptyonoprogne rupestris that this year are breeding in the area.
Also several woodland birds with the most noteworthy being 2 Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius, 3 showy Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus (lured on pishing), Coal Tit Periparus ater, and a Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata.
In the hottest hours of the day also a lot of raptor movement; first in the morning Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, Common Buzzard Buteo buteo and Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus, then on mount Vremščica in the afternoon also a juvenile Goshawk Accipiter gentilis and a GRIFFON VULTURE Gyps fulvus and to round up the day nicely, a Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus perched in full view on a pine (see below).
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Allium carinatum
Allium sphaerocephalon
Campanula glomerata
Dianthus sylvestris ssp. tergestinus
Eryngium amethystinum
Minuartia capillacea
Satureja subspicata
Mix of Allium carinatum, A. sphaerocephalon & Veronica barrelieri; also Euphorbia sp. in the back.
Betonica officinalis (violet flowers) and Veronica barrelieri (blue flowers).
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