Sunday, 27 July 2014

Waders on the move

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Škocjanski zatok NR: yesterday the brackish marsh was alive with lots of waders. A Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea (in breeding-like plumage) was a welcome, but expected sight - always on time as every year in July. Also typical of this month are good numbers of Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos - counted 45 of them (compared with the 4 last week!). Three plover species were to be seen together: Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula (1), Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius (5) and Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus (3). A rare sight in Škocjanski zatok as Ringed Plover is quite scarce. Among the other commoner species like Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Common Redshank Tringa totanus, Curlew Numenius arquata and Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola, also a Little Stint Calidris minuta, a Ruff Philomachus pugnax and a Snipe Gallinago gallinago were feeding on the mudflats. Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus have now decreased in numbers and there are just a few juveniles around. Three Little Terns Sternula albifrons were also present among the Common Terns Sterna hirundo. Other birds of note were a male Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus (24 - a high number for the area), Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur (2) and a singing Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis.

After the monitoring I went to check the limestone cliffs at Osp. Here I saw 2 Blue Rock Thrushes Monticola solitarius, 16 Alpine Swifts Apus melba and a Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus.
Also had 4 by-the-way Hoopoes Upupa epops the other day.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

MAGIC Snežnik

Edraianthus graminifolius
Yesterday with a friend we went on mount Snežnik (1797 m), which is the highest non-alpine Slovenian peak. It belongs to the Dinaric mountains and its slopes and plateaus are covered with vast forests that extent into Croatia as well. Home of the Brown Bear, Wolf, Lynx and many others. The higher part of the mount is also a paradise for botanists as it holds a mix of different floras, including a lot of alpine elements.
We first walked on the top, passing through Mali Snežnik (1694 m) and enjoying the rich flora on the way up. Multi-coloured carpets of flowers on every step; increasing in biodiversity as you approach the peak. In the late afternoon we descended and spent the evening in the forest.
First a selection of wildflowers... birds (& other wildlife) to follow.
Edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum - the main botanical joy of the day.
Edraianthus graminifolius - a speciality of Mt. Snežnik; quite common around the top, but found only on a few other locations in Slovenia.
Scabiosa silenifolia - also typical for the Snežnik area.
Gentiana lutea ssp. symphyandra
Achillea clavenae
Aster alpinus
Helianthemum nummularium and Achillea clavenae
Heliosperma sp., Campanula cochleariifolia & Achillea clavenae
Floral mix (incl. Pulsatilla alpina, Phyteuma orbiculare ect.) near Snežnik's top.
Parnassia palustris
Floral mix 2: Achillea clavenae & Rhododendron hirsutum.
Floral carpet near the top.
On the bird front the highlight were URAL OWLS Strix uralensis. One was heard in the late afternoon as we were descending from Snežnik's top through the beech woodland. The second was seen in the evening, performing above our heads and showing brilliantly. Both were probably juveniles (told by their calls and behaviour). On the very top of Snežnik I was very glad to spot a juvenile ROCK THRUSH Monticola saxatilis. I'm not sure if it was a bird born in the area (that would be an interesting record) or one that came from somewhere else. Other upland birds included Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta (2), Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, Dunnock Prunella modularis, Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca, Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, Siskin Carduelis spinus and lower down in the forest also Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula (very showy), Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus, Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus ect.
While we were descending from the top, on the rocky path, my friend and I almost trod on a melanistic ADDER Vipera berus. The animal was sun-bathing on the rocks, just a few centimetres away from where we put our feet! After rising its head a bit and hissing to us, it slowly slipped away under the rocks. As far as I know melanistic adders are not very common, but on Snežnik, this form seems to be commoner than the usual one.
A few metres down the path we also had a Slow-worm Anguis fragilis and later in the beech forest we had yet another reptile encounter: two Alpine Salamanders Salamandra atra.
Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra
Other animals seen in the evening included 3 Foxes Vulpes vulpes, a Brown Hare Lepus europaeus and a Beech Marten Martes foina. No luck with the hoped-for Brown Bear...
Below are a few more landscape pics.
Veliki Snežnik (1797 m)
Mali Snežnik (1694 m)
Looking north-east from Mali Snežnik.
On top of Veliki Snežnik, looking east.
Mountain pine Pinus mugo covering much of Snežnik's upper part, from 1400 m upwards.
Looking south from the top. The mountains in the background are in Croatia.
A sinkhole near the top (it was full of snow).
Looking northwards. Two dolines with vegetation inversion are visible.
View from the path, looking westwards. The doline Grda draga is visible on the bottom of the valley and Mt. Nanos is also just visible in the distant haze.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Smrekova draga, Mali Golak, Kucelj

Gentiana lutea ssp. symphyandra
Potentilla caulescens growing out of the rocks by the road on mount Čaven.
Centaurea rupestris
Epipactis atrorubens
Onobrychis alba - a rare plant in Slovenia: found only on the southern edge of Trnovski gozd and on a few locations in the Vipava valley.
Sambucus racemosa
Cyclamen purpurascens - a sight of the incoming autumn...
Daphne mezereum - very attractive, but very poisonous.
Rhododendron hirsutum coming to the end of its flowering season in Trnovski gozd.
Pinguicula alpina with a fly caught on its sticky leaves. A semi-carnivorous plant.
Sphagnum nemoreum (moss) found in the stands of Pinus mugo on the bottom of Smrekova draga.
Vaccinium myrtillus
Lonicera nigra with berries
Lycopodium sp. (a common moss in Smrekova draga)
"The Rock" on the bottom of Smrekova draga; covered with Pinus mugo, Rhododendron hirsutum (pinkish flowers), Juniperus communis and Salix sp.
Norway spruce Picea abies forest on the bottom of Smrekova draga. A community known as Lonicero caeruleae-Piceetum. Phytocenology is so cool!
Spent an interesting day botanising in Trnovski gozd. Visited the karstic doline of Smrekova draga, the top of mt. Mali Golak (1495 m) in the forest interior and mt. Kucelj (1237 m) on the southern edge of the forest. So combined species of moister microclimates (Smrekova draga) with forest species and heat-loving species of upland karstic grassland (Kucelj). Needles to say I didn't pay much attention to birds (which are not very active at this time of year) and only saw a few Crossbills Loxia curvirostra, Willow Tits Poecile montanus, Raven Corvus corax, Rock Bunting Emberiza cia, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, heard a few Bullfinches Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus and commoner forest birds.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Crexing about

A close encounter with a Corncrake Crex crex
Yesterday I went to Cerkniško jezero (Cerknica lake) to investigate on a Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola that has been photographed there on Tuesday. The date of the sighting is quite odd for a non-breeding bird and moreover a probable juvenile was also photographed the same day. This could be the first breeding of the species in Slovenia, which is otherwise an accidental (with 8th confirmed records). Despite an intensive search I didn't find the birds so I gave up and spent the rest of the evening enjoying other birds around the lake. The star of the day were CORNCRAKES Crex crex. I had 7 singing birds in total and also managed to see one down to a few metres (above).
Other highlights around the lake included a Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus doing some motionless "hanging", 3 Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus (the area is the only regular breeding site I know), lots of showy Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, an awful lot of Whinchats Saxicola rubetra (20-30), a few Yellow Wagtails Motacilla flava cinereocapilla (with juvs), Fieldfare Turdus pilaris (2), Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (1 f), Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola (1) and 2 families of White Storks Ciconia ciconia.
In the evening also a Beech Marten Martes foina in the middle of the road and two more singing Corncrakes at Planinsko polje.
The sun setting over Javorniki mountains and Corncrakes singing all over the plain!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Centaurea alpina & Latin names

Centaurea alpina
After the hard botanical twitching in the Alps, today I went to see a "rarity" on the Slovenian Karst near Sežana. The above plant is an Alpine Knapweed Centaurea alpina, which is very rare and found only on two locations in Slovenia. The other location is Mt.Čaven on the southern edge of Trnovski gozd. Overall there are no more than 20 wild specimens in the whole of Slovenia!

Today I've also been to Škocjanski zatok for my weekly bird monitoring. July has been quite calm with most interesting birds being mainly the breeding species like Little Tern Sternula albifrons (1-2 pairs), Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Black-winged Stilts, Common Terns and so on. Today I noticed some signs of movement with increasing wader numbers (all the common species), a juvenile Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, a few Pochards, Teals, a Med Gull and a Hoopoe Upupa epops feeding on the path (also present last week). A Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis calling over the lagoon was also of note (one last week as well).

As you may have noticed, in this post I started to use Latin names in the text as well. In the future I'll use them just for the most interesting species (those in bold) to highlight their importance and I'll do so in an international scientific language. I think is a good and more complete way of reporting sightings. And of course is more helpful for the readers who don't know English bird names. The public of this blog is quite varied and I think this will be a welcome addition.
As for the names of plants I'll use the Latin names only, as usual, because I don't know all of the names in English. Moreover there are some species here in this corner of the world that don't have English names (yet).
So: from now on the highlights (species in bold) will have Latin names as well.
In the future (or in some occasions) I may extent this rule to all the bird names... I don't know yet, it's a test. I hope I won't get bored in the process of adding... ;)
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