Friday, 19 January 2018

Wallcreepers, Dippers & woodpeckers

This is the perfect title summarising the birds that we most like to see in winter. Few other birds make the dull and cold winter days more livelier than the above trio. We'll start with the most interesting to foreign birders an locals alike: Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria. This rare bird lives on inaccessible cliffs in the Alps and its breeding distribution is still poorly known in Slovenia. Needless to say, it's not easy to find one in the Alps in summer. Much easier is to wait for winter and look for it on the south-facing limestone cliffs of the Karst edge (W Slovenia, NE Italy & NW Croatia). In the past week we checked some of the locations close to home and observed 3 different Wallcreepers. Two were chasing each other on the same cliff, while the third was on another location some 5 km away (above pics). The latter showed well for quite a long time and allowed us to make this short VIDEO (watch HD).

Last weekend we took part in the yearly International Waterbird Census (IWC) and were assigned to two small rivers in the Vipava valley. The rivers are fast-flowing and not very wide, so we didn't see any of the true waterbirds or wildfowl one might expect on such a census. But it was nevertheless exciting, as we counted 12 Dippers Cinclus cinclus. These smart semi-acquatic passerines are common on mountain streams in Slovenia and are frequently the only species recorded by most of the IWC volunteers counting on rivers in the north and west of the country. Some of the Dippers in the Vipava valley were already very territorial and we even observed a pair in courtship. These early breeders are in full spring mode!

Here we go again with the Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius. In recent months there has been an expansion (invasion?) from Slovenia into northeast Italy, where previously the species was totally absent. Now even in the Italian Karst, in the outskirts of Trieste, records of Middle Spots are becoming increasingly regular. The above bird was photographed in Italy, only 3 km away from the nearest Slovenian breeding grounds. It's just a matter of time, before the first breeding pair for the whole of northern Italy is found (the species only breeds locally in central and southern Italy).
Shortly after the above Middle Spot was seen, two Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor and a Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius landed on nearby trees and went to roost. Soon the first Blacks will start with nest excavation and the woodpecker season will finally kick in!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Winter botany?

It's mid winter, but the botanist inside us is never at rest! In the warmer parts of the Karst, some vernal plants are making an early appearence. Actually this is the time when the very first spring flowers usually start to appear. Primroses, Helleborus and Crocuses for example are typical late-winter plants. Moreover the weather has been unusually warm recently, with temparatures rising up to 15 degrees C at times and this certainly encouraged the blooms.
Here's a selection of the plants that made us a bit more cheerful during our recent winter excursions.

Tommasini's Sandwort Moehringia tommasinii - endemic to SW Slovenia, NW Croatia and extreme NE Italy (see IUCN factsheet). It grows on sunny limestone cliffs that even in winter can support a mild microclimate, encouraging early blooms. The above shot was taken a few days ago in the Osp cliff  - the species' typical locality in Slovenia.

Welden's Crocus Crocus weldenii - a Balkanic species present at a couple of locations in the Trieste Karst, not far from the Slovenian border. There are a few doubtful historic data for Slovenia and the species has not yet been discovered in the country. However, even the small Italian population is of uncertain origins.

Primrose Primula vulgaris - the harbinger of spring?

Helleborus multifidus ssp. istriacus - very common species in the Karst.

Pale Corydalis Pseudofumaria alba - growing commonly at the Osp cliffs.
Arabis turrita
Butcher's Broom Ruscus aculeatus - a very common shrub in the Karst's termophilous woodlands.
Southern Polypody Polipodium australe
(also P. cambricum) - the southern relative of the Common Polypody P. vulgare. It grows on or near limestone cliffs, usually in more shaded places. It is very common at the Osp cliffs.
These could possibly be the leaves of a Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea, photographed a few days ago in the flysch hills near Kozina. Certainly a very early record.

Hazel Corylus avellana - catkins.

Bird's-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis - last year's plant "sprouting" from the snow.

Saturday, 30 December 2017


The time has come for the traditional yearly review of our best wildlife encounters in 2017. In this final post there is as usual a selection of plants and birds, but also butterflies - our new summer addiction! Among other things, at the beginning of 2017 we spent two months in Romania (highlights at Wild Delta Experience), while in the autumn we launched our long-term project - the WildSlovenia website. It was an important and decisive year indeed!
More exciting wildlife to come in 2018, so stay tuned and enjoy the pics! ;-)

Footprint of Lynx Lynx lynx in the snow; Mt Snežnik, January.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos; Javorniki Mts, April.
We found this female by sound and discovered it was excavating a nest-hole.

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Javorniki Mts, April.

Fritillaria orientalis; Karst, April.

Orchis pallens; Karst, April.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius; Karst, May.
Sara found the species' first nest of the Karst. Watch the video.

Paeonia officinalis; Karst, May.

Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus; Karst, May.

Neotinea ustulata; Karst, May.

Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria; Pivka temporary lakes, May.

Iris sibirica; Nanoščica river basin, May.

Lady's-slippers Cypripedium calceolus; Kamnik-Savinja Alps, May. 
The most exciting find of 2017!

Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis; Mt Nanos, May.

Watching Rock Thrush on the rocky slopes of Nanos in May.

Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia; Mt Nanos, May.

Woodland Brown Lopinga achine; Mt Slivnica, June.

Scarce Fritillary Euphydryas maturna; Mt Slivnica, June.

Purple-edged Copper Lycaena hippothoe; Mt Slivnica, June.

Clouded Apollo Parnassius mnemosyne; Mt Slivnica, June.

Field naturalist, always ready for the job: from birds to butterflies!

Nigritella lithopolitanica; Kamnik-Savinja Alps, June.

Lilium martagon; Trnovski gozd, June.

Lilium carniolicum; Southern edge of Trnovski gozd, June.

Black Storks Ciconia nigra; Ilirska Bistrica, July.

Stag Beetle Lucanus cervus; Karst, July.

This summer's largest Stag Beetle, climbing the house's wall to take off.

Lesser Grey Shrikes Lanius minor; Vipava valley, July.

Eagle Owl Bubo bubo; Karst edge in northeast Italy, July.

Echinops ritro ssp. ruthenicus; Southern edge of Trnovski gozd, July.

Gentiana lutea; Southern edge of Trnovski gozd, July.

Scarce Large Blue Phengaris teleius; Ilirska Bistrica, July.

Alpine Marmot Marmota marmota; Mt Črna prst, July.

Our new alpine cottage! :-)

Gentiana pannonica; Pokljuka plateau (Triglav National Park), August.

Peričnik waterfall (Triglav National Park), August.

Adder Vipera berus; Triglav National Park, August.

Alpine Ibex Capra ibex; Montasio plateau (northeast Italy), August.

Linaria alpina; Montasio plateau (northeast Italy), August.

Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria & Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis paphia; Triglav National Park, August.

Alpine Eryngo Eryngium alpinum; Mt Črna prst (Triglav National Park), August.
One of the most exciting and rare plants we've seen this year.

Large Copper Lycaena dispar; Nanoščica river basin, August.

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica; Škocjanski zatok, September.

Brown Bear Ursus arctos; Snežnik plateau, September.

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos; Mt Nanos, September.
We witnessed an attack to an Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra - watch the video.

 Autumn Lady's-tresses Spiranthes spiralis; Karst, September.

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus; Snežnik forests, October.

This is how we photograph Three-toed Woodpeckers!

 Autumn colours in the Dinaric mountains (Snežnik), October.

Polyporus squamosus; Snežnik forests, October.

Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum; Snežnik forests, October. Watch the video.

Ural Owl Strix uralensis; Javorniki mountains, October.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos; Snežnik forests, October.

Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris; Mt Snežnik, October.

Paul enjoying the sun on Mt Snežnik, October.

Dipper Cinclus cinclus; Planinsko polje, November.

Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria; Predjama, November. 

Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus; Bloško polje, November.

Bittern Botaurus stellaris; Škocjanski zatok, December.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius; Karst, December.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris; Snežnik forests, December.

Snowshoeing in the Snežnik forests, December.

Happy new year, see you in 2018!