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|Monday 30th May 2005, 11:21||#1|
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Bohemian Wastes
Julian Alps via Waasen-Hanság, May 21-28, 2005
Disclaimer: This report is hardly comprehensive. It doesn’t contain any of the many wildflowers we saw on the trip, it doesn’t contain any of the many butterflies we saw on the trip, and it doesn’t contain all of the bird species we saw on the trip. There is no information contained herein on the less common owls and woodpeckers (because we did not look for them). Three days of the trip contained no birding at all, in fact, but there is probably something useful in here somewhere.
May 21 – En Route to Ljubljana via Waasen-Hanság
It was 0245 on Saturday, May 21 when we left Prague for Slovenia and the Julian Alps, having decided just two days earlier to stop “on the way” in the Waasen-Hanság area of the Neusiedler See region to take a chance on seeing the area’s Great Bustards.
The first hour of the trip was as uneventful as could be – until we saw the silhouette of a Roe Deer in the headlights of a truck that was ahead of us. I immediately began veering toward the side of the road braking hard all the way. The deer, unfortunately, veered the same way, and we made contact with some force.
I was in a mild state of shock as I began to open my door to see the result of our collision. A lorry was coming fast through the smoke from the burned rubber of our tires, and we sat there helpless as the speeding behemoth tore the fallen animal into pieces, part of its body sliding up the road past our vehicle. The sound of crunching bones and tearing flesh is something I will not soon forget.
We got the car completely off the road and got out to assess the damage to the vehicle; surprisingly, there wasn’t any. It was like a brief nightmare, but the feeling inside us was evidence of it all having been very, very real.
At first I wanted to just turn around and go back to Prague, but we decided to continue on our journey. Going back home would not reverse what had happened, and no amount of punishing ourselves was going bring the animal back to life.
So it was with heavy hearts that we arrived at around 0800 in the Austrian-Hungarian borderlands east of the Neusiedler See.
There is a loop route that runs south from the village of Andau to the Einserkanal (on the Hungarian border) and back north to the village of Tadten (or the reverse if you prefer). As we approached the observation tower on the eastern border of the reserve, we could already see several Great Bustards in a farm field adjacent to the area’s more natural grasslands.
We got out of the car and went up into the tower to scan from above. There were 13 bustards in all, and while we were enjoying the scene a sub-adult male Montagu’s Harrier flew right in front of us and then further east. A pair of Grey Partridges was calling below as a German birder ascended the steps of the tower. “Dreizehn,” he said.
After lingering for a while, I made a few lousy photographs of the bustards through the telescope and we continued along the road towards the canal and then towards Tadten.
The place was chock-full of Yellow Wagtails, Cuckoos were seen and heard, and a singing male Sedge Warbler hardly noticed as we stopped right next to his shrub-top perch. Stonechats, Whinchats, Red-backed Shrikes, and Linnets were all easily seen; Marsh Warblers and Reed Warblers were easily heard. Marsh Harriers were seemingly everywhere.
It was about 0930 when we reached the observation tower on the western side of the reserve. Three long lenses hanging out of the same number of cars with German license plates were pointed towards a field in which no fewer than three Short-eared Owls were putting on quite a show; several calling Lapwings were an attractive accompaniment. None of the owls seemed particularly bothered by a farmer who was throwing hay off the back of his truck to the cows in the field.
It wasn’t long before one of the owls landed on a post not too far from where we were standing. I managed to quell an acute myocardial infarction and got a couple of decent photos before we moved up the road.
Two Curlews were flying and calling over a field to our right as a small falcon caught my eye on the left side of the road. We stopped the car and I jumped out to see nothing other than a 1st-summer male Red-footed Falcon flying right overhead eating an insect on the wing, a great way to end a very pleasant couple of hours in this fantastic reserve.
Though we didn’t do any birding for the rest of the day, we did see White Storks in the Hungarian village of Hidegség south of the Neusiedler See, and a pair of Black Storks soaring just east of the town of Celje, Slovenia was a nice find en route to Ljubljana.
May 22 – No Birding
We spent the morning with two friends in the lovely medieval town of Škofja Loka and the afternoon with two other friends and their children near Ivančna Gorica.
May 23 – No Birding
The morning was spent running errands, visiting a friend, and exploring Ljubljana. Around noon we left for the village of Bovec in the Julian Alps. Our route took us through Kranjska Gora and over the pass of Vršič, where we ate žganci (fried flour) and zelje (sour cabbage) at the Eriavceva Koča and managed to see two Alpine Choughs.
May 24 – No Birding
Another non-birding day, as we spent our first full day in the Julian Alps just driving around admiring the scenery. Our route took us from Bovec over the Učja Pass, into the Val Resia and Val Raccolana in Italy, and back into Slovenia over the Predel Pass.
May 25 – Mt. Krn (SLO)
The southern slopes of Mt. Krn (above the village of the same name) seemed a perfect beginning for the first of our morning hikes in the mountains. Beginning at an altitude of 1000 metres at Planina Kuhinja, we slowly made our way up the macadam road to Planina Zaslap at around 1400 metres.
Strangely enough, though facing south and at a relatively low altitude, Planina Kuhinja is where the woods end here and an area of pastureland with scattered trees and shrubs begins.
The predominant bird species in this habitat were Red-backed Shrikes, Whinchats, and Tree Pipits, the latter species seen repeatedly in song-display flight. Cuckoos were heard calling here and there, and as I looked back down the slope towards Kuhinja a male Black Woodpecker was flying just above the edge of the forest.
Continuing uphill we passed a small spruce grove where a Firecrest was singing, and a look above the hilltop of Pleče (1298 m) revealed a kettle of six soaring raptors – Honey Buzzards – apparently still migrating (?). We watched them as they rose to the top of one thermal then peeled off northward one at a time to find another one, this time over Kozljak (1587 m), the southern face of which rose steeply above our destination at Planina Zaslap.
As we approached Zaslap, a pair of Rock Thrushes was seen on the hillside and then sitting on some barbed wire at the edge of the planina. We walked around the few buildings here, finding a nesting Spotted Flycatcher in the process, while two Crag Martins working the cliffs of Kozljak were a pleasant surprise. A pair of Golden Eagles soaring with a Buzzard between the peaks of Kozljak and Mt. Krn sent us back down the trail with smiles on our faces.
May 26 – Altipiano del Montasio (IT)
We left our lodgings at 0500 and proceeded towards the Predel Pass and Italy’s Val Raccolana. A large Red Deer crossing the road gave us a bit of a scare en route, but we made it safely to Sella Nevea and then up to the end of the road leading to the Altipiano del Montasio.
Montasio is a long, high pastureland (at 1500 to 1700 metres) known for its cheese. The cows had still not made it up from the valley when we were there, however, and the farm buildings were deserted. In fact, we were the only people there for the first two hours of our stay, making it a very special experience looking over the Val Raccolana towards the snow-covered northern face of the Canin Massif in absolute quiet, except for the birds of course.
Beginning at 1500 metres we ascended towards the Rifugio di Brazza. There were spruces scattered all over the altipiano, a completely different environment from that of the southern slopes of Krn, but the avifauna here was at first quite similar – Red-backed Shrikes, Whinchats, and Tree Pipits. A lone Raven was calling as it flew over the Val Raccolana.
As we approached the rifugio (which was also closed) at 1660 metres, though, things began to change. The spruces began fading out, and there was only scattered woody vegetation. Ring Ouzels were not hard to find, and Wheatears became a common sight. Upon reaching the rifugio, we heard the calls of Black Grouse coming from a group of spruces on a nearby slope.
And did I mention the Alpine Marmots? The place was full of them, both en route to the rifugio and along the path that we followed up to just over 1700 metres, where Tree Pipits had been replaced by displaying Water Pipits.
As we reached the trail that would take us back down to the farm buildings, I scanned the slopes under the Forca del Palone and found a number of grazing Alpine Ibex, 17 to be exact, including six furry kids. A magnificent sight in its own right, but it was only improved when a soaring Golden Eagle arrived on the scene being mobbed by nine Alpine Choughs.
Our descent proved uneventful, with us seeing much the same species as on our walk up, but just before leaving the area we saw a flock of at least 30 Alpine Choughs in their captivating synchronised flight.
May 27 – Mt. Matajur (IT)
Another crossing into Italy, this time along the Valli del Natisone to the town of San Pietro and then up through the hill villages to the Rifugio Pelizzo (1325 m), the starting point for our loop around Mt. Matajur.
We followed the trail up towards the summit briefly before veering westward towards Marsinska Planina. The trail passed through one or small groves of trees, where a couple of very cooperative Bullfinches showed themselves, before reaching more open country with rocky karst formations and scattered trees and shrubs.
Tree Pipits and Whinchats were again dominating the scene, but there were not so many Red-backed Shrikes here. I tried to scan all the exposed rocks for Rock Partridge, but no luck. As we reached Marsinska Planina, we had great looks at a male Rock Thrush flying overhead.
We were now on the very lovely western slopes of Matajur, where we came across a sign indicating that there were Alpine Marmots and Black Grouse in the area. We did manage to find a marmot, but we neither saw nor heard any grouse.
Arriving at a couple of buildings where a male Black Redstart was singing, we investigated a nearby small pool and were delighted by what we found – it was teeming with Alpine Newts! There were dozens of the orange-bellied amphibians inside the water, and I even managed to catch one for a brief look. A few Yellow-bellied Toads and their tadpoles were also present here.
We followed the path up the steep northwest slope to the top of the mountain accompanied by a pair of soaring Kestrels and a couple dozen Swifts, most of which were strangely silent as they were hawking the abundant insects near the peak. A single Raven passed by as we reached the chapel on the summit, and a hill-topping Hobby was an outstanding sight as it flew over while we were snacking and enjoying the view, which on a clear day includes the Adriatic Sea and the Dolomites.
A couple of Black Redstarts were found on our descent, as was a Smooth Snake and a hovering Buzzard. We were famished upon reaching the rifugio and so very much appreciated the offer of homemade tagliatelle for lunch.
May 28 – Mangart Road (SLO)
I had been looking forward to this day for some time and here it was finally upon us – the chance to seek out the high-altitude specialties (Ptarmigan, Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper, and Snowfinch) at the top of Slovenia’s highest road.
So I was filled with great anticipation as we parked the car before the entrance to the last tunnel (at approx. 1700 m) and began to walk. We could see that two cars further up had had to stop because snow was still covering parts of the road at 1900 metres and above.
Black Redstart was one of the first birds encountered here, and it wasn’t long before Wheatears and displaying Water Pipits were a common sight. The best birds of the morning, though, those that were filling me with anticipation, were yet to come.
As we turned up the track to the Koča na Mangrtu, two Alpine Accentors landed not too far away, giving great views as they hopped among the rocks and grass. But things got even better. Continuing on past the koča and up towards Mangrtsko Sedlo, we soon had four Snowfinches flying overhead.
We made our way up further towards the sedlo and soon found two more Snowfinches on the ground amongst the snow and boulders beneath the western wall of Mt. Mangart.
At the top of the sedlo, where there is a view into Italy and the Mangart Lakes, we rested for a while and I scanned a nearby steep wall that looked perfect for Wallcreeper. A pair of calling Ring Ouzels distracted me briefly from my scanning.
Anything that flitted around that wall got my attention, but everything that flitted around that wall was an Alpine Accentor. There were at least four of them calling and singing and flying around the rock face. I scanned for a little while longer, until it became clear that seeing a Wallcreeper was going to have to wait until another day. Two more Snowfinches flying right by us as we started back down, though, were good consolation.
“Well, two out of four isn’t bad,” I thought. And then we heard something croaking.
“Maybe it’s a Ptarmigan,” I said. “Either that or somebody’s snoring in the koča.”
Within about half a minute a beautiful male Ptarmigan appeared just below us in a steep gully. It hardly ever stood still, instead walking swiftly across patches of snow and flying onto boulders. Then another male showed itself.
The two birds began chasing each other, first briefly across the snow and boulders and then in an aerial pursuit. This was one of the most spectacular avian scenes I have ever witnessed, the two of them flying up the gully and then soaring back down together on their stiff white wings.
A female came out from behind a boulder and one of the males began pursuing her. Soon the second male flew in and jumped on the first. The female made a quick dash into a crevice and the males began their pursuit all over again. Fantastic!
Before making it back to the car, we found three more Alpine Accentors and a small flock of nine Alpine Choughs. A beautiful Adder sunning itself on the road just above tree line was the last thing we stopped to admire on our way down the mountain. It was time to prepare for our return home.
Last edited by Blackstart : Tuesday 31st May 2005 at 12:43. Reason: Added Photos
|Monday 30th May 2005, 18:03||#2|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Doncaster, UK
Ooh... a bit of a horrific start, Blackstart, but thanks for the report, and congratulations on the "target" birds you managed to get.
I don't think I'm going to manage Mangart on my trip later this year, but I might just make it over Vršič, so I'll keep an eye out for somthing new... the Alpine choughs would be nice.
Unfortunately, the last (= 1st) time I went over Vršič, I wasn't as active a birder as now, and missed a bit of an opportunity!
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