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Imperial Eagles in Slovakia, 10-15.08.2001,
Some weeks ago, JD and Pawel Brzek spent a nice birding week in Slovakia. We learned from the Eurobirder group, that this area needs ecotourists, so we produced this trip report.
We rested at the foot of Turna castle, hoping to see Imperial Eagle. It was our third day spend looking for this bird, and after several poor views of distant birds we decided, that the castle is the place, near which they must be flying close. And suddenly, a splendid adult Imperial Eagle glided from behind the trees, it's yellow ruff, bill, talons and white shoulder patches gleaming on the black background plumage. As if on show, the eagle slowly turned round, showing it's underside, and drifted back behind the trees. We frantically pushed lunch into our backpacks, and ran to the top of the castle, hoping to see the eagle again. We looked round and saw two Saker Falcons soaring above. Just five minutes later, the Imperial Eagle reappeared and started soaring, g liding and displaying in "wave-flight" above us. Then it turned and swooped down in a graceful curve with extended talons, disappearing on a slope below the castle. I walked cautiously along the castle wall. Below us, there was not one, but two adult Imperial Eagles, sitting on top of small pine less than 100 m away! Huge birds eyed us occassionally, but were obviously rather accustomed to the presence of the people on the castle walls. For the next three hours, pair of Imperial Eagles was seldom out of sight. They rested together on the pine, showing their truly regal colors from above, or one or another took off slowly to hunt over the fields and forests of Slovensky Kras. We enjoying this sight, interrupted by 4 migrating Black Storks, Marsh Harriers, Buzards, Kestrels flying past and Swallowtail and Scarce Swallowtail butterflies fluttering around the overgrown castle courtyard. Later that day, we saw two young Rock Thrushes in the quarry nearby.
This was our fourth day in Slovensky Karst in Slovakia. We decided to visit this area enticed by Samuel Pacenowsky of SOSNA, who runs a conservation campaign to preserve this area with ecotourism is a part of it. Most damage to the environment appeared t o be already done, with active mining in numerous quarries and fish-ponds already devoid of reeds. However, most of karst area was beautiful, with flat plateaus raising 200-300m above the valleys, old forests and meadows, karst craters and caves.
Places visited 10-15.08.2001:
Turna nad Bodvou is situated ca. 40 km east from Kosice. The hill with ruined Turna castle on top which dominates the area is accessible after ca. 15-30 min. walk/hike upwards (rather steep, but not difficult or requiring sturdy footwear). At the hill we saw Smooth Snake, Coronella austriaca and several Green Lizards, Lacerta viridis. Spectacular observations of Imperial Eagles, Sakers and other birds 13.08.01 (see top). The castle and nearby fields appear a very good spot for Imperial Eagle, which can be seen apparently without much disturbance. Samuel Pacenovsky approved disclosing this site. (We saw distant eagles, almost certainly the same birds, on two previous days there).
Fishponds at Turna nad Huhvou (10 & 11.08.01) - we saw only Grey Herons, Tufted Ducks, Pochards, Marsh Harriers, Buzzards and other common birds. According to our information, ponds are better in passage. Kestrel, Hobby, Stonechat and Turtle Dove are frequently seen on farmland in the area.
Fields NW of Turna nad Huhvou, near road Turna - Haj (11. & 12.08.01). Said to be good for hunting raptors incl. Imperial Eagles. Freshly ploughed field had ca.10 Marsh Harriers, >5 Common Buzzards, 2 Ravens, 2+ Kestrels, 2+ Hobbies, Crested Larks and Tur tle Doves. Imperial Eagles seen from the Turna castle were flying very high over these fields, so 11.08.01 we had unconclusive views against the light.
Zadielska Dolina/Tiesnava (valley/gorge, 11.08.01) - blue and red tourist trail Turna - Zadielska Dolina - Zadiel. Scenic gorge said to be good for Rock Bunting and Rock Thrush. We saw nothing except soaring Black Stork and possible Peregrine. The bottom of the gorge was densely forested, and best overlook was from top of the plateaus - green or blue trail leading from Turna.
Fields S of Kosice (between villages Valaliky, Cana and Haniska) 12.08.01. Suburban field and pond, plenty of people, nothing except 4 Curlews, many Turtle Doves and Kestrels. According to our information, good place for hunting Imperial Eagles - in the v ery early morning only?. People also recommended: grounds of Kosice airport and border crossing Slovakia-Hungary south of Kosice as good places for this species (not visited by us).
Quarry just at border crossing Hostovce/Tornanadaska (Dlny Vrch, 13.08.01). We saw 2 juv Rock Thrushes there , found probable Eagle Owl feathers, heard Quail, saw many Woodlarks and Stonechat. Quarry appears to be active and access might be forbidden, but we appeared there after 5.00. p.m. and couldn't find anybody to check it.
Plesivska Planina (Plesivec plateau) north of Plesivec (14.08.01). One of several plateaus in the area. We saw Rock Buntings (male and 3 juveniles) from the asphalt road going up the plateau, N of Plesivec, marked by blue tourist trail. They were seen whe re the road approaches the top of the plateau, in bushy area with heaps of stones. Plateau (blue and yellow tourist trails) is covered with beautiful meadows and young and old beech forests. We saw practically no other tourists in the peak season! Scops a nd Ural Owls breed on the plateau, but in August we saw only Honey Buzzards, Ravens, Green Lizard, many Nuthatches etc. Plateau has karst landscape with few orientation marks, but proved to be surprisingly small and easy to cross. Slopes of karst plateaus are steep, but plateaus are low and distances small, so hiking was not difficult at all. Also visited spectacular Gombasecka Jaskyna (cave) nearby (one of several UNESCO World Heritage caves in the area).
Hills N of village Hrhow (15.08.01) said to be good for Rock Bunting in spring. Nothing except Red-backed Shrikes and Praying Mantis Mantis religiosa.
Hrhow ponds (15.08.01): only common species seen: Grey Heron, 14 White Storks, Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Ducks etc. Lesser Spotted Eagle was seen flying NS low over the valley (breeder n the area). Ponds are said to be better on passage (Great White Egr et etc. - David Conlin information on Eurobirder in May 2001), and Saker is said to be breeding nearby.
- This part of Slovakia is calm, rural countyside. Roads are relatively good and empty.
- Tourist information at Roznava: http://www.roznava.sk, e-mail: email@example.com, tel: +421 (0)58 732 81 01, fax: +421 (0)58 732 48 37. Tourist infrastructure is adequate, but not fancy. There is network of well-marked trails, campings, hotels, pubs, shops etc. The area seemed wonderfully quiet with very few tourists comparing to similar places in Poland or Germany and our hosts complained at lack of tourists.
- Cost: good double room with adequate shared bathroom in private house at Turna (info from Roznava tourist information) cost us 170SKK/night per person (ca. 3.60USD). Additional 100SLK (ca.USD 2.10) bought huge home-made dinner with soup, meat, dessert a nd fruits. Camping in Gombas (hot water and toilets) cost 100SLK/night (ca.USD 2.10).
- Map: 1:50.000 map "Slovensky Kras" published by Vojensky kartograficky ustav, Harmanec was very good. Explanations are in Slovak, German, English, Hungarian and Polish, there are GPS coordinates and hiking and bike trails with time it takes to hike ever y part of trail. We bought this map in hiking shop in Poland. It was for sale in several tourist places in Slovakian Karst area.
- Local language is Slovak and Hungarian (we spoke Polish), some people understand German, few - English.
- Transport: we used trains and buses - Turna nad Bodvou and Roznava has reasonably frequent bus and train connection with Kosice, but public transport in Slovakia is unexpectedly slow. Roads are good, relatively few cars.
- Don't mistake Slovensky Kras (Slovakian Karst) with Slovensky Raj, different and better known area in north Slovakia. Hungarian part of karst - Aggtelek National Park appears to have better infrastructure.
Slovakian Karst cannot match Camargue or Coto Donana, but is good place for short (and budget!) visit. No doubt, we overlooked interesting butterflies, dragonflies and plants in the karst area. Views of Imperial Eagles were really stunning and it seems, that other visitors can count on such observations, too.
Our acknowledgements to Samuel Pacenovsky and all e-birders who responded to our RFI.
Jerzy Dyczkowski, Pawel Brzek