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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
October in the Julian Alps at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia,
A short trip into the Slovenian Julian Alps highlighted the potential of this underwatched area, and gave a surprise flyover of one of the best birds in the world….
The “hardest winter birding in Europe” claimed the Punks (http://www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=606); sounds fun! My job takes my abroad on a not infrequent basis, but rarely to places where I can fit some birding in, so it was a result to be asked to join a meeting in Slovenia on a Friday, especially when I discovered the meeting was to be held at Kranjska Gora. This was my second winter trip to Slovenia, but the first to a decent birding area.
Kranjska Gora is a ski resort in the southern Julian Alps. It is an easy 45 minute drive north west of Ljubjlana airport (itself already 20k NW of the city at Brnik) as is located at an altitude of 810m (2,657 ft) in the Zgornjesavaska valley, close to both Italian and Austrian borders. I arrived late afternoon 16th October and also birded the morning of 17th October and on 18th October.
Rock Partridge would have been my only potential tick, and local birder Jurij Hanžel kindly provided gen. However, timings meant it was just a bridge too far to make it to the summit of Kobariški stol, the site Jurij recommended. I therefore focused on seeing what I could find in the Kranjska Gora area.
Alpine Choughs had already descended for the winter and were seen daily around the town; maximum flock was 40. Black Redstarts and Hooded Crows were pleasingly common, whilst tit flocks included both Crested and Marsh alongside Great, Blue and many distinctive ‘Continental’ Coal Tits. Finches seen around the town included many Siskins, vocal Bullfinchs and four Serins.
About 4km west of the town is the small Zelenci Nature Reserve, an area of reed and marsh in the wooded river basin. I visited this site on four occasions, the highlight being a surprise Hazel Hen flushed from woodland vegetation 15m off the path between the main car park and the observation platform on one occasion. A Black Woodpecker was heard calling but not seen, and the marsh proved to be a roost site for Water Pipits, with 20+ seen on the 16th. A vocal Brambling was also seen on that date.
There are relatively few trip reports for Slovenia, however a number I found gave the ridge above Kranjska Gora town as a site for alpinus Three-toed Woodpecker. The most comfortable access is by ski-lift from Kranjska Gora to Vitrancu, which actually comprises two separate lifts. Unlike John Cantelo (http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/slovenia/slov1/slovenia98.htm) but like Bob Swann (http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/slovenia/slov2/slov-oct-03.htm) and Rupert Perkins (http://www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=809) the lower lift was open when I tried to get up to the ridge, but the second wasn’t. If this happens to you, beware; it’s a gruelling 2 hour hike with 800m (2,600ft) ascent to the ridge, the ‘path’ (No. 13) following the route of steep ski-runs. Ensure you have hiking equipment and are in good health. Oh, and don’t take the ski-lift down, take the summer toboggan, its great fun!
I failed to take Bob’s advice and forgot to bring my speakers, so woodpecker taping wasn’t possible. It was therefore no surprise that I failed to find any; however this was more than made up for as during the ascent a stunning surprise WALLCREEPER flew over! Willow Tits replaced Marsh Tits at this attitude and were quite common, and other new birds seen included (Red) Crossbills, (Eurasian) Treecreepers and Redwing.
The Slovenian Alps are home to a mouth-watering selection of owls, but without my speakers and flashlight it was always going to be tricky… A drive round stopping in suitable looking habitat on the night of the 17th unsurprisingly produced no results.
The Vršič Pass is the highest mountain pass in Slovenia, reaching 1,611m (5,284ft), and runs south from Kranjska Gora, climbing into Triglav National Park. I followed the 24 hairpins to the summit, and birded back down again, stopping and searching good looking habitat. Five Alpine Choughs were around the summit car park, a far better location than around the roofs of Kranjska’s hotels! I found very little else of note until I checked the river from a likely looking bridge a couple of km’s out of Kranjska Gora where a Dipper gave great views. This bird was of the rufous-bellied central European form; birds in this area are not Black-bellied cinclus as suggested in some trip reports. A Raven flew over, and a Sparrowhawk did a great impression of a Goshawk for a while….
The final highlight came as I drove out the valley through the village of Belca when I finally nailed a Nutcracker; a bird flew across the road in front of me.
Slovenia is confident young nation, with stunning scenery, a good (& improving) network of quiet roads, some acceptable food (the Italian influence clearly helps; it’s a lot better than in most of Central Europe…) and a plenty of accommodation. It’s really easy to get to, but is still relatively ignored by British birders. That’s a shame, as it’s a pleasure to bird in & I’ll be back for that Rock Partridge….
Other species seen during my short trip, but not mentioned above, were; Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Mallard, Common (abundant!) Buzzard, Kestrel, Wood Pigeon, Feral Pigeon, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Wren, Robin, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Magpie, Jay, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Yellowhammer.