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A Report from

Slovenia, 15th-21st October 2003,

Bob Swann

This report gives details of the birds seen and the sites visited during a week's holiday in north-west Slovenia based at the resort of Kranjska Gora. The timing of the trip, mid-October was to fit in with the Scottish school holidays. It was booked through Balkan Holidays and I flew from Gatwick to Ljubljana. Kranjska Gora is basically a ski resort, though also attracts a lot of walkers in summer. In October it was fairly quiet with many hotels and other facilities having closed. Birdwise I had realised that most of the summer visitors would have gone so the number of species of birds around would not be that high, but it was the resident specialities I was keen to see. I spent the first three days close to the resort, then hired a car for four days from a local tour operator. It was quite expensive at £140, but there was little alternative as I intended visiting a few out of the way sites.

15th October. Arrived in mid afternoon. Took a stroll round the resort and then followed the track up the valley to Podkoren and Ratece. Lots of Black Redstarts, where ever there was open ground, along with European Robins and Song Thrushes. Along the woodland edge were many Eurasian Jays and large mixed flocks mainly Blue, Coal, Great, Marsh and Crested Tit, with Goldcrest and a few Chiffchaffs. Just past Podkoren is a swampy area where the river Sava flows. Here I had 2 White-throated Dippers and a few Grey Heron. In the scrub were a few Blackbird and Wrens. In the fields around Podkoren were many White Wagtails, a few Meadow Pipits, lots of Chaffinches, Starlings and Hooded Crow, with at least one Carrion Crow and a few hybrids. Several pairs of Common Buzzard soared and called overhead. I reached Ratece and the small lake there held a few Mallard, a Common Teal and a Common Snipe, the only wader I saw on the entire trip.

16th October. Up early. It was a beautiful clear, but frosty morning. A walk round the resort revealed 6 Alpine Chough sitting on chimney pots (warming themselves up?). I had hoped to take the chairlift up from the resort to the peak above the town called Vitranc. Unfortunately it was not working! I gritted my teeth and decided I would just have to climb the 800m up to the ridge. I followed the line of the chairlift but zig-zagged my way up following the ski areas and tracks through the forest. It was hard going and took almost two hours. I had 6 Common Ravens and a flock of 25 Wood Pigeon fly over on my assent. However, it was worth it. I got onto the ridge and started to walk along the marked track towards Ciprnik (1746m). The ridge was covered in mature spruce with quite a few dead trees. Once again flocks of tits were common mainly Coal, Crested and Willow (which replaced Marsh at these altitudes) as well as Goldcrest and Eurasian Tree Creepers. Small flocks of Common Crossbills were also present, including some fine red males. I had hoped to find woodpeckers and had taken a tape with the calls of three-toed woodpecker on it. As I walked along the ridge I played the tape when I got to an area of dead trees. To my surprise on the first playing I immediately attracted a female Grey-headed Woodpecker which was quickly followed by a male Black Woodpecker. Both gave excellent views. I walked along and tried again. This time a male Grey-headed and another male Black Woodpecker. I tried again nothing. Then again and this time attracted a Spotted Nutcracker which appeared just above me giving superb views as it called away at the tape. Another go and another male Grey-headed Woodpecker with another (even closer) Nutcracker . A final go and this time a superb male Three-toed Woodpecker appeared. What a place, however, without the tape I would probably have seen very little. Incidentally the Three-toed Woodpecker had a fairly pure white stripe on its back, not a barred back as the Collins Field guide suggests. The walk back down the ridge only took 45 minutes and I was rewarded with very close views of my first Chamois.

17th October. Another bright clear sunny day. I walked up the valley again to Podkoren and the lake at Zelenci. Saw similar birds to my first day out. Extras included a flock of 20 European Siskin in the spruce trees by the lake and in the fields on my way back 4 Water Pipit, 3 Reed Bunting and a few Linnet. I collected my hired car at lunchtime and then headed of to Pokljuka, a forested plateau to the east of the resort. The forest here is very well managed, with much selective felling and natural regeneration. It is supposed to be a good site for a lot of Slovenian forest specialities. It was so uniform I had difficulty finding birds. Lots of Common Crossbills were present, including some singing males. I found very little dead wood, and all my tape attracted was another Spotted Nutcracker and a couple of Great-spotted Woodpeckers. There were the usual tit flocks with many Crested and Willow Tits and lots of Goldcrests.

18th October. Yet another bright clear sunny day. I headed of from Kranjska Gora up to the Vrsic pass just south of the resort. There was a cold wind blowing, some low cloud and it was -5 Celcius so I decided to move on. I drove down through a spectacular wooded valley to Trenta. Then followed the Soca river towards Bovec, then turned right towards the Italian border. Just before the Predil pass I turned right up a narrow winding road. It climbed up through beech woods, then stunted pines. Here I had large flocks of Chaffinch, Brambling and European Siskin, along with a fine male Black Grouse. The road passed through 5 narrow tunnels as it climbed up into an area of alpine pasture. I stopped at the top car park just below Mt Mangart. From the viewpoint there were superb views over Italy with the Austrian Alps in the distance. Around the car park were many Black Redstarts, up to 8 Alpine Choughs and 3 Snow Finches. The viewpoint looked over some fairly spectacular steep cliffs. Along the top I had a nice Alpine Accentor and finally superb views of a Wallcreeper - what a jewel of a bird. I spent several hours here but it was well worth it. I then headed back down the winding road, crossed the border into Italy heading for Tarviso and then east back into Slovenia. At Retece I had a flock of 25 Eurasian Serin drinking at a roadside puddle, whilst at Zelenci a Nutcracker flew across the road and landed in a spruce giving me good views.

19th October. An early start as I headed south, by-passing Ljubljana and taking the motorway down to the south of Postojna. Near Razdrto I turned off (these are toll motorways and I was charged north of Ljubljana and where I turned off) and headed north along a winding road till I saw a sign saying Nanos 9km. This took me up a spectacular limestone escarpment, following a narrow windy road up the steep forested slope. At the top it opened out into a grassy area with scattered scrub. This is a site for rock partridge, but despite criss-crossing it for much of the day I saw no sign of them. I did have good views of about 20 Chamois along the top of the escarpment. There were large numbers of European Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Chaffinches feeding on the berry bearing shrubs as well as a few Mistle Thrush. Amongst the scrub I had a couple of Rock Buntings, some Stonechat and the ubiquitous Black Redstarts. I flushed a few Skylark and Meadow Pipits from the grassier areas. Overhead I had 2 Common Ravens, lots of Eurasian Jays, at least 3 Sparrow Hawks and a nice adult Golden Eagle.

More and more walkers were arriving so I gave up my partridge search and headed back down the road. Just at the bottom of the Nanos road I parked the car and walked out onto the agricultural land in the valley bottom. Immediately I saw a nice male Cirl Bunting and a few Yellow Hammer. Out in the fields I flushed a few Skylark and 3 Woodlark. There was also a large flock of 30+ Meadow Pipit and with them a Tawny Pipit. In the weedier fields I flushed lots of Chaffinch, Linnets, another male Rock Bunting and a few Dunnocks. Sitting on an electric fence were several Black Redstart, a few Stonechat and a very nice Great Grey Shrike.

I then headed back north but decided to stop and explore the more open agricultural land just south of Ljubljana. Lots of Common Magpies here. Also the only Collared Doves I saw. In the fields I had flocks of House and Tree Sparrows, Linnets, a few Eurasian Serins, lots of White Wagtails and a few more Skylarks. I drove back north and since it was still a nice sunny day I decided to stop of at Bled. It is quite spectacular with the castle on the rock perched high above the lake. On the lake were lots of Mallards, a few Coot and a pair of Mute Swan. There was also some nice very mature woodland but being a Sunday it was incredibly busy with people so I did not see many birds.

20th October. Woke up to find thick low cloud and heavy rain! Decided to head east. Went down past Kranj, then turned of the motorway to Menges, then north to Kemnick (where I saw the only Common Kestrel of the trip), then up through narrow wooded valleys to the C'mivec pass and down to Radmirje. From here I turned left up the road to Ljubno ob Savinji. The forest areas around here are supposed to be good for hazelhen. I checked out the map of forest tracks, by the car park at the north end of the village. I worked out a route and headed into the forest. It was now raining very hard and as I climbed I went in and out of patches of low cloud. It was not the best of weather for birding. I flushed small flocks of Chaffinch and Brambling from the roadside but little else. I played a tape of pygmy owl to see if anything responded. It did attract a small flock of very agitated Crested Tits and Goldcrests. In the forest are some large open areas with a few small farms. In one of these I had a flock of 30+ Mistle Thrush. The weather now was really awful so I headed back to Kranjska Gora. I passed many Common Buzzards sitting on posts drooping their sodden wings, no doubt trying to dry out.

21st October. Still cloudy but a bit drier. Decided to visit Austria. Took the road from Podkoren up to the border and into Austria. The road dropped down a steep forested slope which eventually opened out into a flat agricultural area. I wandered round the fields. Birds included lots of Wood Pigeons, a few Yellow Hammer, Starlings, Magpies, a Jackdaw and a Great Grey Shrike. I headed for the Fakken See. It was very commercialised and difficult to get access to the shore. I eventually found some view points on the east side. There were lots of Great-crested Grebes, many Coot and a few Common Pochard. In the conifer trees around it I had several Nuthatch (surprisingly I saw none in Slovenia) and flocks of Blue, Great, Marsh and Crested Tits along with Goldcrest, Eurasian Tree Creeper and Chiffchaffs.

I headed back to Slovenia as I had to return the car by lunchtime. In Kranjska Gora I had a superb flock of about 60 Alpine Chough feeding on the grass just outside the hotel. In the afternoon I walked up the valley again past Podkoren. There were some quite large flocks of Goldfinch  (60+) and Eurasian Serin (20+). In the fields were the usual Black Redstarts, but also a Stonechat and the Water Pipit flock now numbered 20+ birds. I also had a pair of Bullfinch and heard a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Near Zelenci I had good views of a red squirrel. I walked up to the ski jumps at Planica and then up the Tamar valley, following the woodland path. There were now regular showers of quite heavy rain and I saw very few birds. The habitat looked very nice. There were a few Crested Tits and some Long-tailed Tits (one of which appeared to have a pure white head). I walked up to the top of the valley to see the 'source' of the Soca river as it suddenly appeared out of a hole half way up the mountain side and tumbled down to the forest floor where it eventually disappeared underground through its own river bed. The low cloud and poor light meant, however, that I was not seeing the valley at its impressive best. I walked back to Kranjska Gora and just before I got to the resort a Nutcracker flew across the road in front of me.

I left early the next morning (it was still raining!). In all I had seen 73 species (69 in Slovenia + another 4 in Austria). The country is superb, spectacular scenery enhanced by the gorgeous autumn colours of the forests. I had five lifers (out of the seven I thought I might get). Birding in the forest was quite difficult at times. Without the tapes I would have struggled to find things. In the end I did get superb views of a lot of the alpine and forest species that I wanted to see. I would recommend it to anyone, but perhaps a summer visit, when the birds are singing would make birding a lot easier.

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