Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Birding spendid Slovenia - Part 2

After Krakovski Forest, I headed west to the Bloke Plateau for some upland birding. I passed through some magnificent countryside on the way, with some tough climbs but also enough easy rides to make the trip a relaxing one. 

Slovenian countryside at its best.

The rolling hills on the Bloke Plateau were quite a sight, and I thoroughly enjoyed cycling the easy roads between the villages of Nova Vas, Volcje and Radlek. In Ravnik I found my first Eurasian Hoopoe, a paler version of its African cousin. I was also pleased to find a pair of Red-footed Falcons, a species I last saw in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa! Another raptor that added excited was a male Montagu’s Harrier, which showed well as it passed by. Some other nice birds were Tree Pipit, Crested Tit, Bullfinch, Northern Wheatear and Common Crossbill. Skylarks were common and were regularly heard performing their aerial displays high above the grassy meadows.

Woodlands and meadows on the Bloke Plateau in Slovenia.

Eurasian Hoopoe at Bloke Plateau, Slovenia.

The descent from Bloke Plateau brought me to Planina Polje, where I was hoping to add some good wetland birds to my list. On arrival in the area, I noticed that there was a lot of water about. So it was not surprising when I discovered that the main road that traverses the area was submerged! My key birding area for the day was under water! It was raining fairly persistently anyhow so I decided to head on, passing through an impressive thunderstorm and more rain before reaching the town of Postojna.

The road between Laze and Planina flooded!

For the first time since Berlin, I met another touring cyclist as I pulled up to a fuel station in Postojna. Jacob, an American and traveling with a small guitar, was just on his way out of town. Check out his blog at for some interesting stories and photos! After catching up on our latest adventures, Jacob headed off in the direction of Slovenia's capital, while I hoped to reach the Nanos Plateau before sunset. 

Jacob and his bike in Postojna.

The view from below the Nanos plateau suggested the climb to the top would be a long one, and it was. It took two hours to reach the ridge of the plateau, one hairpin bend after the other. The next morning it took a further two hours to reach the very top, which involved much pushing as the inclines where too steep to cycle with my loaded bike. I spent a full day and night on the top, soaking up the incredible view over southern Slovenia. Although the diversity in bird species was not over-whelming at the very top, I got my first views ever of Rock Bunting and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush. Tree Pipit, Skylark, Raven, and Common Kestrel were easily seen, but I missed on Alpine Accentor which is reputed to inhabit the rocky slopes.

Sunset over Nanos Plateau, looking to the west.
At the top, birding of course.

Tree Pipit at Nanos Plateau.

I made a two-day stop-over in Trieste, Italy, before cycling the coastline of Slovenia. In Trieste I met Niklas, a German touring cyclist. He was also heading in the roughly the same direction as me, Croatia, Greece, Turkey and Iran; I wondered if we would cross paths again. I left Trieste on the Parenzana bike trail, which follows the narrow-gauge railway line that linked the port of Trieste with the tourist destination of Poreč over 100 years ago. 

Trieste (Italy) by night.

The 544 m long Lucan Tunnel on the Parenzana bike trail, Slovenia.

My last birding stop was at the Sečovlje salt works. While I did a late afternoon preliminary scout of the area before camping, two German cyclists caught up with me. They were also looking for a camping spot, so I joined them in their quest. It was not long before we found a spot for our tents, so had a chance to share some traveling stories before parting the next morning. 

The old Sečovlje salt works, now a protected area for birds.

I headed a short distance back to visit the salt works, which was well worth it. I got my first views of Kentish Plover and Red-rumped Swallow, while some European firsts for me included Little Tern, Wood Sandpiper, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, White-winged Tern and Sandwich Tern. An immature Little Gull was also seen performing its bouncy flight over the shallow waters. Other species included Little Egret, Common Greenshank, Common Tern, Pied Avocet, Common Shelduck, and Yellow Wagtail. A small flock of Dunlin was a surprise, as I had not seen the species since Denmark in December 2012. And so I ended Slovenia on a high note, a country I can highly recommend to anyone wanting to cycle a beautiful and underrated country.

A flock of Common Shelduck resting at the Sečovlje salt works.

Kentish Plover at the Sečovlje salt works, Slovenia.

Wood Sandpiper at the Sečovlje salt works.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Birding splendid Slovenia - Part 1

Once I reach Slovenia, I began to ease the cycling pace and started birding in earnest. Spring was now well underway, though many trees had not yet started to sprout, giving the impression of a winter treescape. I crossed the border into Slovenia near the village Prosenjakovci in the extreme north east, and was immediately struck by the picturesque scenery; I got the feeling this was a country pleading to be explored.

My first sight of Slovenia!

My first birding target was Lake Ledava, which was an easy ride considering the relatively flat terrain. Along the way patches of woodland held a variety of typical species, most notably Green Woodpecker, Common Cuckoo, Nuthatch, Robin, Blackcap and Song Thrush, while the open areas were the domain of Common Redstart, Black Redstart, Crested Lark, and Mistle Thrush, amongst others. The relatively small lake held only the usual waterbirds such as Tufted Duck, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Mallard, and Great Crested Grebe. The reedbeds had not yet regrown while no reed warblers could be heard or seen, which diminished my chances of seeing area specials such as Savi’s, River, and Grasshopper Warbler. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Green Sandpiper were pleasant surprises though.  

Mute Swans graced the waters at Lake Ledava.

In order to get the most out of my birding in Slovenia, I used Gerard Gorman’s book ‘Birding in Eastern Europe’. By the way, while I was in Norway last year, I had a copy of Bjorn Olav Tveit’s excellent book ‘A Bird Watcher’s Guide to Norway’. If you ever go birding in Norway, don’t go without this book, seriously!

My next stop was Lake Ptuj, a large reservoir on the outskirts of the city Ptuj. At first it looked somewhat quiet from a birding point of view, but things picked up as I made my way around the lake. Common Sandpipers strolled along the lake’s concrete shore, while the open waters held Great Crested Grebe and my first Black-necked Grebes for Europe. Black-headed Gulls were continuously flying back and forth along the length of the lake. 

A male Gadwal at Lake Ptuj, preening feathers.

At the far end of the lake I spotted the Velvet Scoters reputed to hang around mainly during winter. Here I was fortunate to meet Luka from Birdlife Slovenia (, who was busy with a regular count of the lake’s birds. Waterfowl were abundant along the southern shore, including Gadwal, Gargarney, Wigeon, Common Pochard, Northern Shoveler, and Teal. With a scope at hand, Luka gave me the opportunity to get scope views of some species I would otherwise have missed. I quickly added some migratory specials to my list, such as a Little Gull, Whiskered Tern, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and my first Mediterranean and Yellow-legged Gull. Another first for me was Pygmy Cormorant; a small group was getting ready for the night’s roost on a small island near the shore.

Luka counting waterbirds at Lake Ptuj, with the city in the background.

The next morning I returned to the lake to have a last look before heading off southwards. In addition to all the species seen the day before, I added Black Tern to my list. This time there were also two immature Little Gulls, dipping over the water in their characteristic flight. Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Stonechat and Green Woodpecker added a nice distraction from the waterbirds. The bird of the day was certainly a male Penduline Tit, which gave great views, perched near the top of the reeds. Fortunately the camera was close at hand to record the event! I was also very pleased to find my first Ferruginous Duck, but unfortunately the bird took off behind some reeds and was not seen again. 
A Green Woodpecker showing well at Lake Ptuj.

A Penduline Tit in the reedbeds at Lake Ptuj; what a splendid bird.

Heading south through landscapes of cultivated fields, woodlands and hills, I saw Peregrine, Linnet, Skylark, Marsh Tit and Hawfinch, as well as my first Eurasian Wryneck and Whinchat. A Tawny Owl called close to my camp one night, but with no decent light at my disposable I was not able to get a look at the bird. I nonetheless enjoyed hearing the eerie call above my tent.

The roads in Slovenia are great for cycling; with dedicated cycle paths in places.

At Krakovski Forest I had great views of Collared Flycatcher, a bird I find really fascinating. They are pretty sly in the forest canopy, and it can be hard to keep track of them as they dart from one tree to the next. A pair of soaring Black Storks above the forest was my first European record of the species, while a nesting Song Thrush was another exciting find for the day. As described in Gorman’s book, Krakovski Forest is wet underfoot, and one needs to watch one’s step while gazing at the tree canopy for birds!

Krakovski Forest, with trees beginning to sprout.

A pair of Black Storks circling above Krakovski Forest.

A male Collared Flycatcher at Krakovski Forest.