North-west Slovenia 17-20 December 2009 (with notes from November 2002)

North-west Slovenia 17-20 December 2009 Martin J McGill
A trip report with some birding  and notes based on two visits.

The above is a link to the gallery

I visited North west and Southern Slovenia in early November 2002 with three friends, Phil Tovey, Jeremy Squire and Nige Warren, flying into Trieste, Italy where we visited a wetland reserve and then crossing the border and staying in Bled for a few nights and then Ljubjlana for one night. We were on a birding trip but also tasting local beers and enjoying the country. I was intrigued by the travel tales of Phil Tovey in Slovenia and just had to go, the birds were a bonus. Phil guided us around a variety of scenic sites as he had been shown some good birding areas on previous visits by DOPPS staff (Birdlife Slovenia partner).

I was so impressed by this visit I wanted to return again hence me bringing my family to see the area around Bled especially. On the visit with the lads we did well for birds and the weather was fine, we enjoyed fairly warm and settled conditions. I cannot publish where we saw many birds showing discretion as was promised to DOPPS and I have since forgotten where some things were, this was a trip I did not organise this trip for a change and it was a luxury to sit back and enjoy.

We did see the following highlights in November 2002…..

Grey headed (flew past the car) and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker just outside Bled, on the road to Vintgar Gorge/Pokljuka.
Black Woodpecker-one was seen by JS and NW.
Nutcrackers-a distant view of one initially in the deep forest on a clearing edge and lots of close views of them still collecting nuts etc around the Pokljuka villages. This was only the second time I had seen this species after a very distant view of one many years ago in the Alps, found by Richard Hearn.
Hazlehen-a rufous toned bird showed outrageously well in a Rowan for a long period, amazing I spotted it after waking up from a nap as we were driving along, the beer tasting the night before had taken it out of me. It was along a forest track in Pokljuka and was a lifer for all.
Wallcreeper-at least four on a rock wall in the Karst region near Koper, we also noted Rock Bunting here.
Black-throated Diver and a first winter Little Gull (found by Jubsy) on Lake Bled, Hawfinches in the park by the town.

For a birding family trip or for some extra notes the following report may be of interest but this was not a birding trip!.

16 December 2009

We set off from Gloucestershire after the Christingle that my son was singing in for his school had finished (at Standish Church). A very wet drive made it hard going and a coffee/fuel stop and three hours later we found ourselves spending the night in the Travelodge near Stansted Airport (£19.00 for a family room pre booked deal but note £3.00 parking charge).

17 December 2009
 I found it hard to sleep after a large coffee but managed a few hours until we rose at 0500 to get to the airport. We flew with easyjet (45 minute delay-no pilot!), our new pilot got us there 40 minutes late but it was a 1.50hr journey, the cabin crew were very helpful and cheery. Everything at Brink (Ljubljana) airport was well organised and ran smoothly, all our bags present and correct and quick through customs. Hired a car with Holiday Autos/Budget Slovenia and was met by a very helpful and polite chap who set us up very quickly, we were on the road and arriving in Bled by 1330.

The Alps

The Alps from Easyjet  17 December 2009 MJMcGill

As we left the airport, it had snowed recently and we began seeing Hooded Crows and Buzzards along the roadside. At Bled we found our accommodation and was once again helped by the staff to settle in-no worries. I chose to stay at the Penzion/Hostel Bledec  again where we chose a room with a view, unpacked and had a great cheese omelette and fries for lunch. The menu here is good for vegetarians (three evening meals with different and interesting veggie options, three courses, it is possible to eat here as a non-resident). Looking at menus around the town of Bled it was clear that a varied selection of international food was on offer all with veggie options but the Slovene food is very good with many interesting things to try as long as you can find a menu in your chosen language. We had no problem with this. Even Llubjana (Brnik) Airport had a great selection of veggie grub!

After our first meal of the day we went for a walk around the village and lake, Nuthatches were calling from the trees along the parkland/lakeside walk with one very showy bird near the Roast Chestnut seller! Robin, Blackbird and Wren was noted along with 4 Cormorant, a male Pochard, c20 Shoveler, 2 Little Grebe, Mute Swans and flocks of Coot on Lake Bled. Coal and Marsh Tits were found in a few spots with Goldcrest, more Nuthatch and 2 Raven over the castle. Some of the garden feeders in the village held Great and Marsh Tits.

18 December 2009

We rose early, had a good continental breakfast and popped into Bled Town. I spent half an hour watching the ‘Black’ Red Squirrels under the trees next to Lake Bled before heading for Kranska Gora via Vintgar Gorge. A walk into the gorge was again very nice, I did the whole route even crossing the sections of boardwalk with missing boards when visiting with the lads but just went to the first bridge this time to see the crystal clear water, rapids and cauldrons of water. Not a good place to listen to birds as the waterfalls and crashing water are so loud but worth it for the scenery. I must point out that it was closed for the winter both times I visited. Near the weir and bridge back on the road we did see a Grey Heron and watched a Black-bellied Dipper feeding and swimming under the crystal clear water for a long time before flying off down the river.

Red Squirrel, Bled Park

'Black' Red Squirrel, Slovenia, Bled  17-20 December 2009 MJMcGill

Dipper, Vintgar Gorge

Dipper, Vintgar Gorge, Slovenia 002

Dipper, Vintgar Gorge, Slovenia 001

We saw Buzzards and Hooded Crows in many places and saw that the Kranskja Gora municipality sign features a Black Grouse. On arriving at Kranskja I immediately found c60 Alpine Chough scavenging around the bins next to the main road. We drove about the town a bit and then headed for Planica where the world record ski jump is held and they were busy working on the jumps for March when the next competition is held. A Slovene had held the record (226m) but it is currently a Norwegian that holds it at 239m in 2005. A few Crossbills and Nuthatches were seen but mainly Coal Tits. The ridge between here and Kranskja has Three-toed Woodpecker but I had not time to try besides the ski lift was not operational today so a long climb would be needed. We had a coffee/hot choc in the cafe and then went back to the main road where we decided to drive into Italy for lunch. In the town of Cave at least 30 Alpine Chough were on the rooftops. We headed back into Slovenia via the Predil Pass and wanted to drive up to Mt Mangart. I was disappointed to find the road snowed up and impassable by the VW Polo I had on hire and did not have the time or inclination to fit the snow chains, the road was closed anyway. This is where Snowfinch can be seen and I hoped to get some images of them. We carried on a route through the spectacular Triglav National Park and returned to Kranskja Gora via the Vrsic pass. This was snowed up but the road was still clear. I stopped a couple of times to listen and look for birds but apart from 100 Siskin it was deadly quiet, Slovenia is very quiet in the mountains and forests and to prove this point I could hear the wingbeats of a pair of circling Raven. At the pass I stopped at the spot I had been with the lads before but apart from stupendous scenery only 6 Fieldfare migrating through the pass. We passed through Fusine, s of Tarvisio, Cave, Lake Robaljska in Italy then Strmec, Log Pod Mangartom, Kluze Fortress, Kal, Soca, Trenta, Alinium Julijana and the Vrsic pass in Slovenia on this route.

Alpine Chough, Cave, Italy

Alpine Chough, Cave, Italy 18 December 2009 MJMcGill 082

Triglav is the only national park in Slovenia and covers 4% of Slovenia. It is 48% forest, has high mountain peaks and deep glacial valleys, 23% alpine meadows and 19% of it is above the tree line (per Important Bird Areas of Slovenia, DOPPS, Birdlife International, 2000). It holds important populations of Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper, Alpine Chough, Snowfinch and has Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle, Rock Thrush and for me the mythical Rock Partridge (more effort needed after failing in Slovenia, Greece and France but only small attempts to find one).

We headed back home after eating a Kremna Rezina cake in KG and found out Sledge hire prices etc (5 euros a day).  A good meal at Penzion Bledec and a wander around Bled including a visit to one of the great pubs ended the day with pint of Union.

Kremna Rezina cake, Slovenia, Kranskja Gora 17-20 December 2009 MJMcGill

19 December 2009
We awoke to find a deep layer of snow in Bled and it was falling heavily. I wandered out around the lake and back to the accommodation noting a few birds, I was followed by a Robin that fed on any bit of ground I scuffed up. The finches, tits and Nuthatches were all looking pretty glum in these conditions. I saw and heard a Crested Tit and Great-spotted Woodpecker on this little wander.

Robin, Bled, Slovenia 001

After clearing the snow we tentatively headed back to Kranskja Gora to go sledging, the road conditions were bad but the snow ploughs and gritters had made it passable. It was the opening day of the skiing season and was free to everyone. News crews were covering the story and it was busy with snow lovers. Around the town of Kranskja Gora there were c120 Alpine Chough, they were stripping the berries from the trees at head height but were still slightly nervous. The two tallest deciduous trees in town were a favoured lookout for them. One of these trees is next to the church and the other near the tourist office. Otherwise they sat on the rooftops of the hotels and buildings waiting for a feeding opportunity. Their distinctive calls were everywhere as they flew around the town. A few Hooded Crows were also perched up and a party of 20 worked over a pile of something between the town and the road. A did see a Jay fly over and a Fieldfare ate rowans near the slopes. The chairlift was working but I had no time to use it to explore the ridge west of Ciprnik, besides the weather was bad for birding and good for sledging.

Alpine Choughs, Kranskja Gora

Alpone Chough, Slovenia, Kranska Gora 18 December 2009 MJMcGill 114

Slovenia, Kranskja Gora Alpine Choughs, 19 December 2009 MJMcGill

After doing what we had to do I had another look at the Alpine Choughs including a flock of c40 wheeling above the slopes and headed for Austria for lunch. We drove through the 7.8 km Karawanken Tunnel (6.50 euros each way) through the mountain and stopped for a coffee and then had a look at the Faakersee lake. Great Crested and Little Grebe could be seen along with Coot, Mallards, a male Pintail, Kestrel, Tree Sparrows and a large number of Blackbird. The snow was deeper and falling heavier in Austria so we decided to go back into Slovenia where it was sunny and clear. Part of our plan for the day was to go ice skating, a first for both my children. As the Bled rink is open daily from 1630-1800 we did just that. A spell in the toy shops ended a perfect day for them and we went back for another good dinner and for me, a bottle of Lasko beer, it has a Chamois on the green label, another local beer is called Union.

Austria,  19 December 2009 MJMcGill

20 December 2009
Our last morning in Bled found us waking to a brilliant sunrise which led to a sunny day. Everywhere the scenery and snow was outstanding so I went for a drive, as soon as I left Bled four Roe Deer ran across the fields and I had to stop to allow them to run in front of me and into the woods. I carried on initially trying to get onto the Pokljuka plateau to look for Nutcracker and woodpeckers but the icy mountain road made me turn back and descend. I had snow tyres but no studs and it was no quite snow chain conditions despite having them with the hire car.  I drove to the Bled railway station and took pictures of the lake from various spots. Meeting back up with the family we packed and went up to Bled Castle (Bledski Grad) where a male Crossbill was singing and chasing a female. A pair of Raven flew around below us cronking and Mistle Thrush was defending mistletoe. The castle gave superb views. 

Chaffinch, Bled Castle

Chaffinch, Slovenia, Bled  20 December 2009

Raven, Bled Castle

Raven, Slovenia, Bled  20 December 2009 MJMcGill 273

Looking at the snow I thought it would be impossible to do the drive we did on our second day, the snow was unusual for the time of year at this lower elevation but welcome for us. It did mean I could not re-see some favoured birds but I was not here for that anyway and had a great time in this fantastic place again. I will be going back, perhaps a summer visit with dragonflies in mind. The last bird I saw was a Tree Sparrow on the bushes outside the airport terminal.

Martin J McGill

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