Western Slovenia- 5-12 August 2014, Wildlife and more trip report

I have visited Slovenia on two previous occasions, it is a fantastic destination. This trip was strictly a family holiday but I usually go out a few times early in the morning or get pass for an afternoon or so. We stayed at four locations and visted many of the famous local attractions such as Postojna caves and Predjama Castle plus the WW1 trenches and historical sites. Walks in the mountains and gorges, Etno music festival, hiring bikes and rowing boats and swimming in the sea and lakes also featured but wildlife is never far away…

My trip report follows.

5 August
Drove to Stansted Airport and flew with easyjet to Ljubljana, hired a car through Sixt and went on our way. The usual flocks of Hooded Crow and Starling were seen on the way to Bled. We checked into Penzion Bledec where we were to stay for the next three nights. A wander down to the lake we experienced a light rain shower, the only one of the week. A stop at a familiar bar for a beer and soon after we were hiring a rowing boat. Although not actually using the sport rowing lanes I did reach Otok island in quick time passing 7 juvenile Goosander and a flyover Hobby which was scaring Swallows and House Martins. Mooring up I walked around the island which had a very tame Spotted Flycatchers and flocks of Goldfinch and Chaffinch. The interpretive signs displayed wildlife and I was impressed with an underwater shot of Little Grebe from the crystal clear Lake Bled. Short of time due to promising the attendant that I would be on time we rowed back rapidly and was ready for another beer. A Kestrel and Peregrine were seen over the imposing Bled castle.

6 August
A warm sunny, time to hire bikes and cycle around Lake Bled and back. I saw the 7 Goosander again plus 4 Mute Swan, plenty of Coal Tits and Buzzard and Jay. A Scarce Swallowtail patrolled the sunny banks at the West end.

Goosanders on Lake Bled

Goosander on Lake Bled, Slovenia_edited-1

Goosander on Lake Bled, Slovenia, MJMcGill (1)_edited-1

Mute Swan, Lake Bled and Bled Castle

Mute Swan on Lake Bled, Bled Castle (4)_edited-1


Afternoon was spent at Lake Bohinj where we swan with the fish in the cool, clear water surrounded by forest and mountains. I saw a single Teal, a few Marsh Tits but was distracted by dragonflies. Emerald dragonfly sp were whizzing along the beach. They took some stalking and patience to photograph but I studied them long enough to work out their behaviour. Any fallen tree in sheltered bays seem to attract them and they held territory. I was along the southern shore of Lake Bohinj near the west end. In the village of Bohinj Bistrica I noticed a heronry with unfledged young in pines above the supermarket.

Brilliant Emeralds

Brilliant Emerald Somatochlora metallica, Lake Bohinj, Slovenia, MJMcGill 06-08-14 (8)_edited-1 Brilliant Emerald Somatochlora metallica, Lake Bohinj, Slovenia, MJMcGill 06-08-14 (15)_edited-1 Brilliant Emerald Somatochlora metallica, Lake Bohinj, Slovenia, MJMcGill 06-08-14 (17)_edited-1

Brilliant Emerald Somatochlora metallica, Lake Bohinj, Slovenia, MJMcGill 06-08-14 (3)_edited-1

I was going to make a special visit to Berkshire for this species in July but never had the time. I could not wish for better views of this smart insect.

A return drive to Bled took in the scenic route via the Pokljuka plateau and a coffee stop where a few butterfly species were seen on the hay meadows. A small finch with an unfamiliar call flew over and rested in a pine before heading off again, it may well have been a Citril finch. Back at Lake Bled I had good views of a Hawfinch perched in trees above the casino, it flew off over the shopping centre calling.

7 August
Just outside the Penzion Bledec  I wandered a very short distance up the path to the castle. A ‘Black’ Red Squirrel was on the track, I tried to get my children to see it but it had disappeared so we turned to come back down when my daughter found a Garden Dormouse on the path, a proper little spotter. The woods had Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Coal Tits. Black Redstart sang from the rooftops, in fact every village, town, barn or even woodpile in Sloveina seemed to have Black Redstarts. We travelled to Klagenfurt to spend the morning in Austria’s 5th largest city. The afternoon was spent back in Slovenia, the family swan in Lake Bled, I went back up onto the Pokljuka plateau to investigate some bogs that I had been to before. The sites are known as Veliko Blejsko barje and Barje Sijec. Crossbills were present, I heard Nutcracker, Chiffchaffs were numerous and I was soon distracted by dragonflies. I also saw a Roe Deer run across the road.

Barje Sijec
An upland bog within the forest as viewed from the platform

Barje Sijec, Pokljuka, Slovenia, MJMcGill

Common or (Moorland) Hawker
Males and female were present.

Common or Moorland Hawker, Blejsko Barje, Pokljuka, Slovenia, MJMcGill

Niobe or Dark Green Fritillary
I still need to have a close look at some pics. My wife has some on her camera which look like Niobe.

Niobe or Dark Green Frtillary, Barje Sijec, Pokljuka, Slovenia, MJMcGill Niobe or Dark Green Fritillary, Veliko Blejsko, Barje, Pokljuka, Solvenia, MJMcGill

Northern Emerald
These insects did come and hold a hover near if you stayed still, it was still a challenge to try to get a shot.

Northern Emerald, Veliko Blejsko Barje, Pokljuka, Slovenia, MJMcGill 001 Northern Emerald, Veliko Blejsko Barje, Pokljuka, Slovenia, MJMcGill

I made the most of the warmest part of the day and headed back around 5pm to meet up with the family in Bled. I waited for them outside a bar and basked in the sunshine with a beer. That evening we all went for a hike up the dry riverbed of the Pokljuka gorge and subsequently visited a restaurant at Zatrnik. The wooded limestone gorge had Crested Tit, out of the gorge Buzzards were alert atop trees as the hay cutting was in full swing. The meadows in Slovenia are marvellous, low intensity farming, most steeper slopes in the fields are still cut and raked by hand. The whole field is cut in sections not all at once hence Corncrake still breeding in this country. I did not feel good on this walk, I was sweating and actually became dizzy watching a dragonfly that repeatedly circled me in the gorge. I am sure it was a Southern Hawker. Up on the slopes to the plateau opposite the restaurant the meadow opposite was rich in butterlflies but I had been struggling to hold it together. A good meal was forced down but it was clear I was not well, I think my hunger and resultant eating unwashed fruit earlier in the day (that was purchased in Austria) may have given me a bug. The journey back to Bled and all night were pretty awful. Could have done without it.

View from Penzion Bledec

View from Penzion room, Bledec, Bled_edited-1

8 August
We were to move on to new accommodation and leave Bled for the mountains. I had no energy left, could not drink or eat so stopped in Kranska Gora to get something from the pharmacy. I abandoned my plans to use the Dom na Vitrancu chairlift to explore Ciprnik. We pressed on passing through Italy to reach Mount Mangart where I was called upon to drive the narrow tarmac road to the near the summit. It was stupendous up there, great views and birds too. I gave everything I had to reach a ridge where two Golden Eagle were passing at eye height but just collapsed in a heap half way up. Nothing left in the tank, my family carried on and enjoyed the eagles without me. I did note Water Pipits, Crossbills and Raven as well a Alpine Chough but gave up on Snow Finch.

View from below Mt Mangart summit

Joe, Mount Mangart, Julian Alps, Slovenia (1)_edited-1

Back down in the valley we stopped at the Fort at Log Pod Mangartom but I just slept in the car. Our next stop was at our accommodation (Jelenov breg Pod Matajurem) at Avsa, Livek near Kobarid. A mountain top farm on the Italian border, idyllic for all of us. Farm animals for my daughter to feed, views, peace, quiet and a comfy little house for us to stay in. The food was from the farm, fresh, local and hearty but I was still in a bad way and spent most of the time here asleep. We would go back anytime the family that run it were lovely.

9 August
I was woke by the sound of a Mallard at 0500 and got up to find out it was an alarm clock my daughter had set on her ipod. Naturally it never woke her! I felt more human and stood out on the balcony looking at the views and sunrise over Mount Krn with my wife, Harriet, she went back to bed and I decided to head for the mountain. A long winding drive ensued as I dropped down into the valley and back up the other side. Parking up and setting off I was soon birding. Juvenile Red-backed Shrikes were in the scrub just above the treeline and Water Pipits up on the boulder strewn slopes. I climbed for an hour and was specifically searching for Rock Partridge but never located any. The south facing slopes are perfect for them, a peaceful place, difficult to envisage to horrors of the mountain top front line (Soca or Isonzo front) played out in WW1 where thousands of men died fighting in freezing conditons, it is said the mountain was lowered by the heavy shelling. The mountains still give up sad remains to this day.

I went back for a breakfast and managed to eat something, to have juice and coffee before we set off for another day out and place to stay. We explored the Kobarid area. The museum here is excellent, the town very pleasant. We walked the Soca river route and investigated the WW1 trenches and positions carved out from the limestone karst. The river up stream of the old Napoleon bridge is crystal clear and has a suspended bridge which allows even better views, nearby the Slap Kozjak waterfall was well worth visiting. I noted and attempted to photograph as many butterflies as possible but some are just too quick. A Poplar Admiral was on a buddleia but flew off into the Aspen woods. A full day with little driving was enjoyed followed by a really good pizza in Kobarid on the main street and more exploration to dusk. A sombre look around the WW1 Italian war memorial, over 7000 souls are remembered here, the opening of which was attended by Mussolini. A perfect still, warm evening watching from our balcony finished the night off but I was restless. Another attempt to see my target bird was on the cards early next day, I never slept well thinking of it.

Soca Valley Lizard and blue butterfly enjoying the salt (sweat)

001, Lizard sp, near Kobarid, Slovenia (1) 001, blue butterfly sp, Soca Valley, near Kobarid (1)

Emperor Moth
This amazing moth came into our apartment at Tourist Farm Kranj at Kosec, my daughter intially called out that a bat had entered the room! The spots on the wings were clear which led me to think it could be used to attract or ward off predators with moonlight filtering through.

Emperor Moth, female, Saturnia pavonia (27)_edited-2  001, Emperor Moth, female, Saturnia pavonia (1)

Jersey Tiger moth along the Soca Valley path

Jersey Tiger, near Kobarid, Slovenia (1)_edited-1

10 August
Up and out early to get as high as possible into the mountains. I plumped for a climb up to Breginski Stol as I know it has a population of Rock Partridge. They are threatened across their range and in decline in the Julian Alps too, yet another bird in trouble. This species has given me the slip in the French Alps as well as in Greece and previously in Slovenia. All attempts to see it were in winter or late summer and half-hearted due to so many other birding distractions, it is not a great time to look for them, calling birds in Spring are a better way of connecting. The Rock Partridge is a true mountain species, trying to see them is a bit like the effort and skills needed when looking for Ptarmigan. I was here, it my main focus and I was determined as it would be another year before I could try for them again.

I drove up from the road and parked off the track then setting off on foot. I tried to ignore birds on the way up until I reached above the treeline where the scrub appeared. A Pied Flycatcher and many Spotted Flycatchers caught my eye, flocks of warblers appeared with numerous Great and Blue Tits. Chiffchaff and Blackcap were common but a Wood Warbler was a nice find. Plenty of Red-backed Shrikes were around, mostly juveniles but an adult male as well. A juvenile Cuckoo showed a few times, Jays were below over the woods and c8 Kestrel and 2 Buzzard soared over the steep slopes. During my regular sweeps across the boulders and crags I spotted two Alpine Chamois, a very welcome surprise.

Alpine Chamois

Alpine Chamois, Breginjski Stol, Slovenia, 001, MJMcGill Alpine Chamois, Breginjski Stol, Slovenia, MJMcGill  Chamois, Breginjski Stol, Slovenia, MJMcGill

Resuming my search I saw that on the dry stone walls and boulders were c 6 Rock Thrush, all were juveniles. This was a real purple patch but was being distracted, I then heard the call, I was among Rock Partridges. carefully scanning and stalking it was clear up to three birds were calling above and below me but they went quiet. The long grass, thorny stunted bushes and good camouflage allowed them to see me before I could scope them. I carried on past where one was near the track and got above them. I caught sight of one trundling along the slope, it knew it and took off flying past just below and around the cliff out of sight. At last I had seen the Rock Partridge as cloud rolled in and shrouded the area, absolutely no chance of digiscoping it or them but it was still very good. I waited as the sun got hotter burning off the mist and could now look at the view.

Views from below summit ridge of Berginjski Stol, near Kobarid, Slovenia (2)_edited-1

Coming back down made me realise how far I had climbed, I checked out every creature as I descended.

Striped Field Mouse

Striped Field Mouse Apodemus agrarius, Breginjski Stol, Slovenia, MJMcGill (6)_edited-1

A selection of butterflies

butterflies, Breginski Stol 001, Marbled White procida form, Berginjski Stol, Slovenia (1)_edited-1 Breginski Stol butterfly Breginski stol 001, blue sp, Breginkski Stol, near Kobarid, Slovenia, MJMcGILL

I was so late for breakfast it was an early lunch and we had to move on. This time to travel through the Karst region to Piran and Portoroz on the coast and then back to our last place of stay for the last two nights. We broke up the journey with a stop at Stanjel, it was hot. On the coast we swam in the sea and had a meal on the seafront in the picturesque Venetian style Piran. Mediterranean Shag and Mediterranean Gulls were duly noted including juveniles of the former swimming among the bathers, a good photo opportunity to those in favour of risking their camera. A few wetland sites including saltpans are situated close together but I never had time to explore them. We arrived very late at our last place of stay.

11 August
Waking up at our tourist farm I looked from the balcony, Black Redstart was around the barn and and saw an Emerald sp Dragonfly, I ventured out and had a closer look at the stream, it had a selection of dragonflies and was full of fish. The mystery dragonfly turned out to be a Balkan Emerald, this lowland stream at Hrusevje (Turisticna kmetija Hudicevec) is within the species range. I recorded a few more species before having to get going again.

Green eyed Pincertail

Green Pincertail, Slovenia, MJMcGill

It was another full day out so we visited the Predjama Castle, the marvellous Lake Cerknica (which deserves a full day out rather than an hour or so), Postojna caves to see the Olm or Proteus, a salamander that lives in the darkness of the deep caverns. Back on the surface we headed for Mount Nanos, a drive up the slopes and tracks produced a lot of birds. A depression on the plateau was experiencing a fly ant or other insect flight and it was alive with birds flycatching. Wheatear, Chaffinches, Marsh, Great and Blue Tit, Hawfinch and warblers were all at it. A little further up I found a Pied or Collared Flycatcher with other birds but was flushed by a passing 4wd. In the open country I saw a raptor on a rock above, it was a Golden Eagle and eventually joined another on the wing. Tw0 Hobbies were also catching insects. On the way back down the mountain I stopped for a Woodland Grayling on the road.

Great White Egret, Lake Cerknica

Great White Egret, Lake, Cerknica, Slovenia, MJMcGill (1)_edited-1

Golden Eagles over Mount Nanos

Golden Eagle, Mount Nanos, Slovenia, 11-08-14 (1)_edited-1

Woodland Grayling

Woodland Grayling, Mount Nanos, 11-08-14, MJMcGill (5)_edited-1

12 August
Had to head out to fuel up and get some cash to pay the farm but stop at the entrance road and walked along the stream looking for dragonflies, a Wryneck was on the grass verge and flew up into the trees. This was the last of my birding as we were off home today. We spent the day in Ljubljana before flying back to Stansted with easyjet.

A selected list of birds

to be completed

Some notes on butterflies

to be completed

Martin J McGill



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