Friday, 17 November 2017

American Red Squirrel

     The American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a delightful little creature, full of charm and personality.


     This individual was feeding on the last few keys left on the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) in our backyard, and was scampering from one part of the tree to another, sometimes moving at lightening speed.


    This species does not enter into true hibernation and may often be seen in the winter, in temperatures as low as minus 25°, on a sunny day. It is strictly diurnal and is most active during the most comfortable hours of the day, morning and afternoon in summer and midday in winter.
     Although it garners seeds for storage underground this individual seemed content to make a meal of what was left on the tree.
     


     American Red Squirrels share their habitat with larger Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) but are quite fearless and readily rout them if they dare to trespass. Red Squirrels are so often seen chasing Grey Squirrels it gave way to the myth that the Red Squirrel castrates its larger cousin!
     Squirrels are a nuisance for anyone feeding birds, but this little charmer is far less of a problem that Grey or Black Squirrels. It is never seen to be as voracious and seldom cleans out a feeder.
     I have always enjoyed this description of American Red Squirrel by the American zoologist, Clinton Merriam.

The Chickaree combines qualities so wholly at variance, so unique, so incomprehensible, and so characteristic withal, that one scarcely knows in what light to regard him. His inquisitiveness, audacity, inordinate assurance, and exasperating insolence, together with his insatiable love of mischief and shameless disregard of all the ordinary customs and civilities of life, would lead one to suppose that he was little entitled to respect; and yet his intelligence, his untiring perseverance, and genuine industry, the cunning cleverness displayed in many of his actions and the irresistible humour with which he does everything command for him a certain degree of admiration. He is arrogant, impetuous, and conceited to an extreme degree, his confidence in his own superior capabilities not infrequently costing him his life. In fact, these contradictions in character and idiosyncrasies in disposition render him a psychological problem of no easy solution.

         I think that most of us would echo its sentiments!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Day Out with the Ladies

12 November 2017

     Our stalwart helpers at our SpruceHaven banding operation, Heather, Daina and Debbie, indicated an interest in joining me for a day's birding. Today worked for everyone so we embarked on a quest for waterfowl - and any other species we could find.

Debbie Hernandez, Daina Anderson, Heather Polan

     Heather and Daina have had considerable exposure to waterfowl; Debbie much less so, and it was my aim to refine the identification skills of Heather and Daina a little, and begin the educational process for Debbie.
    The temperature was relatively mild and as November days in Ontario go, it was quite pleasant.
     We started our day at the DesJardins Canal in Dundas, a location which Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) seem to find particularly appealing, and large numbers can be found there as long as there is open water.



     There was not a whole lot else on the water, except for the predictable large numbers of Mallard (Anas platyrynchos), Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) and, surprisingly, a couple of juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) still braving the cold. A few juvenile Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) were also still present, and some members of this species routinely spend a good part of the winter there. This always strikes me as odd in a species that needs to dry its wings after pursuing fish underwater, but they seem to accomplish this operation despite the freezing temperatures.

All species at DesJardins Canal: Canada Goose, Mallard, Hooded Merganser, Black-crowned Night Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Ring-billed Gull, Carolina Wren (Heard only by Heather), House Sparrow. 

     We moved over to LaSalle Park and Marina in Burlington, our principal destination for the day, where we were amused to see the male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) observed there a couple of weeks ago, in ardent pursuit of what appears to be a female Mallard/American Black Duck (Anas rubipres) hybrid. This little duck, half the size of the object of his affections, provided a textbook demonstration of mate guarding, and fearlessly drove off any male Mallard that had the audacity to come near.


     The sheer number of ducks, geese and swans was not great, but there was a pleasing variety of species, allowing for many inter specific comparisons, identification of males and females and the opportunity to observe feeding strategies.
     Heather tried her best to gain entry into the world of the Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator), but she was treated with nothing but disdain.


     Greater Scaup (Aytha marila) was seen in great numbers, generally far off, but a few individuals were obliging enough to come in close, prompting a discussion of the ways to identify Greater Scaup from the very similar Lesser Scaup (Aytha affinis).


     There were many Red-breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) on the water, all females.


     Both Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) and White-winged Scoter (Malanitta deglandi) have begun to assume their annual residency on Lake Ontario. A few White-winged Scoters came in close enough for a photograph.


     Just a few weeks ago I was looking at Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) in Slovenia and Croatia and was given to pondering the difference a nine-hour flight can make as I gazed at American Wigeon (Anas americana) in Ontario!


     Surely one of the most under-appreciated ducks of all is Gadwall (Anas strepera) but I am always struck by its subtle, understated beauty, and more than once I have mused about the beautiful quilt that Miriam could fashion by combining all those shades of brown and beige. Perhaps she might even add a jaunty accent of black - just like the duck.


     A walk along the woodland trail was very pleasant but did not turn up anything of note.

All species at LaSalle Park and Marina: Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Ruddy Duck, Horned Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, American Coot, Bonaparte’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal.

     Our final destination of the day was Paletta Park, which was quiet, but we did see our only Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) of the day.


     Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) was also present, a familiar bird that often merits barely a passing glance, but it is indeed a creature of great beauty.


All species at Paletta Park: Canada Goose, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House Finch, Dark-eyed Junco.

     It was a very pleasant day indeed and it was a delight to spend time in the company of Heather, Daina and Debbie. I hope we can do it again.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Book Review - The Quotable Darwin - Princeton University Press


          Perhaps no figure in history has been more controversial or more seminally important than Charles Darwin. This legendary naturalist overturned all conventional thought as to the very beginnings of life itself and, heretically at the time, postulated that even Homo sapiens was derived from natural events and not by divine creation. He was a brave man indeed to advance such ideas in the nineteenth century!
       In a stroke of irony, another naturalist who has left his brand on modern science, Alfred Russell Wallace, was contemporaneously coming to the same conclusions as Darwin.
       I have a well worn copy of On the Origin of Species (1859) on my book shelf, as well as The Voyage of the Beagle (1845), The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Darwin has been important to me for most of my adult life and many is the time I have turned to his works for foundational ideas and thematic progression.
       The Quotable Darwin is the work of Janet Browne, arguably the foremost scholar extant of Charles Darwin. It enables the reader to instantly focus in on Darwin the man, Darwin the young explorer, Darwin the husband, Darwin the father, Darwin the scientist, Darwin the revolutionary - all the various facets of the life of this great man. Darwin was notably shy and did not seek publicity and a chapter is devoted to other people's impressions of him, as he was already being recognized (or reviled) by some as one of the foremost thinkers in the history of humankind.
       In order to test the usefulness of the book I thought of certain aspects of Darwin's work where I might profit from looking at the original text, and without exception I found material that exactly fit the bill, saving me the time and effort to find it, being uncertain exactly where to look.



       This book is being published at a very apropos time in the 21st Century, where in some countries there is a resurgence of creationist theory and a denial of science. It can only be hoped that this book will help people to steer the right course as they reexamine the most important concepts that have shaped our very understanding of life on Planet Earth.

Publication date: 15 November 2017 
Price: US$24.95; £19.94

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Tuesday Rambles with David - The Mill Race, St. Jacobs, ON

07 November 2017

We have probed the earth, excavated it, burned it, ripped things from it, buried things in it, chopped down its forests, levelled its hills, muddied its waters, and dirtied its air. That does not fit my definition of a good tenant. If we were here on a month-to-month basis, we would have been evicted long ago.


-Rose Bird, Chief Justice of California Supreme Court (2 Nov 1936-1999) 

     Franc and Carol are still away in Europe (I think they return tomorrow), Judy was otherwise occupied, so it looked as though we would be only five of the regular group of eight, this morning, but at the last minute something came up that Jim and Francine had to take care of, so Miriam and I were joined only by the indefatigable and ever entertaining, Mary. 
     A leisurely stroll along the Mill Race, where the last vestiges of Autumn bedeck the landscape, seemed just what the bird doctor ordered.




     It was a pleasant 2.5° when we set off, with sun poking through every now and then. The sheer number of birds was quite amazing, especially common species like White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).




       Some kind individual makes it a practice to set out sunflower seeds for the birds, as you can see in the above pictures. He/she does this the entire length of the trail and the birds respond accordingly. 
     Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) are wonderfully handsome little birds at this time of year, and they perhaps more than all other passerines have no hesitation in associating with humans.


     I had intended to bring sunflower seeds with me, but forgot, nevertheless I didn't feel guilty holding out my hand since so much seed had been deposited for them. I will rectify my error next time I go to the Mill Race!





     Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) were also as common as I have ever seen them, with sometimes at least four individuals present at the same time. A conservative count would be at least twenty individuals as we walked the length and breadth of the trail.


     Contrasted with this we saw but one Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinensis).



     Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) were kept busy gathering seeds and nuts for their winter storage, and they took advantage of sunflower seeds strewn around by the birds.


     Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) was also commonly seen and heard.


     The prize for the "bird of the day" goes to Mary whose sharp eyes picked out this Rusty Blackbird (Eupagus carolinus). I am sure that most of its conspecifics have already migrated.



     Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) is an invasive species that crowds out native trees, but its berries are relished by many birds.


     I don't believe that Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) provides food for anything. This species is also called Bur Cucumber or Prickly Cucumber - which is a really good reason to familiarize yourself with the scientific name.


     Numerous pairs of Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) plied their way up and down the Mill Race.


     And this individual appears to be a Mallard/Black Duck (Anas rubipres) cross.


    At the end of our walk Mary pointed out that Miriam and I, especially Miriam, are generally behind the camera and that she should take a picture of the two of us together. Here is the result.


     It was great morning out together - pleasant weather, scintillating company, wonderful wildlife. What more could anyone ask for?

All species seen: Mallard, Mallard/Black Duck intergrade, Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Rusty Blackbird, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Northern Cardinal - Total: 18 full species and one Mallard/American Black Duck cross.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Trip Report - Slovenia and Croatia (and a little bit of Italy)

01 October - 19 October 2017

Background

     Any regular reader of my blog is by now well familiar with the name Franc Gorenc. Franc is originally from Slovenia, although he has lived virtually all of his adult life in Canada, and he returns frequently to visit his beloved homeland and enjoy the company of the many members of his family still living there. 
    Some time ago I broached the subject of accompanying him and Carol to do some birding in Slovenia; Jim and Francine promptly announced they would like to go too, and a trip was soon in the planning stages."Planning" is a bit of an understatement - more about that later!

Sunday 01 October 2017
Home - Pearson International Airport, Mississauga

     The weather was kind as we left home to drive down to Kitchener to pick up Jim and Francine. The trunk in their car was a little bigger than ours so we used their vehicle to go to the airport. After an uneventful drive and swift passage through check in and security we were in the boarding lounge by 16h:30 to wait out the time for our flight to Venice, Italy.


     Just in case anyone might be in doubt as to our ultimate destination Francine had created a sign to announce it to the world!


     Our flight was scheduled to depart at 18h:55, as can be seen above, and we taxied out to the runway right on schedule, taking off at 19h:10.
     We settled in for the flight, most of us grabbing a cat nap or two, and since the plane was not full Franc was able to stretch out and he slept for a good portion of the trip. He is blessed with the ability to fall asleep in an instant. He still needed Carol to solicitously cover him with a blanket, however!
     Minimal food was served in flight, and was the epitome of airline mush; the less said about it the better!

Monday 02 October 2017
Marco Polo Airport, Venice, Italy - Crngrob, Slovenia
     
     We touched down in Venice at 08h:25 local time. In no time at all we had cleared Customs and Immigration, collected our bags and proceeded to the location where we had been instructed to meet our ride to Slovenia.
     The weather was pleasant and the variety of birds seen in an airport parking lot was quite remarkable. In fact, we saw our only Common Wood Pigeons (Columba palumbus), a very common European species, there.



     A Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) zoomed by like a missile!



    Carol suggested that we get something to eat and she, Miriam and Francine went back into the airport. Miriam brought back a sandwich for me of prosciutto and bocconcini, a fitting first bite in Italy I thought. And it was very tasty indeed.
      Our shuttle arrived at 10h:20 and we all piled in for the roughly two and a half hour ride to Crngrob. On the way we picked up another passenger and dropped him off in Lubljana, Slovenia's capital city.
     For several years Franc and Carol have been staying at a hostelry called Pri Marku in Crngrob and Carol had arranged accommodation for us there.



        This place is delightful in the extreme, and it only took about ten seconds of meeting Beti, our delightful host, to know that we would enjoy it and feel right at home. 



     All semblance of landlord/client relationship dissipated in an instant. Beti felt like an old friend, and her fondness for Franc and Carol was evident from the first moment. There is no doubt that we vicariously benefitted from that relationship, and I hope that over the duration of our stay we proved ourselves worthy.
     She gave us the keys to our rooms and promptly invited us to share in a welcome "antibiotica" as she euphemistically called it! It was a delicious pear schnapps and she also provided wonderful Turkish coffee and cookies.


   
      Our room was spacious, well appointed, with our own private balcony overlooking part of the ancient village of Crngrob, and a serene pastoral landscape.




    
          I had barely been in Slovenia for more than a few hours, but having been impressed with the journey from Venice, and awash in warm feelings at Pri Marku, I knew that a love affair was about to begin.



     After settling in, we went out to bird for a while, enjoying the various trails and woodland that surround Pri Marku. For Francine and Jim who had never before birded in Europe virtually every species was a lifer, including Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major).



     Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) was exactly that, common, and a bird that we saw virtually every day.




     Here is our little group on a mission to locate and photograph new avian delights.



     A Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) was reluctant to leave the safetyof its perch, but it was open enough for a picture.     



    A male Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) was concealed in the same tree.



     Franc's brother Dušan and his wife Vesna came to visit us and we were delighted to meet them. Warmer, more friendly people you would be hard-pressed to find. Franc arranged with Vesna for her to pick him up the next day and drive them to collect our rental vehicle.
     Our dinner that night comprised a hearty beef noodle soup, salad, pork with potato and vegetables and apple strudel for dessert. It is no exaggeration to say that every bite was delicious. Franc chose a bottle of wine which went down very well with dinner, so well in fact that we ordered a second bottle!
    We retired to get our first night's sleep in Slovenia absolutely enthralled, and looking forward to the grand adventure that had barely begun.

Accommodation: Pri Marku Bed and Breakfast  Rating: Five stars plus, plus, plus.

All species in Italy 02 October:  Little Egret, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, Common Starling, House Sparrow.

All species in Slovenia 02 October:  Common Buzzard, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Coal Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Blackcap, Common Blackbird, Black Redstart, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch.

Tuesday 03 October 2017
Crngrob - Naklo - Zbilje Lake - Kranj - Cerklje - Pri Marku

     I didn't awaken until around 07h:00, uncharacteristically late for me, so by the time I showered and shaved to go out for a spot of birding before breakfast, Franc, Carol, Francine and Jim were just coming back in - it had started to rain.
     We all convened for breakfast at 08h:00 and enjoyed a wide selection from an extensive buffet. There was lots to eat and items to satisfy every taste, with good coffee (verging on lifeblood for North Americans!); eggs were made to order for anyone who wished them.
     After we had all eaten our fill Miriam and I went out birding with Francine and Jim, the rain having stopped. Franc and Carol left at 11h:30 to go and pick up the vehicle we had rented, and needed Jim along since he was to be the second driver. So the remaining three of us decided to explore some of the trails up on the hill above Pri Marku, past the old church that is being renovated. Several times we saw local people returning from the forest with baskets of mushrooms. What a wonderful seasonal bounty for those who knew what to pick.



     Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) was common throughout. Here are shots of an adult bird, and a bird that is either a first summer male or a "continental" variant which has a dark bill instead of the familiar yellow bill. I am indebted to my good blogger friend, Phil Slade, for pointing out the existence of this continental form, hitherto unknown to me.




     European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) is surely one of the best known and most endearing of all the birds in the world. The number of Christmas cards it has graced is hard to imagine, and even countries with warm climates, where people have never seen a robin, use its image on their Christmas greetings.



     When we had arrived at Pri Marku corn was being harvested in the surrounding farmland and deer wasted no time in exploiting the spilled kernels.



     Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) was very common and we almost always saw them on buildings. This is a species that really seems to have developed a commensal relationship with humans.




     In many European countries that I have visited Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) is one of the most frequent patrons of bird feeders, but since this practice does not seem to have caught hold in Slovenia we invariably encountered them in a more natural setting.



     Both Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) and Song Thrush (Turdus philomenas) were encountered, both probing for worms and insects in the grass, and perched in trees also.




     European Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) were very common but they were for the most part quite skittish and flew off into the trees and bushes as soon as we got close.




     We had our eyes and ears on high alert for European Green Woodpecker ( Picus viridis) but this species would elude us for the entire trip. Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen most days, however, and we were always struck by this very handsome picid.



     When Franc, Carol and Jim returned with the large, nine-seater van we had rented for our stay, we all piled in and drove to Naklo, where we had lunch at the Restaurant Marinšek, a place frequented by Franc and Carol over many years. We all shared a huge tureen of mushroom soup which was really quite fabulous. It was obviously made with a variety of wild mushrooms which lent a pungent odour and earthy taste, and was both filling and delicious. The waiter served as much bread as we wanted and it was rustic and very agreeable. It was a fine lunch indeed.
     With full stomachs we drove to Zbilje where we had arranged to meet Franc's friend, Dejan Grohar, a fellow who would feature prominently in our visit to Slovenia and Croatia. Dejan is a biologist in the service of the Slovenian Museum of Natural History and also has a successful photographic business. He is both an excellent birder and a really fine fellow.
     We all had a coffee together in the Bistro Dotik at Lake Zbilje, following which, despite intermittent rain, we managed to get in some birding.
     Quite remarkably, three species of grebe were on the water, unfortunately none in breeding plumage, but present nonetheless, and accessible at reasonably close range.
In descending order of size we saw Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)........




     Black-necked Grebe........



    .........and the most numerous of all, Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis).



     Everyone was very excited to see a male Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) in breeding plumage. I mused for a moment that it might be an escape from a waterfowl collection, but Dejan assured me that it was a wild bird. It was spectacular!





     Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) was very common.






      Conditions were really not the best for viewing, let along for photography but we were happy to see so many species anyway, with nearly all the species being lifers for everyone but Miriam and me. We persevered!


     White Wagtail (Moticilla alba) would be a common sight throughout our trip, but this was our first chance to observe this species.



     We bade farewell to Dejan, having finalized our arrangements to visit his cottage in the Julian Alps for a couple of days, beginning the following day.  
     We drove back to Kranj to visit Dušan and Vesna who live on the sixth floor of a venerable apartment building, formerly the residence of Dušan and Franc's mother, and a place with many childhood memories for Franc. As we climbed the stairs he showed us a little alcove where as a boy he used to sit and read his book.
     On the door of every home we visited in Slovenia the words "Hospitality Served Here" should be emblazoned in large letters. We had barely sat down before we were all poured a glass of schnapps followed by copious quantities of wine, all served with laughter, story-telling, camaraderie, reminiscences, and the warmth that comes with knowing that new friendships to last a lifetime have been made. We toasted Canada - Slovenian friendships with the fervent hope that we all see each other many times again.
     We left for dinner, taken at a restaurant called Gostilna Poo Jenkovo Lipo in Cerklje where the food was plentiful and good. Miriam and I shared a Greek salad and a large pizza, a dish that seems to have been adopted by Slovenians as their own, and it was served everywhere, in a myriad variety of flavours and toppings.
     Finally we were satiated and it was getting late and Dušan had to go to work the next day. We dropped Dušan and Vesna off at their building and proceeded directly to Pri Marku where Miriam and I tumbled into bed for a good night's sleep.

All species 03 October:  Mute Swan, Mallard, Red-crested Pochard, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Coot, Black-headed Gull, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow, Coal Tit, Willow Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, Black Redstart,  House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch.

Wednesday 04 October 2017
Crngrob - Kranj - Velika Planina - Dejan's Cottage

     Miriam and I were both awake at 06h:30. I showered and got dressed right away to go out birding, while she decided to linger in the room until breakfast at 08h:00. 
     We planned to take only what we needed for our brief stay in the mountains and when we asked Beti if we could store the rest of our stuff at Pri Marku until our return she told us to simply leave everything in our rooms and take the key so that we could let ourselves in on our return. What a great arrangement! And how accommodating of her. I was able to squeeze everything I needed into my back pack.
     We went into Kranj to get some groceries  and, most important of all, wine. I found it interesting to shop in a Slovenian supermarket where all manner of subtle differences made one feel that the experience was mildly exotic. Well armed with food and drink we headed for Velika Planina, along twisting mountain roads with gorgeous views of the autumn landscape.


     We met up with Dejan part way and he drove ahead of us. When we reached the base of the mountain where his cottage is located, our van could not go any farther so we parked it and Dejan ferried us up to the cottage in his 4-wheel drive vehicle. Here we are right before Dejan took the girls up first with their luggage. 


     As he left us behind his parting shot was, "See you tomorrow!" I guess he figured that two days in a secluded cottage with three women was right up his alley!
     Soon, however, he was back to get us too and we enjoyed the ride up the mountain, on a road that was in part barely a rocky track. Dejan drove every inch with casual aplomb where no obstacle was too serious, no incline too steep. In short order he delivered us safely at what would be our home for the next couple of days.


     Just note that huge bird feeder at the side of the house. Dejan buys sunflower seed in bulk - 500 kg at a time if my memory serves me correctly. The feeder is never without clients - like Central Station for birds!


    Coal Tit (Periparus ater) was one of the most common patrons of the feeder. The white nuchal patch is clearly visible.




          Great Tit (Parus major) was never far behind.



     A couple of year ago, in the highlands of Scotland we searched for best part of a morning for European Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristata), finally finding one, but it afforded the briefest of views. It was very pleasing, therefore, to be able to see this species at close range at Dejan's feeder. When a sunflower seed fell to the ground it wasted no time in going down to get it.


     As we watched the feeder from the warmth of the cabin, with the birds mere metres away, Dejan poured us all a glass of welcoming schnapps, followed by another.....and maybe even another. And after that the wine started to flow. Now this is what I call bird watching!
     We had brought food and wine, but in truth Dejan was more than well prepared for us and we wanted for nothing. What a wonderful host!
     He even cooked for us!


     There were tasty little Slovenian sausages called čevapčiči, pork, chicken, grilled zucchini, Francine, Miriam and Carol made two salads, one with peppers and onions, one with tomato and onions. We had bread and cheese. We lacked for nothing.
     And did I mention that the wine flowed? 
     At some Point Miriam and Carol posed for a picture.


     And Francine got in on the act too.


     Now don't they just look full of themselves!
     Jim was happy to stay outside with Dejan and Franc both in front of the feeder and later at the barbecue - never far from another beer! 




     Chaffinch was a relatively infrequent visitor but a photograph was easier to obtain than it had been at Pri Marku.


     Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) would zoom in and out in a flash to snatch a seed or two, but it never stayed long enough for a picture. Not so with Eurasian Bulfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), a gorgeous species that was seldom absent from the feeder or its immediate vicinity.

Female

Male

Three males together


     All of the cottages in this area, many of which function as ski chalets, are of the same basic design.






     When the sun went down it was a glorious sight - a magnificent spectacle to bring the curtain down on a day to be remembered.




     Dejan left to head back to his home in town while we settled in for the night, toasty and warm with a wood fire burning in the stove.
     How does Slovenia say welcome?  Let me count the ways.

All species 04 October 2017: Grey Heron, Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Common Buzzard, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow, Northern Raven, Coal Tit, European Crested Tit, Willow Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Common Blackbird, European Robin, Black Redstart, Northern Wheatear, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Greenfinch, Red Crossbill, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin.

Thursday 05 October 2017
Velika Planina 

     We were up a little after 07h:00; Franc and Carol, Jim and Francine were already birding from the window, although visibility was poor due to low cloud. A Dunnock (Prunella modularis) was feeding among the rocks at the base of the feeder.
     We had coffee or tea, but we had no milk, so when we had finished we walked up to the mountain restaurant (Zeleni Rob)to get some. The following picture gives a good idea of just how dense the fog was.


     And at that point it had lifted slightly so Miriam was able to get at least some kind of picture. There were, however, times when we could barely see each other. Carol is holding the milk.
     When we returned to the cabin we had breakfast. We cooked eggs and and heated čevapčiči left over from yesterday. We even made toast over the flame on the stove and had coffee - this time with milk.
     Shortly after we had eaten Dejan arrived and we left in two groups, as before, to go down to the base of the mountain where visibility was much better.


     Several times yesterday, and again today we had seen Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra), often alerted to its presence by its chattering as it flew overhead. As we walked among the conifers several birds were alighting atop the trees and feeding on cones.





     We were able to examine cones that had dropped from the tree and the distinctive feeding style of this species is revealed on the portion of the cone where the seed has been extracted.


     A Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla) was a lifer for everyone, including me, and we were able to watch it for at least three or four minutes as it scaled a tree trunk and then dropped down to the base of another tree and repeated the same process. Whenever anyone wanted to take a picture it seemed to move to the back of the trunk as though on cue, but Franc persisted and got a couple of decent shots.




     We searched for Little Owl (Athene noctua) without success, and simililarly for Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius). Everyone saw Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and Miriam (and possibly others) saw Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) which I missed and which would have been a lifer for me. This species is turning out to be nemesis bird. I have now searched for it in the UK, France, Spain and Slovenia without success.
     We had great success in locating Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) but were happy to have Dejan along to clinch the identification.



   We all got back into the van, drove for a while and then got out and walked. The views were spectacular.



     At one point some of us saw Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), never an easy bird to see, but a small group of about a half dozen birds was flying through the forest at treetop level and most people missed it. Franc, however, managed to get a picture.



     Several times, once we got away from the road a little way, we saw evidence of hunting camps and structures such as this one.



     There were also spots where hunters clearly leave bait to entice their quarry. Whether or not this is legal I don't know, but it certainly seems to deny the essence of sportsmanship if nothing else.
     We checked several rock faces for Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) in locations where Dejan has seen the bird in the past, but good luck was not our companion today.
     Regardless of our lack of success with the birds it was a wonderful, bracing walk, with clear visibility, in stark contrast to the gloom we had left at higher elevations.




     Dejan had things to do in the city so he dropped us back at the cottage by early afternoon. Visibility was still poor and I know that Dejan felt badly. He assured us that the conditions we were experiencing were an anomaly and that for most of the time he spends at the cottage there is good visibility.
     We had not done our bird checklist for a couple of days so we took care of that chore. Around mid afternoon we walked back to the restaurant to have lunch/dinner. Everyone had the same dish, a thick, steaming, aromatic and totally delicious barley soup with a sausage. I was the only one who chose not to have the sausage, so they gave me a little extra soup. I had an herbal tea and everyone else had coffee.
     We were back at the cottage around 16h:15 and spent the rest of the day doing not much of anything - napping, reading, checking photographs, and of course the feeder was a constant source of entertainment. Franc checked the forecast and snow was predicted for the following day, so we made the decision to leave in the morning rather than stay until Saturday.
     Everyone turned in early and I am sure that within minutes the only sound would have been the heavy sighs of deep sleep - maybe even a snore!

All species 05 October:  Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Coal Tit, European Crested Tit, Willow Tit, Great Tit, Common Chiffchaff, Common Firecrest, Goldcrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Blackbird, European Robin, Dunnock, Common Chaffinch, Hawfinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Greenfinch, Red Crossbill.

Friday 06 October 2017
Velika Planina -- North of Kamnik - Kamniška Bistrka River - Predašelj Gorge - Kamnik - Naklo - Marinšek Restaurant - Crngrob (Pri Marku)

     Franc phoned Dejan to tell him that we would be leaving a day early and that we would walk out to our van. Dejan, amazing fellow that he is, would hear nothing of this and drove up from Kranj to get us from the cottage and down to the van with our luggage. We will never be able to repay the kindness of this caring person who never ceased to amaze us.
     While waiting for Dejan to arrive we had breakfast of eggs and left over meat from the barbecue - and coffee. Miriam had a tomato sandwich and a piece of apple strudel that Dejan had brought up for us the previous day.
     Before leaving the cottage a European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) paid us a visit. This was a species that we did not see often.





     Contrast the view of the mountains today compared with the fog and gloom of yesterday and you can readily appreciate how much better the conditions were for taking pictures.




     It was good to see some of the species we had become familiar with including Common Chaffinch......



     .........and Coal Tit........



     ............and Eurasian Bullfinch, before leaving the cabin for the last time.



     Miriam, Carol and Francine decided to walk up to the restaurant while Dejan drove Franc, Jim and me down to the parking lot where the van was located before going back to pick them up.
     The drive down was quite spectacular, most of the views having been encased in fog on the way up.



     In terms of birds seen on the way down, the girls had the best of it. 
     The only Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)of the entire trip was spotted and photographed.



     High overhead a flock of Alpine Choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) put on a show and finally landed fairly close to the vehicle.




     Once again this was a species that would not be seen again for duration of our journey.

     The mountainous terrain was classic habitat for this species.



     A Mistle Thrush was probing in the grass for food when we went down first and was still there when the girls went by about a half hour later.



     Once we had all regrouped at the van and the luggage was loaded on board, we walked along some of the paths we had traversed yesterday and tried again to locate Little Owl and Black Woodpecker, but to no avail. Dejan assured us that all was not lost and we just had to try someplace else.
     Everyone wanted to see a White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) and Dejan had several locations in mind where he has observed this species in the past. 
     One of these potential sites was the spectacular Predašelj Gorge where we clambered down a steep slope to the bottom of a canyon, with stunning views at every turn.



   
     We did not find the dipper here (at least so that everyone could see it)  but everyone agreed that the journey to the bottom of the gorge was very worthwhile and no one regretted the effort it took to descend and return again.



  
     It was at the bottom where we spent about a half hour looking for the bird. I actually saw one at the end of the gap in the rock through which the Kamniška Bistrka River flowed but it flew in the opposite direction the moment I glimpsed it and it never returned.





     A little farther along the river we stopped at a bridge and weir where Dejan had also sighted dipper in the past.




     Once again  we were unsuccessful but Franc spotted the first Grey Wagtail (Moticilla cinerea) of the trip, but it flew upstream before he got a chance to take a photograph.
     There was a restaurant nearby where we stopped and had coffee, and some of us ate lunch there. A Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europea) was spotted at the peak of the roof of the restaurant and kept returning to the same spot, evidently finding food to its liking.



     We persevered along the river stopping at various places where the condition of the rapids seemed propitious for White-throated Dippers, but Lady Luck was not on our side.
     

     Finally, rounding a bend at a small village we spotted our quarry! It was there in plain sight for all to see.



     It was initially perched on some kind of concrete structure, involved with controlling the water flow I assume, but it moved to the bank side to feed.




      I cannot mention often enough that the scenery in Slovenia is without exception magnificent. Just look at this shot taken from the location where we found the dipper.



     I cannot imagine that one could ever become blasé about such magnificence and that one would feel blessed every day to live in such splendour.
     In addition to the dipper a Grey Wagtail was present, this time permitting photographs.





     We headed for Kamnik and Dejan took as to a restaurant where we all had coffee, followed by a visit to his store/studio, a well appointed and obviously well organized photographic business. It was a pleasure for us to visit.
     After we bade farewell to Dejan we decided that we would stop for dinner at the Marinšek Restaurant in Naklo where we had eaten before, for dinner. I had the same mushroom soup that I had last time along with a trip to the salad bar. Miriam had  pork schnitzel with potato fries. Needless to say, we all shared in a bottle of wine.
     Finally we returned to Pri Marku, our home base for most of the trip, and had a much needed shower. We had planned to meet downstairs to get up to date with the bird checklist, but the rooms were locked so we all returned to our rooms to while away a couple of hours until it was time to turn in for the night.

All species 06 October:  Mallard, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Golden Eagles, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Alpine Chough, Hooded Crow, Coal Tit, European Crested Tit, Willow Tit, Great Tit, Common Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Eurasian Wren, Eurasian Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, Black Redstart, White-throated Dipper, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Rock Pipit, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Greenfinch.

Saturday 07 October 2017
Crngrob - Škocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve, Koper - Sečovlje Saline Nature Reserve - Piran - Crngrob 

     We were up early to get breakfast and set out on what would be a long day, but incredibly interesting from both a natural history perspective and the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a little Slovenian history.
     Knowing that we were heading to a nature reserve we made sandwiches from the breakfast buffet and took some fruit along for lunch - having first secured Beti's permission, of course.
     It was a little cool and foggy when we left, but in no time at all the sun was shining as we sped off towards the coast, with Franc at the wheel.
     The Škocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve is surrounded by the city of Koper, but it is a wonderful place to visit, a veritable oasis in the middle of urbanization, with many trails and an entire network of blinds. Whenever I visit other parts of the world and see how artfully blinds are used I always wonder why this device has never caught on to any extent in North America.



     While looking out over the marsh from the first blind I spotted three young Common Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) probing around and although they were quite far away Miriam was able to capture this picture.



     Many of the channels were crowded with herons and egrets and a variety of species of waterfowl. A little patience was all that was required to watch the composition of the flocks change and new species were discovered without much effort.



     Cattle were kept on the reserve, obviously domesticated judging by their ear tags, and I can only assume that their presence is a strategy to keep the grassland at a desirable height.





     Škocjanski Zatok was one of the few locations where we saw Western Jackdaw (Coloeus mondedula).



     We saw Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) all over Slovenia, but often while driving, with no opportunity to take a picture. The nature reserve proved an ideal location to remedy that situation.



     The marshes were extensive and quite varied in their composition from one section of the reserve to another.



     At the edge of the marsh where the vegetation met the path, frogs were common and if an errant foot strayed a little too close they would leap into the water. I believe this species is the Common Frog (Rana temporaria), found over a good part of Europe.



     Two of the most common inhabitants of the wetlands were Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)......



......and Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ribundus).



     There were not many shorebirds present, most having left for winter destinations to the south, so this Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) was especially appealing.



     Jim found a lingering European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) skulking in marsh grass but it finally came out into the open where it could be photographed.



     In several locations we observed Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca).



     Both Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and Great Egrets (Arda alba) were quite numerous, with Little Egret perhaps in the majority. Several were attracted to this small island, no doubt a safe refuge. A Grey Heron can be seen in the background.



     This Little Egret seemed especially exuberant!





     I think we saw Little Grebe in every suitable habitat we visited and Škocjanski Zatok was no exception.



     The only Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) of our trip was seen here.



     When we finished the circuit of the reserve we sat on a bench in the shade outside the visitor centre to eat our sandwiches, following which we all went in for a coffee. This reserve was a great place to visit and we had not even begun to tap into its potential. I would have welcomed doing the rounds again, but we had other plans equally appealing. Little did I know that before our odyssey was over I would get my wish.
     We left to visit the Sečovlje Saline Nature Reserve, a facility we had read about before leaving Canada, and both Franc and I were anxious to explore its potential. 





     The observant reader will notice that the signs are in Slovenian and Italian. This tiny stretch of coastline enjoyed by Slovenia is adjacent to the Italian Coast; in fact, throughout history the area has been under Italian control from time to time, and Italian is used freely in coastal Slovenia.
     It became quickly apparent that this nature reserve is a huge area, subdivided into various cells, with habitat features varying considerably from one part of the reserve to another. We would have time to pay it the most cursory attention in one discrete component only.
     But that was enough to whet our appetite and know that if good fortune ever permits we would like to return.



     In fact, I bought a book there, which covers in great detail twenty-six different subsets of the reserve in which birds have been studied, with some species being generally found in one or two cells only. During spring migration in April and May it is apparent that this area is an ornithological wonderland.
     Little Egrets were common and this one was obviously enjoying successful hunting.



     Several species discovered on our trip would be found only in this single location, including Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius).





     And a single Little Stint (Calidris minuta) was seen by everyone.



     A lone Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) would not be seen anywhere else on our trip.



     Sometimes identifying shorebirds that are unfamiliar, in non breeding plumage, can be a real challenge and it took a while to narrow this one down to a Ruff (Philomachus pugnax).



     We birded until 16h:30 and there was a great temptation to continue, but part of our plan for the day was to visit the ancient coastal city of Piran, and we had to press on.
     Piran is steeped in antiquity yet fully embraces modernity. To say that it is picturesque is the epitome of understatement.





     We walked almost the entire length of the waterfront, thronged with locals and tourists, young and old. I cannot even imagine what the crowds must be like in peak season, for at times the press of people even in October verged on claustrophobic.
     At some point along the way I don't know whether I twisted my leg awkwardly, but my right knee was starting to give me a little grief. Thus it was that when everyone else decided to climb to the top of the ancient bell tower I elected to remain at the bottom. Even from there I had a wonderful panoramic view of Piran, but not quite as embracing as the vista witnessed from the top.



     The bells are colossal and, from what the others reported on descending, ear-splitting when rung.



     Perhaps Miriam was wise to step away from them.



     We walked back along cobbled streets, worn by the passage of years, steeped in antiquity, silent as to all who trod their surface. What can one imagine of the human dramas that have been played out in these ancient houses? Meals cooked and savoured, births and deaths, intrigue, happiness and sorrow, love and rejection - all the drama of human existence enacted so many times.



     The main square of Piran celebrates its most distinguished citizen, Giuseppe Tartini (1692 - 1770), a Venetian Baroque composer, whose music is still very pleasing to the ear to this day. I invite everyone who reads this account to sample a little of Tartini's work.



     As the sun set over Piran and sunk into the Adriatic Sea, our thoughts turned to food.



     There was no shortage of restaurants along the waterfront, all local, without the blight of a Burger King or Kentucky Fried Crap.
    We chose to eat at Restaurant Pavel.




     Miriam and I shared a wonderful fish platter, which was quite splendid, three kinds of fish, scampi, potatoes and spinach.


Before
After


     We shared a carafe of house wine which was very palatable indeed.

    Upon leaving the restaurant we all went to get a gelatto, returned to the car and settled in for the long drive home. Poor Franc had to drive all the way in the dark but he got us home safe and sound and we arrived back at Pri Marku at 22h:15, following a fabulous day in this fabulous country with which I have fallen in love .



All species 07 October: Mallard, Eurasian Teal, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Pied Avocet, European Golden Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-headed Gull, Rock Dove, Common Kingfisher, Red-backed Shrike, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, Eurasian Blue Tit, Barn Swallow, Common Chiffchaff, European Robin, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Hawfinch.

Sunday 08 October 2017
Crngrob - Srednja Bela - Kranj - Crngrob

     We had a couple of days of bird checklist to catch up on so we did that at breakfast.
     Jim and I decided to go for a walk and headed down the road from Pri Marku where we soon encountered a Common Blackbird.


     Several other common species were present also including this Great Spotted Woodpecker which moved from corn stalk to corn stalk, obviously finding food to its liking.





     Throughout our travels I had seen several homes where cobs of corn were drying outside, but I never did quite understand what the ultimate purpose was.


     Before long we were joined by Carol and Franc and we all extended our walk together through sections of the surrounding forest, where we saw a variety of typical woodland species, including Crested Tit - it was a delightful foray!
    In times past travellers through the forest were fearful, especially during the hours of darkness, and believed that malevolent forces of all kinds lurked among the trees waiting to do them harm. Many shrines were established where people could break their journey to pray for divine protection to ensure safe passage to their destination.
     We saw several such way stations; sadly most of them severely neglected or in disrepair.




     In the picture immediately above you can see that the iconography has all but worn off, but there is enough of the image remaining that I am sure a skilled artisan could do effective restoration. Perhaps an enlightened benefactor will come forward and create some kind of endowment so that this might be done. It is after all a part of Slovenian history and culture.
     Franc had arranged for us all to have lunch with his aunt Jelka at her home in Srednja Bela, with other members of his extended family.  When we arrived Dušan had already barbecued a great platter of čevapčiči and chicken wings, which were served with roasted red peppers and bread - all washed down with exquisite homemade wine. Vesna was smiling broadly at everyone while Dušan was preoccupied at the barbecue.


     In addition to the main feast, a great treat had been reserved for us - roasted chestnuts. And we had a huge basket full.


     In no time at all some were transferred to a roasting pan.


     And master chef Dušan roasted them to perfection!


     While brother Dušan was busy, Franc posed for a picture with his Jelka and her son, Dejan.


     We knew before leaving Canada that Dušan and Vesna's youngest daughter, Nina,  was about to deliver a baby and it would be a girl named Lia. So Miriam made a dress for the new baby, to be worn when she is a little older, and presented it to Grandma-to-be Vesna who was quite delighted I might add.


     In addition to having excellent grapes for wine, Jelka grows a variety that is perfect for eating and a more satisfying dessert no one ever had. They were delicious!


        It never ceased to amaze us that wherever we found ourselves in Slovenia the surrounding countryside was breathtaking. Magnificent vistas were the norm.


      By now Dušan and Vesna seemed part of our family.....



     ......but we were hard pressed to even remember all the names of the many relatives who came to visit!


      After a wonderful meal, where we enjoyed hospitality of the warmest kind, we left to return to Kranj where we made a visit to the cemetery where Franc's grandparents and his father are buried, soon to be joined by his mother who passed away shortly before our visit. Although I didn't know them, it was a moving experience to be there with Franc and Carol, and a touching gesture that they felt at ease having us join them for this private moment.
     We went for dinner at Pizzeria Tonač where I had pizza and Miriam had a mixed salad with chicken, which came with "toasted bread" which was like pizza dough with seasonings on the top. All was delicious.
     We returned to Pri Marku where we looked forward to a good night's sleep.

All species 08 October:  Grey Heron, Common Buzzard, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow, Coal Tit, European Crested Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Blackcap, Eurasian Wren, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, Black Redstart, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch.

Monday 09 October 2017

Crngrob - Naklo - Kranjska Gora - Kepa Planina - Zelenci - Bled - Crngrob

     Today we met Dejan at 09h:00 to travel high in the mountains to Kepa Planina to search in earnest for Wallcreeper. This rugged area was magnificent and Dejan knew it intimately.



    It was classic Wallcreeper habitat and I felt that if we had any chance to locate this enigmatic species this was the place.





     And find it we did, but not after a careful scan of the rock faces by all of us for about an hour. The bird was high up, but just within camera range, but giving us a classic demonstration of Wallcreeper behaviour.  Franc was able to get a few reasonable shots.




     I was really ecstatic to finally encounter this species that verges on mythical. And, as an added bonus a Black Woodpecker flew overhead. I would have preferred to have the bird perched but you have to take what you can get sometimes.
     As an additional bonus we had three Northern Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) high above us, seemingly practicing their speed and maneuverability. These were young birds, probably from the same nest, and still staying together during this post fledging period.
     A soaring Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) thrilled us all. Eurasian Crag Martins (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) put on a display of aerial acrobatics.
     Miriam was nothing if not victorious!


     After this burst of exuberance she was happy to sit quietly with Dejan!


     In a road tunnel through the mountain, water found its way down through and over the rocks, and the trickle was funneled into a pipe, where a glass mug hung for all who wished to drink this clean, cold, pure water - and most of us did!




     Perhaps this Eurasian Blue Tit wanted a drink too.


     Convection currents of air were rising from the plain far below, in addition to updrafts created when the wind struck vertical rock faces, and we had the rare treat of watching two Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) circling below us, something I have never seen before. It was magical to watch them ascend towards us instead of away from us.
     Dejan wanted to take us  to Zelenci where there is a protected lake of great interest. I believe that the visit here was a first even for Franc. 



     It was a fascinating place with crystal clear emerald green water fed from springs where water could be seen bursting from the bed of the lake, as though from miniature volcanoes. Fish were observed as clearly as they might be in a home aquarium. 
    There was an observation tower and of course we did a little birding there.
     For lunch we had brought left over pizza and salad from last night's dinner and we ate sitting on the grass, with not a bad view to enhance the experience.


     Our final destination for the day was Bled, certainly one of the top three tourist destinations in Slovenia.
     One of the highlights of a visit to Bled is the famous pastry know as Kremsnita. The Park Hotel claims bragging rights on this delicacy and that is where we ate it.



     Does it live up to its reputation? It absolutely does, and it went perfectly with a latté macchiato. 
     There is a unique kind of boat at Lake Bled called a Pletna. The Pletna boat is operated by the Pletna oarsman. This profession is very respected as it cannot be performed just by anyone. The title of the Pletna oarsman was handed down from generation to generation, which is why the profession of “Pletnarstvo” remained in individual families throughout the centuries. We were content to look at the boats while we waited for Franc to return from taking Dejan back to his vehicle, but we determined to hire one later.


     There was quite a lot of avian activity on the water with Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) predominating but we also saw Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)...


......a female Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)......


.......and many Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra).




      Franc had now rejoined us and the church across the lake was beckoning us.


     So without further ado we all piled into a pletna to be ferried across to the island.



     One magnificent view was followed by another.



      We disembarked at the church, where Franc and Carol had been married in a centuries old Slovenian ceremony.


     Tradition has it that the groom should carry the bride up the ninety-nine steps from the lower elevation to the church atop its promontory, but Franc passed on this obligation - probably just as well for both him and Carol!


     I took this picture of the two of them standing exactly where they stood after the ceremony.


     I think they were a little more smartly dressed that day!
     Eurasian Nuthatches were common around the church, totally habituated to humans, and Common Blackbirds were present in every plumage phase imaginable.


     After we returned to the mainland we drove to the castle, paid our admission, and took a brief tour, not having the time to do it justice.



          It was here that I first made the acquaintance of Dr. France Prešeren, Slovenia's most famous poet and author of the most enlightened national anthem I have ever seen.


     Upon leaving the castle we headed "home" to Pri Marku where Beti served us another of her outstanding dinners - mushroom and barley soup, beetroot salad, risotto with pork and chocolate cake for dessert. We all shared a bottle of red wine.
     While most of brought our checklists up to date Miriam went back up to our room to get ready to leave for Croatia the next day.

All species 09 October: Mute Swan, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Red-necked Grebe, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Great Cormorant, Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Coot, Rock Dove, Black Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Spotted Nutcracker, Hooded Crow, Northern Raven, Coal Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common Chiffchaff, Eurasian Blackcap, Eurasian Nuthatch, Wallcreeper, Common Blackbird, Black Redstart, White-throated Dipper, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch.

Tuesday 10 October 2017
Crngrob - Prizna, Croatia - Ziglen - Mandre, Pag Island  - Veliko Blato - Mandre

     We arranged with Beti to have an early breakfast, at 06h:30 and we left Pri Marku at 07h:15. We stopped to top up the van with diesel and then met Dejan at a roadside rest stop. He would be our guide and leader for the next few days and we followed him as he led us into Croatia .It was raining slightly as we travelled down the highway.
     Just before crossing through the border post into Croatia we stopped for coffee and a croissant. It was still mostly cloudy, but the rain had stopped, and the sun was fighting its way through the clouds; the temperature was a pleasant 15 to 18 degrees depending on elevation. Our passports were stamped as we left Slovenia and again as we entered Croatia, much to Francine's delight.
     We arrived at Zigljen, the point on the mainland where we were to board the ferry to Pag Island, and had to wait in line, so we ate the sandwich we had made at Pri Marku before leaving. 


     The passage over to the island was quite brief, and it was raining, so we stayed inside. 
     Once on the island, the landscape looked barren and unforgiving, lunar-like in its aspect.


     We made good time going to the small coastal town of Mandre, which would be our base for our stay on Pag. Dejan had arranged accommodation for us, and it was delightful indeed.
     We shared a two-bedroom apartment with Jim and Francine, totally self contained, with every amenity we could wish for, and a large balcony overlooking the ocean a few blocks away. It was a lovely neighbourhood.



     The street was quiet, and immaculate, filled with houses with neat gardens and interesting fruit trees.


     Our host lived on the ground floor and in her garden at the back were mandarin oranges and olives; in fact it seemed as though every house had its own olive tree(s).



     Our bedroom was well appointed.....


     ......and the kitchen was spacious and would serve as our base for breakfast and dinner during our stay.


     Franc, Carol and Dejan were lodged in another house a couple of minutes down the street, but I think that we lucked out with the better of the two places.
     Someone had told Dejan that errant flamingos, driven to the island by unfavorable winds, had been seen in a sheltered bay, and we left to try to find them. Once outside Mandre the landscape changed back to the kind of forbidding terrain we had seen while driving in from the ferry.


     As is the case throughout Europe, local, readily available resources have been used by farmers and shepherds for centuries, and many dry stone walls bore testament to the hardy forbears who had tended their flocks in these rocky outcrops.


     We had no luck in locating the flamingos but Dejan took us to the Veliko Blato ornithological reserve to search for birds.


    One could see at a glance that this was a productive wetland and that in spring migration it would be inundated with birds with the accompanying raucous chorus that is characteristic of such masses.



     A half dozen Dunlin (Calidris alpina) probed for food no more than a couple of metres from us.



     Amazingly a Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) flew out of the marsh right in front of us and dropped back in, totally concealed of course, and Franc never even had time to swing his camera up to get a picture. A Ferruginous Duck (Aytha nyroca) was far out, but it was a lifer for everyone but Dejan.
     On the drive home we were again struck by the stark landscape and its vestiges of antiquity.


     We saw our first Crested Lark (Galerida cristata), a species that was very common indeed.



     And here and there Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) adorned twigs and rocky outposts.


     We stopped on the way home at a grocery store to buy items for dinner, including that most important ingredient of all, the elixir of life, good Croatian wine!
     It was dark as we wended our way home, but the sunset was glorious, and the image of a Little Owl (Athene noctua) silhouetted against the sky was the proverbial icing on the cake.


     It was a happy group that shared meats, cheeses, pickles, beets, pâté, bread, fruit and wine.
     We were in bed by 22h:00 already looking forward to the next day.

Accommodation: 4 Stars.

All species in Slovenia 10 October: Grey Heron, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow.

All species in Croatia 10 October: Mute Swan, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Ferruginous Duck, Little Bittern, Grey Heron, Little Egret, European Shag, Great Cormorant,
Short-toed Snake Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Coot, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Owl, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow, Great Tit, Crested Lark, Willow Warbler, Common Blackbird, European Robin, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch.

Wednesday 11 October 2017
Mandre - Lun - Novalja - Mandre

     Franc, Carol and Dejan all came over to have breakfast with us - Franc uniquely having mastery of the coffee pot! 
     It was not long before we were ready to embark on a day of birding adventures.


      We all enjoyed the view down to the ocean and admired the flowers in another garden along the street in this lovely Croatian town.


   
     Dejan is very familiar with the Island of Pag and took us along roads that were at times barely tracks, alongside fields subdivided by dry stone walls, through areas wet and dry.



     The bird life was quite prolific and it was especially pleasing to seen coveys of Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar). 


     This species has been introduced around the world for hunting purposes and wild populations have been established in various regions, but this is part of the ancestral home of the species, so it was rewarding to see the bird where it truly belongs.
     Many Eurasian Curlews (Numenius arquata)  were seen feeding in the wet fields.



     Sheep were all over the island, sometimes encountered on the road.


     At times they presented a convenient perch for Hooded Crows.

     
     Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) must surely be one of the most hunted birds in the world, having been introduced from Asia to Europe many centuries ago, and subsequently to other parts of the world. Inevitably small numbers escape the gunners and establish viable local populations.


     We made a very interesting visit to the Olive Gardens of Lun, where ancient olive trees still bear fruit.


     In fact, they are nothing short of prolific.


     The olives are harvested in the a manner that has changed little over centuries.



     


     In this area we saw several lizards, all appearing to be of the same species, although the markings on some were slightly different, but I suspect that may have been a function of age. I do not know which species this is, so if anyone can identify it, please leave a comment below. 05 November - thanks to Germán Ibarra Zorilla for narrowing this down to a female Wall Lizard - Podarcis wagleriana or P. sicula.


     The same is true of this butterfly photographed in the same area. 04 November - thanks to Richard Pegler for identifying this butterfly as Wall (Lasiomnata megera).


     We drove along the coast to seaside town of Novalja, a picturesque community, where we decided to stop for lunch. 


     This is the interior of the restaurant where we ate.


      Everyone except Francine and Jim had a fish goulash with sipa fish and polenta, in a rich sauce with hints of squid. It was quite delicious. I have tried to come up with a translation for sipa, but this fish seems to be universally known by that name. Jim and Francine opted for a meat platter.
     After lunch Dejan took us to other places on the island. We were never quite sure exactly where he would lead us but we had great faith in his judgement and to everyone's delight, we had excellent views of Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), a species we had seen a couple of times before, but only as a shimmering missile over the water.




     A truly remarkable sight was of Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus). It left such an impression on Francine that it became her "bird of the trip."




     We passed shepherd's huts and pondered the lonely life of a man herding and protecting sheep in this rugged area.


     Crested Lark was our constant companion.


     A species that I had searched for many times was Eurasian Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus) and Dejan took us to a wetland where it is known to spend the winter months.


          It was fitting perhaps that Dejan found the bird and pointed it out to me and I was ecstatic to view this distinct and beautiful bird. It was not especially well positioned for photographs but Franc was able to capture a few decent images.




.
     A Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) seemed pretty pedestrian by comparison.


     Dunlin in definitive basic plumage foraged among the rocks at the edge of the wetland.



     It was time to head back to Mandre and on the way we spotted Little Owl, this time in daylight so that everyone could get a good look at this charming bird.


     We enjoyed another spectacular sunset before arriving back at our apartment, where we had for dinner pretty much the same as last night.


     We were enjoying Croatia on every level - and there was more to come!

All species 11 October: Northern Shoveler, Chukar Partridge, Common Pheasant, 
Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, European Honey Buzzard, Griffon Vulture, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Coot,Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Dunlin, Ruff, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Little Owl, Common Swift, Common Kingfisher, Common Kestrel, Hooded Crow, Great Tit, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Eurasian Skylark, Crested Lark, Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, European Robin, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch, Corn Bunting.

Thursday 12 October 2017
Mandre - Metanja - Old Town Pag - Mandre

     We all had breakfast together in "our" apartment following which we left to go birding
detouring on the way for a quick tour of our host's garden, where she permitted each of us to pick a mandarin orange from her tree, clearly the tastiest we have ever had.


     A tiny moth had settled on the door frame overnight. Perhaps someone will be able to identify it.


     While waiting for everyone to get ready to leave Dejan noticed this Preying Mantis, an efficient predator of the insect world, and known to capture hummingbirds in the Americas.


     Since about 2,400 species in about 430 genera are recognized worldwide I would not even attempt specific identification!
     As we drove around the island we were constantly impressed with the splendour of it all.




     A couple of Great Cormorants on a rock didn't seem overly impressed!


     European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) was frequently observed, generally perched atop a branch or stalk affording the bird good visibility.


     Dejan took us to an area where he has had great success locating certain species in the past, but Miriam and I both confess to not remembering which birds we were focusing on. In any event we did not find them.


   European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) had already departed but there was ample evidence that they breed at this location.


     Dejan knew of a high promontory where Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) has nested for several years and we decided to try our luck. As we parked this beetle was spotted working its way to safety.


    The breeding season for the owl is over and Dejan had no hesitation in playing a tape of its call to see if he could induce it to respond, but other than the echo of his recording there was silence. Unbelievably Dejan started to climb to the top of the mountain to examine the nest. 




    It bears remembering that the temperature by now was in the mid-twenties, but Dejan dismissed this as though mountain climbing to an owl's nests is normal behaviour. As a biologist working under contract to the Croatian government he has banded owls in similar locations, never fearing to go wherever is necessary.
     The nest was empty, possibly abandoned, but Dejan brought back the remnants of the owl's prey for all to see.


     In this mountainous terrain we witnessed what I take are a species of mountain goat, sure-footed and confident. They were not especially wary but they had the ability to flee from us in an instant, and climb the precipice with ease.



     By now it was about 13h:45 and we were all starting to feel hungry. We drove into Metajna to look for a place to eat lunch.


     Here we hit the jackpot, at an unassuming dockside restaurant, where I had what was clearly the best meal of my life.
     We started with the obligatory schnapps, of course, and we were advised that this one was made from a species of grass of all things.  And it was delicious.


     It is interesting that it is the law in Croatia that each glass show the capacity on the side, so that a patron knows that exactly the amount ordered is being served. 


      Our meal started with this plate of cheese and prosciutto. The cheese was quite similar to Romano Pecorino in texture and was superb. Similarly the prosciutto had connotations of Serrano Ham, but had a flavour distinctly different and was unbelievably good.


     We were all served a salad of shredded cabbage and cucumber. From what I can gather the dressing on the cabbage comprises diluted vinegar and olive oil, locally produced of course - and it was magnificent.
     The pièce de résistance was the fish platter that the owner and his wife put together for us. We were seven, so of course we needed two of them!



     The calamari was of indescribable perfection. I vow that I will never again eat the rubber that is served here, almost always deep fried, and not even rating a comparison with this heavenly offering. The local sardines were fabulous, caught mere hours earlier, the sea bass was fantastic and the smelt crunchy and delicious. 
     The whole meal was an unforgettable gustatory experience!
     Does anyone get the idea that Miriam enjoyed it?


     I forget what we paid but it was a mere pittance compared with what we would have paid here for the same meal and not a single item would have been fresh.
     After lunch Miriam. Carol and Francine went to sit by the water, and were engulfed in mirth the whole time; Francine went in for a swim. Out of a sense of duty the guys stayed back and sipped more wine.
     After leaving the restaurant we stopped by a grocery store to buy a few things and made our way to the old town section of the city of Pag. It was dark, atmospheric, uncrowded (this being the off season), evocative and beautiful. We all enjoyed this visit.








     When we got back to the apartment no one was hungry so we skipped dinner and made sandwiches for our journey tomorrow.
     It was a contented group that went to bed with full bellies and happy memories.

All species 12 October: Common Pheasant, Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Common Buzzard, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Owl, Hooded Crow, Coal Tit, Crested Lark, Willow Warbler, Common Blackbird, European Robin, European Stonechat, White Wagtail, European Serin.

Friday 13 October 2017
Mandre - Zigljen - Prizna - Plitvice Lakes National Park - Crngrob, Slovenia

     We were up early to get ready to leave today. After breakfast we cleaned the apartment, paid our bill and were on the way to the ferry at 08h:50. Dejan was staying behind to do some bird banding so we bid him farewell for the time being.
     The ferry departed at 10h:00 and we were back on the mainland by 10h:15, bound for Plitvice Lakes National Park. En route we stopped at a roadside stand to buy some cheese and went into a small bar to have coffee - and we tried walnut schnapps too.
     We ate lunch in the van as we drove on, having the sandwiches we had made last night,  and fruit.
     We arrived at the national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at 14h:20, where a moth looking much the worse for wear landed on Carol's shoe.




     We purchased our tickets, and walked down to a boat for a short ride across the water. 



     This park is jaw-dropping in its beauty, with waterfalls throughout, contrasted against the brilliance of fall colours. Just when you swear that you are not going to take another picture you round a corner and a whole new array of splendour awaits you, and you start clicking away again.




     Here are some of the best pictures that Miriam took.







     


     Even at this time of the year, the off season for tourists, the park was thronged with people. Eurasian Nuthatches and European Robins were seen frequently, having become totally habituated to human activity, but other than that we did not see a whole lot of bird life.




     This Common Chaffinch was not especially shy.


     We did see our only Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) of the trip here, but it left its lofty perch almost as soon as we spotted it and it was impossible to get a photograph.
     At 17h:00 we took a shuttle bus back towards the entrance but there was still quite a way to walk back to the parking lot. We ate dinner while driving, finishing up strudel from yesterday, and we had bread, some of the cheese we had bought earlier and what was left of Dejan's homemade venison sausage.
     In stark contrast to our entry into Croatia a few days earlier there was a substantial delay in crossing into Slovenia. Once we were through, Jim took over the driving duties to give Franc a break.
     We arrived at Pri Marku at 22h:15 - home again - and were happy to see our beds.

All species 13 October: Mallard, Great Cormorant, Common Buzzard, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow, Northern Raven, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Common Starling, European Robin, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch.

Saturday 14 October 2017
Crngrob - Stan - Kranj - Crngrob

     After breakfast I went out to bird for a while while Miriam stayed in the room.
     Franc and Jim took the van into town to get it washed and returned later, having picked up Dušan and Vesna in Kranj. The rest of us got into the vehicle and we all left for Stan, where Franc's cousin, Marinka and her husband, Vojko live and where we were expected for lunch. The drive to their place took about an hour and a half.
     Marinka and Vojko live in a beautiful area on a rural property - and Vojko has an extensive vineyard. How civilized is that!



     We were invited to inspect Vojko's winery and to draw a glass right from the vats.


     The wine was very pleasant indeed and we relaxed in warm sunshine in a wonderful rustic setting.


    Two picnic tables had been set up outside and soon they were laden with food. There was chicken and pork, cheese, bread, mushrooms, pickles, hot peppers, sweet peppers, prosciutto, various salamis - and of course copious quantities of wine. The moment a plate was empty it was refilled; it was a cardinal sin to have a dry glass! The hospitality was absolutely unrivalled; it was FANTASTIC! In the picture below Vojko is at the far left with Franc next to him hugging Marinka. Francine and Jim you already know.


     Here we see Vojko and Marinka's son, Matej, seated next to Dušan and Vesna, followed by Carol and then moi.


     Vojko and Marinka babysit their granddaughter, Eva, during the day, until she is picked up by her father, Dejan, on his way home from work. 


     Eva was a little shy at first and often sought refuge with Grandpa. But I think she was already cozying up to Franc.


     There are horses in an adjacent field and Eva loves to feed them, so Matej got some bread and brought the horses in so that we could all enjoy them.



     In the meantime Eva had gone to induce Grandpa Vojko to get out her jeep for us all to see.


    
     I think she is ready to take her driver's test at any moment.
     When Dejan arrived to pick up Eva he got her to sing a few songs in English for us - and she did very well.
     We had been invited to the neighbour's farm (it is they who own the horses) and all manner of interesting sights awaited us. And Slovenian hospitality reared its wonderful head again as the wine flowed, plates of meats were passed around and peanuts in the shell were shared by everyone.
     Here is a very creative way to use an old stump.


     A traditional hay rack barn is known as a kozolec and the owners of this property are restoring one.


     We were invited to tour it inside and out and it was fascinating to say the least.





     Francine is not especially at ease around horses and Nina, the lady of the farm, helped her to gain a little confidence.


     A love of flowers seems to be a feature of every Slovenian residence, rich or poor, big or small.


     But, there is always work to be done.


     Fortunately, Vesna didn't have to chop the wood; instead she got to pet the cat.


     When it was time to go, it was difficult to leave these warm, friendly, hospitable people. I am sure that Vojko would have preferred that we stay forever! Well, a couple more hours at least, maybe not forever......
     Surprisingly, after all we had eaten, we still stopped for dinner, having first dropped off Dušan  and Vesna at their apartment. Miriam just had a couple of slices of pizza that Francine and Jim had ordered. One of the toppings they chose was olives - the entire pizza featured one olive, whole and with the pit! Carol was not happy with a salad that she received; in fact initially they brought a salad she had not ordered. I had spaghetti bolognese and found it quite tasty. This was the only time we had any issue with food in our entire trip.
     We returned to Pri Marku at around 22h:15 and were in bed about an hour later.

All species 14 October:  Grey Heron, Common Buzzard, Rock Dove, Common Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Coal Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, Black Redstart, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch. 

Sunday 15 October 2017
Crngrob - Postojna - Sežana - Crngrob

     After breakfast we set out for Postojna to visit the famous Postojna Caves.

     We had hoped to make the 10h:00 tour, but the traffic on the highway was slow in a couple of spots due to construction, and we settled for the 11h:00 tour instead.
     Franc quickly located a parking spot and we wandered up to the area where the tour begins, passing through a very pleasant park with various historical and natural features.


   


     After lining up for a while we were ushered into the entrance to the cave where we boarded a train for the journey underground.


     This part of Slovenia is characterized by Karst, a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite and gypsum, where sinkholes and caves have become well developed.
     The interior of the cave with its stalagmites, stalactites and columns, is stunningly beautiful and overwhelming in its intensity - phantasmagorical almost. I wished that I had a greater knowledge of the forces that shaped it and could spend more time really getting to understand the formations. My familiarity with geology is sadly lacking, but what little I have was helpful in developing a rudimentary interpretation of what was all around me. As it was I was awestruck by what I saw and can only give you an indication in the pictures that follow of the splendour that is there for all to see.








     The tour lasted one and a half hours, but the trains run every five minutes or so, so it would be easy to hang back from the crowd and spend more time at significant locations. Oh to tour this cave and spend more time there with a geologist like Alan Morgan!
     We decided to have lunch at the cafeteria and there was a wide variety of food available. Miriam and I split a sandwich and had a coffee. It was very agreeable and the prices were not exorbitant as they so often are at tourist attractions like this.
     After lunch we toured the Proteus Vivarium where we gained a fascinating insight into the unique life forms of these dark, inaccessible places. A self-guided audio tour provided a great overview of the organisms of the cave system. It left me wanting to know more.
     We returned to the parking lot to retrieve our vehicle and head off to the Lipica Stud Farm to see the famous Lippizaner horse show.


     We arrived with no time to spare, quickly bought our tickets and went to the arena. 
     This legendary show combines music and equine choreography to perfection. It was indeed a fine performance and we were all glad to have witnessed it.







     It is often said that birders never stop birding and while we were seated in the arena we were possibly the only people who noticed birds flying around outside! When the performance was over we retrieved our binoculars from the car and birded around the grounds.
     Franc and Francine saw a bird that they described as "totally yellow" and by a process of elimination we concluded that it could not have been anything but a Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) even though it should by now have migrated out of the area. But, there are often stragglers in bird populations - it's too bad Franc could not have gotten a picture.
     We returned to Pri Marku for dinner where Beti served us an incredible mushroom soup, a salad of marinated cabbage, lettuce and radicchio, pork with gravy, buckwheat, fried potatoes and vegetables. Dessert was ice cream with whipped cream, drizzled with butterscotch sauce.
     We went up to our room to relax and went to bed at 21h:45.

All species 15 October: Grey Heron, Eurasian, Common Buzzard, Rock Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, European Green Woodpecker, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Coal Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, Black Redstart, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch.

Monday 16 October 2017
Crngrob - Old Town Kranj - Zbilje -Hraša - Kranj - Crngrob

     It was very foggy when we went down for breakfast at 08h:00 but the sun soon burned through and it was already clear when we left Pri Marku at 09h:15 bound for Kranj, and a Gorenc tour of the Old Town.
     Before we set off on our walkabout we stopped by a street vendor selling roasted chestnuts and bought a cone to share. How good they were! 


     Kranj and the surrounding area are the stomping grounds of Franc's boyhood, so he is very familiar with it all, and he entertained us with anecdotes about various occurrences in  his early life.
     The old town, like so many parts of Europe is redolent with style, classicism and history.



     We have so little of this kind of grandeur in North America, save for truly old cities like Québec, and I wish we had more.
     You have already met Dr. France Prešerek when we visited the castle at Bled, but there is a huge statue to this national hero and iconic poet in the old section of Kranj.


    The words of the national anthem are inscribed at the base of the statue, and Franc read them to us in Slovenian, and I was amazed at how well one is able to appreciate the melodic flow of language, even not understanding any of it. I have to say that Franc did a masterful job in reciting it to us. He claims it was easy because Prešerek is unrivaled in the pantheon of Slovenian literature - but don't be too modest Franc, it still needs a degree of sensitivity to give it meaning.
     The Old Town delivers one sensory delight after another.






     At the end of our engaging tour, we set of for Lake Zbilje where the lighting would be more propitious for Franc to take photographs than they had been when we were last there.
Unfortunately, the number of birds was down considerably, but Eurasian Coot was still plentiful.


     And Mute Swans were ubiquitous.


     We met Dejan at the lake, as we had done previously, and had a coffee at Bistro Dotik. It was dejà vu all over again!
     It was lunchtime and we decided to eat at a local restaurant called Mošticek, which featured Bosnian cuisine. Miriam and I both had a cup of soup, a salad, and a turkey plate with mushroom gravy and rice. It was all delicious; everyone ate in similar fashion and the bill for seven people was €30 - unbelievable!


     Recognize a couple of grizzled characters at the table?


     Having eaten we followed Dejan to a wetland that he owns near Hraša. His property is at one side of the road with a companion marsh on the opposite side, so there is ample good habitat for a range of wetland species.


     Amazingly, in the reeds in the marsh opposite Dejan's we found a Eurasian Penduline Tit tearing open bullrushes. I had never been able before to find this species and now I had seen it in both Croatia and Slovenia.



    The area is primarily agricultural and the fields of corn stubble attracted a variety of species, including Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla). Franc got a picture of a Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala), but no one else saw the bird.
     I think that Dejan arranged with the farmer to leave a few stalks of corn standing and they received the attention of several species.


     Something has caught the eyes of our group.


     Perhaps it is this Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)


     Dejan had to leave around 15h:30 to get back to his photographic business and we followed right behind him. On the way home we picked up food to make lunch for our drive to Venice tomorrow.
     Our final dinner at Pri Marku was a noodle broth soup, salad of cabbage and beets, beef patties with mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes and a creamy custard (panna cotta) with blueberry sauce. As usual it was all delicious.
    After dinner Beti kindly permitted us to use her kitchen to prepare sandwiches for our journey the next day.
     Before turning in for the night we started to get organized for our journey home - well, at least Miriam did! We had been very happy at Pri Marku and would be sorry to leave.

All species 16 October: Mute Swan, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Grey Heron, Great Egret,  Great Cormorant, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Black-headed Gull,  Rock Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow, Coal Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Common Chiffchaff, 
Common Blackbird, European Robin, Black Redstart, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, Brambling, European Goldfinch, Black-headed Bunting.

Tuesday 17 October 2017
Crngrob - Koper - Škocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve - Venice (Mestre), Italy
    
     Our final breakfast at Pri Marku, our final time with the ever smiling, friendly Princess Beti.



     We will miss her!
     We decided that since Škocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve was barely out of the way en route to Venice, and we had enjoyed our visit there so much the first time, we would visit it again. It was a beautiful day and we were on the road by 09h:00.
     It was quite amazing how the dragonfly population seemed to have expanded since our last visit - and love was in the air.





     Not having any references on European odenates, any help with identification would be greatly appreciated. 04 November - Thanks to Richard Pegler this dragonfly has been identified as Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum).
     When we first saw this Little Grebe we thought it had somehow damaged its leg, but it turned out not to be the case. Whether it was engaged in some kind of stretching exercise, or whether this position was part of a preening ritual I am not sure, but the bird righted itself on the water and appeared to be swimming normally.

     
      In North America we would call this a Wooly Bear Caterpillar, the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella) but I am not sure what species it represents in Europe. Again if anyone can assist with identification that would be very helpful.


     I am going to sound like a broken record, but ID help with this crab would be appreciated.


     This Grey Heron posed no such issues.


     Horses are ranging throughout the reserve and they are truly magnificent creatures.


     The most common gull was Black-headed Gull in post breeding plumage.


     We did not have time to visit all of the blinds on this visit, but a view from the top of the observation tower yielded Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago).


     We also saw a couple of pairs of Eurasian Wigeon.....


        ........and numerous Eurasian Teal.


     As we left the tower Miriam had us all pose for a picture.


     Jim has a way of locking in on a bird that is barely visible and not taking his binoculars off it. This is how we discovered this Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), initially skulking in the reeds, with barely a hint of its presence. Eventually it moved out into the open.


     It was Miriam who spotted this aquatic mammal. I think it is a Coypu (Myocastor coypus).


     I am not sure whether it is native to this area, having been introduced either deliberately or inadvertently into many parts of Europe, where it can seriously disrupt aquatic ecosystems. It was agreeable for us to see it - whether it is welcome in the reserve is another issue entirely.
     We ate our lunch at the outdoor tables at the visitor centre and purchased coffee to go with it. We were back on the road to Italy by 14h:00.
     Carol had booked accommodation at the Park Junior Hotel in the Mestre section of Venice and it was very pleasant with a spacious room and an outdoor patio on the ground floor. The surroundings were park like and this Eurasian Jay posed for a picture.


     We brought chairs over from the other rooms to our patio and we had all had dinner on the items we had brought from Slovenia - bread, cold meats, cheese and fruit - and we still had wine that we had purchased in Croatia, so it was a fine feast.
     It was fairly early when everyone returned to their rooms and we settled in for a good night's sleep.

Accommodation: Park Junior Hotel, Mestre   Rating: Four stars

All species in Slovenia 17 October:  Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Eurasian Teal, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Common Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Red-backed Shrike, Hooded Crow, Great Reed Warbler, European Stonechat, White Wagtail, Hawfinch.

All species in Italy 17 October: Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Common Buzzard, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow, Eurasian Blue Tit, Goldcrest, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, House Sparrow.

Wednesday 18 October 2017
Venice (Mestre) - Venice (Island) - Venice (Mestre)

     We had an excellent breakfast in the hotel, from a buffet table featuring a wide range of hot and cold items.I think we all ordered cappuccinos which were made to order and very good.
     It was a short ride to the train station where Franc drove around until he found a parking spot, and we all boarded the train for the short distance to Venice proper. 
     We then embarked on a complete walking tour of this ancient, fabled city. It was a grey day, and a little cool, 
     I regretted not knowing more about the architecture and the significance of some of the major buildings. It certainly would take more than a day to become acquainted with Venice, but we saw enough to be impressed with the sheer grandeur of it all.We have scores of photographs and I am featuring below a random selection depicting just some of what we enjoyed.












     Here are the gondoliers in their traditional black and white shirts and straw hats waiting to ply their trade.


     Even in the off season Venice is crowded. I cannot even imagine what it must be like at the height of summer.


     It is quite sad that even in this renowned city, graffiti vandals do their evil work and we found numerous ancient edifices disfigured by these morons.





     We had lunch at a small restaurant featuring pizza and Miriam and I shared a "pizza completa" which we found much to our liking.
     Afterwards, we all decided that a gondola ride was just what we needed. This may be as touristy as it gets but I thoroughly enjoyed it.


     Naturally we paid attention to the few birds that we saw, other than ubiquitous Rock Doves (Columba livia).
     Black-headed Gull was quite common.


     How dainty is seemed when contrasted with Yellow-legged Gull, both adult and sub adult.


     
     We took the train back to the car and thence to the hotel. We left again at 19h:00 to go to a restaurant where Carol and Franc had eaten when they were last in Venice.
     I had spaghetti with meat sauce, and calamari, and Miriam had a mixed salad and spaghetti carbonara. Carol is probably going to hit me on the head, but I thought the food was okay, but certainly not great, and the restaurant was cold and the music (loose description) loud. There was one waitress only for the entire restaurant and she was overworked and clearly stressed. When Francine pointed out that she had been charged for a salad she never received the poor girl burst into tears. 
     We were back in our room by 22h:00 for our last sleep in Europe this year.

All species 18 October: Grey Heron, Common Buzzard, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow, Eurasian Blue Tit, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, House Sparrow, 

Thursday 19 October 2017
Venice (Mestre) - Marco Polo International Airport - Pearson International Airport - Waterloo

     We had breakfast at 08h:00 and had the van loaded by 09h:00.
    

     Franc and Carol drove us to the airport where they dropped us off at the departures level and left to return to Slovenia. 
     We took off pretty much on time at 12h:45 and settled back for the almost 9 hour flight to Toronto.
     We cleared Customs and Immigration quickly at Pearson, and waited for the Park'n Fly shuttle to take us to Jim's car. The drive to Kitchener was uneventful; we got into our own vehicle and drove home.

All species 19 October: Grey Heron, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Eurasian Magpie, Hooded Crow, Common Blackbird.

Acknowledgements

Carol Gorenc
     It would be impossible to overstate the role Carol played in making this trip the incredible success that it was. She has come to define the term "planning." She made an itinerary for us with meticulous detail about every day's activities, with a complete (and as it turned out, very accurate) schedule of costs. She made all our reservations, selected places to eat, chose locations and attractions - in short she did everything! In addition, she had what we came to refer to as "Carol's magic bag" - her backpack. Whatever anyone needed, she had it in there. It was incredible what she carried with her. And in addition to all the planning, she was the voice of moderation, the emblem of good humour, the steadfast rock, every day. 
Even though her schedule was detailed down to the hour, she always was flexible and happily modified it if circumstances warranted it. She was (and is) in a word, fantastic.

Franc Gorenc
     Franc showed us his pride in and affection for his native land, this fabulous little country, nestled in a corner of Europe, where one may enjoy the balmy breezes of the Dalmatian coast or the brisk winds of the Julian Alps. We met Franc's family, stalwarts all, who made us welcome, who invited us into their homes, who gave us food and drink, who made us feel like honorary Slovenians for a time. Thank you, Franc, for sharing your homeland and your loved ones with us. 

Dejan Grohar
     Dejan is a superb birder, a fine biologist, a model of generosity, a person of good humour and an all round delight to be with. He made available his cabin in the mountains, came with us to Croatia so that we could get the most out of the trip, took us to his wetland and found Wallcreeper for us! Thank you, Djean. Please plan a trip to Canada so that we can reciprocate your kindness.