|View towards Hotel Rajna, Paklenica and gorge behind|
After meeting up with our guide, Gerard Gorman, we stepped out of Zagreb Airport and it was immediately apparent that spring had sprung a little earlier than in the UK. The trees were that lovely fresh lime green colour and we had arrived on a glorious day.
Travelling on a luxurious Mercedes minibus we commenced our journey south to Otocac. We travelled through beech forests and small villages and after about an hour or so we had our first stop at some fish ponds for some roadside birding where we found at least three Great White Egrets, Ferruginous Ducks, Garganey, Whinchat and Stonechat and a stonking Black Stork in flight to name but a few. What a great start to the trip. Travelling on to our hotel for the first two nights we stopped briefly to photograph one of the many White Stork nests that we were to see along the way.
|Storks on nest -Ged Gorman|
Most had a good night’s sleep after the early start and long journey, and 7am the next morning we were out for our pre-breakfast walk just over the road from our hotel. The terrain was rough grassland and mature trees. Wrynecks were calling together with the first of many Nightingales and a Yellowhammer and we were soon viewing them. In the distance a Cuckoo called. Back at the hotel Black Redstarts were seen and Corn Buntings gave their jangly calls.
|Lets get the party started - Mirni Kutak - Laura Bimson|
After breakfast we began our journey into the northern range of the Velebit Mountains which span 145 kilometres from the northwest to the southeast of the country. The range is ‘Karst’, a landscape formed from the dissolution of limestone, and is rich in flora and fauna. During our journey a Hawfinch flew across the road in front of the bus and perched on a nearby tree and was well seen by a lucky few. Stopping in the small village of Svica by a river and reservoir we were treated to Alpine Swifts (Arctic Swifts to some) hawking low overhead, another Wryneck in the bushes and several common species.
|In the pine woods - Laura Bimson|
Our next stop in a pine forest produced several woodland species including Goldcrest, Willow Tit and Crested Tit. Magic! We then travelled on to a spot of woodland next to a large valley. Ged heard a Wood Lark calling and so we climbed a small hill through the trees to reach a clearing and there it was displaying overhead and hardly pausing for breath for the whole time we were there. This was where we had our first view of the Adriatic Coast and it was stunning. Walking back down the hill we spotted Northern Wheatear, Black Redstart and Whinchat. During lunch Ged picked up the call of a Rock Bunting and we were all able to get good views of this little beauty.
|Rock bunting- Laura Bimson|
After lunch we had a couple of more woodland stops and finished the day by the River Gacka, close to our hotel, where there were several Little Grebes, Yellow Legged Gulls (the first of many to be seen as they were the gull seen most further south) and lots of Swallows buzzing around. On our journey home, Rob reckoned he saw a Short-toed Eagle.
The next day it was time to move south to Starigrad Paklenica, our destination for the next few days. A wet and windy day dawned and we were grateful that half of this would be spent travelling, although the planned birding stop-offs were curtailed due to the weather. Our excellent driver, Peter, got us safely down the mountains, much to our relief, to the coast and we had a stop for coffee at Karlobeg on the Adriatic coast. Here Sean found a pair of summer plumaged Black-throated Divers close into shore and Linda and Laura spotted a huge Peacock Moth being attacked by swallows.
|Hoopoe - Laura Bimson|
We arrived at our hotel in time for our picnic lunch and as no improvement in the weather was forecast we headed out for a local walk over the road. The land between the hotel and the coast was a mix of coniferous and deciduous woodland, olive groves and smallholdings. What a walk it turned out to be, the bad weather had grounded many migrants and we were soon spotting Pied and Collared Flycatchers, Wood Warbler, Common Redstart and Cirl Bunting. Further along the coast near the monument we spotted more Black-throated Divers, Red-breasted Mergansers and a group of Velvet Scoters. Next, three Hoopoes were spotted and whilst watching these Ged shouted Night Herons, we turned round to see nine of them in the air battling against the wind. There then followed a period where you didn’t know which way to look because in quick succession we saw a Common Tern, Cuckoo, Purple Heron and Turtle Doves. After a brief respite from the rain it started to come down heavily again and we made a hasty retreat to the hotel exhilarated and briefly viewing a Red-backed Shrike on the way.
|Vecka (Doghead king's) tower, Paklenica - Laura Bimson|
The next day the weather was fine again and we travelled a short distance to Mala Paklenica, a beautiful wooded gorge in the National Park where we spent the morning.
|Mala Paklenica gorge - Laura Bimson|
Stunning birds and butterflies were to be found in this idyllic setting including
Subalpine Warbler, Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, Scarce Swallowtail,
Clouded Yellow and Dalmatian Ringlet.
|Sub alpine warbler probing processionary moth nest - Laura Bimson|
|Scarce swallowtail - Laura Bimson|
Moving on we had lunch in the hills above Modric (birthplace of the famous footballer of the same name). Here we found the stunning Black-eared Wheatear, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Tawny Pipit. Rob and Ged also found a Yellow-browed Warbler here which was a first for the National Park.
|Eastern Orphean Warbler - Laura Bimson|
After our afternoon coffee stop we had a short walk in the forest of the National Park above our hotel where we found a Grey Wagtail, Blackcap, Cuckoo and Subalpine Warbler but not the Sombre Tit we were hoping for.
|Cirl bunting - Ged Groman|
The following morning’s pre-breakfast walk produced the first wader of the trip, Common Sandpiper, and a sunny view of a Cirl Bunting.
After breakfast we headed off to Pag Island, the fifth largest of more than 1000 islands (no it’s not where the sauce comes from) that lie against the coast of Croatia. Crossing over by road bridge we arrived at an even rockier place than the mainland.
The island is rich in wildlife and our first stop was at an inland
saline lake where we were treated to a pair of Montagu’s Harriers, Black-winged Stilts, Spotted Redshanks, Greenshank,
Little Ringed Plover, Garganey and best of all Shelduck! Other birds of
note here were Red-rumped Swallow, Black-headed
Yellow Wagtail and Crested Lark.
|The seekers of Pag - Jenny Jones|
|Little owl - Rhodie Blythe|
We moved on to the next roadside stop to look for the elusive Rock Partridge and although we didn’t find it here, we got close up views of Short-toed Larks and Little Owl.
Moving on to another inland pool we must have
seen half a dozen Purple Herons, Pygmy
Cormorants and the best view of a Wryneck
of the trip.
|Veliko blato nature reserve - Laura Bimson|
|Wryneck - Ged Gorman|
Dragging ourselves away for lunch at another pool just off the road we enjoyed good views of a pair of Wood Sandpipers feeding in the mud. After lunch we returned to the first lake for a second look and we were no sooner there when Ged shouted ‘Griffons Vultures’, six of them flew overhead and down the lagoon out of sight, only to reappear again a few minutes later giving great views.
Our final stop on the island was for a coffee and comfort stop and on the telegraph wires outside Sean found some Spanish Sparrows! He knew they were Spanish because of the castanets! What a wonderful island and fabulous day we had.
After dinner we had a second attempt (we had heard an Eagle Owl the previous evening) at locating the Scops Owl in the floodlit churchyard a couple of hundred yards down the road from the hotel. This owl is smaller than the Little Owl and has a very distinctive call. Our lovely waitress, Slavitsa, took delight in doing her impression of this owl for us before we set off. We had success on the second attempt and there were actually two owls in the churchyard.
|Rock partridge - Laura Bimson|
Our last full day was spent in the Paklenica National Park on the hunt for the Rock Partridge which had escaped us so far. Ged took us to a regular site of his and some were calling from cover, but after some searching Anne Pope got onto one across the hillside just above the town and Sean quickly got it into the scope for most to view. Sadly, before he could lower it for Jen the bird retreated to cover.
|Black eared Wheatear - Laura Bimson|
Moving up the mountain we had various roadside stops and had more views of Wood Warblers, Black-eared Wheatears and Blue Rock Thrush to name but a few.
After a coffee and ice cream stop by the sea, with Italian Wall Lizards on the harbour wall, we returned to the gorge to have another try for Rock Nuthatch which although heard again was not located.
|Wall lizard -Laura Bimson|
|Cool in the mountains - Jenny Jones|
Our journey back to the airport the following day produced Red-backed Shrikes at the roadside and a Honey Buzzard amongst others. Our lunch stop was at some fishponds where we picked up several Black Kites, Black Storks and half a dozen Wood Sandpipers. The woodland was alive with singing Blackcaps and a Hawfinch high in the canopy was a surprise.
|Black Stork -Laura Bimson|
Our time in this beautiful country was drawing to a close and I for one will never forget it. Everyone came away with at least a dozen lifers and most got a lot more.
Thanks Ged for finding us the birds and some great spotting from the team. Thanks also to Jen for imparting her geological knowledge.
Deep in the olive groves, there's a thicket
A secret song hall, green and wild
|Olive groves paklenica- Laura Bimson|
Here the rufous nightingales are singing, their rich whistling voices do enthrall.
In the stillness the sun is rising, golden light shafts gently fall.
I sat spellbound, this stage all round me, waiting for the curtain call.
At last a watchful form espies me, from his perch a chestnut bird
A frog like call, brings sudden silence, nolonger will my birds perform.
|Spider orchid, and wild thyme - Paklenica groves.|
As I strolled amongst the grasses
a long eared fellow crouched before
A mad march forager, nocturnal ambler
Thumped, then scarpered from his form!
|Glass lizard - Laura Bimson|
Silent on the dry stone wall,
a curled up creature basks to warm
A legless lizard, greyish brown
blinks his eye and looks around
Too late I fear for I am found
In a slithering dash he has gone to ground.
(The glass lizard, also known as the glass snake and the jointed snake) are a group of reptiles that resemble snakes, but are actually lizards. Although most species of glass lizard have no legs, their head shape and the fact that they have movable eyelids and external ear openings identify them as lizards).