Lizards and birding along the Trieste Gulf

The Isonzo river signs, on many aspects, a border between the North-italian plains of Po valley and the Balkan ranges that connect the Karst with Dinaric Alps and Dalmatia. That’s why the Trieste and Karst area is so special in Italy, because is often nearer to Slovenia and Croatia, about flora and fauna, than to the remaining part of the peninsula.

I visited the area in order to localize a couple of dalmatian lizards that here reach their north-eastern limit of distribution, but I enjoyed there the very rich avifauna as well.

Miramare castle
Miramare castle, August 2017

The area of cliffs that runs from Duino, through Sistiana and Miramare, to Trieste hosts very interesting woodlands and maquis that mix Mediterranean species with planted pinewoods and cooler microhabitats related to the karstic topography rich in dolinas and caves, but also rather poor in surface water.

Because of this mosaic of climates and habitats, I observed there Mediterranean birds, like Blue Rock-thrush (Monticola solitarius) and Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus) side by side with continental species like Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla) and House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) and alpine ones like Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus) and Alpine Swift (Apus melba).

The “Golfo di Trieste”, right in front of the cliffs, was recently widely used for cultures of mussels: that’s why I observed there a lot of other interesting seabirds like 15 Eiders (Somateria mollissima), a rare and localized species in Italy, 75 Mediterranean Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii), 80 Sandwich Terns and a Common Tern, all perched or nearby the cultures.

But I was there to look for lizards: at the beginning my efforts to localize them were unsucesseful, probably because of pretty cool temperatures of the morning. Then first Dalmatian Wall Lizards (Podarcis melisselensis) appear along the trail sides, showing well their distinctive feature: the large masseteric scale in contact with one or more supratemporal scales. They seemed to be much more related to sunny habitats with grass, while in the rocky or shady places they were substituited by Common Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis).

Pretty abundant were butterflies, despite the few flowers (Campanula pyramidalis and Eryngium amethystinum above all): I found large Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius), Great Banded Grayling (Brintesia circe), Woodland Grayling (Hipparchia fagi) and Southern White Admiral (Limenitis reducta), but also small species like Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) and Lang’s Short-tailed Blue (Leptotes pirithous).

Also various dragonflies were around, including Southern Darter (Sympetrum meridionale) and Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea).

I had to work hard till the first afternoon to locate the first Blue-throated Keeled Lizards (Algyroides nigropunctatus), also known as Dalmatian Algyroides: these very small and dark lizards usually move in shady habitats, climbing easily logs and trunks in a totaly different way from other lizards, recalling me the Phelsuma geckos of Indian Ocean. Their keeled scales are also distictive, as well as with the red and blue colours of throat and flanks. Unfortunatelly, being at the end of summer, I couldn’t find any truly bright coloured individual.

I spent the last 2-3 hours of the day birding in the “Isola della Cona” Reserve, the mouth of Isonzo river: it’s a true paradise for birds and birdwatchers, probably the best nature reserve in North Eastern Italy, with great hides and amazing restorated freshwater ponds.

Isola della Cona
Isola della Cona, August 2017

Geese, ducks, egrets, herons, cormorants, shorebirds were all very abundant, with an astonishing bonanza: Little Grebes, Pygmy Cormorants, Squacco Herons, Cattle Egrets, Great Egrets, Grayleg Geese, Bar-headed Geese, Gadwalls, Garganeys, Black-winged Stilts, Little Ringed Plovers, Northern Lapwings, Grey Plovers, Little Stints, Common Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Ruffs, Greenshanks, Spotted Redshanks, Common Snipes, Black-headed Gulls, Bee-eaters, Yellow Wagtails, Whinchats, Northern Wheatears, Great Reed Warblers, etc.

At the end of the day the number of observed birds exceed the 80 species, with the majority of them watched in the Isola della Cona! In fact, there, I found also some interesting uncommon birds: 1 Little Crake (Porzana parva), 2 Temminck’s Stints (Calidris temminckii), 1 Red Knot (Calidris canutus) and 1 Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis).

Luca Boscain


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