Are exactly 20 years that I visit regularly, at least once a year, the Cerknica lake (Cerkniško jezero in Slovenian) area and everytime I think: “What a wonderful place, I always discover something new, I always get new fun!”
This time wasn’t different when I visited the lake and the neighboring mountains with a friend of mine, Federico Pino, because I managed to add to my World list of birds the rare and stunning White-backed Woodpecker!
I spent there 3 days and I found rather good weather conditions, with sunny sky in the first two days and cloudy during the last one, but the temperature was severe, with morning records of -9°C, but also -7.5°C at midday in the Snežnik area, at about 1,200 m of altitude.
Despite the temperature, the Cerknica lake wasn’t totally frozen, but maintained some wide pools of free water with waterfowls: at least a thousand of Mallards was there, together with few Wigeons, Gadwalls, Teals, Shovelers, Pintails and 2 Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula).
This number of potential preys attracted predators as well, so I observed at least three huge White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) standing on ice.
It was rather spectacular indeed when the eagles took off spreading the panic among the waterfowls, but we couldn’t observe any success on hunting.
Along the lake shore, on the willows, I noticed a funny trumpet call: in a couple of seconds I realized that I was hearing the Northern subspecies of Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula pyrrhula). Unfortunatelly I saw just three or four female-type individuals and, apparently, no males.
Then we moved into the forest of Javorniki hills, in order to look for different species: these extensive woodlands of Beech, Silver Fir and Spruce are home of Ural and Pygmy Owl together with most of European woodpeckers. At the place where Brown Bears are fed in order to shot them, we were surprized to find on the ground a wonderful immature of Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to set well the camera and to take better photos, but the emotion was great!
In the sky I spotted twice a very high adult of White-tailed Eagle, gliding, but no signs of presence of any owl, unfortunately, only tits (Coal, Crested and Willow) and Goldcrests.
Going back to the lake, we appreciated a lot the beauty of the landscapes, but we didn’t see much more.
In the afternoon we visited a new place for me, the area of Kočevje, not far from the border with Croatia. We located a very interesting woodland with most of the trees dying or already died, because of strong winds of a couple of years ago. We stalked patiently for a while the sound of a drumming woodpecker… it was particularly hard to find it, because the bird was evidently moving often, to look for food, and the terrain was steep and plenty of fallen logs, making the walking hard. But finally the perseverance was awarded by the observation of an unexspected White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos lilfordi), the first observation ever of this species in my life! The light was very poor and the bird rather far, but despite all this we have been very happy with our record shots.
On the way back, we stopped for a good dinner in Ribnica and the small town revealed particularly attractive by night, with its main St. Stephen’s Parish Church and the Bistrica river.
The day after we tried to drive to the Snežnik mountain area, in order to look again for woodpeckers, but there was some snow on the ground and above all some dangerous ice below the white mantle. The day was sunny, but particularly cold, so after some walks we decided to come back to lower altitudes.
At Cerknica lake, despite the freezing temperatures, the water was still not completely frozen: among the ducks, we spotted 36 White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) in the distance.
I found particularly cool, under the photographic side, the patterns and shapes of ice: almost samples of Modern art.
In a free water pool we spotted a small group of gorgeous Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula), unfortunately not terribly tame, together with Mute Swans (Cygnus olor).
A small flock of White-fronted Geese crossed in flight in front of us, doing like a circle in perfect light and with the town of Cerknica in the background.
On the spruces and willows behind us there was a good activity of passerines with Crossbills, Goldfinches, Mistle Thrushes, Great, Blue, Marsh, Crested and Coal Tits.
Then, in the late afternoon, we moved to the coutryside of Cerknica, looking for raptors. We spotted 2-3 Hen Harriers (Circus cyaneus), many Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) and Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus)…
…a single Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor)…
…and once again the White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons), feeding in the grass not far from houses.
We finished the day in the lovely meadows of Žerovnica, where we observed a Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), a Redwing (Turdus iliacus) and a flock of 15 Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus).
The last morning the sky was cloudy and light poor when we visited the Rakov Škocjan park with its amazing caves and karstic streams.
We didn’t see any Wallcreeper, but we were anyway delighted by the presence of tens of Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula europaea), Mistle Thrushes and tits.
The last destination of our visit had been the peaceful valley of Planinsko Polje with the Unica river, particularly beautiful and natural, and its line of old poplars, oaks and willows.
The clear waters of Unica hosted, as usual, the White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus): we spotted 3 individuals.
On the riverine trees we saw a smaller number of passerines than usual, but we anyway found Marsh Tit, Mistle Thrush and Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla).
The cherry of the top was the sighting of a fantastic Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocoptes medius), one of my favorite ones, with a very close and long view: once again I got in love with Slovenia!