Winter birding in Paklenica and Pag (Croatia)

Most of the available trip reports about Croatia shows the preference of birders to go there in spring or summer: that’s why I decided to explore for three days the northern Dalmatia in January, looking for some specialties.

My main targets were two birds that I had missed so far during my spring and summer visits, Sombre Tit and Western Rock Nuthatch, even if they should be present in the area of Southern Velebit where I lead a butterfly tour in June for Naturetrek (link ->).

Together with my friend Federico Pino, we followed the good motorway that goes from Rjieka to Zadar, exiting by the dramatic valley of Zrmanja river.

Here we visited the lovely monastery of Krupa (“Manastir Krupa” in Croatian and “Манастир Крупа” in Serbian), known to be, with more than 7 centuries of history, the most ancient Orthodox monastery of Croatia.

Krupa monastery
Seventeenth century paintings
Orthodox priest

The valley was particularly interesting, looking like an oasis in the desert with beautiful cultivated fields, meadows, rivers, islands, hedges and shepherds with their flocks of sheep.

With such an attractive habitat, the birdwatching was rather productive.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis f. fulvescens)
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), immature
Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

The first insects of the year, with a mild sunshine, were noticed as well.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

But the true stars were a pair of Sombre Tits (Poecile lugubris), with their dark brownish hoods and triangular white patches on the cheeks.

Sombre Tits (Poecile lugubris)

Following the deep canyon of river Zrmanja, we passed Obrovac to face to the inner sea of Karin, called “Karinsko more“.

River Zrmanja
Sea of Karin
Little church and bridge of Donji Karin
Eurasian Wigeons (Mareca penelope)

Here we had 30 Eurasian Wigeons (Mareca penelope), 1 Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) and 50 Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), then we followed the western coast going north, to the adjacent inner sea, the Novigrad sea, called “Novigradsko more” where we found larger flocks of waterbirds (wigeons, gadwalls, coots, etc) plus some grebes and a single far Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata).

Crkva Sveti Duh, Posedarje
Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata)

Then we drove north to the Paklenica National Park, following the coast of the Baljenica bay.

Harbour of Modric
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), female

When we arrived by the first gorge, the sunset had almost ended and some bats flew around, including a loud European Free-tailed Bat (Tadarina teniotis).

Mala Paklenica gorge
Unidentified bat

Despite the fall of temperature, we decided to wait the arrival of the night in the silence… our wait was awarded by the amazing view of a singing male of Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)!

Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)

The day after we went to explore the southern part of Pag: this island was made particularly attractive by its barren landscapes, almost moon surface like, caused by ancient deforestation and by the blow of the strong wind called “bura”.

Saltpans of Dinjiška
Common Redshanks (Tringa totanus)
Northern Pintails (Anas acuta), females
Velo Blato lake
Rush (Juncus sp.)
Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), female
Feral Pigeons (Columba livia var. domestica)
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
Dry-stone walls
Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) and a couple of Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), male
Dry-stone walls with the Paklenica mountains in the background
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus), female

At midday, we transferred back to the Paklenica National Park, exploring the most popular gorge, Velika Paklenica, without see too much in terms of birds but a pretty Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) and two Ravens (Corvus corax).

Velika Paklenica
Eurasian Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Paklenica river

With a lot of hikers and climbers around and the noise of running water to cover eventual calls of birds, during the walk we dedicated more to the flora.

Leaves of Campanula fenestrellata
Garden Sage (Salvia cfr. officinalis)
Rustyback Fern (Asplenium ceterach)
Mediterranean Spurge (Euphorbia characias)
Grape Hyacinth (Muscari cfr. neglectum)
Moon behind the eroded lime-stones
Rough Bindweed (Smilax aspera)
Downy Oak (Quercus pubescens)
Western Prickly Juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus)
Večka Kula tower of Starigrad in the sunset

The second evening the Eagle Owl kept silent, giving way to the flight of a Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), and the same did the day after, when we explored for the last time the Paklenica National Park, observing finally some good birds.

Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris)
Pink crustose lichen
Euphorbia myrsinites
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)
Western Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumayer)
Red coloured rocks
Colchicum cfr. hungaricum
Leaves of Italian Arum (Arum italicum)

On the way back to Italy, we couldn’t not notice the amazing bridges for the wildlife that crossed above the motorway: something in-existent in our country where Marsican Bears, Wolves and Golden Jackals keep getting victim of roadkilling.

We finished our day having a last look, with the faint remaining light of the sunset, to the Isonzo mouth area, already described in my recent post: “The last day of 2019 birding in Friuli-Venezia Giulia“.

Slavonian Grebes (Podiceps auritus)
White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons)

Luca Boscain

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