Slovenia, 4th - 11th June 2003

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


by Simon Mahood


Lying at the junction between Eastern and Western Europe, abutting the Alps and over 50% forested, Slovenia has been strangely ignored by travelling birders. Myself (Simon Mahood) and Dan Brown took a week long trip to the country on a tight budget. We connected with some of Europe's toughest breeding species and experienced a wealth of nature and some of the best scenery I have seen in Europe. The trip began on the back of an exhausting couple of days following our finals featuring the summer ball and a quick cross-country trip to South Stack; consequently we spent as much time asleep as awake for the first couple of days which no doubt cost us some butterflies at least. Nigel Wheatley's Where to Watch Birds in Europe devotes only a page to Slovenia, and we could only find one trip report. We sought the excellent advice of Slovenian naturalist Milan Vogrin whose gen was invaluable. Our circular route took in three corners of the country; with another few days one could also visit the north-east for Syrian and Middle-spotted Woodpeckers and River Warbler.


We flew to Trieste airport (Italy) with Ryanair (£20 return each) arriving midday on the 4th June. Despite being nearer Slovenia than Trieste city it was a little complicated, though inexpensive, travelling from the airport over the border. Cars hired in Italy cannot be driven into Slovenia so we had to use public transport. The number 10 bus from the airport took us to nearby Monfalcon, a train brought us to the border town of Gorcia and the number 8 bus dropped us at 'Casa Rossa' from where it was a short walk into Slovenia. Another bus took us into Nova Gorcia where we hired our car, a Citron Saxo, at Mivax. We did nearly 1000km in the vehicle bringing the cost of hire for six days to about £200. We brought a tent and either camped by the roadside or slept in the car. Food was cheap and excellent; it usually consisted of either meat and chips or vast pizzas. Most restaurant owners also spoke a little German along with their native Slovenian which eased communication. The weather was sunny nearly all the time and temperatures during the day were generally high, reaching the mid thirties in the south-west.

Trip report

Day 1. (4th June) After picking up the car we drove southeast to Cerknica, a huge depression which periodically floods near to the town of Bakek. It was dark before we arrived so we settled down for the night and fell asleep to the sound of Quails and Corncrakes.

Day 2. We rose with the sun at four and spent the next few hours birding the area exploring mainly the north-west end. The area contained a rich mosaic of open water, various marshy habitats including extensive sedgebeds, scrub and un-intensive hay farming. A number of dirt tracks cross the area making access straightforward. We began in the wetter areas where Little and Spotted Crakes are supposed to occur. Despite missing both these species we found a Little Stint as well as the local race of Yellow Wagtail (cinereocapilla). Nearby scrub yielded the first of many showy Marsh Warblers. Black Redstarts were found in a small village from which tracks criss-crossed the hay meadows and ditches. Corncrakes abounded in the meadows, we could often hear up six calling at once; a recent survey found sixty calling birds here. With such high density of calling birds views were inevitable and we didn't have to wait long. Along with a supporting cast of abundant Whinchat, Red-backed Shrike, Tree Sparrow and Quail farmland birding surely can't get much better; one could not help but lament the demise of our own farmland birds.

From Cerknica we drove southeast to our next site, the forested hills above the town of Kocevje. Slovenia has about four hundred Brown bears; they are at their highest density in these hills where they are actively managed to keep them away from the town and to provide an income from sport hunting. We were exhausted so went to sleep in the forest in preparation for the evenings birding. The police also appear to be at their highest density in these woods, we were less than impressed when they woke us up, took our details and escorted us first to a police station and then to the head forest ranger. A man built like a bear, the ranger explained the rules to us and, when pressed, supplied us with some more gen. Apparently the forest tracks and paths are all open to the public but sleeping in the forest is not allowed. He pointed us in the direction of a short marked trail in the valley bottom beginning in the car park near the office; last year two pairs of Collared Flycatcher bred here, though we found no sign of the birds. It was midday and we saw few birds. Bird's nest orchid was fairly abundant, as it was across much of the country. We spent the afternoon asleep next to a lake on the eastern outskirts of the town (signposted 'Jezere') where Great Reed Warbler and Water Rail were found in a patch of phragmities.

We returned to the forest in the evening to drive and walk the extensive track network in search of Ural Owl. Much of the forest is selectively logged so the best areas will change from year to year, nonetheless the owl is said to be most abundant along the ridges where there is some virgin forest. We generally turned left at the many forks to avoid getting lost. About half way up we located a Black Woodpecker on call and after a short burst of tape it was flying at our heads. After dark the forest seemed to be teeming with mammals, Edible dormice crunching hazelnuts and herds of Red deer and Boar on the forest floor; a martin was not identifiable to species due to our poor torches. We stayed in the forest till 11pm when we gave up on the owl in favour of some sleep in the town.

Day 3. We resumed our search at three and an hour later met the head forest ranger on a ridge; he would not believe (again) that we had not slept the night in the forest! We finally located the owl at about seven after following up some passerine alarm calls. Much bigger than expected this spectacular owl gave brief though excellent views; a good birthday present for Dan. We tried again without success for the Collared Flycatchers finding only a few Willow Tits and a Pallid Swift. Though only mid morning we decided to head north to our next location, the Savinje Mountains near Ljubno.

A Nutcracker flew over the road about thirty km south of the capital giving frustratingly untickable views. We then spent some time birding an area of flat plains just south of Ljubljana (the capital) where Roller bred until recently. We saw very little so continued to Ljubno where much to the amusement of some local farmers we got some sleep in a meadow.

In the evening we investigated the tracks and paths in the wooded hills north of Ljubno. There is a huge map in the village showing these in detail. We stopped and investigated any suitable forest for Pygmy Owl and the harder woodpeckers. At our first stop Hummingbird hawk-moths were plentiful and whilst I admired these and messed with the playback equipment Dan entered the wood and rapidly saw a female Black Woodpecker and a probable Pygmy Owl. As evening drew on the frustration was only going to increase for me when I somehow missed two Hazel Grouse as they flew across the road in front of us! We leapt from the car and disappeared into some of the best forest we had seen on the mountains where we fruitlessly searched for the birds. Returning to the car the tension thankfully did not last long: a Hazel Grouse gave good views as it left a roadside fir and flew along in front of the car for a short while. As darkness fell we located a calling Pygmy Owl at a hairpin bend in an area of spruces of mixed heights which I had radared as being good for the species earlier. Playback brought the owl closer but we had to admit defeat due to pathetic torches, the owl was probably sitting on our heads. We camped and set the alarm for five to resume the duel.

Day 4. Dan awoke at half four and informed me that the owl was already calling. We arose and within a few minutes were watching the little beauty calling from a close by spruce. As the day dawned we were able to make out the subtleties of its plumage before it flew off into the wood, it was just before five. We spent most of the morning birding the forests and getting some extra sleep before heading west to the Julian Alps.

We passed the town of Bled with its picture postcard lake and headed for the spectacular mountain of Triglav. The scenary was spectacular so we took our time stopping at meadows en route for butterflies including Poplar Admiral and searching woods unsuccessfully for Lady's slipper orchid. Duke of Burgundy fritillary and Chequered skipper were found on the lower slopes of the mountain and Black Woodpecker was heard. After a slow afternoon we retired to Kranjska Gora just north of the park for a few beers to celebrate the last few days.

Day 5. Another early start, we headed to the centre of the park and hiked up Prelaz Vrsic. At 1611 metres it was high enough for Alpine Chough near the summit where we also saw Chamois. On the way up we picked up Ring Ouzel (alpestris), and a superb male Black Grouse singing from atop a conifer. We spent the rest of the morning in a leisurely drive to the dramatic Mt. Mangart on the Italian border stopping regularly. Highlights included Chequered blue, Apollo and Red helleborine.

We continued along the (often rough) road up the mountain until, just past a small car park above the tree line, the road was blocked by snow. Here we parked and walked through a small tunnel along the road up the mountain. At the first cliff on the right side of the road we heard an Alpine Accentor and left the road to get a look; this was the first of three we were to see. Our next target was Snowfinch which we found feeding just up the road at the edge of the melting snow. Alpine Choughs were common and a few singing Alpine Swifts, Water Pipit and some Alpine marmots completed the scene, which could only have been enhanced by Wallcreeper or the Von Trapp family. We left late in the afternoon stopping a few times on the lower slopes where habitat looked good finding Coral root orchid and a wealth of evidence of Three-toed woodpecker, though not the bird itself. After another of our (now daily) cleansing river swims we settled down for the night south of Nova Gorica.

Day 6. We awoke to the sound of Quail and spent a fantastic morning exploring some Mediterranean scrub. The grass seemed to ooze butterflies, mostly Marbled whites and various fritillaries. We added a good number of butterflies including Large chequered skipper, Woodland brown and Ilex hairstreak as well as a few birds typical of the habitat such as Rock Bunting and Hoopoe.

The afternoon was spent on Mt Nanos, signposted off the Vipava road close to the village of Podnanos. The plateau was cloaked in meadows rich in wildflowers and butterflies. We headed to the highest and most southerly point, marked with a radio mast where we had been informed Rock Thrush and Rock Partridge were available. Walking along the cliff edge Dan picked up a male Rock Thrush in display flight which then showed well in a dead tree. We found another pair of this species further along and also Merlin but no sign of the partridge. We descended to the valley in the evening where we were surprised to find no restaurant or the like in the sizeable Vipava, only an ice cream parlour.

Day 7. We were back at the summit soon after first light to search for the partridge. Once again our search was in vain though we counted at least 40 chamois which had obviously been in deep cover the previous afternoon. Dan also saw a Nose-horned viper and we found Clouded apollo. Apparently the gravel tracks are the best chance of seeing this difficult bird. The car had been enjoying the rough tracks and steep slopes less and less by the day so we decided not to risk too much and left the mountain before midday finding a couple of Large whip snakes basking on the road on our descent.

We returned the hire car and once again took a series of busses and a train back to Monfalcon where we spent the night. We flew home the next day.

Species Lists


Little egret Egretta garzetta
Grey heron Ardea cinerea
Mallard Anas platyrynchos
Honey buzzard Pernis apivorus
Short-toed eagle Circaetus gallicus
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Common buzzard Buteo buteo
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Merlin Falco columbarius
Hazel grouse Bonasa bonasia
Black grouse Tetrao tetrix
Quail Coturnix coturnix
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Water rail Rallus aquaticus
Corncrake Crex crex
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Little stint Calidris minuta
Common sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Yellow-legged gull Larus michahellis
Feral pigeon Columba livia
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus
Collared dove Streptopelia decaocto
Turtle dove Streptopelia turtur
Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Pygmy owl Glaucidium passerinum
Tawny owl Strix aluco
Ural owl Strix uralensis
Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus
Alpine swift Tachymarptis melba
Common swift Apus apus
Pallid swift Apus pallidus
Hoopoe Upupa epops
Green woodpecker Picus viridus
Black woodpecker Dryocopus martius
Great-spotted woodpecker Dendrocopus major
Crested lark Gallerida cristata
Woodlark Lullula arborea
Skylark Alauda arvensis
Sand martin Riparia riparia
Swallow Hirundo rustica
House martin Delichon urbica
Tree pipit Anthus trivialis
Meadow pipit Anthus pratensis
Water pipit Anthus spinoletta
Yellow wagtail Motacilla flava cinereocapilla
Grey wagtail Motacilla citreola
White wagtail Motacilla alba
Dipper Cinclus cinclus
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Alpine accentor Prunella collaris
Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Black redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
Stonechat Saxicola torquata
Northern wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Rock thrush Monticola saxitilis
Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus
Blackbird Turdus merula
Song thrush Turdus philomelus
Mistle thrush Turdus viscivorus
Grasshopper warbler Locustella naevia
Sedge warbler Acrocephalus shoenobaenus
Marsh warbler Acrocephalus palustris
Great-reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Lesser whitethroat Sylvia curruca
Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Garden warbler Sylvis borin
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Spotted flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus
Marsh tit Parus palustris
Willow tit Parus montanus
Crested tit Parus cristatus
Great tit Parus major
Nuthatch Sitta europea
Treecreeper Certhis familiaris
Short-toed treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
Golden oriole Oriolus oriolus
Red-backed shrike Lanius collurio
Jay Garrulus glandarius
Magpie Pica pica
Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes
Alpine chough Pyrrhocorax graculus
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Carrion crow Corvus corone
Hooded crow Corvus cornix
Raven Corvus corax
Starling Sturnus vulgaris
House sparrow Passer domesticus
Tree sparrow Passer montanus
Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis
Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Redpoll Carduelis cabaret
Serin Serinus serinus
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella
Rock bunting Emberiza cia
Reed bunting Emberiza schoeniclus
Corn bunting Miliaria calandra


Swallowtail Papilio machaon
Scarce swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius
Apollo Parnassius apollo
Clouded apollo P. mnemosyne
Large white Pieris brassicae
Black veined white Aporia crataegi
Small white Artogeia rapae
Southern small white A. mannii
Mountain small white A. ergane
Green-veined white A. napi
Mountain green-veined white A. bryoniae
Clouded yellow Colias crocea
Berger's clouded yellow C. alfacariensis
Orange tip Anthocharis cardamines
Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni
Cleopatra G. cleopatra
Wood white/Real's wood white Leptidea sinapis/reali
Fenton's wood white L. morsei
Purple hairstreak Quercusia quercus
Green hairstreak Callophrys rubi
Ilex hairstreak Satyrium ilicis
Blue spot hairstreak S. spini
Purple-edged copper Lycaena hippothoe
Purple-shot copper L. alciphron
Holly blue Celastrina argiolus
Short-tailed blue Everes argiades
Osiris blue Cupido osiris
Small blue C.minimus
Iolas Blue Iolana iola
Psuedophilotes vicrama
Chequered blue Scolitantides orion
Idas blue Plebejus idas
Reverdin's blue P. argyrognomon
Brown argus Aricia agestis
Geranium argus Eumedonia eumedon
Mazarine blue Cyaniris semiargus
Chapmans blue Agrodiaetus thersites
Amanda's blue A. amanda
Adonis blue Lysandra bellargus
Common blue Polymmatus icarus
Duke of Burgundy fritillary Hamearis lucina
White admiral Limenitis camilla
Poplar admiral L. populi
Common glider Neptis sappho
Comma Polygonum c-album
Southern comma P. egea
Small tortoiseshell Agalais urticae
Painted lady Vanessa cardui
Peacock Inachis io
Red admiral Vanessa atalanta
Silver-washed fritillary Argynnis paphia
Cardinal A. pandora
Dark green fritillary A. aglaja
High brown fritillary A. adippe
Marbled fritillary Brenthis daphne
Lesser marbled fritillary B. ino
Twin spot fritillary B. hecate
Queen of spain fritillary Issoria lathonia
Pearl bordered fritillary Clossiana euphrosyne
Knapweed fritillary Melitaea phoebe
Glanville fritillary M. cinxia
Spotted fritillary M. didyma
Lesser spotted fritillary M. trivia
Heath fritillary Mellicta athalia
Nickerl's fritillary M. aurelia
Assmann's fritillary M. britomartis
Marsh fritillary Euphydryas aurinia
Marbled White Melanargia galathea
Eastern rock/Woodland grayling Hipparchia syriaca/fagi
Great sooty satyr Satyrus ferula
Great banded grayling Kanetisa circe
Black ringlet Erebia melas
Woodland ringlet E. medusa
Bright-eyed ringlet E. oeme
Dewy ringlet E. pandrose
Meadow brown Maniola jurtina
Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus
Gatekeeper Pyronia cecilia
Small heath Coenonympha pamphilus
Chestnut heath C. glycerion
Pearly heath C. arcania
Speckled wood Pararge aegeria
Large wall brown Lasiommata maera
Wall brown L. megera
Woodland brown Lopinga achine
Grizzled skipper Pyrgus malvae
Large grizzled skipper P. alveus
Olive skipper P. serratulae
Alpine grizzled skipper P. andromedae
Red-underwing skipper Spialia sertorius
Large chequered skipper Heteropterus morpheus
Dingy skipper Erynnis tages
Chequered skipper Carterocephalus palaemon
Small skipper Thymelicus sylvestris
Essex skipper T. lineola
Mediterranean skipper Gegenes mostrodamus
Large skipper Ochlodes venatus


Sword leaved helleborine, White helleborine, Red helleborine, Dark red helleborine, Birds nest orchid, Common twayblade, Coral root, Loose flowered orchid, Fragrant orchid, Pyramidal orchid, Lesser butterfly orchid, Common spotted orchid, Heath spotted orchid, Man orchid sp. Globe orchid