We booked a last minute cheap one week’s holiday in Slovenia with the Crystal tour operator which cost £189 for a flight (Bristol to Saltzburg), 3 hour transfer by coach and 7 nights B&B at either Kranjska Gora, Lake Bohinj or Lake Bled. We got lucky and ended up at Kranjska Gora which at present is the least developed and the best location for easy access to the mountains. It’s a small village/town very much dependent upon tourism and so probably not a true representation of Slovenia, but compared to Bled and Bohinj, which we visited, much friendlier and less busy. This was a walking, birding and sight-seeing holiday to chill out from work, rather than a twitch around Slovenia and I had 4 target species: Snow Finch, Three-toed Woodpecker, Hazel Grouse and Pygmy Owl. I checked out trip reports which gave me Mount Mangart and the Pokjuska Plain as good sites, but otherwise we stayed around Kranjska Gora to walk and enjoy the scenery. Other secondary target species were Alpine Chough, Nutcracker, Wallcreeper and Alpine Accentor which were all covered by these two sites and around Kranjska Gora. We had mixed fortunes overall, with the weather limiting our time on Mount Mangart and the large amount of ideal habitat for woodland species making finding birds without a tape lure difficult. Overall though Slovenia is a great place for a short break and there are some very good birds to be had. However I would recommend a Spring visit when the birds may be easier and butterflies and orchids more abundant.
Hotel and transport
We stayed at the Hotel Blenkuŝ, a pension on the east side of town, in a nice area and from the balcony giving super views of the mountains to the south. As yet they don’t have a restaurant, but a wide range of good restaurants from Slovenian fare to a Pizza restaurant are within 10 minutes walk. In fact almost all of the village was within about 10 minutes walk as the place is pretty small. Restaurants are quite good and prices range from about 3000 slots to 10,000 slots for a meal for 2 including drinks. This is about £9 GBP to £30 GBP. Transport around Kranjska Gora isn’t necessary, as it’s so small and all the local walks are easily accessible. Recommended is the Kranjska Gora walking map (scale 1:20,000) available from the tourist information, or from the tourist gift shop in the middle of town. However we were given a copy by our tour rep. This map has all the walks on it which are numbered and correspond to the well marked posts along each walk, e.g. the Ciprinik walk for Three-toed Woodpecker is route 13. The Julian Alps book was also useful (Walking in the Julian Alps by Simon Brown) and the Rough Guide to Slovenia good for sight-seeing trips and background info. The only transport issue in Kranjska Gora is the chairlift at the start of walk 13, which runs when it wants. It was meant to run until Sept 15th, but only the bottom half was running when we arrived and this stopped on the 8th. Otherwise, we hired a car for two days to visit the Mount Mangart etc. and to do some sightseeing. Car hire is fairly cheap (22,000 slots = £60 approx. for 2 days) with unlimited mileage. We hired from the Hertz rental place a short walk down opposite the large supermarket on the western end of the main town area. There is another company, Globe Hire, just next to the supermarket, which is a bit more expensive apparently. Driving was easy, although the mountain roads require concentration as they are quite narrow in places. A full tank in our Clio was about 10,000 slots (£30) and we drove about 600 km on one tank full in two days. A general road map was provided with the car which was adequate, but only two sides of A4 for the whole country! It did have Pokjuska Plain marked on it which was good as otherwise we’d never have found it.
Wednesday 7th September, Kranjska Gora, sunny and warm
After arriving in the early afternoon, we walked around the village. Hirundines were abundant, being an equal mix of Swallow and House Martin, and in the evening they were buzzed by a male Hobby. Also common were Hooded Crows and Black redstart were fairly numerous, with some nice males in song. Other species seen were Buzzard, Kestrel, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Eurasian Jay. Interesting invertebrates consisted of our first Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the trip and a surprising sighting of a Great Green Bush Cricket (or similar species) which flew in to land on the pavement outside the supermarket!
Thursday 8th September, Dom na Vitrancu to Ciprinik ridge walk (walk 13 on map and page 114 of Julian Alps walking book), sunny and very warm (30C)
We walked to the western edge of the village, seeing many common species as before and took the chairlift up Dom na Vitrancu for the ridge walk to Ciprinik recommended for Three-toed Woodpecker. Only the lower chairlift was working, and it proved later in the week that this was the last day it was running at all. The chairlift is kept running for the downhill toboggan monorail tourist attraction. On leaving the first stage of the chairlift we walked westwards through the wood following the rough path. Then it was a hard scramble walk up a ski slope and through woodland to the summit which took about 2 hours. This was a tough walk due to the ski slope developments which have made a right mess of the path. On the way up, mixed tit flocks were seen and a brief fly over view of a Black Woodpecker. At the top a path leads west towards Ciprinik. This is a great walk, and with the chairlift not working, it was nice and peaceful, we encountered 4 Slovenian walkers and one guy from Newcastle in a 4 hour walk. The walk is easy, except for a scramble at the end, up and down the last bit of Ciprinik. The views are fantastic. Bird wise it was very much worth it, with fantastic views of Three-toed Woodpecker at close range on two occasions. A female was seen on the outward journey, in the first main glade just before an obvious area of dead trees. On the return, a male was in the same location, both to the south of the path, a great little woodpecker. A Black Woodpecker was heard drumming, but not located. Other birds of note included many Willow tits and a flock of Crossbills, though the latter proved difficult to see well through the treetops. We walked back down and took the chairlift back at 16:30 when it is supposed to stop running.
Other new species seen today in the village and lower part of the walk were, White Wagtail, Spotted Flycatcher, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Cole Tit, Raven, and Yellowhammer.
Friday 9th September, Kranjska Gora walk 7 (plus detour), grey and drizzly and heavy rain after 4 pm.
Not the best of weather so we settled on a local walk to Jasna lake on route 7, south out of Kranjska Gora. We set off along path 1 and then picked up path 7 at the lake. The lake and area are basically touristy and pretty awful. The only bird on the lake was Mallard. Southern Hawker dragonflies were fairly abundant. Common bird species seen as before. After we picked up path 7 we diverted left past a sign saying the route was closed. We passed another sign repeating this after half a mile or so (non-maintained path, dangerous to walk). Eventually after a few scrambles we had to agree, the path had been eroded from the steep rock face and we stopped to sit on a small bench and look over the valley and the river Mala Pisnca. This proved a good stop, with a flock of about 20 Crag Martin flying around the valley and the rocky outcrop. Nice views of a scarce species in Slovenia (50 to 100 pairs). We then retraced our steps and walked path 7. Looking up we saw two very distant corvids flying around the ridge of Rigljica. These looked like Alpine Chough considering the location (2274 m up), but the best of views at about 1 mile away! On the river our first two Black-bellied Dippers were seen.
Other new species were, Sparrowhawk, Blackbird, Wren, Robin, Goldcrest
Saturday, 10th September, Mount Mangart and Pokjuska Plain, a dull start, brightening by the afternoon, warm
We hired a car for a couple of days and drove down through the beautiful Vrsic pass south of Kranjska Gora to Trenta and then off our map to Bovec, turning north towards the Italian border to Mount Mangart. You can drive up the mountain along a small road marked on the Kranjska Gora map (on the reverse side general map). It’s sign-posted just before you travel towards the Italian border. With no snow at all on the mountain it was easy to drive up to the car park and walk from there. It’s not a drive to try and birdwatch at the same time being windy and with shear drops. We had nothing of note on the way up and arrived to find the car park busy. However we walked further up towards the top noting the Edelweiss and other alpine flora. Meadow Pipits were common and a Northern Wheatear was on the grassy area. We scanned the rock faces for the mountain species and searched hard during clear periods between cloud cover. We were rewarded by brief views of a single female Snow finch perched on the rock face, before it dropped down out of site. Shortly after a Golden Eagle soared overhead and disappeared into the cloud only about 100 feet above us. Then the cloud came down very thickly and we were forced to descend. We then took a scenic drive through minor roads around the southern edge of the Julian Alps region, eventually approaching Lake Bohinj from the south and stopping for a late lunch. We added our first Red Squirrel of the trip on the journey and a Grey Heron. At Bohinj, a Nutcracker flew across the road in front of us, but otherwise the lake area was very busy with people. We the travelled on using small roads to the Pokjuska Plain area, just west of Bled (marked in green on the road map provided with the hire car, but not marked on the KG map). The habitat here is ideal for many target species and we drove slowly down many tracks and small roads and then walked for an hour before dusk. The only bird of note was a Hazel Grouse flushed by Nicky and not seen by me which caused a bit of tension! After dark (8 pm), we gave up and returned to Kranjska Gora.
Sunday 11th September, sightseeing and Pokjuska Plain, mostly sunny spells and some dull periods, warm
We visited the Postojna caves, well worth a visit and you get to see the endemic blind salamander Proteus anguinus at the end of the tour. Then on to Predjama Castle, also well worth a visit. Neither great for birds, although we added Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon at the castle. We then drove on to the very scenic Vintgar Gorge, which had two more Black-bellied Dipper. Not to be gripped off we returned to Pokjuska Plain, arriving at about 6-30 pm. The area we concentrated on was up a track road just north of the letter “B” in Bohinjska Bela on the back of the KG map. This was a drivable track which ascended the wooded slope, passing a single building on the left and a small open grassy area before we parked just before the road turned downhill. We walked further on the track and had a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and then after about 400 m a pair of Hazel Grouse flew off from the lower slope and disappeared into the trees (not to perch obligingly as in the description in many books!). We remained until darkness set in, but had no further luck. We then returned by driving up to Krnica and taking the minor road through Radovna towards Mojstrana. This looked great habitat and we had some luck when we almost hit a Pygmy Owl which flew right in front of the car just after leaving the village area at Krnica. Nice to see, but all too briefly.
Monday 12th September, Kranjska Gora, path 2, warm and sunny
First thing in the morning, a Nutcracker flew across the village, seen distantly from our hotel balcony. We returned our hire car and then took the path number 2 north out of the village. This is a lovely walk through typical wooded areas and alpine meadows. It proved very good for Nutcracker (at last!), with good close views of 5 birds and flights views of several others. Also nice mixed tit flocks with Willow, Coal, Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Crested Tits as well as Goldcrests. We also added Grey Wagtail, Song Thrush, Wood Warbler, Blackcap and Bullfinch (apparently Pygmy Owl sound like the latter, but after listening for 5 minutes we found 3 Bullfinches and a feeding Nutcracker). We also had another Black-bellied Dipper when returning on path 5. In the evening we relaxed with a beer on the hotel balcony scanning the distant mountain ridge as we had on previous evenings. This time we were lucky and had a small flock of 8 Alpine Chough on the top, but they were very distant and identified by flight actions more than anything. Also lovely views of a hunting Hobby in the hirundines.
Tuesday 13th September, Kranjska Gora, path 1, warm and sunny until late pm when it became dull and showery.
Once the Casino hotel is passed and the walk itself starts for real, this is a lovely walk and good for woodland birds. We had most of the common species seen previously, and added our one and only Marsh Tit. A surprise find was a male Collared Flycatcher feeding at the edge of the woodland once we had ascended through the woodland to start heading east on the path. Three more Nutcracker were seen along the walk, but only flight views. After about 1 mile we entered an area with low deciduous scrub where we flushed a Grey-headed Woodpecker which obliged with three views before it flew off into denser woodland. About 2/3rds of the way along the walk we stopped for lunch (after the waterfall) in a small clearing and had a Black Woodpecker fly past. We returned to the hotel along path 5 and the cycle path and spent some time with a beer on the balcony, having distant views of a Golden Eagle and a couple of Raven on the ridge.
Other bird species added today were, Tree creeper, Fieldfare, Chiffchaff, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer.
Wednesday 14th September, 5 am transfer return to Strasburg for return flight home.
We had a total or 60 species of bird, with brief views of three target species (Snow finch, Hazel Grouse and Pygmy Owl) and great views of a fourth, Three-toed Woodpecker. Good views of Nutcracker were a nice bonus, but disappointing views of Alpine Chough and no bonus mountain species at Mount Mangart. Two unexpected species, Crag Martin and Collared Flycatcher.
Grey Heron occasional road-side views
Mallard on lakes and rivers
Sparrowhawk one at Kranjska Gora
Golden Eagle one on Mount Mangart, a distant second south of
Hobby a hunting male in the hirundine flock on two days in
Hazel Grouse one flushed on the 10th and two on the 11th at Pokjuska
Plain, hard to find
Woodpigeon singles flying over roads
Rock Dove two at Predjama Castle
Collared Dove occasional
Pygmy Owl one seen briefly in flight in front of the car near Krnica,
disappointingly short views
Black Woodpecker two seen in flight and one heard drumming around
Grey-headed Woodpecker one at Kranjska Gora
Great-spotted Woodpecker two seen, others heard
Three-toed Woodpecker best bird of the trip, a male and female seen really well
on path 13 to Ciprinik, near Kranjska Gora
Crag Martin a surprise sighting, a flock of 20 to the south of
Kranjska Gora on a detour from path 7 (see notes)
House Martin common
Meadow Pipit several at the top of Mount Mangart
White Wagtail common
Grey Wagtail one at Kranjska Gora
Black-bellied Dipper several, seen most days on any suitable river
Wren fairly common around Kranjska Gora
Black Redstart common around Kranjska Gora
Wheatear one at the top of Mount Mangart
Fieldfare flocks of tow and eight over Kranjska Gora
Song Thrush occasional
Blackcap only one seen, at Kranjska Gora
Wood Warbler one at Kranjska Gora
Collared Flycatcher a male at Kranjska Gora
Spotted Flycatcher one in the hotel garden at Kranjska Gora
Marsh Tit only one seen or heard, at Kranjska Gora
Willow Tit common
Coal Tit common
Long-tailed Tit common
Crested Tit fairly common around Kranjska Gora
Blue Tit common
Great Tit occasional
Treecreeper Judging by location, Eurasian and not Short-toed, but
not heard calling, occasional
Starling common by roadsides around Ljubljana
Jay fairly common
Nutcracker fairly common around Kranjska Gora on selected walks
Alpine Chough very distant views on ridges around Kranjska Gora,
none seen well
Hooded Crow common
House Sparrow common
Snow Finch a single female seen briefly on the rocky slopes above
the Mount Mangart car park. Earlier or later in the year would make this species easier probably
Greenfinch one flock east of Kranjska Gora
Goldfinch fairly common
Crossbill a flock near Ciprinik was hard to get decent views of.
Butterflies (late in the season, so few seen – 20 species)
Small White sp., Large White, Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Swallowtail, Adonis Blue, Common Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Peacock, Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Comma, Silver-washed Fritillary, Weavers Fritillary, Queen of Spain Fritillary, Woodland Grayling, Tree Grayling, Mountain Ringlet, Large Wall Brown, Small Heath
Also of interest
Hummingbird Hawkmoth (several seen), Proteus anguinus (in a display pool at the caves), Red Squirrel, Deer sp., Frog sp. (surprisingly high up Dom na Vitrancu)