The Italian Alps...from 38'000 ft.!
EasyJet flight EZY3021 lifted from Stansted at 06:25 on May 6th; by 10:00(CET) I was in Split, Croatia, looking at Spanish Sparrows nesting under the airport entrance canopy. There was a bit of hassle with the hire car company but eventually I was on my way, concentrating deeply to stay on the correct side of the road. Roundabouts were fun! The pick up point for the car produced the first of countless Blackbirds but also Serin and Nightingale, another candidate for commonest bird of the trip.
Route (red) from Split, north-west, to Zaton Holiday Resort
I followed the coast road north towards Zaton, roughly 200km, my base for the stay. The scenery is brilliant with coastal strip and the mountains behind. I was a bit strung out after my early start but there are quite a few stopping areas and one of them was good enough for a kip. It also produced my first decent look at the bird life, which was a bit disappointing at first with Great Tit, Kestrel and Woodpigeon. Luckily a Nightingale started singing by the path and I got a very good look at my first male Eastern Subalpine Warbler of the trip. Yellow-legged Gulls were also visible everywhere.
Eastern Subalpine Warbler, male, nr Sibenik
I planned to stop at the bird reserve at Vransko Jezero, near Pakostane, I made it with a few hours to spare before sunset. Using the few reports from previous visitors I identified the canal bridge, tower hide, parking and walk ways.
As I got out of the car at the canal bridge, the first sound to greet me was a cacophony of singing warblers. Great Reed Warbler was the biggest culprit and there seemed to be one every few meters. Close behind them were Cetti's Warbler, a single Savi's Warbler and, trying to keep up, a single Eurasian Reed Warbler. The reed beds are vast.
Great Reed Warbler, Vransko Jezero
I walked along the path to the tower hide and something moved in the grass to my left. Ever vigilant of things that bite I looked down and came eye to eye with...a drake Garganey less than 5 feet away. Surprisingly it allowed a couple of "through the undergrowth" shots before loosing it's bottle and flying away in a flurry of grass, guano and feathers.
Drake Garganey, Vransko Jezero. Well hidden even at 5 feet distance.
I eventually made it to the tower hide and the first bird I saw was a lifer for me. As the Pygmy Cormorant flew closer I was so excited that I made this foolish noise...a bit like a cross between a wounded Meerkat and a loud fart! Thankfully I was the only person there because if anyone knew then it could be embarrassing.
Pygmy Cormorants going to roost
I counted at least 18 Pygmy Cormorants just sitting in a tree. Scans amongst the Yellow-legged Gulls gave my only Little Gull of the trip, a first summer bird, a close in Whiskered Tern and fly past Ruff and Common Snipe. Across the far side I could see my first Black-winged Stilt of the trip and also a Collared Pratincole, an uncommon migrant in this part of the world. 2 Green Sandpipers were also there.
I left the tower and drove back to the tiny information centre with it's young, enthusiastic and very informative occupant. Birds here included Zitting Cisticola, Sedge Warbler and many Turtle Doves. My first moth and caterpillar, discounting Pine Processionary which is in epidemic proportions. Don't know the caterpillar but the moth was a Common White Plume.
Turtle Dove, very common
Finally a flock of 8 Glossy Ibis came into roost.
Unknown caterpillar ? Pine Processionary
Common White Plume
Pine Processionary moth cocoon. An abundant blight on Croatia's conifers.
The rest of the day was used settling into my accommodation. Very nice too.