Croatia day 8 - 13 May 2017 Northern Velebit Mountains

Ortolan Bunting, male
Todays route
It's an early start today. It's a long dive North to Karlobag, along the dramatic coast road. A sharp right turn at Karlobag took me onto the D25 and up the steep escarpment. Almost to the top there is a quarry and a Z road, on the left, which I took and this took me all the way into the wilderness that is the Northern Velebit. A good map is needed as there are many side roads and this is not a place to get lost! The first couple of miles are tarmac but then it's over 30 miles of Macadam; chippings the size of small boulders which certainly keeps the speed down! I eventually came out at the official National Park entrance via ┼átirovaca and drove down the almost vertical Alun Road. There was some awesome wildlife but I didn't venture far off the road as I didn't know if there was a landmine risk (yes, they still raise their ugly heads). Wildlife watching whilst driving is also a no no. There are no barriers and the sides are vertical. So concentration is a must and my photography suffered because of it.
At the beginning of the Coast Road is the village of Modric. A small stream enters the bay there and it always has a fair number of gulls there, mainly Yellow-legged but the star bird today was a 2nd year Audouin's Gull sitting out on the floats of the mussel farm. They do breed in Croatia but only on Islands on the seaward side of the archipelago.
I stopped a few more times on the way to Karlobag to look at some of the gullies coming down from the mountains. One or two Ring Ouzel were seen plus Crested Lark, Blue Rock Thrush and Red-rumped Swallow. I stopped a mile from Karlobag to look at a Black-headed Bunting doing a flight display. A large raptor high above the escarpment turned out to be a fantastic Bonelli's Eagle.

 Dictamnus albus, also known as The Burning Bush or Gas Plant
Ugh! This mud is disgusting.
Has anyone got some Ketchup?

 View of Pag from the coast road.
Black-headed Bunting displaying

Bonelli's Eagle, above Karlobag

Karlobag and Pag from the D25 above Karlobag. One hell of a climb.
Pag from the road above Karlobag
Route around the Velebit
The first few miles along the minor road were great. It was tarmacked and the scenery quite open. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Hobby, Golden Eagle and Ortolan were seen here. The greatness wore off when I came across a tracked, pneumatic, drill hammering into the cliff face to widen the road. A good thing, some might say, as the original is only wide enough for one vehicle and perhaps a Sinclair C5. Look at the next photograph...
Oh well done Mr. Workman
Only the Sinclair C5 would make it through with out issue now.


Male Ortolan
Eurasian Hobby
Once at the top of this particular climb the tarmac was replaced by macadam. It did the car absolutely no favours, especially during the one time I really put my foot down (read on). I was on a grassy plateau with valleys, mountains and virgin forests stretching as far as the eye could see. Climbing is popular here and there were quite a few people about. I was jealous...they all had 4x4's! I had a FIAT.
There are a lot of common birds here, Robins, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Crossbill and Wren are far more numerous than by the coast. Interspersed with the common species were Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, Collared Flycatcher, Black Woodpecker and Alpine Accentor on the rocky areas.
I had a scare at Milestone 11. As I rounded one of the infinite number of hair pin bends I noticed that the macadam had been very recently disturbed by a large animal which has used it as a toilet! I didn't get out of the car but I did stop. The smell was awful. I decided that it wasn't a Wolf and that left only two suspects; Lynx, which would probably have been more circumspect, and Brown Bear. Judging by the marks on the road it was probably Bear that did it. I looked up the hillside, through the trees I could see this mass of ginger fur looking at me.
 "Clean underwear for the bloke in the Fiat please!"
It seemed to take a few steps downhill and I was off like a shot, macadam spraying out behind the car like water from a hose. I slowed after about 800 meters but didn't stop for 5 miles. I'm sure I can still hear the bear laughing.
Some of the awesome scenery of the Northern Velebit

The road climbed through the forest to about 1500 meters above sea level. Spring comes late at this altitude and many of the trees were just starting to get leaves. At mile 19 I stopped at a nice view point and was rewarded with a very vocal Spotted Nutcracker flying across the valley. A stop at mile 23 gave me my first ever Hazel Hen sitting in a leafless Beech tree and also a female Red-breasted Flycatcher which was a nice surprise.
After nearly 30 miles of bone shaking forest roads it was time to head back to the coast, about 19 miles West and 1500 meters down. The latter is almost in one go, within a horizontal distance of under 2 miles. The Alun Road certainly takes your breath away. I stopped to watch a Short-toed Treecreeper after a short distance. A strange Woodpecker call kept me searching for 20 minutes but it was worth it. A lovely female Middle Spotted Woodpecker. I also photographed a strange Lichen that seemed to be on quite a few trees. Back in the UK I identified it as Lung Lichen, also known as Tree Lungwort. It got its name due to the pattern on and the shape of the lobes. They look like alveoli.
On the steep descent I scattered a covey of over 20 Rock Partridge! I didn't know there were that many.
More like a mini glacier than a snow drift. It still stands over 2 meters high
Lung Lichen (Tree Lungwort), A sign of very healthy virgin forest.

Heading down Alun toward the coast. Tremendous views.
If you are looking for adventure in Croatia then there is no better place than the Velebit National Park. Dramatic scenery, dramatic wildlife. The people are not so dramatic but they are warm and friendly. Especially when you're bent over the bonnet of the car trying to decipher your map.