Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13: Falcons!

     Was working at my desk about noon today when I glanced up and saw a dark, crow-sized-or-larger bird flying directly toward our house from the direction of Kosovo Stadium. The wingbeats and speed immediately ruled out crow. I dashed to the window for a better look muttering something to the effect of "What the heck is THAT!", getting there just in time to watch as a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) powered its way overhead toward the top of the ridge and beyond. Funny! I've been in BiH now working on 5 months, and I hadn't seen any Peregrine's until two days ago. Now I've seen three.
    Later that evening, while my son practiced soccer with his team out in Ilidza, I checked out my favorite stretch of the Zeljeznica River in Butmir. I was pleased to flush a Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), my first in the canton, and there were 2 Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubius), and 2-3 Western Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava) foraging along the shore, but nothing else out of the ordinary. I was hoping to see or hear a Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus); at least one has been present for the past week, but no luck.
     Yesterday late morning-early afternoon when I visited the site, I had witnessed a movement of Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus) and Hobbys (Falco subbuteo). So, this evening I casually kept an eye out skyward just is case. Sure enough, as I was walking back to the car, I picked up a group or five (2 females and 1 male Red-footeds, and 2 adult Hobbys, presumably a pair as the size difference in the two individuals suggested a male and female). They worked the skies upstream and downstream of the bridge that connects Butmir and Sokolovici. The light with the sun low in the W-NW and the mostly blue skies afforded me the best opportunity I've had to study the birds and to work on separating them by shape. Their presence further reinforces my conjecture that the river serves as a migrant corridor for these two species.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

May 12: Red-footed Falcon and Hobby

     I'm beginning to think that the Zeljeznica River where it empties into the plain near Sarajevo (Butmir), is a flyway of sorts for Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus) and perhaps Hobby (Falco subbuteo) too. As on May 6, when I watched a group of Red-foots hunt overhead for more than 45 minutes, the weather today was sunny and mild with a gentle NW wind (15 kph). The first group I spotted was at least 13 individuals - similarity of behavior and shape suggested they were all Red-footed. Despite their height above me, I did definitively pick out two males with the silvery primaries. Most of that group seemed to move on and perhaps three or four stayed overhead, or so I thought. Suddenly, more birds appeared. For the next hour, there was a steady trickle of birds. It was difficult to count which birds were repeats, if any, as the falcons were actively hunting and soaring at the same time. For the most part, birds appeared in groups of 4-6.
     Two Eurasian Hobbies (Falco subbuteo) also moved through, and there were a small number of the migrants among the high-flying Red-foots that I suspect may have been Hobby. These two, a pair presumably, came in much lower - one snagged an aerial insect - before working their way higher and down river.
     One Little Egret (Egretta garzatta), a Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea), two Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubius) a singing Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and a displaying Sky Lark (Alauda arvensis) highlighted an otherwise predictable list.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11, 2011: Peregrine Falcons, Rock Bunting

     I took a long walk today along the bike path that follows the Miljacka River (600 m asl) to the Kojija Ćuprija (Goat Bridge) dating from the mid 16th Century. After crossing the bridge, the trail climbs the ridge on the opposite side continuing parallel to the river some 80-100 meters above it. I walked about 5 km before doubling back to the car. The trail passes underneath some rugged cliffs which I scanned, and sure enough a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) sailed out briefly from the cliff and returned to perch out of sight. A second bird was located with effort on a branch of a tree growing out from one of the rock faces.
     The birdlife along the trail was for the most part quite ordinary. Lower down, Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) were singing every 200 meters or so; Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) were also very numerous, not only down along the river but up along the trail (680 m asl). There were  a few Greater Whitethroats (Sylvia communis) and Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) as well. White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) and Gray Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) are usually reliable along the stretch of river from the bridge to Sarajevo, but I missed them today.
     One pleasant surprise was a male Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) sitting atop a spruce tree near the base of a scree slope. I had previously seen this species only this winter at Mostarski Blato (near Mostar); it is new for me in Sarajevo Canton.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Birding Summary for April 17-May 6

April 17,  Zeljeznica River-Butmir (Sarajevo):  A male Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca) was present again today, probably one of the two that were here yesterday.

April 19:  A Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) and Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) were highlights along the Zeljeznica River, while earlier in the morning I heard my first Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) of the season.

April 25: Vrelo Bosne (Ilidza-Sarajevo): Of the 27 species I recorded in about an hour's walk through Vrelo Bosne Park, Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius), Short-toed Tree-creeper (Certhia brachydactyla) and Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis) were new for my Bosnia list. Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) were in full song as were Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos) and Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) among others.

April 26, En route to Dubrovnik: With my mother visiting from the US, we left Sarajevo by car for 6 days on the Croatian coast (mostly non-birding). On the way near Konjic, overlooking the reservoir, I picked up a singing Serin (Serinus serinus).
Further along, our route took us through the town of Trebinje on the Trebišnjica river. A fantastic concentration of birds were present on a shallow and slow-moving half-kilometer stretch with reed beds and floating algae mats in places. Common swifts (Apus apus) and hundreds of swallows (Barn Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin) hunted over the surface and perched on the electric wires that crossed the river. There were at least 60 Common Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) as well as several Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis). A Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), 2 Squacco Herons (Ardeola ralloides) and a Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) were nice surprises. At least 2 Great Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) called from the emergent vegetation. A brief 15-20 minute stop added 7 new species for my Bosnia list. 
Trebinje is perhaps an hour drive (or less) from Hutova Blato, one of the premier birding sites in Bosnia, and it is along the more direct route from Mostar and Sarajevo to Dubrovnik. I recommend the stop for interested birders.

April 26-May 1 in Croatia: Highlights of a mostly non-birding five-six days in Croatia include a European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) fly-by while we were enjoying a late afternoon glass of wine on our deck at the Hotel Vila Tina in Arbanija overlooking the bay across from Split. A Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) was on the Ostra Peninsula at the southern end of Croatia. Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), Sub-alpine warblers (Sylvia cantillans), Black-eared Wheatears (Oenanthe hispanica) and Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) in full song were easy to locate in suitable habitat. The road from Cavtat to Pridvorje produced several Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica). During the crossing from Cavtat to Dubrovnik by boat, I spotted two Red-necked Grebes (Podiceps grisegena) in the bay. Common and Alpine Swifts (Apus melba) plied the air over Cavtat and Dubrovnik.

May 3, Kobelja Glava (Sarajevo) - Flock of at least 10 Whinchats (Saxicola rubetra) and 5 Western Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava) in a plowed field this morning.

May 4, Zeljeznica River in Butmir (Sarajevo)- As I was gathering my binocs and telescope from the car, I saw two marsh terns fly by headed down river away from me. I was sure that they were not White-winged Black Terns, but wanted a more definitive look before declaring whether they were Whiskered or Black Terns. As luck would have it, I subsequently saw a single individual (one of the originals?) in flight at close range and at eye level that was unquestionably a Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida), a species that is not listed in Ptice Kantona Sarajevo, (2010) by Kotrošan et al. However, It does breed in good numbers in Croatia, Serbia and Hungary according to Birds in Europe: Population Estimates, Trends and Conservation Status (2004) by Burfield and van Bommel on behalf of Birdlife International, so its occurrence during passage is not unexpected.
Also present, were the following waders including Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubious), Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) and a Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax).

May 5, Kobilja Glava (Sarajevo): Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) and Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) were seasonal firsts this morning. Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) highlighted the sightings this evening along the Zeljeznica River. The latter species is apparently quite rare in the canton, recorded only from the month of August; but like Whiskered Tern, it breeds fairly widely in adjacent European countries and no doubt at scattered locations in BiH, its appearance as a vagrant is not unexpected.

May 6, Kobelja Glava and Zeljeznica River (Sarajevo): The highlight of this mornings dog walk was the unmistakable call of a Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) or two passing high overhead. Efforts to see the bird(s) were fruitless. But later this morning, at the open field along the Bosne River near Dolovi, a subdivision of the Sarajevo metropolitan area, I saw a group of 12 hawking after insects and perching in a dead tree along the river. This is another species for which there is scant data in Sarajevo Canton, especially in the Spring; records exist for August and September only. However, its presence as a scarce breeder in the rest of BiH, and its occurrence in neighboring countries would suggest it has been overlooked.
While watching the Bee-eaters, a seasonal first European Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia turtur) landed in a nearby tree, and a Hobby (Falco subbuteo) passed through.
Later while standing watch along the Zeljeznica River on this gorgeous, sunny day, I watched as a group of 6 Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus) hunt the skies high over the river, moving up and downstream for at least 45 minutes.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday, April 16: Late Season Snow Brings in the Migrants

     We woke up Thursday to a blanket of white covering the landscape. After all the fine weather we had through the early part of April - the greening of the hillsides, the flocks of sheep, the blossoming of the fruit trees, the gardens tilled - we were lulled into thinking that indeed winter was past.

     Along with the moderation in the weather, migration seemed to be trickling through, not much - here in Sarajevo anyway - seemed to be happening. At Vrelo Bosne, there was much song in evidence, but for the most part, these songsters were year round residents, or early returnees.

     In the meantime, some waders trickled through one partially flooded field near the confluence of the Bosne and Miljacka Rivers; Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola), Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), and Common Redshank (Tringa erythropus), but little else as migration seemed to slow with the fair skies and moderate temperatures. A Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) and Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) on April 7 were the only new additions during the first two weeks of April.

     Then it snowed! On Thursday evening, along the Zeljeznica River in Butmir, a subdivision of Ilidza, I spent about an hour walking the river banks. Swallows were moving over the river; besides the predominant Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), I also picked out House Martin (Delichon urbicum), Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) and 1 Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica), all new for me in Bosnia. The river is channelized in places with artificial banks to control flooding and the depth is rarely more than 50-100 centimeters, if that. So it was somewhat surprising to see two male Common Pochards (Aythya ferina) and a Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) floating with the current. Several Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola) and Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax) were also present as were at least 5 Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubius) and a pair of Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos), both new on my Bosnia list.

     That was enough to whet my appetite, so I headed back a little further upstream on Friday afternoon where I happened upon two beautiful male Ferruginous Ducks (Aythya nyroca), always a bonus, and a Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) in addition to many of the same waders I encountered the night before.

     While the Sarajevo valley lacks really good wader habitat and numbers are quite low,  I have been pleasantly surprised so far with the variety, 11 species since the first of the year. The Friday morning the dog walk also produced some surprising waders at one very small wet patch up in Kobilja Glava above the city. I have seen a couple of straggler Green Sandpipers () there, but today, there were 6 Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola), a Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) and the real piece-de-resistance: a Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus)!

     I will report later on a trip to Hercegovina April 2 and 3 to survey three Poljes - karst depressions in the area of Livno and Tomslavgrad, an excursion that took us by Ramsko and Buško Jezeros (lakes) and that also produced 10 new firsts for me in Bosnia.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday, March 30: A Look at the Past Week, Eurasian Spoonbill

     The morning dog walks have not yielded much in the past week. New arrivals in Kobelja Glava were Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) on Sunday, 27.03, and a Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) today (30.03). Along with the usual cast of corvids, I now see Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus), Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), and Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) on a more or less regular basis during the walks. Fieldfares, which were omnipresent earlier in March, have now "disappeared."

     A Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) highlighted a trip to Dolovi/Gornje Telelovo Polje this morning. According to Ptice Kantona Sarajevo (2010) by Kotrošan et al., sightings have previously been limited to August, October and November, so this represents a first Spring record. The bird flew in from upstream on the Miljacka and landed briefly twice opposite the sewage treatment facility before flying off in the downstream direction of the Bosne River.

     Also today, the partially flooded field on the west side of the Bosne near Dolovi produced just 4 species of waders: 8-10 Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), 2 Green Sandpipers (Tringa ochropus), a Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), and 1 basic-plumaged Dunlin (Calidris alpina), a new bird for my Bosnia list.

     On Saturday, we had to exit the country and come back in with a new 90-day stamp, so we drove down to the Adriatic via Mostar. Alas, in Croatia not Bosnia, a Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) hovered virtually motionless in a headwind over a low ridge, while a probable Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes), looking almost falcon like, made a couple of short diving passes over the same ridge before disappearing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday, 22 March - A Sarajevo Canton First?

     The weather moderated a little today with temperatures "soaring" up to 8C, and for a while the sun came through the overcast to create a Spring-like feel in the city.
     Checking out two of my favorite Sarajevo Spring-birding sites today, both within about a half kilometer of each other and in the vicinity of the confluence of the Bosne and Miljacka Rivers, produced four Bosnian firsts for me: about 50 Graganey (Anas querquedula), 2 Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), 4 Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa), and 9 Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax). Three Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros) was a new cantonal first for me.
     I'm astonished that Ruff is not listed in Ptice Kantona Sarajevo, by Kotrošan et al (2010), so this may represent a Cantonal first record. The Night-Herons are apparently unrecorded before April; their appearance in late March, therefore, is not that much of a surprise. Because of it's recent history, birding here and elsewhere in Bosnia is certain to significantly contribute to what is known about bird distribution and abundance. It's what makes being in the field here exciting.  
     Also of interest were 2 drake and a hen Shoveler (Anas clypeata), a female Eurasian Marsh-Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), at least 45 Common Cranes (Grus grus), a Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), 3 Common Redshanks (Tringa totanus), 25 Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) and over 100 Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday, March 21

It snowed overnight (less than a cm) and there was  very light flurries in the air this morning as I walked the dogs over the usual route in Kobelja Glava. Not unexpectedly, I spotted my first Hoopoe (Upupa epops), sitting in the snow, and a male Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). The walk also produced the first Tree Pipits (Anthus trivialis); two flew up into a fruit tree in one of the many open backyards in our neighborhood. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saturday, March 19 - A Migratory Push, Part 2

     What follows is speculation. The clouds sitting low like a blanket over  the hilltops left open corridors formed by the two major valleys, one that stretches south toward Foča and the Montenegro border, and the Miljacka River "canyon" that bears east and southeast. Our ridge is a low natural divide between Sarajevo and the Bosne River valley that serves as a passageway going north to Croatia and Hungary. From a vantage point on the ridge near our house in a two-hour period between 1130 and 1330, I watched several migratory flocks move northward. Common Cranes (Grus grus), Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), and 9 Eurasian Marsh-Harriers (Circus aeruginosus) formed the bulk of the movement. Had the skies been clearer, perhaps the migration would have been moving over higher up, allowing the birds to disperse on a broader front.

     Here is the complete list:

Gray Heron - Ardea cinerea     5

Eurasian Marsh-Harrier - Circus aeruginosus     9

Common Crane - Grus grus     260

Sky Lark - Alauda arvensis     20 

Stonechat (European) - Saxicola torquatus rubicola/hibernans     2 (non-migratory)

European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris     30

Common Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs     165

Saturday, March 19 - A Migratory Push, Part 1

     The low pressure brought with it rain overnight in Sarajevo and snow on the hills above about 1200 meters. Low heavy clouds obscured the hilltops around the city, and the temperature dropped 4-5C from Friday. 

     A morning trip (0830-1000) to the fields bordering the Bosne River near Dolovi (Ilidza) yielded five new species for my Bosnia list including Common Crane (Grus grus), Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) and Linnet (Carduelis cannabina). 

     The mixed flock working the manure at the road edge included 60 White wagtails (Motacilla alba) and the Yellow Wagtails that included at least 5 male M. f. feldegg  and 10 M. f. flava.

Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos     7
Gray Heron - Ardea cinerea     3
Common Crane - Grus grus     8
Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus     15
Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus     2
Common Redshank - Tringa totanus     1
Common Wood-Pigeon - Columba palumbus     1
Green Woodpecker - Picus viridis     1
Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica     4
Hooded Crow - Corvus cornix     8
Common Raven - Corvus corax     2
Sky Lark - Alauda arvensis     5
Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica     3     Migratory push today. 3 seen at a distance, but no question what they were.
Common Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita     1
Song Thrush - Turdus philomelos     1
Mistle Thrush - Turdus viscivorus     1
European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris     40
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) - Motacilla flava flava/beema     10     A mixed flock of wagtails, pipits and linnets. There were unquestionably at least 5 feldegg and 10 or so neutral gray-headed, presumably ssp. flava. There were a couple of intermediate darker gray individuals.
Western Yellow Wagtail (Black-headed) - Motacilla flava feldegg     5     Solid black crowned feldegg - no superciliary.
White Wagtail (alba) - Motacilla alba alba     60
Meadow Pipit - Anthus pratensis     3
Water Pipit - Anthus spinoletta     5
Common Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs     2
European Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis     3
Eurasian Linnet - Carduelis cannabina     3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Passer montanus     25

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday, March 15, 2011 - 5 New Species for my BiH list

     Morning trip beginning at the large field west of the Bosne River near Dolovi settlement. The field is partially ploughed away from the road, but there is considerable standing water. I hope for waders. Today, there were 11 Gray Herons (Ardea cinerea), 3 Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) and a flock of about 12 Green Sandpipers (Tringa ochropus). A mixed flock of Water Pipits (Anthus spinoletta), White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) and a couple of Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) were also there. A distant flying Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) is only my second record for Sarajevo in three months. Two singing Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelas) were my first for BiH.

   Farther along the Bosne toward Vrelo Bosne, I spotted 3 Wood Pigeons (Columba palumbus), my first for the year and for BiH. Earlier, in the vicinity of Otes, a part if Ilidza, I saw my BiH first Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto).

    At the park, there was a lot of bird activity including two species new to my BiH list: Gray-faced Woodpecker (Picus canus), and Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris). Here is my list for the park today:

Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos     2

Common Wood-Pigeon - Columba palumbus     3

Eurasian Collared-Dove - Streptopelia decaocto     1

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major     5

Green Woodpecker - Picus viridis     1
Gray-faced Woodpecker - Picus canus     1
Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica     10
Hooded Crow - Corvus cornix     5
Common Raven - Corvus corax     2
Marsh Tit - Poecile palustris     2
Great Tit - Parus major     4
Eurasian Nuthatch - Sitta europaea     6
Eurasian Treecreeper - Certhia familiaris     2
Eurasian Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes     1
European Robin - Erithacus rubecula     2
Eurasian Blackbird - Turdus merula     4
Fieldfare - Turdus pilaris     20
Song Thrush - Turdus philomelos     5
European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris     2
White Wagtail - Motacilla alba     2
Common Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs     5

Late in the afternoon, I spent about an hour at the small park near Stojcevic where I recorded the following species:

Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos     3

Little Grebe - Tachybaptus ruficollis     3 ( Two present here at least since early January)

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major     5

Eurasian Jay - Garrulus glandarius     2

Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica     10
Eurasian Jackdaw - Corvus monedula     5
Hooded Crow - Corvus cornix     5
Marsh Tit - Poecile palustris     3
Great Tit - Parus major     5
Eurasian Blue Tit - Cyanistes caeruleus     2
Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos caudatus     2
Eurasian Nuthatch - Sitta europaea     4
Goldcrest - Regulus regulus     2
Eurasian Blackbird - Turdus merula     3
Song Thrush - Turdus philomelos     4
Common Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs     10
European Greenfinch - Chloris chloris     2
Eurasian Bullfinch - Pyrrhula pyrrhula     10
Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes     1

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday, March 11 - Late Afternoon

Checked out the confluence of the Miljacka and Bosne Rivers - not much going on there other than a few Gray Herons and some Mallards. So I headed over the back route toward Dolovi on the Sarajevo map. Just west of the Bosne are some large open fields that have some standing water. Saw 2 Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), Green Sandpipers (Tringa ochropus) as well as at least 10 more Gray Herons (Ardea cinarea), White Wagtails (Motacilla alba), Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) and two Redwings (Turdus iliacus).

Most intriguing, but alas unconfirmed, I almost certainly twice heard Common Crane (Grus grus) in the distance, but I could not verify the source of the sound.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring is in the Air

     The weather this morning was cloudy with a NW breeze that made the +2C temperature seem colder. The morning dog walk produced a flyby White Wagtail the first of the season up in our neighborhood. In retrospect, that was an omen. As the temperatures moderated when the sun burned through before noon, the flat and narrow flood plain on the Željeznica opposite the Obi Center in Ilidža produced a mixed flock of about 75 White Wagtails (Motacilla alba), 100+ Starlings (Sternus vulgaris), 15 or so Sky Larks (Alauda arvensis), 10 Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) and at least 3 Water Pipits (Anthus spinoletta). On the water, there was a beautiful drake Shoveler (Anas clypeata), a first for me in Bosnia. In addition, 90 Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) and the usual assortment of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were also present.  The Gulls and the Meadow Pipits were a Canton first this season.

    Sitting in a snow-covered field near Vrelo Bosne, a flock of 11 Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) were also a Bosnia first for me.

    Not a bad start to the migration season with two personal firsts for Bosnia and two seasonal firsts in Sarajevo.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday, March 5 - Wood Lark

Walking the dogs in our neighborhood, I was surprised to see an early Wood Lark sitting in the top of an apple tree in the middle of a field singing, albeit quietly, as if it was Spring! In another field there were 9 Skylarks. Twice I have had a Skylark this past week underneath my feeders. The male and female Cirl Bunting were back. I also saw a European Robin and a Hawfinch (both scarce but present through the winter).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

In the Wake of the Storm

Saturday, February 26: Winter is back. After a very Spring-like late January and first half of February, it started snowing here three-four days ago, lightly at first, then more heavily the past two days. The landscape is a wintery white with a blanket of about 20-25 cm of new snow. This morning's dog walk in Kobelja Glava produced the omnipresent Hooded Crows, Magpies, English Sparrows and Eurasian Tree Sparrows,  plus there were Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) (20), Blackbirds (T. merula) (5), and 2 Mistle Thrushes (T. viscivorus), 2 Ravens (Corvus corax) and a resident male Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) that has been calling off and on this past month - maybe the same individual that made a brief feeder visit back in January.

After an absence of a couple of weeks, the Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) have returned to the feeders during the storm. At least two Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla) were present again yesterday. The current feeder list also includes Somber Tit (Poecile lagubris), Marsh Tit (P. palustris), Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) and Great Tit (Parus major), Greenfinches (Chloris chloris), not to mention the Hooded Crows, Eurasian Tree and English Sparrows, feral pigeons, and Magpies. There was also a flock of 8 Starlings (Sternus vulgaris) - scarce so far all winter -  in the apple tree across the street from our house.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Nice to have a male Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) visit the feeder today for the first time. I have previously seen a few this winter out in the area past the airport known as Vrelo Bosne (Source of the Bosne River). 

When I first put the feeders up in early January, the Chaffinches predominated; after a few days one Greenfinch was present. One day recently, I counted 31 Greenfinches perched in the trees and bushes near the feeders and no Chaffinches. The slightly larger Greenfinch seems to have out-competed the Chaffinch.

A Target List

     I spoke today about promoting birding tourism at a conference organized by Dražen Kotrošan, ornithologist at the National Museum in Sarajevo. I emphasized that the Internet was the ideal medium for disseminating information about the birdlife in BiH, information that currently is lacking. While the tourism industry in BiH is among the fastest growing in the world, bird related travel here is virtually non-existant. Regardless of where they travel, birders are interested in important bird reserves and locations, and they are eager to know where to find certain target species.
     In an effort to correct this information deficit, I proposed a Website that would provide details of this nature. I am currently working with two Wiki sites, Wiki Spaces and Google, in an effort to find the best host platform.
     In order to gather information about potential target species - birds that tourists from Northern and Western Europe might desire if they were to plan a trip to BiH - I have drawn up a tentative list based on the BiH master list and species distribution. The list is available now for download by clicking on the following link:

     As always, I invite comments on the list.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Another Harbinger?!

Monday, February 14: Was out with the dogs this morning in our neighborhood (Kobelja Glava) when a flock of 24 Skylarks  (Alauda arvensis) (#70 on my Bosnia listflew over giving their flight calls and then landed in a nearby wet, muddy field. A long-time resident of northern climes, I am well aware how these signs mean nothing when it comes to the wintery blasts of March and early April. It will be interesting to see what happens here. Fieldfare, Blackbird and Mistle Thrush  are regular in the neighborhood every day.

Sun-kissed February! 01-12 February

     Can’t complain about the weather the past several days! It has felt more like early Spring than winter - not good for the skiers, and I am one. However, it’s difficult to dislike the near constant sunshine that has a warmth to it, even when the temperatures are below freezing as they are in the early morning. We have experienced a daily freeze-thaw cycle, clear nights below freezing and days rising to as high as 10C. The smog has been a daily fixture as well, but one can easily get above it by either walking or driving up the hills that surround Sarajevo.

Thursday, February 3: Trip to Mostarsko Blato, a large flooded basin in the hills northwest of Mostar. It was a brilliant, cloudless day with gale force winds that funneled down the canyon of the Neretva River en route from Sarajevo to Mostar. The scenery is spectacular, especially between Konjic and Mostar. The village of Jablanica, is surrounded by dramatic, precipitous crags that tower over the narrow valley. Very impressive! Driving time from Sarajevo to Mostar ca. 2.5 hours.

     Mostar is in another climate zone, enough so that one sees occasional palm trees. The hills are essentially treeless - more Mediterranean in appearance. It makes for incredible vistas. I came through a snow storm out of Sarajevo down to Konjic, but in Mostar the temperatures were +8-10C. While the wind wasn’t quite as strong as it was in the Neretva Canyon, it was sufficiently strong to stir up the surface of the reservoir into white caps.

     This was more of a one day reconnaissance trip and I made little effort due to time constraints to count individuals. However, Coots (Fulica atra) and Pochards (Aythya ferina) numbered in the hundreds. Oddly, I saw only one Mallard, the only dabbling duck of the day! Here is the list of species seen. Species marked with an Asterix are new to my Bosnia list.

Mallard  1
* Common Pochard
* Tufted Duck  20
* Common Goldeneye  40
* Smew 1f
Little Grebe  50+
Great Crested Grebe  1
* Eared Grebe  15-20
Eurasian Buzzard
Black-headed Gull
* Lesser Black-backed Gull  1
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Eurasian Magpie
Hooded Crow
Marsh Tit
Great Tit
Eurasian Blue Tit
Common Chiffchaff
European Robin
* Black Redstart
Eurasian Blackbird
Mistle Thrush
White Wagtail
* Meadow Pipit
* Rock Bunting
Common Chaffinch
European Goldfinch
House Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Saturday, February 5:  My 67th species here in Bosnia (since our arrival on December 25, 2010) was a Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes), a bonus during a hike above 1300 meters in a popular local area above the old part of the city called Barice (Bar-its-sa). People go here, at least in winter, to escape the smog and to walk on one of the many trails and narrow roads that criss-cross the mostly open country. I have been expecting to see Nutcracker before, and was mildly surprised not to see it during brief trips to the two ski areas nearby. However, on a gorgeous clear day in the hills, looking out over the city shrouded in a white carpet of smog, the TV tower atop one of the hills nearby to our home, stuck up like a nunatak, I heard then saw a single individual perched on the top of a spruce.

Saturday, February 12: I saw two “firsts” today! During my morning walk with the dogs in our neighborhood, I spotted a European Starling (Sternus vulgaris). In Kyiv, Starlings are very common throughout the year except for November to March when they are mostly absent. They are an early harbinger of Spring there; perhaps here too.

Later in the day, we walked up above 1100 meters in an area on the maps known as Gornji Kromolj. My experience so far has been that the bird life in these high meadows with scattered pine and spruce copses, has been quite sparse - Magpies and Hooded Crows - but during these walks, I usually encounter something of interest as I did today I  finally saw Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) mixed in with an estimated 15-20 Crested, Blue and Coal Tits. We were also entertained by three Common Ravens doing barrel rolls, and by a Common Buzzard.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


29.01.11  ca 0800. Kobilja Glava.
Now that I have feeders set up, I was anticipating the first visit by an Accipiter, either Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) which I saw in the area on 23.01, or Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). A Gos came hurtling through stirring up all but a considerably smaller and gutsy Hooded Crow that chased it across the road downhill, where it made another dive before circling up and heading south over the valley. Always fun to watch that.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Good Birding Around Sarajevo in Winter 1: Gornje Telelovo Polje

Location: Gornje Telelovo Polje (outlined in blue on the map). Observation date: 28.01.11 Number of species: 21

In the month I've been here, I've focused on three sites in the metropolitan area:

1. Kobilja Glava, my home territory and immediate area, on the ridge that separates Sarajevo from Vogošća (VO-gush-cha). Elevation range here is 600 meters and up to over 900 meters.

2. Vrelo Bosne (literally source of the Bosne) where the waters of the Bosne River that ultimately flow into the Black Sea via the Sava and the Danube, gush out of a subterranean spring from the mountain. That area is a popular park at the very southwestern edge of the valley with a mix of open woodland, small artificial ponds and fields and crystal-clear water!

3. The immediate vicinity of the confluence of the Miljacka and Bosne Rivers. These latter two locations are on the valley bottom at 480-500 meters.

Today's Notes: This is perhaps the flattest part of the Sarajevo Valley where the Miljacka and the Bosne Rivers converge, no doubt a floodplain for the rivers. On either side there are open fields with only scattered trees, two of the largest fields are cultivated (corn?) in summer. A sewage treatment plant is there as well as a small factory of some kind. The whole area covers more than 320 hectares.

As there is no substantial standing body of water anywhere in Sarajevo, the rivers attract a few wintering waterbirds. As you might guess, Mallards are everywhere. There were an estimated 200 in the immediate area today as well as 3 Teal. I also counted 81 Gray Herons standing out in the snow in a 100 hectare field between the Miljacka and Bojnička Street.

Also on while biring here on 23.01, I saw the same group of species, but also a Green Sandpiper and a European Robin. Both of these were uncommon over-wintering species in Kyiv too where the average temperature is a little lower (avg min. in Kyiv -10 vs -4 in Sarajevo - BBC Weather data).

Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos 200
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) - Anas crecca crecca/nimia 3
Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Gray Heron - Ardea cinerea 81
Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo 5
Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica 30 Eurasian Jackdaw - Corvus monedula 10
Hooded Crow - Corvus cornix 30
Common Raven - Corvus corax 4
Marsh Tit - Poecile palustris 2
Great Tit - Parus major 10
Eurasian Blue Tit - Cyanistes caeruleus 1
Eurasian Blackbird - Turdus merula 1
Dunnock - Prunella modularis 1
White Wagtail (alba) - Motacilla alba alba 1
Water Pipit - Anthus spinoletta 1
Common Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs 35
Brambling - Fringilla montifringilla 2
European Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis 7
House Sparrow - Passer domesticus 5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Passer montanus 5

Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Month Part 2: Tuesday, January 25 - A Sarajevo Canton First Record

Sarajevo sits at 530 meters above sea level nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. In the winter, people burn wood and coal to defray fuel costs as gas for heating is very expensive. This is a recipe for smog in the winter. Even at over 600 meters where we live, well above the valley, and with the windows closed, the smoky air permeates our home at times. Furthermore, In the month we’ve been here, there has been little or no wind, day after day with barely a breeze. So the fog settles in. It’s particularly dense in the morning, but there have been days when it simply did not burn off. It’s much worse in the valley and the main part of the city, and especially so at its southwestern end where the airport and a couple of my favorite birding sites are located. Flights are cancelled and birding is impossible with visibility so limited. I am told that this is a winter phenomenon.

Nothing like a snow storm over last weekend to clear out the smoky air. When the skies cleared on Tuesday, it was brilliantly sunny; the air was fresh and the sun felt warmer than the actual temperature (-3C). With the carpet of snow from the storm last weekend, the light was dazzling. It felt almost Spring-like. Perfect day for a walk!

Traveling with my birding companions on these solo excursions, our dogs Tuchka and Luna, I hiked up to 900 meters from Kobilja Glava to Gornje Kromolj along back roads through habitat I would call rural residential. Except for road edge and occasional overgrown thickets, the countryside is mostly open fields affording excellent views. Some of the homes have fruit trees. Predominent birds here include Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix), Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica), Blackbird (Turdus merula), Great Tit (Parus major), Eurasian Tree (Passer montanus) and House Sparrow (P. domesticus), and the occasional Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus). There are at least two resident Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) in the area, and as I am very partial to Ravens (Corvus corax), two perched atop a power line stanchion was a bonus. After more than a month, I finally added my first BiH European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), a species I had not expected to be so difficult to find. I’m sure usually it is not.

A little farther along above 800 meters, the road does pass through a patch of pine forest mixed with spruce that is no more than 7 hectares in extent. It was here I added two more not unexpected species to my BiH list: Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus) and Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) mixed in with Great, Marsh (Poecile palustris) and Coal (Periparus ater) Tits. 

But the best bird of the day, and perhaps in the month we have lived here - that is if one judges this based on its rarity where one is birding - was not more than a half kilometer from our house back in Kobilja Glava where I observed a group of three Cirl Buntings (Emberiza cirlus), an adult and two females working the roadside where the snow had melted enough to expose the grass and stripping exposed sedges of their seeds in the adjacent field. Drazen Kotrošan, ornithologist at the National Museum, wrote by email saying that this was a Sarajevo Canton first, and he confirmed as I suspected that it is found in the southern part of the country closer to the Adriatic (Herzegovina).

Summary for today: hours afield 3, 20 species, one new Cantonal record! Total BiH species to date: 54. A nice climax to the first month in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My First Month in BiH, Part 1

Tomorrow will mark the first anniversary of our move to Sarajevo from Kyiv, Ukraine. Though my birding experience in Europe is extensive, I am new to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Today, my BiH list reached 50 (48 for this year) when a Eurasian Greenfinch showed up at our feeders, the first finch other than Chaffinch to make an appearance.

Highlights for the past month have to include three species that have not previously occurred in Sarajevo Canton during January, this according to Ptice Kantona Sarajevo by Kotrošan et al. (2010).

1. Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) on 16.01 at one of the few extensively flat areas surrounding Sarajevo. On the local maps it is called Gornje Telelovo Polje, the area immediately adjacent to the confluence of the Miljacka and Bosne Rivers. I heard the bird initially repeatedly giving its "Cur-lee" alarm call, and then spotted it in flight as it circled over the field between the Miljacka and Bojnička Street. This species is reported previously from the Canton only from March-April and October-November according to PKS.

2. Dunnock (Prunella modularis) is not listed in Sarajevo from November through February.  I have seen at least one on two occasions, probably the same individual(s) in the overgrown dense vegetation along a small brook that drains Kobelja glava where we live. I saw this species on 02.01 and on 23.01 along the same stretch of brook.

3. On 22.01, three Redwings (Turdus iliacus) perched for several minutes in a tree about 50 meters downhill from our sunroom that overlooks our feeders. There are apparently no previous records for either January or February.