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.