Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Croatia and Slovenia, Part One

A 2004 visit to Montenegro and Serbia (1 country back then, now 2 seperate countries) and Croatia was not very successful on the holiday front. The weather was pretty rubbish for a lot of the time we were there with lots of rain and cloud, there were various minor mishaps and there was a sombre and glum air to the place, understandable after the collapse of Yugoslavia and the subsequent Balkan war. I was quite glad to get home and have rarely reminisced on the holiday since.

And so it was with a slight air of trepidation as we set off for Davids sumptous 54th Birthday Holiday Extravaganza to Croatia and Slovenia on September 25th, starting with a flight to Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia. But Zagreb was delightful - the sun shone and the city was quiet, clean and with a laid back air and very unlike a capital city. We enjoyed our few days stay seeing the sights and I managed a few wildlife sightings too.

Blue Whale Mural, Zagreb, Croatia

A lesser spotted woodpecker calling in the top of a tree in the old town before flying off was most unexpected, too quick for me to get my binoculars on it but a good start to the trip. I had hoped to see some hummingbird hawkmoths on our travels, expecting to find them later on our trip by the coast but was very pleased to see at least 20 buzzing around the flowerbeds in the botanical gardens (which were free to enter too!) along with various bugs, a brief view of a fritillary species whizzing by and some very nice views of around 20 tree sparrows feeding in the grass.

 Hummingbird Hawkmoth

  Hummingbird Hawkmoth

 Tree Sparrows

 Tree Sparrow

 Shield Bug

 Fire Bug

 Small White

Fritillary Sp.

September 28th and it was off to Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, and the journey by train was very pictureresque as we travelled along the Sava river valley with pine clad mountains on either side. It reminded me of our trip along the Hudson river valley from New York To Niagara Falls earlier this year but on a smaller scale and when I saw a large raptor soaring over the pine trees on a mountain side with a bright white tail my first thought was bizzarely bald eagle after having seen so many of them on the Hudson river trip! However I quickly realised that it didn't have a white head and bald eagles are only found in the USA and it was in fact a white tailed eagle - a lifer for me! It passed by all too quickly as we sped along the valley and I thought I had imagined it but David had seen it too and was able to confirm that I had indeed seen it for real.

Along the river were grey herons and cormorants but in places small dams had been constructed across the river forming small lakes behind them and I saw 2, possibly 3 black throated divers on the water, a complete surprise. A great white egret flying over as we arrived in Ljubljana was less of a surprise though.

Ljubljana was very nice, I had been looking forward to visiting here more than Zagreb but actually enjoyed the latter more. The city was very nice with lots of interesting things to see and do but it was busier and bustlier and had enjoyed something of a make over making it feel very touristy and a little Disneyfied.

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana

The highlight was a young coypu along the river flowing through the old city, it was out on the riverbank by the Triple Bridge and at first I thought it was a massive rat! I then thought it was a beaver but it had a rat-like tail and then it dawned on me that it was a coypu - the last time I saw one was back in the 1980's at Minsmere in Suffolk where a small population had become established from escaped animals before they were trapped and removed. There were cabbage leaves and peppers and carrots scattered on the grass and so I assume local people are deliberately feeding it and a few nights later there were 2 animals together, the smaller young animal and its much larger parent.

Young Coypu, Ljubljana

We took a day trip by train to nearby Lake Bled on September 30th and had such a fantastic day there that we did it again the following day, giving up our planned second day of sight seeing in Ljubljana. Lake Bled was stunning in the sunshine although it was very hazy and making the views a little fuzzy and obscured. We had a swim in the lake and enjoyed a local cake known as kremna rezina, a fresh cream, custard and pastry delight.

 Lake Bled, Slovenia

 Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Butterflies were much in evidence around the lake side with red admiral, painted lady, small white, a comma, clouded yellow and blue species being seen. Jays, kestrels, nuthatches, a coot, mute swans, mallards and a cormorant were also seen but the highlight were numerous willow tits feeding in the woodlands around the lake, mobile and active and difficult to track amongst the leaves but vocal and at times giving some nice views.

 Blue Sp., Lake Bled

 Mallard, Lake Bled

 Fish Sp., Lake Bled

 Fish, Lake Bled

 Willow Tit, Lake Bled

Blue Sp, Lake Bled

The weather on our October 1st visit wasn't so good and it was cold and grey when we arrived at the lake but the sun did eventually appear. The butterflies were much less obvious in the cooler conditions and it was too cool for a swim but the willow tits showed well again and we enjoyed more kremna rezina cake.

And so the first week of the trip had been a success - mostly sunny and pleasantly warm, a nice feel and atmosphere, a life tick and with no real mishaps (other than misreading the train timetable and having to catch a bus back to Ljubljana instead of the train on our second day trip to Lake Bled). So far, so good

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