Balkan Birds 2016

An adult Red-backed Shrike, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 10 August 2016

An adult Red-backed Shrike, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 10 August 2016

I'm sure every birder does what I when they are about to take a trip to a part of the world that they don't visit often and that is to get out a field guide and tally up all the possibilities that are out there. From my past visits to Europe and the Middle East I did fairly well in ticking of a great number of species you would expect to see there. In taking account as to what I might see in Croatia the one species that floated to the top of the list was ELENORA'S FALCON. I discovered that they nest on the Island of Mlijet about 20 km away from Dubrovnik. For a large wide ranging bird like this that is probably in it's post breeding dispersal, I gave my realistic chances at seeing one to be very low, even if I were to visit the island they nest on.

As luck would have it, an ELENORA'S FALCON was fluttering down to land on an antenna on the main terminal at the Dubrovnik airport as we got of the bus from the airplane. It was literally the first bird that I saw in Croatia. Awesome. Check that off the list and relax.

Another bird that is always on my most want to see list for Europe is HAWFINCH. When I lived in Rome, every day that I stepped out of doors I thought to myself "is this the day I'm finally going to see a Hawfinch?" Well, sadly that day never came. They can be a very difficult bird to see. In reviewing the range map for this time of year and for area I would be going for this trip, I didn't even include it on my list of possibilities as the breeding range didn't seem like it extended on to the coastal area that I was staying.

When it came time for us to pack up and head to the airport, we got there early with several hours to kill before our flight to Zagreb. I remembered from our arrival that there was a nice stand of pine trees outside of the terminal. I thought I'd take a walk over there to see if I could get one or two more species for the trip list. I had also forgotten how sulken passerines can be in Europe. Just about all of the birds on my trip list up till then took a lot of work to get them to come out of the bushes. As it turned out this little patch of trees was full of birds. I quickly picked up a WHITE WAGTAIL, WOOD WARBLER, and SPOTTED FLYCATCHER which were new for the trip. There was also an immature RED-BACKED SHRIKE that landed on the ground to catch and eat an insect no more than 18 inches or so from my feet. I actually had to bend over to see it's facial features well enough to make sure of my id.

While I was looking at the SPOTTED FLYCATCHER I noticed a bird higher up in the trees that seemed to be preening. As I got my binoculars into focus I could see the giant bill of a HAWFINCH sorting out the wing coverts of an extended wing. I nearly fell over in disbelief. This was my second lifer and literally that last bird that I saw in Croatia, both at the improbable location of the Dubrovnik Airport.

Ironically, as soon as I saw the HAWFINCH at the Dubrovnik Airport, I realized that I had actually seen a flyover that same morning at Park Ursula. It was so out of the realm of what I was expecting it just didn't register until I saw the one at the airport. 

Hillside of Park Orsula, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Hillside of Park Orsula, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Park Orsula is just to the south of Dubrovnik. It consisted of a blocked off road that ran along the steep slopes that dropped down the Adriatic coastline. There was no development along about a one mile stretch of road. There were very few people as well. From old city Dubrovnik it was a bout 6 miles of total walking. I tried to get up just before sun rise (5:00 AM). I managed to this walk on four mornings and one afternoon. I was also able to collect a few good insects along the walk as well. Otherwise all the birding I was able to do was incidental.

Below is an annotated list of the 48 species that I saw from August 7 to August 13. The main locations were Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor Montenegro (8/9); Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina (8/11); and Frankfurt, Germany (8/7). There were several other unidentified birds as well; a probable eagle species over a mountain along the Neretva River in Bosnia-Herzegovena; a small brown backed warbler, possibly as Cetti's Warbler at Park Ursula; a couple of finch types that I just couldn't get an eye on and at least one other species of unknown thrush. I was surprised that there were no Redstarts, Windchats, or Stonechats. 

Mallard - 5 or 6 birds were seen in the moat area of the city walls of Kotor. Approximately 10 birds flying over Mostar..

Gray Heron - 1 bird seen in the Neretva River near Pocitlj, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kestrel - 1 seen two different days along Park Orsula road.

Hobby - 1 adult flying over Mostar.

Elenora's Falcon - LIFER! 1 Adult at Dubrovnik Airport.

Common Sandpiper - 1 seen briefly at the water's edge along Park Orsula road.

Black-headed Gull - Many seen along coast Kotor to Dubrovnik. A few seen on Neretva River.

Herring Gull - Very common. Seen in every location every day.

Yellow-legged Gull - A few seen in Dubrovnik. Probably more common that I noted. I admittedly didn't look at every large Herring Gull to make sure it wasn't a Yellow-legged Gull.

Caspian Tern - Only 2 birds seen. One in the Bay of Kotor and one near Dubrovnik.

Rock Doves on rocks, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Rock Doves on rocks, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Rock Dove - Common, seen everywhere. Some of the birds seen in the rocky cliffs along Park Orsula may have been pretty close to real Rock Doves.

Wood Pigeons in the grass, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Wood Pigeons in the grass, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Wood Pigeon - Common parks in Frankfurt.

Turtle Dove - Common in Dubrovnik, Kotor and Mostar.

Swift - A few, 12 or so total, mixed in with the Alpine Swifts around Dubrovnik. 

Alpine Swift - Very common, at Dubrovnik. Scores constantly overhead. Even late into the evening they would fly up and down the Stadun of Dubrovnik. Occasionally I'd see them land on a ledge top of buildings.

Kingfisher - Only 1 seen along the water's edge at Dubrovnik our first day.

Bee-eater - 1 seen on a tombstone from the bus just outside of Mostar. A short but very good look.

River Neretva, Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

River Neretva, Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

Roller - 5 or 6 in the trees of the River Neretva in Mostar.

Crag Martin - 5 0r 6 a day in Dubrovnik. 2 or 3 in Mostar and Kotor.  

Barn Swallow, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Barn Swallow, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Barn Swallow - The most common swallow by far. Hundreds seen every day. 

Red-rumped Swallow - The first morning out, 8 August, 20 or so were seen with Barn Swallows around Dubrovnik. After than only 1 or 2 a day. 

House Martin - Approximately 10 a day in all locations. 

White/Pied Wagtail - One at the Dubrovnik Airport. 

Grey Wagtail - 1 at Kotor and 5 at Mostar. 

Blackbird - 10 - 15 a day around Dubrovnik. 1 along Main River in Frankfurt. 

Blue Rock Thrush - 4 or 5 on the cliffs at Park Orsula. I heard more than I saw. 

Wheatear - 1 from the bus window on the way to Kotor in Montenegró

Lesser Whitethroat - On 9 August around 8 - 10 were seen in one back yard on the way to Park Orsula. After that only 1 or 2 a day and only in Dubrovnik. 

Sardinian Warbler - Probably the most common passerine in Dubrovnik. Including House Sparrow. Their calls were incessant in yards and hillsides around just outside of the old city. 

Eastern Subalpine Warbler - 1 female at Park Orsula. Great looks at it using play back of its calls on my phone. 

Olivaceous Warbler - At least 2 in a yard on the way to Park Orsula on 8 August. 

Willow Warbler - One I figured out the song with the deciding notes was a Willow Warbler (not a Canyon Wren) they seemed to be every where. I only got a good look a couple of them. 

Wood Warbler - 2 along the road to Park Orsula. 

Chiffchaff - 1 at Park Orsula. 

Spotted Flycatcher - 1 at the Dubrovnik Airport. 

Great Tit - 2 or 3 along Main River in Frankfurt. 2 or 3 daily in Dubrovnik. 

Nuthatch - 2 on the last day at Park Ursula. I was surprised not to see Rock Nuthatch. I remember them being very common in Greece. 

Tree lined walk along Main River, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Tree lined walk along Main River, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Treecreeper - 1 on a tree along the Main River in Frankfurt. 

Lesser Gray Shrike - Fantastic views of one my first day in Park Orsula. 

Red-backed Shrike - Fantastic views of one my second day in Park Orsula in almost the same location as the Lesser Gray Shrike from the day before. 1 immature at the Dubrovnik Airport. 

Jackdaw - Dubrovnik, Croatia, 8 August 2016. 

Jackdaw - Dubrovnik, Croatia, 8 August 2016. 

Jackdaw - Only one! And there it is on a roof top in Dubrovnik. 

Alpine Chough - about 30 high above Kotor. 

Carrion Crow - Only in Frankfurt. Pretty common there. 

Raven - 1 in Croatia just before the boarder crossing into Montenegró.

Starling - Only in the agricultural areas of Croatia on the way to Mostar and a few in Mostar. Otherwise, they were absent. 

House Sparrows - Dubrovnik, Croatia. Eating ice cream? 

House Sparrows - Dubrovnik, Croatia. Eating ice cream? 

House Sparrow - Common in towns and cities. 

Hawfinch - LIFER! BIRD TO MY TRIP! Stuff! I at the Dubrovnik Airport and 1 flyover at Park Orsula. 

Ortolan Bunting - 4 or 5 daily at Park Orsula.