• Hrvatski
  • English
+385 95 901 9920

Trip report for birdwatching tour 02-09.05.2015. – daily dairy from our client

CROATIA  2nd to 9th May 2015




Saturday May 2nd –  Arrival and exploring locally

Six of us set off from Manchester airport at 9:00 a.m. and with a very good tailwind arrived at Split Airport about thirty minutes ahead of schedule at around 12:15 local time.  I texted our local guide, Robert, who had to break off his lunch to hurriedly drive to the airport. He was there in good time to meet us, by the time we had collected our luggage. We were at our hotel soon after one. The hotel is in a lovely spot about 4km out of Trogir and only about ten minutes drive from the airport. It is situated on the island of Ciovo connected to the island of Trogir by a swing bridge. We set off with Robert around two to explore a few local spots. Richard and Georgina were flying from Gatwick and got to the hotel about four and so did their own thing for the rest of the afternoon. It sounded like they had an idyllic walk on the island and found plenty of orchids and butterflies, not to mention local characters. The rest of us had a great time trying not to see too much until we were all together as a group.


Unfortunately we kept bumping into great birds such as a splendid male Golden Oriole which showed itself repeatedly. This was by a little pond that proved to be very productive. Several Great Reed Warblers showed themselves off and a male Little Bittern flew right in front of us. A field full of migrating Whinchats (well six or seven together) were showing very well there too…along with a Cuckoo, Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes.

We also saw several Sombre Tits and three Hawfinches flew across the road in front of us. Other good birds included a fairly close Honey Buzzard and good views of Spanish Sparrow at a churchyard colony. We were back at the hotel soon after six and met at seven for drinks and our buffet meal.

Though most of us retired to our rooms around nine after the bird log I went out a little later on and found two Scops Owls in the hotel grounds. Fingers crossed they would be there the next night.

Sunday 3rd May – Krka and environs, Trogir and a little night birding

We had breakfast at 6:45 but the Japanese and French coach loads were already in there! By 7:30 we were on our way, ‘the pretty route’, to Krka National Park. One of our first stops was at a T-junction that did not look anything special.  However within half an hour we had seen half a dozen nesting Red-rumped Swallows, Cirl Bunting, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Black-eared Wheatear and a nice male Blue Rock Thrush. We drove on to an open stony area to look for Stone Curlew and Calandra Lark, amongst other things. We had great views of the latter, perched and in song flight but no Stone Curlews. Robert kindly treated us all to coffee at a lovely old restaurant where we sat outside in the sunshine. Hoopoes, Cuckoos and even a House Gecko could all be heard calling along with the Calandra Larks just across the way.  Though it is not very far from Trogir to Krka we didn’t arrive until midday, thanks to our many birding stops.

We got permission to drive down into the gorge which is a beautiful site with lakes, rapids and waterfalls. We took a short walk around at the bottom. It is not really a birding site but we got some great views of Grey and White Wagtails as well as the waterfalls. We then drove round to another couple of sites before re-entering the Krka gorge where we had a rather late lunch but in an idyllic spot. After another short walk in this beauty spot, with plenty of flowers and butterflies to keep us occupied, we began to wend our way back to the hotel.

One of the first stops after lunch was a small patch of grassland that Robert had seen Stone Curlews in a few days earlier. We played the call and sat in the van and fairly soon Richard spotted one that appeared from nowhere directly ahead of us. After a little manoeuvring of the vehicle we all had great views of this magical bird.

We were on our way again and then a tiny wayside pool offered up another male Little Bittern for the benefit of Georgina and Richard who had missed out yesterday, along with a Squacco Heron and eight Wood Sandpipers. We then called at the site where we had seen Sombre Tit yesterday and again had great views. This time we watched one bird bringing a mass of fluffy material to the nest, perhaps for its second brood. G and R had just about caught up by now with all the things we had seen the previous day, so we headed for Trogir. We still had time for a walk round the old part of this beautiful little town, perhaps technically a city, as it has a lovely old cathedral that we visited. Common and Pallid Swifts were whirling around constantly overhead. We got back to the hotel just before seven after a good long session in the field.  After the evening buffet we met again just outside the hotel at 9:30 to check for Scops Owl. I had seen two very well at about 10:45, the night before, but hoped they might be out a little earlier. We could hear one or two distant calls but nothing showed up. Having a drink on the terrace later with Trevor and Dave we heard one calling much closer. Dave and I chased one around the grounds and were rewarded with brief views of one of several that were calling fairly close by. I returned to the terrace and before long one was calling just outside where Trevor and I saw two more!

Monday 4th May – Cetina Valley and a meal ‘in the sticks’

We had by now the usual 6:45 breakfast and we were away by 7:30. Our target area was, in theory, the Cetina River valley but the journey there was a leisurely affair stopping many times to birdwatch at various points. There was also much more than birds to see. The flowers were fantastic and we had a great time looking at the orchids and other wild flowers and the butterflies which were abundant, as well as several different lizards. The roads are so quiet there is no problem with roadside birding and we were regularly stopping to check raptors which nearly always turned into Common Buzzard or Kestrel, however.

Robert was fearless at turning off these quiet roads onto even quieter tracks and one track led us up to about 1200 m where the orchids were just filling the fields. A superb male Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush gave excellent ‘scope views. We were heading up to the nesting site of a big flock of Alpine Choughs which we had already seen lower down. They were nesting and roosting in a big sinkhole. To our surprise when we checked this out, a Goshawk burst out of the ground. He had clearly found a great source of food.  Judging by the pigeon and Chough feathers littering the ledges, this was a regular feeding station for it! Needless to say there were no Choughs at the sinkhole just at that time. We did however have superb views of a male Rock Bunting singing. Due to the altitude there were plenty of birds that we were more familiar with at our slightly higher home latitude. We could hear Robin, very shy here, Lesser Whitethroat and Chiffchaff all singing, whilst a Sparrowhawk flew overhead.

We dropped down in to the Cetina Valley and took a track to a bridge over a tributary of the Cetina that was in an idyllic spot where we had an early picnic lunch. Two races of Yellow Wagtail, feldegg and flava were there along with two Purple Herons, Great and Eurasian Reed Warbler and several commoner species like the nest building Little Grebes. A Wryneck was heard calling but it refused to show itself.

We then drove on to the source of the Cetina a welling spring that was over a hundred metres deep from which vast amounts of very cold water were flowing in a picturesque hollow. Following the valley down we reached one of Robert’s favourite spots, a big dry field in a beautiful landscape of rocks and flowers. We were looking for Short-toed Lark amongst other species, of which we got excellent views of one very obliging bird singing from a little rock. As we drove through the field Trevor spotted a Stone Curlew just by the side of the van. We reversed concerned there may be a nest in front of us but it was fine and we drove on to the part of the Cetina that had been dammed to make a reservoir. Robert pointed out the Goosander nest box that he had hung from a tree, halfway down a cliff! However we did not see any Goosanders on the lake though there were several Great Crested Grebes. The area around the reservoir was another fantastic place for flowers and an abundance of Woodlarks.  We also saw more Blue Rock Thrush, both Wheatear species and had good views of Hoopoes. Driving back out of the valley we came across a colony of Bee-eaters that gave us some great views.

We began to head back towards Trogir but we were having our meal out this evening at a rural, very traditional restaurant, about 30 km from Trogir. It was more of a rural museum that did food and we had a superb meal, al fresco. Everything was home grown and home made from the olive oil and bread to the candied figs. We were welcomed with a drink of carob grappa that was so delicious I managed to persuade the proprietor to sell me a bottle to take home, even though it was not officially for sale. We had aperitifs of sheep’s cheese, jamon Serrano, onions pickled in their own red wine vinegar, olives and their own wine, followed by a lovely dish of potatoes and lamb.

Georgina had the octopus alternative. The juice was delicious!  We did not return straight to the hotel but elected to go nightjarring first on Ciovo and heard them but they didn’t respond. Next we visited an Eagle Owl, known nesting area and got a brief reply but no more.  Scops Owl was calling too by the time we arrived at the hotel around ten.


Tuesday 5th May – Biokovo and Split

We had the usual ‘early’ breakfast and as usual the French and Japanese had beaten us to the buffet. We were away before 7:30 driving south down the coast towards Biokovo. We stopped at the mouth of the Cetina River where we heard Cetti’s Warbler singing from some lush vegetation next to the car park we had pulled up in. Here we met Andrej our ground agent who was coming with us for the day. He had driven for about four hours just to meet us there. Fortunately Stuart had taken the day off to relax and walk around Trogir so there was space in the van. We carried on down the coast stopping at a couple of points to admire the view. At one of these spots we had great views of a male Black-headed Bunting in a small bush just in front of us. He flew across the road to join about fifteen more. They had apparently just arrived on migration but it was hard to decide what route they must have taken as they winter in India

We arrived at Biokovo National Reserve around 9:30. It is basically a mountain reserve with a 23km long winding road to drive from near sea level to six thousand feet. We drove directly to the top though it is not an easy drive given the hairpin bends and the narrowness of the road. There were still considerable amounts of snow at the top. We walked around a little circular path just below the summit scanning for birds and in particular the Alpine Accentor which is generally very reliably seen near the top.  Unfortunately there were no Accentors to be seen though Robert was more distressed about this than anybody else. I suppose he had been the one putting all the effort in doing the driving! We did however get great views of Alpine Swifts hurtling around just below us. There were also some good views of Alpine Chough and Black Redstart.

We drove back down a short way to some Beech woodland to check for woodpeckers etc but none were forthcoming. Richard did manage to pick up a distant nuthatch calling before we moved a little further down to a tiny picnic site where we had our lunch. The weather was glorious which was a relief as Biokovo can be a bleak place in the wind or rain, or both!

Wending our way down we stopped at a promising looking area to check for whatever we could find. Suddenly we heard Rock Partridge and scanning the hillside found two quite close. We all managed good ‘scope views of them. That was a relief as it was one of our target birds and the cover bird for the checklist. At the same spot an Ortolan was also heard briefly but not seen. It seemed that Ortolan was only just arriving in Croatia. We travelled back to the entrance to the park fairly uneventfully but thanks to a toilet stop there Dave spotted a raptor. It was fairly distant but soon showed itself a little more clearly and was a Golden Eagle. We also had our second Marsh Harrier of the day and a juvenile male Montagu’s Harrier.

After a couple of short stops, including one to see several Honey Buzzards passing over, we did a little detour into Split itself. Andrej and Robert gave us an excellent walking tour of the old town and the Diocletian Palace. We then sat at a waterfront cafe terrace and watched the world go by as we had coffee and beers. We were back at the hotel for seven and a little later had a relaxed meal with a couple of bottles of very good, local wine. By the time we had finished the checklist the Scops were starting to call close by. We soon had great views of one of them perched in a tree just across from our terrace. An excellent end to the day!

Wednesday 6th May –  moving on, Vransko Jezero and Nin

This was our moving on day, but there was no great rush as the hotel was less than three hours away.. the direct route with no stops. Of course it took us all day to get there!

First we went a short way up the coast to an old building that housed many Pallid Swift nests. We got good views of them circling around and noted all the key differences from Common Swift. We then headed inland to drive parallel to the coast on rural roads until we reached Vransko Jezero, the largest freshwater lake in Croatia, over 15 km long. It would have been bigger still a few centuries ago before they built a cut to the sea.

Robert took us down some great tracks on the inland side and on the way we had great views of a Turtle Dove perched up on a post at eye-level and surprisingly a Nightingale singing with great gusto out in the open.   We came to a view point over the lake where we could see a few Pygmy Cormorant, Marsh Harrier, Great-crested Grebes displaying to each other and closer by we saw and heard many Eastern Subalpine Warblers. We also had brief views of a Short-toed Eagle and later better views of a pair of them. A little further along the track we saw a wonderful male Black-headed Bunting singing. We then drove up a gorge where Robert showed us two different sites with nests of Eastern Rock Nuthatch. Unfortunately the birds themselves did not show. Driving back on to a road we heard at one point a Wryneck calling. We stopped and over the din of many Nightingales we heard them again. So I ‘provoked’ them with a call and they responded, coming very close, if briefly. We then headed for lunch at another viewpoint and was in fact the reserve information centre with toilets, picnic tables, shade (It was about 30 C.) and a shop! We had a look at the little chapel there that was built over a well that had been used to throw people to their death during the not so distant Croatian-Serbian war. We walked to yet another viewpoint before driving down to the lakeside, moving a couple of Hermann’s Tortoises out of harm’s way as we went.

Because of the water level it was tricky to get to some of the hides but we managed to climb one observation tower where we could see the lake and reed beds. Dave and Richard spotted a couple of Great Cormorants which are very rare here. There were also Purple Herons, a Little Bittern and Little Egrets. There were also plenty of Great Reed Warblers singing and a few were seen but there was very little on the lake itself.

We then drove on to the salt pans at the little village of Nin. This is a wonderful place, rich in bird life. We had several ‘write-ins’ here including, Ringed Plover, Avocet, Dunlin, Curlew-Sandpiper and Little Stint. We also had the anticipated Black-winged Stilts, Little Terns, Grey Plovers, Kentish Plovers and Redshank. Many of the birds were in breeding plumage which was wonderful to see. We then headed for our hotel, the lovely family run, Hotel Vicko, where we were in the villa suites facing the sea.

Thursday 7th May – the island of Pag and the Krupa Valley

After a seven o’clock breakfast and two Wryneck in the garden, we drove to the island of Pag. It was another gloriously warm, sunny day. The island has a strange moonscape appearance but is actually full of wildlife. We headed to a little lagoon by the shore, Kolan Lake, looking for Lesser Kestrels on the way. None were forthcoming, disappointingly, but the lagoon held several water birds including some Squacco Herons in near full breeding plumage with violet bills, the colour they turn just before they go blue! A Ruff was also turning into summer plumage with a chestnut hood. From the shore we saw our first Shag which was clearly of the Mediterranean race, desmarestii. It was an immature and very pale underneath. After a little beach combing we turned back when Dave saved the day by spotting a distant kestrel. We followed a little track to get closer and we were able to see it was clearly a male Lesser Kestrel. We were then able to see there were actually three male Lesser Kestrel and we had great views of them hovering and hawking for insects. The females were probably all busy incubating on another island around 20 km away where these birds have a colony.  We then headed to one of the other wetlands, Malo Blato, meaning small marsh, on this superficially dry island. On the way we had good views of two Red-footed Falcons feeding over a roadside meadow. The marsh is home to about fifteen pairs of Montagu’s Harriers and several pairs of Marsh Harriers. We had great views of both species here feeding and interacting. After a good long stretch there we headed for some shade for lunch. A Rock Partridge was calling but remained elusive.

In the afternoon we first headed to the other wetland on the island, Valiko Blata or Big Marsh. Georgina and Robert had brief views of a Great Bittern whilst the rest of us had to settle for Purple and Squacco Herons. We did manage to see a distant Rock Partridge which was actually showing well through the ‘scope, calling from the top of a wall. We also noticed a pair of Pygmy Cormorants in a Tamarisk tree with one of them sat on a nest. Robert told us this was the first record of Pygmy Cormorants breeding on the island and he immediately texted the record to the museum in Zagreb!
Apart from a couple of Greenshanks we saw from the van there were no new birds for us on Pag and by mid-afternoon we were driving off the island. We stopped to take photos of the impressive bridge we had just crossed to get back to the mainland and Richard spotted another Rock Partridge. There were also several Black-eared Wheatears and Blue Rock Thrushes in the vicinity of the bridge.

We drove on to a monastery in the Krupa valley. It is in a beautiful setting and we wandered around the area by the Krupa River which had some great butterflies but no new birds. The Bee-eaters had not started breeding at the nesting site we knew but a few were hanging around there and we had lovely views of them along with a great view of a singing Cirl Bunting.

We headed up to a viewpoint overlooking the Krupa Canyon which was spectacular. We scanned for Eagle Owls on the ledges but had to be satisfied with Crag Martins whirling around. We then took a very small road off to a parking spot near a lovely old farmhouse. There was a track down to a Rock Nuthatch site that was rather precipitous. Robert asked at the farmhouse if Trevor could sit in the shade in their garden whilst the rest of us walked down the path. The owner gladly agreed despite never having met any of us before, Robert included. The path led to an impressive cave with an impressive view and an impressive Nuthatch nest which was clearly occupied. Impressively it was our fourth site for this species but equally impressively we managed not to see the bird again! By the time we returned to Trevor he was drinking coffee with goat’s milk sat in a beautiful little spot outside the very quaint cottage with the husband and wife farmers. It was a pleasing bucolic scene with the lady feeding an orphan goat and free range hens round the flower filled courtyard.

On the drive back to the hotel we stopped briefly at an old road tunnel where Crag Martins were nesting. We saw the fresh nests and managed some great views of the birds.

It was plenty warm enough for a little alfresco dining on the terrace and we were treated to an excellent meal where the main course was freshly grilled Dorado.

Friday 8th May – Paklenica and environs

We had the usual 7:00 breakfast buffet which was very good. It was John’s birthday which started well with a kiss on both cheeks from the young waitress. By 8:00 we were on our way to Paklenica National Park, the entrance road being less than a kilometre from our base. Trevor took the morning off and stayed at the hotel whilst the rest of us went for a good long walk up the Paklenica Canyon which has spectacular scenery and many rock climbers. Birds included the usual, many Nightingales and Blackcaps singing, several Blue Rock Thrushes, Alpine Swifts and Crag Martins but the Rock Nuthatches were not in evidence. We did find a superb Peacock Moth and plenty of orchids and butterflies. The weather was glorious and many of us cooled down with an ice cream from the vendor in a cave in the cliffs! We returned to the hotel for about 11:30 to pick up Trevor and the packed lunches and then set off straight away to some beautiful patches of countryside to the east of Starigrad. The first little side road we took led us to a quiet little village where many houses appeared to be abandoned since the war. We had lunch here and Richard spotted a Nuthatch which was new for the trip. We drove a little further down the same road which brought us into some excellent scrub habitat where Red-backed Shrikes were plentiful. Robert heard a Barred Warbler and we managed to lure it in for some reasonable views of this rather skulking bird. We actually saw it twice in flight whilst it sang and briefly perched. We also saw a male displaying Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush which gave good ‘scope views. It launched itself from the top of a tree, did a singing display flight and then returned to the same branch repeatedly. A Hawfinch also flew by and we managed to see it perched briefly.

Robert told us the story of a beautiful young widow on a nearby farm and at Robert’s proposal we were going to buy some cheese from her to help her out. The men were also secretly keen to meet her! Unfortunately when he rang she had no cheese left but invited us all for coffee. When we found out Robert had turned this offer down we were mortified. (Especially John who seemed to be particularly interested in how many cows she had!)

Driving on to one of Robert’s special spots we saw a large flock of birds in the distance. When we got closer and stopped we were amazed to see it comprised of around a hundred Ravens and one Jackdaw! We then noticed a kettle of other birds which turned out to be more Ravens plus several Honey Buzzards and an immature Golden Eagle!

The scrubby area that we reached was full of Red-backed Shrikes and would have been good for Ortolan but they appeared not to have arrived yet. We did get good views of Lesser Whitethroat and then we found a Lesser Grey Shrike- the first one of the trip. This was another good spot by Dave.

We stopped by another semi deserted village and were surprised to hear a Scops Owl calling in the middle of the afternoon. Much as we tried, however, we could not track it down. These abandoned villages have a bitter sweet melancholy about them. The overgrown orchards and broken down buildings have quite an aesthetic appeal but the story behind them is often rather sad. Many were Serbian villages that were abandoned during the war. A few of the houses at Velika Popina are occupied however, and they add a different interest to the area with little plots of tended vegetables and vines. The mix proves to be good habitat for a variety of birds and we had Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, another Barred Warbler, Great Spotted Woodpecker and many more species.

We returned to the hotel for about 6:30 ready for another lovely evening meal on the terrace an hour later. The hotel had made a wonderful monster birthday cake for John complete with fireworks and we only managed less than half of it! After a few heartfelt speeches and a big, big thank you to Robert we retired to our rooms to pack.

Saturday 9th May – time to go home

We set off around eight to head for Split Airport but Robert took us the ‘pretty way’ rather than taking the motorway. We went through beautiful countryside before stopping for a coffee (Robert’s treat) around ten for half an hour.  It was then just a forty minute drive to the airport where we said our goodbyes to Robert and the Manchester contingent said their goodbyes to the Gatwick contingent!

We were in good time for our flights home and despite a small delay for the Manchester flight of about thirty minutes the time at the airport went quickly. We had enjoyed glorious weather throughout the trip, seen wonderful birds, flowers and butterflies in great scenery and generally had a great time. Robert had been excellent as a driver and a guide and a companion and the group had gelled very well and been great fun.



In the main; the details about the more interesting findings are documented in the daily diary leaving the species list for documentation of dates and numbers. Other records not covered in the diary are dealt with more fully here.

About the Author

Leave a Reply