Day 3 on the itinerary [day 2 of doing anything wildlife oriented] and we were off to the mountains. To be precise, we were off to Mount Mangart in the Julian Alps. Our route was an interesting one since it involved crossing from Slovenia into Italy and then back into Slovenia again. We’d already become quite fond of Slovenia. Entering Italy, things seemed to appear a little more run down – perhaps this is a slightly depressed corner of Italy. Mind you, Italy doesn’t really do it for me. The driving became noticeably more Italian, too. 😉
Mountains have a bit of a problem wrapped up in their majesty – they frequently attract weather and, when they aren’t attracting weather, they tend to be making weather of their own. Somewhat predictably, we arrived at the Mangart pass, 2070m above sea level, in the rain. Tea/coffee break was declared while we donned over-trousers and waterproofs. Actually it wasn’t too bad, just a bit irritating, and it did ease off after not too long. By this time someone had found a Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride) so Francine’s day was off to a good start.
I began to see something of what Milan had referred to yesterday with botanists making very slow progress. It felt as though our plant fans were going over the alpine pasture with a fine-toothed comb. Why not, though? Their painstaking search threw up another celebrity in the form of a Red Vanilla Orchid (Nigritella rubra) resulting in further excitement and this ever more familiar bums-in-the-air posture. Well, it beats lying on a beach getting bored.
This was always going to be a day for the birders and their most exciting moment was a magnificent Golden Eagle drifting across between two of the mountain peaks. It was a great demonstration of an old wildlife photography adage, too: “you can’t have too much lens when it comes to birds”. There’s another good old wildlife photography adage, too: “whatever lens you have mounted, it’ll be the wrong one for the next opportunity”. With these unbreakable rules in mind, here’s a picture of a Snowfinch (Montifringilla nivalis) instead. 😀 It was about the only bird species that came anything like close, though there were Alpine Choughs occasionally looking for food from the tourists.
The irritation rain eased off and, indeed, bright spells appeared. Now, for the most part, I was content to enjoy the alpine scenery and be guided by our butterfly specialist in search of a Mountain Green-veined White (Artogeia bryoniae). Find ‘em, we did – here’s a male and female.
Insect fans can spend about as much time searching for critters in an alpine meadow as botanists can plants. We did. Eventually, though, we began making our way back down to the ever patient driver, Janos, though not without a serious pause at a pile of boulders where we spotted a family of wild Alpine Marmots (Marmota marmot). The birders were equally distracted by a couple of Ring Ouzels (Turdus toquatus), once again too distant for anything resembling a worthwhile shot. A little bit of stealth and patience got a picture or two of a Marmot, though.
Eventually we re-joined Janos to make our way back through Italy before re-entering Slovenia. There was one more important pause, though. A coiuple of our number were reptile and amphibian specialists and there was one wall that was home to a particularly rare lizard, Horvath’s Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta horvathi), which they were, of course, keen to see and which Milan was keen to use to demonstrate his trapping skills. I could understand their excitement. Here is the little celebrity.