Today we headed out of Slovenia and into Croatia for the first time.Our first stop was to be Plitvice Lakes, “declared a National Park in 1949” [the blurb said].
A new Country is always quite exciting. This really did feel like a new country because we actually drove through a border control with barriers and armed guards to whom Milan, our guide, had to show our passports. We didn’t get a stamp, though. We were also swapping our familiar Euros (used in Slovenia) for the Kuna of Croatia. The exchange rate on my beer money is pretty easy to deal with being about 10:1 [Kuna:Pounds]. Also, I don’t have to learn a new word for beer, which remains pivo, even though Croatian differs somewhat from Slovene, according to our guide, Milan, who, of course, speaks both.
I’m forming the opinion that it’s not only the language that differs somewhat. The other thing that differs somewhat is my mental expectations of destinations on a “Wildlife Tour” compared to the reality of some of those planned by Ecotours, in this instance. The reality of Plitvice Lakes began to dawn in our minibus when, nattering to Milan in the front passenger seat, he expressed the opinion that this destination would not have featured on his hit list. Hmmm? Milan, I should explain, is an independent ecologist contracted by Ecotours as our guide. Reality rose higher in the sky as our minibus turned into a large barrier controlled car park for the second day. Again, we went through ticket controlled entry with further hordes of humanity. I’m used to Yosemite being crowded in the States, though, so perhaps it’s my expectations of a National Park that need adjusting. Here’s the alarm bell small print about these lakes.
… is situated between high forested mountains in which lies, one below another, a string of sixteen beautiful lakes and tarns of crystal blue-green colour. They are fed by many small streams and brooks and spill into each other in foaming cascades and thundering waterfalls.
There’s your Joe Public magnet. The development for Joe Public was extensive and a verging on the Disney-esque, featuring miles of well-constructed boardwalks to get us out along our route, complete with queues to get onto electric boat rides followed by Mercedes-powered road trains to bring us most of the way back. The remainder of the return journey was left to Shanks’s Pony. Every metre of the boardwalk seemed to be taken up by the constantly streaming hordes of Joe Public whose idea of wildlife stopped at Mallard. Nonetheless, it was quite pretty in the fine weather. 🙂 We set out along the boardwalk.
With all this “crystal blue-green” water, there were dragonflies, so all was not lost. However, with the tens of thousands of tramping feet marching past on the boardwalk while one tried to snag a picture with a long lens atop a monopod, photographing them was rarely easy. Borrowing a popular term from the wider wildlife-spotting community, though, I was utterly thrilled to get my first “lifer” for some time. There, perched on a reed in a relatively accessible, albeit slightly more distant than I’d have liked (~3m away) position, was what I initially took to be a Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica). I excitedly snagged a couple of shots with the naked 400mm lens, then tried to add the 1.4X extender to bring it closer. Alas, it took flight before I was again ready but at least I had something. Brilliant Emerald was what I suspected we’d seen on day #1, constantly flying at Lake Bohinj. Subsequent later inspection of this individual, though, convinced me that this was an even greater prize (greater because Brilliant Emeralds occur at home), a Balkan Emerald (Somatochlora meridionalis).
Despite Joe Public, I got up to about 10 species of Odonata, including the always impressive Green-eyed Hooktail/Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus), one of which posed fortuitously, so, a reasonable haul really.
I was not the only one less than overjoyed with our overly touristic venue; our butterfly enthusiast was also feeling like a fish out of “crystal blue-green” water. He did find some quarry at our lunch break with tables, bench seats, loos, cafeterias, gift shops, grass and trees, though. Our birder was also getting excited about a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) flitting between the trees. So, not all bad, then. 😉
Escaping Joe Public and the national park, we continued our journey to our new Croatian accommodation. Somewhat frustratingly, since entering Croatia we’d been driving straight past numerous very inviting, extensively flower-strewn meadows that were clearly an absolute haven for wildlife. We’d also been driving through numerous war-torn Croatian villages, their buildings scarred by bullet marks and roofs missing sections from bombs or artillery shells. Frequently, the villages had field cemeteries nearby. It served as a stark reminder of recent European history, a reminder that reinforced our group’s collective disappointment at the UK’s (United?) EU referendum result that had been announced on the morning of our departure. If only we could escape from that Joe Public. Dream on!
Anyway, on a brighter note, Milan and Janos did find us another flower-strewn meadow to go hunting real wildlife. I joined forces with Mr. Butterfly and was extremely happy to find an artistically posed mating pair of Black-veined Whites (Aporia crataegi). A shot of a collection of hands, all holding different 6-legged critters, might serve do demonstrate the fun we were now all now having.
Our accommodation and pivo supplies for the remainder of our Croatian visit would be at Starigrad Paklenica.