The tarmac path from the car park up to the small lake within Biogradska National Park is only a couple of kilometres but Spring had not started to dent the knee deep snow. The lake is 1,094m above sea level so the sign told me and a different world from the oak-clad hills filled with crocus and snowdrops, now long past their best, that I had left an hour or so ago. Luckily, some skiers and hikers in snow shoes had created a sunken path of sorts that allowed me to walk, albeit breaking the crust every few strides, for the first kilometre up the steady incline until the cold had hardened the layer and the going was more straightforward. The tall beech trees were interspersed with oak and other species that, without leaves, must remain anonymous for now. Above the deciduous trees, conifers ran up the slopes in regiments and frosted with snow were gently, beautifully lit when patches of sunlight struggled through the grey cloud.
Sunlit snow-covered forest.
The lake was dead white bright and encased in dark forest, deep and silent. Then the merry whistle of two nuthatches broke the mood and more so when two pairs of nutcrackers travelled high overhead cackling quietly to each other. The nuthatches were not at all inquisitive even when I tried to imitate the clean and friendly whistle.
The white lake and black forest of Biogradska Gora.
On the way up and down I heard the chup chup of a busy nuthatch. One ran around a branch quite close and was accompanied by a mixed flock of long-tailed, blue and marsh tits. All were fluffed up against the cold.
A fluffed up and busy nuthatch.
A fluffed up and busy marsh tit.
The long-tailed tits were as ever more confiding than the rest but never really staid still until one stopped and drank, well sipped, from an icicle. In the lowlands, I have watched two different pairs nest-building, one bird comically carrying a huge feather the length of its tail, but here they surely have another month or so before starting to build. I think I heard a middle spotted woodpecker on the way up and certainly a waffle from a green but both were not seen.
Long-tailed tit having a cold one.
After the nuthatch and tit ensemble, I heard a soft kick from what sounded like a great spotted woodpecker and the bird helpfully landed on a beech branch just down the slope; it was not the usual great but a white-backed woodpecker. This rarer species prefers, so the book says, old forests with much dead wood and often close to a stream. The description could have been written for the location.
White-backed woodpecker on beech.
Even though these silent forests are magnetic and magical, I shall wait a few weeks for the snow to clear and some buds to burst before returning to these great mountains.