The sweet chestnut woodland along the road from Livari is just below the small, hidden village of Gornja Briska. I walked up through the old, dark trees to avoid the village in the early morning. Only a yaffle then a flash of green woodpecker and ever noisy nuthatches proved there was any life in the cold Spring sunshine. The crocus, primrose and dog’s tooth violet looked old and tired. At the top of the wood, I climbed a stone wall and out into a land of bright light and tilted rock, with much sage (Salvia officinalis), lichen and moss, with snow-capped Rumija, encircled by regiments of beech, looking down on us all.
Rumija’s snow-capped summit and beech forests below.
I found the trail and it was easy going with large, well laid rocks creating a raised walkway in many sections. I read that this was part of a Roman-built track that linked the villages of the Lake together and with the coast. I passed a high stone wall within which there were tall oaks, but mainly on the boundary and a few trees thick. The wall was circular and the trees may have been managed to create a thick inner hedge, thus creating an effective stockade. These low hills were once farmed and inhabited but now all are long abandoned. Great tits, jays and blackbirds scolded me as I passed.
Circular stone wall with an inner lining of tall oaks.
I lost and found the trail a few times, which was marked now and then with red-painted signs on stones, and rose gently through thick scrub and eventually to the crest of the first line of hills. I began to wonder if there was any life up here; it was so quiet in the endless oaks and grey limestone. A few orchid rosettes were up, bright green on the barren and parched ground. A solitary woodcock flushed and looked back at me as he flew away; he could do this with hardly a turn because his eyes are set on the sides of his head.
The endless oak country on the lower slopes of the hills around Rumija.
Eventually, having passed some old and crumbling oaks and a single chestnut, all with holes and gashes from woodpecker work, there was an area of flat ground with a stone-lined pond and grass around. A pair of rock partridges, a species endemic to southern Europe, ran away up the bare limestone then leapt in the air and flew, clattering away like fat chinooks. From the amount of droppings this was a favourite place. Rock buntings and black redstart were here too and also possibly a common redstart together with the usual suspects. Suddenly birds were everywhere.
Rock partridge running away up a rock.
The trail angled across to the west well below the highest mountain ridge in its gentle climb through quiet oak forests with little understorey but a carpet of thick grass that was flattened by the winter snow, dead leaves golden in the afternoon sun. The snow was still holding on in sheltered areas; crocus, primrose and a few snowdrop were out and looking fresh and new. I checked but no Queen Olga or Mr. Elwes.
The woodland path eventually reached the top of a high cliff where the path zigzagged down steeply towards Bar. The route to the Rumija summit (1,594m) was up the crest of the cliff but the path was overgrown and the going difficult. I decided that I preferred the direct but steep ascent from the other path out of Gornja Briska and turned for home.
On the way back, I nearly stumbled on what looked like a diminutive Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) with its bright yellow flower and then realised it was a species of lily, like the Ornithogalum that is common by many roadsides through the low hills. This was the attractive Early Star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea bohemica). A few small lizards were active on south-facing slopes but not as many as on the roads and hills around Lake Skadar and only a few small spiders were out. No butterflies or bees all day.
It was now early afternoon, traditionally a dead time for birds, but the woods on the lower slopes were alive, especially where there were mature oaks; woodpeckers were feeding and knocking on wood but not drumming, marsh tits were calling everywhere along with great tits, blue tits and less extrovert robins, wrens and treecreepers. Two more pairs of rock partridges flew in front of me. Jays were everywhere as ever and a buzzard found enough lift to soar briefly overhead.
Marsh tit deep in the oak scrub.
Back down in the sweet chestnuts by the roadside and the only birds I saw here were woodpeckers, I think mainly middle spotted, but a very busy lesser spotted woodpecker worked the branches above my head. The ancient, decaying woodland is perfect woodpecker habitat.
Lesser spotted woodpecker on chestnut; a female since she has no red splash on her head.