Lake Skadar Transitions

The enclosed lake beyond Vranjina has transformed from the winter view of ice blue waters and bare brown woodlands to water, jam thick with algae, lilies and reed, surrounded by shades of spring green willow and poplar. The rate of growth of the emergent vegetation over the past weeks after the temperatures increased and the cold winds died has been astonishing as the lilies appeared, enlarged and now flower and new green reeds grow rapidly.

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March views of Lake Skadar: Vranjina Monastery from across the water and winter reflections on the slow moving Morača river next to Vranjina’s wetland.

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Vranjina’s wetland in early April with wet woodland trees greening around the empty blue lake, and transformed by the last days of April; the vegetation winning the water.

The transition is helped by the rapid lowering of the lake’s water level by as much as four metres after the cessation of the winter rains so they say. Elsewhere around the lake, acres of summer meadows dotted with pollarded willows rise from the receding waters, only cut by sinuous tree-lined rivers and now grazed by meandering herds of cattle and goats.

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Spring green willows in early April; the water has now receded completely.

In March, kingfishers dived for fish in flooded pools along the stone track and great white egrets hunted for fish in wetlands now dried out.  The great white egrets have shrunk from view, whilst little egrets are now much more numerous and bolder. The flocks of tufted duck and pochard on the once open water have moved away but grey heron, great and pygmy cormorants, coot, moorhen, great crested and little grebes remain. The coots fight endlessly as do the noisy and assertive little grebes. The great crested grebes, always in pairs, are serene. A female coot hiding under willows by the water’s edge now has a gaggle of unruly young to keep from snakes and marsh harriers. The wet woodlands are alive with nightingales and golden orioles and in the past few days turtle doves have started to purr their lazy sound of summer. Cetti’s warblers no longer shout out their teenage rant of a song nor do water rails squeak and squeal. Swallows and house martins fly over the water feeding and drinking from dawn to dusk. Red-rumped swallows have appeared and now disappeared.

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Kingfisher over a flooded pool along the track and a great white egret with a view.

Whiskered terns have arrived and dance and dive above the thickest lilies building thin nests, giving their continuous screeching calls that from a distance sound like the unsteady rhythm of pop music from a tinny transistor radio. Other recent arrivals are pairs of small, colourful ducks, first garganey and a week ago ferruginous ducks. The ferruginous drakes are bold, always sitting back and flapping their wings in a display of sorts; they take on the coot for space but the locals see them off with a bullying, splashing chase and I am not sure where the little ducks are now. Both duck species are wary and keep a safe distance from the shore and hopefully are just well hidden in the thick stands of reed. The pelicans come and go in ones and twos and I think a pair must have a nest on the far side of the water but they may just be playing at parenthood.

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Whiskered terns in the rain and pair of ferruginous ducks amongst the lilies.

On the far side of an access channel adjacent to the straight gravel track, penduline tits have suddenly appeared with their thin hissing calls; a nest is full constructed and I missed it. I thought the call was from the warblers reacting to a cuckoo perched quietly, watching all the comings and goings from the hillside and am glad that I checked it out. Perhaps it has hung there all the time and just been recently reoccupied? Whatever, the nest is beautiful architecture like a falling tear drop of down taken from the local reed mace (Typha latifolia) and the pair busily come and go.

Squacco herons have taken up residence by the village alongside the large flock of jackdaws and fly from the track to the safety of the trees where they pose motionless and think they are invisible.  Little bitterns are now on the Morača river and fly with a squawk from their low perches. Night herons are rare and seen from afar but fly over the village at dusk. Purple herons with their sinuous, elegant necks have arrived but are ever shy.

The ‘tack tack’ of blackcaps have now all but disappeared from the waterside willows and I look to see what has replaced them but find nothing yet. Whither the reed warblers and their ilk?

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Penduline tit next to its exquisite penduline nest and a squacco heron trying to look invisible.

Reptiles are becoming more common with the spring warming: marsh frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus) jaw-jaw endlessly in loud nasal tones like pompous politicians, blowing hot air into their ample jowels and jumping clumsily onto any approaching female impressed by the sound of their voice. A four-lined snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata), about 1.5 metres long, silently worked the edge of a track one warm afternoon and a European pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis) sat and stared me out in the warming, morning sun until disappearing with a loud plop.

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Marsh frog on the hustings.

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Four-lined snake and basking European pond terrapin.

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