The Komovi

The mountain road from Kolasin to Andrijevica passes through the small village of Mateševo and then follows the river Drčka, a tributary of the Tara, up the valley to Trešnjevik Pass. I stopped when the road started to hairpin and the road became more a bobsleigh run with walls of snow where the ploughs had cut there way through; much of the run was tarmac but in sheltered stretches the surface was compacted snow. I walked up the road under the bluest of blue skies, half-blinded by the snow, warm under the sun. Looking south and the twin peaks at the heart of the Komovi massif, skirted by dark forests, are stark and impressive.

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The twin peaks of the Komovi, a wilderness in winter.

The Komovi, Kučki Kom (2487 m) and Vasojevički Kom (2460 m), lie on the edge of the great Prokletije range to the east and together form part of a mountain wilderness area that straddles Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo.   The snow was being whipped from the peaks by a strong south wind but down in the valley the air was completely still. The two mountains appeared distant and untouchable. I watched a pair of ravens fly from one end of the valley to the other, giving their repeated, harsh ‘kraark kraark’ call; they were soaring and sailing and checking everything beneath.

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Raven, one of a pair, soaring and calling in the clear blue sky.

A mistle thrush sang its simple, mellow song from the tree tops and did not stop all morning; another joined from down the valley. These were the first I have heard. This is probably an upland species, absent from the oak-hornbeam forests and coastal maquis. A pair of lesser spotted woodpeckers energetically worked the dead wood high in the beech and aspen and called frequently to each other. Long-tailed tits, marsh tits, treecreepers, great and blue tits, and a shrieking blackbird all put in an appearance; the cast is becoming familiar now.

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A pair of lesser spotted woodpecker.

An altogether different call is the deep whine and staccato trill of a black woodpecker. The call is like no other and difficult to describe. This is a woodpecker the size of a crow, handsome black with dark brown on the outer wing, a red splash on the head and a huge silver bayonet of a bill. The bird, a female because only a splash of red, is a cartoon of a woodpecker with round, white eye and funny calls; she is a brilliant, black joker. Whatever she is, finding one tells you that you are high in the forest where conifer and beech mix on the edge of mountain wilderness and that you are having a good day.

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A distant but unmistakeable female black woodpecker.

Lake Šasko’s Snakes

The earliest records of the old city of Šas, known much earlier as Svač, go back to the 6th century and it was famed for having a church for every day of the year. The city was ransacked in the 13th Century by the Mongols and then again by the Ottomans in the 16th century; it was not really the same after the first and never recovered after the second. Today the hamlet of Šas is perhaps a few hundred people and the old city is now a few, forlorn ruins, signposted from the road below. A rough path heads up from a barely used football pitch at the end of a bumpy track. The path might lead you through a long, sad story but it does give the best, well the only, view of well-hidden Lake Šasko over the crest of the hill. The lake itself, only 3 km or so long and half that wide, is surrounded on its two long sides by low, maquis-covered hills that are difficult to penetrate and the two short sides by wetland and flooded woodland. Water levels rise and fall dramatically with the seasons much like Lake Skadar to the north. The lake is connected to the River Bojana into which its waters flow.

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Šasko Lake lies to the north of Ulcinj in the south east corner of Montenegro; this view looks east with the Albanian hills in the distance.

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The winter floods drown fields that border the lake; these will be hay meadows and pastures in the summer.

I have seen a few waterbirds on the water but all from afar. I tried the restaurant on the lake edge but nothing very useful to be seen from the wide, wooden verandah except the impenetrable reed beds, an occasional fly past by an egret and beautifully cooked, fresh fish. This is the only access at the lakeside that I can find and it is in the middle of nowhere. Having been used to wildlife watching from hides, boardwalks and well-marked paths, it is a pleasant surprise to find that there is nothing to help the visitor at this lake with its wild and beautiful surrounds. At Šas, one of the two church ruins looked old and tired in the soft afternoon sun; the only congregation now the stand of Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias) that waits patiently at the ever open door.

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The ruin of one of the two churches left standing in the old city of Šas.

The shelter of the rough shrub-covered maquis held a vivid blue Anchusa species with crimson buds and many snake’s head iris.  Walking the path back down the hill and a beautifully marked and entirely harmless leopard snake (Zamenis situla) was caught in the open. It was long and whip like and not at all aggressive. The status of this snake in Montenegro is unclear but likely to be common but it is collected for the pet trade in some parts of the Balkans.

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Anchusa cretica (or Anchusella cretica) with typically prickly leaves which is both attractive and widespread.

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Snake’s head iris which is common in the scrub above the lake.

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Leopard snake or the more unattractive sounding European ratsnake.

The national bird conservation agency, CZIP, won a recent reprieve for the birds at Lake Šasko through a 2-year hunting ban and I hope this gets extended. Hunting appears to be a ubiquitous threat and I hope that Montenegro is not in danger of having wonderfully wild habitats empty of most of its large mammals and birds. It would be like sitting down to a banquet and admiring the long polished table, the fine-patterned bone china, sparkling candles, silver cutlery and the exquisite cut glass, only to be told that, sadly, there is nothing on the menu tonight because it has all been eaten.

Lake Skadar’s Dragons

The week has been grey and rain-filled with sullen views and damp seeping the bones. This morning was brighter and the view from the square window confirmed that although a deep grey, the light was trying hard to win, so I hurled out and up the hill in a strong, but not cold, easterly to see the shape of things.

The late dawn light from way across the lake and beyond the black mountains was fighting with everything; the rolls and pitches of cloud, the snow-made, sharp-pointed mountains and the cold-rippled lake. It was not spectacular, beautiful or calming; it was brutal and steel-riveted. It was Sibelius’ 5th with the horns in full majestic tilt pounding across the sky, not pure white swans but ancient black dragons, deafening and wild in the cold, morning silence.

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The black crescents of alpine swifts moved fast, twisting and turning, indifferent to the colour of the sky; these were the first of the year, arriving silently like a conquering army. Swallows shouted weakly below and looked the vanquished, slow and childish, more at home near the field and barn than over this vast empty air; these arrived no more than a week ago and bicker loudly with each other on the telegraph wires. Marsh harriers floated out across the reed, innocently wheeling and dealing in sudden death.

Down the road the subalpine warblers have started singing their scratchy hip-hop and blackcaps less of the angry tack-tacking and more fluting song. The honesty has emerged, bright purple and lady’s smock pure white.  Today was a Spring day that warmed and brightened to become safe and flat, and welcomed the well-pressed tourists that walked the town, and sat and drank, and the drama of the dawn was but a distant, dying dream.

Tivat Saltpans

Tivat Saltpans (Tivatska Solilas) is an area of intertidal habitats and former saltpans within the Bay of Kotor protected in 2008 as a 150 ha. natural heritage site.  In the language of protected areas, ‘potentially damaging operations’ are not permitted. In a country where hunting and fishing is so prevalent, this is great news for the wildlife. The site was of economic and strategic importance in Renaissance times when salt was a high value commodity. Once a shallow, isosceles triangle of a bay between the Tivat and Lustica peninsulas, a stone dam was built at the valley’s narrowest points and the water levels managed within a matrix of shallow, rectangular lagoons for the production of salt by evaporation.

The access into the reserve is from either end of the dam but there is a signposted lay-by on the Lustica road. The principal route through the reserve runs atop this dam with two wooden birdwatching towers at each end. The views from the dam are wonderful but, unsurprisingly the birds keep a safe distance away. Lovćen mountain is to the north and the much larger Orjen massif, beyond one wing of the Bay of Kotor, to the west.

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The walkway along the top of the dam with observation tower at the end.

Seaward of the dam is saltmarsh, mudflat and low islands. Saltmarsh is, so the useful educational signs say, an extremely rare habitat in the Adriatic. The old saltpans are landward, now filled with patches of shallow open water but, predominantly, stands of sedge, soft rush and reed with wet pasture, reedbed, scrub and wet woodland further inland. The flow of water is complex: I think a large central channel runs seawater up the valley and streams or dykes run freshwater down the edge of the valley sides. Seawater would have been tapped off the central channel to fill the pans. Today, the water in the landward side is, in the absence of maintenance and management, probably brackish but with varying levels of salinity and hence supporting a complex range of plants adapted to the dynamic conditions.

Each day a farmer escorts his cows to the wet meadows with much whistling and bellowing; being selective grazers the cows help to keep the vegetation in check and the tussocky sward they create is preferred by breeding waders like snipe and redshank. The reserve looks like it is doing a good job at protecting and managing the mosaic of habitats.

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The view landward of the dam; the central drainage channel with old saltpans to the right and wet meadows and woodland to the left and Lovćen mountain beyond.

Access by people is limited to the dam, which is frequented by dog walkers, joggers and those just out for a stroll, and the first inner bund (small earthen dam). However, a man was building a wooden bridge over a dyke, which will make it possible to walk much further inland along the edge of the central channel.

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Looking seaward towards Orjen mountain.

My first visit on 12th March recorded no spring migrants with the notable exception of the loud arrival of three common cranes, circling down from the south west and disappearing into the pastures. Local birds included a large siege of herons on the seaward side of the dam. These stood hunched up in a neat line; clearly the conversation, as always about fishing, was tedious.

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Grey heron siege on the mudflats and one of three common cranes coming down to land.

Great white egrets, black-headed gulls and a small number of waders; curlew, redshank and dunlin were also on the mudflats. Within the fields and marshes, a small number of little egret, ruff and black-tailed godwit. Buzzard, a persistently circling  European sparrowhawk and a ringtail (female or first year) hen harrier livened the reserve.

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Ringtail hen harrier hunting the saltmarh and great white egret.

On the 23rd March, the same herons and egrets together with a shelduck we’re on the mudflats. Small parties of swallows and house martins together with single European and black-eared wheatears indicated that spring migration was starting. Stunning yellow wagtails fed and flew over along with skylarks and pipits. Stonechats were ever present and water rail was heard.

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Black-eared wheatear and yellow wagtail (the striking feldegg sub-species).

This is an easy site to watch but would probably be better for the birds (and birdwatchers) if people were routed off the skyline of the dam. I alone disturbed at least one heron, two great white egrets, three or four little egrets, four teal, two mallard and three green sandpipers on my visits. If one estimates (there is a vast literature on the issue) that waterbirds do not come within 100m-150m of the dam because they are regularly disturbed by people then at least 10% of the reserve is effectively not available for foraging or roosting. A path in the lee of the landward side of the dam with birdwatching hides on top might work. Leisure walks may be less enjoyable but one of the key features for which the site has been protected, the birds, would benefit and more birdwatchers would probably visit. Easy to say but almost certainly quite hard and expensive to implement. Nature reserve management for wildlife and people is often surprisingly complicated.

Farming around Lake Skadar

In the Spring when water levels are high, the northern shores of Lake Skadar are huge areas of flooded field and woodland and difficult to explore.  To the north is the southern edge of the Podgorica plain and, together with the airport, a patchwork of towns, villages and farmland. The eastern shore is Albanian territory. I have spent most time along the southern shore of the Lake between Rijeka Crnojevića and Ostros. Here, farming occurs between lake and mountain in the small areas of flat ground and adjacent hills, where narrow terraces rise up the gradients like ladders. Villages are small, most are a dozen or so houses and surrounding plots together with church or mosque.

The farmed land has long ago been carved, cut and burnt from the wash of woodland. Less intensively managed pasture fields away from the villages are encroached by scrub and hence cleared at this time; there are many patches of black burnt ground and ash circles of recent bonfires. Firewood is the only fuel and it is collected from the nearby forest by men with ponies or mules that carry the cut lengths from the depths of the wood along freshly cut paths to the lorry.

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House at the top end of Godinje within a wooded landscape.

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The village of Boljevići between lake and mountain.

The machine of choice is the rotavator, which is worked like a mini-tractor and, on the road, ridden on and used to pull trailers, but its primary role is to break up the winter fallow. From memories of a market garden long ago, these are big brutes to handle, pulling themselves along and bucking hard over stones and ungiving ground, but then I was only perhaps 12 at the time. The long, steel-handled beasts appear pliant enough in the hands of farmers here who prepare a perfectly flat and neatly patterned tilth.

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A patchwork of fields in the village of Martići.

In the fine weather of the past days, fields are being rotavated for long hours and in the cool evening, seeds sown by hand. The roles are somewhat divided; pruning, ploughing and manure spreading by the men and the sowing led by the women although husband and wife are often together. Onion sets have been planted out and a range of vegetable seeds sown. Some work is done on planks of wood so as not to compress the fine soil. The regular dib marks in the earth are, I think, freshly planted potatoes. One trio of ladies worked with backs full bent, each like the Van Gogh ‘Peasant Woman Planting Potatoes’ except without the clogs, amid much animated conversation. Vines and fruit trees have been pruned and the vines neatly tied to the lines of wire held by stout posts, most of wood but some of concrete, and the ground between rotavated or the grass cut.

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Vineyard along the road from Boljevići.

The result is a patchwork of brown, turned earth within small fields alongside vineyards and pastures hedged in thorn and with neat, round haystacks with long-pointed hats fenced in the corner. On the shores of Lake Skadar there are a few olive groves but these are much less common than on the coast. All villages have a long line of bee-hives in one or more fields. The ‘Vina Rakiha Med’ signs ensure a seasonal income from passing tourists.

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Haystack and fence near Livari.

The villages are entirely self-sufficient but only through much hard work from when the snows clear to the harvest. Most appear occupied by the older generation with many young people going to college and the city for a different life. All villages have vacant and crumbling houses, albeit with some new building, including one or two enormous, new country villas. For how long these villages will continue to prosper is not clear.

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Old house and driftwood shed at Rijeka Crnojevića.

The blackthorn winter arrived a week or so ago and the willow is emerging as a soft green shade. Also coming into leaf is the bramble, clematis and honeysuckle. The transformed villages are a pretty sight in the bright evening light.

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The village of Godinje on 2nd and 22nd March; from plain winter brown to spring white and green.

The nature of the farming means that wildlife, most noticeably birds, butterflies, bees, and wildflowers are plentiful in the villages. Everywhere there are scolding jays and blackbirds, flocks of house sparrows, and goldfinches, and pairs of great and blue tits, cirl buntings, black redstarts, chaffinch and hawfinches. Most are confiding but hawfinch should be renamed the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ because every one is that damned elusive. Although their ticking calls are easily heard from afar, it is difficult to see the bird making the call and then one or the pair is off with a big loud flash of white wing bar and white-flagged tail.

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Confiding pair of cirl bunting and elusive hawfinch.

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Typical black redstart and freshly emerged swallowtail (Papilio machaon) butterfly.

The hedgerows are filled with red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum), clumps of spotted dead-nettle (Lamium maculatum), speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), I think dove’s-foot cranesbill (Geranium molle) and recently milkwort (Polygala vulgaris). The fallows fields are alive with red dead-nettle and it appears to be an important nectar source for bees and butterflies.

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Hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) and swallowtail on red dead-nettle.

Rumija Rocks

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Early Star-of-Bethlehem.

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.

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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.

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Lesser spotted woodpecker on chestnut; a female since she has no red splash on her head.

Velika Plaza and Ada Bojana

At the south-eastern corner of Montenegro, the boundary with Albania is the river Bojana.  The river delta is at the eastern end of the 13km long Velika Plaza (Great Beach) that runs all the way from the old town of Ulcinj.  The large river splits neatly in two a few kilometres from the sea and the triangular island it creates, Ada Bojana, belongs to Montenegro.  The river that runs to the sea on the western side of the island is lined on both sides with single storey wooden houses with large terraces over the water, many of them restaurants as well as holiday homes. Here and on the waterway that runs into Ulcinj, they dip large nets into the river; fishing here is a national pastime and so, of course, is eating fresh fish.

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Some of the wooden chalets that line the Bojana river in the delta.

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Fishing is a shed on stilts industry on the waterway at Ulcinj.

I visited Velika Plaza and then Ada Bojana in early March just after a day and a half of heavy rain and the Bora was blowing. I tried a road down to the great beach at the Ulcinj end to check out the foreshore and found a holiday camp, ramshackle in its dowdy winter clothes and, on the sands themselves, one of a regularly dispersed fleet of hideous kinky, lifeguard lookouts.  Not a sign of life or lifeguards anywhere.

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Velika Plaza towards the Ulcinj end.

Further towards Ada Bojana and the flood had filled the grazing meadows and sheep were replaced by flocks of black-tailed godwits, ruff and starling; these fed hungrily even though they were uncomfortably close to the road.

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Black-tailed godwits, ruff and starling in the flooded meadows.

I took the road that crosses the river onto the island and runs through dark, waterlogged woods full of scrubby willow, elm and oak to the beach.   The beach, with it all round protection, is given over to nudist holiday resorts.  On the day I was there, the grounds were flooded and only a woodlark, black redstart and pied wagtail flock were in occupancy.  A hoopoe flipped off a patch of grass near the estuary mouth, where a few men were making repairs to the wooden buildings.  It was bitterly cold in the freezing wind and I did not linger long.

Yesterday, the weather was warm and gentle and the grazing meadows were now a sea of pastoral calm with flocks of sheep keeping the turf short; a large flock of goldfinches, greenfinches and linnets also enjoyed the space as did grey plover that were widely dispersed across the grassland but must have numbered around 50. I did not cross onto Ada Bojana island but stayed on the western side of the western river and parked behind the chalets so that I could walk some of the Velika and then inspect the habitats inland.  One of the key species for this area is Golden Jackal, which would be interesting to observe.

At the mouth of the estuary, a flock of noisy, feeding gulls contrasted with a sedate flock of Sandwich terns. The walk along the Velika just to the west of the river ran over low sand dunes covered in a patchwork of prostrate vegetation. Vivid blue dyer’s alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) and Sea Medick (Medicago marina) with tiny yellow flowers brought colour to the dark sand and otherwise dull and lifeless vegetation, including many tall dead stalks from last year’s flowers.

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Dyer’s alkanet.

Two men were walking the long beach checking the flotsam and jetsam; three hooded crows sat on top of a downtrodden kite surfers’ building looking for their own loot.  I stumbled on a good colony of early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) and perhaps O. s. sicula since one had distinctive pale pink sepals.  Perhaps too a small spider orchid (O. araneola).  I find Ophrys species difficult to differentiate but always enjoyable to work on with their hieroglyphic markings and rich colours.  Black bog-rush (Schoenus nigricans) was also common along the edge of the path where it was waterlogged.

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Early spider orchid variations upon a theme.

The long beach and dune protects an equally long kilometre wide stretch of wetland full of reed, rush and sedge from where the seep of reed buntings and witch’s whine of water rails were easily outdone by the blast of loud, chippy calls from Cetti’s warblers. One obligingly sat on the top of reed with a long trail of grass and then flew high to take it to its new nest. A lone marsh harrier danced over the trees. A cormorant was not expecting me and flapped off a small patch of water in a panic.  This place, like Buljarica, is hunted and every bird that gets too close tells you this by their frenetic bid to escape. If this was a nature reserve the birds would be more docile and there would probably be wild duck and more waders than the odd ‘cheeyuyup’ call from a green sandpiper.

Beyond the wetland, a band of wet woodland, studded with white poplar, perhaps 300m wide and then farms and holiday homes surrounded by damp fields given over to pastures. I walked through the woodland, woodpeckers drummed and a pair of kingfishers were back and forth, given away by their sharp whistle, in the adjacent dykes and ponds; they may have had a nest started somewhere in a bank but not within sight.  Marsh frogs plopped into the water as I passed and plastic bottles constantly popped in the sun.  The litter is more often dumped by the side of the road rather than a bin. In the pastures, a few glaring Anemone hortensis under untended box bushes that made for a hedge, but in one waterlogged field a host of brilliant white narcissi (Narcissus tarzetta) in the drier but still damp edges and ridges.  The field, backed by tall trees and with its handmade gate made from hazel poles, looked a fine watercolour painting.

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Wild narcissus in a damp pasture.

I took the return route in the dead of the midday sun and saw little apart from a ragged short-toed eagle and a pair of ravens that idled by.  Sadly, no Golden Jackal to report this time out.

Buljarica Spring

A week later and the weather is balmy; cool first thing in the sharp breeze but soon warming into a cloudless and hot day. The back road that skirts the eastern end of the reed bed passes through small pastures and fallow fields divided by thorn shelter belts, untended olive groves and finally a few houses and orchards.

Along the road, the Spring flowers are starting to appear as are the overwintering butterflies. Brimstones (Gonopteryx rhamni) have been on the wing all month as have peacocks (Aglais io), but today painted lady (Vanessa cardui), holly blue (Celastrina argiolus) and, best of all, a long snouted and primitive looking nettle-tree butterfly (Libythea celtis) are out.   The nettle-tree butterfly’s host tree for egg and caterpillar is, unsurprisingly, the nettle tree (Celtis australis), which I have never heard of, and will have wait until the distinctive leaves appear to identify it. The butterfly flies low and settles obligingly and, like others, heads for damp mud or puddle edges to take up sodium and other salts, but also flies up to settle on a branch and catch the sun.  Puddling is mainly a male activity in all butterfly species, since these nutrients, unavailable in nectar, are loaded into their sperm.  I saw another nettle tree butterfly today in damp fields near Lake Skadar, so they are possibly widespread in the lowlands. I have also seen Camberwell beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) on three occasions but they move on at the slightest disturbance and being such strong fliers are going to be difficult to get close to.

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Nettle-tree butterfly.

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Brimstone and holly blue taking up salts from the mud.

Attractive in an outrageous way is the snake’s head iris (Hermodactylus tuberosus) that occurs in discrete patches along the roadside and within the olive groves. This is unobtrusive at a distance in its shades of green and brown but, close up, exotic and tropical.

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Snake’s head iris.

But for Mode à Paris colour and poise, the pink butterfly orchid (Orchis papilionacea), which was just emerging in a patch within one of the old pasture fields walks away with the prize. The summer snowdrop (Leucojum aestivum) is elegant but constrained, and plentiful in waterlogged areas of the reed bed edge.

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Pink butterfly orchid.

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Summer snowdrop.

A beauty of another kind is this glass lizard (Pseudopus apodus) that was half emerged from its neat hole and, when approached, it backed in and had to squeeze a bit to make what was a slow getaway. Interestingly, it closed its eyes for the final exit and looked somewhat constipated. All very Harry Potter.

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Young glass lizard retiring unhurt.

Finally, I have seen Balkan anemone (Anemone blanda or perhaps appenina; I am unclear on the difference) everywhere, but nowhere better than an overgrown orchard near the sea. Blanda does not mean bland but seductive. So seductive that it now grows in many gardens in England and elsewhere.

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Balkan anemone.