Wildlife and birding at Neretva River Delta

Recently, we have been invited by the Metković Tourist Board director (Mrs. Magdalena Medar-Ujdur) for an inspection of Metković region and several quite interesting sites that could be included in our tours. Of course, that was a great opportunity to learn more from the locals but also to do some birding  as Neretva river delta is one of the best spots on the Adriatic.

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We started at a small village of Vid where we were exploring the canals of Norin river. The typical boat of the region is called lađa and it is great and spacious for small groups.

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Classic lađa transformed into a tourist boat as several local restaurants are taking guests to different places for lunches or even picking mandarin oranges this region is well known for.

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Other typical vessel is trupica but it is very difficult to ride and only experienced locals are actually using it.

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The canal of Norin river is quite scenic and with lots of reed typical for marshes. Neretva and all it’s tributaries is one of the last big marshes in this part of the World.

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Ancient church of St. Vid
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Norin river

As soon as we moved away from the village, the birds started showing up. First, large flock of Common starling (čvorak in Croatian) started coming out of reed and trees. Silently. Just the noise of their many wings beating out of the reed making everything quite special and almost surreal under the dark and cloudy skies.

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Almost as souls of dead Achaean soldiers from Greek mythology
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This is still “summer” appearance but, winter approaching, starlings will again become recognizably glossy black with satiny highlights speckled with white spots.

Many other species can be seen but we spent only about 40 minutes on the river and that was not nearly enough.

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Wagtail (not sure which one)
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Cormorant flying away

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Little Grebe

And then my “photographer’s dream” came true! Finally I managed to shoot some usable photos of most beautiful Kingfisher.

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Afterwards, we continued to the actual mouth of Neretva.

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Views of Pelješac and the most eastern tip of Hvar island in the distance…

Metković is serious about their bird watching so they have just finished an impressive observatory overlooking one of the most interesting points.

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But we continued to other side of the bay just to learn that there are other birders here and all the way from Germany.

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That’s a proper vehicle for a birder!

More birds we have observed before returning to Metković

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Although Metković itself is not much, the Natural History Museum of Metković is one of the finest in the country and one of the must visit spots if you love nature and animals!

The collection dates to 1952. and is one of the biggest collections of its kind in Europe. It has more than 340 stuffed birds with 218 of the 310 bird species that have been noted in Neretva. Stuffed animals have been added all the way till 1980s although main collection was created between 1948. and 1966. thanks to dr. Dragutin Rucner.

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All sorts of wild life are represented
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A smart way to point out the migrating birds’ species

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Not only birds

Definitely one of the must see museums in Croatia and just a short detour if you are just passing through on your way to/from Dubrovnik. The diversity of Croatian wildlife has been jeopardized in the past decades but seeing it in one place like at Metković Museum of Natural History definitely makes us think about it and makes us work harder on saving and preserving it. And I am going back for more birding!

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European bee-eater in Croatia

There are quite a few lovely birds living year round (or in different seasons) in our region. The most beautiful – and most colorful of all European birds – European bee-eater (Merops Apiaster)  lives in numerous colonies near our coast. One such colony is found in the heart of Ravni Kotari region and is well known for it’s size and importance.

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European bee-eater resting

The colony is fairly strong and numbers over 30 couples. The number of bee-eaters grows stronger year after year in Croatia but it is still a protected species with about 900 USD fines for each bird killed… The bee-eaters can do a lot of damage to bee colonies so beekeepers try to keep their beehives away. Apparently, one bee-eater can eat up to 250 bees a day and they first remove the sting by beating the bee against the hard surface. Besides bees, that are usually only 1% of their diet, bee-eaters also feed on wasps, dragonflies and numerous other winged insects. According to some reports, they feed on bees mostly during cloudy days…

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Successful hunt

European bee-eaters are a migratory species and spend April to October nesting in Europe and rest of the year they spend in tropical Africa.

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Art by Aracana

Their nests are located in the sandy, easy to dig soil. The birds dig a long tunnel, in which they lay 5 -8- white eggs around the beginning of June. Both male and female care for the eggs for about three weeks.

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Nests (holes) of bee-eaters

The colony in Ravni kotari has dug hundreds of holes in the sandy soil but most of them are not in use. I still have to return before the end of their summer to see how strong the colony got over the summer. Pčelarica – how the bird is called locally – is one of the most beautiful birds and pure pleasure to photograph.

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Birds usually have only one partner during their lives

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The wonderful and bucolic settings of Ravni Kotari are a perfect home for this wonderful bird!

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Shadows and Graffiti of Šepurine Military Base

There are numerous cool abandoned places in Croatia. From castles, lost villages  to abandoned factories and military bases. There is something very special about them. An aura of times that are long (or not so long) gone, lives that were closely connected to those now abandoned walls…

One such place is a big, and once important, military base of Šepurine near Zadar.

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This military base was built by Yugoslav National Army (JNA) as an anti-aircraft training base but, when it was taken by Croatian forces, it became a center for education of special forces (https://www.tportal.hr/vijesti/clanak/pogledajte-u-sto-je-pretvoreno-mjesto-na-kojem-su-se-celicili-hrvatski-komandosi-20160804). In 1995. the 1160 meters long air strip was constructed in record time and the base was used by Croatian and US forces in planning operation Storm that liberated the occupied parts of Croatia in August that same year.

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Airstrip today

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But the base was proclaimed a “non-perspective” one in the mid 2000s and soon abandoned. Then the destruction started… The same scenario has been seen as early as 1995 when the hordes of scrap metal scavengers would invade abandoned objects and strip them of ALL metal. Usually, those are bands of gypsies but not only them… Trucks and trucks of scrap metal were taken from the base without any action taken by the police. Sad. It was our heritage and now it is just a monument to incompetence of our governments and local authorities. As many other places in the country. Progress of devastation can be seen at this Forum.

Only now, there are talks of investors being interested in 1 mil sq meters of prime real estate. Like so many areas in Croatia, it will probably take decades before something happens. And just see how beautiful the coast is right next to the airstrip:

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Punta Skala resort in the distance

But, there is something good about all this as we have an easy access to a beach here and folks have a GREAT place for car racing. The rest is just left to rot. The little that is left.

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Command center?
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All hangars have been destroyed and here is the last one standing.
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All this was covered in hangars

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And then there are some graffiti on the walls of the remains of hangars.

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Have not seen the signature on these

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But true art awaits once you enter the main restaurant for soldiers and the rest of the dormitories.

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Wash your hands before the meal, soldier!

Apparently, an Austrian graffiti artist Perkup (or Perk Up) was here and left an amazing series of graffiti. You can find his work at the following Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/perk_up/

Combination of modern, abstract art and this very unique space was quite astonishing.

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Art with some explicit lyrics by a Croatian “poet”

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There were few other artists painting on the walls but Perkup did most of the work and it is just stunning.

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The entire place has a very special aura in a hot summer afternoon and I cannot deny an abstract beauty in this total devastation.

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But small details like a mess of old cups and trays brings you back to the days of serving in the army. I was serving in 1998 in Sinj and Šibenik and always thought of those days as complete waste of time. But that period was always quite emotional and even now some folks have fond memories of their friends whom they served with in JNA and Croatian army.

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There are few other graffiti in the dormitory, but nothing had the power of Perkup’s work.

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Even some forms of very basic devastation I found beautiful:

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Šepurine are now just a place of ghosts. It could have been at least preserved as an important witness of the glory days of the 1995 or at least guarded better. It reminds me of the abandoned military tunnels on Solta and that curious art gallery I focused on a while back: Curious “gallery” on Šolta Island

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But this way we can have it for ourselves. This way the only shadows can be ours.