Rescuing the Bones of Prehistoric Bear and Deer

A year ago, my friend Tonči Radja of “Špiljar” speleology club, informed me of a very curious find in one of the pits of Biokovo. Unlike something he has ever seen, he found complete skeletons of bear and deer at the bottom of one hard to reach pit near Biokovsko selo.

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Snow on Biokovo

To get the bones out and to finance research, we were asked for some funds but had to wait till November to make the donation. It is not a big donation but every little helps in the situation when our economy is struggling. So, after we made a donation, all that was left was to set the date for action!

The day chosen was Sunday, December 10th and we met in Split till the entire crew gathered. It was a good day for practice for younger members of “Špiljar”, too! The pit Zovine is about 60 meters (cc 180 ft) deep with a small lake at the bottom. It is REALLY difficult to find it without a guide!

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Meeting point

The entire terrain is extremely inhospitable and difficult but, at some point in time, people lived even here. At least for some part of the year while there was pasture.

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Abandoned hut

Once we were all the meeting point and everyone who would be going down was ready, we headed into the woods.

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Not exactly a forest but a labyrinth of thin trees and limestone rock formations, deep pits and small amphitheaters. Basically, the terrain is very difficult to move through and you really have to know where you are going and have a local guide to get to the pit.

 

Which is good. As the pit is hard to notice and fairly easy to fall into if coming from a different direction.

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The pit

Once at the location, the group set all the gear and ropes and assigned the roles and sequence who is going first, second…and so on.

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The pit is also great for training young crew so there was a number of beginners with us. There is also a small lake at the bottom and I wish I am able to get down. It did not take long, for the rest of the team, to get to the bottom and soon, the first remains started coming up. There were 5 full bags with bones of both animals quite nicely preserved.

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Next stop was Biokovsko selo where we were supposed to meet with the biologists from the Museum of Natural History of Split.

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Biokovsko selo

This is a tiny hamlet with only few inhabitants left. The traces of hard life are evident everywhere. Closed doors that open rarely.

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And soon we all met in front of our host’s place to show what was found and for biologists to pack it properly and send for analysis and conservation.

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The finds were extraordinary according to biologists! Apparently, at least 10 000 years old but a proper dating and analysis are needed. Quite proud that we enabled this and hope to be able to help even more in the future.

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Deer antlers
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Bear scull and jaw

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It was an exciting day and a proper way to finish this successful operation was to have a small party at our host’s home. It does not go without grilled meat prepared the classic way.

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And it was great to see our host’s pride and joy!

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The sun slowly set behind Biokovo. In this part of Zagora (hinterland), days are short as massive Biokovo casts a long shadow… Shadow that will soon very few notice.

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Fossils and Lost Lake of Pag Island

Needles to say, Pag is my everlasting fascination. I am still scratching the surface and always learning of new places, historic details, unusual spots… Only recently I took more time to research  Crnike beach. This particular beach is a site of great importance for its 20 milion years old layers from Miocene and it is a location where several fossils have been found.

How old is this? Let’s put it this way: the Dinaric alps and Velebit mountain did not exist at that time!

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So, one October afternoon, we went for a drive. Pag is a miracle from crossing the bridge and especially driving along this quite poor road to Crnike. The location got its name after Crnika oak (Evergreen oak) which are abundant in the nearby protected crnika forest. This is a typical oak of the Mediterranean region of Croatia but very few true forests are left to this day.

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Crnike is not the easiest beach to reach and it consists of several smaller beaches. The coastline is steep but there are several carved trails and steps. But every effort is rewarded by the spectacular shapes!

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The beach was first explored in the 1900s as the Austrian (Croatia was a part of Austro -Hungarian empire at the time) paleontologists and scientists discovered layers of coal that they thought may be worth exploiting. The layers were not abundant but the scientists discovered  lots of various fossils of snails, seashells, plants, leaves… There is enough evidence to prove that this part of Pag was part of a large lake and that there was once a big forest at this very location. The very location that is now quite barren like the rest of the island. According to the scientists, this part of Croatia looked pretty much like Florida today with lots of lush vegetation and marshes.

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The beach is quite pretty when there are no people. The rock formations and various layers are quite visible and, in many parts, spectacular.

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From the nearby hills, numerous streams of fresh water flow to the sea and 23609802498_ec01e5402c_k

I was more interested in real life than past.

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New researches are being conducted at this region and numerous evidences of past life are coming to the sunlight. The remains of ancient boar, elephants, rhinoceros, … are all present at this location and, in 2001, a Chinese paleontologist – as part of a research group – even found a tooth of a crocodile! There are also layers of volcanic ash proving that Adriatic was a region of volcanic activity.

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In general, coal remains of ancient forest can still be seen but, the entire location is truly fascinating. A very different beach destination!

 

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!