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.

The Sleepy Silba

Many wonderful islands are still “hidden” from the masses of sailing guests enjoying the central Dalmatian archipelago all the way to Dubrovnik. And that is absolutely fine. It is not like these islands don’t get anyone, but that is far from the crowded shores of Hvar, busy bays of Brac or the lines in front of Blue Cave of Biševo.

One of such, less visited pearls is definitely Silba. Beautiful island paradise North West of Zadar and just a short sailing distance from the southern shores of Lošinj.

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(image from TZ Silba web site)

Silba is an island where one can only think of peace and tranquility when mentioned. There are no cars on the island and there are only 290 inhabitants year round. Summer is, of course, more lively but that is a very short period.

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The main pier and ferry harbor

History of the island and its only settlement is quite simple as it was always owned by some of the local noble families from Zadar or Losinj with “independence” bought only in the 1852. The rise of captains and ship owners from Silba started all the way in the 1600s but Napoleon burned down the entire fleet in the early 1800s. The second rise of Silba merchant marine was in the mid 1800s with an impressive fleet of 98 sailing ships. Orebić and Lošinj are more famous as their fleets were larger but the same fate got them all as they did not see the advantages of steamers…

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Silba harbor in the 1970s

Another terrible disaster was the arrival of Phylloxera and the death of all of Silba’s vineyards. The vineyards were never replanted which is a pity as Silba was home to one very special type of vine that would ripe earlier than any other grape variety on the coast: as early as July.

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Typical view of Silba from turn of the century

Today, Silba is best known as an oasis of peace. I had a rare chance to visit this May and enjoyed immensely walking the silent streets, enjoying the genuine tranquility and calmness. Almost a meditation.

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Silba is also known for its best known monument – toreta.

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It was built by a local captain Marinić who built it so his loved one can watch for his ship when returning. In those days, one would sail for years so the young lady could not wait and married another man. When he returned, he realized the sad truth but he also saw a young daughter of his former love and waited for her to grow up and merry her. They lived a happy life and had nine children!

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Before forestation

Silba is also a popular stop for fishermen fishing in this part of the Adriatic for many centuries now.

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With tourism getting to all islands and parts of the coastline, Silba seems to be escaping the faith of southern islands and enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere even in the peak season.

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But spring is the best time to visit. Very different from anything one can see south of Šibenik, Silba should stay a secret!