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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Old Road to Tulove Grede and over Velebit Mountain

This past spring we finally managed to take the famous old road Majstorska cesta leading from Dalmatia to Lika and passing beautiful Tulove grede rock formation.

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This is where the adventure begins

Tulove grede are one of the most scenic parts of Velebit mountain and, if you ever took the highway from the coast inland, it is the formation just above the Sv Rock Tunnel. But, to get there, one has to take the old road and that is possible just from outside Obrovac town.

The road is wide and, for some part, asphalted but the true adventure starts once you leave the paved road. The macadam part of the road is in very good shape and can be easily traveled with normal cars.

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Highway just before the Sv Rok tunnel. Tulove grede formation in the distance

This 41 km long road has been constructed in two phases between 1825 and 1832 to shorten the traveling time between the center of the Monarchy (Wiena) and, then regional capital of Dalmatia, Zadar. This very demanding task was trusted to Josip Kajetan Knežić of Petrinja who was a major in Austrian army and a self taught engineer. Knežić was a fascinating character and left a lasting mark on Croatian architecture and ingeneering with numerous roads, architectural monuments and irrigation works through the region.

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I have one bridge to visit and then will write more about him but if you have ever traveled the road from Senj inwards, you have witnessed another Knežić masterpiece and you definitely remember the chapel of Sv Mihovil in Majorija.

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Back on the road, we had a lovely ascent from the start of macadam and the beautiful views of Zadar hinterland and islands opened!

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Canyon of Zrmanja and Novigradsko more bay

The road is simply great and kept in great condition. It is also proclaimed a National heritage so someone will be taking care of it (I hope).

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Probably one of the most favorite stops on this road is the church of Sv. Franjo or (St Frances).

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The church is now locked and not sure who has the keys as I would really like to get inside some day. Just across the street are the remains of several buildings that served for guards and maintenance back while the road was still in use. Near the church are two monuments and one is dedicated to Francesco Farcasso who died here in 1851 battling 22 bandits. The newer one is from 1862 and dedicated to Ivan Zagorac who froze to death.

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The entire area is quite lovely and makes a great stop.

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But these are not the only monuments on this road…

This was also a very important communication during the Homeland war in the 90s. Many traces of past combats and still visible and parts of the area were under land mines till 2014. The saddest monument is to one of true heroes of our war.

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Velebit was one of the harshest and worst battlefields of our war in the 90s and tombstones of many heroes keep reminding us of their sacrifices.

And few minutes later, we reached the foothill of Tulove grede where there is plenty of space to park cars and start the ascent.

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The ascent is easy and the trails are nicely marked. This is a very popular destination for all nature lovers and, especially during weekends, there will be at least a dozen of people.

There are two trails leading to the peak of Tulove Grede. Both are fine and both take you around the HUGE hole in the ground that is, apparently, a cave that collapsed long ago.

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Apparently, there is a small water spring at the very bottom of the hole but one needs some 10 meters of rope to reach it.

Our friends took the route above the hole.

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Once we were at the peak, because of the kids, we did not go all the way to the top of the rocks but that is another cc 20 minutes along the marked trail and some climbing is required. The rock formation near the peak are fascinating!

 

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Bunker form the past war

And after a short break, we went downhill for a picnic lunch and to continue our adventure all the way to Lika.

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This area is known among birdwatchers as home to Alpine cough (Kavka in Croatian; Pyrrhocorax graculus) colony and we saw them flying above us.

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They are easily recognized for red legs and longish yellow beak.

On the road to Lika, we saw few motorcycles as well but no cyclists which was surprising as this is one of their favorite routes.

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The climb is easy for all generations.

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And then it was time to follow the road all the way to beautiful Lika region. As soon as we crossed the “border”, the scenery changed and we drove mostly through the forest.

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Once in Lika, you can either turn back to take the same road again or take the highway. Under the watching eye of a Common buzzard we left home.

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Majstorska cesta is one of great adventures in Croatia no matter how you want to cross it. It would even be fun walking it and camping overnight somewhere in the wilderness.

So many great adventures!