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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European Green Lizard

The general opinion is that Europe has no exotic fauna nor exciting wildlife but that is only partially true. Wherever a true lover of nature looks, he or she can find exciting animals. In Mediterranean countries, besides sea life,  the coastal landscape hides several interesting animals and one of the most beautiful ones is definitely European green lizard (Lacerta viridis). There are three very similar species living in Croatia and all three are protected: Lacerta bilineata (Daudin, 1802), Lacerta trilineata (Bedriaga), 1886) and Lacerta viridis (Laurenti,1768)

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The local name is zelembać. This beautiful lizard is easily recognized and cannot be mistaken for a different lizard in this area as it looks almost fluorescent!  It is easy to differentiate Balkan green lizard and European green lizard – European green lizard has blue throats while the Balkan one has yellow. Biggest differences are noticeable when the animals are young as all the various colors and stripes are visible at that stage of their lives.

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Young Balkan green lizard

Zelembać is a large lizard that can grow up to 16 cm (cc 6,3 ”) but the tail can be twice as long! It is usually seen enjoying sunshine on rocks or lawns, or hiding in the bushes. Or running across the road. It is not a very shy lizard but it does usually stay hidden and will not allow one to approach it too close. Natural predators are birds of pray but also cats. Zelembać is very useful in the fields feeding on snails, bugs, small lizards but also mice.

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The females nest about 6 – 20 eggs in really humid and hot places and the lizards mature at the age of two. There can be up to 200 lizards living on one hectare!
The males are easily differentiated from females for the vivid blue color of their throats but they are also bigger and with bigger heads.

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Although not critically endangered, all three species are protected – the fine is 400 Euros for killing one. There is no real reason for doing so as this is a very useful animal in all habitats.

Hilltop Fortress of Orlić and true abandoned Croatia

Every year, before the holidays, my last post is on one of the forgotten and, for most people, completely lost hilltop fortresses. Not only that winter is the best period for exploring but it is also a time when most of us think of our past year, accomplishments, failures, desires and wishes. It feels natural to visit places where people no longer live. Places that sit abandoned for millenia.

One of those places is Orlić hilltop fortress (or Gradina how it is called locally). These sites are generally atributed to local Liburnian or, commonly known, Illyrian tribes that inhabited these regions before the Roman arrival but also mixed with all later settlers.

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Gradina Orlić is located just off the old road from Krupa village to Ervenik. Strange thing is that it was not mentioned in any of the numerous books and scripts I had a chance to read. That was a reason more to go to the actual place and see what it is all about.

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The road is mostly in a good shape until one reaches the path that goes to the foothill of the Orlić Hill. That path is for serious off-road vehicles and for those who don’t mind their cars getting scratched as it is a demanding and slow rocky goat path…

The landscape is rugged but fascinating. The very edge of Dalmatia offers a mixture rocky hillside and desert looking plane filled with small patches of woods and interesting stone walls so characteristic for the region.

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One can see the remains of a large family estate in the foothill called Macure.

The unusual stone walls usually just mark the fertile lands so the plants would not get eaten by goats. Now these shapes are just filled by oak trees and bushes… The hinterland of Zadar and Šibenik, as well as Split, are filled with these unusual shapes even reminding of ancient symbols or some mysterious civilization. With the way our progress and migration to the cities these will become mysterious and unknown “signs” quite soon.

The hilltop fortress is in a lovely position overlooking this impressive valley and having all control of the hillside in the back – towards modern day Knin.

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Orlić fortress on satelite image

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The climb is not difficult but it is somewhat demanding due to really rocky terrain. One can easily break a foot or leg in this landscape!

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The winter colors are mostly yellow and brown mixed with gray. It is a dramatic change from the lush greens of our spring and summer…

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The fallen oak

There is nothing much to see once on the top. The fortress – probably just a refuge, not even a settlement – is now just a pile of rocks.

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Both stone walls seen from below

But the place is perfect for listening to the winds of Velebit and enjoying great views. The place is perfect to enjoy solitude.

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Great view of hilltop fortress of Trebačnik in the distance
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Velebit in the distance

I try never to go back the same way so I continued towards Ervenik. Traces of past war visible at every step…

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True abandoned Croatia.

This part of the country will probably never be inhabited again. Just like former settlers abandoned Orlić fortress, past villagers left their stone villages after centuries living there just to look for better life somewhere else.

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I usually have at least one more person coming along as it is better to travel in these remote areas with someone who can call for help in case of a need. This time, no one was able to join me so I decided to go on my own. Sometimes, the urge is hard to resist.

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One of my goals is to travel every old road in the region. The journey continues!