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Dinaric & Alpine forests

krokar primeval forest
larch in autumn

The central and southern part of Slovenia is dominated by Dinaric forests, named after the Dinaric mountains, a chain running from central Slovenia down through most of the Balkans as far as Albania, in a northwest-southeast direction. The Dinarides are not very high (around 800-1500 m) and most of the area is covered by forests. The predominant forest type is an association of Beech Fagus sylvatica, Silver Fir Abies alba and Norway Spruce Picea abies, known as Abieti-Fagetum Dinaricum. Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus is also a very common tree species. The most notable examples of Dinaric forests in Slovenia are found in the Snežnik and Javorniki mountain ranges, the forests in the Kočevje region and the Trnovo forest (Trnovski gozd). Remnants of primeval (virgin) forest are still to be found in Slovenia and some of the best examples are in the Dinaric forests (e.g. Kočevje and Snežnik forests).Alpine forests in Slovenia are quite similar to Dinaric forests, except they exibit a greater abundance of Norway Spruce Picea abies and Mountain Pine Pinus mugo. The upper treeline in the Alps is formed by Larches Larix decidua, a specie not found in the Dinarides.Dinaric and to a lesser extent also Alpine forests are home to Slovenia’s most famous and charismatic wild animal, the Brown Bear Ursus arctos. Although there are at least 700 wild bears in Slovenia, they have crepuscular habits and are not easy to observe. Even more difficult to see is the Wolf Canis lupus, with several active packs and a total of around 50 individuals in the country. The Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx, although present, is sadly close to extinction, with only a few individuals roaming the Dinaric forests. In the last few years Golden Jackals Canis aureus have colonised Slovenia from the Balkans and are becoming increasingly common in different forest and agricultural habitats. They tend to live in areas that are not occupied by their larger competitors - Wolves. Common forest mammals in Slovenia include Red Deer Cervus elaphus, Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, Wild Boar Sus scrofa, Fox Vulpes vulpes, Beech Marten Martes foina and Wildcat Felis silvestris.

Ursus arctos Slovenia

Brown Bear Ursus arctos 

IMG_2460 Canis lupus by Alberto Nevola s

Grey Wolf Canis lupus (Photo: Alberto Nevola)

lynx slovenia

Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx (Photo: Tomaž Velikonja)

red deer cervus elaphus slovenia

Red Deer Cervus elaphus

One of the rarest breeding birds in Slovenia is the White-backed Woodepcker Dendrocopos leucotos ssp. lilfordi, living in well-preserved, old beech stands. There are about 150 pairs in the whole of Slovenia, found mostly in Dinaric forests. Similarly, the Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva also inhabits old beech forest and is very rare in the Dinarides, but slightly commoner in the mountain forests of some Alpine valleys. A conifer-forest specialist is the Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, found in mountain areas above 800 meters, where Norway spruce and silver fir are abundant. It can be found in some parts of the Dinarides and in alpine forests alike. The commonest owl species in Dinaric forests is the Ural Owl Strix uralensis, which in Slovenia has one of the highest breeding densities in Europe. It favours beech and mixed forests with small clearings and open areas that it uses for hunting, frequently in daylight. Its favourite prey is the Edible Dormouse Glis glis, a common rodent species that in some years can have very high population densities, resulting in a good "owl year". Some Ural Owl populations in Slovenia have a high percentage of melanistic (dark) individual occurrence.

ural owl strix uralensis slovenia

Ural Owl Strix uralensis

three-toed woodpecker picoides tridactylus slovenia

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus

DSCN8384 Dendrocopos leucotos.JPG

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos 

red-breasted flycatcher ficedula parva slovenia

Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva

Other scarcer forest owls include the Tengmalm’s Owl Aegolius funereus and Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum, both mostly restricted to conifer stands above 1000 m. They are commoner in the Alps, although slightly scarcer in the Dinaric mountains. Similarly also the two forest grouse species: Hazel Grouse Bonasa bonasia and Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus have their strongholds in the Alps. The leks of Capercaillies are  still to be found in the Alpine region, while in the Dinaric forests the species is on the brink of extinction. Hazel Grouse is doing well in both regions as pastures at forest edges are being abandoned and becoming overgrown. Both species are extremely shy and very difficult to observe.

pygmy owl glaucidium passerinum slovenia

Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum

Tetrao urogallus Slovenia

Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus 

tengmalm's owl aegolius funereus slovenia

Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus (Photo: Jure Novak)

hazel grouse bonasa bonasia slovenia

Hazel Grouse Bonasa bonasia (Photo: Tomaž Velikonja)

It is also worthwhile mentioning some of the common birds found in Dinaric and Alpine forests, for example: Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus, Coal Tit Periparus ater, Willow Tit Poecile montanus, Treecreeper Certhia familiaris, Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus and Goldcrest Regulus regulus, Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus and Common Treecreeper Certhia familiaris. Nutcrackers Nucifraga caryocatactes are also widespread in mountain forests of Slovenia, but usually at low densities.Notable reptile species in mountain forests include the amazing Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra and the Adder Vipera berus.Dinaric and mountain forests are also home to some interesting insects, for example two attractive longhorn beetles: the rare Alpine Longhorn Beetle or Rosalia Longicorn Rosalia alpina and the far commoner "Beech Longhorn Beetle" Morimus funereus. Both primarily inhabit beech forests and lay their eggs on broken beech trees or rotten wood.

alpine salamander salamandra atra slovenia

Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra

Rosalia alpina Slovenia

Alpine Longhorn Beetle Rosalia alpina

adder vipera berus slovenia

Adder Vipera berus

beech longhorn beetle morimus funereus slovenia

"Beech Longhorn Beetle" Morimus funereus

Wildflowers on the forest floor are well-represented in early spring. The field layer of Dinaric and most Alpine forests is dominated by such common species as Hepatica Hepatica nobilis, Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa, Asarabacca Asarum europaeum, Alpine Squill Scilla bifolia, Wood Spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides, Christmas Rose Helleborus niger, Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, Coridalys cava, Drooping Bitter-cress Cardamine enneaphyllos, Herb Paris Paris quadrifolia and others. Very common in spring are also the flowers of the attractive Hacquetia epipactis, a species that was first described in Carniola (today’s Slovenia) and those of Blue-eyed Mary Omphalodes verna, typical for the Dinaric association Omphalodo-Fagetum. Another interesting and very characteristic plant is the the poisonous Henbane Bell Scopolia carniolica, named after J.A. Scopoli who worked as a botanist in this region and first collected this plant. It is typically found in central and parts of southern Slovenia, in beech Dinaric forests. A species with a similar distribution to that of Scopolia is the endemic Carniolan Primrose Primula carniolica, which grows only in Slovenia. Its habitats are moist rocky cliffs in forested areas of the Dinaric mountains. Interesting is the endemic hybrid between the Carniolan Primrose and the Bear's-ear Primula auricula, known as Idrija's Primrose Primula x venusta, growing only in the mountains around Idrija. Similarly also Hladnikia pastinacifolia is a strictly endemic species, only found in Trnovski gozd and nowhere else in the world. Some Dinaric forests in central Slovenia are home to Daphne blagayana, another species that was first discovered in Slovenia. Other interesting species found in forests and on mountains of the Dinaric region include Arabis scopoliana, Astrantia carniolica, Vicia oroboides, Edraianthus graminifolius, Genista holopetala, Scabiosa graminifolia, Scabiosa silenifolia, Astragalus carniolicus, Campanula justiniana and Heartleaf Oxeye Telekia speciosa.There are several orchid species found in Dinaric and Alpine forests in Slovenia. Some of the most interesting include Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii, various helleborines Epipactis sp., Coralroot Orchid Corallorhiza trifida, Pale-flowered Orchid Orchis pallens, Lesser Twayblade Listera cordata. The most majestic of them all is certainly Lady's-slipper Cypripedium calceolus, found predominantly in the Alpine region. Some more isolated populations are also found in forests of central and southern Slovenia. Finally there's also the quite misterious and rare Ghost Orchid Epipogium aphyllum that inhabits some conifer and mixed forests in northern, southern and eastern Slovenia.

omphalodes verna slovenia

Blue-eyed Mary Omphalodes verna

primula carniolica slovenia

Carniolan Primrose Primula carniolica

hacquetia epipactis slovenia

Hacquetia epipactis

henbane bell scopolia carniolica slovenia

Henbane Bell Scopolia carniolica

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