Mountains - Alps
Slovenia is a mountainous country with over 80% of its territory defined as ”upland”. Most of the northern part is dominated by the Alps, that reach their southeastern limit of distribution in Slovenia and are known as the Southeastern Limestone Alps. In Slovenia the Alps meet the Dinaric mountains that run south-eastwards right through the Balkans. There are three distinct alpine mountain ranges in the country: the Julian Alps in the northwest with the Kamnik-Savinja Alps and Karavanke in the north. The forested plateau of Pohorje in northeastern Slovenia is usually also considered part of the Alps, although its peaks only reach an altitude of around 1500 metres above sea level (a.sl.).
Most of the Julian Alps are protected as part of the Triglav National Park, covering an area of 880 km2. Mount Triglav, with its 2864 metres is Slovenia's highest mountain.
The Alps comprise a large variety of different habitats: conifer forests, rich mountain pastures, rocky screes, mountain ridges, vertical cliffs and scenic alpine valleys with waterfalls. Some of the most beautiful areas worth visiting include the Triglav valley lakes, Kriški podi, Krnsko jezero, the Komna plateau, Mangartsko sedlo (Mt. Mangart) and the the Kanin mountain range, Mt. Črna prst, Mt. Breginjski Stol and Logarska dolina. Most of the alpine world above the tree-line (the most interesting habitat) is usually only accessible on foot, by hiking the numerous mountain trails. A few high-altitude areas can be reached by car or cable car and the typical alpine wildlife can be enjoyed without too much physical effort. Access by road is possible in the late spring and summer on Mangartsko sedlo (Mt. Mangart), the Vršič pass and Breginjski Stol, while the Kanin mountain range, Mount Vogel, Mount Krvavec and Velika Planina have all-year-round cable car access.
In this chapter we will cover just the wildlife of the rocky and grassy world above the treeline, as forest wildlife of the mountains has already been dealt with in the chapter entitled “Dinaric & Alpine forests”.
Some of Slovenia’s most typical and sought-after bird species live in the rocky world above the treeline. Ptarmigan Lagopus muta is certainly one of the most interesting species, found on most rocky summits above 1600 m. Due to its excellent camouflage is usually a difficult bird to spot. Other birds linked to higher altitudes and rocky areas include Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis, Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris, Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus, Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta and Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros. Some vertical cliffs are home to small colonies of Alpine Swift Apus melba and the rare Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria. The latter can also breed on rock faces in the alpine valleys. Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris, Rock Bunting Emberiza cia and Raven Corvus corax are common breeders on mountain rocky cliffs.
Lower down, on grassy and rocky alpine pastures Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca can be found. This bird prefers the south-facing, sunny slopes of the mountains in the western part of the Julian Alps. Sharing the same habitat is the colourful Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis and, on certain grassy slopes some populations of Corncrake Crex crex are present. The rich mountain meadows are also home to the Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus, Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix and Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos. The latter usually breeds on cliffs but regularly hunts over open areas. Observations of Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus over mountain ridges in the Julian Alps are not rare, as these birds make daily movements from their colonies in the nearby Italian Alps. The belt of Larch Larix decidua and Mountain Pine Pinus mugo trees close to the tree-line is home to the Lesser Redpoll Carduelis cabaret.
Ptarmigan Lagopus muta
Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris
Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis (Photo: Mitja Denac)
Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca (Photo: Tomaž Velikonja)
In the Alps there are a few, but notable mammal species. The Alpine Ibex Capra ibex is found mostly in the Julian Alps, where it inhabits the rocky world of mountain ridges, summits and screes. Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra is widespread throughout most of Slovenia’s mountains and usually lives at lower altitudes than the previous species. Alpine Marmots Marmota marmota can be found in the open world above the treeline, where grassy pastures are interspersed with rocks. It is perhaps important to note that neither Marmots nor Ibexes are native to Slovenia as they became extinct at the end of the Ice Age and were only introduced to the Slovene Alps in the 20th century.
Other characteristic mountain mammals include the Mountain Hare Lepus timidus and the Snow Vole Microtus nivalis.
Alpine Ibex Capra ibex (Photo: Tomaž Velikonja)
Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra (Photo: Tomaž Velikonja)
Alpine Marmot Marmota marmota
There are several common reptile species living in the Alps, but here we will only mention the most interesting. Adder Vipera berus is certainly the commonest viper, followed by the Horn-nosed Viper Vipera ammodytes, typical of sunny rocky areas. On some mountains in the very west of Slovenia the rare Asp Vipera aspis can also be found. Other reptiles include: Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca, European Green Lizard Lacerta viridis, Viviparous Lizard Zootoca vivipara and Horvath’s Rock Lizard Iberolacerta horvathi (an endemic species found in the area between the Julian Alps and the Velebit mountains of Croatia).
Among the most notable amphibians we need to mention is the Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra, common in mountain forests but also above the treeline and the Alpine Newt Ichthyosaura alpestris, common in the ponds of alpine pastures and in some mountain lakes.
The Alps are also very rich in invertebrate fauna, with the butterflies being the most prominent feature. One of the most beautiful is the Apollo Parnassius apollo, now found only on some mountain grassy slopes in western Slovenia. Another characteristic species is the Lorkovič’s Brassy Ringlet Erebia calcaria, endemic of the Southeastern Limestone Alps in Slovenia and northeast Italy and discovered as recently as the 1950s. Other interesting species include Triglav’s Sooty Ringlet Erebia pluto triglavensis, Stygian Ringlet Erebia styx, Styrian Ringlet Erebia stirius, Asian Fritillary Euphydryas intermedia, the mountain form of Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia debilis, Shepherd’s Fritillary Boloria pales and Alpine Heath Coenonympha gardetta.
Apollo Parnassius apollo
Shepherd's Fritillary Boloria pales
Lorkovič's Brassy Ringlet Erebia calcaria
Styrian Ringlet Erebia stirius
From the botanical point of view the Slovenian Alps are truly amazing. Not only do they host a great variety of widespread Alpine species, but they are also home to many endemic and rare plants. In summer the grassy and rocky mountain meadows become a colorful carpet with tens of different species. Among the most typical alpine flowers in Slovenia worthy of mention are the Pink Cinquefoil Potentilla nitida, Edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum, Alpine Vanilla Orchid Nigritella rhellicani, Sternberg’s Pink Dianthus sternbergii, Traunfellner’s Buttercup Ranunculus traunfellneri, Yellow Mountain Saxifrage Saxifraga aizoides, Hairy Alpenrose Rhododendron hirsutum, Dwarf Alpenrose Rhodothamnus chamaecistus, Bear’s Ear Primula auricula, Wulfen’s Primrose Primula wulfeniana, Alpine Snowbell Soldanella alpina, Stemless Trumpet Gentian Gentiana clusii, Great Yellow Gentian Gentiana lutea, Carniolan Lily Lilium carniolicum, King of the Alps Eritrichum nanum, Alpine Toadflax Linaria alpina, Sieber’s Rampion Phyteuma sieberi, Alpine Thrift Armeria alpina.
Pink Cinquefoil Potentilla nitida
Alpine Toadflax Linaria alpina
Edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum
King of the Alps Eritrichum nanum
There are several plant species and subspecies that were first found and described in Slovenia, or local endemics, found nowhere else in the world. These include Zois’ Bellflower Campanula zoysii, Kamnik’s Vanilla Orchid Nigritella lithopolitanica, Zois’ Violet Viola zoysii, Short-haired Sandwort Moehringia villosa, Julian Poppy Papaver alpinum ssp. ernesti-mayeri, Petkovšek’s Poppy Papaver alpinum ssp. victoris, Rhaetian Poppy Papaver alpinum ssp. rhaeticum, Kerner’s Poppy Papaver alpinum ssp. kerneri, Froelich’s Gentian Gentiana froelichii, Triglav’s Gentian Gentiana terglouensis, Julian Columbine Aquilegia julia, Narrow-leaved Mokshood Aconitum angustifolium, Julian Lousewort Pedicularis elongata ssp. julica, Triglav Hawksbeard Crepis terglouensis, Saxifraga tenella, Saxifraga exarata ssp. carniolica, Saxifraga hohenwartii, Allium kermesinum, Julian Starthistle Centaurea haynaldii ssp. julica, Cerastium julicum, Julian Flax Linum julicum.
One of the rarest Alpine plants in Slovenia is certainly the Alpine Eryngo or Queen of the Alps Eryngium alpinum, found only on a few mountain slopes in the Julian Alps. Other rare species include Silvery Crane’s Bill Geranium argenteum, Giant Scabious Stemmacantha rhapontica, Tufted Horned Rampion or Devil's-claw Physoplexis comosa, Danube Gentian Gentiana pannonica, False Orchid Chamorchis alpina and Paederota bonarota.