Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina – July 2019

A family holiday took us to Croatia this summer for an albeit short sprint of a break spent between Split and Dubrovnik, but mainly of the latter. As the title suggests, we also made it to Bosnia & Herzegovina for a couple day-trips, though any kind of wildlife watching was restricted to one site. In summary, the 9 days proved pretty frustrating for wildlife but definitely had its moments. I can tell that this part of the world would rock in spring and autumn passage but high summer was, as expected, a little quiet.

That said, I did see around 12 new species of birds, a couple new species of reptiles and amphibians and a few new butterflies so left happy.

Visiting Split was mainly sightseeing so really didn’t see much on the way from Dubrovnik other than bee-eaters, the first of many black-eared wheatear, and red-rumped swallows. Swifts were in their thousands in Split itself, but didn’t identify any other than common. We tried to visit Biokovo National Park on two occasions. On one, we were a little late and the guy recommended we come back another time. So we did and arrived around 10 a.m. only to find that the park had the maximum number of cars in and wouldn’t open again until 3 pm that day. Really bummed.

Black eared wheatear

So instead, we headed into Bosnia &  Herzegovina to visit the Hutovo Blato Nature Reserve – a famous wetlands not too far from the border with Croatia. I was keen to visit this site anyway so one reserve’s loss is another’s gain. We got there around midday with the drive into the reserve giving us our first views of the trip of golden orioles and woodchat shrike. Once in, we decided to have lunch and wait for the next boat tour through the wetlands. A quick walk around the vicinity and we found some beautiful scarlet darters, scarce swallowtail and Italian wall lizards. We found a sign at one point showing an agile frog. Literally right below the sign, there it was, an agile frog. A very obliging little chap. Watching a couple boats come in at one point, two grass snakes appeared seemingly from nowhere and swam away from the vegetation in the shallower edges. One had very clear stripes on its back compared to ours back home.

Squacco heron

We eventually got on a boat ourselves, a no fuss affair with a man that said absolutely nothing the whole hour. Which was fine as we were here to see the wildlife. However, the boat doesn’t get you very close as it scares most things off way before you reach them. We did however see good views of squacco herons, kingfishers, bee eaters, golden orioles, little grebe and even one penduline tit. I was amazed at how few herons there were. No purple, grey, bitterns or egrets. The star of the show was definitely the pygmy cormorant, found at their western most in Bosnia. We saw plenty and managed to get quite close. A first for me.

Pygmy cormorant

We arrived at our Dubrovnik residence on the third day, a village just outside the main city, set in an arable landscape filled with olive and almond groves. Immediately a red-backed shrike made himself known at the top of a tree right opposite the villa. A good sign, I thought. An incredibly rare breeding bird back home, its ubiquity allowed me the luxury of almost ignoring them. But how could you completely ignore this fantastic bird. Turns out, this male had three young ones and a wife in tow.

Red backed shrike

I spent a good deal of time that first evening watching the trees in the distance, wondering what might land on them next. That evening alone I saw orioles, serin and a wryneck (one of my all time favourite birds) perch for pit stops. The biggest surprise came when a Spanish sparrow showed up. A new bird for me. This was going to be a good week.

Spanish sparrow

The rest of the stay around the apartment gave further views of wryneck, great views of Spanish sparrow and olive-tree, subalpine and orphean warbler.  Another surprise came one afternoon when, hearing the swallows start calling alarm, a levant sparrowhawk, with clear black tips to the wings, flew through after prey. Wonderful. Other birds included a woodchat shrike, red-rumped swallows, hawfinch, alpine swifts, hobby, jay, great spotted woodpecker and a distant cirl bunting. We were also lucky enough to hear an eagle owl hooting from the top of one of the mountain ridges and a brief vocal performance from a scops owl.

My other main site for quick trips out was Ronald Brown’s Pathway, a footpath running up a mountain behind Dubrovnik airport (thank you Ian Merrill, whose report helped no end ). I really wanted to catch a glimpse of rock partridge on my visits but, alas, I had no luck. Parking right at the top in the small village Vejl Do I walked down the mountain a couple mornings and this was largely unproductive other than a few magic moments. The best was coming around a corner only to flush a honey buzzard from its perch right in front of me. Another was seeing my first dalmatian wall lizard.

Dalmatian wall lizard

It was on one morning, when I decided to walk up the mountain slightly , that I found two of my target species: rock nuthatch and sombre tit. I was nearly jumping with joy finding these two. In the end I saw around 4 nuthatches. It was really early morning so light wasn’t great for photos by managed a few record shots. Other species up there included tons of black-eared wheatear, cirl bunting, ortolan bunting, golden orioles, hoopoe, red backed shrike, crested tit, subalpine warbler.

Rock nuthatch on Ronald Brown’s walkway

Other birds seen whilst driving included a booted eagle, great egret, little egret, grey heron and tons of yellow-legged gulls.

The swift colony in Dubrovnik was incredible with the three species, including pallid swifts, flying around in very close quarters. Worth a visit for that alone.

Butterflies were also recorded throughout the trip, listed below.

Overall, would have loved to have seen more reptiles, especially the glass lizard and a few more seemingly common species like black-headed bunting but for a 9 day family trip, I am happy with what we managed. Great country, great people and great potential – just not the middle of summer (for wildlife – everything else rocks in summer ;))


  1. Hooded crow
  2. Swallow
  3. Red rumped swallow
  4. House martin
  5. Sand martin
  6. Crag martin
  7. Common swift
  8. Pallid swift
  9. Alpine swift
  10. Rock dove
  11. Collared dove
  12. Turtle dove
  13. Starling
  14. Bee eater
  15. Hoopoe
  16. House sparrow
  17. Spanish sparrow
  18. Yellow legged gull
  19. Herring gull
  20. Black headed gull
  21. Mediterrenean gull
  22. Blackbird
  23. Song thrush
  24. Mistle thrush
  25. Kestrel
  26. Sparrowhawk
  27. Levant sparrowhawk
  28. Honey buzzard
  29. Booted eagle
  30. White wagtail
  31. Serin
  32. Red backed shrike
  33. Woodchat shrike
  34. Pygmy cormorant
  35. Cormarant
  36. Squacco heron
  37. Grey heron
  38. Little egret
  39. Great egret
  40. Kingfisher
  41. Black eared wheatear
  42. Cirl bunting
  43. Ortolan bunting
  44. Golden oriole
  45. Great reed warbler
  46. Great tit
  47. Blue tit
  48. Long tailed tit
  49. Crested tit
  50. Sombre tit
  51. Penduline tit
  52. Little grebe
  53. Great crested grebe
  54. Ferruginous Duck
  55. Moorhen
  56. Chaffinch
  57. Whitethroat
  58. Blackcap
  59. Wryneck
  60. Hobby
  61. Olivaceous warbler
  62. Melodious warbler
  63. Subalpine warbler
  64. Jay
  65. Blue rock thrush
  66. Rock nuthatch
  67. Eagle owl (heard only)
  68. Scops owl (heard only)
  69. Sardinian warbler
  70. Green woodpecker
  71. Great spotted woodpecker
  72. Hawfinch

Butterfly species

  1. Cleopatra
  2. Wood grayling
  3. Scarce swallowtail
  4. Swallowtail
  5. Spotted fritilary
  6. Southern White Admiral
  7. Painted lady
  8. Holly blue
  9. Southern festoon
  10. Dingy skipper
  11. Speckled wood
  12. Gatekeeper
  13. Wall brown
  14. Brimstone
  15. Large white
  16. Bergers clouded yellow


  1. Common frog
  2. Common toad
  3. Edible  frog
  4. Agile frog
  5. Marsh frog


  1. Italian wall lizard
  2. Grass snake
  3. Dalmatian wall lizard
  4. Sharp shouted rock lizard
  5. Four lined snake (dead)









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