Friday, 11 April 2008

Country Profile: Slovakia

Slovakia (Slovensko) is a Republic which joined the European Union in May 2004. The capital is Bratislava. The currency is the Koruna (SKK) the Slovak Crown. It is a small but long country stretching from its capital Bratislava on the Austrian border in the west to the Ukraine in the east. It is completely land-locked being bordered by Poland to the north, the Czech Republic to the west, Austria to the south-west, Hungary to the south and the Ukraine to the east. Slovakia is above all a mountainous country and a birding trip here should concentrate on upland and forest species. Indeed, some of the best forest birding in Europe is here. Many ranges are high, with vast forests and some places within them are distinctly wild with Lynx, Wolf and Brown Bear. Slovakia covers some 48,845 km² and is largely montane though there is a belt of lowlands in the south along the Danube and in the far east corner of the country. Not surprisingly there are some varied landscape as altitudes range from as low as 92m to 2655 m at the highest peak Gerlachovsky Stit in the High Tatras. Some upland landscapes, such as those in the Slovensky Raj, are stunning and very much picture-postcard stuff. There are impressive crags and gorges, sheer cliffs, steep forested ridges, stony scree, tarn-dotted boulder terrain, Alpine pastures and rushing stream valleys with rapids and waterfalls. In winter, these places are arguably even more impressive on the eye as they are blanketed in silent snow and waterfalls hang frozen in the air. Lower down, away from these rugged, higher elevations there are more bucolic landscapes with meadows, hay-fields and broadleaved woods dotted with quiet villages and old wooden churches. In the old-growth beech forests of the Vihorlatsk√© Vrchy and the Bukovsk√© vrchy trees lie and rot where they fall and the timber and rocks are covered in the green of lichen and moss. The rolling hills, stream valleys, gorges, juniper-dotted rocky plateaux and grassy meadow of karst regions like Slovensky kras are yet another picturesque landscape. Slovakia's importance to European bird populations mainly concerns its numerous hill and mountain ranges. Raptors are well represented with important populations of two threatened species, Red Kite and Eastern Imperial Eagle, a Lesser Spotted Eagle population of hundreds of pairs and some Saker. Corncrakes breed mainly in upland meadows and Great Bustards hang on in agricultural land in the Danube flood-plain. Some of Europe's rarest owls and woodpeckers inhabit Slovakia's vast forests in good numbers, especially when the size of the country is considered. Ural Owls breed in high numbers in good vole years, and a general increase and westward expansion of its range is apparent. Hazel Grouse are not uncommon in older forests. The Alpine habitat of the higher mountain ranges supports key populations of Golden Eagle and Wallcreeper

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