Exploring the High Tatras

 Mountain-biking in the Tatras – Too enthusiastic to take on the downhill part, we didn’t pay attention to the disappearing light, soon we were biking in an ever getting darker environment. A shadow was moving in the dark just about 100m in front of us. Our adrenaline level was rising and we focused hard to make out the contours of this creature. We whispered “Could it be another bear?”

After the great success in April, I returned to Slovakia. This time to explore more of the High Tatras, as some of these trails are only open in summer. Besides the High Tatras, I also explored Slovak Paradise National Park and looked for some specific mammals.

Exploring high Tatras: Chamois & marmots

One of my goals was to get to a higher elevation and search for the chamois and marmots.I got some hints from a friend, and off I went, without a lot of rest, as I wanted to spend as much time up the mountains with the animals. I got rewarded as soon as I got to the alpine zone. I spotted a group of 8 chamois, even with a little one. I took the necessary pictures and enjoyed their presence. After a while, I spotted some more, even closer to the path.  I also could hear some very high-pitched yells. This must be the alarm call of the marmots. Surrounded by animals, I was in my element.

When I reached the second group of chamois, I took a proper rest. I’ve counted about 20 chamois in that area, most of them were just chilling and lying down, others were grazing. None of them could be bothered with the tourists wandering on the trail. Some of the younger males started running around, preparing for the rutting season later in the year.

Suddenly I saw something else appearing close to the chamois. A marmot came cautiously looking out its burrow. I couldn’t believe I’ve missed them at first. I was too focused on the chamois. When I was looking around more carefully, I could see at least three marmots next to their burrows. One was even collecting and eating some plants on the meadow. It was great to see these creatures doing their day to day business as well. By now, almost all the people I took over on the walk uphill have passed me again, as I was just sitting and enjoying the alpine zone life.

On my way back, I explored another valley. I stopped for scanning once in a while. I could spot a couple smaller groups of chamois high up in the mountains, invisible to the normal human eye. Random people were looking strange at me and wondering where I was looking at.

One of the hikers, he must have been in his mid-50, was fascinated by my efforts of finding these animals as little dots far away. After I told him I was from Belgium he felt the need to explain me a bit about the history. Part of the High Tatras was a historical hunting ground for rich people, and it was even fenced. From stories, apparently, they had brought a lot of species there. This guy was even speaking about lions. But he made clear that’s not the case anymore… But in Tantraská Javorina, there is still a hunting lodge ‘Hohenlohe’, where a lot of the trophies are exhibited (but I didn’t visit).

Chamois – Rupicapra Ripicapra

The chamois can be mostly found in the alpine zone around Europe (including the European Alps, the Pyrenees, the Carpathians, the Tatra Mountains. The chamois is a small bovid with a shoulder height of around 80 cm with a weight of about 40 kg. This iconic species is recognisable by its white face with a dark mask around the eyes and small, curved horns.

There are several subspecies of Chamois, and the Tatra Chamois (R. r. tatrica) is one of them. It occurs in the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia and Poland.

Mountain biking for bears

Late August is berry season. Bears like berries. I like bears, so I like berries. We decided on a different approach this time: mountain biking! The valley provided good views of the alpine zone, and we could scan a lot of mountain slopes with our binoculars. So far without success. We met up with a friend who told us he’d seen a bear earlier that day. Our hopes were increasing rapidly, but not that much was happening. We saw two roe deer on the mountain slope, but no sign of a bear. We decided to continue and search for the next open spot on the road to scan more mountain slopes. Once again, we got lucky. There was a bear just browsing for berries on an old clear-cut, not that far from the road. The bear had no clue we were there. It could only think about eating berries and getting ready for winter. We couldn’t believe this was happening, there was a strong feeling of accomplishment, but did I know what was coming next?

It was already a success, but we decided if we had come that far, we could explore a bit more of the valley as well. We found another great spot with good views, but again not that much was happening at first. Suddenly I spotted a group of three red deer. They seemed in a hurry and were running up a slope higher up on the mountain hill. I couldn’t immediately figure out why the deer were running, so I told my friends my observation and told them to keep an eye on the slope. Jackpot! after some time, another bear came out of the forest where we picked up the red deer first. The bear was slowly moving and seemed like following the deer’s scent. This bear was much further away than the first one we saw, but another great sighting.

It was getting darker, so we started our way downhill. This was very funny, but it was getting dark fast. Not all of us had a head torch on, but the first group spotted something on the road. We could see the contours of another bear. This time a bit closer. I had eye contact through my binoculars. The bear just looked at us and continued walking on the road for a short moment of time where after it disappeared in the Slovakian forest.

What a great experience was this, the first two bear sightings were great as I like when I can observe animals without being noticed and actually observe their natural behaviour. The last one on the road created a bit more of an intense feeling. Although we were not in direct danger, it was a situation we had to handle with a bit more care. Wild animals are still wild animals, and we were in their environment, so it’s to us to adjust.

Siesels around Slovak Paradise

Siesels, European ground squirrel, European souslik, all one and the same species. These ground squirrels are found in Slovakia and were on my ‘to-spot-list’. They are sleeping most of the year, and they were about to go into hibernation. As they need a lot of extra energy to survive the winter, they should be very active getting all the food sources they needed. I know of a place close to Slovak Paradise, where I’ve seen burrow and some signs of activity. Packed with a book, my camera and my binoculars, I biked to this spot. I had a strategy: I was going to sit quietly for a long time and just wait… Seemed easy. So that’s the reason I brought a book with me. Soon after I sat down, I started to hear their noises once in a while, and it didn’t take me long to spot one. Although my first suspect I found with my binoculars turned out the be a group of partridges, false alarm. Scanning the meadow further, I spotted a siesel. It was standing up, on the look-out for any danger. Soon I started to see more on the look-out, and finally, I spotted one foraging and eating in the meadow. My siesel party got disrupted by a group of tourists passing by. But that didn’t take long, just a couple of minutes later, the siesels ware back into their day to day business. I even spotted one which was foraging near the road, which I could photograph quite good. Another great experience in the Slovak nature.

I hoped you enjoyed my stories from Slovakia. It was another great time on Slovakia. Learn more about Slovakia and check out some other blogs.

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