Storks visit Jelsa!

Published in Nature Watch

On September 17th 2017, two storks touched down in Jelsa.

Storks in Jelsa, September 2017. Storks in Jelsa, September 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Their arrival sparked a flurry of interest, also positive action to ensure that their stay would be safe and comfortable. They were first found wandering along the road leading to the local school, not the safest place to be. A kind man passing by on his moped persuaded them into a nearby piece of land, which is privately owned. It is used by many as an unofficial subsidiary to Jelsa's official car park, but at least in the evening there is little activity there.

Photo call for Jelsa's storks. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The next morning, Jelsa's eco-warriors swung into action. They contacted the 'Grifon' bird protection society in Rijeka, and received advice on appropriate food and treatment for the birds. They were told that it was likely that the birds had been deflected from their migratory path by the extreme bad weather, as hail stones the size of golf balls had fallen on Split on the day they came down. It was possible that one or both might be injured. They were certainly very shocked and disorientated, and visibly trembling at first.

Preening. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

They spent their first night on the roof of a house nearby, and then returned to the 'spare car park' in the morning. Fresh water was supplied in a bucket in the centre of the space, which they drank, and a supply of fish was organized, which they ate with relish. As the area is crossed by many of the children on their way to and from school, teacher Daniela Lučić read the children a special message explaining why the storks were there, and urging the children not to frighten them, but to watch and enjoy them from a distance.

Children were fascinated. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The storks were not nervous of humans. When Daniela's sister Debora Bunčuga, Eco Hvar's Secretary, approached them to place their food and water, they moved towards her with confidence and trust. Debora and her husband Luka prepared posters which were placed on barriers marking the area where the storks had settled.

The posters were also distributed around the town, to try to minimize the risk of people disturbing the birds unnecessarily.  The children were generally well behaved and respectful towards their unexpected guests. One boy made to throw a stone at them, but he was quickly sent away.

Stork threatened by careless van driver. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

While most drivers avoided driving through the central area containing the storks, one van driver insisted on driving past very close to them. As he went, he declared (very rudely) that they would / should move out of the way. They did, just in time, but one was very close to being run over.

Exploring the environment. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

So the day passed, with the storks looking increasingly at ease in their surroundings. They wandered around a little, disdainfully ignoring the (shameful) rubbish lining their territory. They seemed quite at ease with the numbers of visitors coming by to catch sight of them. They eyed their visitors without fear, and stood tall and proud.

Standing tall. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In the evening, they returned to their roof, a fine sight against the darkening sky. We hope they will gather strength to continue on their journey speedily, but, if not, there is a contingency plan to help them.

Back on their roof for the night. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

What happened next?

In the event, the storks were in no hurry to leave. They settled in happily to a cosy routine of fresh fish several times a day, interspersed with exploring Jelsa's further reaches, and posing for photographs. Far from being unnerved by the constant stream of admiring onlookers, they seemed to relish the attention.

Toddler introduced to Jelsa's famous visitors. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

They were glad to show off their balletic poses together with their admirable hygienic practices.

Contortionistic cleansing, 20th September 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

If anyone came by carrying shopping bags, both storks would move swiftly and gracefully forward in the hope of yet more culinary treats from their human well-wishers. However, the luxury of being served regular meals did not dampen their foraging instincts. They found a wonderful resource of insects when the rain fell and created large puddles on their previously arid terrain.

Walking on water, 21st September 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It seems that vehicle tyres provide a specially rich source of edible insects. The storks did a very thorough job of gleaning tasty morsels of tiny insects from the rubber crevices. Who needs poisonous insecticides when Nature provides such a beautiful and efficient alternative?

Insect feast from a lorry tyre, 22nd September 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono.

The local school's pupils were treated to a special learning experience, which they will be able to share with future generations. It is not the first time storks have landed in Jelsa on their migratory route south. One young woman told me that she had seen one or two at intervals during her childhood. They would stay for a couple of days, then fly onwards. Perhaps they were the forebears of these unexpected visitors? Perhaps they gave Jelsa a warm recommendation in the Storks' Travel Guide to Migration Routes?

School pupils welcome the storks in a special project. (Facebook post by Daniela Lučić)

Whenever the sun came out, the storks were a specially beautiful sight, perfectly captured by Jelsa's Deputy Mayor, Vlatka Buj.

Storks in Jelsa. (Facebook post by Vlatka Buj, 23rd September 2017)

After a week, the storks showed no signs of moving on, so contingency plans were made to ensure their continuing safety. Money was to be raised for their food supply, and the Hvar Rotary Club intended to make a special collection for the storks during their annual 'Bicklijada' (Cycling Festival) on September 30th. However, all of sudden on September 28th, the storks upped sticks and were gone. Maybe, just maybe, they saw that the insect spraying which took place around Jelsa during the night of September 27th was going to contaminate their supply of insect food? Whatever the reason, they headed south, where they opted for another stopover in Vela Luka on Korčula. They arrived in much better shape than when they landed shivering and trembling in Jelsa after battling a fierce storm. Their arrival pleased the Vela Lukans as much as it did the Jelsans. Will the hospitality on Korčula match that on Hvar for dedication? We hope so.

Storks in Vela Luka, reported in Slobodna Dalmacija, 29th September 2017

We are confident that all the Dalmatian islands visited by these discerning avian visitors will be as welcoming and enchanting to them as they are to the thousands of humans who spend their holdays here year after year. Just maybe, Jelsa will take top spot in the 2017 Stork Tourism Charts for the special efforts made by Daniela, Debora, Luka and their dedicated team of helpers who set these beautiful birds happilyand safely on their way to their summer quarters in the southern hemisphere.

© Vivian Grisogono 2017
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