Crkvice: Embraced by Nature
Aromatic fragrances of the Mediterranean wild herbs are in the air as we are rising up the fragile stony stairs of an old Austro-Hungarian cinema in abandoned village of Crkvice on Orjen mountain in Montenegro. It’s amazing how nature takes over after human activities cease. Birds and other animals dwell in magnificent stony ruins.
When I was working in Suriname I first heard of so called ‘secondary forest’. I remember my imagination soaring as I was observing how the jungle overgrew old cotton plantations.
Something similar happened here, on Orjen. Except that there are no annoying mosquitoes around and the area continues to be partially cultivated by some farmers that are still growing potatoes in tiny karst fields.
Blending history with pristine nature
Some 100 years ago, Crkvice, a vivid military settlement above Risan, has been established to protect and expand the Austro-Hungarian reign in the areas, predominantly ruled by the Turks. In its peak, Crkvice had up to 10,000 inhabitants, mainly families of Austro-Hungarian soldiers. They had all the luxury one could imagine: hotel, tennis court, bowling alley, football field with stands for 1,000 spectators, cinema, brothel, church, bakery, hospital, horse stalls, funicular to drag tree trunks from the woods etc. Altogether over 150 solid buildings were built in a relatively short period.
The most outstanding are the ruins of the old bakery which used to be the largest bakery in the Balkans and the second largest in Europe. It provided bread for whole of Boka Kotor bay. Records show that over 24 tons were produced daily, using automated baking system and electricity created in a very sophisticated generator.
Nowadays, only stony ruins speak of the magnificence of Crkvice. Wildlife expanded, original vegetation regenerated along with old fruit trees, providing abundant food for birds and other animals.
Wildlife- and bird-watching in Crkvice is something unique
Our fellow traveller, Rok Rozman, ornithologist, immediately recognized some characteristic birds for Orjen and later on, along the walk, also some quite rare species. The region of Orjen is known for the biggest precipitation in Europe with the peak of it ranging from autumn to spring. Despite all, the region is surprisingly dry due to the karst surface. Limestone here reaches one of the deepest layers in the world, permitting these huge amounts of rain and snow simply vanish down into crevasses, caves and abysses only to get back to the surface, or even under the sea, in springs 1,500 meters lower in the Boka Kotor bay. This phenomenon leads to unique conditions that create very rare habitats and when combined with the forest-cowered ruins of one of the biggest settlements of its kind, you get an experience like no other.
Wildlife is abundant and especially birds are to be noticed at every step. Nuthatches, tree creepers and tits accompanied us at every step; we spotted many Mediterranean weathers, rock buntings and even black woodpecker. The place is also known to be incredible site for observing birds of prey in the nesting season as well as in migration. We saw a sparrow hawk, but golden eagle and short-toed eagle are to be expected and seen easily for someone, spending more time in Crkvice. The potential for birdwatching is simply amazing.
Non-governmental organisation Center for Protection and Research of Birds of Montenegro is raising awareness about exceptional richness of bird species in the area and about protection of their habitat.
However, local hunters do not always respect hunting regulations and bullets can be noticed around. I trust that this will change in time with the increased awareness of local people and more and more nature lovers, visiting Boka Kotor bay, admiring its magnificent nature.
Crkvice is great for hiking as well. Though easily accessible by car – less than half an hour drive from Herceg Novi – the site is a very suitable starting point for several walking trails that lead to spectacular views and are getting very popular. Local mountaineering clubs Niskogorci and Subra are maintaining mountaineering trails on Orjen and do great job in promoting outdoor activities in the area.
I certainly don’t qualify for a professional birder. But birdwatching can be such fun! Especially, if not taken too seriously. Hours pass by listening to the sounds of nature, something that can rarely be experienced in our everyday lives. And as I had been trying my best to spot nuthatches and tree creepers, another joke from our Montenegrin guides came across. Days spent in laughter!
Upon my return home, I learned that these same enthusiasts from Niskogorci club introduced a new climbing route, called ‘nuthatch’ (brgljez), named after the only European bird that can climb head down. I just love this dedication and Montenegrin sense of humour!
Special thanks to Nativa Institute and Rok Rozman!