Saturday 4 September 2010

The Italian Job!

26th August - 2nd September
Me and the Mrs have just returned from a week in Italy to try and find Bears as well as, dare I say, have a Cultural City Break - something we don't do very often, being so obsessed with mammals!
So we arrived in Rome and received our hire car. It was like something straight out of the Italian Job, though actually a Fiat, not a Mini, but certainly looked very similar!

It was then onto Abruzzo National Park, about 2.5 hrs drive and an area around the size of Dartmoor with a fairly reasonable chance of seeing European Brown Bear of the endemic subspecies, Marsican Brown Bear. The beauty of the Abruzzo NP, is that it seems Bears are actually fairly easy (as far as mammal watching goes!) to see and even better, you do not need to have to visit an expensive Bear Hide where animals are baited.

We knew it was not the easiest time of year to find Bears, as this is the Spring when bears are feeding in the roadside meadows. However, we timed our autumn visit with the fruiting of Rhamnus alpina berries (see photo below) which the bears travel to the tops of the mountains to feed on at dawn and dusk.

So, we had 4 full days to try and find bears
and we spent most of our time, trudging up to the mountain tops to a refuge area.

There had been a number of recent sightings at the Refuge with up to 6 Bears at a time showing well, easily visible with the naked eye! However, despite trudging up to the area on 3 consecutive evenings (allegedly the best time), we were faced with mist on 2 of these occasions and I guess we were just unlucky on the 3rd. The photo below, gives an idea of the viewing area.

As with most mammal watching, there is a need for relentless scanning (dawn and dusk) often to the point of total delerium and it did send us over the edge on occasions!

So, just to add a little bit more stress to our trip, we left it to our last night until we were successful! We decided to scan the mountains from an alternative (albeit more distant) viewing area that we had been trying regularly at dawn, but this time trying at dusk. The two corries at the top of the mountains (see below)were crammed full of berries, so we scanned, scanned and scanned some more, until the Mrs pulled one out of the bag. Despite the distance, it was great to watch this amazing animal pacing out from the forest edge, seeming almost pre-historic with its almost gorilla-like gait. To save face, I soon found a second nearer animal in the adjacent corrie which showed nicely in the evening sunshine, even allowing its diagnostic golden shoulder/nape markings to be seen.

Prepare yourself, for perhaps some of the worst ever video footage of 2 different Marsican Bears!

Whilst watching these 2 animals, a group of Italians turned up and soon began shouting at us,which we chose to ignore, until we realised that they were trying to tell us about a bear behind us only about 300M away on the opposite side of the road! Unfortunately, due to their over-excitement, the animal ran off, but the Mrs managed to grip me off through the other guy's scope, as I tried my best (not) to understand his Italian directions! It was a young bear and strange to be so low at this time of year?

Three bears obviously called for a proper Cream Tea Birding Celebration!

Our final 2 days were spent seeing some Rome and having a normal person's holiday - something we don't like to do too often! So below are a couple of pics of "me doing Culture" at the Colosseum and a couple of Romans we met. We also savoured the most expensive beers we had ever tasted 15 EUROS for 1Litre of Beer!!!


Not many in Italy at this time of year, I have to say! Very hard work.
I tried for
White-backed Woodpecker nearby, but bad time of year, despite using a bit of play-back.

More useful details to follow in due course with trip report on
We intend to return in the Spring for better views and hopefully Wolf, as there is also a good population in the park.

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