Wildlife Holiday News

A High Day in the Abruzzo National Park by Sue Myers

Sue Myers travelled on our 'The Apennines: Italy's Abruzzo National Park' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Chamois, Europe by Porojnicu Stelian

Wildlife watching in Italy's Abruzzo National Park

Above the Alto Sangro valley, in the flower-filled meadows of the beautiful Valle di Rose, we pause in the sunshine to look down on the hilltop town of Civitella Alfedena, the brown and yellow mosaic of its clustered roofs complementing the opaque, turquoise water of Lago di Barrèa. Here, in the great amphitheatre of Monte Boccanera and the Passo Cavuto, we are entertained by the chirruping of black-helmeted, yellow-belted field crickets, who jealously guard their tiny burrows. Nearby, a percussion of bells locates the shepherds’ horses that graze peacefully amongst white Star of Bethlehem, yellow Trefoil, purple Basil Thyme, orange Euphorbia and the ephemeral Red Grass Vetchling. But we cannot stop for long.

Avoiding the diggings of Wild Boar, we resume our ‘naturalist’s pace’, single-file on the red and white blazed trail of the I1. As we walk, we chat and, steadily, we gain height, moving from shrub and Laburnum to dense, coppiced Beech woods. We step aside to give way to a party of Italians, intent on the high summits. ‘Ciao, buongiorno’. ‘Buongiorno!’, we echo. A good day. A chorus of cuckoos heralds the symphony of woodland birds; we hear the falsetto trills of Bonelli’s Warbler and the high-frequency piping of Firecrests, who flit above our heads. In the clearings, Early Purple Orchids beckon us to a photo shoot, while the unprepossessing appearance of Solenanthus apenninus belies its rarity value to those who are ‘ticking the list’. Carefully, we circumnavigate strategically placed droppings that indicate territories of Apennine Wolf and Red Fox, and rest for a while in the dappled shade, sitting on stones as cold and smooth as ice. We listen, we watch, we learn.

Approaching the edge of the woods, we come across the first snow of the walk, dirty brown in the hollows of the stream beds, and then we are released into the open sunlight of the high meadows. Such delight as we spot our first Alpine Squill with visiting bumblebee, our first tiny Yellow Whitlow-grass and our first Spring Crocus, its mauve, finely-veined petals and bright golden stamens contrasting with the flattened drab-brown of grass, recently covered and compacted by snow.

In the stage of the cirque, we eat our lunch of bread, local cheese, cured meats, fruit and olives, overseen by an Abruzzo Chamois, who stays seated in the sights of younger-leader Lee’s ’scope for the duration of the meal. Meanwhile, older-leader Andrew gently, quietly and patiently instructs us in the flora of the miniature rock gardens and tiny vertical limestone-pavements: the intricate Brittle Bladder-fern, the endemic Reddish Saxifrage with its finely-haired pink stems bowed in greeting, and the cobwebbed, showy Sempervivum. We admire the Morels, nestling in the grass, and the blue Viola, posing alongside Prostrate Juniper. Above all, we absorb the majesty of the peaks, still with their coats of white snow, the light-grey of the limestone scree slopes and the jagged rocks, outlined against the blue-grey sky.

The group is allowed time to explore and I make my way up a spur, towards the pass. In the remaining snow, the tracks of a Mountain Hare are clearly visible and, now high above the treeline, there are patches of the stunning Spring Gentian. A solitary Northern Wheatear, with his mask of Zorro, shadows me as I pick up the trail of the Italians whom we met earlier. In a flash of long-forgotten memory, I am nine years old, carefully treading in the footprints of my father who has modified his gait to match that of his young daughter. I reach out to touch the climbing rope and the cool steel of the ice pick, hanging from his old canvas rucksack. The mist swirls over the ridge and I shiver momentarily in the low cloud. No sound breaks the silence. I turn to look back towards distant Barrèa; the group is dispersed, some on the adjacent snow ridge, watching Chamois, some stooped to photograph, some deep in discussion and some merely pottering. I wave but no one sees me. I am alone, in the highest tiers of this magical place. It is truly a good day. It is Sunday, the second of June. It is my birthday.

Read more about our 'The Apennines: Italy's Abruzzo National Park' holiday.