Alessio Ludovici talks to Federico Striglioni, Zoologist of the Gran Sasso & Monti della Laga National Park about life in the park in spring: which visitors cross which seas and desert to arrive there, which tree acts as the animals’ natural supermarket and what makes the park so unique!
The Collared Flycatcher crosses a sea and a desert to arrive at the Gran Sasso & Monte della Laga National Park, one is the Sahara, the other the Mediterranean”, explains Federico Striglioni, the park zoologist. They particularly like our beech woods which once covered more than half the continent. It is a bird that feeds on the worms that grow in old fallen trees that are rotting away naturally. Regretfully, these ‘Mother’ trees who should have the right to die in peace and sustain new life by becoming humus for the soil and by providing food for the birds rarely reach this stage outside the park, we chop them down first for firewood and furniture but luckily in the national parks, it’s different.
Unfortunately, the beech woods do not fare well with the increase in temperatures of our climate, they need cooler weather and are suffering at the hands of our climate emergency. The old beech woods are also the favourite habitat of the White-backed Woodpecker, it does not migrate, it’s hardy and stays here, all winter. They too feed on rotting trees, they particularly like old beech wood as it is softer and easier for them to puncture and drill the trunk”.
Our majestic beeches are the favourite supermarkets for many of the park’s animals. Trees in nature do not “bloom” every year, like domestic fruit trees, but every 4 or 5 years, and when in tandem, this acts as a party for the bear as it enables year-round grazing. This together with warmer winters are the reasons the park’s Marsican Bears do not hibernate, yes, there are also now bears in the Gran Sasso Park! They have only recently returned and we are certain there is one sub-adult male.
In March, the Short-toed Snake Eagle and Honey Buzzard also arrive in the park . It feeds on insects such as bees which are becoming less and less, while the Snake Eagle loves reptiles, which in one sense climate change benefits. Another ‘local’ bird that does not benefit from global warming is the Alpine Finch. They too, like the White-backed Woodpecker, do not migrate and stay for the winter, mainly because they live at very high altitudes and simply “have nowhere else suitable” explains Federico.
Among the migrants birds who arrive in this period are the cranes, there are hundreds, like those sighted a few days ago near the Fucino. They passing through, heading north. Their route is the same as the pochard ducks who spend the winter on Lago Campotosto and then travel up to the tops of the continent.
Gran Sasso Monti della Laga Park, some human activities also return in spring
In spring it is also the man on his transumanza guiding his flocks who begins to return to the park. Unlike many national parks, the Gran Sasso Monti della Laga Park was not a former hunting reserve for nobles. Instead, its meadows became pastures that linked man and nature through the bowels of survival and history and today seek new ways of co-existing. As the shepherds arrive for pasture with cattle and sheep, predators like wolves also return. In the case of loss of a livestock animal to a wolf, the shepherd is compensated. Another animal that takes care of cleaning the parks is the Griffon Vulture which can make a carcass disappear in less than 2 hours. They are the park’s commuters, they go back and forth from Sirente Velino and come to the Gran Sasso National Park to eat.
In spring the large ungulates of the park, the roe deer, wild boar, deer, and chamois reproduce. Tourists often mistake their bellows for the bear. Each species has its own strategy to ensure survival. The wild boar focuses on quantity, it does not care much for its offspring and the young become prey for wolves, only one in ten on average reaches adulthood.
The deer, on the contrary, have a completely opposite strategy, they don’t produce litters allowing l the mother to pays great attention to the growth of the young. After they are born, the fawns are frequently left on their own. If you bump into them in the woods, always leave them alone and don’t interfere, this is a process of nature and normal behaviour as the mother leaves them to find food, it’s a process of nature! Deer and chamois, one inhabitant of the forest, and the other of the mountain, are two important animals to Abruzzo. In the park they were extinct but we reintroduced them. The chamois is much more approachable than the deer, they are still very cautious and rightly so!
Spring is an ideal time to visit the park
It is difficult to recount everything that happens in The Gran Sasso & Monti della Laga Park during the spring, one of the most beautiful and richest in biodiversity in the world. The presence of very different habitats – more than 50 different certified ones – makes it almost unique and spring is an extraordinary time to enjoy it. The park is there and its itineraries, from which it is always better not to deviate, are ready. Cooperatives, villages and local authorities, and associations with their activities, from bird watching to trekking, are ready for when covid restrictions are eased
Read the article in Italian on the L’Aquila blog
For more information on the Gran Sasso & Monti della Laga Park visit their official website
Alessio Ludovici is a journalist from L’Aquila who works as an employee and a freelance. He loves his place but is open-minded to the world and likes to understand links between things and to linger on them.