I come,” to quote Alfred Tennyson, „from haunts of coot and hern” thanks to a recent and enchanting visit to the WWF Oasis of Bolgheri nature reserve. I now know that a coot is a little black duck, only one of nine different species of duck, herons and storks, that we saw through the slits in our wooden hideouts on the edge of the wetlands along the coast just ten minutes drive from Bolgheri. The mallards were easy to recognize from my childhood feeding ducks in the park, but I discovered that similar species are called shell ducks and pintails, while through the binoculars we also spotted the widgeon, the teal and the gadwall and, for only the second time in Bolgheri, the Red crested pochard with its shocking pink bill. Little Grebes or Tuffetti were diving underwater. Then there were Shovellers as well as Garganeys, known as „marzaiole” because they arrive from a region of Africa south of the Sahara in the month of March. Great White Herons paced majestically in the rushes where we also glimpsed a Night Heron with grey plumage biding its time until nightfall. Perched on the topmost branch of an ash tree a Cormorant was resting before resuming its flight to the Black Sea. Prior to the mating season these adult male bird’s head feathers turn white and this specimen looked not unlike an ornithological version of Franz Liszt.
Flights of thousands of migrating birds and wading ducks pause in their journey in the wetlands of Bolgheri, but many birds like snipe and the Greylag goose and lapwings winter here, as do several species of falcons such as the Marsh harrier we saw wheeling overhead. We also saw flights of the romantically named Cavalieri d’Italia, Italian chevaliers, while the first swallows were swooping overhead and the air was loud with birdsong, hooting, piping and cheeping, like the Chiff-chaff, a tiny bird weighing only seven grams. as well as its larger counterpart, the Willow Warbler while sottofondo we heard the whirring of the rospo smeraldino, the emerald toad.
For 200 years, no storks had nested in Maremma but since 2008 a pair of White Storks have come back every year to nest in the oasis and we saw them high up on their platform, the male alighting on the nest to bring his mate food.
All this is described far better in the website www.tenutasanguido.com by Paolo Politi, Director of the Oasis, who will be your very knowledgeable guide on the tour. He does not speak English or German but a polyglot guide can be provided on request. The website also gives coordinates and explains exactly where to meet, turning left at the bottom of the viale dei Cipressi and then right off the Aurelia down a dirt track where the dustbins are. Then the cars all leave together to pass through the gates which are operated by an electronic pass. You will drive down an avenue of umbrella pines through farmland where deer and roe deer are grazing and then park by the water tower and walk through a locked wooden gate into a magic watery world. In winter the pastures along the coast are flooded and a forest of ash trees and saplings grow in the water just as I imagine the everglades of Florida without the crocodiles. In April, yellow water lilies also flower among the trees which is why the 15th to the 20th of the month are among the best times to come. In Spring, too, the ducklings hatch and can be seen swimming behind their parents in the freshwater lakes surrounded by the brush and scrub and marittime pines typical of the Maremma in a landscape of extraordinary beauty.
This was once a waterfowl shoot belonging to the Marquis Mario Incisa whose flatbottomed boats would slide noiselessly through these forested marshes waiting for the pumping of ducks’ wings in flight or the whirring of the snipe. Mario Incisa is a legend not just because he invented Sassicaia and the Dormello Olgiata stables but because in 1959 he turned 180 acres of wetlands, surrounded by 1100 acres of forested swamp and pastures into the first Italian private nature reserve. In 1966 he was to found the Italian WWF.
Depending on the time of year there are many other species of bird to be seen as listed on the website, but one thing you are sure to see whenever you go: the daily flight of commuting seagulls on their way from the island of Elba to a rubbish tip somewhere near Collesalvetti. Meanwhile, I am still wondering what a hern is.
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