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Discovering the natural reserves of the villages of Friuli Venezia Giulia

Wednesday 20 june 2018

Excursions, events, birdwatching and a brand new app to discover the nature reserves of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Discovering the natural reserves of the villages of Friuli Venezia Giulia

To coincide with the release of the June 2018 issue of the magazine, here is a gift for all nature lovers. Whether for families, couples or adventurous loners, we will delve into the discovery of the water lands and nature reserves of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Excursions on foot, by boat or by bike, plus unmissable events, birdwatching, unique landscapes and a brand new interactive app for your vacation in the wild! Let's set off now to discover the biodiversity that the territory of this region guards and offers to visitors.

The Quadris Oasis of Fagagna (Udine)

Il borgo di Fagagna

Feagne, el pais dai Mus, the town of the donkeys, in addition to renewing and remembering, every year, its ancient traditions with the Donkey Race, the Palio dei Borghi and the charming Casa Museo Cjase Cocèl, hosts a few kilometers from its historic center a stupendous naturalistic scenario, the Oasi dei Quadris, which since 1979 has been preserving and reconstituting a unique biotope, the wet meadows that open in large patches between trees and vegetation, soft and bright. Almost thirty years ago, in fact, work began to reintroduce two native species, the white stork and the hermit ibis, to the oasis. Currently, the oasis is home to more than 60 free-roaming white storks, from which 20 to 30 young are born each year, thanks to which the migratory flow has been restored. In fact, wild specimens, which had almost completely disappeared, are returning. The sedentary colony is created by keeping stork chicks in the aviary for three years; this causes them to lose their migratory instincts. Doing so results in pairs that breed regularly in and around the oasis. Young storks that have spent their first 3 years in the aviary are released in early March. All fledglings born outside the aviary are released to migrate to wintering grounds, subject to identification ringing. Once the fledglings reach adulthood they will return to their birthplace for nesting, thus creating a migratory flow to which wild specimens may join.

Le star dell'oasi dei Quadris

Even better was done with that funny relative of the stork that is the hermit ibis. The colony now numbers about 150 specimens, which coexist in the oasis with other highly endangered species such as, unique in Italy, the konjik horses, direct descendants of the tarpan, Eurasian equines that have completely disappeared. The hermit ibis imprinting project started in 2013 with the aim of forming a free-ranging resident colony at the Oasis as well as reintroducing this species now extinct in Europe and still kept almost exclusively in captivity. The project consists of taking an adequate number of individuals from the wild aviary as soon as they have reached 100g (i.e., no more than 7 days), feeding them and monitoring their weight, development and behavior throughout the growth period. It was thus found that most of the pairs that form remain faithful and keep the same nest. In addition, some eggs abandoned by not particularly "responsible" parents are excellently hatched (and the young regularly reared) by other pairs that can serve as foster parents.

Cavalli Konjik

That of the konjik horses, on the other hand, has been the most important wild horse reintroduction project experimented with in Italy. The original nucleus survives in Poland and in some nature reserves in the Netherlands, where these herbivores are used to limit excessive vegetation growth. Initially, the project unfortunately suffered a series of problems, and some of the reintroduced specimens died. The last three remaining individuals (a stallion, a pregnant female and a filly) were then transferred, in 2014, to the Quadris Oasis in Fagagna and placed in a large, specially equipped enclosure, where in the following years they reproduced, bringing the number to 6 specimens, three males and three females. Rocco and Belen are the parents, Ludmilla the oldest daughter who arrived with them, Marius was born in 2015, Marco in 2016 and Rosa in 2017. Oasi dei Quadris is a magnificent place to spend a beautiful day of relaxation, love of nature and carefree living. The storks and ibises and other feathered and nonfeathered friends are waiting for you!

The Canal Novo Valley and the Stella Mouths of Marano Lagunare (Udine)
Il borgo di Marano

Descending along the course of the Stella River, we catch a glimpse of the Millenaria tower of Marano Lagunare from afar, and before us is the enchanting scenery of the lagoon, with its reeds and casoni. For more than three centuries Venice ruled these lands, earning the respect and benevolence of the inhabitants, so much so that even today they boast of being the only village in Friuli that speaks Venetian. But this jewel of Venetian architecture, in addition to the historical one, retains another fundamental attraction, that with the sea.

Alzavole nella Valle Canal Novo

The Canal Novo Valley Nature Reserve, a short distance from the center of Marano, is a complex natural ecosystem of wetlands and waters with varying degrees of salinity. The Reserve covers a total area of 121 hectares, consisting of a former fishing valley, from which it takes its name, a lagoon area of a few hectares called Corniolo, and some arable land. An innovative visitor center, designed on the model of Anglo-Saxon Wetlands Centers, welcomes visitors. The reconstruction of some casoni, traditional lagoon architecture made of reed and wood, is an educational tool that allows the discovery of the lagoon environment, along with huts for fauna observation, living facilities and an aquarium. The most represented, abundant and conspicuous family is that of the anatidae, whose most easily observed species are: mallard, wild swan, gray (or wild) goose, shelduck, teal, mallard, pintail, garganey, shoveler and pochard. If you are lucky, you will also have a chance to observe the much rarer peach or tabby duck.

I casoni alle foci dello Stella

Then following the outline of the lagoon westward and toward Lignano Sabbiadoro is the Foci dello Stella Regional Nature Reserve, which cannot be reached by land. Water is the only way to reach the river delta and to delve into an exceptional microcosm, an extensive and lush reedbed intersected by a tortuous network of canals and waterways that flow gently toward the lagoon. The reedbeds that line the riverbed are home to some 80 pairs of purple heron, the marsh harrier (present with perhaps the largest colony nationwide) and various passerines, such as the basinet, saltcedar, reed warbler and reed warbler. In the lagoon pockets around the reed beds, large flocks of waterfowl such as coots and several species of ducks, such as gadwall, teal, mallard, shoveler, pochard, pochard and four-eyed duck aggregate in winter: a true paradise for birdwatchers. With a motorboat we finally enter as far as the extreme mouth. Before us is a village of huts made of reed and wood, sparsely furnished, with a hearth in the center. All the huts face west, the side most sheltered from the bora and tramontana winds. A wooden pier is the only mooring point to the village. The fantastic scenery that opens before our eyes is worthy of the most exhilarating adventures.

The Cavanata Valley and the mouth of the Isonzo River in Grado (Gorizia)

Il santuario di Barbana e Grado sullo sfondo

At the northern end of the same body of water as Marano, Grado welcomes us as a little Venice enclosed in a fistful of land, immersed in its splendid lagoon. Grado's thousand-year history begins in the calli of the Roman castrum, where the early Christian basilicas of Sant'Eufemia and Santa Maria delle Grazie stand, which feature splendid floor mosaics from the Byzantine era, as well as an interesting open-air Roman archaeological area in the heart of the historic center. Grado's lagoon covers 90 square kilometers and includes two nature reserves that are guardians of biodiversity and the Marian shrine of Barbana, located on a small island almost in the middle of this small enclosed sea, which is said to have been founded in 582 AD on the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to Apollo.

Fenicotteri in Val Cavanata

In the easternmost portion of the Grado Lagoon, the Cavanata Valley Nature Reserve, used in the past as a fishing valley, is now a birdwatching spot and a destination for all bicycle enthusiasts, who can get there via a bike path. Communicating with the open sea via adjustable locks is a dense network of canals and waterways, bordered by forests and clearings where many animal species take refuge. The Reserve has facilities to welcome visitors: the Visitor Center, the Casa Spina Educational Laboratory and several observatories. Inside the Visitor Center, which has been completely modernized, there are large spaces dedicated to education. Along the walls, covered with marsh reed in order to simulate a typical lagoon environment, are slits through which high-definition videos depicting the lives of many species of mammals and birds, particularly representative of the area, can be viewed. At the back of the room, a promotional video of the Nature Reserve and other educational videos on lagoon flora and fauna are shown. A small room also has been completely redesigned and now houses a reproduction of a typical lagoon casone, containing original furnishings such as fishing nets, decorations and furniture. In this room a high-definition video is projected on the activity of valliculture, a historical human activity practiced in the Nature Reserve area until its establishment in 1996. There are also two cameras, one aerial and one underwater, with which life in the Reserve can be observed live. The Reserve can be visited from the trails along its perimeter, which are always accessible. There is also a free bicycle and binocular rental service at the visitor center to encourage visitors to observe birdlife along the trails. Absolutely not to be missed are the events organized in the reserve this year. Check out the full calendar of events on the Grado page.

La foce dell'Isonzo

Continuing north past Fossalon di Grado, you reach the Foce dell'Isonzo Regional Nature Reserve, which includes freshwater marshes and extensive saltwater wetlands, reed beds, forests and grasslands. The reserve has been recognized as Italy's best area for birdwatching. Its heart, Cona Island, houses the Visitor Center and is one of the sites of greatest educational, scientific and naturalistic interest internationally. The integrity of the area is guaranteed by constant environmental interventions and the grazing of animals, such as camargue horses, that live freely. The mouth of the Soča River provides shelter for numerous species of migratory birds, from black-winged stilts to marsh harriers and oystercatchers, and protected animals such as the marsh tortoise, Lataste's frog, and, among the fish, the rare cobia sturgeon.

The Duino Crags Nature Reserve (Trieste)

Duino dal mare

Beyond the lagoon of Grado, suddenly the landscape changes completely. No longer wet lands but imposing, immaculate cliffs overlooking the sea, where Rainer Maria Rilke found inspiration to write his greatest work, the Duino Elegies. In the ancient heart of Duino one walks along the charming ulca, the narrow alley that from the church continues along the walls of the castle surrounded by picturesque houses. Passing the castle to its right inland, the Duino Cliffs Nature Reserve begins, within which runs the Rilke Trail.

Sulle falesie di Duino

The reserve covers 107 hectares, along a strip of land rich in traces that testify to the transition from the Middle European to the Mediterranean climate. The high degree of biodiversity gives rise to a landscape of rare beauty, characterized by white limestone crags overlooking the sea. The cliffs are formed, like the entire karst plateau behind them, from rocks born from the sedimentation of animal shells on the bottom of a shallow sea. Despite the fact that much of the surface of the reserve is covered by typical continental vegetation, the area placed under protection sees a transition from forest to Mediterranean scrub, consisting mainly of holm oaks and hornbeams. This is a suitable habitat for reptiles and the nesting of sedentary birds such as the herring gull, raven and peregrine falcon. In autumn and spring it is easy to observe various migratory or wintering species while the pine forest is home to finches, jays, woodpeckers, sparrow hawks and even some squirrel colonies. This summer, guided nature hikes will also be organized within the reserve. Participation is free, thanks to a grant from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, but reservations are required. Find out the full schedule of events on the Duino page.

Il sentiero Rilke lungo le falesie

The big news of the 2018 season and the spearhead of the tourism proposal of the Duino Aurisina area and the entire Friuli Venezia Giulia region, is the new app dedicated to the recognition of the flora of the reserve and offers an important additional opportunity for all those who love nature tourism. The application for mobile and tablet systems (Android and iOS) Interactive Flora of the Rilke Trail and Duino Crags is an IT tool that allows visitors to walk around the Reserve, and in particular on the Rilke Trail, and easily identify plants and flowers by simply holding a PDA or smartphone in their hand, downloading the free KeyToNature application. The guide is available with two interfaces on the web: one dichotomous, one multiple-choice. The guide, which includes 586 species and subspecies (including some of the woody plants most often grown in gardens) is currently available in Italian and English. After downloading the system, through a path of very simple questions, you will be able to get to know immediately in front of which flower or plant you are standing in front of. It will be enough to say what is the color and shape of the leaves, provide a few more indications, and with a click the exact species with all its characteristics will appear. The application is one of the initiatives promoted by the Municipal Administration to enhance the Duino Crags Reserve, made in collaboration with the Department of Life Sciences of the University of Trieste. 

Check out the project website now or download the KeyToNature app directly for iOS and Android to set out to discover the Duino Crags, in the footsteps of the great poet Rilke.

All that is left to do is to plan your trip and prepare everything you need to embark on this incredible adventure, discovering the nature reserves of Friuli Venezia Giulia. So arm yourself with comfortable shoes and clothes, camera (or smartphone) and, if you want, a copy of Rilke's Elegie Duinesi, to gather all the suggestions and wonders of this rich territory.

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