De­spite its rep­u­ta­tion for hunt­ing, visi­tors to Italy dur­ing spring and sum­mer months can en­joy birds aplenty

Bird Watching (UK) - - Bird The World - WORDS: DAVID LINDO

ITALY IS NOT the first Euro­pean coun­try that you would think of when it comes to bird­ing, let alone ur­ban bird­ing. It has a ter­ri­ble rep­u­ta­tion for hunt­ing and, pre­vi­ously, I have all too of­ten come across the tell­tale signs of the wan­ton de­struc­tion of birds in the shape of spent car­tridges lit­ter­ing the coun­try­side. It is a sad fact that is never too far away, as I dis­cov­ered when I vis­ited the cities of Ravenna and Comacchio in the Emilia-ro­magna re­gion in the north-east­ern cor­ner of Italy. The re­gion is a pop­u­lar venue for hol­i­day­mak­ers dur­ing the sum­mer months, largely due to the miles of beaches lapped by the waves of the Adri­atic Sea. Sadly, dur­ing the au­tumn and win­ter, hunters stalk. Ravenna was the cap­i­tal city of the West­ern Ro­man Em­pire and is steeped in art and his­tory. Comacchio on the other hand, with its abun­dant bridges and canals, is a mini-venice that also has a rich his­tory. Both ur­ban ar­eas can pro­vide the vig­i­lant ob­server with Tree Spar­row, Black Red­start and I noted a Pere­grine silently drift­ing over the cen­tre of Comacchio. In­deed, Comacchio is also the venue for a well-at­tended bi­en­nial birdfair that cel­e­brates the Po Delta’s avian rich­ness. And it is the mag­i­cal Po Delta Na­tional Park that links the two lo­ca­tions. It is a wet­land ex­panse cov­er­ing 54,000 hectares, of which parts have been de­clared a Site of Com­mu­nity Im­por­tance and a Spe­cial Pro­tec­tion Area in Italy. Comacchio is ide­ally sit­u­ated on a la­goon – on the doorstep of the Po Delta; the coun­try’s big­gest wet­land and one of the largest in Europe. Italy’s long­est river, the Po, flows through the area, along with the River Adige, even­tu­ally drain­ing out into the Adri­atic Sea. The rivers bring in thou­sands of tons of nu­tri­en­trich silt to the es­tu­ary, that at­tracts mul­ti­tudes of fish that in turn bring in the birds. It used to cover a far larger ex­panse, but as ex­pected, Man has heav­ily in­flu­enced the land­scape with much of it be­ing re­claimed for farm­ing. De­spite this, the Po Delta still con­sists of coastal dunes, salt pans, de­cent marsh­land habi­tat such as the Comacchio and Ber­tuzzi Marshes, pine forests and other wooded ar­eas, some flooded, in­clud­ing Oasi di Punte Al­berete, which is near Ravenna. Some of the open wa­ter has been given over to out­door pur­suits, like boat­ing and fish­ing, but the area is still a com­plete hot­bed for birds. More than 300 species have oc­curred here and Ital­ian bird­ers from all over visit to marvel at the abun­dant birdlife. Aside from ex­plor­ing this great site by foot or by bike you can also join boat trips run­ning out of the Comacchio La­goons to get in and among the birds. Spring is the best time to check out the Po Delta as the area is an ideal mi­gra­tory stopover. A visit then should re­sult in hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of Greater Flamin­gos sift­ing the food rich silt. There are ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 flamin­gos present, rais­ing about 2,000 chicks per year. A ring­ing scheme is in ac­tion here, whereby at­tempts are made to ring ev­ery chick. The Po Delta is a great des­ti­na­tion to see a host of won­der­ful birds

Oys­ter­catcher ITAL­IAN BIRD­ING domon­abikeitaly / Alamy

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