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Wildlife adventure in northern italy 2019

Spring in the Alps is an exciting time for every wildlife photographer and naturalist. The changing landscape with remaining patches of snow and emerging flowers is the perfect scenery for a variety of Europe’s wonderful animal species.
I went to Northern Italy to submerge myself into the beauty of the Italian Alps.

Viper zigzag

The Walser’s Viper Vipera walser, a new viper species from the north‐western Italian Alps was one of the desired species to find. The Walser’s Viper looks very similar to the Common Viper Vipera berus that also occurs in the Netherlands. Genetically the Walser’s Viper is remarkably distinct from both Vipera berus and other vipers occurring in western Europe. The Walser’s Viper shows closer affinities to species occurring only in the Caucasus.
Another viper species I wanted to find was the Asp Viper Vipera aspis. This species of viper is more widely distributed through western Europe. Finding one would be my first of this species.  

Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)

Searching for vipers can take many hours without rewards. Walking on steep mountain slopes without succes is a true test for your morale. It is easy to say that the circumstances are not optimal. Excuses like the weather is too cold, too much wind, too early in the season or too late on the day can “justify” the urge to stop searching for vipers. The “what if thought” is what keeps me searching. When I think: “What if I look between those rocks and find a viper?” or “What if I search around the tree line and find a viper?” keeps me motivated. A viper can always be close.

Lifting your head to look around was surely comforting. The landscapes with snow on the peaks was absolutely breathtaking. On the second day our patience and determination paid off. Finding two Asp Vipers was a worthy reward.

Behind the camera

Often people tell me how lucky I am to find a certain animal species. Ofcourse I am lucky and priveledged to travel to amazing locations to find and photograph wildlife. The actual finding and photographing is more than just “luck”.

Searching is different than hiking a trail and accidentaly encountering wildlife. Searching usually takes a lot of hours, walking to all interesting microhabitats on the way and stop to photograph wildlife. It takes a lot of effort and being succesful is never guiranteed.

Zigzagging for vipers

Before searching a lot of research has been done at home. Before travelling I usually know where to find a certain species. It takes a lot of zigzagging as you can see on the GPS-map.

Breeding colours

It was still early in spring, but this male Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata) was already in breeding colours with a bright blue colour on his throat extending onto much of the head. 
We had encountered this stunning lizard basking on the road the day before. Another car from the the other direction had scared him away. On Tuesday again in the afternoon we saw this lizard basking on the exact same spot. Again he ran away, but climbed between some rocks and appeared on a much more photogenic spot.
Getting a photo of this species is usually very hard. The Western Green Lizard is very shy and skittish. Most of the time you will notice the lizard when they flee away from you.  

Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata)

snake in the streets

It is a romantic thought to think that wildlife lives exclusively in remote areas with no traces of human pressence. With a growing and expanding human populations places like that become very rare. More often animals share their habitats with humans. Some species are succesful in an area populated by humans.

This Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) was found on the streets of a small and very quiet village in northern Italy. It was the second Smooth Snake we found in the village, but it was the first that was still alive. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀

The snake was slithering on the streets probably hunting for Italian Wall Lizards (Podarcis siculus). The Italian Wall Lizards were abundant on the walls in and around the village. The lizards were everywhere and some were mating. The streets are probably the perfect hunting ground for the Smooth Snake.

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)

Grand Paradiso National Park

The Aosta Valley side of the Grand Paradiso National Park is another marvelous area located in the North of Italy. If you ever visit Northern Italy you should visit the Grand Paradiso National Park to see the abundant wildlife, magnificent landscapes and waterfalls like the Lillaz waterfalls. 
What particularly liked about the Lillaz waterfalls is the slowly disappearing snow next to the waterfall.

Mammals are abundant in the Gran Paradiso National Park. Species like the Alpine marmot Marmota marmota, Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra and Alpine ibex Capra ibex are commonly encountered in the Aosta Valley.

The Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra is a species of goat-antelope native to mountains in Europe. This mammal species was the most commonly encountered mammal in Gran Paradiso National Park. 
The Chamois usually use speed and stealthy evasion to escape predators and can run at 50 kilometers per hour and can jump 2 meter vertically into the air or over a distance of 6 meter.

Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) at full speed

In early May the weather can be very pleasant already, but winter has not fully disappeared. the mountain peaks are still white, and waterfalls are still covered with snow. Perfect ingredients for wildlife photographers.

Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) in front of a waterfall covered in snow

The Alpine ibex is species of wild goat that lives in the mountains of the European Alps. This is a sexually dimorphic species with larger males who carry larger, curved horns. 
This species took a little longer to find. Two hikers told us they saw a male ibex with the large horns. It didn’t take long before we found the ibex.

An adult male Alpine ibex (Capra ibex)

The perfect ibex photo would have been an adult male with large horns with the snowy mountains on the background. I was in the right position for the perfect photo. The male ibex made a move towards the perfect spot, but unfortunately he lied down behind a rock.

A younger male with smaller horns was more cooperative. It is the perfect photo I had in mind, but with the wrong ibex.

A young male Alpine ibex (Capra ibex)

Behind the camera

In 2019 I have photographed more mammals than amphibians and reptiles so far.

I think focussing on different subjects, using a different approach and using different techniques will make me a better allround wildlife photographer. I believe it will make me a better “amphibian and reptile photographer” as well. I might be able to add some of the skills or techniques to my repertoire.

Just repeating the same trick does not work for me. I have to try new things to stimulate my creativity.  

Photographing chamois

Expect more mammal and bird photographs from me. I will try to be an allround wildlife photographer, with a preference for amphibians and reptiles.

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Feel free to ask me for information when you are planning your own adventure. You can find more about my photographical approach and techniques in the blog posts about “How to photograph wild amphibians and reptiles safely and ethically“, “the gear I recommend” and “how to use flash for amphibian and reptile photography“.

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© 2019 Nature & Wildlife Photography by Ronald Zimmerman

Thema door Anders Norén