Apulia for Nature Lovers

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Italians have a nasty habit of eating winged creatures, so birdwatchers rarely encounter more than sparrows, pigeons and swallows. There are a few exceptions, one being the spectacular Gargano Peninsula, where you'll find the lakes of Varano and Lesina. Located just east of Rodi Garganico, these nineteen-mile-long salt-water lakes are one of Italy's most important waterfowl sites. Large flocks of cormorants, shovelers, pochards, red-breasted mergansers and coots migrate here, along with Egyptian vultures, honey buzzards, red and black kites, short-toed eagles, peregrines, eagle owls, woodpeckers, Dartford warblers, lesser grey shrikes and the azure and turquoise roller.

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Inland, the 62,000-acre Foresta Umbra is inhabited by legions of animal species such as roe deer, wildcats, fox, wild boar, fallow deer, goshawks and eagle owls. There is also a profusion of wildflowers, best seen in the wilderness valleys around the tiny town of Pulsano, just north of Manfredonia. The forest has some marked trails: one, which leads from the forest's visitor center to its highest point at Monte Iacotenente, takes about five hours; another goes from highway 89 to Monte Sacro and takes about three hours. A third route, the path along the magnificent coast from Mergoli to Vignanotica, near the Baia delle Zagare, takes just over an hour.

Almost at the southern tip of Apulia are the lakes of Salapi and Pantano Grande, visited by up to 10,000 birds between April and October. The World Wildlife Fund has a reserve there, open to the public on Thursdays and Sundays from September to May (tel. 011-39-832-631-392).

For information and maps, contact the tourist office at Vieste (Corso V. Emanuele II, 1; tel. 011-39-884-78806) or the forest center at Casa Forestale, Via V. Emanuele 39, Foresta Umbra (tel. 011-39-884-91104). To learn lots more about nature in Italy, pick up the Sierra Club's Wild Italy, by Tim Jepson. It's an invaluable guide.


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