Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Alpine mammals

In an earlier post I rashly promised a future piece on Alpine mammals - I like to keep my promises but it feels like very old news so I'll keep it brief, for all our sakes. Fortunately it was a case of quality over quantity as there weren't too many species to be seen but Marmot, Ibex and Chamois were all pretty high on my list.
Alpine Ibex
Ibex are famously nimble around the precipitous slopes of the Alps - but seeing them up close it was clear this was no lightweight
I hadn't seen Ibex before this trip so was hopeful of changing all this when we headed up into the mountains at Col de la Colombiere, scene of two close encounters with Lammergeier. Our first trip drew a blank but on the second, as George and I headed up to a higher altitude, within half an hour a young Ibex startled us as it ran past at speed down a steep rock face.
This presumed male was a real unit - and blinged up to the eye-balls with four ear tags, three neck tags and what looked like a satellite tracking necklace!
An impressive set of antlers, one of the reasons this species was hunted almost to extinction
As we climbed higher we came across another group of three, then a second group of half a dozen. Most of these were tagged for what we assumed was a conservation monitoring scheme. Reading up on the status of the species on returning home, I discovered that, rather like the Lammergeier, Ibex are only present in the French Alps today thanks to a re-introduction scheme after being shot to local extinction in the 19th century.
Typical scree-slope habitat for the Ibex
An incredibly sure-footed animal
The Alpine Ibex has recovered from a low of just a few hundred to over 30,000 individuals with all those living today descended from a population in the Gran Paradiso National Park in the Italian Alps.
Wider angle view of the Ibex habitat
Mont Blanc from Col de la Colombiere
When a planned trip part-way up Mont Blanc via cable car was called off due to bad weather, we pawned all the non-essential organs of our first born to pay for the toll to enter the Mont Blanc tunnel. We emerged skint and blinking 7 miles later on the Italian side of the border to radically different architecture, substantially stronger coffee and even higher mountain passes than we had been visiting in France.
Alpine Marmot - this one appeared to be acting as sentry for the colony
Marmot bolting for its burrow
The road to the highest of these - Col du Petit Saint Bernard, at a wheeze-inducing 2,188m - featured in The Italian Job, and while the switch-backs were impressive, we felt quite safe thanks to the substantial barriers which the Italians seemed to have over-engineered by comparison to their French counter-parts.
On duty again
Native to the Alps, and reintroduced to the Pyrenees in the 1940s
The weather was better than it had been in rainy Chamonix but still overcast, but I headed up from the car park at the Col anyway to check our the alpine habitats nearby. Not far from the car it became clear that this was THE place to see Alpine Marmots - while we had heard them at other locations, we had yet to see them, but at this site there were good numbers, several of which allowed for a close approach.
Marmot fat is coveted as it is said to cure rheumatism when rubbed on the skin. Eugh.
Adult Marmot with youngster

2 comments:

  1. Peter when are you off to Orkney to take pics of the Sea Eagles?
    Bill

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  2. No plans for Orkney Bill - but going to Shetland at end of this month. Saw one there last year!

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