Trip Report: Crested Porcupines (Italy)
I was back in Italy in September for a week’s work in Turin and wanted to spend a weekend to try again to find a Porcupine. After asking around I decided to focus on two places. Penna San Giovanni in La Marche, and Maremma Regional Park in south west Tuscany.
Penna San Giovanni
Eleanor and David Brown retired to Penna San Giovanni 21 years ago. The region is absolutely lovely, and the only blots on the landscape are the porcupines that frequently attack Eleanor’s garden. She’d posted on the mammalwatching blog several times asking how to stop them and so I got in touch to say I had no idea on porcupine prevention but could I visit anyway to try to see them.
Three weeks later I was enjoying a fabulous – a really fabulous – dinner that Eleanor prepared in her beautiful house, deep in a valley next to Penna San Giovanni. They have a great story, taking early retirement 21 years ago and moving to Italy when Eleanor was in a wheelchair and neither she nor David spoke Italian. Eleanor is no longer in a wheelchair, and they’ve both become a part of the community – which seems blissfully well functioning – and enjoy a variety of wildlife on their doorstep including Porcupines. Just 2 days before I arrived they had returned to the garden to eat a favourite iris.
After reluctantly turning down a final slice of apple pie I drove around the back roads from 10.30 – 1.30 that night looking for Porcupines. I didn’t find any, but did see a heap of Fallow Deer, at least 7 Red Foxes and a couple of Badgers. David was surprised I hadn’t seen any Boar, also common in the area, and they see Pine Martens from time to time.
I stayed in the friendly local pizzeria, which has comfortable rooms for just 30 euros a night including breakfast. This is now officially my favourite part of Italy. And I want to thank again Eleanor and David for welcoming me into their home and for feeding me so well. If there was a Nobel prize for Pavlova then Eleanor would win it!
Next stop Maremma Regional Park. My last RFI on Porcupines prompted Charles Foley to suggest I speak to Paolo Tanta, who had contributed a Crested Porcupine picture – taken in Italy – to Charles’s excellent field guide on the larger mammals of Tanzania. Paolo in turn contacted Emilano Mori, a phd biology student in biology and expert in Porcupines, who suggested I try Maremma Regional Park, near Grossetto in southern Tuscany. They were, he said, quite common particularly the north of the park and away from pine trees.
I got there in the late afternoon and saw a couple of very tame Red Foxes on the road to the beach – the Strada del Mare – from just north of Alberese. That road looked like it had good Porcupine potential but it was a park road and shut at 2030. so I decided to focus on the area around Alberese and began spotlighting at 19.45, working the Strada Provincale Alberese that runs south of the town and borders the park, including the side roads off of it. I saw a lot of Fallow Deer, several Red Foxes, a couple of Brown Hares and a Western Hedgehog.
At 21.15 I saw a Crested Porcupine 70 metres off the road to the west in an olive grove exactly 500 metres south of the Sasso Rosso Agriturismo (I was pretty much at the 500m signpost when I saw the animal to my left, as I was travelling towards Alberese). It didn’t stick around for long and I didn’t even try to get a photo but I was very happy to have seen this species after trying several times before. Though I was tempted to keep spotlighting to get better views, I also had a 4 hour drive to Bologna airport and so sleep won the day.
Thank you to Paolo and Emiliano for their help as well as to everyone else who responded to several Porcupine RFIs over the years. I can stop being a pest now (at least on this species).