I’ve been to Italy several times but eating nearly always trumps mammal watching. But I have looked for a few things, most notably Crested Porcupines.
I visited Le Marche, in the central east of Italy, in September 2014 in search of Porcupines.
Eleanor and David Brown retired to the little town of Penna San Giovanni 21 years ago. The region is absolutely lovely, and the only blots on the landscape are the Crested Porcupines that frequently attack Eleanor’s garden. She’d posted on the mammalwatching forum several times asking how to stop them and so I got in touch. 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. Moreover they 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 p.m – 1.30 a.m. that night looking for Porcupines. I didn’t find any, but did see a heap of Fallow Deer, at least seven Red Foxes and a couple of Badgers. David was surprised I hadn’t seen any Boar, also common in the area, and they also see Pine Martens from time to time.
I stayed in the local pizzeria, which was super friendly and had comfortable rooms for just 30 euros a night including breakfast. This is now officially my favourite part of Italy. Thank you again Eleanor and David for welcoming me into your home and feeding me so well. If there was a Nobel prize for Pavlova then Eleanor would win it!
Tuscany is one of the world’s greatest places to eat and drink so it can be hard to find the motivation to go out looking for mammals instead of – or after – dinner. But searching for Crested Porcupines has been the exception.
I looked for them several times in Tuscany. Porcupines seem to be fairly common in Tuscany, even just outside of Florence, though it seems that the warmer months are a much better time to see them. They are also more common in the south.
In October 2011, for instance I spent two nights in rural Tuscany, near Certaldo, looking for Porcupines. I didn’t see any in late October although a Coypu – out in the middle of a ploughed field – caused a flutter of excitement.
While spotlighting along the back roads at night I saw a Wild Cat, a couple of Red Foxes, a Wild Boar and several Hares and Roe Deer.
In May 2013 I was back and looked again – without success – around Gubbio in central Tuscany.
In September 2014 I tried again. I put out a request for information and Charles Foley suggested 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 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 20:30. 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. Although I was tempted to keep spotlighting to get better views, I also had a 4 hour drive to Bologna airport 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.
Sicily: Bosco del Ficuzza
I spent a day in the Ficuzza Forest, near Corleone looking for wildlife during a work trip to Sicily in November 2004. I didn’t see any mammals during the day, but a couple of hours spotlighting found a Western Hedgehog, several Red Deer, a couple of Red Foxes and, my target, a Corsican Hare (just on the edge of the park at Ficuzza village).
Gran Paradiso NP, 2023: Leo Boon, 1 day and Alpine Ibex, Northern Chamois and Alpine Marmots. Great pictures.
Northern Italy, 2022: Ben Balmford’s notes on seeing Brown Bear, Chamois, Moufflon and Ibex in the Italian Alps.
Southern Italy & Northern Greece, 2021: Anita Ericson, 2 weeks & 8 species in Italy including Crested Porcupine and Cantabrian Black Squirrel.
Abruzzo National Park and the French Alps, 2020: Dominique Brugiere, 17 days & many species including Brown Bear, Wolf, Pine Marten and Savi’s Pine Vole.
Abruzzo National Park, 2o16: Manuel Baumgartner and Sophie Bétrisey, 3 days & 7 species including a Wolf and a Least Weasel.
Abruzzo National Park, 2015: Ralf Bürglin, 1 week & 8 species including Chamois and Beech Marten.
Tuscany, 2015: Mark Hows, 1 week & 15 species including Porcupine and Beech Marten.
Abruzzo, 2014: Mark Hows, a few days and 20+ species including Brown Bear, Grey Mongoose and Savi’s Pine Vole.
Italy and Croatia, 2014: Mike Richardson & Sarah Winch, 8 days & 14 species including Mediterranean Monk Seal, Beech Marten, Striped Field Mouse, Alpine Ibex and Chamois.
Italy and Switzerland, 2013: Coke Smith & 17 mammals including Stone Marten, Ibex and Italian Shrew.
Southern Italy, 2013: Vladimir Dinets, 2 weeks & 44 species (plus notes of signtings in 1993) including Wild Cats, Pine Martens and several Shrew and Dormice species.
Italy, 2011: Vladimir Dinets, 3 weeks & several (mainly smaller) mammals and bats.
France and Italy, 2008: Mark Hows, 8 days and a few mammals including feral Pallas’s and Finlyason’s Squirrels.
RFI Where to see Ibex in winter? June 2023
RFI Mammalwatching in the Dolomites, September 2022
RFI Mammalwatching in Abruzzo, June 2022
Grey Whale in Italy April 2021
RFI for some European species April 2013 with information on Ibex, Chamois and Moufflon.
RFI – Miniopeterus and Porcupines April 2013
RFI – Greece and Italy October 2012
RFI – mid Italy mammals February 2011
Fearless Ibex, Cingino Dam November 2010