Wildlife & Walkin
Wildlife and walking
One of the great joys of staying in Orciatico is its countryside and wildlife. The house stands on the edge of thousands of hectares of forest, scrubland and high hills and is a great base for exploring this special part of Tuscany.
The first walk visitors to the house often do is to continue up the forest road to the old windmills and then to the ridge about 15 minutes beyond. From here there is a stupendous view of Volterra; the vista can be particularly breath taking in the early evening, when the golden stone seems to glow in the light of the setting sun.
The forest you walk through is typical of this part of Tuscany, being mainly open broad leaved woodland, with an abundance of flowers blooming pretty much throughout the year. We have found a wide range of flowers (although, we are by no means experts), including wild crocus and several species of orchid. There are also conifer trees and children often have the difficult choice of collecting huge pine cones, coloured rocks (red, blue or marble) or berries; although the latter do not usually make it back to the house.
Whilst walking up to the higher wind mill, a ruined castle (Rocca di Pietracassia) can be seen on the next ridge. This is a good objective for a longer walk. In addition to the great views of Volterra, you take in panoramas of Lajatico, the forest towards the Sterza valley and the higher hills around Castellina Marittima and towards the coast. If doing a circular route back from the “Rocca” you can also take in some ruined water mills.
Whilst walking the road up to the view of Volterra is relatively gentle and straightforward, walking in the wider forest land, e.g., to “Rocca” (particularly on the return) should be done with care. Maps (which can be bought in Volterra) should be used, good footwear and long trousers worn; due to the spiny plants, biting insects and very occasional snakes. One of the best investments for happy walking is also insect repellent, we would also recommend covering arms, legs and heads.
You should also bear in mind that the woods are used for shooting approximately 3 days a week, between November and March and that whilst you will be safe enough on the main tracks whenever you choose to go out, it is best to avoid days when shooting is taking place. Information about the precise dates and seasons are posted on trees on the main tracks through the forest.
Going further afield you can take in the Mofete; Orciatico’s number one natural curiosity; found below the village near the road to Lajatico. The Mofete (also known as Borboli), is a geothermal vent which emits a mixture of Carbon Monoxide and Sulphurous gases. The name Mofete is taken from the Roman goddess of sleep, as straying too close will induce long term sleep (take care!).
Whilst this may sound slightly uninviting, safe and very enjoyable walking is very viable, with little more than the sensible precautions you would take when walking in England. We however feel it is right to advise caution in what is likely to be unfamiliar terrain for most visitors. The effort is well worth it and handsomely repaid in terms of the wildlife, views and the overall experience of roaming and discovering this special corner of Tuscany.
The hills and woods are alive with wildlife, a fantastic variety can be seen. The mammals include, Wild Boar, Deer, Pine Marten, Fox, Red Squirrel, Hedgehog, Hare and Porcupine. The reptiles/amphibians: Frogs and Toads, Newts and Salamanders; Lizards, Geccos and Snakes (steer clear as these include Vipera; Adders).
The invertebrates include dragonflies and damselflies (check out the forest pool above the house for these), stick insects and preying mantis. We also see scorpions, these are small, brown and relatively docile; the tail however delivers a sting similar to a bee, so best to keep your distance .
The birds are very varied and include some well loved friends and neighbours. The poplar trees in the field next to the house in spring are home to garrulous groups of young Golden Orioles; Bee Eaters swoop and give their liquid calls across the field along with swallows martins and swifts. Collared doves nest in the Cypress Trees alongside the house and Sardinian Warblers call from our laurel hedges, whilst Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles wheel overhead.
The constant bird song and racket is maintained by groups of sparrows that flock around the house and across the lower bushes and trees in the field and the magpies and jays that jump noisily around the trees. A full list is given below of the birds seen in and around the village. For those interested in this aspect of the area, the “Fauna Toscana” publication (amongst the books upstairs) is well worth reading. We have annotated the book with English names wherever we can, to help identification.
For those interested in visiting wildlife reserves, Italy’s very first and most historic WWF reserve can be found on the coast at Bolgheri. Visits to the reserve “Oasi di Bolgheri” are by appointment only; arrangements can be made by contacting the WWF in Piombino either by telephone or fax at (0565) 22.43.61, or by e-mail at email@example.com . The Oasi are open from October 15th to April 15th, on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month.
A more relaxed opening regime exists at the another wetland reserve Massaciuccoli, where a nature reserve is found right next to the site of the Puccini museum and festival at Lago di Torre and the beaches of Viareggio.
|English name||Italian name||Where we’ve found them|
|Little Grebe||Tuffetto||La Sterza|
|Great Crested Grebe||La Sterza|
|Little Egret||Lake below Agnano on way to Volterra|
|Short Toed Eagle||Biancone||House, widespread|
|Red Kite||Nibbio||House, widespread|
|Black Kite||Nibbio||House, widespread|
|Peregrine Falcon||Over Orciatico|
|Hobby||Road to Laiatico|
|Moorhen||Gallinella d’acqua||La Sterza|
|Rock/Feral Dove||Piccione||House, widespread|
|Wood pigeon||Colombaccio||House, widespread|
|Turtle Dove||House, widespread|
|Collared Dove||House, widespread|
|Little Owl||Ciretta||Lower land around village|
|Barn Owl||Barbagianni||Lower land around village|
|Bee-eater||Gruccione||House, river valleys|
|Green Woodpecker||Pichio verde||House|
|House Martin||Balestruccio||House, widespread|
|Sand Martin||River valleys|
|Meadow Pipit||Open fields|
|Woodchat Shrike||Averla capirossa||Road to Laiatico|
|Long tailed Tit||Codibugnolo||Woods|
|Tree Sparrow||Passero d’Italia||House|
|Corn Bunting||Open fields|