I have a dear friend who’s an amateur ornithologist. I know, it seems strange. It is not a common thing to be, but there are worse flaws. His name is Tomaso and I have known him for 30 years, since school (6th grade). He’s been blabbering about this place pefect for birdwatching in Friuli Venezia Giulia from some time now: how beautiful it is, how many birds you can see there, but the problem was always him, Mr. Weather. You see, these geese arrive every year from Siberia to winter in Italy, but normally they arrive when it is already very cold, the paths are frozen, the temperature is low (too low for my taste), so we always stood him up. But this year some geese arrived early, while the weather was still pleasant so we decided to take our chance and go.
We left from Padova in the morning and arrived to our first stopover at noon. It was the Gradina Visitor Centre, at the Nature Reserve of Doberdò and Pietrarossa lakes. It was simply magical, a rocky landscape full of coloured bushes and shrubs: light green, yellow, gold, orange, red. I filled my eyes with those beautiful Autumn colours and now I think I’m a little more ready for Winter. The Doberdò lake seemed a tiny river that day. It is in fact a karst lake, i.e. it is not fed by a river, but from an underground water source. The flow rate depends on the period and it variates sensibly during the year. We then stopped at the Visitor Centre for a good and cheap sandwich, and the local red cat stopped with us gladly (cause Tomaso gave him part of his prosciutto).
Birdwatching in Friuli Venezia Giulia
The second stopover was at the Isola della Cona, another nature reserve located near the Isonzo river mouth. I’d like to translate properly the Italian “mi raccomando!” but I can’t find anything that conveys the idea. A “please” seems not sufficient to me! Anyway, I wanted to warn you to drive slowly and cautiously, please!, because the road leading to the Visitor Centre has many big holes. Mi raccomando, follow my advice! You will find a first parking lot, but you have to go on, cause there’s another lot next to the Reserve entrance. Once parked, you have to go inside the house and pay 5€ each (adults). You can now start the visit.
There are some observation points here and there along the path, including a wooden lodge with a panoramic view over the pond. You can see: swans, white-fronted geese, greylag geese, wigeons, teals, mallards, northern shovelers, little grebes, cormorants, egrets, herons, harriers sparrowhawks, buzzards, kestrels, coots, snipes, kingfishers, woodpeckers, wrens, dunnocks, robins, blue jays, magpies, and many more. With a good telescope or good binoculars (Tomaso brought 3 binoculars and 1 telescope!!!) you can even see Trieste and Miramare Castle right in front of you, beyond the pond.
The most beautiful thing to me (with Tomaso’s dipleasure – cause he prefers the birds and wanted everybody to agree with him) was to see the white Camargue horses nibbling grass among the birds. These horse were brought here from France to keep the grass level down and to maintain the habitat for the birds. There’s also the possibility to join some horse-ridings along the reserve paths. It must be wonderful!
The the view became more and more marvellous as the sun started going down: the sky turned pink, the mountains on the background purple and pale blue, the birds were flying placidly over our heads and I felt so peaceful. From now on I’ll always remember this place hearing Maria singing
“Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings, these are a few of my favourite things”
Both the Visit Centres have a museum, a café or diner and toilets. For further information about birdwatching in Friuli Venezia Giulia, horse ridings, accomodations, opening hours and much more you can visit the websites: www.riservanaturalegradina.com/en and www.turismofvg.it