Tuesday, 12 August 2014

A day in a Tuscan valley

Early morning view from the terrace

I have been on holiday in the Chianti region of Tuscany - enjoying the hot weather and clear blue skies.
Eating good food was high on the agenda and we located great local dishes - obviously lots of fresh pasta, ewes milk Pecorino cheeses, Prosciutto, Salamis and such intensely tasting Tomatoes that they make UK ones seem totally unrelated!
I also dined on thick Wild Boar stew, delicate Truffle sauces and a delicious local speciality Tripe dish – which only I ordered!
This was all washed down with Chianti wines that were so locally produced, for most part as we drank them, we overlooked the very vineyards that produced them. During all this gluttony I did however still manage to keep half an eye on what the wildlife was up to!

I particularly noticed how the day offered up different species at certain times. I would start the day with a mug of coffee in hand, sitting out on the terrace that overlooks the wooded hillsides below. The bird life is at its most active at this time of the day, before the sun gains too much strength and sends most of them into hiding within the shade of the woods. Sounds carry spectacularly well in the completely still, cool morning air, so that I could clearly hear birds calling from way over on the other side of the valley.

The fluting call of Golden Oriole could be heard as it moved amongst the trees, with Blackcap and Sardinian warbler adding to the early morning’s gentle refrain, while calls from Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and overhead Swallows completed the chorus. Every now and then, the loud yaffling call of Green Woodpeckers would resound around the valleys as they flew through the trees to find a new spot to feed. Hooded Crows occasional flapped past in a lazy fashion, cawing as they went.

As the sun slowly rose into the sky and the day gathered heat, the background buzz of insect life would start in earnest and the birds would begin to fall silent. The first butterflies would now take to the wing, until most available flowers were covered in Swallowtails, Blues, Fritillaries, Skippers and Whites, not to mention Humming Bird Hawk moths and Bees. By this time of the morning with the sun now high in the sky, Cirl Buntings were the only birds that could be bothered to sing, their rather weak song repeated at intervals.

This year a local Bee-keeper has introduced hives into the valley and the Lavender flowers around the house were completely covered with honey bees. During the early afternoon each day, the Bee-eaters would fly up the valley and hang around the trees overlooking the hives, taking advantage of the new diner that had so thoughtfully been introduced for them.

Around 6pm every evening the local wild Boar population would start to stir from their daytime slumbers and sudden loud squeals and snorts would unexpectedly break the silence, as family squabbles broke out over some choice food item that had been found. Roe deer would also start to emerge from cover to feed amongst the clearings, emitting the occasional sharp bark to shatter the peace - a warning of some danger that may or may not be lurking close by.  

As the sun disappeared and dusk fell, the chirring call of the nightjar would drift up from the valley below, joining in with the cacophony of Crickets and Cicadas, creating an almost reggae like performance. Eventually as proper darkness fell, a Tawny Owl would hoot its call, only for another to answer from further up the valley.

You could set your Tuscan clock with a fair degree of accuracy by the sounds that emanate up from the wooded valley below.

I also noted that a nearby organic wine grower had planted roses at the end of alternate rows of vines and I was intrigued to know if it was just for a little bit of colour, or whether it had some other significance. On making some enquiries I discovered that they are planted as an early warning system for the onset of an attack of mildew. The roses are more vulnerable to mildew than the vines, allowing the grower to be prepared for action - Copper Sulphate can be used.

Does it work I asked? No, not really he replied with a smile, but they do look nice don’t they!              

How can you not eat well with local shops such as this...

and markets like this!

Roses and vines - a pretty mix - but that is about it!

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