From Greater Flamingos To An Italian Comacchio Picnic
Bob and I spent the morning strolling the fields and pastures of our hosts at Agriturismo Forzello before setting off on our search for the colony of Greater Flamingos. There were a couple of potential locations within Parco Veneto del Delta del Po National Park.
Having seen a few Greater Flamingos at a distance two evenings earlier, we were desperate to gain better views of these most beautiful birds.
Driving south within the Emilia-Romagna Region, we were headed to Valli di Comacchio, a series of contiguous brackish lagoons or fish basins just north of Ravenna.
With our GPS unit and a map in hand as well, we drove right to one recommended location, Stazione Bellocchio and found it locked up tight.
Not to be deterred, Bob and I continued to the community of Sant’Alberto on the southern side of one lagoon. A small local park was the perfect place to leave our car in order that we might walk to the nearby Reno River.
A simple car ferry stood waiting to transfer cyclists, pedestrians and cars across the river to a one-lane road that skirts the lagoons.
The Reno River is the tenth longest river in Italy of those that flow directly into the Adriatic Sea. It used to be a tributary of the Po before it was diverted to prevent massive flooding.
One euro later, and Bob and I were on the far shore. We hiked westward a few hundred feet until we were in sight of the flamingo colony.
The Flamingos were still too far away to suit us, and a dense thicket of bushes, blackberry vines and phragmites separated us from the shore of the lagoon.
Bob proceeded to try to work his way through the dense tangle.
I walked a little further along the trail and found a clear section where only dense phragmites stood in our way. I hailed Bob who ascended the steep embankment slightly the worse for wear.
It was still necessary to maul our way through a vast stand of phragmites which was not to our advantage when trying to approach birds. The brittle stalks were snapping and cracking as we tramped down some small vestige of a trail.
It was a little scary in there. Bob was ahead of me, and if I didn’t keep up, within seconds, the rushes closed back in making it impossible to see which way he had gone.
Once close to the lagoon, we found the shoreline to be a dense form of slippery clay that was like quicksand at the water’s edge.
Where the sun could reach the viscous clay, it was dried and cracked into spongy hexagonal shapes.
Bob and I got pretty close to the flamingos and thankfully they hadn’t been spooked by all the noise we had made.
Greater Flamingos are the largest of any species of flamingo, and it just so happens that one of the two largest breeding colonies on mainland Italy is at Valli di Comacchio.
Although we visited in September, outside of breeding season, it was still possible to see many Greater Flamingos because a good number of them reside year round.
The salt basins of Comacchio are recognized as a Site of Community Importance. The marshes are the winter home for a wide variety of bird species. Seen here is a Little Egret and a Pied Avocet.
Valli di Comacchio is part of the valley landscape of the Po River Delta, and it is only 2.5 kilometres from the Adriatic Sea at its closest point. At one time, the lagoons were filled with fresh water, but since the 16th century, it has gradually been replaced with sea water.
All around us there was bird activity. One only had to look to the sky to see flocks of Pied Avocets moving about.
As we made our way back to the ferry landing, a large group of cyclists came into view. This area is designated “Percorso ciclonaturalistico”, an area ideally suited to cycling. There are over 122 cycling routes of varying levels of difficulty and length.
We were getting famished, so it was time to return to our car and go in search of something to eat.
Across the way, the small ferry was already loading a car and a handful of passengers so we had a short wait.
The park near the ferry landing was inviting with ample shade, and at that point, we had no idea what lurked on the other side of the trees.
Scattered across the green lawn was an arrangement of tables and chairs, and a small farmer’s market, shaded by a cheerful yellow tent, was set up to cater to picnickers.
Featuring local preserves, wine and a whole host of other goodies, the provisions made it possible for us to participate in a traditional “scampagnata”, a picnic in the country.
Bob and I staked a claim on one of the tables so artfully dressed for the occasion with a chartreuse paper runner and matching napkins while a potted plant completed the setting. The table setting included a laurel wreath encircling a brown paper bag. Nestled inside were some olive-sized fruits called jujubes while another bag held a small basket of bread.
From one of the three ladies manning the tent, we purchased a rustic wooden box lined with fringed brown paper. It held a delectable assortment of homemade savoury treats.
A variety of flatbreads, slices of homemade sausage, bread with feta and arugula, homemade multigrain biscuits topped with feta and homemade preserves, a gorgeous cheese with homemade preserved sugar cane, fig preserves with fresh and creamy homemade cottage cheese and a plum rounded out the simple fare.
I was curious about the “jujubes” so using the internet to translate, a young woman said that the small oval fruits are called “giuggiole”. Roughly translated to English, Ziziphus jujuba, commonly called jujube, means red date or Indian date. It is a species of Ziziphus in the Buckthorn family, used primarily as a shade tree.
As Bob and I sat in the torrid sunshine savouring our delicacies, we couldn’t think of a more apt way to spend the lunch hour.
The ladies kept bringing additional treats to our table and seemed to take pleasure in the novelty of our enthusiasm.
Before we departed, the ladies offered us the little potted pepper plant and herb, but we declined since we would not be able to bring them home to Canada. It was a most marvelous morning.