During the last week it was the cold weather that challenged us, spending the nights in the unheated mountain refuge, Rifugio di Sella, at 2.588m altitude. The morning temperatures ranged from -11 to -18 degrees, so it was hard to leave the warm sleeping bag at daybreak. However, after starting up our paraffin-cooker and having our first cup of warm tea, life became much brighter.
During such cold periods the sky is normally blue and you can feel the warmth of the sun as soon as it rises over the mountains. My daily routine was to follow the sun into the valley and take pictures of the animals I met on my way down while the shadows were still long and blue.
However, during the last few nights we had 0,5m fresh snow and most of the chamois moved down to the forest or up to the steep cliff walls again. This made me decide not to follow them. The rutting season was coming to an end, which strengthened my decision. There was not much action anymore, although I could still see some neck-breaking stunts on the steep hillsides. I could also hear the grunt-like sounds of the males wandering and marking their territories.
As most of the females are over the mating period, many frustrated males just have their dream fantasies that can result in unintended ejaculation (see the picture, if it has not been censored…). In scientific language they call this behaviour ”penis display”, of which not many pictures exist in the world.
In contrast to the behaviour of the chamois, the Ibexes are just about to ”wake up”. Sometimes you can hear some “bangs” from the hillside as two rivalling males meet to compare their strength. The young males are especially ardent and practice a lot to bring their fighting technique to perfection. They rise on two feet, and meet their opponent head against head, again and again. After such a fight it is unbelievable that they are not suffering from constant headache…
At the same time, the old males are not wasting their strength unnecessarily, they use a lot of time on foraging, or just take it easy before the serious fights start. It is a wonderful sight to see the symbol of the Gran Paradiso National Park standing in a silhouette in front of the majestic mountains, surveying his empire.
After spending a month together with these animals, I feel privileged that I was given the opportunity to get all these unique experiences. I have been lucky with the weather too. I wished for a lot of snow, and I got more than enough. I have heard that this November there was more snow than during the last few decades in the National Park…
My stay in Italy has been a very positive experience. Therefore, I would like to say thank you to all the nice people I met, who showed me great hospitality. I am especially pleased that I got to know the local WWE photographer Stefano Unterthiner and his wife Stéphanie Francoise, who helped my work with useful information about the area and the local species. This completed my mission and ended with a memorable home-cooked dinner.
Also, I am grateful to Nikon Sweden for lending equipment for my mission. It was a dream to work with Nikon D3. It took both cold and humidity without problems.
And last but not least I would like to say thanks to my dear wife and fellow WWE-photographer, Orsolya, for her patience and support during the short but busy days around the refuge. We are both happy with the results of this trip and we look forward to coming back to Gran Paradiso.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.