As summer starts to fade and autumn slowly appears, there are so many things to appreciate in the wilds of Abruzzo. The dramatic annual deer mating rut is one of them.

September is one of my favourite months of the year. To be honest, I always love the changing of the seasons at any point of the year — nature’s way of marking time — but autumn always brings my favourite change. Summer draws to a close and flows seamlessly into autumn time. The days may still be warm and sunny, but as the nights draw in and the shortening days bring colder weather, the mornings and evenings have a cool freshness that bring relief from the intense heat of summer. The ushering in of autumn evokes images in my mind of the weeks to come — chestnuts roasting on street corners, crunchy frosted grass underfoot, long walks through multicoloured leaves and hot chocolate by the fire after a day in the hills.

Red deer (Cervo nobile). Photo by Mauro Cironi

In September there is change afoot, you can smell it in the morning and evening air. It’s also a time where you can physically see and hear nature changing. The leaves put on beautiful shows of colour from golds and yellows through orange to bright and deep reds. The Morrone and Majella mountains become a vast, natural display of great vibrant swathes of colour. Birds start their winter migration, the Marsican bears start their preparations for hibernation, and something stirs in the animal kingdom. But one of the truly fascinating natural events to witness at this time of year has to be the deer rutting. The drama and noise of the rut, so named from the Latin verb rugire meaning to roar, are unforgettable natural wonders — a true call of the wild.

One of the most spectacular places to witness this natural phenomenon takes you on a stunning walk through mountain meadows and high elevation beech woodland, to a high point above the plains of Campo di Giove, with a backdrop of Guado di Coccia and the Majella mountain range.  Last autumn, in the company of our guide Marco Carafa, from the Majella National Park, we were lucky enough to spend a chilly, but beautiful evening listening to the mating calls of the red deer — Cervo nobile to use their Italian name — a cacophony of sound that echoed all around the mountain valley.

Red deer. Photo by Umberto Esposito – Wildlife Adventures

The trail

This route is suitable for anyone of average fitness, with 175m of ascent/descent across the full 7.5 km route. 

Driving from the village of Cansano on the western edge of the Majella National Park, take the SP 55 provincial road that heads towards Pescocostanzo. After approximately 6.5 km on the left-hand side of the road, at the point of a hair pin bend, is a small layby/track junction area (enough to park 2 to 3 cars end to end). There is also a small Majella Park information board and the standard Italian Alpine Club (CAI) red and white signs announcing the start of CAI Path 4, indicating route (sentiero) O1: 20 mins, Il Monte: 1 hr, Sentiero O3: 1 hr 30.

Follow the path along the track, which is easy enough and well-marked and find yourself at first crossing through mountain meadows, which are starting to turn back to their lush green after the scorching summer. Look out for the various signs of wildlife as you make this an all-round nature experience. We spotted wild boar tracks, bear fur on a tree trunk where a bear had been scratching its back (in true Baloo from the Jungle Book style) and wolf pellets full of hair amongst other signs of wildlife. The meadows lead you into the stunning beech woodland, typical of this area of the Apennines, where the light filtering softly through the trees and the multicoloured leaf floor beneath your feet set the scene, right out of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Female red deer. Photo by Mauro Cironi

Continue along the path for approximately 1.5 km, and reach a junction. Take a left turn here and keep following the path in a shallow descent through the beech woods. Exit the woodland into the brush and the sides of the path become edged with ferns. After approximately 2km, turn off the path up to slightly higher ground, just 50 or so metres from the path itself. From this higher vantage point the view opens up across the plain in Campo di Giove to the Majella mountains and Guado di Coccia.

At this point we settled in, waiting for dusk to come — and then it started. Slowly at first, but surely, the sounds of the deer mating calls began echoing across the valley floor all around us. From our viewpoint we could watch the dramatic deer rutting happening in the meadows just a short distance below us as the male deer vied for the attention of the females.

Two red deer stags fighting. Photo by Umberto
Esposito – Wildlife Adventures

Marco explained, “At this time of year and throughout late September and October the male deer will be competing for females. The stags will try and make themselves look bigger than their opponents and charge back and forth in an impressive display of strength and power to win a female mate.”

And there we stayed for an hour or so, just watching, listening and revelling in the wonder of nature. Then to finish our adventure, as night was falling, we donned our head torches and retraced our route back to the car, on a forest night walk that everybody loved.

Deer stag drinking. Photo by Mauro

Where to listen to deer mating calls

Apart from the itinerary described above, you can hear and, if you are lucky, watch deer rutting in the area around Goriano Valli and Beffi, Barrea, Valley Giumentina and Monte Rapina. You can join organised small group tours. Majambiente runs evening walks in mid-September-October.

Wildlife Adventures offer excellent two-day tours in the Parco Nazionale D’Abruzzo.

Mauro Cironi of Discover Abruzzo offers private and small group tours (he speaks some English) in Goriano Valli, Parco Sirente-Velino and Parco Nazionale D’Abruzzo. Contact him at 0039 3396931376.

By Michelle Reid

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