He was talking about marmots.
There are 15 species of marmot, but the one my father remembered from his youth in central Europe was Marmota marmota, the alpine marmot. For years my father and I searched for them during family holidays - I only once caught a fleeting glimpse from a cable-car of a lumbering brown dot on a hillside, quickly lost amid the loose rock.
Over the last week I was given a taste of marmot paradise: rich green meadows in the high Alps of Tyrol. On my trek through the mountains I was watched assiduously by several little marmots. They didn't whistle, just bumbled away then stood watching me from 20 metres off, before going back to nibbling the grass, lichen, roots and mosses in the glacier fed meadows below the peaks (apparently they also turn insectivorous when the mood suits).
|An Alpine marmot in the Italian Alps (apologies for the poor quality, I don't have a fancy camera!)|
Sadly, they haven't been doing well over the last century, with a combination of hunting, climate change (they are very temperature sensitive) and human disturbance having a real impact. However, if you are a quiet, respectful trekker, you may be lucky enough to see them on the high slopes.
On another peaceful day in the mountains, I ascended the steep slope of a peak above Merano. Near the top I looked up to see a deer bounding down the mountainside towards me. It adjusted it's descent to bypass the gawking Scot on the path, but stopped nearby to take a good look. I don't know who was more surprised?
|A roe or a red? Perhaps someone can identify which deer species this is for me?|
In my next Alpine blogs: insects that sting, creepy crawlies with an indecent numbers of legs, and plants full of air.