Out in the Wild. Wildlife Photography Stories from the Field

Last updated 27.06.2018MichaelMichael

“My biggest dream was to take a picture of a common buzzard approaching a branch,” says Fabio Hain, “I have been working one and a half years to get this shot.” Fabio’s dream came true. With his inspiring photographs, the young wildlife photographer aims at raising awareness and spark appreciation and awe of Tirol’s nature in people. A remarkable pastime for a 24-year old. Last year, I interviewed Fabio for a BlogTirol Post. This is where the idea of sharing Fabio’s passion for nature in a video was born. Filmmaker Harry Putz has joined the wildlife photographer on two days in winter and summer and created this wonderful film portrait:

Wildlife Photography: Fabio Hain, www.wildlife-tirol.at Filming: Harry Putz, www.freiluftdoku.com Filming Sites: Winter – Stubai Valley/Stubai Alps; Summer – Lake Achensee/Karwendel Mountain Range

Protecting Biodiversity

Nature photography has deepened Fabio’s appreciation of nature and local species. His photographs display the grace and brilliance of Tirol mountain landscapes and of the so-called “Big Five” of the Alps, ibexes, golden eagles, bearded vultures, chamois and marmots. Lucky ones can get the opportunity to spot these wild animals in their natural habitats on guided “Nature Watch” Walks or at Nature Photography Workshops.

1. The Alpine Ibex. Reintroduction of an Extinct Species.

Also known as the steinbock or bouquetin, the ibex is a species of wild goat that lives in steep, rough terrain above the snow line. By the beginning of the 19th century, the ibex was practically extinct, being hunted for its supposed mystical qualities. There even have been special ibex pharmacies. The wild goat remained only in Piedmont’s Aosta Valley in northern Italy. Ibexes were reintroduced to Tirol in the 1950s and recolonized. Over 5000 Alpine ibexes now live in the mountains of Tirol.

(Foto: Patrick Centurioni, Tirol Werbung)

Well known for their climbing abilities, ibexes can be found at elevations of up to 3,500 meters in the summer. (Photo Credit: Patrick Centurioni)

2. The Golden Eagle. A Large, Fast and Nimble Raptor with Perfect Vision.

Golden eagles have a wingspan of up to 2.3 meters and can see extremely well—their large eyes allow them to spot movement from a long distance: Soaring frequently in order to scan the environment for prey, golden eagles can detect a marmot from a distance of three kilometers. The species was first recorded in the Karwendel Range in the 16th century. With a total number of 21 breeding pairs, (14 of which are located in Tirol according to a survey carried out in 2009), the Karwendel Range has the largest breeding population in the European Alps. Like Alpine ibexes, golden eagles have experienced sharp population declines when hunting became widespread. Since 1925, golden eagles have a universal year-round close season in Tirol, helping their population to increase. Strong sanctions against wildlife crime serve as effective deterrents against illegal activity. A hunter in Ötztal Valley had to pay a Euro 980 penalty for shooting a golden eagle in 2012.

3. The Bearded Vulture. An Endangered Bird of Prey.

The bearded vulture is one of the most endangered species in Europe. A magnificent bird, which can boast a wingspan of almost three meters (2.9m), the bearded vulture was largely wiped out in the European Alps by the end of the 19th century. Believing that the vultures would attack lambs, the birds were hunted to the brink of extinction. This is, of course, disputable; actually, this is the only living bird species that specializes in feeding on marrow. Like other vultures, the bearded vulture is a scavenger, feeding mostly on the remains of dead animals. It usually disdains the actual meat, however, and lives on a diet that is typically 80% bone marrow. The bird has been locally reintroduced and is beginning to re-establish itself in protected areas. This reintroduction is in line with a biodiversity restoration policy led by the Alpine Zoo in Innsbruck since the 1970s. An international release project was started in 1986. Two male bearded vultures were released back into the wild in May 2016 in East Tirol as part of the Hohe Tauern National Park’s reintroduction program (pictured below). Today, about 200 bearded vultures live in the European Alps. An estimated three to four breeding pairs are believed to breed in Hohe Tauern National Park.

4. The Chamois. A Daredevil Gregarious Animal Defying Gravity.

Less rare than the wildlife listed above, the chamois is an agile and graceful animal, adapted to living in precipitous, rugged, rocky terrain. The small bovid is known for being really good climbers. They make scaling near vertical walls look like child’s play. Even more surprisingly, those madcap animals that take part in the gravity-defying climbs are always mothers and their young, with larger males nowhere to be seen. Female chamois and their young live in herds; adult males tend to live solitarily for most of the year. During the rut (between October and December), males engage in fierce battles for the attention of unmated females. The tuft of hair from the back of the neck, the “gamsbart” (chamois “beard”), is traditionally worn by hunters as a decoration on hats. Common causes of mortality are mite epidemics and avalanches in the winter.

Wenn ihr ein Rudel Gämsen seht, handelt es sich meist um Weibchen und Jungtiere. Erwachsene Gamsböcke sind Einzelgänger. (Foto: Reinhard Hölzl)

Only mothers and kids scale the slopes in herds, larger males stay away. (Photo Credit: Reinhard Hölzl)

5. The Alpine Marmot. Energy Saver and Master Builder.

The Alpine marmot has inhabited the European Alps continuously since the end of the last Ice Age. The marmot inhabits Alpine meadows and high-altitude pastures, typically above the tree zone. These furry rodents reach maturity in three years. They are notoriously shy and wary of intruders. One member of the marmot colony will usually stand watching for signs of danger, and if a predator or intruder is seen, will give a series of whistles, sending the entire colony running to the burrow for cover. Body mass changes drastically from season to season. Alpine marmots spend all spring and summer getting as fat as they can in preparation for winter. Before hibernation in the fall, the average weight of adult marmots is up to seven kilograms. As the summer begins to end, Alpine marmots will gather old stems and grass in their burrows in order to serve as bedding for their impending hibernation. Hibernation is remarkably efficient during the winter; marmots burn almost nothing, dropping energy expenditure by 90%. The hibernation process lowers their heart rate from 200 beats a minute to 20 beats a minute and uses up their stored fat supplies slowly. Marmots were previously hunted for meat, fur, and fat (which was used for cosmetics and medicine). While Alpine marmots are a listed species in Germany, hunting continues today in Austria and Switzerland. Predators of the Alpine marmot are golden eagles, foxes and lynxes. The Ötztal Alps probably have the largest indigenous marmot population in the Eastern Alps – so keep an eye out for marmots, which can often be seen here on a sunny day.

(Foto: Bernd Ritschel)

Burrows are continually expanded over several generations and can become quite complex, ranging from 10 to 70(!) meters in length, with large “living areas” and other dead end tunnels that are used as “toilets”. (Photo Credit: Bernd Ritschel)

Tirol’s Most Treasured Wilderness Areas are Home to a Diverse Range of Wildlife.

Visit Tirol’s nature parks and preserves if you want to discover the natural soul of the land. The real gems of this country, the nature parks are full to the brim with beautiful, natural scenery ready to explore, with peaks so jagged it seems they were carved yesterday, rushing glacial streams, majestic eagles soaring high above and curious marmots. They are a stronghold for Tirol’s wildlife, including the “Big Five” and chances you spot one of them are good. “Großer Ahornboden” was declared a nature preserve in 1927. One year later, major parts of Karwendel Mountain Range were established as nature preserve by statute. In 2009, 76 designated sites were cooperatively protected in Tirol, covering an area of roughly 3,119 square kilometers. About a fourth of Tirol’s territory is protected areas, which is almost the area of world famous Yosemite National Park in California, USA (3,081 square kilometers). Protecting the biodiversity found in Tirol’s family of nature parks, natural monuments and unique natural places is the most important task at Karwendel Alpine Park, Ötztal Nature Park, Kaunergrat Nature Park, Tiroler Lech Nature Park, Zillertal Alps Nature Park, Hohe Tauern National Park and at other designated sites throughout Tirol. They help to conserve Tirol’s best places well into the future and aim at conserving and enhancing their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage. They promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of these places through guided walks (e. g. Nature Watch Tours) and related activities. Learn more about Tirol’s nature preserves here.

Book Recommendation: Rudolf Hofer, Die Alpen – Einblicke in die Natur. 2009, Innsbruck University Press


When he is not working, Michael Gams is out exploring this beautiful country, hiking, mountain biking, freeriding and ski touring to the most beautiful spots in Tirol.

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