Le rat-trompette

The Réserve Nationale de Faune d’Orlu is magnificent; a single track runs up through the hanging beech woods and moss-covered boulders, where Camberwell beauties now hold territory in sunny glades, to a wide valley surrounded by rugged escarpments and snow-capped peaks. The route follows the small river that crashes down through the steep valley swollen by the melting snow. Up on the boulder-strewn plateau, it is better behaved and meanders across the centre of a wide grassland. Here families of marmots whistle to each other from their lookouts and shout high pitched warnings when a predator appears. Pyrenean chamois or Isard graze on small patches of grassland on the precipitous slopes high above but on the second visit there is also a large and docile herd on the plateau alongside the alpine choughs that pick at the turf with their curved bills. Black redstarts and water pipits are common and a single lammergeier circles up from the cliffs . A fox in a thick fur coat moves slowly in the thicker sward by the river presumably trying to hunt a marmot. The reserve holds important populations of larger mammals and birds such as capercaillie principally because hunting is banned.

Best of all, the remarkable and increasingly rare Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus) or le rattrompette glimpsed in a small tributary at the top end of the valley, where it first dived upside down for cover in a small stream showing its large white feet, before running across the ground with a rolling gait and flailing legs to avoid swimming a long meander; it was a most comical but wonderful view.

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