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Nature at its finest in the Austrian Tyrol

Nature at its finest in the Austrian Tyrol

THERE IS something refreshingly alive about walking in a steady drizzle, rain slowly dripping off the waterproof peak. In a way, it reveals the natural beauty of the landscape, where claggy, grey clouds lay heavy over the surrounding peaks, occasionally obliterating what would otherwise be a spectacular backdrop to this pristine environment.

2015-07-13 09.18.10I shield my camera from the wet as I make my way slowly from the roadside to the shallow River Isar, stepping over stones that carpet the riverbed and surrounds. The water, a pale indigo, is flowing clear towards the bend.

2015-07-13 09.08.45Dotted along the riverbank are small, staggered stone cairns, delicately balanced like a small army of pyramids.

2015-07-13 08.33.09The stones have a distinctive sheen, worn smooth over decades as the constant flow of water runs over their exposed backs.

2015-07-13 08.31.372015-07-13 08.31.31My guide Anton Heufelder, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the reserve, steps into the water and lifts a stone, to reveal a fly nymph on the underbelly, safely cocooned from the birds which patrol this stretch for pickings.

2015-07-13 09.38.50Here, in the Alpenpark Karwendal Nature Reserve, we slowly walk upstream. A short drive from the attractive resort of Seefeld, this is the Austrian Tyrol’s largest nature protection area, complete with waterfalls and narrow, steep-sided gorges, set amidst the craggy faces of the Karwendel mountains.

2015-07-13 09.14.43The reserve contains a unique wealth of flora and fauna that fully deserves to be both admired and protected. We scan the area for hidden treasures, and it is not long before we happen upon a scattering of wild orchid species (above), such as red helleborine, discreetly poking through the undergrowth, yet undeniably stunning in their shape and form, left to grow and multiply in abundance.

2015-07-13 09.12.41I ponder how many passing motorists are aware of how nature is so beautifully preserved beyond the hedgerows. I also marvel at how extraordinary it is that nature allows so many species of flora to survive in such close proximity to these barren gravel bars.

2015-07-13 09.07.44We are enclosed by pine forest, so typical of dry areas such as this. At first glance, one might think of them as featureless, yet they, too, shield a wealth of fauna, including chamois and ibex.

2015-07-13 09.05.26Golden eagles, ravens and alpine coughs have made their homes here, alongside other small bird species. We spot a pretty white-throated dipper – the only native songbird which can also dive – amongst a tangle of gravel banks, seeking food.

2015-07-13 09.10.28Prayer flags hung by visiting sherpas form a chain across the trees, another example of how peace reigns over this nature reserve.

2015-07-13 09.46.03Back along the road, we pass the occasional home, where at one property the occupant has been busy carving tools out of wood. And as our lunchtime approaches, the sun  begins to poke its way through the clouds, shining her light on this wonderful landscape.

2015-07-13 10.16.59Visitors can join a Nature Watch Tour on Wednesdays from the beginning of June to the end of September.

Visit www.karwendel.org

  • All images © Essential Journeys/Michael Cowton
  • FACTBOX

    Thomson Lakes & Mountains offers a week at the 5* Hotel Bergresort in Seefeld from £688 per person including half-board accommodation, flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and resort transfers.

    For more information on the Austrian Tirol visit www.visittirol.co.uk, and for Seefeld visit www.seefeld.com

About The Author

Mike Cowton

Michael Cowton, an outdoors writer, editor and photographer with a passion for nature-based travel and wildlife. He is a former editor of EcoTravel, Outdoor Pursuits, Camping, Lakeland Walker and Which Motorcaravan magazines, and national newspaper journalist.

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