[April 2022] – It is The Wild Charm Factory’s vocation to focus on the rare species of fauna and flora: to celebrate their beauty, their resilience, and find out about the problems they face. In the Chartreuse Mountain Range (Massif de la Chartreuse) many have a remarkable history: from this territory they had disappeared, and to this beautiful corner of France they are now returning!
Rare species of the Chartreuse mountains… and some come-backs
The Chartreuse Forest Regional Park at the heart of the French Prealps is graced by a great diversity of natural habitats, although the forest is predominant… it is the reason for the important biodiversity found here. If through the ages this land has been geologically shaped by glaciers, recently most changes in habitat have of course been caused by the human presence. The consequent loss of many species has in some cases been corrected by the intervention of parks and forestry managers, as is the case for the species particularly sought after by hunters throughout the Alps: like the Chartreuse capercaillie (grand tétras de Chartreuse, Tetrao urogallus), a bird of the Galliformes family weighing up to 6 Kg, of which the last known individual was shot in 1860; or the chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), coming very close to extinction with a local population of only 250 in 1986, until a 10 year hunting ban and a repopulation plan saved the situation – there are now around 1500; or the red deer (Cervus elaphus, see photo by Thomas Capelli above) and the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), which were brought back starting from the 1950s.
Below: young Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) by Jérémie Rossetto
Eradication as an effect of hunting, particularly for the purpose of removing a danger to pastoralism and human settlements, is what has made the biggest European carnivores, the wolf, the lynx and the bear, disappear entirely by the turn of the 20th century. Two of these most iconic species are making a come-back here in Chartreuse, as has been the case for other regions of Europe where the bear has also returned, following their regulated protection but also the increase in wild ungulates populations, on which they prey: wolves (Canis lupus) have started moving back since the 1990s from across the nearby Italian Alps, recolonising the Chartreuse since 2004, and the lynx (Lynx lynx) has returned to the forests of eastern France via the Jura from Suisse. Its shy presence has been increasingly detected in the area since 1990…
(The comeback of the wolf and of the lynx will be the subject of future posts in this blog – stay tuned!)
A direct effect of the human impact on rivers has been the disappearance of the European otter (Lutra lutra), unseen for over a century in the Chartreuse and since the ‘70s in the wider south-eastern part of France, but it too is now making a sporadic return in parts of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region since 2009.
The luxuriant forest characterized by beech and pine trees, covering altitudes between 800 et 1400 m, reaches the edge of the rocky cliffs. It is in the most ancient parts of these forests, where the undergrowth has remained untouched, that the most typical of local birds thrive: here you will spot the Eurasian pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum, see photo by Jérémie Rossetto below) peeping out of a hollow trunk, classified as Vulnerable in the regional IUCN red list or you might come across the woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), a near threatened species, like the hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia), which needs plenty of berries to survive…
Endangered inhabitants of the higher cliffs
But it is on the weathered heights of the Chartreuse, amongst limestone rocky walls and spruce (epicea) and along ridges where mountain pines grow, that the most unique examples of birdlife are found. Some wintering here and only in transit from nearby higher mountains (like Belledonne), such as the white-winged snowfinch and the near threatened ptarmigan (Lagopus muta); others like the vulnerable golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), whose wing span can reach 2,3 m, constituting a very small resident population of probably 7 pairs. In the gorges, especially on the Savoy-facing side, lives the symbolic bird of the regional park, the Eurasian eagle owl (hibou grand-duc, Bubo bubo), with around 200 pairs in the whole of the Isere department.
The most difficult birds to spot as they tend to stay near steep rocky cliffs are the striking wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria, see watercolor portrait below by Silvana Olivo – available here), the peregrin falcon (Falco peregrinus) and the alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba), almost twice the size of the other swifts.
It is in the many open prairies and clear forests of these mountains though that the most endangered of local birds, and amongst the rarest in the Alps, is to be found: the Black grouse (tetras lyre, Lyrurus tetrix – see photo by Jérémie Rossetto below).(Watch this space for a dedicated update on these species, with our selected photographers’ special images). Whereas, in the vast hidden network of caves found in the Hauts de Chartreuse, hide many rare species of bats…
Find your guide:
A good time to see these animals is… throughout the whole year! But in winter it is better to turn, as much as possible, to specialized guides in order to avoid causing nuisance to the species during the most fragile season for their survival.
Find Chartreuse Tourisme accredited guides here
Find Parc de Chartreuse accredited guides here
Or ask the local headquarters of the LPO association (Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux)