Neglected Milan canal basin turns bird haven

Thu Jun 10, 2010 7:12am EDT
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By Danilo Masoni

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Birdwatchers ignoring thundering traffic peer into an abandoned canal basin that has blossomed into an unexpected wildlife refuge in one of Europe's least-green cities.

A moorhen, heedless of the racket from rush-hour cars, motorcycles and bars gearing up for evening partygoers, swims placidly in the basin's shallow water and then loses itself among a maze of reeds.

"Have you seen the jungle?" a passing female cyclist, hair flying, shouts at the handful of late-afternoon bird enthusiasts gazing into this haven in the heart of Milan.

Marking a rare respite for wildlife in Italy's industrial heartland, more than 60 species of birds -- over one-tenth of all species in Italy -- have been sighted at the Darsena basin by bird protection group LIPU and the World Wildlife Fund.

LIPU volunteer Marco Fioratti said his most important sighting has been the mustached warbler.

"It's a 10-cm (four-inch) thingie I first saw in Azerbaijan, thousands of kilometers (miles) away," said Fioratti, who has visited the canal site every morning for the last two years to record every bird he saw.

"Then I saw it in Italy again. But seeing it in this spontaneous little garden near my home was truly a thrill."