A buzzard perches on oiur compost heapIt was only when the builders were gone and tranquility had been restored to the olive groves and vineyards around our Abruzzo villas that we began to fully appreciate how rich the area was in wildlife.

We’d experienced the twinkling magic of the fireflies that appear on warm, still evenings in May; and the profusion of lightning-fast lizards, brilliant emerald green during the early summer mating season, fading to grey-brown by the time they start their autumn hibernation

We’d watched golden eagles, red kites and buzzards from the Majella National Park soaring effortlessly above us and been charmed by far tinier mountain birdlife – the Alpine Swifts that from June to August use our pool as their own personal watering hole at dawn and dusk each day.

But we hadn’t been prepared for some of the rather closer encounters we’ve had.

One of our local hares comes visitingGuests sitting in their villa one early summer evening happened to glance up and see a hare gazing through their door. Maybe the same one I snapped by our car.

Last summer, a litter of baby hares was successfully raised in our garden.

(We only discovered this by accident when we found one hiding under a pumpkin leaf !)

Luckily the leverets escaped the attention of a buzzard which decided to perch for a while on top of our pile of olive leaf mulch one morning.

Highly unusual behavior for a bird that normally only lands to catch something.

Our rather too-friendly foxA new visitor over the winter has been a highly confident young fox.

In truth, he – or she – been a real nuisance at times, gnawing away at our pool cover and defying all efforts to discourage him.

Part of the problem is that Bruno, the big, white Abruzzo sheepdog who dog-sits one of our neighbour’s farms when it’s empty  – and who’d have seen off our foxy friend in a trice – has been away for the winter.

We’re looking forward to his return !

We’re also looking forward to the return of the spectacular butterflies to the buddleja which we’ve dotted around our acre of Abruzzo.Beautiful butterflies on our Buddleja bush

Better-known – and appropriately so – as the Butterfly Bush, their big purple flower racemes were a real butterfly magnet throughout last summer, attracting species like Swallowtails we’d never seen in England.

Add to all these, the dwarf Abruzzo Owls, who nest around us; a grey heron that solemnly paid us a visit a few weeks back; crickets who provide a sound-track to summer nights; and tiny, fat field mice who appreciate being left a couple of ears of corn in our veggie patch to nibble, the gardens round our Abruzzo villas are  fast becoming our own little nature reserve !