Rivers and Waters
Los Montes de Málaga, in the broad sense, are a succession of hills with their maximum rise on the Cerro de Santo Pilar (1,020 m), located above the Totalán village north of Rincón de la Victoria and about 10 kilometres in a straight line from the beach. Then the hills start waning away eastward as the summits gradually approach the coastline then to disappear in the Vélez river as the Peñon de Almayate.
This means that the river courses that are generated in the watershed of the Santo Pílar, all draining to the south, are longer and more substantial in the west at the beginning of this stage. And so the Arroyo (or Río) Totalán, its fork shared by Olías and Totalán villages, must be the largest river of this stage, if one can use that term considering how short the length of the valleys is.
Then there is still a good number of little streams which flow on schist and slates on extremely steep slopes. Here, since time immemorial, olive and almond trees thrive, also some remaining grapevines. Where the terrain and the availability of water allows, there are avocados, mangos, kiwis and papayas. This diversification of production, by adding non-traditional crops, is especially important for the economy of the valleys.
Direction east the Great Path of Málaga meets the Arroyos, or streams, of Las Piletas Los Villodres, Granadilla, Cuevas, Benagalbón, Santillán, Chilches, Cañuelo, Adelfa, Iberos, Almayate and del Búho among others. Although there is a profusion of streams, they lack in size. In general, the hiker will rarely manage to see them. Most of the time it’s more by guesswork than anything else that you can recognize the delta of one of these streams as they can be meagre puddles on the beaches. The deceptively tame nature of all of the streams leads to such sights as vehicles parked under the pedestrian bridges or even whole meetings of locals, but one must take into account that the Mediterranean climate is characterised by unusual storms, above all at the beginning of autumn, returning every year without fail. The final sections of the natural draining systems of Los Montes de Málaga cannot therefore, support vegetation other than some oleander and tamarisk, becoming in fact dry streambeds used by the locals as just another means of communication, and so does the GR-249. From time to time you will find dense populations of cane, which do not last long if they are near a town or a village.
The Vélez River naturally deserves a special mention. It is much longer but its waters are depleted by the Viñuela reservoir and irrigation ditches, it comes back each year but it expires again towards the summer. From the geological point of view it’s a wide delta of Quaternary deposits which has lost its dynamic character due to the above.
Despite being listed in the inventory of Andalucían Wetlands and being studied as a possible Natural Monument, the truth is that the real threats to the River are ongoing and alarming. High impact recreation, agricultural use and urban pollution, as well as industrial contamination being the main threats to this river, which deserves better treatment because of its importance to wildlife, especially the birds. The vegetation in the area where the river intersects with the walk is made up by one of the most impressive groves of poplars of the fi nal section of the walk, with some eucalyptus trees, dense reed beds and some
rushes. Recently the Diputación de Málaga, as part of the same project called “Idara” which sponsors this GR, has installed a birdwatching observatory on the left bank near the delta of the Vélez river, less than a kilometre away from the walk after crossing the river and planted native species of fl ora at the same time. It is an initiative that joins the numerous organizations and citizens who recognize the importance and value of the delta environment. The delta, as it holds islands, is suitable for nesting, resting and wintering of dozens of species of birds, some of them endangered.
The importance of water will be especially noticeable with irrigation channels at the end of Stage 2, and you will be walking next to some of the major channels bordering the rock of Peñon de Almayate. Other than the water being important for agriculture, its essential use for human consumption is evident in the urban and industrial water pipes running parallel to the path. This is the only place where they could have been laid out due to the shape of the terrain and the consequent stretched layout of the cities. While the origin of the drinking water is mainly the Viñuela reservoir, waste water management faces the same problems as it does along the whole coast. The latter have been corrected by means of the corresponding treatment facilities in Rincón de la Victoria and Vélez Málaga and numerous pump stations carrying water to the submarine emitters, after it has been treated. Thus an initially complex problem has found the right solution.
Amongst the representative birdlife of this stage of the walk coastal species play the main role, considering that you will be walking along the shore itself starting from Benajarafe. As well, there are birds typical to human-influenced environments and cultivated areas. The most interesting place for birdwatching along this stage is around the Río Vélez. The varied landscape and the role played by the sea and the mouth of the river increment quite significantly the diversity of species you will be able to observe.
Most easily observed species at the beginning of Stage 2 are mainly the gulls and urban-dwelling birds. The Yellow-legged Gull is the most frequent one and can bee seen all year round, however, from the beginning of autumn, throughout most of winter until spring you will be able to see the Lesser Black-backed Gulls as well (same size but with a darker back) and Black-headed Gulls ( visibly smaller than the previous two). At the beaches of Benajarafe you will be able to see Audouin´s Gulls from mid May to November and Mediterranean Gulls and Sandwich Terns in winter season and on passage. If you decide to devote some more time to the large flocks of seagulls which gather on the shore along this stage of the walk, with a bit of luck you will have a chance to discover a couple of species more (for example, some individuals of Common Gull or Great Black-backed Gull after the severe winter storms, or the Little Gull on migration).
As soon as you embark on Stage 2, around the El Cantal tunnels, you will be able to see winter roosts of Crag Martins. They come from the rocky areas of the province and probably from further north down to the coast to look for food and milder temperatures. You can also spot the Blue Rock Thrush around here.
Other typically coastal species you can see during this section would be the Sanderlings on the shore and Albatrosses flying over the sea, keeping a certain distance from the beach; both can be seen in winter.
Amongst the urban-dwellers there is the Rock Dove (domestic variety), Eurasian Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet, Pallid Swift, Barn Swallow, Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow and Serin; they are joined in winter months by White Wagtail, Black Redstart and Common Chiffchaff.
Once you pass by Benajarafe and cross the Ibero stream and leave the first line of the beach behind, you will encounter the first cultivated areas which cause other species of birds to show up. The abandoned olive groves which you will cross as you walk up towards the Jaral tower and the orchards before arriving at Almayate are the sites to observe Cattle Egret, Common Kestrel, Blackcap, Crested Lark, European Turtle Dove, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Great Tit, House Martin, Jackdaw, Little Owl, Red-necked Nightjar, Robin, Stonechat, Spanish Sparrow and Woodchat Shrike.