Rivers and Waters
The great protagonist of the walk in terms of water is the sierra itself, apparently dry but keeping the secret of many water sources inside and around it, the major one is the Arroyo Santillan. There are many caves explored in the limestone mass, witnesses to underground water circulation slowed and enclosed by the karstifi cation of the ground. The Cueva de Organos must be mentioned because of its extensive size, la Sima del Soldado because of its depth and then the Cueva de la Goteras. Other caves constitute semi-open shelter, less important form adventure sports point of view but more insignificant for the history of human species in the area.
The caves were used as shelter since ancient times or witnesses of the adventures of bandits, like the shelter of Almirez. In any case, all of them have something to do with the erosive action of water. And the water that penetrates into the sierra should come out again, due to the geological conditions of the terrain as it will push the water out away from the bedrock when the layers it encounters are impermeable and facing the right direction. This is what happens in the source of the Arroyo Santillan, on the border between the boundaries of Mollina and Fuente de Piedra. The sierra generates numerous creeks fanning out towards the south, like Berdún, Aceiteros or the very Santillan, the biggest watercourse. The walk accompanies the stream from its source almost to its delta in the lagoon at its northern end.
The fascination or simple interest in these places where water flows has caused different cultures settled here throughout the history. Here it was especially the Romans, as it is evident, for example, in the adjacent archaeological site by a small inconspicuous water spring. Finally, wells were dug out for agriculture in the fi nal part of the route, in the area of Las Albinas (salt marshes), a place name that is derived from temporary and frequent flooding of the land.
The initial stretch of this stage of the walk takes you along the road surrounded by crop fields, which continue until a small wood of holm oaks and then quite a dense pine wood in Sierra de La Camorra. You will be flanking this sierra around its southern tip, leaving its highest peaks on your right, where you can also see woodland vegetation characteristic to this area; young holm oaks and wild olive trees which stand out because of their round shape. The downhill section leads towards the Santillán, picnic area where the terrain becomes flat and stays that way until you reach your destination, as you walk past grain fields and olive groves. Once you are at Cerro del Palo, at the end of Stage 17, you will find a few pools where waterfowl are the star species; the pools maintain their water level thanks to the water originating from Fuente de Piedra.
The environment composed of farmland, mainly cereal crops and olive groves with almond trees in some sections, supports the species mentioned in two previous stages. The main species are Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, European Turtle Dove, Hoopoe, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Crested Lark, Calandra Lark, Skylark, Song Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Great Tit, Azure-winged Magpie, Spotless and Common Starling, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Common Linnet, Serin and Corn Bunting.
As you walk uphill and enter the forest mass in the sierra, the Azure-winged Magpie becomes more abundant, as well as Common Blackbird, Great Tit and Common Chaffinch joined by other typical forest species including European Turtle Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, European Robin, Song Thrush, Redwing, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Wren and Eurasian Jay.
Other birds which occur in the holm oak copses and, mainly, in the pine woods, are Red-necked Nightjar, Stonechat, Black Redstart, Common Chiffchaff, Southern Grey Shrike, Raven and Cirl Bunting. Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin deserves a special mention at Stage 17, a migrating species which spends its winter south of the Sahara desert. In Spain it exclusively occupies the south of the peninsula in an intermittent manner; for the last two decades it has shown an apparent decline both in its distribution area and its population levels. At the moment the causes of the bird´s progressive decline are unknown. Its nesting grounds at Stage 17 are located close to the mountainous section in olive groves, vineyards and the stretches of natural vegetation where wild olive is the predominant plant. The Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin owes its name in Spanish, Alzacola , (“alzar” meaning “to raise” and “cola” being the word for “tail”) to the habit of cocking its tail up as it perches, which makes the bird quite noticeable (the tail is reddish brown with a black and white band at the tip).
In the vicinity of the lake you can see various species of waterfowl flying back and forth from the seasonally flooded areas. Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, gulls and ducks make up, in most cases, the major part of such flocks.