Rivers and Waters
The only major stream is Las Tinajas, which comes from the northwest as Arroyo del Boyero and flows into the Embalse de Guadalhorce. At the ford there is natural pool with some depth to it but it is not surrounded with as many trees as it should, with brambles and cattails taking over the spot. The endorheic lagoons are the aquatic stars of the day though. Their genesis is due to the existence of closed depressions which do not drain outside. The amount of water that they maintain is more or less seasonal and is contributed to by streams, connections with the underlying aquifer and the dimensions of the basin.
There are two Nature Reserves, which are afforded greatest environmental protection: the Nature Reserva of Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, which includes the area and the lagoon of Lobón, and the Nature Reserve of Laguna of Campillos. The latter includes, among many others, La Laguna Dulce.
Laguna de Fuente de Piedra is oblong in shape, located 400 metres above sea level207 and stretches from northeast to southwest direction on its longest side of over 6.5 km. The width is 2.5 km on average, which creates the dimension of the water surface of about 16 square kilometres.
The lake is very shallow. A space of such dimensions, whose protection is extended to the 1.365 has, has always attracted attention. In the past it was mostly the possibility of salt extraction and mining infrastructure has shaped the space, with a perimeter channel built to dry and drain the streams. It harbours now tamarisks, cattails and rushes in the less saline waters.
In the most extreme environments, vegetation is reduced to the typically saline species: saltwort, glasswort and grass with a very short life-cycle. Dikes and breakwaters used from the ancient times to compartmentalize the water and facilitate evaporation often stay above the water level, and are used by Flamingos for nesting, constituting the largest breeding colony of the Iberian Peninsula. The lake tends to dry out completely in summer, covered in a glistening layer of salt.
The landscapes enriched with smaller lakes (the Laguneto, Las Palomas and Abejarucos), patches of Holm oak and wild olive, and dry farmed crops that surround the strict reserve. Touring the reserve is made comfortable by the network of five viewpoints, two foot paths and the visitor´s centre. There surroundings have been repopulated with oaks, hawthorns, mastic, black thorns, tree germander, carob trees, olive trees and other splendid species typical of the Mediterranean scrub.
The Lagoon of the Lobón, by contrast, is very small, just 150 meters in diameter and is located at a higher altitude, about 460 meters. Also, exposed to winds and sun, it harbours plenty of tamarisks on its shores, especially facing the track, and some reeds and cattails. It is not uncommon to see fl amingos here, along with herons, ducks and various waders.
The Laguna Dulce, the second in size, is at 450 meters of altitude, the round-shaped surface covers 78 hectares with about 800 meters in diameter when full. At the opposite end of the track there is a small recreational area and a birdwatching hide which can be reached easily on the track that leaves eastward and then turns west. The composition of its waters, as suggested by its name (“Dulce” meaning “sweet”), is less saline. It holds a good population of diving ducks, gulls and waders. The track reaches an area wit more abundant vegetation, tamarisk, reeds and cattails, which blocks the view to the banks and the water surface.
Stage 18 begins at the northern tip of the lagoon where you take direction south through agricultural environment, taken up mainly by olive trees and grain. This type of environment will continue to the end of this stage and it determines the species of birds which can be seen here. You will be crossing a stream and then walking along the two lakes which will make your Stage 18 bird list fill up with highly desirable species. The combination of wetland and steppe creates very valuable habitats with a rare composition of taxa unique at European level.
Neither the length, difficulty level or elevation gain of this stage is particularly demanding and you can spend some time around the Visitor´s Centre to enjoy watching water birds from purpose-built hides. Little and Eared ( Black-necked) Grebe, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Greater Flamingo, Mallard, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Common and Lesser Kestrel, Water Rail, Coot, Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Stone-curlew, Kentish Plover, Common and Little Ringed Plover, Golden and Black-bellied Plover, Common Snipe, Green and Common Sandpiper, Lesser black-backed, Yellow-legged, Black-headed and Slender-billed Gull, Whiskered Tern, Gull-billed Tern and Yellow Wagtail are the most frequently seen species of birds found in water environment, however the list can grow considerably during migration passages if we include those waders and passerines which set off on migration journeys.
Once you are on the footpath you will be entering agricultural environment in quite an abrupt manner and getting away from the lagoon progressively. As a result, sightings of waterfowl and other aquatic birds will be limited to birds in flight commuting back and forth from the laguna. In this environment, bird species occurring in open areas prevail, as well as birds which favour olive groves; noteworthy species are Red-legged Partridge, Stone-curlew, European Turtle Dove, Hoopoe, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Crested Lark, Calandra Lark, Skylark, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, European Robin, Common Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrike, Great Tit, Spotless and Common Starling, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Common Linnet, Serin, Greenfinch and Corn Bunting, the latter can be seen in large flocks in winter. What can seem at the start to be an unvarying and not very attractive environment for the birdwatcher ends up being a real diversity hot spot.
The path leads through places where in winter concentrations of hundreds of Golden Plovers and Stone-curlews can gather; both species go unnoticed once they perch on the ground thanks to their plumage. Sometimes a low-flying Merlin on the hunt will help you find these flocks of birds. Other species which can be found here are Common Kestrel, Little Owl, Barn Owl around the ruined farmhouses, Common Buzzard whose individuals arrive from Central and Northern Europe during winter season (and which are visibly bigger and lighter coloured), Long-eared Owl and Red-necked Nightjar.
At the southern tip of the lagoon, at the level of the Cortijo de la Rábita, you will need to cross Arroyo del Hoyero, and you will have to get your feet wet if the stream has water. In this environment, with its strip of reeds and cane, you will be able to hear and see the Cetti´s Warbler, Reed Warbler and Great Reed Warbler as well as a greater abundance of birds drawn to the focal point of the stream´s water. Once you leave the stream behind and enter the olive grove, and then a great extension of dry crops, the following birds are the most abundant: White Wagtail, Crested Lark, Calandra Lark and Skylark. A ruined farmhouse, Cortijo de Las Monjas, harbours a population of Lesser Kestrel which is getting smaller year after year due to the general decline this species is suffering from. Within the period of a few years the number of pairs has dropped from 30 to only 5, which resulted in direct action being taken to ensure that breeding places are available for this charismatic species of bird occurring in a steppe environment.
In the same general area, once you leave the olive grove behind, you can delight in the Common Cranes frequenting the open fields to feed, Little Bustards which require meticulous observation and Montagu´s Harriers, easily visible as they soar in large circles over the grain fields. During the cold months White Wagtails gather in large flocks which can contain over 4000 birds. Surprisingly, in winter and in summer, you can see Gull-billed Terns in this environment which is unusual for the species, hunting orthoptera in their elegant flight.
Before walking uphill high enough to see the Laguna Dulce de Campillos, you will walk past an orangey-coloured building on your right.
This is a purpose-built structure for the conservation of steppe bird species; specifically it is meant as a nesting place for Lesser Kestrels and Rollers. At the moment it is Common Kestrels and various pairs of Western Jackdaw that are using the structure and they let you get quite close to watch. Further on, at the Laguna de Lobón, you will be able to enjoy some water birds again, depending on the availability of water; this laguna is small and shallow which causes it to dry out long before other lakes in the area. When there is water available, you can enjoy watching Mallard, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Kentish Plover, Collared Pranticole, Black-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, among other water species. The section which leads to Campillos takes you along the edge of Laguna Dulce, where it is not uncommon to see Black-winged Kite and Ferruginous Duck at the water surface, together with many of the species mentioned at the beginning of this section of Stage 18. Among the many Coots present at this laguna, you may be able to see a few Red-knobbed Coots, which requires a careful search focused on the diagnostic features of the species. Basically, the Red-knobbed has two red nodules above the bill; the side of the bill does not form a white wedge which in the common Coot extends towards the nape.
Migration periods are remarkable in this aquatic environment, but also in the fields around the lakes, especially as the Rollers appear. Finally, other species you can find at Stage 18 are Common Shellduck and Eagle Owl; the latter can be detected easier by its call.