Rivers and Waters
From the very start of the stage the reservoirs of the Embalse del Guadalhorce and Guadalteba are the main attraction. The reservoirs meet at the bridge which isalso the fi nish point of the previous stage. The two dams can be seen from different points of the route, especially from the viewpoints at km 3, where you can also enjoy the view to the reservoir of the Conde del Guadalhorce and of the Turón river, located slightly further down (about 25 metres). The meeting of the three dams occurs in less than one kilometre in a straight line, which produces such a dramatic effect of amassed water that most visits to this natural expanse focus around this area.
Below the dams, you can also catch a glimpse of a sinuous, milky green river course. Its colour comes from the gypsum and clay sediments sifting into the water at the river source upstream. This is the river Guadalhorce, which engulfs the other two smaller rivers in the area of the reservoir of the Gaitanejo. The Embalse del Gaitanejo harbours prolific vegetation on its banks as its water level is more constant. There are some interesting patterns carved in the sandstone rock by the water, including a few cave dwellings.
The main part of stage 20 takes you into heavily karstifi ed landscape, which makes water circulation on the surface hardly possible, mainly occurring during heavy rain seasons. It is a phenomenon some authors have denominated karst desert, due to the harsh water conditions generated by these eroded calcareous rocks. The Savin juniper, forming extensive thickets here, must be recognised as a specialist plant in this type of environment which makes this species all the more important.
The only water spring along the way is at kilometre 14.750; you need to pay close attention to find it as it is a little remote. To get to the Fuente de la Viuda and nearby Cortijo de la Rejanada follow the main track for a few metres rather than following the walk which circles around the place. The reason why the water spring emerges here, are the impermeable clay layers at the mountain pass which expel the water circulating underground via drainage galleries formed by karst. The importance of this water source since time immemorial is confi rmed by the existence of the nearby ruins of Nescania. At the end of the stage the walker is reunited with the Guadalhorce river at a new reservoir, Tajo de la Encantada, which regulates the fl ow but is also used to generate electricity.
As you start off Stage 20 at the Embalses del Guadalhorce, water birds are again well represented along the Great Malaga Path. As soon as you set off on a climb you will be entering woodland where the predominant trees are Aleppo pines, very soon joined by holm oaks, savin juniper and juniper. This type of vegetation continues up to the miradores, or viewpoints, where the low mountain terrain takes over. The rocky outcrops, which will be quite ever-present from now on at Stage 20, hold highly prized species and to find them you will need to pay close attention to the sky and keep in mind that you may only get a few seconds to enjoy the sighting. Although the rocky areas are visibly present along the way, the footpath now enters a stretch of lentiscs and savin juniper, which is only taken over by pine on the downhill stretch towards Cortijo de Campano.
At the cortijo, scrub and rocky ridges rule again. Walking downhill you will find a natural spring called Fuente de la Viuda, which serves as a watering hole for birds. Consequently, finding certain species here is much easier. Before entering the pine wood, you will be passing through an olive grove, and, just before reaching your destination, the foot path will get very close to the impressive vertical rock faces which are dotted around El Chorro.
It will probably be the gulls which will draw your attention first at the reservoirs. You will be able to observe different species which can reach numbers of over thousand individuals at certain times of the year. The most commonly occurring ones are Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gull, although you can also find the small Black-headed Gull. Although higher numbers can be found in winter season, the presence of gulls in the area is constant all year, with a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls remaining in summer months. Other aquatic birds you can see at Stage 20 are Mallard, Great Crested, Little and Eared (Black-necked) Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Coot, and on the shores you could spot a couple of individuals of Common Sandpiper if you look carefully.
Within a few metres, the large water birds give way to smaller woodland species, usually hiding behind tree branches which make observation difficult. Great and Coal Tit, Common Chaffinch, Cirl Bunting are easier to detect if you can learn their song. This can be quite a trying task at the beginning, as in theory it is quite a difficult skill to learn, but with time it will become more conceivable and fun.
Other species occurring in the pine tree area are European Turtle Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Sardinian Warbler and Blackcap, Spotted Flycatcher, the mentioned earlier Great and Coal Tit, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Woodchat Shrike in open areas, together with Crossbill and other frequently occurring finches (Goldfinch, Serin, Greenfinch and Common Linnet).
Around the viewpoints during spring and summer months there is the constant presence of Swifts (Common, Pallid and Alpine) and Hirundines (principally House Martin and Barn Swallow) with such species as Bee-eater, Western Jackdaw and Raven adding a soundtrack to your birdwatching. This is a good area to watch birds of prey including Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Bonelli´s Eagle, Golden Eagle and Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Common Kestrel. Before you reach the surroundings of Tajo del Cabrito, the most common species are Red-legged Partridge, Crested Lark, Meadow Pipit, Common Linnet and Corn Buntings, and as you approach the first rocky cliffs, the Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear and the boisterous Rock Sparrow could appear. If you scan the rocks carefully, you will start noticing the Griffon Vultures perched on rock shelves and you will be able to watch the acrobatic flight of Red-billed Choughs. Any spot in this area along the final part of Stage 20 could be a good setting to observe Egyptian Vulture, Bonelli´s Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, additionally to the already named species of birds of prey.
The first stretch of savin juniper might bring only a few birds in spring, mainly Common Stonechat, Common Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler and rock-dwelling species in flight. This picture changes in winter season as numerous Thrushes, European Robins and Sardinian Warblers appear.
The surroundings of Cortijo de Campano serves as a meeting point for the congregations of Red-billed Choughs, you will also find here species of birds which are accustomed to living close to humans such as Spotless Starling and House Sparrow. From here up to the Fuente de la Viuda natural spring you will be able to spot the Dartford Warbler, many Swifts feeding on flying insects and you may encounter the Black-eared Wheatear, a species which is progressively scarcer in its usual habitats. The site around the spring where the birds gather to drink, especially in summer months, is quite reliable for Zitting Cisticola as well as majority of species mentioned before. At this point you start walking downhill, passing through an olive grove and a very thick pine wood towards Estación El Chorro. The El Chorro landscape is exceptionally valuable and you can continue the rock-dwelling birds observation here, as well as water birds in the Embalse de la Encantada.
A high percentage of species observed during Stage 20 are resident, consequently they can be seen all year. Winter season however is better for water birds found around the abundant waters at the beginning and end of Stage 20. The cold months also bring bigger numbers of birds along this stage, mainly in scrubland.