More than a year ago, we visited the Salinas in Ulcinj (see my blog post: http://montenegro-for.me/2014/12/winter-ulcinj-salinas/). Yes, we saw many different birds and enjoyed the beautiful nature – but unfortunately, our biggest wish did not come true: we did not see any flamingos. Of course, we could not wait to come back and try our luck once more.
Well, things have changed in the meantime. By the way, did you know that the Ulcinj “Solana”, built in 1934, was once one of the largest salinas in the Mediterrean, with its surface of almost 1,500 hectares?
Unfortunately, the new owner went bankrupt a few years ago and the investors came to the conclusion that the land should be “developed” for their purposes by building hotel complexes and golf courses on it… And thus, salt harvesting stopped and the machines for pumping out fresh and pumping in salt water were switched off. This left the migratory birds, more than 250 species of about 500 registered in Europe (e.g. Eurasian spoonbills, Dalmatian pelicans , various birds of prey and many other water birds and waders) without food. Food that used to be abundant in these wetlands due to the regular flooding and subsequent gradual drying of the evaporation ponds.
As a consequence, the biodiversity of the area was endangered. But soon, activities started to protect the area. International organizations and EU authorities urged the Montenegrin government to save this important nesting ground and fortunately, money was made available for the reparation of pumps.
Nowadays, the Center for Protection and Research of birds in Montenegro (CZIP) is making huge efforts to protect and promote this unique bird reserve. Many volunteers have offered support: regular surveillance increases the pressure on hunters to refrain from shooting birds, birds populations are monitored, groups are guided on bird watching tours… As expected, the Salinas will soon be listed on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, primarily as a bird site. The bird population has grown in the last few years and according to the latest information, ornithologists observed 500 flamingos in the Salinas last week.
Passing dilapidated buildings, corroded machinery, muddy salt basins and old wagons, we followed the grass trail along the canal. Driving slowly, we could observe large groups of birds around us. White and grey herons were quietly standing in the water. Hundreds of coots were resting in the salt flats. Hearing the sound of our car, they started to run across the water surface with much splashing, before taking off. Huge swarms of birds were circling above our heads. We saw a purple heron flying just above the water surface and far away, big white blurs indicated the places where seagulls had gathered.
It took us about half an hour to arrive at the observation tower where we left our car. And we were lucky: the water level in the basins was low and the grass surface of the trails around the shallow salt basins was not too muddy. The day was sunny and the silence in the extensive lagoon area was absolute – we were the only human beings in this vast area.
Knowing that flamingos could be observed at the outer edge of the salt flats only, we were prepared for a long walk. And indeed, after half an hour, we saw a pinkish-white blur, far away in the distance. Could it be true? So many flamingos at one spot?
It was a pity that we could not get closer to the flock, as we didn’t have professional photo cameras. But all of a sudden we found a possible solution: a few cows were slowly passing over one of the narrow and muddy earth walls that separate the salt basins. They moved in the direction of the flamingos and we decided to follow them, quietly staying behind their backs. With the grazing cows in front of us, we gradually approached the extensive flock at 50-60 m distance.
The view of these elegant birds with their pink legs in the blue water against the background of snow-covered mountains was unforgettable. In the silence of nature, their goose-like honking was simply deafening. Some of them were standing on one leg, the other one tucked beneath the body. Other ones were feeding with their head down in the water. We were standing there for a long, long time, taking photos and listening to their voices. Then they started to become restless, slowly moving to the other side of the basin. That was the sign for us to quietly withdraw, as we didn’t want to disturb them. When we walked back to the grass trail around the salt pans, the honking sounds faded away and the flock of flamingos became invisible behind the reeds…
Is it true that happiness can sometimes be caught in a single moment? For me, being with the flamingos was such an experience. And I know for sure: the Ulcinj Salinas represent one of those irreplaceable treasures of nature that should be preserved for the generations to come. It should never be spoiled by building tourist facilities. So let’s join our efforts to protect this paradise of nature!