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The Wetlands

Davide Bramante
January 26, 2021
Castello Eurialo
February 1, 2021
All photos © Fabio Cilea

TIhe Wetlands

Thanks to its central position in the Mediterranean, Sicily has always been a land of encounters between people, cultures and languages. Similarly, the island has a central role to play as a meeting ground for nature, home to plants and animals that wouldn’t meet in the wild state in any other place in the world. All year round, the wetlands of south-eastern Sicily are filled with numerous bird species which vary in type and number as the seasons and the environmental and climatic conditions change.
Sicily plays a fundamental role on the migratory routes to and from Africa for those birds which face the long and arduous journey twice a year, travelling from their nesting grounds in Europe to their milder winter quarters in Africa. They fly thousands of kilometres, facing all sorts of dangers and difficulties, always following the same route, one that has been modified by man in the last decades and which has put many of these species in danger. During migration, the birds need to have safe resting places en route which are suitable for the various species, and wetlands are ideal. During the Roman period, these wetlands covered about 10% of the Italian geographical area, but today this has been reduced to around 1,1% of the national territory.
The saltmaker's house at Vendicari, with flamingos and cormorants
Monte Etna with flamingos
One of the most important sites in Europe for migratory birds is the area which runs from the Oasi del Simeto to the Pantani of Pachino. This is why the Sicilian Region has created numerous nature reserves which preserve and protect the most interesting and beautiful areas of the region. The province of Siracusa alone boasts 10 nature reserves of which 4 are coastal wetlands; there are also various Natura 2000 sites and Special Protection Zones (ZPS) of great ornithological interest.
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Migratory Birds of the Coast

During the months of December to February, many ducks stop to spend the winter in Sicily. The most common include the wigeon, the teal, the shoveler, the pochard, the northern pintail, the shelduck, but also some rarities such as the ferruginous duck and the marbled duck. In winter, alongside the ducks, we find numerous coots, great and small grebes, cormorants and various types of herons - grey herons, great white herons and little egrets.
Large groups of gulls use the wetlands, above all when the sea is rough. The black-headed gull, the Mediterranean gull, the lesser black-backed gull, the slender-billed gull can often be seen during the winter. The most common birds of prey of the wetlands of south-eastern Sicily are the western marsh harrier and the osprey and in the winter numerous booted eagles, spotted eagles and short-toed eagles are also present.
With the Spring migrations which last from late February to the end of May, you can see white spoonbills, the curious glossy ibis, and many other small and medium-sized wading birds like the black-winged stilt, the common and the little curlew, the avocet, the black-tailed godwit and the ruff, and in late spring, little stints and sanderlings on their way to the Arctic regions for nesting. The trees in the countryside around the marshes fill with small birds which have also arrived from the African continent: spotted flycatchers, European pied flycatchers, collared flycatchers, Western yellow wagtails, Eastern subalpine warblers, as well as European turtle doves, Eurasian golden orioles, Eurasian hoopoes, European bee-eaters and common cuckoos, while the air above the wetlands is filled with swallows, swifts, and common house martins.
Marshes in Winter with flocks of ducks
Casa del Salinaro, Vendicari
The breeding season of the birds in the wetlands of south eastern Sicily goes from March to July and involves many species. Black-winged stilts, little terns, Kentish plovers, mallards, coots, and avocets, shelducks, swamphens, and only in the nature reserve of Saline di Priolo, even flamingos. This species is now a constant presence in the south-eastern Sicilian wetlands, where the birds move up and down the coast from area to area, looking for food and the correct water-level.
The most spectacular migration from the Sicilian wetlands takes place in the Autumn, after the breeding season, but some birds head South to the African continent already in July. From September onwards, the process speeds up as flocks of birds, sometimes numbering thousands of examples, take to the skies; little egrets, grey herons, white storks, oystercatchers, slender-billed gulls, caspian terns and many marsh birds like redshanks, greenshanks, curlews and marsh sandpipers.
Scritto da Fabio Cilea, aprile 2020

Naturalist and director of the Nature Reserve Saltflats of Priolo on behalf of the LIPU, he graduated in Environmental Biology. He studies problems that relate to the conservation of various bird species with particular attention for the little tern known as the “Fraticello”. He is provincial coordinator of a project for a Census of birds that winter here - IWC Project for ISPRA. He is also a member of the IUCN SSC Flamingo Specialist Group. He has published various texts both scientific and informative, about the province of Siracusa and the fauna of the coastal wetlands of Sicily.