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The Saltflats of Priolo

Da Andrea
June 17, 2021
July 9, 2021
All photos © Fabio Cilea

The Saltflats of Priolo

The Nature Reserve “Saltflats of Priolo”, once known as the oasis amongst the chimney-stacks, has today become, thanks to recent management of the site, “the home of the flamingos”.
Created by the Sicilian Region at the end of 2000, it has been managed from the very beginning by the nature association LIPU (Italian League for the Protection of Birds) and preserves a small but vital area of wetland that host numerous bird-species who find it an ideal spot for resting during the long migrations, and a quiet place to spend the winter or nest.
The Saltflats of Priolo are also one of the Natura 2000 sites and include the Magnisi Peninsula which has landscape and naturalistic characteristics which are completely different to the wetlands. The two areas complement one another, and offer the visitor a variety of environments and animal species, making a visit to this corner of the territory of Priolo particularly interesting.
Saltflats of Priolo with flamingos
Saltflats of Priolo
Since 2015, the Saltflats of Priolo have become the only nesting site for flamingos in Sicily. Before then the species had never nested in this region. From that first historic moment, the numbers of nesting pairs has increased exponentially, reaching the impressive number of 809 pairs in 2020, an enormous number for Sicily. The best period for observing this charismatic species is between March and June when hundreds of birds turn the wetlands pink. Later, during high summer, the young flamingos, less colourful and showy than the adults, put on an unrepeatable show in Sicily and which can be seen only in very few other sites across Europe. During this season, you can observe the young birds hunting for food and trying out their wings for the first time, then getting increasingly confident until at the beginning of the autumn they are ready to leave the reserve to look for new places in which to spend their early years of their lives before, perhaps, returning to the Saltflats of Priolo for the mating season.

The Saltflats of Priolo are not just about flamingos. Every season has its characteristic ornithological species, so during every visit you can see new species and enjoy diverse landscapes.

The Pillar of Marcello, sito Natura 2000
Autumn is the best time to meet the migrating species. This is the season when you can see the Caspian Tern - this reserve is probably the most important Italian site for these terns which come from the Baltic and Black Seas. This species, of all the terns regularly found in Italy, is the least widespread and the most uncommon. In late summer, the saltflats are an important resting place for many flocks of the Ardeidae type, such as grey herons, little egrets, red herons, who migrate along the eastern coast of Sicily with daily concentrations of various hundreds of examples, sometimes up to 280 Grey herons and 500 little egrets. In winter, ducks, coots, western marsh-harriers, the fascinating osprey and many other species fill the skies and the little marshes of the nature reserve with colours and sounds. In spring, as well as the migrating birds, the Saltflats welcome a rich and diverse avifauna for nesting which are fascinating to watch. This is the period when the reserve hosts little terns, black-winged stilts, avocets, western swamphens and many others.
Tombs at Thapsos
Etna seen from Thapsos
No less interesting is the history of the area. Within the boundaries of the Natura 2000 site lie various archeological areas with monuments of great historic and archaeological interest. Thapsos, a Sicilian protohistoric settlement of the middle Bronze Age, is surely the most interesting and famous site of the territory of Priolo. A Martello tower stands on the Magnisi peninsula not far from a military battery from World War II. In the area of the reserve stands a windmill that used to serve the old saltflats of Magnisi, but also the Pillar of Marcello, a Roman funerary monument built between the 1st cents. BC and AD next to the old road called via Pompeia and which, according to old tales, was erected to celebrate the victory of Rome over Siracusa in 212 BC.
A visit to the Nature Reserve “Saltflats of Priolo”, found in a very particular setting and famous mostly for the vast industrial area around it, offers unexpected delights and reveals an important natural environment which, through man’s unthinking actions, had seemed to be irremediably lost.
Aprile 2021

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.