Monday, January 15, 2007

Last Autorest on the Autostrada of Migration

Vendicari (ven-DEE-cah-ree) Nature Preserve near Noto in southeast Sicily is the "last autorest on the autostrada of migration," according to the Italian naturalist who was our guide, meaning that all the migrating birds of northern Europe MUST stop here on their way to Africa. Thus, it is a birdwatcher's paradise, and a great place to try out the new binoculars that Susan gave me for my birthday in December!

I really didn't know a thing about birdwatching, but it turned out to be pretty interesting, since there were lots of birds, even some rare ones, to see at Vendicari. The only ones I can remember are the flamingos and a raptor. Flamingos, for your information, are not always pink, but become so if they eat certain foods. A raptor is not a flying dinosaur (ala Juraissic Park), but actually a bird of prey, like a hawk. If you look at the photo above, you'll see both of those rare birds!

Our naturalist-guide was an expert on everything in the preserve, not just the birds, as he instructed us on the history and plant life there. There aren't too many preserves like this in Sicily, especially right on the beach, he pointed out. But it really was a major stopping point for the migrating birds and needed to be protected.

In ancient times, this place was a salt flat, just like the ones on the west coast of Sicily that still operate. Sea water was brought in and the salt was collected as it dried out. You can still see the foundations or outlines of the operation. He demonstrated how salty the land and water still are there by breaking off a grass-like weed and sucking the salt water out of it. I did the same, and it was really salty.

Another unusual thing he described to us were the "sea balls" that were found here, washed up on the beach and piled along the edge of the sand. They look like large Brillo pads, or maybe natural loofah. The seaweed that grows here combines with the sand and the water to make these useless but interesting natural objects. Here is Susan holding two of them with the old tuna factory behind her.

And last, the picturesque ruins of the old tuna factory are on the property and worth a visit. It's been a long time since tuna was caught and processed on this side of Sicily; in fact, the factory closed during WWII. Anyway, here one can see the remains of the operation including the huge brick ovens where fires were stoked for the processing of the fish. Nowadays, it's a very lovely sun-washed ruin with a castle-tower that might be Schwabish attached to it. And, it's right on the water, that beautiful, clear, blue Med!

By the way, Vendicari is free of charge but there are restrictions about what you can bring in and what you can do. It's small enough and easy enough to walk from one end to the other and see the different areas, enjoy the water, the history, and the birds.


At January 17, 2007 12:39 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

Birds galore! A marsh harrier, two species of egrets (one less common), cormorants, gulls, flamingos. Thanks to the guide with the great eye and spotting scope! A wonderful, warm, sunny day was enjoyed by all.


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