The Cranes of Sal'e Porcus and the wonder of migration

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We step down cautiously, in silence, all on the conductor's side. Behind us an ancient abandoned house and a pine forest. Beyond the screen made up by the cars a slope on which large sheaves of wheat rested in summer, like a scattered monument. The green of the damp grass is interrupted by bushes and dry reeds, more numerous as they approach the pond’s bank. The afternoon is swept by the southern wind and the evening is already coming, it thrusts its first gray in the blue sky. Telescopes and binoculars emerge from the cars’ profiles.

Sal'e Porcus is a silver thread in the flattened perspective. The cranes peck the ground while the wind makes the tail feathers vibrate incessantly. Some take flight, climbing over the flamingos, bent and quiet on the water. They’ll land after few seconds on the opposite shore. In the summer season, more and more stretched out to invade spring and autumn, the pond is a vast expanse of dry, white earth that attracts locals and tourists for photographs of tiny silhouettes immersed in the blinding scenario.

Sal'e Porcus, protected by the Ramsar Convention since 1982, is a temporary pond without tributaries and emissaries, it rests one kilometer away from the sea and is therefore characterized by an exceptional salt concentration. The summer clay desert is replaced in winter by an expanse of water that can be crossed wearing simple boots. The rain is too scarce to dissolve the salts that have been deposited over the millennia. Halophile plants primarily resist on the banks, able to withstand high salinity conditions: the willow, the rush, the altenia.

"The presence of cranes in Sal’e Porcus is pretty old, we have several historical testimonies. I started observing them in the 1980s, but certainly not with the current numbers”, explains Gabriele Pinna, ornithologist and delegate of LIPU (Italian League for the Protection of Birds) for the province of Oristano, intent on recording the scene with a camera, constantly checking the cranes through the telescope. For ten years now the specimens that in December choose the wetlands of the province of Oristano have ranged from 600 to 1100 units. Literature on this splendid migratory species shows two main routes, one linking northern Europe, where they nest, to the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean area, the second passing through Germany and France to lead the cranes in Spain. The Oristano route is probably a branch of the former.

“Sal'e Porcus is their winter dormitory. At sunset we'll see more of them coming. They will gather in the center of the pond, to leave again at dawn towards the feeding areas in the surrounding territory. In order to find cereals, vegetables, snails and amphibians they go as far as the central Campidano plain. When a large group moves to eat two or three specimens give up the meal and arrange themselves on the margins, behaving like sentinels", says Pinna, who continues:" This is one of the most important Italian areas for biodiversity. We observe hundreds of different species in different periods of the year. What we call G22, an osprey, has spent winter here since 2001, especially in the Mistras pond. Ringers working in Saxony are very happy about that. We also know a 42-year-old flamingo, and the 35 geese of Cabras who have been on the same pasture for years. Loyalty is a fact that alone tells the value of our wetlands".

The cranes, today about 200, were still a few some days ago. So they joined the group of flamingos, to find protection in number. In the last 300 years the cranes population in Europe has been declining due to drainage, hunting and disturbances of various kinds. We cannot see them in the days of courtship and nesting, when they leap, thrust open and chase each other in a dance, with the light step of the classical dancers. But the show lives in the awareness of the endless spaces linked in the cycle of life, and of real or imaginary flights that give us the back a feeling of wonder for the whole in balance, for the small miracle of those funny feathers ruffled by the wind, which will fly back home in March.