Of birds, mud and spas: the special chemistry of Lake Rusanda
For passionate bakers it’s just an ingredient for cakes and biscuits. But in Lake Rusanda, baking soda means a lot more than that. This natron lake, one of only four in Serbia, has provided alkaline, highly therapeutic, mineral-rich muds for over a century. The lake and it’s unique alchemy has also made it an unusual hotspot for avian fauna as well.
Lake Rusanda, a shallow water body about 400 ha in size, is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) for about 230 different bird species. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of BPSSS, BirdLife Partner in Serbia, and other players, the lake and surrounding lands (altogether 1,160 ha) was finally designated Rusanda Nature Park in July 2014 and the consequences of this decision are already being felt.
Natron is a naturally occuring substance containing sodium carbonate, so the lake offers a very unique habitat to many birds which are resident or simply passing through. You will find a variety of duck, grebe, geese, cranes, and waders that rely on Lake Rusanda as a refuge during migration. Also, look up to the sky to see raptors because in the park you will find one of the largest and densest breeding populations of the Common Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon and Long-eared Owl in the entire country. Other busy breeders include the Black-necked Grebe, Squacco Heron, Black-winged Stilt and Common Redshank.
The therapeutic mud taken from the bottom of the lake is rich in minerals and has been used to treat medical ailments since 1867. The Rusanda Spa, on the north shore of the lake, uses this mud for some of its best spa treatments and is now considered one of the countries hottest spots for some good R&R. The park is actually partly the result of a win-win effort between BPSSS, the spa and other partners. The spa has been so keen with this conservation effort it has taken up the role of park site manger. This success story shows how eco-type tourism can benefit business, people, and nature.
Besides all this, local communities can become excited and involved in efforts to preserve the area. For instance, since nesting space is at a premium for small falcons and owls, 40 nesting boxes have been set up. The smaller avian inhabitants, like Tree Sparrows and Starlings, have not been forgotten as more than 60 breeding boxes have also been installed for their use. These boxes make it easier for bird enthusiasts to observe breeding activities and band chicks before they fledge which is an important contribution to monitoring populations. Other activities have involved bird banding camps, local clean ups, adding informative signs for educational purposes, and the addition of an observation shelter where it is possible to remain hidden while viewing birds in their natural habitat.
An important next step in protecting this special place will be to have Rusanda Nature Park listed under the Ramsar Convention. This would give it the international recognition it deserves and would also put this park in a better position to fight against illegal poaching and other crimes which are a constant challenge.
This article is based on information received from BPSSS (BirdLife Partner in Serbia).