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» About the Kiskunsag National Park » ALONG THE DANUBE, THE AREA OF SODIC LANDS AND LAKES
ALONG THE DANUBE, THE AREA OF SODIC LANDS AND LAKES
 
Some 80000 hectares of the Kiskunság National Park are covered by sodic habitats. The size of the sodic habitats in the Danube-Tisza Interfluve is the second largest in the Carpathian Basin, but at the same time – regarding their varied habitats and the multiplicity of their plants – they are the first as in the mosaic-like sodic areas of the Danube-Tisza Interfluve all important Central European types of sodic habitats are represented in thousands of local variations.
The sodic lands and lakes of the Felső-Kiskunság and Miklapuszta are on the Danube Plain within the area of the Great Plain. Until the regulation of rivers beginning at the end of the 19th century the Danube regularly flooded its 20-30 km wide flood plain. After the floods the stagnant surface waters remained in large areas up to several months. It was on these low floodplain areas that water habitats, water-logged elevations, and sodic lakes came into being and are thus nature protected.
The streams and abandoned river beds preserve the remnants of former river branches (e.g. Kígyós-ér – today Kiskunság Main Canal, Nagy-ér, Lencsés-ér, Sós-ér, Bak-ér, Kis-ér, Várfok-ér). The majority of sodic lakes and marshes are to be found in the area of Szabadszállás and Fülöpszállás (sodic lakes in the Felső-Kiskunság). Here there are at least twelve sodic álló waters identified by name. The largest of them is the Kelemen-szék that dries out only in periods of drought, and which has shallow water with an average depth of 0.5 m.
There are sodic flats in the two other areas of the national park too – in Miklapuszta and in the sodic flat in the Felső-Kiskunság. In Miklapuszta one can find the Nagy-szék, Széles-rét, whereas the sodic flat in Felső-Kiskunság features, among others, the Gyékény Lake. There are several sodic lakes protectd by law outside the area of the national park, e.g. Böddi-szék, Bába-szék (previously called: Dög-szék), etc. Many hydrogeological names are only to be found on old maps, the names having often been changed until today, or many former lakes have almost disappeared.
 
The characteristics of sodic lakes
 
Sodic lakes are classified into two types: the white and the black ones. It is the calcium salts that make the water of the white water lakes greyish-white and murky. Examples of white water lakes are the Kelemen Lake, Böddi Lake, Büdös Lake, Bogárzó Lake and Zab Lake.
Humus materials make the black water lakes transparent and yellowish-brown. The colour of sodic marshes grown over with plants is normally black, they are the transition towards fresh water marshes.
The total number of sodic lakes and marshes of the Danube valley are estimated to have been about 150-200. Only some of the sodic waters that still exist can be considered white sodic lakes with an open water surface. Most of them have a closed flora and transparent yellowish-brown water – they are the black water sodic marshes.
The majority of sodic lakes exists periodically depending on the weather, they normally dry out by the end of the summer. During the drying process the concentration of salt increases in them, lick deposits remain at the bottom of the lake bed, in the vernacular it is described as “flower of salt”. Lick mainly consists of natrium carbonate and natrium sulphate, but other minerals may also be deposited, eg. natrium-chloride (rock salt), calcium-sulphate (gypsum), magnesium-sulphate (epsom salt). Lick and lick mud have several properties which are useful to people. People used to sweep up the lick deposited at the bottom of lakes, and made use of its alkaline properties – using it as a washing detergent. Water and mud containing lick are also well-known for their healing properties in the treatment of rheumatism, skin diseases and osteoporosis. It was mainly the open bodies of water – also due to their healing properties – that drew people to use them as spas (eg. the Háromszögi Lake outside Kunszentmiklós, the Szappan Lake in the vicinity of Kerekegyháza, or the Szelidi Lake that functions as a spa even today. In certain places dolomite mud remained from the sodic water giving rise to so-called grassland limestone. This stone was mined in several areas, and was used in construction.
 
The plants of sodic habitats
 
Sodic lands have a unique micro relief. There are three types of rock formations: sodic burms, sodic flats and sodic rills. Due to changes in the relief the deeper parts are exposed to the effect of water all year round, the parts lying at a higher elevation are covered in water only periodically or not at all. The movement of water affects the salt content of the soils, and in turn the vegetation formed on them. No continuous vegetation is formed on the deep-lying parts covered with water, it is only the halophytes that can survive on soils that dry out by the summer, whereas on the sodic burms closed grass formations can develop.
 
The water of sodic lakes does not feature higher reed grasses, only microscopic plants live in them. Normally floating cyanobacteria and some salt tolerant euglenophyte algae live here. The plants in the sodic reed grass areas are of the Najas species, stalked-fruited horned pondweed (Zanichellia palustris ssp. Pedicellata), spiked water-milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), and chlarophita (Chara species). On the Danube River Plain white-water common water crowfoot (Ranunculus acquatilis) floating on the surface of the water can be found.
Sodic marshes are frequent habitats, but have a rather poor variety of species. Their typical stand-forming plant is sea club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus) and common reed (Phragmites communis), more rarely grey club rush (Schoenoplectus lacustris ssp. tabernaemontani). The most dense populations of the protected fire bellied toad (Bombina bombina) are to be found in the lower and more open grey club rush marshes. The lower the salt content of the water is, the more water plants with a greater tolerance appear in sodic marshes. This is the case, for example, on Kisrét in Szabadszállás or in the area of Apaj and Kunszentmiklós. Its vegetation ranges from the Utricularia species (southern bladder wort - Utricularia australis, greater bladder wort - Utricularia vulgaris) to tufted sedge (Carex elata) – all growing in patches.
The colony-forming sodic grass genie of the meadows are the white tippan (Agrostis stolonifera), meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis), and the couch grass (Elymus repens. Less common is the (Glyceria fluitans ssp. poiformis). The sodic meadows of the Danube Plain are relatively rich in species. Characteristic plants are the various members of the rush family (most often the blackgrass - Juncus gerardii), the distant sedge (Carex distans), the (Scorzonera parviflora), the yarrow (Achillea asplenifolia), the imola species (brown knapweed - Centaurea jacea, Pannonian knapseed - Centaurea pannonica), the rattles (Rhinanthus spp.). It is normally in the transitional zones of meadows and marshes that we find in abundance loose-flowered orchid (Orchis laxiflora). On the sodic meadows more prone to drying out are the (Orchis coriophora), the early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) and the autumn lady's-tresses (Spirantes spiralis).
The Puccinellietum limosae is a type of special habitat particularly characteristic of the continental sodic areas of the Carpathian Basin. The salt marsh grass (Puccinellia limosa) is common here. Often very common accompanying species is the pepperwort (Lepidium crassifolium), the sea plantain (Plantago maritima), the (Aster tripolium ssp. pannonicus) which blossoms in the autumn, and the low goosefoot (Chenopodium chenopodioides).
When the sodic lakes with a very high salt content dry out, the white mud on the bed of the lakes becomes as hard as stone, Camphorosmetum annuae vegetation is formed on the Camphorosmetum annuae spots of the sodic burms. One can often come across (Camphorosma annua) red in the autumn, the slender glasswort (Salicornia prostrata), the Hungarian sóballa (Suaeda pannonica). The opposite-leaved saltwort (Salsola soda) and foxtail pricklegrass (Crypsis aculeata) are well-known in the area of Kelemen-szék.
The grass areas dominated by (Artemisia santonicum ssp. monogyna and ssp. patens) and fescue (Festuca pseudovina) are to be found on higher elevations than the Festuco-Puccinellietalia - Camphorosmetum annuae communities are. The greatest concentrations can be found in the area of Apaj and Kunszentmiklós. Characteristic plants are also the purple-flowered (Limonium gmelinii ssp. hungaricum, indigenous subspecies), the protected plantain (Plantago schwarzenbergiana), and the green-winged orchid (Orchis morio).
On the higher elevations of the sodic lands – on dry grass – one can find the yarrow species ( Achillea pannonica, - Achillea setacea, mountain yarrow - Achillea collina). The majority of the accompanying plants are species that are frequent on dry grasslands that can take being perturbed, such as the ryegrass (Lolium perenne), the devil`s grass (Cynodon dactylon), the ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata), the cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias).
The natural habitats of the plains lying on the highest elevations – also free of sodic features – are the closed steppe meadows. Their soil is normally heavy loess soil or sand with loess. As they are favourable productive areas, most of them were ploughed already centuries ago. The dominant type of grass on the steppe meadows close to nature is the furrowed fescue (Festuca rupicola), the smooth brome (Bromus inermis), the prairie Junegrass (Koeleria cristata). The untouched steppe meadows often feature thyme species (Thymus spp.), the sages: woodland sage (Salvia nemorosa), meadow sage (Salvia pratensi), Austrian sage (Salvia austriaca), tufted milkwort (Polygala comosa), yellow bedstraw (Galium verum). Protected plants are the Mediterranean onion (Allium paniculatum ssp. marginatum), the Pannonian knapweed (Centaurea sadleriana), the solitary clematis (Clematis integrifolia) keep latin, dwarf iris (Iris pumila) with its yellow and purple flowers, and the pheasant`s eye (Adonis vernalis).
 
Grazing has taken place on the various types of sodic grasslands for centuries, some of it is scytheed. Hungarian grey cattle, Hungarian pied cattle, and flocks of sheep are at home here. Extensive animal husbandry has made hardly any changes to the richness of species of sodic grasslands, and has contributed to maintaining biodiversity.
 
The fauna of the sodic lands
 
The fauna of the sodic lands is just as unique as their flora. The sodic grasslands with patches of water are home to a world of land insects adjusted to the sodic environment and the puszta. Frequent herbivorous insects on the sodic grasslands are the (Dociostaurus brevicollis) or the Moroccan locust (Dociostaurus maroccanus). The endemic (Saragossa porosa kenderiensis) also lives here. On some barren spots of the Camphorosmetum annuae we can find the (Dorcadion fulvum) - included in the Red Data List and only known in the Kiskunság - and the largest protected spider in Hungary, the wolf spider tarantula (Lycosa singoriensis).
The most conspicuous and best known animals in the area are the birds. In the spring large colonies of shore birds (redshanks, sandpipers) on their way to their breeding places in the north look for food in the shallow puddles. One of the first to arrive is the ruff (Philomachus pugnax). Large flocks of greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) rest and feed here on their way to the north, together with the bean goose (Anser fabalis) and greylag goose (Anser anser). The peewit (Vanellus vanellus), the black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa), and the biggest flying bird of Europe, the great bustard (Otis tarda) also breed here.
 
In the sparse rows of trees on the sodic lands in the abandoned nests of magpies and crows breeds the red-footed falcon (Falco vespertinus), the common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), and the long-eared owl (Asio otus). The little owl (Athene noctua) and the barn owl (Tyto alba) nest in the abandoned farm houses. Among the bushes one can often find lesser grey shrikes (Lanius minor). It is the migrating flocks of geese and ducks that attract the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) here, but the omnipresent common buzzard (Buteo buteo), or the rare saker falcon (Falco cherrug) also look for food here.
The puszta is not completely silent in the winter either. This area is the regular winter habitat of some arctic singing birds and birds of prey. Twite (Carduelis flavirostris) and snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) peck the seeds of plants that stick out from under the snow. The hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) and the rough-legged buzzard (Buteo lagopus) hunt for the above two.
 
The mammals living on the puszta are less visible. Many of them live a hidden nocturnal life. Such is the European badger (Meles meles) that is increasing in number, or the fox (Vulpes vulpes) too, but the saker falcon also likes to prey on the European ground squirrel (Spermophilus citellus). Whether the extremely rare trizona subspecies of southern birchmouse (Sicista subtilis trizona) appears in the Upper Kiskunság is only indicated by examining owl spittle.
 
It is the mezooplankton living in the sodic lakes that ensures food for the members of the zooplankton, primarily for copepods (Copepoda) and water fleas (Cladocera). As the water level decreases in the summer in the water beds, it becomes saltier as well. This is also reflected in the number of species, only species that can tolerate salt better, for example the (Brachinecta orientalis) can bear it. The mud of the sodic lakes is populated by annelids (Annelidae), (Ologochaeta), round worms, (Nematoidea) and the larvae of true flies (Diptera), and caddisflies (Trichoptera). On the surface of the bottom the most frequent life forms are the diatoms (Bacillariophyceae) and the ostracods (Ostracoda). Water insects live in significantly smaller numbers in the sodic waters. Often to be found are the (Sigara assimilis), and (Bissedus nasutus). The lesser emperor (Anax parthenope) and the black darter (Sympetrum danae) are endangered species.
It is in the lakes gradually turning into swamps, Bolboscoenetum maritimi that we can find the bladder snail (Physa acuta), the white ramshorn (Gyraulus albus), and masses of the shining ram's-horn snail (Segmetina nitida). In the open waters there are important colonies of the great pond snail (Limnea stagnatilis) and of the common pond snail (Lymnea peregra). Amongst the amphibious animals the common water frog (Rana esculenta) and the marsh frog (Rana ridibunda) are typical. In the small puddles and in the water of the dug wells we find the common newt (Triturus vulgaris) and the great crested newt (Triturus cristatus). The large open and shallow waters of the sodic lakes reminiscent of sea shores and rich in food provide an ideal habitat for a great number of water birds, thus the birds constitute the most spectacular group. For this reason the sodic lakes in the Kiskunság – as the migrating, resting and nesting places of international significance of water birds – were among the first to be included in the Hungarian list of the Ramsar Convention.
In the autumn and in the spring a great number of wild geese spend the night and rest on the lakes: the greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons), the greylag goose (Anser anser) and the bean goose (Anser fabalis). Among them the number of the red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis), the barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) and the brant goose (Branta bernicla) – all on the Red Data List - is on the increase. In the autumn and in the spring a small number of common cranes (Grus grus) can be regularly observed. Among the reeds 60-80 pairs of greylag geese (Anser anser) make their nest. Among the tens of thousands of migrating swimming anatides one can often see the common teal, (Anas crecca), the widgeon (Anas penelope), the pintail (acuta Anas), the garganey (Anas querquedula), and the northern shoveler (Anas clypeata). Practically all domestic species of the herons can be found on one of the sodic lakes.
The number of migrating shore birds is especially high in the spring when water is in abundance, but it can also be high in the autumn depending on the level of water. Out of the birds migrating en masse the number of ruff (Philomachus pugnax) can be as high as ten thousand, the number of Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata) 1-2 thousand, the golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) four-five hundred.
 
Out of the typical sodic nesting birds, the number of the pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) exceeds 100 pairs in a good year, but its migrating colonies tend to be over 200. The number of nesting black-winged stilts (Himantopus himantopus) and of the Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) tends to be smaller, but steady. In the shore areas of sodic lakes peewit (Vanellus vanellus), the redshank (Tringa totanus) and the black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) often nest. On the colony of the black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus) nesting on Kelemen-szék, we can find 5-16 pairs of Mediterranean gull (Larus melanocephalus) as well. By creating artificial nesting islands, the number of common terns (Sterna hirundo) has been increased to over 60 pairs on Kelemen-szék and Zab-szék together. The whiskered terns (Chlidonias hybrida), and the white-winged terns (Chlidonias leucoptera) also nest regularly in the sodic swamps. Amongst the migrating terns the Caspian tern (Hydroprogne caspia), and the gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) appear mainly in the spring. In the reeds of the Kis rét and Fehér-szék there is a significant number of western marsh-harriers (Circus aeruginosus) nesting, but in the nesting period both the short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and the white-tailed eagle (Haliaetus albicilla) come to this area in search of food. The wintering colony of the white-tailed eagle normally consists of 2-6 individuals. Time and again the saker falcon (Falco cherrug) also nests here, and during its migration the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) regularly appears here hunting for shorebirds.
 
 
Excursions on the sodic areas of the Kiskunság
 
The northern gate to the Kiskunság is the environs of Kunszentmiklós. This area is particularly suitable for tourism on foot and on bicycle. For people interested in the avifauna of the flats washed by water, it is a good idea to visit the village of Apaj. The reconstruction of the former fish ponds outside the village resulted in the creation of a large wetland. Walking along the Réce nature trail from early spring until winter begins, you can always observe different species of birds.
In the bed of the lakes on the barren sodic land one can often see grey cattle and buffaloes grazing. Around them starlings, white stalks and other birds look for insects and gophers. The largest Hungarian colony of bustards also lives on these large sodic lands. Though these large-bodied birds are rather timid, you do not have to be particularly lucky to be able to see them in groups of different sizes – mainly in winter – from the observation tower of the nature trail facing the puszta.
 
The sodic lakes are to be found south of Kunszentmiklós. The avifauna of the sodic lakes can be spotted from the observation tower on the Kígyós-hát on the shore of the Kelemen-szék without interfering with nature. The spectacle is unique in every season. In the spring hundreds of birds look for food on the large water surface and on the barren shores. The reed resonates with the songs of great reed warblers and warblers. In the summer the birds hide from the heat in the reeds of the canal. Only the terns and noddies keep flying indefatigably over the water hunting for small fish. In the summer the patches of sodic mud surfaces are made colourful by the pepperweed and Caphorosma annua blossoming in great amounts. On such occasions the lake often dries out. The greyish colour of the scabbily cracked lake bed is a unique sight. Then the sea aster starts to blossom, which lends a purple colour to the whole area. The autumn is the time when birds migrate. The birds migrating to the south return to the Kelemen-szék and to its environs. As there is free-range farming on the sodic grasslands around the lake, caution is warranted. The muddy parts get trodden by a herd of buffaloes. These animals have kept their wild nature, especially when they have calves. Around the animals great white egrets, cranes and gully look for food.
After the tour it is a good idea to stop off at the Kigyósi Csárda on the bank of the Kiskunság Main Canal. Hungry visitors have the opportunity to sample the dishes of the Kiskunság in a wonderful environment. If anybody feels like fishing, it is possible in the Kígyósi Canal.
 
Böddi-szék – outside the village of Dunatetétlen – is also a member of the chain of sodic lakes in the Kiskunság. The more then 700 hectare land has been a nature conservation area since 1997, and is part of the NATURA 2000 network. The area with its outstanding landscape is one of the most beautiful sodic lands of the Great Plain. The current face of the Böddi-szék shows sodic ridges, large, temporary and shallow sodic lakes, and sodic ridges with alkali grass (Puccinellia limosa). The area is also an internationally recognized habitat for water and shore birds. It is not by coincidence that the nature trail has been named after the specially protected Kentish plover as this is the last important nesting area of the species in Hungary. The starting point of the Kentish plover nature trail is along the by-pass between Dunatetétlen and Harta turning off road 52. There is an observation tower on the nature trail, from which you can see and take delight in the unique landscape, it is also suitable for birdwatching.
The puszta shows a different face every season. In the spring and in the autumn the flocks of migrating shore birds provide an impressive spectacle. During the winter in the flocks of geese composed of thousands of geese one can see such rare species, such as the red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis) – considered to be endangered around the world.
 
 
Upper Kiskunság puszta (11000 ha)
• Réce nature trail (Apaj). Its length: 1100 m, 2 observation towers, 5 stations
GPS: 47° 7’ 5,944” 19° 6’ 39,316”
 
• Virágh Kúria, Kunszentmiklós 6090, Kossuth tér 1/b. Tel.: 76/351-271
GPS: 47° 1’ 31,157”, 19° 7’ 31,020”
Opening times: March 1.- November 30. Tuesday – Saturday, 9.00 – 14.00. December 1. - February 28. Tuesday and Friday. 9.00 – 14.00,
 
• Rákosivipera Védelmi and Oktatóközpont (Meadow Viper Protection and Training Centre) , Kunadacs, www.rakosivipera.hu
GPS: 47° 1’ 27,811” 19° 17’ 21,287”
 
 
Upper Kiskunság Lakes (3905 ha)
• Cankó nature trail GPS: 46° 8’ 01,615” 19° 17’ 31,45”
The Borda farm of historical significance is used as accommodation for researchers. Grey cattle and buffaloes graze on the grassland in the area.
 
• The birds of the sodic lakes can be seen undisturbed from the observation tower on the shore of Kelemen-szék.
 
 
Miklapuszta (6241 ha)
• Dunapataj – Szelidi Lake Nature Reserve: Blue algae nature trail: Its length: 2400 m, The information signs are in Hungarian and English. It is passable all year round on foot and by bicycle.
GPS: 46° 37’ 36,751” 19° 2” 38,841”
 
• Dunatetétlen – Böddi-szék - Széki lile nature trail: Its length is 6 km, circular tour, on the 10 stations the information signs are in Hungarian and English, there are bird observation towers.
http://www.hartaportal.hu/page.php?52
 
 
   
 
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