A Natural Rarity in the Plains
This marshy area, stagnant tributary of the Tisa River, is rich in flora and fauna, especially birds. The presence of more than 210 species of birds is recorded, among which 73 species of nesting birds. During the autumn and spring migrations, flocks with more than 20,000 cranes, 10,000 geese, over 30,000 shorebirds and ducks gather here. When those flocks fly... In summer, Kopovo can be seen from afar as a large shining surface, covered with skim of salt. By heating the air above such water, many ”our correct apparitions” appear

Text and Photo: Josip Šarić

Is there anyone who has not heard of the expression – when you step on a pumpkin, you can see Kikinda? There is another clear definition of probably the primary geographical feature of Banat, and it stands in the well-known claim that Banat is flat as a casserole. And indeed, if we travel through Banat and the Vršac Mountains and the massifs of the Carpathian-Balkan arc in the east, within the borders of Romania, are not in our field of vision, the eyes hover freely over the vast plain. It is disturbed only by the Zagajička hills, a group of now grassed sand dunes in Deliblato Sands, in the extreme southwest of Banat. Driven by curiosity, desire to explore insufficiently known landscapes and occasionally hit by the legendary Banat wind, the charges of which make the car sway like a boat on wild waters, we pass through villages along whose shores we occasionally see many abandoned and partially dilapidated houses. They stand as witnesses warning us that nothing is eternal and that everything has a beginning and an end. Lonely farms tell us the same, many of which remember the days filled with work and murmur of their inhabitants. Shirtless children, running barefoot, raised dust that would obscure the view of the fields and pastures, on which flocks of sheep and cattle moved lazily. Today, those scenes remain only as nostalgic images in the memories of the oldest Banatians.
Still, not everything is as monotonous as it may seem at first glance. Apart from the Danube and the Tisa, Banat is crossed by the rivers Tamiš, Begej, Zlatica and Karaš. The plain and the very slight fall of the terrain have led to the fact that most of the Banat rivers have a slow flow, so they meander ”drunkenly”. In rainy years and during the spring snowmelt, rivers overflow, flooding their low banks and forming wetlands in some places.
Until the 17th century, Banat was dotted with many lakes, ponds and swamps. In the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, intensive land reclamation works were carried out, during which the wetlands were drained and embankments were built on the banks of the rivers. Many dead tributaries can still be seen along the current course of these rivers, some completely drained, while some represent small marshy refuges for marsh plants and wetland birds.
Near today’s Novi Bečej, bordered by the roads Novi Bečej – Novo Miloševo and Novi Bečej – Bašaid, there is Slano Kopovo, an area known by several names, some of which are Kopovo, Šoškop, Lesino Kopovo or just Slana. After the mentioned reclamation of the Banat wetlands, that paleomeandar-dead tributary of the river Tisa was exposed to increased evaporation and withdrawal of water, which caused an increased accumulation of salt layers and the formation of salt bodies of water. One of the striking, and very important for archeology, evidence of the direction of the former course of the river Tisa is several prehistoric tumuli that were erected on the banks of the river. They followed its course, while today they are on the shores of the salt lake. The formed lake is a unique Pannonian ecosystem, typical of salt mud ponds in which the amount of salt varies depending on the amount of water in them. In summer months, when precipitation is reduced and drying becomes more pronounced, Slano Kopovo can be seen from afar as a large shining surface. It is covered with white skim a few centimeters thick. Then, due to the increased heating of the air above the lake zone and the temperature difference in relation to the surrounding fields, real mirage appears, but also eddy winds, behind which salt lines several hundred meters long remain.


In 1989, Slano Kopovo (Veliko Kopovo, Među Kopovo, Šoškop), on an area of ​​2,660 hectares, was included in the list of the most important bird habitats in Europe as the IBA 012 area. Due to the importance of this ecological niche within the IBA area (”internationally important areas for birds”), by the Decree of the Government of Serbia in 2001, the Special Nature Reserve as a natural asset of exceptional national importance of the first category was declared on an area of ​​976.44 hectares. The area of ​​the Special Nature Reserve is divided into three zones that have different degrees of protection. Only scientific research is allowed in the part protected by the first degree of protection, and any use of natural resources and other activities is completely prohibited. Slano Kopovo was included in the List of Ramsar Areas in 2004, and in the same year it was declared an IPA area, i.e. an area of ​​importance for plants.
Let’s see on what basis Slano Kopovo acquired these important international statuses. The Kopovo area is characterized by halophytic vegetation, i.e. plant species that grow on saline soil. Due to natural and anthropogenic influences, this Slatina vegetation is losing its habitats in the Pannonian Plain and is threatened with extinction. Among the most important examples of Slatina vegetation in Kopovo are bird’s-foot trefoil flower, suaeda, Pannonian suaeda (endemic species of the Pannonian Plains) and salicornia, which are protected by law as natural rarities. In Slano Kopovo, botanists will also find plantago schwarzenbergiana, which has been included in the World Red List of Endangered Plants. It thrives on Slatina lands in Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia. In Serbia, it can be found only in the north, in Srem, Bačka and Banat, and according to our law, it belongs to the group of strictly protected plant species.
One of the values ​​of Slano Kopovo is the mammal fauna. The main species that can be found around Slano Kopovo are the European ground squirrel, field mouse, vole, hamster, common shrew and steppe polecat, although disturbed wild boars, rabbits, jackals or deer can jump out of the surrounding bushes in front of visitors.
European ground squirrels are small rodents and a European endemic of the squirrel family. They form family colonies with many members and live in a network of corridors dug underground. European ground squirrels used to be numerous in Central and Eastern Europe, on Slatina and steppe pastures. Due to the fact that such zones were mostly destroyed by human activity, due to the formation of new arable land and the development of industry, the streams lost their original habitats at the beginning of the 19th century, which led to a significant reduction in their number and distribution. It is interesting to observe these lovely animals while feeding or playing on the grassy areas around They are especially recognizable by the observers who stand at the entrance to the tunnel, raised on their hind legs, while carefully observing the surroundings. In case of danger, they warn other members of the colony by whistling, and after that they disappear underground in an instant. In Serbia, European ground squirrel is a strictly protected animal species.


The steppe polecat belongs to the European pine marten family. It is an excellent hunter who feeds on small mammals, reptiles, fish, but also poultry. This small animal does not have a limited territory to move through, so it can cover up to 18 kilometers in one day. In Serbia, the steppe polecat also belongs to the permanently protected animal species.
And that, of course, is not all. Slano Kopovo is especially known among nature lovers as one of the most important and unique bird habitats in Serbia. Insiders emphasize that birds that are typical for the Pontic-Caspian areas and the sea coast nest here, and not for the area of ​​the Pannonian Plain. The exceptional importance of Kopovo is also in the fact that it is a unique station for some migratory birds.
The ornithofauna in Slano Kopovo is presented with more than 210 recorded species, among which 73 are nesting species. The conditions in the reserve are especially favorable for the shorebirds, pied avocets and Kentish plovers. This area is also the most important nesting place for European roller, grebe, common pochard, bearded reedling i lesser grey shrike in Serbia.
A special event is the period during the autumn and spring migration, when flocks of more than 20,000 cranes, tens of thousands of geese and over 30,000 shorebirds and ducks gather on Slano Kopovo.
It is an unreal experience when a flock of several thousand greater white-fronted geese soars into the air from the surface of the lake in front of the observer. With the indescribable noise made by the rustling of their wings and the piercing croaking, they fly over the reeds on the shore. In the distance is the shivering silhouette of the mystical Romanesque church of Arača, whose foundations rest on the remains of an even older church from the 11th century.
However, the cranes are the uncrowned rulers of Kopovo. These are birds up to 120 centimeters high, with a wingspan of up to 245 centimeters. They inhabit northern Europe, but have been expanding their nesting area for years, so in 2010 they reached Hungary. In Serbia, cranes appear in large flocks only in winter. During the migration, they come in mid-October and if the winter is not too cold, they stay until the end of February. Between 10,000 and 20,000 cranes can be seen on Slano Kopovo almost regularly during the winter. Curious bird watchers must either arrive early to catch them on the lake at dawn, or arrive late in the afternoon, when the cranes gather to spend the night on the lake. During the day, separated into smaller flocks, they move around the surrounding fields where they feed on plant food, such as rhizomes and seedlings, but also snails, insects and their larvae. If you do not find cranes in the area around the lake, you should listen carefully to their call, which reminds of unusual trumpeting, and, following those voices, try to spot them in one of the nearby fields.
Marked trails and boundaries of the reserve, observatories and info-center make it easier for visitors to navigate and tour this natural rarity. The nearby surviving farms, old wells, flocks of sheep and cattle that move in the company of shepherds to the surrounding pastures, are additional tourist potentials. They are now underutilized, which is perhaps even better for preserving the authenticity of Slano Kopovo and the peaceful stay of birds on the lake.


Shelter for Endangered Species
When it comes to endangered bird species for which Slano Kopovo is a permanent habitat, there are the curlew, white-headed duck, Ferruginous duck, red breasted, greater white-fronted goose, lesser kestrel, pygmy cormorant, white-tailed eagle and eastern imperial eagle, which, according to some interpretations, has long found its home on the Serbian coat of arms.


Active Protection Projects
Having in mind the constantly present factors endangering Kopovo, in the form of unfavorable water regime and intensive agricultural works in the reserve and in the immediate vicinity, active protection projects are being developed. Improvement of the water regime, purchase of land and transfer of fields to grassland habitats is planned. Let’s hope that the planned projects will give positive results and that Slano Kopovo will be a magical place in the future as it is today.

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