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Nature Fauna

Szálkahalom Nature Trail - Dry Grasslands

SZÁLKAHALOM NATURE TRAIL

Demonstration: nature trail with information boards, look-out tower

Accessibility: on the main Road 33 at the 79 km mark

Szálkahalom nature trail shows the typical surface forms and important plant communities of the Hortobágy steppes. Szálkahalom got his name from its burial mound. These type of mounds were built by nomadic people 3-4 thousand years ago all over in the Eastern European Plain and Hungary. These were used for cultic and burial purposes and served as guarding spots.

Walking along the trail we can find all the plant communities typical for the alkaline grasslands of the Hortobágy. Patches of loess-plant communities can be found on the burial mound and on elevated areas created by old rivers and streams flowing here long ago. The most important loess-plant species here arethePhlomis, Clary sp, Hair-like Feather-grass, Agropyron pectinatum, Thalictrum minus.

With decreasing humus content of the soil, loess grasslands are replaced by Achilleo-Festucetum grasslands, where Achillea setacea and Festuca pseudovina are the dominant species.

On poor quality soils Artemisio-Festucetum grasslands flourish with Artemisia maritima and Festuca pseudovina as the most characteristic plant species.

There are two types of plant communities that can survive on barren salty soil patches. Their existence depend on different extent of water-cover during spring. In wet patches Puccinellietum limosae dominates, while Camphorosmetum annuae lives on drier surfaces. In deeper, wetter depressions one can often find a special community called Pholiuro-Plantaginetum, with Pholiurus pannonicus and Plantago tenuiflora as dominating species.

In the deepest areas there is marsh vegetation. Open-water surfaces of marshy meadows transform into reed- and catstail bed followed by salty marsh communities like Bolboschoeno-Phragmitetum and Bolboschoenetum maritimi. In wet areas surrounding marshes Agrostio-Beckmannietum community grows on poor quality soil, while places with better quality soil are inhabited by Agrostio-Alopecuretum.

The most common mammal of the loess soil patches is the European Souslik being the most important prey of some raptors like Saker Falcon, Imperial Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard. It is almost the only prey of steppe Polecats, too.

Near the mound, in a Locust-tree plantation Red-Footed Falcon and Long-Eared Owl nest occupying abandoned nest of Rooks. Avifauna of marshes is characterised by Lapwings, Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits nesting on the shore and Spotted Crakes and Common Snipes nesting among the tussocks. The most common passerine of alkaline grasslands of the Hortobágy is the Skylark.

In autumn ten-thousands of cranes, geese and ducks migrate over the Hortobágy. In October we can easily watch them near and above the demonstration trail. Winter landscape is characterised by flocks of Snow Buntings, Lapland Buntings and Twites and White-tailed Eagles hovering above the horizont.

Walking along the trail one can meet almost all the old Hungarian breed of domesticated animals. Since grazing is the most important way of managing alkaline grasslands, herds of Nonius horses, Hungarian Grey Cattle, Water Buffalos and Racka sheep play an important role not only in preserving special breeds but in nature conservation management as well.