The largest freshwater lake of Balkans is famous for its well-preserved nature, astonishing landscapes, mesmerizing history and traditional architecture, as well as one of a kind cuisine. Infamous, at least to my perception, for the inconsistent and largely non-existent management - the lake of this size and value is a big bite for developing nature protection system. The fact that Skadar Lake belongs to two countries, Montenegro, and Albania, additionally complicates the establishment of solid, conservation-oriented management, essential for the appetites of fast emerging construction and tourism industry.
Skadar Lake is the biggest lake on the Balkan Peninsula, a transboundary wetland of international importance shared by Montenegro and Albania. The lake hosts a small breeding colony of Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus), one of the largest birds in the world and classified as Vulnerable at an international level. Since the 17th century, 80% of the Dalmatian Pelican’s breeding sites have disappeared, and today, its presence in Europe is limited to only 13 wetlands in the Balkans and the Caucasus.
Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus Crispus) is the largest freshwater bird in the world. Curiously, it is found in one of the world’s smallest countries, Montenegro, with the oldest record occurring in the 19th century. Although they are completely dependent on fish, these birds can’t dive; their size/weight ratio keeps them afloat. Thus, they choose shallow lakes and sea lagoons, where they can hunt and build dense colonies, using whatever substrate they can find. On Skadar Lake, they breed on the small peat islands, formed by compacting of swamp vegetation, in the pristine surrounding of flooded willows, reedbeds, and floating water lilies. There are also the cormorants in the neighborhood, which are known to help pelicans with fishing: cormorants are excellent divers, and by doing so, they scare the fish from the bottom up to the pelicans. That being said, it becomes clear that pelicans represent the indicator of a healthy ecosystem with preserved links between different species. So, the pelicans at Skadar Lake really seem to have an idyllic life condition.
“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” – a quote that often occurs to us when we already break something!
So, the pelicans at Skadar Lake have been doing quite well in last three years – once at the verge of extinction, our pelicans have managed to maintain good reproductive success, mainly because of the new solid breeding platform built for them in 2014.
However, this structure proves to be interesting not only to these giants: on several occasions this December, our surveillance camera has spotted at least two otters (Lutra lutra) snooping around the pelican colony. This raft essentially represents the only patch of solid ground in the area, at least in winter, so no wonder that different species are attracted to it. Right now, when the pelicans aren’t breeding yet, it’s not a big deal