Diversion Dam Rivers Guadiana and Caya
Diversion Dam Rivers Guadiana and Caya
Location and access
The River Guadiana is dammed by a diversion dam as it flows past the city of Badajoz, a small regulation dam that keeps the level of the river practically constant. Downstream from the diversion dam the River Guadiana returns to its natural form and 6.5 km later the River Caya flows into it on its right side. Both banks of the river are reached from Badajoz.
Description of the route
You can make an ornithological trip along the River Guadiana along either of its banks, as both have good access and present lots of opportunities for birdwatching.
Route along the left bank
Section 1. The route starts at the bridge “Puente de la Autonomía”, which is the first of four bridges over the Guadiana as you go downstream. It can be reached without problems from any point of the city, as it is one of main exit routes towards Cáceres by the EX-100 via the ring road (Ronda de la Circunvalación). The way up to the bridge is at the junction of the streets Suárez Figueroa, Morales, San Antón and Joaquín Costa, where you will find a roundabout presided over by the unmistakable sculpture of “The Three Poets”. From the bridge you can enjoy excellent views of a section of the river where its course narrows, coinciding with the River Zapatón flowing into it from the left and the River Gévora from the right, a bit further up. There are also excellent views of the Arabic Castle (Alcazaba) and the Old Centre of Badajoz. From the head of the bridge you can comfortably travel along the bank, reaching a section over 800 m long that has been perfectly conditioned for its recreational use (benches, terraces, viewpoints, landscaped areas) and that affords magnificent views of the river, completely isolating you from the hustle and bustle of the city. Keep going along this path until you reach the bridge known as Puente Viejo or Puente de Palmas, opposite Puerta Palmas, a monumental gate that formed part of the wall that surrounded the city in ancient times and which is one of the symbols of Badajoz. Puente Viejo is a footbridge, so it’s perfect for birdwatching, giving an exceptional viewpoint. It’s possible to see many species in the water and the thick vegetation along the banks, as well as birds in flight over the river. Next the route continues parallel to the riverbank until you reach the third bridge, Puente de la Universidad, where the footpath ends and a narrow track starts that goes through river groves for 1 km. The track ends at Puente Real (the fourth bridge), easily recognisable due to its central pillars, over 80 m high, and radial support braces. The first section along the left bank, which is 1.9 km long and can only be done on foot, ends at this point.
Section 2. At the junction of the Calle del Paseo Fluvial and the Avenida del Guadiana a dirt track leads off that goes under the bridge Puente Real and that, 250 m later, joins an asphalted road that runs parallel to the river. The road is 1800 m long and ends at a roundabout after the building of Badajoz Canoeing Club. This section of the route can be done by car, stopping to watch birds or take short walks. The route can also be done on foot, following the path between the asphalted road and riverbank, which lets you get closer to the water and vegetation of the riverbank. A dirt track leads off from the roundabout, 270 m long, which leads to the wall of the diversion dam, where you will find an excellent viewpoint for birdwatching. You can end the route here or continue downstream on foot along a dirt track.
Route along the right bank
You will find a roundabout in the Avenida de Elvas (going towards Portugal and coinciding with the N-V), in the section of the road between the bridges Puente de la Universidad and Puente Real, on which you must take the third exit (to the left), following the sign saying “Cañada Sancha Brava”. Once you’ve gone under the Puente Real continue along the road until you reach a turning on the left (about 1250 m from the bridge) and a dirt track will take you to another asphalted road that runs along the riverbank until it reaches the wall of the diversion dam. From here there are two options you can take. The first is to continue downstream along a dirt track in good condition that runs parallel to the riverbank for about 7 km, until it reaches the mouth of the River Caya. The other possibility is to take the dirt track that leads out from the diversion dam and takes you to an asphalted road (passing a ham factory on the left). From this point follow the road until it crosses a small ford, at which point the road turns into a dirt track. Keep on this track and after 1250 m you will reach a fork where you should take the path to the left, which will take you to the banks of the River Guadiana and, just after, the mouth of the River Caya.
The diversion dam of the River Guadiana has been declared a Special Protection Area for birds (SPA) due to its importance for numerous species of birds. One of its main attractions are the breeding colonies of herons, in which more than 2000 pairs of Cattle andLittle Egret congregate, accompanied by other species, such as Black-crowned Night Heron, White Stork and Grey Heron. The main colony can be found just downstream from the diversion dam, in the trees on several islands in the middle of the river. Other smaller colonies can be found dispersed over several areas of the river between the diversion dam and the bridge Puente Viejo, also on wooded islands. From March to the middle of July these areas are spectacular due to the multitudes of birds that cover the trees and their incessant activity, much greater after their chicks have hatched. The nesting population of Black-crowned Night Heron is considered to be one of the most important at a regional level. In the rest of the year these areas are also communal roosting sites for Cattle and Little Egret, with thousands of birds gathering together, sharing the area with large flocks of Eurasian Jackdaws and Spotless and Common Starlings.
It is also possible to observe another three species of heron of great interest in this section of the River Guadiana: Purple Heron(nesting in the dense giant reed thickets along the riverbanks), Squacco Heron(more frequent in passage and even in winter) and the Great White Egret (more and more regular in the area).
At the end of August the first Great Cormorants begin to arrive at the river and their population continues to increase, reaching its maximum in winter. You can see them in many sections of the river, fishing or sunning themselves, with the bridge Puente Viejo being a very good place to observe them at your leisure. The main roosting site for the Great Cormorants is on an island 1200 m downstream from the bridge Puente Real, upon which several hundred birds gather. The site can be easily recognised as all the branches of the trees are dyed white as a result of the amount of bird droppings and it’s visible from both banks of the river.
The vegetation along the riverbanks is particularly exuberant between the diversion dam and the mouth of the River Caya, where the course recovers its most natural appearance, with thick willow copses in which birds such as Golden Oriole, Penduline Tit, Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Wren, Long-tailed Tit and Common Chaffinch nest.
The giant reed thickets, often mixed with willows, form another of the most interesting habitats for birds, although due to their dense cover it’s easier to hear their song than to see them. Species such as Little Bittern, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Great Reed Warbler, Reed Warbler, Red Avadavat and Common Waxbill are common in the breeding season. The presence of Bluethroat and Common Chiffchaff stand out in winter. Purple Swamphen occurs in the area of the diversion dam.
In the open waters between the bridge Puente de la Autonomía and the wall of the diversion dam the presence of various species of duck is noteworthy, such as Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall as well as Common Coot. In summer, on passage, Osprey move up and down the deepest waters, trying to capture fish. Other species, typical of the shallower waters and islands, which you can see without difficulty, are White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and Common Snipe (in winter).
It’s also worth highlighting the birds that nest on the sandy riverbanks, such as the Sand Martin, European Bee-eater and Common Kingfisher, which have some of their largest colonies in the gravel areas near the road that leads to the River Caya. The two viewpoints located at either end of the wall of the diversion dam and the downstream section are, without a doubt, the most interesting areas of the route. On good days it’s possible to see more than 15 different species just from the wall of the diversion dam.
In winter, as the day progresses, the diversion dam becomes a site of concentration of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, with over 2000 individuals congregating here at times, also accompanied by Black-headed Gulls. The bridgePuente Viejo has a large colony of House Martins as well as several pairs of Alpine Swift, which are an amazing sight to see flying nearby.
Best time to visit
Spring is a good time to visit the areas that have large colonies of herons, such as the river groves, which are also full of the song of numerous species. In winter you should visit the roosting sites of the cormorants and egrets. Any time of year is good to see the birds in the area around the diversion dam.
Other environmental and cultural interest
The city of Badajozhas excellent cultural attractions that can be combined with the birdwatching trips. We would recommend visiting the Arabic Castle or Alcazaba, and Plaza Alta, the most emblematic place in the historical centre. You can also visit the Latin-American and Extremaduran Museum of Contemporary Art (MEIAC), the Provincial Archaeological Museum of Badajoz or the Museum of the City “Luís de Morales”. You can discover a lot of Badajoz’s heritage values wandering around its streets, such as the bastions of the defensive wall that surrounded the city in ancient times, its main entrance gates (Puerta de Mérida, Puerta Palmas and Puerta Pilar), the Mudejar houses, churches and convents, its many squares and parks, etc.
It’s always a good decision to plan a visit to the city to coincide with the main festivals, such as the Feria de San Juan (24 June), the religious processions of Semana Santa (at Easter), the celebration of the Carnivals (one of the busiest and most enjoyable in Spain) or the commemoration of the foundation of Badajoz by the Arabs during the Festival Al-Mossassa Batalyaws(between September and October).