About 55 km from El Guarda in the direction of Campillos lies the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra. It is a large, naturally salty lake that lies near to the village of the same name in the north of Malaga Province. As the book says: ‘The largest natural lake in the Iberian Peninsula at 2.5km wide and 6.5km long, it is a haven for birds, with over 170 different species recorded here”.
This seasonal lagoon can dry out completely in particularly hot summers and a commercial “salinera” used evaporation for salt extraction at the site until the early 1950s. The salt pans fell into disuse in later years but in the 1960’s. Greater Flamingos were found to be breeding here and under “Reserva Natural” status this remarkable wetland habitat has flourished.
With downcurved bills and almost unnaturally long necks and legs they are of course instantly recognizable, and with the bright red flash on their wings they’re surely one of the most exotic birdwatching spectacles in Europe.
The reserve is the only regular breeding colony of Greater Flamingos in Spain and the second largest in Europe, surpassed only by the population on the Camargue in southern France. Many thousands of young are produced in good years, but in particularly dry seasons – the birds require a minimum of 30cm of water by the end of February – nesting will not occur. Drought over the summer can force the flamingos to head elsewhere to feed, and they can be found as far afield as Donana National Park when conditions deteriorate severely.
Thankfully not this year though…one can have fantastic views from the paths only a short distance from the visitors centre. Elegant Black-winged Stilts – another nesting species at the reserve – are present in good numbers, wading through the shallows on incredibly long, dark pink legs.
Avocets too breed here, the shallow, saline water and dry margins meeting their special needs perfectly. Other waders were present too, some on passage from nesting grounds in the north of Europe and a few presented a rather more tricky ID challenge, especially for a newbee in the world of birdwatching like me.