A week in Antequera in early December subjected me to seven days of dawn to dusk sunshine but mist in the hollows left mountain tops protruding like small islands from the sea of low-lying humidity.
Unusually (in my experience) Easyjet departed from its usual route from Gatwick over Madrid and then south to Malaga, instead reaching the Mediterranean well to the east over Cartagena, then following the coast westwards giving me amazing views from my window seat on the left of the plane. We arrived at the coast at a
place I did not recognise, a triangular alluvial plane with a river working through it to the sea and an exte
nsive sand bar curling round to the west. As we travelled west we passed over some extensive costal lagoons. Our presumably more or less direct flight from there to Malaga took us just inland of the Sierra Nevada range, with only a small smattering of snow on Mulhacen and some lesser peaks, and then over Antequera with wonderful views of the El Torcal limestone massif, one of my walking and birdwatching haunts.
We continued west to El Chorro, an amazing gorge between further blocks of elevated limestone, where we turned south, looking directly down on the garganta (throat) of the gorge for our approach to Malaga. Thank you Easyjet for this wonderful aerial adventure!
Over southern Andalucía the view from a few thousand metres suggest aridity. This was confirmed by terrestrial exploration. Most of the intensively cultivated farmland was brown (apart from the vast areas devoted to olives) but this was beginning to change during my stay as cereals crops began to germinate, creating a green haze over some fields. But the main confirmation of aridity came from the area’s wetlands, most of which were not wet! Laguna Dulce, near the town of Campillos, was bone dry and totally devoid of birds. The much larger saline Laguna de Fuente de Piedra had some water but many of its surrounding lagoons and marshes were baked mud. The autumn had produced some storms but clearly insufficient to replenish the losses incurred during the Spanish hot hot summer.
Fuente de Piedra is a large lagoon, about 6.5 km long and 2.5 km wide. It is shallow and when only partially filled undergoes remarkable transformations. On one day the south west of the lake, near the visitor centre, can be dry while the other end, viewed best from the new observation point at Las Latas, can shimmer with rippling water. The following day, with a change in wind direction, the reverse can be seen. The water is clearly highly mobile and the lagoon’s state can only be fully appreciated by driving or cycling all around the perimeter road.
Following good winter rains, however, Fuente de Piedra attains it full glory in spring when 15,000 or more pairs of Greater Flamingos set parts of the lake centre a shimmering pink as they court, nest and rear their young.
During my December visit few Flamingos remained but the half-dry lake and its environs echoed to the croaky tenor saxophone calls of wintering Common Cranes, which quite sensibly prefer these surroundings to more northern winter scenes.