Early spring in Andalucia

After a two and a half hour flight to Malaga on 5 April, a one hour drive led me to the mountain town of Antequera, bathed in early April sunshine. Sitting on a patio I inhaled the heady perfume of lemon blossom and was entertained by Barn Swallows and House Martins flying to and fro, and early Pallid Swifts chasing and screaming, despite having just completed their lengthy migration from Africa – no rest for these aeronauts!

The onset of spring migration was confirmed the following evening when I visited one of my favourite birding haunts – Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, only about 20 kilometres from Antequera. The main lagoon was almost dry – not a good sign for the highlight of the lagoon, a massive breeding colony of Greater Flamingos. The smaller lagoons close to the visitor centre held a lot of water, however, and these attracted a wide variety of migrants. Many Little Ringed Plovers, Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, Redshanks, and Ruffs had stopped to replenish their energy reserves on their way to their northern breeding areas. The margins of the lagoons were dotted yellow with brilliant Yellow Wagtails. Around twenty Whiskered Terns, at a wide variety of stages of their moult into breeding plumage, dipped to the water surface to pick up their aquatic delicacies while larger numbers of their bigger cousins, Gull-billed Terns, had already acquired their nuptial dress. Their croaks and “ka-yak” calls filled the air as they circled the lagoons, many having spent the day quartering irrigated cereal fields where they hawked for insects – an unusual feeding habit for a member of the tern family!

Further excitement for the birdwatchers was produced by two Great Spotted Cuckoos foraging in the lagoon margins and on a nearby grass field, and a fly-past by seventeen Glossy Ibises set cameras clicking.

This was just one evening at Fuente de Piedra – there is a lot more to come during this migration season. This was evidenced on my return to the patio at dusk, with the call of a Stone Curlew flying overhead. A very good first day for this spring break! Subsequent evenings revealed departures of many of the Little Ringed Plovers and arrivals of Ringed Plovers, Red-crested Pochards (see photo) and Sand Martins. Spring is a time of great activity  in southern Spain, one of the gateways into Europe for many birds that have wintered in Africa.

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