As readers of my earlier blogs will know, the lagoon at Fuente de Piedra is one of my favourite birdwatching haunts, famed for its large nesting colony of Flamingos that under the right conditions can exceed 20,000 pairs. We visited on 9 October to discover a baked pan of whitish mud with no standing water. Even the smaller lagoons close to the visitor centre were bone dry apart from one that still had a little water, supporting one Moorhen and one terrapin. The entire area appeared practically birdless but from the outlook behind the visitor centre we could see in the distance a damp patch in the mud with two Greater Flamingos standing in it.
At the end of a summer the lagoon is often largely dry but this year seems to have been exceptional. I commented on the earlier dry winter in my blog of 17 April 2016. Friends in Antequera have told me that since then daily temperatures have regularly reached 35°C and that for about ten days 42°C was the norm. Furthermore, they tell me that there has been just one period of about 2 hours’ rain since May, nothing more!
The lack of water in the lagoon deprives breeding birds that are dependent on water, especially Flamingos, of a breeding opportunity. Other birds that depend on shallow water or mud during the breeding season, such as Black-winged Stilts and Avocets, similarly must seek nest sites elsewhere, as must Moorhens and Coots that depend on emergent vegetation in which to nest. For much of the year huge numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls roost on the water or on the wet mud but these were also absent on this visit. Migrating birds, especially shorebirds, additionally use food resources provided by the lagoon margin and the small pools and moist areas. While many of these appear to use the Fuente de Piedra opportunistically, two species, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover, seem to use the area as a traditional refuelling stopover in spring, with large numbers feeding during the day before setting off northwards in noisy groups in the evenings.
The serious drying of the lagoons at Fuente de Piedra can thus affect normally resident birds and transient species alike, but of course prolonged droughts like this year’s affect water bodies all over southern Spain and evenfurther afield around the western Mediterranean, which could have varying impacts on species that rely on these inland water bodies at different times of year.
Some birds are less affected by the dryness and still use Fuente de Piedra as a winter haunt, as we found on another visit on 17 October. Standing on the mud was a recently arrived flock of about 60 Common Cranes, and in a ploughed field by the entrance to the visitor centre careful scanning with binoculars revealed ten or more cryptic Stone Curlews