More rain in Andalucía encourages the ducks’ return

February 8 found us back in Andalucía, with sparkling winter sun but an icy northerly wind. As usual on the first full day, we headed for Fuente de Piedra in the afternoon. On our approach from the village our first sighting of the lagoon produced disappointment because the main lagoon appeared dryer than when last seen in December. This turned out to be something of an illusion, however, because when we later drove round the south-western end we found much more water, driven to that end by the wind. More heartening at the village end was the discovery that the roadside pools on each side of the entrance road were full, as were smaller lagoons behind the visitor centre.

Large assembly of migrant Lesser Black-backed Gulls on a field bordering the lagoons at Fuente de Piedra – February 2017 (Chris Feare)

The bird life was dominated by vast numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which value the lagoon, wet or dry, as a prime wintering area.

The largest of the fresh-water lagoons behind the visitor centre, El Laguneto, had re-established its reputation as a haven for ducks, with hundreds of Shoveler, about 50 Pochard, 12 Red-crested Pochard, a few Mallard and a male White-headed Duck having returned after their earlier drought-induced absence. Waders appeared not to have discovered the wetland recovery and apart from a few Black-winged Stilts and Little Ringed Plovers, few waders were seen. Around a thousand Greater Flamingos graced fringing pools at the southern end of the lake but few were present on the main lagoon.

Greater Flamingos, in a fringing pool at the south-western end of the main Fuente de Piedra lagoon, against a backdrop of intensive cereal and olive production. Continuing agricultural intensification might be reducing the attractiveness of the location to some species, e.g. Common Cranes (Chris Feare)

Over the next three weeks we made several visits to the lagoon but despite further rain, sometimes in downpours, little impact was visible on the water level in the main lagoon and there was no major impact on the number of Flamingos. That some changes were afloat, however, was the appearance by 28 February of a Lesser Flamingo, one of three that had been seen earlier in the day by other observers. This species has been seen more frequently, in very small numbers, in recent years, with some confirmed breeding.

Further ducks arrived, including Gadwall and Teal, but waders remained scarce.

A notable absentee during the 2016-2017 winter, however, is the Common Crane. Their haunting calls are usually a familiar feature of the surrounds of the lagoon but this winter they are few and far between and instead of the flocks of 800 or so that we had seen in earlier winters we saw none grazing the fields near Cantarranas but did see a few on cereal fields close to Antequera. Continuing intensification of agriculture in the lagoon’s surroundings might be proving less attractive to these magnificent visitors.

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