World migratory bird day, 12 May 2018

When Andy Paterson and I arrived at Fuente de Piedra on Saturday 12 May 2018, we were astonished to find the car park full and over-spilling to the extent that it occupied both sides of the entrance road. In addition to the wealth of birds mentioned in my previous blog, the visitor centre and the paths up to 3 kilometres from the centre were packed with people as we had never seen before. A few families, some with very small children, were even cycling around the almost 20 km perimeter road around the lagoon. I have never seen the area so popular!

The packed Fuente de Piedra car park (Photo: Chris Feare)
A group of visitors, at one of the viewing points over the main lagoon, receiving information from a staff ember (Photo: Chris Feare)

BirdLife International had declared 12 May to be World Migratory Bird Day. This was to raise awareness of the extent of bird migration throughout the world, the threats the migrating birds face as they navigate along their migration routes and to raise funding to support the conservation of threatened migrants and their vital habitats.

The major north-south migration routes are called “flyways” and BirdLife International, and their supporting organisations in most countries of the world, strive to safeguard birds and their habitats across the globe, especially those species that traverse many countries when migrating. These threats are manifold. Some are long-standing, such as having to navigate over large stretches of ocean or desert. Others are more recent and result from human activities, such as the removal of essential stop-over sites where migrating birds were formerly able to rest and stock up with food to provide energy to complete the next leg of the journey, and hunting along migratory flyways, especially where geographical features create bottlenecks that concentrate migratory activity.

The major causes of loss of stop-over sites are human infrastructure developments, especially along coasts and estuaries, intensive agriculture (often accompanied by drainage and toxic chemicals), aquaculture and arboriculture that destroy natural environments and their diversity. The difficulties for migrating birds posed by these developments might be compounded by weather effects associated with human-induced climate change. These could alter the biotopes of currently used stop-over sites, and sea-level rise could destroy many coastal wetlands of vital importance to migrating birds.

While birds have evolved to negotiate the long-standing obstacles to migration, the modern human-generated changes are occurring rapidly and recently, in evolutionary time scales, and do not allow birds to adapt to their new surroundings.

Congratulations to BirdLife for raising the issues and giving them wide publicity, and for the magnificent efforts they make to stimulate research and volunteers to provide practical solutions to the birds’ travails wherever possible. More locally, congratulations are due to the management of the Fuente de Piedra nature reserve for their publicity, clearly successful from the huge number of people that arrived and participated in activities – and the staff who led excursions to various part of the lagoon and devoted much time to talking to visitors.

A small group of Greater Flamingos gave visitors a close encounter in a pool along Fuente de Piedra’s main entrance road (Photo: Chris Feare)

And hearty thanks to the twenty or so Flamingos that spent the day in one of the pools alongside the entrance road, for patiently allowing visitors to get close-up views of these magnificent birds, while the bulk of the Flamingo population preferred the expanse of water in the main lagoon, more distant from prying human eyes.

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