On our March visit to Andalucía we learned that November 2018 had produced torrential rain in parts of southern Spain and the lagoons, where we and other bird and broader wildlife enthusiasts enjoy the natural world, proved to be at their highest water levels for years. Other signs of the deluge were apparent in the broader countryside, with normally small streams or dry river beds scoured down to large boulders, and vegetation flattened several metres above the normal water course, and remains of land slips that had clearly presented enormous hazards to people and property.
But the aftermath remained good news for many of the birds! At Fuente de Piedra Greater Flamingos in profusion were awaiting their breeding season, some groups already parading with jerky side-to-side turns of their heads. Waterbirds that had left the area over the past few years, such as Black-necked Grebes, White-headed Ducks and Red-crested Pochards, had all returned in good numbers to Fuente de Piedra and Laguna Dulce lagoons. The damp conditions and warm weather also appeared to have produced good feeding conditions for transiting migrants – Yellow Wagtails, mainly males in showy plumage, with head patterns suggesting a variety of destinations as they travelled north, were feeding in damp meadows. Singing Blackcaps, Cetti’s Warblers and Goldfinches provided an unending chorus from the bushes and Barn Swallows, House Martins, Crag Martins and occasional Red-rumped Swallows scoured the air above for insects.
The group of birds that was less well represented at the full lagoons was the shorebirds, especially the smaller ones. While longer-legged Avocets and Black-winged Stilts could cope with the deeper-than-usual water we found few of the smaller waders, and Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints were nowhere to be seen.
On a nearby tall chimney a pair of White Storks have taken up residence for the past two years, building a massive nest of twigs on the top of the structure. They have presumably been attracted by the rich pickings provided by the lagoons, but their large size alarms some of the smaller birds that share the ponds with them, like Black-winged Stilts.
The wet conditions at Laguna Fuente de Piedra, and also at Laguna Dulce close to the town of Campillos, did attract unexpected burds to the flooded reed beds, birds that are normally very difficult to see. At Laguna Dulce a Little Crake spent much of the late winter entertaining birdwatchers by habitually feeding in the reed margins just in front of one of the hides. One was also seen in the early spring at Fuente de Piedra, but glory there had been stolen by Spotted Crakes, of which up to six individuals provided magnificent views and photo opportunities. This was a rare treat that attracted Spanish and overseas birdwatchers alike.