Fuente de Piedra

The lagoon of Fuente de Piedra is in the north of the province of Malaga, Spain. It is 50km from the Mediterranean coast and 410m above sea level. The lagoon is a seasonal Salt Lake with high salinity in winter and a salt shell in summer. The lake has a maximum width of 2.5km and a length of 6.5km, the maximum water surface area reaches up to 14km².

Forming one of many wader hotspots in southern Spain, the lagoon is perhaps best known for being the largest breeding site for Greater Flamingo Pheonicopterus rubber in Spain; in fact, it has been since Roman times! The importance of this lake and the surrounding marshlands was recognised and listed as RAMSAR site in 1982, the listing triggered further steps to protect the area with the Andalucia Parliament pronouncing it a ‘Integral Reserve’ in 1984, followed by planning as a ‘Nature Reserve’ in 1989. In addition, the EU selected it as a Special Protection Area under the Bird Directive of the EEC during 1988. The nature reserve occupies 1,554 hectares and its Peripheral Protection Zone covers an area of 6,689 hectares.

For waders, and many other species of birds, the period from March through to May is a time when there is more intense activity and a time when both wintering and migratory birds show at the same time. Not surprising as the water level and vegetation are most stable during the wet season. Wintering and migratory waders are also joined by breeding birds during this period. Most common breeding waders are Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Little Ringed and Kentish Plover, with Eurasian Thicknee (Stone Curlew) breeding in the surrounding area. Depending on water levels, springtime migration can be spectacular, particularly for waders in their summer plumage. Collared Pratincole, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Little Stint and Dunlin pass through in large numbers, whilst Temminck’s Stint is recorded occasionally. Wood Sandpiper are another that can be common with its close relative Green Sandpiper wintering as well as increasing during migration in the spring period. Common Sandpiper is almost ever present, with Lapwing also surprisingly common at times. Other species such as Grey Plover, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel are regular but scarcer migrants.

Of course, wintering birds, such as Golden Plover, Lapwing, Snipe and odd Turnstone, overlap with migratory waders. Also, the area can attract the odd rarity or two with Pectoral Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper and others being recorded.

So, the area is hugely important on a broad basis for not just migration staging, but also wintering and breeding waders. The dramatic decline of many waterbird species throughout Europe can be attributed largely to wetland loss and degradation, with the expansion and irrigation of olive plantations one important reason for this in Andalucia and most likely Spain in general.

Note. A global biodiversity hotspot, the wetlands around the Mediterranean are important for over 100 species of waterbirds represented in the Palearctic, North Africa and Middle East regions. 150 species of migratory birds are estimated to use these wetlands as seasonal or stopover locations, this represents bird populations of 2 billion (IUCN, 2005)! As part of the most threatened aquatic ecosystems, more than 50% of Mediterranean wetlands have been destroyed by human activities. It needs urgent attention and study to see what impact irrigated crops, and particularly olive plantations, are having on the water level in wetlands.

Article: Peter Jones
Photographs: Peter Jones

Note: The views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.

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