Friday, 11 April 2014

Birthday treat

After a lazy morning start, we set out on my sixty ninth birthday excursion to the lake of Fuente de Piedra, not far from Antequera, in the highland plains west of Malaga, about a hundred kilometres from Fuengirola. It's one of those Iberian ecological specialities, a shallow water containing basin with no outflow. Over the millennia, it has collected water which evaporates in the heat of summer, concentrating the minerals leached from the surrounding bedrock into a briny lake. This means it has developed similar ecosystems to marine salt marshes, and so it attracts the same kind of bird life as you'd find on an estuary. Most notable are the tens of thousands of flamencos which come to the lake each year to breed. It's one of six such breeding sites in Spain, and with this visit we've been to half of them.
The area around the lake is remarkable for its variety of different coloured soils - white, pale yellow, dark red, providing a variety of environments for the thousands of olive groves characteristic of the region. It's a place of great beauty, made even more intriguing by hosts of flamingos roosting all across the lake surface, as well as around the edges. It's six and a half kilometres long and two and a half kilometres wide. Below the water surface the terrain is virtually flat, allowing birds to feed off-shore as well as in-shore. In some years, much the water evaporates, leaving just salty mud flats littered with stones. It's an area where salt harvesting was once a key industry, but this has given way to the strategic task of wild life conservation, providing a truly wonderful experience for visitors.
The modern visitor center, with spectacular views and a shop where one can hire binoculars and bikes gives the main access to the reserve and is situated just a kilometre outside the village of Fuente de Piedra. It's dedicated to the memory of naturalist José Antonio Valverde, one of the reserve's key advocates. We walked in both directions from the centre, and were delighted by the birds we were able to see close up. As it was the breeding season however, there was no access to the foreshore, and I had to rely on the Sony HX50's telephoto lens to give us the few flamingo pictures of the day, but lots of others in addition, mostly stints and stilts (I think), and some yet to be identified. 
You can see all the photos I took here.  Three hours in the open air on a bright and sunny day was enough for both of us, so we were back home by six. Clare cooked me a lovely birthday supper to crown a day of unforgettable beauty and fascination. The last time I saw this many birds up close was in the Delta del'Ebre two years ago. Those pictures are here.

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