Fuente de Piedra Natural Reserve

Interesting documentary video by Marcus G Meider as he takes part in the ringing of the flamingos at Fuente de Piedra Natural Reserve in July 2017. (Spanish with English subtitles)

Fuente de Piedra Nature Reserve

In the north of Malaga province 19km from Antequera is the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, a famous beautiful lagoon. The largest natural lake in the Iberian Peninsula at 2.5km wide and 6.5km long, it is a haven for birds with over 170 different species recorded here.

Apart from its abundant aquatic birds, it is well known for its flamingo population, the second largest colony of these birds in Europe after the French Camargue region and the only inland site on the continent where they breed. In spring flamingos flock here in their thousands to reproduce, attracted by the water's high salt content and the fact that it is shallow.

Although in winter the lake fills up and covers around 15km², it is seasonal, so it virtually dries out in summer. During times of scarcity, the flamingos may go as far as the Doñana National Park to find food.

During Roman times, salt was extracted here and flamingos were hunted for their tongues, considered to be a delicacy. In the early 19th century people believed that the lake water had medicinal qualities, so the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra was not allowed to dry out completely, unlike other wetland areas in Spain. In the 1930s a salt company that owned the lake undertook a campaign to reduce the flamingo population, which was threatening their salt production.

Luckily, the lake's ecological value was publicised and it became a magnet for birdwatchers and naturalists. In 1988 it was a declared a zone of special interest for birds (Zepa). The protected area covers 8,543ha.

The best places to see the lake include the viewpoint by the visitors' centre, the Mirador de Cerro del Palo, and anywhere along the footpath Sendero de la Vicaría.

There is a lakeside visitors' centre (952 111 715) at the Cerro del Palo, just off the Sierra de Yeguas road out of the Fuente de Piedra village. Here, there is plenty of information on the lake, much of it audiovisual. There are also guided tours available, for observing the birds and other wildlife, but these only run when the lake has water.

See also our page The Pink Lagoon.

Take the A45 north of Malaga and then the A92 towards Seville. The Fuente de Piedra is situated next to the exit for Fuente de Piedra and the information centre is located between the village and the lake, close to the shore. The MA454 road to Sierra de Yeguas from Fuente de Piedra runs around the lake.

Alternatively, take the Cordoba or Seville train to Malaga and get off at Fuente de Piedra, only 500m from the visitors' centre.

There is a hotel in Fuente de Piedra or try Antequera, 20km away.

La Casa de la Fuente is a luxury B&B situated in Villanueva de Algaidas.

Finca Carihuela is a farmhouse 5km from Antequera offering B&B.

Humblebee Home is a B&B located 3km from Valle de Abdalajís.

Laguna Fuente Piedra overlooks the lake and has wooden cabins to rent, a campsite and a swimming pool.

The presence of halophytic plants (those adapted to a saltwater habitat) is in abundance. Amongst many others, there are saltwort, Mediterranean brushwood and African tamarisks, the latter an important area for many species of birds during the breeding season.

There are also freshwater reeds and rushes by the site of an old canal, which is now used to control the inflow of freshwater to the lake and to prevent the overflow of saltwater into nearby crop fields. All these plants form the basis of the ecosystem of the lake and surrounding area and upon which the aquatic bird life survives.

Beyond the lake shores are holm oaks and wild olive trees, along with Mediterranean scrub.

From late February onwards, thousands of flamingos fly in and take up residence, building nests on the small island on the lake, known as La Colonia, and by the end of April or beginning of May the flamingo chicks appear beside their parents to wade the shallow waters of the lake and learn to feed. In midsummer the flamingos and their chicks migrate to Africa or take up residence in other sites in Andalucia, like the saltpans in the Marismas del Odiel, Cabo de Gata or the Bahía de Cadiz.

As well as the greater flamingo, the lake is also home to many other species of birdlife the whole year round. There is freshwater running in a channel surrouding the lake, attracting other wetland birds that also breed here like avocets, Montagu's harriers, black-winged stilts, white-headed ducks, little bitterns, red-crested pochards and black-necked grebes.

Many aquatic birds, some in danger of extinction and including several protected species, fly here to spend the winter months in this mild climate. From November to February, visitors come to see the thousands of waterfowl congregated here; among them are cranes, grey herons, black-necked grebes, great crested grebes, teals, mallards, shovelers, red-crested pochards, white-headed ducks, marbled ducks, wigeons and flamingos.

During migration times, terns and waders, as well as birds of prey like short-toed eagles and black kites, can be seen, whilst in the fields around the lake are bee-eaters, crested larks, yellow wagtails, stone curlews, great grey shrikes and hoopoes.

The lake supports a wide range of reptiles, such as spine-footed lizards, ocellated lizards, Spanish sand lizards, Algerian sand lizards, southern wall lizards, three-toed skinks, grey-borrowing lizards, horseshoe snakes, ladder snakes, water snakes and grass snakes. In the fields surrounding the lake are rabbits, hares, garden dormice, foxes and badgers.