The Pink Lagoon
Surrounded by a vast, monotonous terrain, the Lagoon of Fuente de Piedra appears like a glorious oasis in the extensive Llanure de Antequera, considered to be one of the largest natural lagoons in Spain. Measuring more than six kilometres long and nearly three kilometres wide, the lagoon provides an ideal breeding spot for what surely must be one of the most elegant and exquisite birds in the world.
The pink flamingo plays the leading role in this story and can be found in this very same lagoon which is located in Malaga province; an ideal enclave to perpetuate the species.
This setting of the Fuente de Piedra is significant, in part because of its geographical location which is very close to the African continent and is thus a strategic point for migrating birds seeking rest before crossing the Mediterranean to spend the winter in Africa. Also, this locale is situated beside the French Camarga which is one of only two places in the entire Eastern Mediterranean where flamingos typically breed. It's not surprising, therefore, that this lagoon is deemed a protected zone in an international treaty, as the loss of this unique enclave would cause a serious set back for the flamingo population.
One of the characteristics of this lagoon is the salinity of the water. Normally this does not constitute an attraction for a non-marine bird, however in the case of the pink flamingo it is this very concentration of salt in the water which determines the presence of microscopic organisms, such as seaweed and crustacea which are the basis of their diet.
The optimum time to observe these magnificent birds is around the end of January, which is when they arrive from their winter quarters to spend the spring and summer months engaged in the all consuming activity of breeding. Naturally, this depends on the amount of rainfall earlier in the year however, as if the lagoon is dried out or is at a low level this would result in a risk for breeding and the flamingos would essentially disappear.
Towards the end of summer, mainly during the months of July and August, an impressive example of technical expertise takes place which closely resembles a military operation, rather than a purely scientific activity. This is due to the precise and calculated work which is carried out according to the orders of Manuel Rendon, the Conservation Manager of the reserve in Fuente de Piedra supported by a party of a trained professionals in the field. Typically, a team of more than 200 people advance on the lagoon before daylight; their mission being to label the thousands of young flamingos which are still unable to fly. To be able to accomplish this task, the birds are driven into a type of pen where they are huddled together and labeled. Sometimes blood is extracted for later analysis, after which the birds are set free. This activity has been in effect since the year 1986 when the reproductive activity of these birds was appreciated as being of vital importance in order to understand and analyse the life of the flamingo. Thanks to such labelling it is now possible to learn the flamingos migrating routes, their ages and other biological aspects.
These spectacular photos bear witness to the exquisite beauty of the pink flamingo.
This article was first published in the Andalucia, Costa del Sol Magazine.
Fuente de Piedra