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HOT & Wild – Flying Colours

Just an hour's drive inland from the Coast – surrounded by the muted greens and ochres of olive groves and wheat fields – a vast lake appears out of the blue. Except, hang on a minute it’s… pink. Must be a trick of the light, or a figment of your imagination, right? Wrong! Welcome to Fuente de Piedra, Europe’s second largest flamingo breeding ground after France’s famous Camargue...

Think flamingos and it conjures up the dreamlike image of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland where these fabulously exotic creatures were ingeniously transformed into croquet mallets so the Queen of Hearts could play her favourite sport. While fortunately that's only fiction, flamingos have had a pretty tough time of it nonetheless.

“The largest natural lagoon in Spain, Fuente de Piedra is the perfect habitat for these flame-feathered birds.”

Once hunted by the Romans — who considered their tongues to be a delicacy — in more recent years their survival has been increasingly threatened by the relentless global advance of agriculture and industry. Luckily, in 1984, the Andalusian Government stepped in, transforming into a Natural Reserve the saltwater lagoon the birds had been flocking to for millennia.

Although they're big — the Greater Flamingo typically weighs in at between 2 to 4kg and can stand up to 187cm tall — they're also very vulnerable. In the Camargue their nests are frequently decimated by seagulls, and in some parts of Spain wild boar are all too often the culprits.

But the Fuente de Piedra lake is just about perfect for the flame-feathered birds that ancient Egyptians believed to be the phoenix. At 6.5km long and 2.5km wide, it's the largest natural lagoon in the Iberian Peninsula, is completely fenced-in and, taking its responsibility as custodian very seriously indeed, the Junta de Andalucía's Ministry for the Environment has also made it a no-go zone for aircraft flying at an altitude of less than 6,000ft. Heralding the arrival of spring, the flamingos typically start to arrive at the rain-fed lake in late February and if the conditions are right - the water needs to be at least 35cm deep - they just keep coming, staying on until high summer. According to conservation director Manuel Rendon, as many as 20,000 pairs will breed here this year. To put into perspective just what a key role this lagoon plays, between 1986 (when records began) and 2009, a grand total of 238,518 pairs had between them successfully reared 135,759 chicks.

“Starting to arrive in February, the flamingos just keep on coming, staying on until high summer.”

The best time to see the colonies of birds is either early morning or late evening. Flamingos can fly up to 1,000km without touching down, and as the water in the lake gradually dries up in the summer, they take off at night to forage for food for their young in Andalucia's world-famous Doñana National Park - a round trip of 160km as the crow, or rather flamingo, flies. In fact, between sunset and sunrise, many will make the return journey twice over in order to feed their hungry offspring.

Annual tagging of the chicks - carried out by some 400 biologists and ornithologists from the Estacion Biolagica de Doñana and Málaga University - usually takes place in August. Flamingos can have a life span of more than 40 years, and thanks to this programme, part of an international initiative, birds hatched in Malaga have been spotted as far afield as Mauretania, Senegal and Turkey. They return to the Costa del Sal to breed year in, year out.

If getting up close and personal with nature is your kind of thing, visit the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra between February and August. You'll be tickled pink...

Head inland on the Málaga - Sevilla highway (A92), and you'll find both the picture postcard village of Fuente de Piedra and its breathtaking lake 19km north of Antequera.

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 90 - 2011

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