Fuente de Piedra Lagoon and El Torcal de Antequera

I recommend it to Gergő R., who has been wanting to see the flamingos for a long time but hasn’t got there yet.

These two trips, each lasting ¼ day, are linked only by geographical proximity. You can comfortably visit both in ½ day, but of course you can also visit them separately. Spring is the ideal season for both sites. Because of the possible heat, El Torcal should be visited in the morning, while at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra the heat is not so important. However, the best pictures (only with a strong telephoto lens) are taken in the hours before sunset, when the sun is shining from behind and the birds are at their best. For both locations, bring a hat or cap, plenty of water, sun cream and binoculars are recommended for the lagoon. Strong hiking boots are also advisable in El Torcal.

The Laguna de Fuente de Piedra is located 112 km north of the Costa del Sol, a few kilometres from the Seville-Granada motorway. From Malaga, it is easily accessible via the new toll motorway of Antequera (AP-46).

The name translates into Hungarian as “The Lagoon of the Stone Spring”, but it is officially classified as a “waterlogged area “1. The point is: we are not standing on the shore of a real lake, but on the edge of a low-lying area that contains more water (about 70-90 cm high) than in other, drier years due to unusually abundant rainfall in 2018. Interestingly, the lagoon water is saline because the subsoil contains many minerals that are leached out by the water. As the rains cease and the summer heat comes, evaporation increases and the lagoon can partially or even completely dry out, revealing crystallized salt. Salt was mined here ‘by the Romans’ and this activity continued until the 1950s.

The lagoon is 6.5 km long and 2.5 km wide. The only reason to visit it is for the flamingos. The largest colony of roseate flamingos in the Iberian Peninsula, the second largest in Europe, nests in this area2. During the calendar year, flamingos are present in the spring, usually from March to June. According to SUR Alemán, an unusually high number of 35,000 flamingos were counted in 2018 due to heavy rainfall. I saw a few hundred or a few thousand of them in mid-May. When we went back in early June with a better camera, there were certainly far fewer.

The roseate flamingo has a body length of 125-145 centimetres, a wingspan of 140-165 centimetres and a body weight of 2.1-2.8 kilograms, with the female being smaller and lighter than the male. The body and legs are slender and long. The bill is pink, the tip is jet black. The plumage is white and pale pink, the upper part of the wing is dark pink and the lower part is black. The Caribbean flamingo is distinguished from the pink flamingo by its darker shaded and solid pink plumage.

With long legs wading in the shallow water, he ploughs its surface with his hooked beak. With its piston-like tongue, it squeezes out water and fine silt, and tiny insects, worms and algae get caught in the fine filter-feeders, called lamellae, in the beak. One of its favourite foods is the salt worm.

If disturbed, it will make a lot of noise and tread water to gain the speed needed to fly. It flies with its neck outstretched. It sleeps on one leg with its head pressed to its body.

It lays its nest cone made of mud in large colonies on islands, where it lays 1 egg and then clutches it for 28-31 days. The chicks are nesting adults, which hatch and immediately take to the water.3

Our excursion ends at the visitor’s centre, located about a kilometre from the village.

start at the centre4. Here you can get an overview of the lagoon, see flamingos and walk around the area on the marked trails.

View of Fuente de Piedras from the visitor centre:

Let’s continue our journey to the bird sanctuary where I saw the most flamingos in May. The “La Vicaria” observation point is located on the north-western side of the lagoon, about 3 km from the visitor centre.5

The bird nest on the main road is well signposted. After the exit, it is advisable to stop immediately (before the car park), as this is the closest walk down to the lagoon and, if you are lucky, the closest place to see the flamingos.

On the following pages you can see some photos of the flamingos and the lagoon: (The bright “dots” in the first photo are the flamingos and despite the poor resolution you can see their “numbers”.)

Addendum October 2018:

I wondered what the lagoon looks like in autumn? Well, I didn’t see any birds and the water level was much lower than in spring, as expected. The alternating cloudy and sunny weather made for some very interesting natural colours. It was also striking that the lagoon had become much darker, perhaps from leached excavated material.

Now I had time to go to the centre of the town. Well, I’ve probably never seen a duller, sleepier place in Andalusia. The picture below shows the famous spring on the right.

Once you’ve had a look around the bird’s nest, you have two choices: drive around the lagoon (which doesn’t make much sense, as there’s little new to see and parts of the road are very poor quality) or head straight for El Torcal6. In the latter case, get back on the motorway and drive through Antequera to your second destination. On the way, you will again see how beautifully restored Antequera is, rich in monuments.

El Torcal de Antequera is Spain’s most important above-ground karst phenomenon and, according to the Spanish, the most beautiful in Europe. In fact, I have never seen anything like it.

The formation of El Torcal is illustrated in the Annex by three figures. The idea is that there was a sea here about 200-100 million years ago and the limestone was formed from the skeletons of animals living in the sea.

About 20 million years ago, the limestone formed from the skeletons crumbled, became fragmented and slowly began to rise above sea level. From then on, the erosion of the limestone by water, ice and wind began and continues to this day. This is how the unusual and interesting karst formations we see today were formed.

In El Torcal there are two – precisely marked – free hiking trails. The green one takes about an hour (just enough time for me), the yellow one takes about 2 hours. The difference in level is between 40 and 53 metres, although it seems to be more. Both paths start from the car park and end at the visitor centre, from where you can walk about 100 metres to a pleasant lookout point.

In addition to the freely accessible hiking trails, there are guided tours available, for more information visit the El Torcal website.

There is also quite a lot of climbing up and down on the green loop, between all sorts of rocks, and the road is not paved at all. However, the difficulties are amply compensated by the attractions, as the road leads through some truly fantastic karst formations.

Következzék néhány fénykép.

Our trip – almost – ends here. From El Torcal we set off towards Malaga, but first enter the address “Viejo Árbol” (Old Tree, Casabermeja) on Google Maps9. Our route takes us downhill on the winding roads towards the old Malaga motorway (AP-45). A few hundred metres before the spectacular viaduct of AP-46 (at the Arroyo Carniceros sign in the picture below), turn left off the MA-3404 following the GPS directions.

After 100 meters you can park on the modest access road and on the right – about 50 meters from the road – you will see the Huge Ancient Olive Tree. It was probably planted by the Moors and Queen Isabella may have rested under it. It is also worth observing the ground – very loose and stony. I wouldn’t expect much nutrients from it. The Tree is visible even from space:

From here we can really head home.

Sitio de Calahonda, 2018. október 21.

Imre Réthy

(Annexes)

Annexes

Opening hours of the Laguna Fuente de Piedra Visitor Centre in 2018

The development of El Trocal

Flowers in El Torcal Alta