Flamingo ringing, Fuente de Pierda

I have had the privilege of taking part in the ringing of the flamingo chicks at Fuente de Piedra some seven or eight times, including the first ever and the last time in 1999 as the knees won't take the strain at all and slipping and sliding around on mud covered by by precipitated salt is way beyond them! To have taken part is one of the great birding experiences, apart from the fact one sees friends. Peter Jones of the Andalucia Bird Society www.andaluciabirdsociety.com has very kindly sent the piece below and the photos are by José Antonio Cortés of SEO-Málaga.

Another year and, after the disappointment of 2008, a report of a successful breeding season at Fuente de Piedra for Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus. 2009 saw the 25th anniversary for ringing of the Greater Flamingo chicks at Fuente de Piedra and a total of 600 chicks - only a small representative sample of the total raised (normally about 10% -Andy) - were fitted with specially coded plastic colour rings. These colour rings can be easily read through telescopes and sometimes through binoculars, allowing observers to report on the movements of these birds as soon as they gain their independence and are able to fly to feeding grounds throughout the region and North Africa.

The ringing of Greater Flamingo chicks is a highly organised affair and run with military precision. The group of volunteers, numbering somewhere over 300, embark during cover of darkness slowly and silently encircling the nursery of young. As dawn arrives the nursery is slowly and safely encouraged towards a fence line and bell mouth shaped entrance to a holding corral. For the protection of the young, the entrance and corral are lined and padded with soft fabric and the corral is circular to avoid any sharp edges. This year, from the moment the required number where successfully corralled to the moment when all had been ringed and released took a grand total of 2 hours. If you consider the operation and further that each bird is processed for weight, measurements, blood sampling and inspected by attending veterinaries, then the minimum of time taken is a huge tribute to the thorough organisation of the operation. It’s been quite a year for the species at Fuente de Piedra with in excess of 30,000 adults being reported on occasions.

As the water levels drop, many adults make the daytime journey to Huelva and the Doñana to feed and return during the night to provide necessary sustenance for their young. An undisputed burden and act of dedication with a round journey every day of at least 160km to feed their offspring! Talking with the wardens Lesser Flamingo
Phoenicopterus minor apparently attempted to breed, but they believed the eggs were accidentally broken by the brooding adult and no further evidence of breeding was recorded.

Photographs illustrate the corral (above left) and also show a fraction of the nursery (below right).

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