6 August : flamingo ringing at Fuente de Piedra.

This blog is slightly different to the others. In part it is a tribute to my friend Manolo Rendón, director of the laguna de Fuente de Piedra, and who I have had the privilege of knowing for more years than both of us care to remember. It is tribute to his organisation of the ringing of the flamingo chicks since that first, eventful and much more ad hoc affair back in 1986 and in which I had the pleasure of taking part. Talk about 'we few, we happy few, we band of extremely muddy brothers', which still applies and the memories which all those who have taken part over the years must have as this event is one of the greatest birding experiences, even though one may have serious doubts about ones sanity at times. There is the memory of Manolo Fernández-Cruz, dressed in yellow like a canary in that first ringing and the delicate effect of the dark grey mud on his outfit when he went full length. Or 1999, with water up to the navel and waiting in that for two hours, result of which many with cuts on legs got them infected and others, myself included, contracted cystitis which is not funny, especially when one is due to fly northwards in three days! It was also the last time I took part officially as my knees were giving signs of being a lost cause even back then.

Therefore, when Manolo most kindly invited me to take part in this, the 25th anniversary of the first ringing, I thought about, thought about what the knees and back would say, thought 'to hell with 'em' (or similar) and accepted. And I have no reason whatsoever to lament my decision, especally when staggering out, I heard a much muddied young lady of perhaps one third my years comment generally as to how she was going to feel on the morrow (Sunday) and the agreement of all around. I don't know how she felt but I wasn't at my brightest but neither was I as bad as anticipated on Sunday morning. But I digress. Also, all the images are small but by clicking on them they should enlarge without any problems.

On the Friday afternoon what only can be described as the gathering of the clan took place, to register, to see to which group and which task one has been assigned, given the correctly coloured shirt which designates which of the six groups with which one is placed, and then the briefing takes place. This is also a time of reunion, of meeting old friends in the bars afterwards and reminiscing and generally catching up on news. Some of the younger element go on all night and don't sleep. The older members go to a local hotel and try and get in some 3 or 4 hours, I managed nearly 4, before we have to meet the next morning around 04.30 at the bar El Chaqueta at the entrance to the village just off the A-92 autovía where we are supplied with much needed coffee and the well known madalena or bun. Something with which to line the stomach for what is to come.

As I was attached to the command group under Manolo to operate from the forward hide and from where he controlled the various surrounding groups which would drive the chicks towards the gathering pen, we were on our way by 04.40 and by 05.00 we were entering the lake. Along with José Sencianes and Rubén who were official photographers, Gustavo one of the guardas, a lass by name of Virginia and God knows who else, we went forward under the panoply of the universe, a magnificent black sky full of brilliant stars, much better than anything that Swarovski produces, a view not destroyed by city lights and which only those who go into the wilder places are privilged to see. And then the fun started.

Grasping firmly on to the 2m long canes provided, each a thick piece for easy gripping, we followed the prelaid flashing lights in single file, theoretically in silence but with the occasional muffled exclamations and occasionally splash as someone slipped (me, for example). Remember this was all in total darkness using only the ambient light from the stars, walking through water up to knee deep and with an extremely uneven and slippery bottom. Easy it was not and it seemed to take for ever to get through to the forward hide which overlooks the colony and it was from there, still in the darkness, that Manolo would coordinate whilst we waited.

By the by, remember that if you click on the photos they should enlarge.

Slowly the first signs of daylight appeared in the east and with the binoculars it was possible to make out the young flamingos which we could hear now silhouetted against the first reflected light on the water (L above). Then, slowly, we could make out the black figures of slowly moving figures (R above), each grasping a cane to aid in stability - the idea of Birnham wood coming to Dunsinane came to mind, whilst from above us Manolo issued the command orders as to which group should stop, slow, or increase speed. And meanwhile the flamingo chicks in front of us remained quiet until one or two heads were raised as they became aware that something was happening and that they were being surrounded and slowly started moving in the desired direction towards the arms of the corral as they were surrounded (L).
Once the chicks are corralled (R),the beaters go to their respective posts and assigned tasks, the ringing with the big alpha-numeric coded rings that can be read with telescopes and which have provided so much information over the decades, there is taking of biometric measurements and, most necessary, the flamingo carriers themselves (below centre). There are those that take blood and rectal sample for analysis and, regrettably but occasionally necessary, the veterinarians who deal with any injured birds. From there the birds are released (R below) and when all is finally done and all the 600 chicks plus a single adult that decided to run and not fly were ringed there was the release of those surplus birds from the corral (R below) under the control of the man himself, Manolo Rendón (L below).

One more little thing, but useful to flamingo researchers. The French flamingo workers at Tour du Valat, Camargue, have developed a website from where it is possible to find where and in which year a ringed bird received its ring. This is www.flamingoatlas.org and go to the language at the bottom right of the page, this available in French, English and Spanish amongst other languages and is easy to use (I can manage it so I'm certain that you can!).

Details of any ring read should be sent (in Spain) with details of date and site (give the province and in these days of GPS that reference if available) to anillamiento@ebd.csic.es or through
http://anillamiento.ebd.csic.es/ if it is Spanish ringed bird. In the huge fullness of time you should receive a reply with the history of the bird.

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