16 July : Lesser Flamingos at Fuente de Piedra

As many of you will know from the not infrequent mentions in my blogs over the years, there have been many records at Fuente de Piedra of Lesser Flamingos, the smaller African cousin of our Greater Flamingo. I'm sure that many of you, both resident and visiting down here, have seen one or more birds over the years, usually over to the far left of the information centre and mirador where there is a fresh water inlet.
There have been records of up to 7 birds at a time and there has been at least one attempt at breeding when a pair was photographed within the colony with an egg clearly visible in the nest. Nothing came of that attempt, that we are aware of.
Then, two years ago, there was another breeding attempt at Manjavacas lake in Cuenca province when a photograph taken on 1 May of a pair of Lesser Flamingos with an egg was published in www.rarebirdspain.net. The next news of that pair was that they had been seen with a chick on 31 May, but then there was another record dated 1 June of the pair still with an egg. So, did they breed or not? In view of the lack of convincing evidence that I would consider proof, the fact that they adults were standing by a flamingo chick, is, to my mind, insufficient plus there is the contradiction in the same web page.
In the mean time, I understand that about two years ago a pair nested in Italy, successfully or not I do not know as I have no further details.
This last winter-spring I knew that at least two and often three birds had been seen regularly but never at the usual drinking site, always down at the far end of the lake where there is the colony nesting area. In fact, I only saw them once, on 17 May when by chance, searching for them from above at the far western end, I happened to see a pair, the male following the female and mated with her without falling off - always a problem with those long legs! Four days later another mating between them was seen at Veta la Palma on the edge of Doñana.
The next news that I had was that the pair were nesting in the midst of a group of some 3.000 pairs of Gretaers - try finding them in that little lot, especially as they are smaller and hide maongst their bigger bretheren. All we could do was hope and then there wss the news that a chick had apparently hatched and we waited.
Finally, last Thursday afternoon, 11 July, a bird, presumed to be the male, was seen feeding a chick estimated to be some 25 days old from its development and comparing with that of juvenile Greater Flamingos. Breeding has been successful so far, the chick has survived the first critical 7-10 days and is in the nursery. It was seen again at the weekend and the bigger it gets the better its chances of survival.
So, where are these Lesser Flamingos from? Therein lies a small problem. It is a known fact that there have been and are escapes from zoological collections flying around. Indeed, back in the ringing of 1999 an adult bird was trapped, a superb thing to see close up with its dark ruby red eye and all black bill. But it was from a collection as it bore a metal collection ring. Others have escaped from a collection in Belgium and at least two have been seen in Spain but these, thanks to an intelligent owner/curator, all carry red plastic rings with individual codes such as those that we put on the Greaters.
So do we get wild birds up in southern Spain? I have long maintained that it was possible and the rarities Committee persisted for years in mainatining them as a category D species - one of unknown origin, possibly escaped - but only a couple of years ago it was admitted that there must be a presence of genuinely wild birds which puts them in category A. There is a breeding population, only a few thousand pairs, down in Senegal-Mauritania. But our birds also get down there in the non breeding period and there is no reason at all why the smaller Lessers not attach themselves to a flock of Greaters and end up here. I have seen up to 4 together without any rings at all visible at Fuente de Piedra and there have been records of up to 7 at once.
So, is this start of greater things? Only time and rainfall to fill the lake will tell.
I went up there early this morning, a beautiful one, not to try and see the adults or chick, a virtually impossible task as there some 22.000 pairs of adults and in excess of 14.000 chicks in the lake. It is an incredible sight, with masses of chicks down at the west end. It's worth a visit.
And there were also 3 Black Kites and 2 Buzzards!

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