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Short Break La Doñana

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Doñana, the most famous wetland in Europe?
To give you some idea of the enormous wealth of this area, one only has to realise that 400 species of birds have been sighted in Doñana! There are also 33 species of mammals, 19 reptiles, 12 amphibians and 7 fish species, plus a further 60 species in the Guadalquivir Estuary. These figures, while high for Spain, are exceptional for the European continent. Our regular visits to this outstanding Biosphere Park never fail to impress and are very popular with visitors to Spain. We strongly recommend combining the Doñana with other nearby destinations such as Serranía de Ronda in order to see as many of the natural wonders as possible that exist in Andalucia ….

Tour Leader/Guide:Mick Richardson
Author: Mick Richardson

On the 12th I set-off with a small group from Loja in Granada Province at 06:00 on a three day trip to the famous wetlands that is Doñana.
spoonbillOn our way to Doñana, in the area around Osuna we diverted on to some side roads looking for birds in the arable fields. The first and probably the most common species of the morning was Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus followed by Calandra Melanocorypha calandra and Short-toed Larks Calandrella brachydactyla, White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola and a nice group of Lesser Kestrels Falco naumanni near Sevilla.

We then moved on to the Doñana area to the marshes of El Rocio along side the town of the same name. Both Whiskered Chlidonias hybridus and Black Terns Chlidonias niger skimmed the water, feeding on the insects along with Red-rumped Hirundo daurica and Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica, House Delichon urbica and Sand Martins Riparia riparia, Pallid Swifts Apus pallidus and the much larger Black Kite Milvus migrans which appeared to be surprisingly successful at catching dragonflies. Spoonbill Platalea leucrodia, Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber and Little Egret Egretta garzetta were all seen wading out in the shallow waters. Also there were Red-crested Netta rufina and Common Pochard Aythya ferina, Gadwall Anas strepera and Mallard Anas platyrhynchos.

imperial-eagleOur next stop was at the La Rocina information centre, we walked out on the board walk to the eastern most hide and here Cath (a biologist from my local area back in the UK) had a species she had always wanted to see a Purple Swamp-hen Porphyrio porphyrio, which was sitting quite motionless in some tussock grass doing absolutely nothing. Again Spoonbill, White Stork and Little Egret were seen along with Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Savi's Locustella luscinoides, Cetti's Cettia cetti, Great Reed Acrocephalus arundinaceus, Reed Acrocephalus scirpaceus and Melodious Warblers Hippolais polyglotta, Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos and a Group of 7/8 Common Waxbills Estrilda astrild landed in some dead Dock stalks for a few seconds.

Just as we were leaving the last hide Heather pointed out a very large but distant raptor which turned out to be our only view of a Spanish Imperial Eagle Aguila adalberti as it drifted east.

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We then moved on to El Acebuche the visitors centre a little further towards the coast. We first admired the White Storks nest on the building with its two chicks; more nests were seen in the pine trees on the far side of the pools. Next we visited some of the hides seeing much the same species as we had already seen but adding Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla, Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus, Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala, Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus, Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator, Serin Serinus serinus and Collared Pratincole. On the road out we also picked up a pale phase Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus, European Bee-eater Merops apiaster, and Long-tailed Tits Aegithalos caudatus.

We started the second day along the Corredor Verde, a track that is one of my favourite places to visit in the Doñana area, the first half of the track (coming from the north) is in good condition but after the rains of last winter the southern half of the route is quite bad and care is needed as you could quite easily damage the underside of your car.

Our first stop was made by the Lagoon of Quema, a man made pool for irrigating local fields, here we saw Great Crested Podiceps cristatus and Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, Common booted-eagleCoot Fulica atra, Moorhen Gallinula Chloropus and Red-crested Pochard N. rufina out on the water. In the Tamarisks surrounding the pool Nightingale L. megarhynchos, Serin S. serinus, Reed Warbler A. scirpaceus, Greenfinch Carduelis chloris and Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis were added to the list. Just over the bridge after the shrine to the Virgin Mary we made our second stop and quickly picked up a pair of Black-shouldered Kites Elanus caeruleus. Also here were several Azure-winged Magpies C. cyanus, Black Kite M. migrans, Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra, Common Buzzard Buteo buteo and in the Tamarisks nearer to the river a single Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida. At Balsa de Manchazuhillo a largish pool with several dead tree stumps in it we had what were the birds of the trip for me, four Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata did a brief but welcome fly past and along with cracking views of Hoopoe Upupa epops, Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis and Woodchat Shrike L. senator this was a very pleasing stop. We continued on the track but as it was so badly rutted I was spending a lot of time dodging potholes and not seeing the birds.

When we reached the end of the track and rejoined the road to the visitors centre we made the decision to go and have a coffee and some breakfast. Once we were sorted we made our way along the road from Venta del Cruce back towards the Visitor centre stopping at several pools and lakes along the way. During these stops we picked up Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica, Kingfisher Alcedo atthis, and Greylag Geese Anser anser as new birds for the trip.

During the drive to the J A Valverde visitor's centre several Crested Galerida cristata, Short-toed Calandrella brachydactyla a pair of Lesser Short-toed Larks Calandrella rufescens and Iberian Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae were seen and a single Pin-tailed Sandgrouse was seen briefly. The heronry at the centre was packed to bursting with Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis, Squacco Ardeola ralloides, Night Nycticorax nycticorax and Purple Herons Ardea purpurea, along with Greater Flamingo P. ruber and Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia it was quite a sight.

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red-kiteOn the way back to the hotel we picked up a single Great White Egret Egretta alba, 3x Purple Swamp-hens P. porphyrio, Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus and a Red Kite Milvus milvus.
We started the morning off along the Arroyo del Algarbe, looking in the poplar trees and olive groves for birds. Golden O. oriolus, Nightingales L. megarhynchos and Serin's S. serinus were heard all the way along the river, with Great Spotted Dendrocopos major and Green Woodpeckers Picus viridis calling, it made for quite a dawn(ish) chorus. A second pair of Black-shouldered Kites E. caeruleus, were seen displaying over the pine woodland, with Wryneck Jynx torquilla singing from amongst the trees.
Further along the road we picked-up Short-toed Treecreeper C. brachydactyla, Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, Stonechat Saxicola torquata and Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur.

We then drove, without pause, to Fuente de Piedra in Malaga Province and went straight out to the pool with the board walk, where we were able to see Ringed Charadrius hiaticula, Little Ringed Charadrius dubius and Kentish Plovers Charadrius alexandrinus, Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, Dunlin Calidris alpina and Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. Moving around towards the view point we scanned through the tern flock which was roosting on the mud, Whiskered C. hybridus, Black C. niger, Gull-billed G. nilotica and Little Terns Sterna albifrons were all seen. From the view point several thousand Greater Flamingo's P. ruber and 4 Lesser Flamingo's Phoenicopterus minor could be picked out along with Little Stint Calidris minuta and Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans. After a while we drifted around to the hides over looking the fresh water pools and here Cath got another bird she really wanted to see a male White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala. Also here we picked up Shoveler Anas clypeata, Gadwall Anas strepera and Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus.

The next stop was briefly at a road side colony of European Bee-eaters and then it was on to Teba Gorge and Sierra. black-wheatearHere we picked up Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris, Alpine Swift Apus melba, Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura, Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius, Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia, White Motacilla alba and Grey Wagtails Motacilla cinerea and Rock Pigeon Columba livia.
Later we passed by a couple of the lagoons near Campillos seeing Black-necked Grebe P.nigricollis, Greater Flamingo P. ruber, Little Ringed Plover C. dubius, Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea and Jackdaw Corvus monedula. Just as we were setting off back to Loja the group had brief views of a flying Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax.
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