2014 FEBRURAY 26th
Great day we had yesterday in the northern forests and marshes in the National Park in the morning and the Isla Mayor rice fields and Dehesa de Abajo in the afternoon.
We started just beforee sunrise in search of the Lynx with no luck, only fresh prints. Later we enjoyed watching several herds of Reed Deer, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodlark, Sardinian Warbler, Red Kite, Common Buzard, Common Kestrel, Little Owl, (no signs of the two young Spanish Imperial Eagles we saw yesterday on a black kite nest near Casa de la Cañada Mayor) and three Black-winged Kites. At Hinojos Marshes we found large groups of Lapwing with Golden Plovers, Lesser Short-toed and Calandra Larks, the first Yellow Wagtails (Iberian race) of the season, several Griffon Vultures on the ground, Merlin (female), a beautiful male Hen Harrier, masses of Meadow Pipits, Greenshank, Redshank and Spotted Redshank starting to come through. Heard for a while in the distance, we got to see three Pintail Sandgrouses overflying us and also saw several Great White Egrets.
At Caño Guadiamar we saw among other ducks Red Crested Pochard and Pintail, also Spoonbills, Flamingos, Purple Gallinule, and the first Sedge Warblers and Sand Martins coming through now. Leaving Jose A. Valverde the first Short-toed Eagle of the season flying low over us, chased by a Marsh Harrier (everywhere today) and, while looking a group of cycling vultures, found a second year Spanish Imperial Eagle flying with them. And just driving out of the centre, a great Wryneck on a fence post!!
On the way to the rice fields, we found several Short-eared Owls resting on the ground and a Stone Curlew doing the same next to one of them. There are many Greylag Geese and Cranes still in Doñana. Groups of Spanish Sparrow near Huerta Tejada and several Great Spotted Cuckoos and two Black Storks near Casa Bombas.
After lunch we moved to Dehesa de Abajo where there is a very good concentration of aquatic birds and were amazed by the sight of a group of 10 Marbled Ducks and two Ferruginous Ducks; later we found two pretty Crested Coots. On the way back to El Rocío we saw about 30 Lesser Kestrels in the colony at Caño Guadiamar and had a couple of Short-eared Owls hunting over the marshes before sunset. A great day in Doñana today!!
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2014 JANUARY 30th
The data of accumulated rainfall this hydric year, from September, towards the end of our dry season, shows that we still need a good amount of rain to complete the marsh flooding. So far we have only reached about 130mm in our area where the average annual rainfall on Doñana is about 600mm.
Despite of that, Doñana is still a great nature experience for its visitors. Geese flocks keep on going out every morning to feed in the near rice fields and keep coming back every afternoon to their resting grounds in the Hinojos Marshes. Our green meadows start getting decorated with our winter flowers of bright colours. Swallows and Martins begin cheering up our skies at the same time as our Spanis Imperial Eagles keep doing thei courtship flights.
2013 OCTOBER 25th
Cranes are back
Weather is just perfect: sunny and warm, about 25ºC, ideal to go out and explore the area for birds, insects, flowers ...
Sand along the tracks to the marshes is wet so mammals leave clear prints behind. Wild Boar, Deer, Badger, Mongoose, and Lynx are some of the tracks we see often while driving through the forests. Not so often but still sometimes we are lucky enough to see one of the last Iberian Lynx we have left walking in front or just lucking at us quietly.
First Croccus giving the pine woods a bright purple touch. Butterflies and dragonflies taking advantage of the fine conditions to catch up with their reproductive duties.
Wheatear is getting scarce and Redstart has taken over them in our forests and fields. Some of them are also searching for their winter spot among the houses of El Rocío. Dartford Warbler is also common in the low bushes.
Merlin is coming back from their northern quarters and Crane is doing the same. Still in small flocks here and there in the cereal fields. These small flocks of 25-50 will soon turn into several thousand.
Species like Squacco Heron and Bittern are at last coming back to our wetlands. Two of these camouflage specialists has been seen in the last couple of days in the Brazo de la Torre. The number of Flamingo, Lapwing and Wood Sandpiper is also increasing in the rice fields.
The Short-toed Eagle spotted several times around the Casa Bomba might stay over the winter with us and Black-shouldered Kite is just everywhere. Common Buzzard and Red Kite are getting more and more common while some solitary Booted Eagle fly through the sky over the marshes. Griffon Vulture perching on dead trees in the forests as usually.
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2013 OCTOBER 9th
Doñana moves north a bit
Rice harvest begins around Isla Mayor and this will increase significantly the number of birds in this area adjacent to Doñana National Park. Huge flocks of gulls, storks, egrets, herons, Glossy Ibis and a good variety of waders will move from field to field following the work of combines to exploit the abundant food that the work of these great machines put at their disposition. Frogs, small fish, American Crayfish, insect larvae, and other invertebrates, which have proliferated during the summer, become an excellent menu during a few weeks now for a huge amount of waterfowl. Tens of thousands of birds, such as storks and waders make a stop to rest before resuming their journey to their winter quarters in Africa, while others still to come as Geese and Cranes will also get benefit of the resources of these ancient marshes now turned into cultivated fields.
NEW SHARED BIRDWATCHING TOURS IN SPRING!!
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Our last update in
2013 JULY 5th
High temperatures and sunny days as expected at this time of the year. The Mother of the Marshes, the stream under Puente del Ajolí, the Caño Guadiamar and the lagoons around Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre are the only spots with water in the marshes so they still offer good opportunities for birdwatching.
We had today amazing views of a pair of adult Spanish Imperial Eagles over the Caño Guadiamar. Black Kites and some Booted Eagles are very common still in the area so you often have to check all these raptors in flight. Griffon Vultures often catch your attention too. But this time there was something else with the group of Kites. I just needed a second to realize what we had, stop the car and ask my clients to follow me out of it. An unmistakable quack took us to a second bird. It quickly dropped to the ground several hundred metres from us. Our first bird followed it. Just a minute later it took off again to chaise an increasing number of Black Kites that were getting close to the spot. There was obviously something there attracting them. When the second bird took off we saw what it was, it carried a hare hanging from its claws. We had again wonderful views of both birds flying over and away from until they disappeared in the distance.
Swifts, Swallows and Martins, specially Sand Martins, are concentrating in large flocks and passing through the whole Doñana and rice fields. We saw today a Cuckoo at Caño Guadiamar, moving south too.
Surprisingly we did not see a single Collared Pratincole or Bee-eater after a whole day exploring marshes and rice fields but Whiskered, Gull-billed and a few Caspian Terns can still be seen around. We saw them at the junction of the Guadaira River with the Guadalquivir River. Thousands of Yellow Wagtails, mainly young birds, are concentrating all over the Isla Mayor rice fields.
There are a good number of waders at Dehesa de Abajo reservoir, including Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Greenshank, Redshank, Common and Green Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover. Black-winged Stilt, Avocet and Lapwing. Flamingos and Spoonbills are also abundant.
Olivaceous Warblers are still common around this area north of the Park but they don't sing that much now and that makes more important to know exactly were to look for them, we had good views of this species at the ford over Arroyo de la Cigueña, near Río Guadiamar.
2013 MARCH 13th
Streams of Coto del Rey are still running strong, keeping the fords flooded and water in the marshes continues to increase its level as if it were a great winter tide . The saltmarsh bulrush start greening over large areas and the first patches of pond water-crowfoot begin to appear here and there.
Migration keeps coming through and the first and late Great Spotted Cuckoos have been seen in the last few days around in the Marshes of Aznalcazar, by the old House of El Lobo. The last Cranes and Short-eared Owls can be still seen and the first small Subalpine Warblers have been already several days moving about in the scrubland while Barn and the first Red-rumped Swallows, Common and Sand Martins, and Pallid Swifts keep passing through in large numbers.
At Matasgordas cork oak forest, Black Kites increase numbers day by day and their mounful calls dominate over any other sound in the woods. In the marshes are Larks who compose the soundtrack, with the speciall role of Calandra Larks. Platoons of Lesser Kestrels in route patrol restless over open fields and the first Woodchat Shrikes start putting small white patches on fences and bushes.
At Caño Guadiamar, the first Coot nests have had to be rebuilt because of the rising waters. Great-crested, Little and Black-necked Grebes have begun their courtships. Reed and Great Reed Warblers songs cannot be heard in the reeds yet and the numbers of Chiffchaffs decrease continously in forests and marshes.
Today we saw the first Whiskered Terns to be added to the first Gull-billed Terns we saw a few days ago. Those that are not showing up yet are Purpple and Squacco Herons, although flocks of Glossy Ibis have begun to concentrate near the Jose A. Valverde breeding colony. We all look forward to the return of activity in the largest heronry in the park.
While Serins and Goldfinches openly proclaim their lovemaking powers in forests and meadows, Wrens and Cetti's Warblers do the same, although more discreetly, from their hides in the bushes. Storks already hutch their eggs sat on their nests, while others struggle to find the balance of the first stick of yours on the mast of an electrical tower.
Doñana overflows activity these days and this is only a prelude of what is to come.
2013 FEBRUARY 25th
The wind helper
A cold and sunny winter day, next to a reed bed in the rice fields of Doñana, a light breeze that is not even able to swing the elegant stems of the bulrush. Its tight cylinders of brown seeds have slowly and gradually felt apart in the last few months; rare is the one that still keeps its original shape intact.
Suddenly, rows of little fluffs fly towards us detached from one of them and a weak and distinctive whistle cuts through the tangle of vegetation. Flying bulrush seeds plus that whistle cannot mean anything else: a Penduline Tit.
After a short search we track down the origin and find the most expert bulrush spike breaker after wind at work; lovingly embracing one of them, it seems to choose carefully the seeds one by one before removing them with the accuracy of a surgeon. Another near whistle distracts our birds for a second out of its work; it is a male bird, with is typical wide black mask. It moves quickly among the stems to find the right one and then up and down and around it, exploring with meticulousness the broken structure, throwing away our best attempts to immortalize in our cameras that precious moment of Doñana’s nature.
Here, thanks to Stephen Portlock’s expertise, we give you away a little piece of our beautiful experience that day to prove that our male bird did not fully succeed.
The best gift of winter
The winter brings new birds to settle our marshes and inspire our forests, it also brings unpleasant days in which we all find difficult, including them, the inhabitants of right, to enjoy its beauty, but winter also makes us the best gift every year, its light, that light...
Stephen and his father, like good amateur photographers who are, know that well and are delighted with the soft light of the morning. A mixture of birding and photography keeps us well busy , as soon we raise our eyes to the sky to see a red kite flying is gracefulness, as we descended to ground level to digitaly immortalize the expression of joy of a late representative of the underworld kingdom.
Along the marshes edges, the unobstructred light envelops flocks of Goldfinchs and Serins which behave like children in a playground, happy to have a huge thisthle field all for themselves.
Mares in the Hinojos Marshes and wild olive woods look splendorous under this well-balanced winter light.
Photographs of Short-eared Owl, Black Stork and Penduline Tit that we get to take in the afternoon make Stephen and his father feel really satisfied of the winter day in Doñana.
For more details of the day trip and see more good photos you can read Stephen Portlock wildlife blog
2012 DECEMBER 18th
Eagle on a diet
Doñana´s forests and marshes look beautiful under our warm sun light. Creamy sand and green meadows contrast perfectly with our common blue skies these days. Rain has not been as abundant as we need so far but still a good part of the marhes is flooded now and the area is spreading day by day.
An afternoon tour today gave us the chance to see some of the highlights of Doñana in winter. Starting with large Reed Deer herds along the forests edges; beautiful views of several Red Kites and Buzzards; a couple of Spanish Imperial Eagles displaying high in the skies; a flock of Pintail Sandgrouses calling while flying; large flocks of Greylag Geese spreading accross the marshes and no smaller flocks of wintering Skylarks feeding on the wet meadows.
Horses and cattle have now enough food so their quality of life has improved sensibly and so has done that of rabbits and hares. As you approach Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre, the number of waders and other aquatic birds increase. Flamingoes, Stilts, Avocets, Purple Swamphens, ducks abound in the lagoons around the center.
To the east, in the just planted cereal fields, groups of Cranes keep farmers busy and angry; herds of Fallow Deer grase quietly in the vast dry plains; our wintering Short-toed Eagle is moulting (here we have the prove thanks to Mercé Montes, one of our clients) and several dozens Short-eared Owls patrol in low flight in search of dinner. The eagle must have chanche its usual diet since it will be difficult for it to find some of the snakes that normally feeds on in spring.
Large flocks of Calandra Larks and Corn Buntings also feed in the cereal fields in winter, as well as a large number of wintering Common Kestrels and a few Lesser Kestrels.
Further east from Entremuros we observed enormeous flocks of waders flying over Cantarita rice fields and found a small flock of about 30 Stone Curlew waking up. We turned north to find several Barn Owls rusting in the tamarisks and some 10 Black Storks near Casa Bombas. After turning west again towards Caño Guadiamar we enjoyed the hunting maneuvers of a male Hen Harrier and found a large number of Golden Plovers feeding on a farmed field.
A flock of cranes overflew us when we arrived at the Caño to contemplate the beautiful and wide views of the vast cereal fields under the light of the end of the day.
To put the best end of a nice day we were lucky enough to see, back in the forest, a female Iberian lynx patrolling serenely her territory. Great last sight for a great day.
2012 OCTOBER 8th
Life moves out
Raptor migration is nearly over in Doñana but we managed to see to today a nice Osprey resting on an electric pylon near Hato Ratón Rice Fields.
Red deer are still easy to see everywhere in the pine and cork oak forests, where they already reach up for the still unripe acorns from the cork trees. The last howls can still be heard in the distance; Fallow Deer will take their turn in the reproductive tasks in the next few weeks. We saw fresh lynx tracks today, but were not lucky enough to see the actual cat; we saw Wild Boar and an elegant Red Fox though. Blackcaps and Robins are coming back to our forests for the winter while the last Flycatchers and Willow Warblers are still passing through them. The number of Common Buzzards is also increasing quickly.
In the marshes the first wintering Little Bustards have arrived while the last migratory Short-toed Larks can still be seen sharing the water licking from a cattle trough with their close relatives the Lesser Short-toed and Crested Larks. Linnets, Corn Buntings, Spanish Sparrows and the first White Wagtails also joined them. At Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre they are pumping water into the lagoon; Calandra Larks and Pintail Sandgrouse come early every morning to get a drink of fresh water. Here, Common Kestrels, Red Kites and Peregrines are the ones increasing numbers day by day but we haven’t seen any Merlin yet. Griffon Vultures still take advantage of the sunny and warm weather to overfly the dry plains in search of a mouthful of rotten rare beef.
Life has moved from the dry marshes to the rice fields north of the Park. There the harvest works have just started and hundreds of birds follow the heavy machinery and concentrate in the just harvested fields to take advantage of the easily available food. Large flocks of Glossy Ibis build an alive chessboard in conjunction with hundreds of Little and Cattle Egrets, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Grey Herons stay apart, closer to the ditches looking for bigger preys accompanied by the first Great White Egrets back in Doñana area for the winter.
At Dehesa de Abajo there is very little water left, but a large flock of Flamingos still take advantage of the shallow waters along with a large number of Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Ruffs. In the near Brazo de la Torre, Yellow-crowned Bishops and Common Waxbills are still finishing their reproductive period and flocks of them can be seen here and there.
Like every dry season, life does not disappear from Doñana but moves out to the rice fields waiting for the rainy season to start and wintering birds to come back from the north.
2012 SEPTEMBER 21st
Beauty and the beast
The first clouds arrive in Doñana with the coming of the Autumn to decorate the skies over our marshes and give us some beautiful sceneries like this one. The forecasted rain next week will relieve the hard conditions to our animals and plants.
Flocks of Lesser Kestrels keep overflying our dry plains while hundreds of Weathears move through our marshes and as many Flycatchers pass through our forests. The numbers of Winchats, Redstarts, Willow Warblers increase and the first Garden Warblers can be seen now.
During the last few weeks we have also enjoyed the first flowers decorating our countryside, just before the Autumn comes; this survivor of extreme dares yet and opens its beautiful white flower spikes defying the heat of September, breaking with its beauty the beastly austerity of summer landscapes. It is the Sea squill (Urginea maritima)
2012 SEPTEMBER 17th
Vultures, Short-toed Eagles, Booted Eagles, Montagu's Harriers, Hobbies andLesser Kestrels keep on passing through Doñana these days on their way to África. Along with them there are a huge number of passerines doing the same: Willow Warblers, Redstarts, Winchats and specially Pied and Spotted Flycatchers in the woods and Weathers in the dry plains are passing by hundreds every day putting a touch of lively colours in our landscapes.
2012 SEPTEMBER 3rd
Thousands of storks concentrate these days at Dehesa de Abajo lagoon, it is a must see place in the Doñana area. Apart from that, flamingos, spoonbills, avocests, stilts, godwits, glossy ibis and other waders and several species of ducks can be found there. Among then we counted up to 10 Marbled Ducks. Storks rose in flocks to whirl around thermals over the lagoon and near rice fields, an spectacular show.
The first Black Storks are back in Doñana for the winter and Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Willow Warblers, the first Wheatears, Ospreys and Short-toed Snake Eagles, Montagu's Harriers and Booted Eagles, are passing through on their way to Africa.
Rice harvest has not started yet but the whole area has been planted this year and the crops look well, healthy and promising for birds.
2012 AUGUST 25th
Have you seen them passing?
Like every year, there are many dozens of different species of birds, from the giant Griffon Vulture Warbler, to the small Willow Warbler, that return to Africa at the end of the breeding season to spend the cold months in temperate latitudes. Thousands of them fly every day over our forests, countryside and cities, the vast majority of them go unnoticed to most of us. But one of these species stand up among all the others for making your annual passing more than evident, they are the joy of our skies, the European Bee-eater.
Every day from late July or early August, they pass overhead at low altitude at day time in groups of about 25 to 30 of them; rarely they are seen traveling alone. Their number increases in the first half of September, to descend again towards the end of the month. Their groups can be heard even before they are seen. The distinctive song never goes unnoticed by those who know it; we are encourage to look up at the sky every time we see them and say goodbye to them until next spring.
Listen to their song
Apparently adults abandon us first and then the flocks are mostly composed of young individuals that are bundled already in the breeding areas; You can identify them by the two central tail feathers which don’t protrude as much as they in adults. The vast majority of Bee-eaters that pass through the Straits of Gibraltar are Spanish birds, those from the colonies in southern France pass over more eastern areas of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Bee-eater is certainly one of the most colorful birds in our latitudes and nature photographers and birders enjoyed them every year. It is very common to see them perched on power lines while passing along our roads and tracks, giving us a huge explosion of color and vitality. With a pair of binoculars you can have a good time watching their elegant comings and goings for insects and even more, we could stop and try to distinguish males from females. No easy task nor obvious, but with a bit of visual acuity and looking from below you will see the brighter blue of the male breast and their wing coverts (wing area closest to the head) more brown reddish than that of the female.
female on the left
It is well known their ability - as noted in his name - to hunt bees, bumblebees and wasps and remove the stinger before eating. This skill is not supported by any special physical resistance to the bites, beyond the peak of the special design, which keeps the eyes away from the dangerous histamines. Although contrary to what its name suggests they do not only feed on bees, but all kinds of insects.
They breed in colonies and their nests are located at the end of a tunnel excavated in sandy slopes of about 75 cm in length, but may reach up to 1.5 meters long. In building each couple extracts about 10 to 15 kg of sand. While performing this arduous task, the beak can be reduced up to 1.5 cm, sometimes not regularly, with the top or the low part of the peak more worn. Bee-eaters require around 225 bees a day when they are raising their young. Clutch size is 6 - 7 eggs.
This is one of the few birds that perform breeding in cooperation; this means that other individuals who are not the parents help to feed the chicks, circumstance that promotes healthy and numerous clutches. In our area, in addition to the Bee-eater, only Moorhen, Long-tailed Tit and Dunnock show this cooperative behavior. Genetic studies have shown that these 'helpers' are invariably the brothers and sisters of the birds being fed, usually the offspring from a previous brood. If nest sites are limited by the size of the sandbank, then helping their siblings to survive is the most useful thing that young Bee-eaters can do until they can claim a nest-site of their own.
Nesting season is time for family alliances and intrigue. Parents with helpers can provide more food for chicks to continue the family line. The trick, of course, is to recruit helpers, they often use strong-arm tactics. After digging the burrow, a male bee-eater typically engages in courtship feeding—impressing his mate by bringing her a tasty bee or dragonfly. Parents have been reported to butt into their son's business, begging for the courtship treat or barging in between the mated pair. If that didn't work, a parent might block the entrance to the son's burrow, preventing the female from entering to lay her eggs. After a while some sons succumbed to the pressure, abandoning their own breeding efforts to become helpers at their parents' nests.
They're more likely to find helpers among males whose own nests fail through natural causes. Almost everything naughty you can think of happens in those colonies. If a female leaves her burrow to feed, another female may sneak in to lay eggs—a tactic to fool the neighbor into raising a stranger's brood. Similarly, if a male leaves the nest unguarded, other males may seize the opportunity to copulate with his mate. Other bee-eaters occasionally turn to robbery, harassing neighbors who return with food until they drop the insect and the thief can fly away with the goods.
Once the birds arrive in Africa, the social season kicks into high gear. Male bee-eaters stick with their own clan, while females leave to add their genes to a distant pool. Grass fires sometimes function as mixers, drawing bee-eaters from miles around to feast on the fleeing insects. Spanish-born males meet Italian-born females, Hungarian birds meet Kazakhs, and mates pair up for life. Come April, it's back to Europe. Yearling males return to their natal grounds with new mates.
It's a short, spectacular life. A long-lived European bee-eater will survive five years, maybe six. The rigors of migration, dodging falcons along the way, take a toll on every bird. Bee-eaters today also have to contend with the loss of insects to pesticides and the disappearance of breeding sites as rivers are turned into concrete-walled canals. But what a story: bee chases, hive raids, brush fires, nest intrigue, and Gibraltar crossings packed into those years.
They are leaving now, but will return next spring and will again brighten our skies and our lives. They are definitely a priceless gift of nature.
2012 AUGUST 10th
Lynx on a tree
The two Spanish Imperial Eagles nesting in the far side of the marshes in El Rocio are both perched high on two of the tallest eucalyptus early in the morning, around 7:30, when we start the tour today. A group of Reed Deer is grassing and moving slowly along the edge o the dry marshes where they can still find some juicy food. A Black Kite passes flying over looking for breakfast and several White Storks return from their night rust at La Rocina Stream.
Rabits and Partridges are the first animals we see after entering the National Park. A bit later, a Little Owl say hello from its usual perch on a cork oak tree as we pass next to it. It is going to be a hot day today, they say, but there is still a pleasant breeze that make us feel cool and nice.
Iberian Lynx is our main target today, like every day, while moving through the pine woods. A fresh track give us hope to keep on searching. But as I say to Carlos it is not difficult to find a Lynx track around that area if you know what to look for, they move around every day, but finding the real animal is another matter.
Short-toed Treecreepers, Woodlarks and Crested Tits sound in the distance but don’t let us see them. A dark morph Booted Eagle, that began working early today, overfly us and a Common Kestrel, still defending breeding territory, chase it away. While moving through the cork oak forest we are lucky enough to suddenly find a lynx up on a solitary tall pine. They spend most of the time on the ground, they don’t like much climbing up trees, but now in summer they do it more often in order to get cooler temperatures and breeze, especially from midday on. This is a great sight to make the tour worth it for Carlos and family.
A bit later we come across a group of reed deer grassing along the forest edge. A few males showing fully grown antlers seem to be already interested on the females and guarding them. Most of Black Kites have gone now so the skies are a bit empty. Luckily Swifts and Swallows replace them up there since they are already moving back south. Some Short-toed Eagles and Montagu’s Harriers are also passing through on migration south and they are not difficult to see in the marshes. A few Crested Larks and Woodchat Shrikes perched on the cattle fences and a small group of Pintail Sandgrouses cheer the drive through the dry marshes. They are among the few only species that live in these harsh conditions in the marshes. A solitary Marsh Harrier and a couple of Common Kestrels are also spotted from our vehicle.
We arrive at Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre and take a coffee break. There is not much water left. They let the water go every summer to prevent the proliferation of toxic algae. But now, in the shallow water, there are a good number of waders already returning from the north: Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Little Stint, Curlew, Green and Common Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-winged Stilts, Avocets; also Glossy Ibis and the occasional visit of Pintail Sandgrouse. To complete the scene a large group of Wild Boar moving quickly away into the reeds.
Back in the land rover we move to Caño Guadiamar and find a small group of Fallow Deer resting under the shade of some tamarisks. Females jump and run away while an impressive male half the way to look back to us. We see a couple of Lesser Kestrels and a Little Owl that live in the old pumping house and a Red Kite seating on the electric line. Back in the Hinojos Marshes we find a group of about 15 Griffon Vultures moving east and several Booted Eagles moving south to complete a good bird list and build a good tour today.
2012 JULY 16th
An oasis in the marshes
Summer progresses and harden living conditions for all inhabitants of Doñana, including us, humans. With a bit of luck temperatures stay below 30° C and without it may exceed 40° C
The Mother of the Marshes, still retain some water, and it becomes one of the most attractive spots in the Park. A large number of herons, storks, glossy ibis, flamingos, spoonbills, black kites, stilts, godwits and many other species concentrate to take advantage of the easy food offered to them by the low water level. The last puddles are always located next to the Puente de La Canaliega over the Arroyo de la Rocina. This also tends to hold large concentrations of birds in their already reduced water depth, is a good time to try and observe the elusive Otter from the hides along the path of Charco de la Boca.
Rising temperatures and shortage of water don't bring only disadvantages, the number of mosquitoes, already low this year, has dramatically drop no to be a nuisance anymore during the tours to the Park. In the marshes mirages are an every day sight and confuse us to think that the marshes are flooded, that the dunes are much higher than what they actually are in the distance and that the forests lay on hills and not on flat lands.
In the forests, deer show their antlers grown, in some cases almost ready for the upcoming rut. Stork chicks on nests have already reached almost their parents' size, and these are looking for grasshoppers and lizards on the dry meadows. Baby lynx show themselves more often, and allow us to see that they already weigh several kilos and are able to tear themselves prey meat that brings her mother and even help in hunting tasks, although showing a evident clumsiness.
Montagu's harriers and black kites begin to prepare their plumage for the upcoming trip back to Africa, and begin to molt their wings, exposing some holes clearly visible in the silhouette in flight.
Coots, moorhens, grebes and mallards are striving to move forward with their latest chicks and defend them from the attacks of hungry black kites and marsh harriers in the lagoons of Jose A. Valverde. Also there are often flocks of flamingos, stilts and godwits. Some small groups of deer and wild boar also come to this oasis surrounded by cracked marsh. On any water patch there is a multitude of swallows and inexperienced martins of the year, and the young goldfinches and greenfinches, with colors clearly more attenuated than adults, thicken the flocks that feed in the fields of thistles. Even the great Spanish Imperial Eagle flying over the lakes almost daily before noon in search of some distracted duck.
Outside, the marshes so full of life in spring have become a vast cracked steppe in which few species think of living, some larks and shrikes, kestrels, sandgrouses and stone curlews, black kites, ravens and vultures, the last are actually delighted with the harsh conditions that does nothing but provide food often and easy, as the weaker cattle succumbed to the scarcity of food, heat and weakness. From mid-morning they are usually seen in large groups using thermals to raise high over the marshes and explore ten of miles around for any sign of food.
Spring has gone north, not far, in the rice fields around the nearby town of Isla Mayor many thousand long legged birds and waders concentrate take advantage of the resources offered by the shallow waters of these plantations. The abundance of crabs, frogs, small fish, insect larvae and other invertebrates makes these vast flooded areas the perfect location for a large percentage of the birds born in the Park take several weeks accumulating energy before they start their migration south. Rice fields are now essential for the conservation of many species in Doñana.
2012 MAY 16th
What a beautiful things !!
Here you can download a PDF document with some information about the 10 lynx cubs born in Acebuche Breeding Centre this year.
2012 MAY 9th
Vultures and mushrooms
We will have to resign ourselves, very few birds will breed in Doñana this spring; last few weeks rain will not be able to amend last winter low rainfall, most of the marshes are still dry, offering few opportunities for herons, ducks, storks and waders this year. Several hundred Glossy Ibis are concentrated in the Jose A. Valverde breeding colony and a small number of Purple Herons can see some, but none of them has come to consider breeding this year. Only a few Purple Swamp-hens, Coots, Moorhens, Red-crested Pochards, Mallards and Gadwalls have made up their mind to. That is nature, some years good, some bad, and they know it, and adapt to it the best they can.
Still on migration time, flocks of Ringed Plovers fly over the dry plains in search of food or at least, a quiet place to rest on their long journey north. Environmental conditions in Doñana are not good this year due to the lack of rain but they will not have any problems to find good conditions for breeding on the shores of lakes, rivers and seas in the cold Scandinavia. Huge flocks of Whiskered Terns and Collared Pratincoles can be seen in the distance feeding over the flooded areas near the edge of the marshes, next to long lines of pink Flamingos. A few Short-toed Eagles also keep coming through Doñana and show themselves very well as they hover in search of a clueless snake. Only a few pairs of Lapwings are nesting in the marshes this year and Pintail Sandgrouse have just began displaying. Black Kites are abundant, as every spring, working tirelessly in search of something edible over forests and marshes.
But if there is a species that do well in bad years is the vulture, the big Griffon Vulture which, coming from their breeding colonies in the mountains of Cadiz and Huelva, use the Doñana marshes as a huge feeding ground. In dry years like this, the number of cows, horses and sheep that can not withstand the harsh conditions increases, benefiting these scavengers with unrefined taste. You can see them every day, when the sun is already high in the sky, gaining altitude in groups, in order to control a wide area around and be alert for any of their fellows who suddenly drop on a prey, to redirect their route to that point.
In the other hand, in pine and cork oak woods spring has come late but now, with increasing temperatures and the last rains, there has been a spectacular explosion of color. Yellow and white Chrysanthemum and blue Viper Bugloss dominate in all meadows. With the breeze this morning, large clouds of pine and oak pollen, also in flower, emerge from the tops to cover everything as if it were sand dust. I watched it with suspicion, considering the effects it would have on me a cloud of that size of olive pollen, which is just starting to produce their deleterious periodic effects on my nose and eyes.
All are rushing to take advantage of these few weeks of good breeding conditions, Black Kites and Booted Eagles, Partridges and Shrikes, Goldfinches and Serins, Lynx and rabbits; all run to make the most of it while it lasts . Even mushrooms accelerate flowering showing us their mushroom-shaped eye-catching reproductive structures.
2012 APRIL 24th
Inconspicuous warblers and colorful Bee-eaters
Weather is improving and temperatures rising up to some comfortable 20ºC. Migration is still moving through Doñana’s forests and marshes and birds like Golden Oriole, Roller or Bee-eater are sill passing. Many of the last ones will stay to breed with us, like the one on the photo taken at Dehesa de Abajo, a small natural reserve next to the National Park. Other birds like Red-necked Nightjar, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Rufous Bush Robin are also coming in these days.
A good place this spring to try forest and water birds is La Rocina Stream which still keeps a good level of water. The walking trail that starts at the visitor centre will take you to a series of hides along the southern banks of the river, where warblers like Melodious, Savi’s, Great Reed and Reed are common at the moment, and through some nice patches of stone pine forests where Tree Sparrow, Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreper are common sightings. La Rocina is also a good spot for species like Purple and Squacco Heron, Marsh Harrier and Red-crested Pochard.
2012 APRIL 6th
Great for Crakes
Rain these days is improving the conditions in the Park very quickly. Meadows and plains are turning green at last and flowers are coming out decorating forests and marshes. Large flocks of Collared Pratincoles and Whiskered Terns feed in the dry plains. Griffon Vultures are also very common sights in the marshes. Great chances for crakes at Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre Baillon's, Spotted and Little Crakes plus Water Rail are all possible.
Bee-eaters, Rollers and Orioles are passing in good numbers. Weathears and Black-eared Weathears are also coming through in large numbers now. Cuckoo is already singing in our forests and Lynx sightings are common during our tours.
Large concentrations of birds at Dehesa de Abajo. Red-crested Pochard, Shoveler, Purple Gallinule, Night Heron, Purple Heron, Crested Coot, Glossy Ibis, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit Black-winged Stilt, can be seen there along with the largest White Stork colony on trees in Spain. We also saw there yesterday the first Olivaceous Warbler of the season.
2012 MARCH 29th
Spring in Doñana
Migration moves through Doñana these days. Garganeys, Wood Sandpipers, Tenmick's Stints, Common Wheatears , Redstarts, Sedge Warblers, Willow and Western Bonelli's Warblers, Orphean Warblers, Alpine Swifts and Rollers are passing through on their way north.
Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Black Kites, Lesser Kestrels, Purple and Squacco Herons, Crakes, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns, Pallid Swifts, Cuckoos and Great-crested Cuckoos, Bee-eaters, Black-eared Wheatears, Short-toed Larks, Reed Warblers, Subalpine Warblers, Woodchat Shrikes and Collared Pratincoles, like the one on the photo, are coming to stay.
Female lynx is taking care of her recently born cubs and reed deer is loosing their antlers to start regenerating them stright away. La Rocina Stream and forests and the marshes next to El Rocío offer a very good variety of birds at the moment, including Crested Coots, Flamingos, Spoonbills along with a large number of waders. At the lagoons around Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre there are several Garganeys and good number of Squacco and Purple Herons. Water Rail, Spotted and Baillon's Crakes are spotted there every day.
Despite of the lack of rain that keeps large parts of the marshes dry, Doñana is offering very good oportunities to watch birds this just started spring. Some rain is expected in the next few days which will improve sensibly the situation.
2012 JANUARY 30th
From Seville to the marshes
There was a huge traffic jam outside Seville, so after 15 minutes, moving not more than 100 meters, I decided to look for an alternative to get to work in El Rocío. I headed towards Coria del Río, a village which spreads along the western banks of the Guadalquivir River next to the capital. Soon after I passed the next village, Puebla del Río, following signs to Isla Mayor, I entered the largest rice area in Spain, with about 35,000 has devoted to rice. Birdwatching opportunities start here. It’s been dry this year so far so only a few of the numerous fields are flooded, but that is actually good since bird tent to concentrate in them. Just before I got to Venta del Cruce, the last place to stop and have a cup of coffee by the way before you get into the wilderness of the Doñana marshes, I stopped to check a field full of Black-winged Stilts, Black-headed Gulls and Glossy Ibis among other waders. And then I did what I have just recommended you, I stopped and have a nice cup of coffee. From there you have two options, either you take left and keep going through the rice fields towards the village of Isla Mayor or you keep going straight along the edge of the cultivated area which is actually the shortest way to the marshes, this is what I did.
There are a number of lagoons now along the right hand side of the road where, in wet years, you can get interesting species like Red-knobbed Coot. These are just old gravel quarries that have turned today into temporary pools. A Squacco Heron on the edge of one of them did not flinch as I passed. For the next few kilometres I had pairs of White Storks all along, getting ready for breeding and flooded rice fields on the left with concentrations of a good variety of waders and other aquatic birds; Marsh Harriers started to be common.
Another place where birds concentrate all year round come next, Dehesa de Abajo, its stork colony and the reservoir below it well deserve a stop. The far edges of the lagoon where packed with flamingos, spoonbills, avocets, ducks, geese and coots; but what it really caught my attention was the pair of Marbled Ducks half hidden under the tamarisk of the edge. In the near rice fields I saw a couple of solitary Black Storks just standing still next to a ditch and flocks of Ibis feeding in the shallow waters. I did not have much time to spend so I kept going south along the asphalt road, went over Brazo de la Torre, in whose reed beds group of about 20 Purple Gallinules rushed into, then crossed Don Simón Ford over Guadiamar River and turned right at the T-junction. The left turn would also take you to the marshes following Entremuros along the western banks of the canalized river, but I wanted to try Pintail Sandgrouse and Little Bustards at Dehesa de Pilas.
Dehesa de Pilas is just a grassing area for cattle and horses where great conditions for steppe birds are kept all year round. These include breeding Stone Curlew and Sandgrouse and small groups of wintering Little Bustards. There are not many places in the area to try the last ones and even here is not easy; chances increase for all of them at the end of the day, when they come back from their foraging getaways. Wintering Hen Harriers and Black Storks, a small population of resident Lesser Kestrels, resident Calandra Larks, a huge colony of Spanish Sparrows, breeding Great-spotted Cuckoos and the usual visits of the Black-shouldered Kites from their breeding grounds at Vado del Quema are the main attractions here.
The access to Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre have been improved last summer so now, specially this year that is being dry so far, the driving south is an easy job. I kept moving south, passed through Haton Ratón farm land where several thousand Cranes concentrate in winter in the cereal fields and many thousand Greylag Geese do the same in the rice fields after the harvest. The power lines and pylons in this area are great perching places for raptors, now in winter mainly Common Buzards, Red Kites and specially Common Kestrels which winter in Doñana by hundreds. Passed 2 Puentes (2 bridges) I turned right and went through a vast extension of cereal fields just planted, regular area for Hen Harriers, Cranes, geese an Golden Plovers in winter. Large flocks of Skylarks, Calandra Larks and Corn Buntings now in winter and good numbers of Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks later in the year. For the last ones, the natural marshes are better places now in the winter.
Arrived in Caño Guadiamar I stopped to check the flocks of ducks and coots and enjoyed the distant flocks of calling Cranes in flight. This is a good place to try all kinds of raptors in spring, including Spanish Imperial Eagle flying over the dry marshes to the west or sitting on the fence along the far side of the water. Great site for a very good variety of species all year round. This gravel track that goes along the eastern banks of the Caño takes you directly to Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre, although a stop at the bridge over the Caño just before getting to it is compulsory. At this T-junction next to the bridge I turned right to the el Rocío, but this is a not allowed route for non authorized vehicles. This is part of itinerary of our 4x4 tours through the northern forests and marshes from El Rocío.
The alternative for private vehicles is turning left at the junction to the Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre, take a deserved coffee break and enjoy the unbeatable sights over the lagoons. To go back you can take a different route to the east, passing by Lucio de El Lobo, Huerta Tejada and then north along Entremuros via Casa Bombas and back to the asphalt near Isla Mayor. It took me only a couple of hours to El Rocío but it will take you the whole day for the whole route and advisable to start as early as possible if you are especially interested on birds. Good Luck!
To read former reports go to the Report page
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