A couple of weeks after rain began, the marshes of Doñana have suddenly changed its look. In just a few days we have gone from having a landscape of cracked clays and yellowish and ocher colors, to having another one where the flooded marshes and the green color dominate. In only a few days we have gone from complaining about the poor expectations for the near future to look forward to a promising spring when our waterbirds are expected to find favorable conditions to have a successful breeding season. The access to the Park through the northern forests has been tricky some days but water puddles have provided great beautiful photo opportunities at sunrise
More than 250mm of rain have accumulated in the last few days in the region of Doñana, more than 1/3 of the annual average rainfall. It is true that the ideal situation is that the marshes get flooded a little earlier, around the beginning of winter. Our wintering and breeding birds do not feed on water, obviously, a vast majority feed on the invertebrates and small vertebrates that they find in the water the favorable conditions the need to complete their life cycles. Bird food supply change gradually, unlike the look of the marshes, which can vary drastically in a few days if it rains enough. Several weeks will be needed now so that the rainwater accumulated in the marshes produce the food our birds need to enter the reproductive phase.
During the last few months, our vegetarian wintering geese, had to take the risks of a dangerous daily trip to unprotected areas of rice paddies and cereal fields in the Park surroundings to find the food that was so scarce by the lack of rain in the protected areas. Our herons, ducks, flamingos, spoonbills, winter waders and other waterfowl also had to choose other nearby wetlands to feed.
These last few weeks, when spring was approaching, our breeding aquatic birds, all the birds of prey associated to them and other species that are part of the marsh ecosystem, began to doubt that Doñana would be the appropriate place to spend the coming spring. All that has changed now. It will take some time, and the reproduction may start later, so that the spectacular heronries at Caño Guadiamar may not develop so big; our coots and ducks may have to go this year for a single brood; our ibis population may not grow exponentially as in best years, and it may take a little for the first black-winged stilts to build their nests of sticks by the water’s edge, but even so it seems clear that we will have a wonderful spring in the marshes, full of spectacular scenes of the most vibrant nature.
For the moment, while the waters settle, large flocks of waders feed in the shallow water. Huge numbers of black-tailed godwits, ruffs, greenshanks, redshanks, golden plovers, lapwings and others, mover around in the Hinojos Marshes eating earthworms and other small ground invertebrates that the floods have disturbed. Large groups of ducks and flamingos prefer the deeper and more distant waters. The first purple herons are already hidden among the reeds along Caño Guadiamar and Lucio del Lobo. Swallows, martins and swifts continue to arrive. The first yellow wagtails from Africa get mixed with the white wagtails that prepare their trip to the north. In the Caracoles State, the waters coming from Entremuros reach high levels and large flocks of black-headed gulls, glossy ibis, storks, cranes, herons and waders feed on the invertebrates that water expels from vegetation and soil.
Many black kites, already back from the south, begin to share the skies of Doñana with the red kites, which are already returning to their breeding areas in the north. We can still see the last short-eared owls, but they will soon be gone, same as the last groups of cranes and geese.
The level of the water in the marshes keeps on growing as low pressure fronts discharge rain over Doñana and the adjacent areas. It is looking good…