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Autumn rain in Doñana

By Lucía Lozano Villarán

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It has already started to rain in Doñana after the long dry season and the first flocks of ducks are arriving now. Today I thought I saw the first flock of geese in the distance; they were too far away to be sure, but I think I identified the distinctive heavy beating of wings of these great travellers.
These first autumn storms are not enough to change significantly the dry state of the marshes, but the level of water at the Mother of the Marshes is increasing and so does the number of birds. In the cork oak forest of Matasgordas we hardly hear the Reed Deer rutting any more, although there are still some males accompanying their harems of females. We can see them easily in mixed groups through the low layer of mist that remains spreading under the tree canopies until the sun comes out to disintegrate it. The still small acorns attract them in order of recovering the energy lost during the long, hard summer and the gruelling breeding tasks. It is impressive to see them lift their heavy bodies on their hind legs to reach barely the lowest fruits, young individuals have no choice but to wait until they fall to the ground to start enjoying them.
In the marshes everything is more or less the same, plenty of Wheatears still passing through; most passerines pass quite unnoticed during the autumn migration, but this one in particular is felt easily. Throughout the month of September, thousands of them use the fences along the Hinojos Marshes as perches where to hunt the insects on which they feed from. Other small birds like Willow and Garden Warblers, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers are also passing.
At Caño Guadiamar there are still many Black-tailed Godwits, Ruffs, Avocets, Stilts, Ringed Plovers, Dunlins, Snipes, Common Teals, Shovelers and Spoonbills. Bluethroat is now back and moving through the reeds picking little insects from the muddy grounds. Willow Warblers, Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Warbler and Garden Warblers can also be seen in among the reeds.
During our stops at the bridge over the Caño to see all these species it’s not rare, if you keep your ears open, to catch a glimpse of smalls groups of Pintail Sandgrouse flying at low altitude over your heads, making their usual short calls. They drop over the shallow waters near the shore and with a quick and trained exercise take land over de surface and take off again after a second with their bellies full of water. Then they back again toward the dry marshes where their thirsty chickens wait. Or if you are lucky like we were today you may see the impressive Spanish Imperial Eagle cycling high in the sky, gaining altitude with the help of the thermal.
At the rice fields around Isla Mayor harvesting has just started. Thousands of Storks, Herons, Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Gulls and waders concentrate on the just harvested fields to take advantage of the tones of crayfish, fish and frogs now easily available. Is this a part of Doñana that you should not miss if you visit it at this time of the year; we always included in our full day tours, specially designed for people specially interested on birdwatching.
We now are expecting more rain coming soon to fill the marshes and have the right conditions to welcome the big flocks of Cranes, Geese, ducks and waders that there must but just about to arrive.

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