February is a time of big though gradual changes. Weather conditions are again of vital importance in the calendar of events. It is an interesting time of year because it usually offers the opportunity to observe most of wintering species and at the same time provides the first chances to see some of the breeding species back from Africa.
Black Storks, golden plovers, cranes, greylag geese, merlins, hen harriers, short-eared- owls, reed buntings, bluethroats and white wagtails remain in the area preparing the return to the north, but become increasingly scarce as the month progresses. Blackcaps sing restless from their hides in the bushes in our pine and cork oak forests although not many will stay to breed.
In the other hand, the first individuals of species such as Egyptian vulture, black kite, short-toed eagle and booted eagle begin coming back from Africa. The first black kites waste no time and immediately start taking possession and restore last year’s nests in order to attract females. White storks, coots, mallards and grebes also work on their nests. Some tawny owls are already feeding their chickens. Species like purple swamphen are easily visible now along Caño Guadiamar, before the aquatic vegetation grow higher and hide them from our view.
The first purple herons, marbled teals, garganeys, great reed warblers and red-rumped swallows also begin to appear towards the end of the month. It is then when we see the large flocks of cranes and geese leaving Doñana for their breeding grounds in the north, a nice show. The first groups of lesser kestrels start passing through Doñana and they can be seen hunting over open areas in marshes and cereals areas in the north.
Large flocks of flamingos feed in the shallow waters of the marshes; the males already dance in unison with their necks stretched out to the sky as they turn their heads on either side. Courting Iberian hares scampering among the salty bushes run fast across them. Above them Calandra larks and the lesser short toed larks perform their displays. Some lapwings, who plan to stay to breed in Doñana, begin to defend their spot, while the still abundant marsh harriers threaten them from the sky.
The egg-laying of the Spanish imperial eagle begins. They usually incubate between 2 and 4 eggs, but it is not uncommon that, in years of scarcity, only one of the 2 or 3 chicks survive.
Spring does not wait for March. Flowers of paperwhite narcissus, honeyworts, three-leaved snowflakes, hedge mustards, blue iris, crane bills and daisies decorate our forests, meadows and roadsides, and wild chamomile begins to cover large areas of the emergent marshland. Large patches of aquatic plants start emerging and covering the shallow waters of the marshes.
Blue or cloudy skies, cold mornings and warm afternoons, rainy or windy days, alternate to produce an enormous variety of landscapes during these days of our early spring; February is a great month to enjoy Doñana.