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From dawn til dusk

By José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

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A whole day watching birds

Red deer eating acorns

Red deer eating acorns

I met Robin, Richard and Ed, three keen American birdwatchers, just before sunrise at their hotel in El Rocío with the intention to spend the whole day birdwatching in the Doñana area. Just after leaving the hotel we had just light enough to see a couple of penduline tit, several zitting cisticola, a cetti’s warbler and the silhouette of a Spanish imperial eagle sat on its usual perch on a eucalyptus tree at the far side of the marshes in El Rocío. That was one of the species they had in their target list, – we will try to get a better view later on today – I told them.

The sun was just rising behind the trees and tinted the skies in orange. After the heavy rain of the previous day the marshes next to the village are flooded again after the long dry season and a good variety of birds concentrate in the shallow waters with increasing number of wintering ducks, geese and waders. Crested larks, skylarks and meadow pipits took the attention of my clients, three common birds in the open fields east of the village. Once in the forests we enjoyed great views of red and fallow deer feeding on acorns under the cork oaks. The lower branches of the oaks were all a sort of trimmed at the same distance of the grounds as an effect of the feeding action of the large herbivorous.  It was great to see how an imposing male red deer stood on its back legs and used its antlers as a tool to make the acorns fall down from an oak.

Female black redstart

Female black redstart

Another bird in their list was the little owl and we found one at close range on the dead oak where a pair of them live. The number of robins, chiffchaffs and blackcaps is increasing very quickly in the forests; other winter species like hawfinch, song thrush and black redstart are also back from the mountains and northern latitudes and we added them to the list of the day. Iberian grey shrike was also in their target list and we had good views of one of them. Flying over the thistle fields between the forests and marshes we saw a huge flock of several hundred goldfinches and large groups of corn buntings.

After leaving the forests and entering the marshes we found a common buzzard, followed by several common kestrels, a juvenile Egyptian vulture cycling with several griffon vultures, several red kites and a young female peregrine. A bit later we stopped to look at a delicate wheatear, which are still passing through, and found also a whinchat and a very near dartford warbler which Ed took some really good photos of.

Stone curlew

Stone curlew

At Caño Guadiamar we made a compulsory stop to look over the long stretch of water and added a good number of species to our list including avocet, black-winged stilt, common snipe, spoonbill, squacco heron, night heron, marsh harrier and greenshank among others. After that we took a very well deserved coffee break at José A. Valverde Visitor Centre and were lucky enough to have nice views again of a flying imperial eagle, two booted eagles flying south to Africa and a group of 7 small wild boars following their mother into the reeds.

It was after midday when we left the visitor centre and headed towards Isla Mayor, but not before going to see the small colony of lesser kestrels that stay with us all year next to the Caño Guadiamar. While driving along the still dry Lucio del Lobo we found a just arrived female hen harrier, several huge flocks of calandra larks flying low over the cereal fields and counted about 50 common kestrel using the telegraph poles and lines along the road as advantage points. Their numbers are also increasing very quickly these days. Not far from Huerta Tejada we found a large number of about 100 stone curlews spreading over a field with short grass.

Marbled teal

Marbled teal

Along the Entremuros road we got out of the car to enjoy 3 black storks flying over us and saw a huge flock of a couple of thousand glossy ibis flying over the rice fields on the other side of the channel. Once at Isla Mayor we had a refreshing lunch consisting of a selection of local dishes including some tasty spinach with chickpeas, beautiful grouper fillets, scrambled eggs with cured ham and some very soft pork cheeks. With our energies restored we spent a couple of hours exploring the rice fields around the village and tried to follow tractors and harvesters, the same as birds. Countless numbers of gulls, storks, egrets, herons and Ibis take advantage of the heavy machinery harvesting works. A solitary young purple heron was added to the day list.

At Dehesa de Abajo the number of birds has increased very much and we found there all kinds of ducks, including several marbled ducks, shelducks and ruddy shelducks.

sunset in Doñana

Sunset in Doñana

Several large flocks of spanish sparrows, a couple of young black crowned bishops and several dozen purple swamphens kept our attention for about half an hour. We did not have much time left before sunset so we decided to drive to Dehesa de Pilas to try two of the species we had missed so far. At the same spot I had had them the last few times we found a flock of about 50 pintail sandgrouse and after a hard search we enjoyed beautiful views of a flock of about 30 little bustard, two of the highlights of the day for me and my clients.

Back in El Rocío just when the sun was setting we look at the flocks of greylag geese and ducks, found a group of ruffs and enjoyed the great colours of the sunset at the unbeatable setting of the marshes next to the sanctuary. A great way to finish a great day.

About José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

José Antonio Sánchez se licenció en Biología por la Universidad de Sevilla en 1985. Más tarde, durante varios años, se dedicó a organizar y guiar rutas de senderismo y naturaleza ...

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