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In memory of Joanna Francis

By Lucía Lozano Villarán

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It was about 10 years ago, back in the spring of 2001, when I had the fortune to meet this great person. It wasn’t her first time in Doñana, the exuberant nature of these latitudes had already caught her. Being an enthusiastic nature lover, always willing to increase their knowledge on any subject, always grateful for a new experience, always happy with any small surprise that our excursions in Doñana offered us. From large events like the stunning bird breeding colonies to small events such as the construction of an ant lion trap, from the mighty stag to the most delicate flower, from the highest tree tops to the lowest strata at the eyes of a lizard level, no corner of wilderness felt outside her interest.
I enjoyed our outings to Doñana as much as her. After a good number of years of experience as a guide in the Park and thousands of people who I had tried to convey my enthusiasm for this wonderful corner of Europe, I must say that few of them showed such a fervent adherence to Doñana. Nothing motivates more a nature guide than seeing the enjoyment of the person that shares with you the day, so I’ll always be grateful to Joanna for all those great moments we spent together in Doñana.
Knowing that it might be the last time, she visited us in late January, she had never seen the Cranes and Geese in their winter quarters, and not being particularly good in waders, wanted to improve their identification skills at the time of the year that was a better challenge. The light of Doñana in winter also captivated her, the clarity of the landscape and the vastness of the marsh flooded after the heavy Autumn rain. But another light, her light, extinguished for ever last week. All who knew her will miss her.
I would have loved to show her Doñana again this spring. Winter rain have also been abundant this year so the marshes look great and the expectations are the best in a number of years. Meadows, constantly overflown by Bee-eaters, stay green with abundant flowers and butterflies; in the forest you can easily identify and locate every species by their song, and diversity in the marshes is the highest of the year. The great Imperial Eagle, the querulous Black Kite, the powerful Short-toed Eagle, the great hunter the Booted Eagle, the elegant Montagu’s Harrier, the skilled Kestrels and the tender Little Owls, all would have been willing to show their skills again before Joanna’s eyes.
Joanna would undoubtedly also enjoyed the small Kentish Plovers, hatchings their eggs now in a small slit of dried mud on the edges of marsh ponds, and the rare Tenmick’s Stint passing in small numbers now mixed with large groups of other small waders on their way back to the north, and the exotic look of Collared Pratincoles, the loud chatting of the Black Winged Stilts, the displays of fun-toed Lark, the flights of the Lapwings chasing the Black Kites away  from their nests, the curious silhouette of the Crested Coot hiding in reeds away from our sight, Glossy Ibis formations returning to the breeding colony, large flocks of Flamingos flying off and showing the flashes of red fire that decorate their wings and under which we name them, Griffon Vultures gaining height by cycling in a thermal and Purple Swamp-hen, Joanna would have thoroughly enjoyed our extravagant blue cocks which are already feeding their chickens this spring hidden among the aquatic vegetation.
She would have enjoyed so much to help me again in the search of, what she perfectly knew it was my favourite bird, the Pintail Sandgrouse. Difficult task each time you try, but that just makes it more interesting and rewarding. The three pairs that we saw today were just taking a dust bath in an open corner of  dry clay   only about 50 meters away from our car, their twisting to make it reach every corner of their bodies caught my attention and made my work easier.
If she had been able to come back to Doñana, the attractive song of the Calandra Lark and the delicate melody of the Melodious Warbler had caught her attention as much as they caught mine today, and she had loved to see again the small Spectacled Warblers and those little brown birds that all birders want to see when they come to Doñana, the Lesser Short-toed Larks. On arrival at the bridge over Caño Guadiamar she had asked me to find for her again a Savi’s Warbler, to see it singing from the top of a reed its monotonous tune that resembles more that of a cricket than anything else, his mouth staying open, as if waiting for the small insects that feeds on to fell inside by themselves attracted by it; that is one of those little things that she used to enjoy with gratitude.
Needless to say that her pleasure levels had risen high above when reaching once more José A. Valverde breeding colony. There the activity is hectic again, like every spring, 15 to 20,000 Purple Herons, Squacco Herons, Night Herons, Cattle Egrets, Little Egrets and Glossy Ibis, among others, are struggling to complete their nests and begin to hatch their eggs. The attractive Red-crested Pochards nesting under the tamarisks and, with a little luck, you can also see the elusive Little Bittern flying over the lagoon to hide again among the reeds
It took us a whole day last winter to find a species that she always missed on her visits to Doñana, and we had to go as far as Sanlúcar de Barrameda to get it, the scarce Marbled Teal, now we have some back in the marshes.
A good friend is gone, and will not return to her beloved Doñana, at least in flesh and blood, though I’m sure the Doñana’s marshes and forests have been somehow infused with her vital energy. From here I send you my most sincere gratitude wherever you are.

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