By José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias
Posted in Doñana today
Kate and Nicholas, during one of our private tours yesterday, were lucky enough to enjoy a great lynx sighting. For about 3 – 4 minutes an impressive male Iberian lynx was much more interested on the noises coming from potential preys than worried about our near presence.It was a cold morning and frost had caught for the first time this year on some patches in the forest where there was no protection from the canopies. As we moved through the dense pine woods the just awaken sun tried to break through the trees painting the skies above on red and orange. Who decides when you see it or when you don’t, I don’t know. It just happened that my head was turned to the right direction and there he was, very close to the Park fence, sitting quietly on his four legs, like waiting for the next rabbit to come by. He did not flinch when we arrived; he just barely turned its head to us for a second, that was all, and kept doing what he was doing, not much, just waiting.
Have you ever seen a wild cat close enough to see its facial expression? Every time I do I think the same, they look sad. There is something on its facial gesture…Anyway, our wild cat turned his head away from us, redirected his ears and changed his position by stretching his front legs to try and get the least vibration moving through the dense and cold air. There is something moving in the bushes, we thought. He repeated the operation several times but to no results. Our great expectations to see him hunting vanished when he stood up on his four legs and begun walking, slowly, very slowly away from us. I don’t think his behaviour was being altered at all by our near presence. He just walked away from us to try his breakfast somewhere else, slowly, keeping his majesty, like the king he is. We, still holding our breath of emotion, saw it disappearing behind a mastic tree. And that was it, a little piece of a lynx’s life watched through human eyes.
Can you expect something better after this? That is what I was thinking when I turned the engine on again. Difficult but I had four more hours ahead of me to show Kate and Nicholas Doñana.
Despite of the cold morning wrens, treecreepers, serins, blackcaps, sardinian warblers, goldfinches, chaffinches, robins, work together to compose a complete symphony of melodic songs that fill the forests. Spring is still far in the calendar but they feel it coming. The solitary Iberian grey shrike doesn’t share the joy of them. It remains majestic, thoughtful, keeping its place on its usual perch overlooking the clearing; in the absence of the king sparrowhawk he is the landlord. With the permit of the booted eagle that flew overhead, unusual in winter time, but I don’t think he will interfere in business under the canopies.
Red deer has changed its diet to fresh grass that grows in the meadows and marshes edges and we came across several groups of females and juveniles and a few strong males sharing now watching tasks after the competition for females is over. They looked now healthy and fat after the exhausting autumn duties. Red kites, common buzzards, hen harriers, marsh harriers and common kestrels have increased their numbers quickly in the last few weeks; we also found a pair of black-shouldered kites happily back at their usual winter quarters after two very wet winters.
Along the marshes edges, feeding on thistle fields, a mixed huge flock of goldfinch and corn buntings flew on and off every couple of minutes while a little owl, sitting on its usual perch in the artificial rabbit warren at Veta Zorrera, enjoyed their performance. We could hear distant flocks of greylag geese on their way to the rice fields; they will be safe there until Saturday when hunters will play again a game they never loose.
Wind begun to blow stronger from the north in the open marshes; the sun shining over our heads was not enough to keep Kate warm anymore so she stayed in the land rover when we found a peregrine perched on a fence post at about 1 km from us with something among its claws; a bit further south, not far from a group of several hundred geese, a merlin watched the scenery seating on a cow dung, its usual perch. When we got to Caño Guadiamar none of us felt like going out of the car and set up the scope to look at a couple of black storks and the flock of spoonbills, the day had turned unpleasant and also we could nearly smell the cup of coffee from Jose A. Valverde Visitor Centre, so we decided to keep going and take a break.
Restored our energies, we enjoyed several marsh harriers and red kites manoeuvring over the lagoon flying over several flamingos and a flock of gadwall and shoveler; a purple gallinule sneaked away through the reeds and a group of night herons cold shrunk in the tamarisk. A couple of coffees later we were ready for the quest of cranes. Kate was especially interested on seeing them, so I told her not to worry; we would find them sooner or later somewhere in the marshes. The first place we tried was Lucio del Lobo, east of the visitor centre, but there was no sign of them there, we found a large group of about 20 female fallow deer driven by an imposing male. Along the electric line a kestrel chased away a buzard and huge flocks of calandra larks and skylarks shared in harmony the cereal fields covered by a green carpet of grass now. Groups of ravens feed also on the fields over flown by a pair of red kites.
There were no sign of the stone curlews next to Huerta Tejada, in a day like that, with cold north winds, they shelter behind the vegetation and that make even more difficult to spot them. More buzzards and kites on the way along Entremuros checking the plains for cranes with no result. They have to be somewhere, I said. We kept moving north now and stopped at Casa Bombas, where a few night herons flew away from us to hide in the reeds and the common kestrels that live there flew off to have a look around. I checked again the fields in the distance and, good luck!!, there they were at last, a large flock of several hundred cranes some 4 – 5 kms away from us, a promising sight.
Five minutes later Kate could enjoy of great views of them. Cranes are very shy birds in Doñana and even having some 400 metres between them and us they started to fly off to set down again just a bit further; Kate did not take her eyes off the telescope not to lose any detail of that either. Feeling a bit more relaxed now after succeeding with the cranes I began driving back to El Rocío with the feeling of a job well done.