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Road going across the flooded marshes

Doñana in December

By José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

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At this point in December, we have had normally enough autumn rains for the marshes to be properly flooded and to appear before our eyes like a great expanse of water that continues without an end up to the horizon line. It is not rare to have a rainy, cloudy or windy day but we also often enjoy abundant sunny days with temperatures around 15-20 degrees, when the clouds that decorate the skies are reflected clearly on those calm waters that cover tens of thousands of hectares in Doñana. The warm light that brings us a sun that no longer rises high anymore helps us to enjoy beautiful landscapes worthy of being captured in our camera. Early in the morning the low temperatures keep them clear of a kind of evaporation mist, which will later blur the silhouettes of the forests and the mobile dunes that border the great marsh.

The slightly higher emergent areas show the bright green of the grass that covers them, putting a note of contrast in the dominant blue of the marsh environment. Marsh mares and cows feed them on them and enrich our landscape composition. They are joined by large groups of greylag geese that also graze on the green, accompanied by lapwings, black-tailed godwits, ruffs, golden plovers, redshanks and other waders that feed on the small invertebrates hidden in the vegetation and the shallow waters around it.


In the distance, huge flocks of small wintering waders like ringed plovers and dunlins execute their aerial choreographies appearing and disappearing from our view as the position of the group lets us see their light bellies catching the light or their dark backsides. Large groups of common teals, shovellers and mallards also rise above the waters alerted by the presence of a threatening marsh harrier or peregrine falcon. Crested larks, white wagtails and meadow pipits take refuge on the dirt roads that go across the great flooded plain, while stonechats seat on cattle fence posts.

In Caño Guadiamar and the deepest areas of the marshlands are the coots, little grebes and common pochards those who watch the skies to escape the attack of the winged predators. Grey herons and great white egrets, however, seem to be unaware of the potential danger and search among the vegetation for a fish, frog or aquatic snake to capture, before the indifferent look of a great cormorant, which dries its wings on a nearby fence post.


Iberian hares run in the salty dry marshes among the glassworts jumping in the puddles produced by last rains. A female hen harrier flying over looks at them with desire, but keeps going in search of a more affordable prey. A red kite from its perch analyzes with expert eyes the movements of the hares in search of a sign of weakness to qualify them as a potential prey. But all of them are completely oblivious to the fact that they are being watched from above, the eyes that see everything are looking at them, nothing escapes the gaze of the queen of the skies of Doñana, our Iberian imperial eagle, which does not lose detail from its advantageous checkpoint high up there, almost touching the clouds with the tips of its wings.

Short-eared owl

Short-eared owl


In sunny days in rainy years, when the flooded marshes offer less roosting places, wintering short-eared owls come closer to the roads that cross them, giving us good opportunities for observation among the bushes. Stone curlews now seek protection by gathering together in large winter groups in the cereal fields next to the Park, where they meet large groups of calandra larks, skylarks and corn buntings that are also abundant now. Common and lesser kestrels look at them all with interest from their perches on the near pylons, while fallow deer and cranes fed on the other side of the road.

The sandy roads that lead to the marshes from El Rocío disappear under large pools of water. Red deer and wild boars still search for acorns under the cork oaks while groups of partridges pick herbs and seeds. The bright green meadows under the pine trees offer abundant food to our rabbits, which fatten happy and ignorant before the malicious gaze of the king of our forests, the Iberian lynx, that lurks them hidden by a mastic tree.


Goldfinches, serins, greenfinches and linnets have long since abandoned their breeding grounds in the agricultural areas near the Park and are now back in the open marshland near to the forests, where they often move in mixed flocks feeding on thistle seeds. Wood pigeons have been gathering during the last weeks and go now in enormous flocks that fly over the edges of the cork oak forest and the near marshes. Common and spotless starlings do the same decorating the skies of the marshes with their acrobatics at dusk.

In the rice fields, the harvest is nearly done and tractors are only seen ploughing in some fields. Large flocks of storks, ibis, waders and ducks continue to use this vast expanse of transformed marshes to feed.

Raya Real under water

All this and much more you will find in Doñana if you visit us in December. We are waiting for you.

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 ...