In July temperatures rise and harden living conditions for all inhabitants of Doñana, including us, humans. With a bit of luck maximum temperatures stay below 30° and without it they may go over 40°
El Rocío Marshes, if they keep some water at all, becomes one of the most attractive spots in the Park, good numbers of herons, storks, glossy ibis, flamingos, spoonbills, black kites, stilts, godwits and many other species concentrate there to take advantage of the easy food offered to them by the low water level. The last pools are always located next to the Puente de La Canaliega, over La Rocina Stream. This also tends to hold large concentrations of birds in their already reduced water course; now is a good time to try and observe the elusive otter from the hides along the path called Charco de la Boca.
Not everything is bad news with rising temperatures and water shortages, the number of mosquitoes drops dramatically and they are no longer a nuisance during the visits to the Park. In the marshes mirages are common to confuse us and make us think that the marshes are flooded in the distance, the dunes are much higher than they actually are or that forests rest on hills.
In the forests, deer show their antlers almost ready for the upcoming rut. Stork chicks on nests already reach nearly adult size and their parents look for grasshoppers and lizards on the dry pasture land. Baby lynx show up more often; they weigh several kilos and are able to tear the meat themselves from the prey that their mother brings and even helps in the hunting tasks, although showing clear clumsiness. Young black kites, with their pale heads and fresh plumage exercise their flying muscles and socialize.
Montagu’s harriers and black kites begin to prepare their plumage for the trip back to Africa, and begin to moult their wing feathers, exposing some holes clearly visible in the silhouette in flight. Coots, moorhens, grebes and mallards are striving to bring up their offsprings and defend them from attacks from hungry kites and marsh harriers in the lagoons around José A. Valverde. It’s not difficult to find flocks of flamingos, stilts and godwits. In good years, there may still be some pairs of glossy ibis and egrets trying to feed their late broods. Small groups of fallow deer and wild boar also come to this oasis surrounded by cracked marshes.
A myriad of young and inexperienced swallows and house martins concentrate over any water patch left; juvenile goldfinches and serins, with colours clearly more attenuated than adults, increase the size of the flocks that feed on the thistle fields. Even the great imperial eagle flies over the lagoons almost daily before noon in search of some clueless duck. At El Rocío, huge flocks of house martins seat early in the morning on the wires near the colonies.
Outside, the marshes, teeming with life in spring, have become a vast cracked steppe in which few species barely survive, crested and short-toed larks, a few woodchat shrikes and kestrels, sandgrouses and stone curlews, black kites and ravens and especially vultures, which are delighted with the harsh conditions that benefit them by offering plenty and easy food, as the weakest cattle succumb to the scarcity of food, heat and weakness. From mid-morning it’s not difficult to find large groups of them taking advantage of the first thermals to raise high in the skies and explore tens of miles around for any sign of food. Herds of marsh mares make their way towards the water troughs in the morning and maybe find some hay brought by their keepers.
Spring has gone north, not far away, in the rice fields around the nearby town of Isla Mayor thousands and thousands of egrets, storks and waders concentrate to use the resources offered by the shallow waters in the plantations. The abundance of crayfish, frogs, little fish, insect larvae and other invertebrates makes these vast flooded areas the perfect place for a large number of the birds born in the Park; they will spend here several weeks accumulating energy before starting their migration south. Rice fields are now essential for the conservation of many species in Doñana.