By José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias
The tough life of the queen of the sky
It is midday and we return from one of our tours to the northern marshes of Donana National Park. Several hours ago, in the early morning, we found a fresh lynx track, but we were not lucky to stumble upon the animal. Several male red deer we came across on the way to the marshlands showed quite grown antlers, but still covered by the velvet case. Females were accompanied by their grown up offspring, which still retain their mottled fawn coat. Quite a few rabbits and black kites, a couple of booted eagles and a family of wild boars later we entered the Hinojos Marshes where larks and sandgrouses kept us entertained until we arrived in Caño Guadiamar.
The stop at the Caño produced beautiful views of a large group of flamingos feeding in open water and purple herons and squacco herons hidden among the vegetation. Several flocks of spoonbills and glossy ibis flew over us. The coffee break in Center Jose Antonio Valverde Visitor gave us the option to enjoy the view over the heronry that surrounds it. The latest chicks are still being fed by their parents.
On the way back to El Rocío, as I am telling my clients that it is a good time to find some vultures flying over the parched marshes when suddenly I see something interesting about 1 km away from us, high in the sky. There are several distant large birds up there. Two of them seem to be bothering a larger one.
Kestrels actively defend their territory against buzzards, kites and other birds of prey, but those up there were not kestrels. Stilts and lapwings defend their young fiercely against black kites and marsh harriers, and again it was not waders what we had up there and also they flew much lower than these were doing. But through my binoculars I have a large raptor being molested by two other smaller raptors. I quickly though, this is a clear example of the hard life of imperial eagles in the wetlands of Donana.
Short-toed eagles are not usually bothered by smaller birds of prey, I guess they know that their diet consists mainly of snakes. Vultures are not bothered normally by other raptors since they mean no danger to them. But the great imperial eagles are something else, they are huge predators that frighten everyone. Any other prey that is nearby will try to chase them away, even the small kestrels. Our queen of the skies go through a really tough life.