Spring announces its near arrival to Doñana, or perhaps we should say that it is already here; day by day green is taken the rest of the chromatic scale, especially in the pine woods, where the bright green grass covers it all, except in areas where trees have been allowed to grow too close each other, preventing needed light to reach the grounds. However, these dark areas become places for other forest inhabitants at this time of year, mushrooms, a large army ghost. A huge mosaic of wet and cool soils, with more or less light or small differences in acidity and salinity, where most of vital stories of the great forest take place, gets invaded at this time of year by a horde whose silent conquest is performed without pause while the conditions are favourable.
There are no disputes or apparent struggles, each platoon of the great army does its job in the plot assigned and when they are done plant their banners in the form of wonderful mushrooms of all shapes and colours imaginable. Viscous Boletus, pink Russula, appealing Lactarius, funny Lycoperdon, elegant Geastrum, blue Lepista, delicate Omphalina, cheeky Coprinus, provocative Amanitas, strange looking Clathrus, colorful Fuligo, all have their role and place in our forests and are there to be enjoyed by those who don’t forget to look down from time to time.
They are not exactly looking forward to the arrival of spring, but others are anxious because their proximity. The first swallows already fly over our wetlands as every year at this time, in the forests Chiffchaffs’ songs become increasingly apparent, others like Wren, Chaffinch, Great and Blue Tits help them to compose the soundtrack of the forest. Coots in the marshes are no longer in large groups, but begin to break up into small groups and couples that are put to work to choose their little corners and defend it from competitors. The humour of the Little Grebe also begins to to improve day by day; their contagious laughter is heard frequently now. The soundtrack here in the extent of the marsh is different, here Cetti’s Warblers, Common Moorhens, Crested and Calandra Larks work together to build it; Lapwings, Greylaag Geese, Shovelers and Pintails collaborate too, they also feel that strange sensation which must make for them the arrival of spring. But if there is someone in these winter warm sunny days that intends to conduct this motley choir is the Purple Gallinule, this amateur baritone is back in the marsh and seem to try and turn this refined classical melody into a piece of free jazz with their cries out of tune. The saltmarsh bulrush is only now beginning to stand out of the water so that species such as the Purple Gallinule and the Crested Coot are now easier to observe.
Royal spectator of the eagerness of each one of them the Imperial Eagle watch with interest from the top of one of the electric poles that are distributed evenly along the Caño Guadiamar. For the non-usual visitors certainly they will not mean anything but a nuisance in the plain uniform landscape, but for many common inhabitants of the marsh, power lines and poles crossing become invaluable perches. The large number of Kestrels wintering in Doñana would not be here if not for them, and the abundant Red Kites, Ravens, Buzzards and Starlings are also deeply grateful. The juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle we found today peering from their perch on the pole was without doubt one of best surprises of the day, but the biggest surprise for me was certainly the unexpected Short-toed Eagle flying over the pine trees around the House of Cañada Mayor. On rare occasions, individuals of this species remain in Doñana for the winter so their sightings are usually very rare in this time of year.
But there is another regular visitor to the winters of Doñana that is coming late this year, this is the Great Spotted Cuckoo, a species whose first individuals often return from African lands in early January or even late December, well ahead of even the earliest swallows, but this year has not been seen around the edges of the northern marshes.
Unaware of these absences and presences off calendar, huge flocks of Geese, Shoveler, Pintail and the especially abundant this year Shelduck seize the Hinojos Marshes. In the distance we also see large flocks of Glossy Ibis, Godwits and Lapwings flying over the marshes. The Golden Plovers, more timid, remain well camouflaged in the muddy higher areas, accompanied by a myriad from small Pipits, Wagtails and Larks.
The edges of the road are constantly animated by small flocks of Goldfinch, Serin, Greenfinch and Linnet that come to feed on the seeds from thistles and in the meadows near the woods where the first spring narcissus bloom already and the lower leaves from stork’s bills and other species cover the sand, small groups of deer and deer graze peacefully.
With just a little bit of luck so you can come across such a sunny day as this your visit to Doñana this winter will become a beautiful life experience full of the small stories that all its inhabitants will tell you.