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Isla Mayor Rice Fields

the other Doñana

The ancient Lacus Ligustinus, the shallow bay of salt water that in ancient times occupied the current Doñana’s Marshes slowly transformed into a freshwater lake, inside which emerged the three primitive islands of the Guadalquivir River: Hernando or Isleta, Mayor (the greater) or Captor and Menor (the lesser) or Captiel). Following on the river formed an inland delta around the Greater and Lesser islands with its three arms: Brazo del Oeste (the eastern branch) or Brazo de la Torre around Isla Mayor, Brazo de Enmedio (the middle branch) having better navigability and Brazo del Este (the eastern branch) surrounding Isla Menor. And here comes the name of this area close to Doñana.

This vast agricultural area of some 36,000 hectares is devoted to a rice monoculture around the town of Isla Mayor, located northeast of the Donana National Park, turns during the dry season into the ideal retreat for many of the waterfowl of this natural area. This is a must for birdwatching lovers in summer.

During the spring time, most waterfowl use our Doñana marshes for breeding and feeding. During those months, in the vicinity of Isla Mayor, they work on the preparation of the fields before getting them flooded in May-June. Water transforms them  in a few weeks from a desert like area into a paradise for birds. In the coming weeks the number of invertebrates and small vertebrates in these waters will increase relentlessly, attracting large flocks of herons, storks, glossy ibis, gulls and waders.

In addition, the harvesting works, which begins in the late September, make the number of birds increase exponentially. The amount of passage and wintering birds arriving in Doñana adds greatly to our already numerous number of breeding birds. The work of combine harvesters and tractors improves the availability of food for the birds in the newly harvested fields, attracting real crowds of birds that follow these machines from one field to another.

During the winter many areas remain flooded by rain and this keeps a large area of  shallow water very appropriate for our wintering waders. The channels, with its abundant aquatic vegetation, also offer refuge and food to storks, herons and many small birds among which kingfisher and bluethroat stand out.

The complex network of dirt roads, ditches and channels that crisscross the area make the help of a local guide invaluable and necessary so as not to lose one’s way in this vast maze of fields. To the untrained eye it is easy to become disorientated.

Featured species: purple heron, squacco heron, little bittern, marsh harrier, flamingo, spoonbill, black stork, glossy ibis, gull-billed tern, collared pratincole, kingfisher, bluethroat, spanish sparrow.

  • Recommended season

    Summer, autumn, winter

  • Duration

    Half day or full day

  • Price

    Check with us
    Extra costs: lunch in full day tours

  • Type of vehicle

    6-8 seated Land Rover Defender

  • Included

    4×4 vehicle, driver-guide,
    telescope, field book

  • Starting time

    Agreed with you
    Recommended before sunrise

  • Starting point

    Your hotel in El Rocío
    Our offices in El Rocío

group of glossy ibis flying over a rice field
Group of glossy ibis in summer
man with a straw hat weeding a rice field
Weeding, a hard summer task
cattle egret neck stading our in the middle of a rice field
Anybody out there?
cosechadora trabajando un campo rodeada de aves
Harvester doing the crop in Autumn
campo cosechado con surcos llenos de agua
Harvested field in winter
grupo de flamencos
Group of flamingos

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