In July, an army of young although amply prepared birds colonize the skies, forests and marshes of Doñana. Immature imperial eagles begin their first gliding flights in the vicinity of their birth area. They will still take several months to become independent, so a period of learning and surrounding exploring begins, during which it is not rare to see them flying over our marshes.
Compared to these, much more attached to the ground are the calandra larks, a small marsh bird whose chicks are also now becoming independent. They can be seen in small groups feeding among the vast dry opens. Its robust and compact looking contrasts with singing skills that are unrivaled in the marshes, although we will not be able to enjoy it again until the next late winter.
The fences that surround the marshes are excellent perches for a good number of birds that reproduce in these large and harsh environments. Late-breeding common stonechats, whose large-legged chicks with round black eyes stare at us candidly, looking helpless in the face of the dangers that lie in wait. They will not move far from the tamarisk where they were born and will keep in control the young woodchat shrike whose gaze, much more sure and challenging is directed mainly towards the ground. There it will find most of its food, consisting mainly of medium-sized insects and and some little lizard.
The month began with the sighting of a young black-eared wheatear who alternated the top wire of the fence with the ground around the nearby bushes, clearly showing as it flew his large white tail area. It did not come from far, it very likely only took him a short while to fly from the area where it was born, but a long and eventful journey to its winter quarters in sub-Saharan Africa awaits. It kept an eye on a juvenile common kestrel, which looked at us with inexperienced eyes and a playful face from its perch on a fence pole. You’ve already met human, I thought, the rings that decorate your legs prove it. It’ll probably leave us when it feels strong and confident enough, but if life smiles on it we’ll see him again next spring, it won’t be difficult to identify him.
The oases into which the remaining waters in the marsh have become offer us two other good examples of birds that have a whole life time ahead of them and that know everything they need to know to enjoy it. A flamingo chicken just a couple of months old is still chasing its father walking through the shallow waters. He will show it where the best feeding waters are and finish polishing its skills. That will increase its options of getting to see the wonders that await in Doñana when it feeds again in its marshes next spring.
From his perch on a nearby reed, a young penduline tit looks curiously around. You can hear its parents whistling to keep contact with it and to encourage their siblings to get out of the padded ball of seeds they were born into. Next spring it will build his own nest in a tamarisk of Doñana without its parents having to teach him how to do it.
Another well-prepared young bird gives us the entire repertoire of postures it knows how to adopt while sitting on a barbed wire. It is a great-spotted cuckoo, raised by a couple of neighbouring magpies. It has not had the slightest opportunity to learn anything from their parents. In fact, it has never even met them, they abandoned their eggs in the care of others and entrusted their young to those who had nothing to teach them. It will have to rely on its strong instincts to know what to eat and where to fly to continue finding that food. It will spend next winter in subtropical Africa.
Back in the forest, we ran into a whole band of partridge chickens and its mother. They are no more than 4-5 weeks old, but they are now able to follow their mother’s flight in the face of any unforeseen or potential danger. They always move near tall grasslands or leafy bushes, they will be their salvation in case they need to avoid an attack. It often comes from above and usually means downsizing members of the large group. It is logical, therefore, that partridge hatch around 10 – 12 chickens.
This young and inexperienced black kite will soon be in a position to put natural selection to work with the group of partridges, but it still has to strengthen wing muscles to start trying. Its parents keep on bringing food to the nest high up in the pine, but it will soon be ready to explore the surroundings. And soon it will join others of its kind to prepare their first great trip of its life to African lands.
Not as colorful as its parents, a young goldfinch moves nervously perched on a thistle. Its brothers are not far, they still follow their parents wherever they go, that way they make sure they eat the best seeds to ensure the reddest mask, the most intense yellow feathers and the most melodic song. It will depend to a great extent on the fact that next spring they will be able to transmit their genes to future generations.
Just before leaving the Park, we stumbled upon another enormous gift from nature. A young bee-eater gives us a whole display of color while it keeps watching the space above head. Its parents are nearby and perhaps a predator too. Its nest is a few meters from it, built on the small bank that delimits our path in the sand. It is the result of the absence of human activity in the area in recent months. Their piping songs will soon ring over our heads, as large groups of them set out on a long journey south, full of danger. We will miss them so much and look forward to their return to fill our forests with color like no other knows how to do.