Friday 12 April 2013


I couldn't decide where to go in Spain, and ended up just booking tickets to Seville thinking I'd worry about it later. Later came and went, and with no clear plan I decided that I'd do both. A little rash, but it worked out OK. After two pretty good days in Extramadure, weather notwithstanding, Muffin and I had a lot of ground to cover to get down to Doñana. To maximise birding time, we left at 5am (it doesn't get light in Spain at the moment until about 8am) and made good time, arriving in the sandy frontier town of El Rocio just after sunrise. Scanning the lagoon, we quickly added loads of species to our trip list. I devised a little test for kiddo, and he passed with flying colours on what were very distant birds - Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Gadwall, Black-winged Stilt, Cattle Egret and Little Egret - faultless. I'm talking properly distant as well, scope dialled up to 50x, and he got them all.

After checking into our hotel we discovered we were at the completely wrong end of Doñana, and that to access the prime habitat we needed to drive in a massive loop around the entire Park and enter from the south-east. We found the right route entirely by chance, and soon found ourselves on a series of roads built on dykes leading us deeper into the wetland areas. Birds were everywhere, ticks galore for Muffin, and a new one for me (kind of) with Purple Swamphen.

To cut a long story short, we spent a fantastic afternoon slowly driving the tracks, and seeing heaps of birds. And I mean thousands. We ended up at the Centre Antonio Valverde to be confronted by an extraordinary sight. Litter! Litter everywhere, the trees were simply draped in plastic bags. Unbelievable that this should be allowed to happen. Disgusted, we left.

Shameful, honestly. The trail took us in a big loop back towards the fruit farms that border the park. I estimate that the whole route was around 70km, which when you're driving at walking speed and stopping a lot takes a very long time. Properly good though, with Spanish Wagtails all over the place, more Black-winged Stilts than you can shake a stick at, Flamingos galore.

And some thoroughly glorious Black-eared Wheatears..... more on these later. Much more - I just can't help myself, as far as I'm concerned 2013 has been all about Wheatears - after Morocco I wasn't sure it could get much better. OK, so perhaps there weren't as many, but can you beat an early Spring Black-eared Wheatear? I've seen the species before, but in mid summer, by which time the birds are so bleached that they appear to be black and white, so it was a real treat to see a peachy one. Several in fact - the latin name is hispanica, which figures. Beautiful. As with most of the birds on this trip, the tactic was to roll the car up, windows open and lenses at the ready, kill the engine at the critical point and hope that the bird didn't fly off. Many did, but this one did not. I have a heap of photos - I'll be posting them on in due course.... I estimate 80% of the photographs I've posted have been hand-held out of the car window, which explains why all the birds are on barbed wire fences...

Gradually making our way back to the main roads, we checked every single Coot for red knobs. Perverted or what? No doing, a reason to go back. Maybe. Wanting to add to our list, we dropped down to the beach imagining vast flocks of Terns and Gulls. In the event the beach was one of the typical Atlantic ones, miles of sand, dunes, a viscious wind and mountainous seas. Birds were limited to two Yellow-legged Gulls. Retracing our route, on a whim I decided to stop at another offshoot of the National Park at Acebuche. The intention had been to check the lagoon, but we immediately noticed that a large group of Azure-winged Magpies were feeding around the deserted picnic site. Decision made. I am happily able to tell you that Azure-winged Magpies very much like bread, but that they adore apples. A great session, and they'll be the subject of a separate post on the other website at some point. We stayed in the same spot for over two hours, wonderful birds - I could have stayed for another two hours I suspect, but a young man was becoming restless, which is fair enough, so we went off to explore different. Not much else to tell - we had a session photographing House Martins in El Rocio, as they were coming down to muddy puddles in the town square, and we jammed our only Roller of the trip just outside town.


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