A full day in 'true' Donana was thwarted by road-closures we couldn't get out to the Jose Valverde Centre, nevertheless we had a great day out seeing RED-KNOBBED COOT, BLACK-WINGED KITE and some wonderful wildlife spectacles...........
COREDOR DE VERDE – DEHESA DE PILAS – LAGUNA DEHESA DE ABAJO – NORTHERN MARSHES – LAGUNA MADRA DE LA MARISMAS
We had a full programme planned for today’s birding, the weather was just perfect for it, we had sunshine all day and no wind except for a late afternoon breeze.
We set off in the dark at 7am carrying our picnic breakfast, we drove towards Villanonrique making just one stop just before the town. Tawny Owl was our target and after some brief searching by the roadside we found two of them and we heard a Little Owl call in the distance.
We arrived at the Coredor de Verde at 8am it was now fully light, the coredor is a green belt that buffers the national park and sits between the intensive fruit growing farmland and the park itself. A ‘canal’ or branch of the Rio Guadimar is the main-stay of the coredor.
We stopped just the other side of the canal and walked through some open pasture with scattered scrub and mature trees. This was the ideal habitat for the Black-winged Kite which was our main target species, however, after an hour of walking we never saw one! We did find a good number of other species and the dawn chorus was intense, bird song came from all directions with Common Nightingale and Cetti’s Warbler leading the choir.
Several Common Cuckoos entertained us as they chased one another around the ‘bubbling’ call of the female was heard a few times too. We found a few migrant species besides the cuckoos, Whinchat, Melodious Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Red-rumped Swallow and a good number of swifts all showed well.
After eating our picnic breakfast we drove a short distance to a second track which had similar habitat to the first one, there we were successful in finding the Black-winged Kite, two birds were seen both perched and flying, beautiful, graceful and majestic all at the same time.
Next we drove to the Dehesa de Pilas, a misnamed piece of land that comprises of flat open grass meadows with a square shaped, dense Eucalyptus woodland sitting in the middle of it, nothing like Dehesa! Regardless of the name, the sky was full of birds, the wires and fences held a host of Bee-eaters, Spanish Sparrows dashed about in their thousands and Black Kites patrolled the woodland. White Storks, Cattle Egrets, Martins, swifts and Swallows added to the throng, a wall of noise was coming from the sparrows in the woods. But the most remarkable of all was the colour, scent and sheer magnificence of the wild flowers, a true spectacle, a feast for the eyes.
The laguna at Dehesa de Abajo was superb, it was flat calm and although it didn’t hold that many species of birds we were thrilled by the ones that we did find. Top of the list was the Red-knobbed Coot, 3 of them were found, but the beauty of the grebes was quite stunning too. We also enjoyed Red-crested Pochard, Purple Swamphen, Night Heron, Whiskered Tern, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Great Reed Warbler and a huge number of White Storks, Black Kites and hirundines.
From there we drove to a series of gravel pits heading toward Isla Mayor, the final pool held two more Red-knobbed Coots, Night Heron and Little Egret but not the hoped for Marbled Duck. Our lunch was an omelette in a sandwich!! A bizarre combination but everyone ate it, a nice cup of coffee enlivened the group as we set off for the Valverde Centre.
Disaster struck after 15 kilometers, the road to the Valverde Centre was completed blocked by road-works and no alternative or diversion was on offer, what a blow. We attempted to find our own alternative without success, it’s a pity because the Valverde centre is the show-case of Donana and a terrific place to visit. During our ‘tour’ of many tracks we found a few interesting sights the best of which was a feeding flock of some 25 Lesser Kestrels. Then we spent more time at the Dehesa de Pilas watching Bee-eaters and Spanish Sparrows before heading back to El Rocio.
For our last hour’s birding we scanned the Laguna at El Rocio from a couple of places, it was a beautiful sight in perfect light, we added Black Tern to our list (a single bird) and enjoyed views of many other species seen previously on the tour. We ate our last evening meal at our current hotel as we were are setting off in the morning for Extremadura.