Saturday 12 October 2013

Four days in the Doñana National Park

What a seven-day birding experience!  First it was Steve, Elena and I taking up to three days to explore the eastern bank of the Guadalquivir and John and Jenny Wainwright have just come back from four days on the western bank where they were able to stay in El Rocio and make the most of exploring both the Doñana National Park and that wonderful wader experience known as the Marismas del Odiel (Odiel Marshes to thee and me).  Reading John's report which arrived last night (barely an hour after I had been thinking what has happened to John and Jenny; I have not heard from them for over a week), it was most pleasing to see that the Great White Egrets have returned in good numbers to the area plus a selection of raptors. 

And what about all those Common Redstarts, Northern Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails, not to mention the first report of Robins seen once agin this Autumn. 

Now that John and Jenny have returned safely to their Salar home I shall, no doubt, here more of their sightings when we all meet next Thursday for the Axarquia Bird Group meet at Ventas de Zafarraya.  John's very full report follows:

Four Days in Donana

Jenny decided she would like a short break so we packed up the car and headed for El Rocio and the Doñana National Park. All eight photos are by Jenny.

Donaña: Day One. 6th October 2013

Being a Sunday the roads were very quiet and the run down to El Rocio was uneventful.  We did however see - en route- five Buzzards, Wood Pigeons, Spotless Starlings, Rock Pigeons, Raven, House Sparrows, Cattle Egrets, Grey Heron and at the famous dump (prior to Seville at km54) we found over two hundred White Storks.

Great White Egret Garceta Grande Egreta alba (left) with Grey Heron Garza Real Ardea cinera illustrating the former's size  (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)

After unloading and settling in we took a ride to the SEO visitors centre in El Rocio - the village itself was absolutely packed with visitors - but luckily the centre was empty.  Here we found Black-headed Gulls, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Lapwings, Mallard, Teal, Coots, Moorhens, Little Egrets, one Great White Egret, Grey Herons, Crested Larks, Kestrel and huge numbers of Yellow Wagtails feeding amongst the cattle.   Northern Wheatears were everywhere, along the roadside, on the marismas and all the surrounding fields had a quantity of them.  Good views of the Red Deer were had, browsing among the marsh horses.

The water level in the marismas at El Rocio is very low and a lot of the smaller passerines and waders - which we could see moving about - were unidentifiable due to distance and heat haze.  We did however locate the Spanish Imperial Eagle, which did a fly by, disappeared for a moment then appeared back in its eucalyptus tree some twenty minutes later.  It didn´t stay long here, but gave good views as it soared across the tree line, not to be seen again today.

In the trees surrounding the centre we saw Spotted Flycatcher, House Sparrows, Goldfinches, Redstart, Common and Azure-winged Magpies, Blackbird and yet more Spotless Starlings.


Spotted Flycatcher Papamoscas Gris Muscicapa striata (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)

We then drove along to the Acebuche reserve, which, like El Rocio is more or less devoid of water. Here we saw more Spotted Flycatchers, a Pied Flycatcher, Robin, Blackbird and a Green Sandpiper.  On the return to the El Rocio a Buzzard was spotted on the roadside fence.

Doñana: Day Two, 7th October 2013.

A very hot day with very little breeze.

We decided to checkout the Laguna del la Mujer this is at km13 on the Matlascanas - Huelva road, as we had other arrangements in the late afternoon.

As we pulled in to the laguna we saw several Spotted Flycatchers, Magpies, Blackbirds, Crested Larks and a Southern Grey Shrike.  At the brick hide we disturbed a large flock of Azure-winged Magpies, several Blackbirds and good numbers of House Sparrows.

Scoping the laguna we found Common Snipe, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, two Purple Swamphens, Coots and Moorhens also a Buzzard was heard mewing but we couldn´t see it.   Cetti´s Warblers were in good voice as were Great Tits and Stonechats.

Penduline Tit Pajaro Moscon Remiz pendulinus (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)
A couple of small LBJs (little brown jobs) flew into the wild olive tree to our front, one of them flew up and out onto an exposed was a Penduline Tit. the other flew down and was seen feeding on the reed mace.  This was joined by another three birds - I have never seen that number of Pendulines together before.   A flash of colour gave us our first Kingfisher of the day and above him a Cormorant and four Wood Pigeons flew over the factory at the rear of the lake.

In the bushes to our left front a Sardinian Warbler was seen along with some House Sparrows and the Kingfisher flew past again.   The far reeds to our front right was alive with Waxbills - just a pity they were too distant for photos.

A scratching call from the brambles gave us a Reed Warbler and another family of Stonechats were seen.  Three Magpies flew across the lake in the direction of the factory then a Lesser Kestrel.

On arriving back at the camp site we had a little drive around the local bye-ways, here we found Crested Larks, Cattle Egrets, Greater Flamingos, Green Sandpiper, Red-legged Partridges, Stonechats, hundreds and hundreds of Yellow Wagtails, Northern Wheatears and, in a culvert, a Little Owl.

In the smallish pools we found Snipe, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Spoonbills, Coots, Mallard and Gadwall while above a couple of Marsh Harriers patrolled the marshes.

The small wild olive trees held Common Redstarts, Willow Warblers, Zitting Cisticola and Spotted Flycatchers, whilst the power lines had six Lesser Kestrels and two Black-shouldered Kites.
Back home to rest as tomorrow is the Odiel Marshes.

Doñana: Day 3, 8th October 2013  Odiel Marshes

A really hot day today no breeze whatsoever at the coast.

The approach to Huelva was quite encouraging, yielding Ravens, Magpies, Southern Grey Shrikes, Azure-winged Magpies, Collared Doves, Black-headed Gulls and Common Kestrels.

Sanderling Correlimos Tridactilo Claidris alba (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)

On the approach road to the marshes, we pulled into a turning that should have taken us down to the shoreline but this had been closed of for works.   Still, the small pool at the entrance to the site was very productive.  Here we saw Little Egret, Spanish Sparrows, House Sparrows, Black-tailed Godwits, Grey Heron, a juvenile Greater Flamingo, Moorhens, Mallard, Shovelers and Zitting Cisticola
Redshank Archibebe Comun Tringa tetanus (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)

We then moved on to the Visitors' Centre, where, in the surrounding bushes, we saw Sardinian Warblers, Stonechats and Goldfinches.  On the estuary mudflats we found Whimbrel, Ringed Plovers, Cormorant, Dunlin, Sanderlings, Redshanks and a couple of Curlew Sandpipers.
Oystercatcher Ostrero Euroasiatico Haematopus ostralegus (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)

We drove along to the extreme of Punto Umbria, and in doing so found several juvenile and two adult Sandwich Terns, juvenile Common Terns, Turnstones, a single Curlew, Oystercatchers, Grey Plovers (one male still in full summer plumage), Mediterranean Gulls, Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls, Northern Wheatears, Crested Larks, Magpies, Southern Grey Shrike, Lapwings, Little Stints, Greenshank, Common and Green Sandpipers, a lone Great White Egret in company with a Grey Heron, seven White Storks, lots of Little Egrets, Hoopoe, Common Buzzard, Spoonbills, scores of Whimbrel, Greater Flamingos and an Osprey.

Turnstone Vuelvepiedras Comun Arenaria interpres (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the Valverde Centre and Isla Mayor area.

Doñana: Day 4,  9th October 2013  Valverde Centre and Laguna Abajo

Another very hot day with little cloud .

As the Laguna del Abajo is on the way round to the centre we decided to look at that first but on the way we there we saw Spotless Starlings, Common Magpies, Collared Doves, Sardinian Warblers, Wood Pigeons, Stonechats, Goldfinches, two Ravens and Azure-winged Magpies.  In the fields a small flock of Meadow Pipits were seen, as well as a Buzzard, a late Woodchat Shrike, Crested Larks, Hoopoe, Zitting Cisticolas, a White Wagtail and a Black-shouldered Kite.

As we arrived we could see the masses of White Storks circling above the laguna, and looking across to the far bank they were everywhere; in the trees, on the banks, in the water and on the islets in the laguna.  I estimated a good eight hundred to a thousand birds in total.  Among the storks were Glossy Ibis, Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and Black-winged Stilts.  On the smaller exposed areas of mud we saw Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Lapwings and a total of thirty-four Common Snipe.

In the distance a female Marsh Harrier was being mobbed by three Jackdaws and a Cormorant flew past them.   Another Marsh Harrier came low over the reeds and put up the Common Coots and Moorhens along with Green Sandpipers and Greenshanks.

A Zitting Cisticola flew up onto the power lines above us but was chased away by a Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus).  Whilst this chase was continuing, three Barn Swallows passed by and a large shadow passing over us gave us two Black Storks.

Lots of Goldfinches and House Sparrows here and a couple of Cetti´s Warblers were singing.

We decided to go along to the hides at the laguna and as we set off a Fox (Vulpes vulpes) - with a very strange colouring of almost silver grey with black and brown mottling - got half way across the road, saw us and high-tailed it back into the ditch to our right.  As we entered the driveway to the Laguna the fox was seen again heading across the meadows in the direction of the water.  The car park was chained off today so we turned back and headed for the Valverde Centre.

En route to the Valverde Centre the prominent bird was the Grey Heron and the Little Egret, interspersed with a few Great White Egrets.  Only three more Buzzards were seen as well as Black Kites, Marsh Harriers and a single Red Kite.  In the small bushes lining the track there were Willow Warblers, Common Redstarts, Cetti´s Warblers, Stonechats, Goldfinches, Spotted Flycatchers, Zitting Cisticolas, a few Spanish Sparrows along with some House Sparrows and a lone Pied Flycatcher.  On the track itself were Crested Larks and Yellow Wagtails.

Zitting Cisticola Buitron Cisticola juncidis (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)

Up at the old pumping station a Cormorant was seen fishing in the canal and two Squacco Herons took off from the left bank along with Grey Herons, White Storks, a Great White Egret and three Mallard.

Along the power lines we saw good numbers of Lesser Kestrels and a Booted Eagle was spotted on the top of one of these poles.  A few Black-headed Gulls were flying up and down the canals and a male Marsh Harrier flew out of the same as we passed by.

Lots of Northern Wheatears about but only a few Yellow Wagtails on this part of the track.  A few more Glossy Ibis passed overhead and landed in a distant pool where we could see Greater Flamingos.  There were ducks here but too far for any positive id.

The centre was devoid of movement except for thousands of dragonflies.  But a very distressing sight was the dead Barn Owl which was trapped under the wire netting that was holding the thatch to the centres roof in place.  This was the second dead bird found on this roof in three days and, as when we pointed the bird out to the girl at the reception desk, she just shrugged her shoulders and walked back to her seat - so much for bird conservation here.

We drove out of the Centre and turned left along to the flood pool on the road junction.  Here we found Spoonbills, Greater Flamingos, several Redshanks, Black-winged Stilts, Lapwings, Avocets, Ringed Plovers, Common and Green Sandpipers and White Wagtails.   We then continued along the no through road and here we found hundreds of Yellow Wagtails (one poor unfortunate bird being pounced on by a Lesser Kestrel), also more Northern Wheatears, a Whinchat and another female Marsh Harrier.

Back on the track leading out of the reserve we found a Short-toed Eagle and four Griffon Vultures and in some small brackish pools we saw Greenshanks, Green Sandpipers, a Wood Sandpiper and a Common Snipe.

Further down the track in the large ponds by the new "works" we saw Great Crested Grebe and its juvenile, three Little Grebes, Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilts, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and two Black-headed Gulls.  On a track between us and a cotton field, Jenny spotted an Egyptian Mongoose, which, on seeing us darted back into the cotton.  A few Cattle Egrets down this end, a Red Kite and two more Griffon Vultures plus our first and only Red-legged Partridges of the trip.

Two more Ravens, a Buzzard, a Blackbird and three more Yellow Wagtails were seen as we gained the main El Rocio road back to our cabin.

Home tomorrow.. Thursday

Doñana:  10th October 2013  Home Trip

Bright in El Rocio but clouded over on way home.

On the way home from El Rocio we saw Common Kestrel, five Griffon Vultures, Ravens, Marsh Harrier, Stonechats, one Whinchat, Crested Larks, Zitting Cisticola, Collared Doves, Northern Wheatears, a Black Kite, Black-headed Gulls, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Spotless Starlings, Magpies, House Sparrows, a Buzzard, Azure-winged Magpies and Yellow Wagtails.

A very enjoyable break and some great birds.

What a tremendous report John with some absolutely fabulous birds recorded.

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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