Monday, 23 June 2014

Osuna and the Donana National Park

Monday 23 June

Iconic Black Kite Milano negro Milvus migrans
Thursday saw me off relatively early to drive down to my hostal in El Rocio at the centre of the Donana National Park and, naturally, undertake some serious birding on the way, as an introduction to joining the Andalucia Bird Society's July field visit to the Odiel Marshes last Saturday, 21 June.  To that end I missed out Fuente de Piedra (where I suspect there was very little water and nothing that would not be seen in the next three days) and headed straight for Exit 80 on the A92 motorway towards Sevilla so that I could follow the almost parallel road and take in the local steppes.  I was not to be disappointed.  By the time I returned home late on Saturday evening I had recorded an hundred species including four new birds for the year to take my running total up to 213 for 2014.  I had hoped for two more iconic birds of the Donana but, not surprisingly, I was unable to find a late or over-summering Black Stork and the local Spanish Imperial Eagle managed to avoid my eyes, not helped by the strong winds and cloudy weather on the Friday evening which should have been my best opportunity when looking across the lake at El Rocio to the bird's new nest site.

The diminutive Zitting Cisticola Buitron Cisticola juncidis

Day 1 Thursday 19 June: Osuna and El Rocio

All the birds seen driving off the mountain, save the Thekla Larks, were picked up once I left the motorway at Osuna to check out the road parallel to the new high-speed railway track and the neighbouring fields and steppe-like habitat.  Collared Dove, House Sparrow, Crested Lark, Barn and Red-rumped Swallow plus House Martin were seen as soon as I drove beyond the petrol station and before the meeting the new track I had seen a couple of Common Kestrels.  The first high railway bridge came up trumps straight away with a distant Great Bustard in the centre of a ploughed field.  Having tried to get a few record shots the bird then took off and was joined in the sky by another pair of Great Bustards.  Whilst two of the birds circled away, the third made its way my way giving me another chance for a nearer sighting.  Majestic; just like watching a flying turkey!

Great Bustard Avutarda Comun Otis tarda in flight
Moving on towards the second bridge I had my first of many Red-legged Partridges including a hen with four well-grown chicks.  A couple of Buzzards were seen on electricity pylons and a small number of Calandra Larks were in the field to my right.  I could here Turtle Doves calling but had to wait until I had crossed the third bridge before finding a couple of the wires just waiting to be photographed.  Meanwhile, the quartet of Cattle Egrets were happy to graze the edge of the recently harvested corn field and then, before reaching their presumed nesting field, I had a whole number of Collared Pratincoles  both in the air around me and resting on the road immediately in front of the car.  The birds were happy to rest on this very quiet road, not another vehicle seen during my drive along this stretch, so very easy to pick out both males and females along with the, distinctive spotty, juvenile Collared Pratincoles.

Collared Pratincole Canastera Comun Glareola pratincola (adult above, juvenile below)
As mentioned above, I did turn right and cross the third bridge and there, as I always seem to find it, was my first Roller of the morning.  Rather than stop to photograph through the opposite front window, I drove on up to the first bend where, in addition to the feeding Lesser Kestrels, I found a family of Southern Grey Shrikes.  Watching one cross the road and perch on the bars of a pylon I realised that there was a Woodchat Shrike immediately above giving a superb comparison but, unfortunately, the latter moved off before I could lift the camera.  A Zitting Cisitcicola "jumped" up from a low bush and then I made my way back to the Roller but, I suspect, he saw me coming and was nor prepare to wait to have his photograph taken.  But, in departing, he did give me a rather strange, if not unique, view.

A strange looking departing Roller Carraca Europea Coracias garrulus

Back over the bridge and then onwards to rejoin the motorway but not before recording both a number of Jackdaws and the first of the many White Storks that were to be recorded in the next three days.  But there were still new raptors to be added to the list.  The Black Kites were to be expected and I did eventually catch up with a very "tatty" looking Red Kite undergoing a very serious wing moult.  However, it was the small "blob" on top of a pylon that drew and attention and then brought a grateful smile to my face.  More interested in watching than photographing, I was able to see the Black-shouldered Kite take off and head back towards the tree line.  The first new bird for the year had been seen.

One of scores of Glossy Ibis Morito Comun Piegadis falcinellus
More White Storks, BlackKites and Spotless Starlings were seen and then I was in the Donana and heading for Isla Mayor.  Much to my surprise and delight the harrowed brown fields of barely six weeks ago had now been flooded and the lush, green rice seemed to be about fifteen centimetres clear of the water.  The end result was not only hundreds of White Storks but numerous heron-like birds, especially Grey Herons and Little Egrets.  There were a few Cattle Egrets scattered about but these were more than surpassed by the very large flocks of Glossy Ibis and then the sight of numerous Squacco and accompanying Night Herons.  Lots of Whiskered Terns were feeding over the fields and Marsh Harriers made regular quartering moves in their search for supper.  A fine-looking Sedge Warbler was a good sighting and I was also able to add Common Swifts and Corn Buntings to the day's list before heading on to El Rocio and, as expected, recording more Azure-winged Magpies along with the first (Common) Magpies.

Adult Night Heron martinete Comun Nycticorax nycticorax
Squacco Heron Garcilla Cangrejera Ardeola ralloides

Squacco and Night Herons happily feeding together in the flooded rice fields

Having checked in to the Hostal Cristina and the SEO Centre closed, I mad my way over the nearby Centre at La Rocinas - and what a great decision this turned out to be.  Lots of water on site and, in addition to the numerous Bee-eaters, I was able to start finding some smaller birds including a pair of Coal Tits which had managed to elude me to date in Spain but not Britain.  First I had found Goldfinches and then a couple of Great Tits but things got even better as I made my way to the first hide and, before startling a Jay which quickly departed the scene, I had a pair of Tree Sparrows.  Below the hide there were resting Spoonbills and Mallards whilst a couple of Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers walked the water's edge.  A small Moorhen family wandered out from the reed cover and then I decided to walk on towards the next, hidden, hide where I found both White Wagtail and more Spoonbills along with some CootsBlack Kites quartered the skies above.  There were numerous Azure-winged Magpies in the area and looking out over the grasses surrounding the main inlet to the ponds I found a small group, maybe no more than a dozen, of very small brown birds which looked suspiciously like, and then confirmed on the camera, as Common Waxbills; yet another new species for the year.  Just as I was thinking there was nothing else to add to the days list and a pair of male Blackbirds broke cover.

Tree Sparrow  Gorrion Molinero  Passer montanus
The drive back to El Rocio produced a couple of Stonechats and on the lake were many Flamingos and hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits.  Add on Little Egrets, Grey Herons, Mallards, Black-winged Stilts, Barn Swallows, House Martins, Spotless Starlings and Black Kites and it was not surprising that the day's total eventually reached 59 species.

Tutle Dove Tortola Europea Streptopelia turtur

Birds seen:
Mallard, Red-legged Partridge, Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Grey Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Black-winged Kite, Red Kite, Back Kite, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Great Bustard, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Whiskered Tern, Rock Dove, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Swift, Bee-eater, Roller, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark,  Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, White Wagtail, Stonechat, Blackbird, Zitting Cisticola, Sedge Warbler, Coal Tit, Great Tit,  Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Jay, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Waxbill, Serin, Goldfinch and Corn Bunting.

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

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