Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter in Spain - Day 9

Friday, our last day in Spain was forecast heavy rain, so we had kept the day for our initial visit to Doñana National Park, one of the major wetlands in Europe, of equivalent importance with the Danube delta in Romania and the Camargue in Southern France. Good for a rainy day because it has plenty of hides on its outskirts. On the basis we hadn’t pre-organised a guide for this leg of our visit and didn’t intend joining a public excursion onto the reserve on one of the tractor-buses, we had to make do with the visitor centres on the perimeter of the park.

Our first stop was the visitor centre at El Acebuche, which as well as providing information, loos and a café, and being the jump-off for the public tours, also has 2.5km of walks to eight hides. By the time we’d parked up the clouds were gathering as the weather system moved in from the Atlantic so we made haste to the hides. However all around it seemed were Azure-winged Magpies, and much less flighty than out in the wilds, I presume on the basis no one shoots at them here. This gave me the opportunity to photograph them in various activities:

Only two of the hides had structures resembling chairs and the viewing slots are set notably lower than in the UK, so bird watching involves either kneeling on hard stones or bending over to peer through. Nonetheless the birding was good. We heard and saw Savi’s Warblers, Great Reed Warblers:

The Great Reed Warbler flew from its singing position to see off a Reed Warbler before flying back again to resume singing. A pair of Red-crested Pochards idled past:

Along the path Serin were constantly singing and battling for position:

I fixed the monopod to the camera to capture this photo. Having taken it we heard a raucous pair of birds approach, which landed in a nearby tree, obscured from view. They appeared to be dark-brown magpie shaped birds, with speckles. One then the other flew off, Great Spotted Cuckoos, I tried to get a fix and take a picture but the monopod got in the way so no record shot, however we both got very good views of the bird and are confident we recognised them.

At one hide a Hoopoe startled us by flying up to the open window, from the ground in front of the hide I presume, to grab an insect, we enjoyed a brief moment of being less than a metre from a hovering Hoopoe who looked just as surprised at seeing us.

From another hide we watched a Little Grebe feeding a youngster:

Stonechats were also feeding fledglings as were Mallards. Whilst in this hide an Azure-Winged Magpie settled on a branch directly in front of the hide, even in the gathering gloom I was able to get a couple of cracking pictures of the bird:

Throughout our stay in Spain we’ve been struck by the Spring flowering plants that cover any open ground, and have photographed a number of examples:

Our second stop was the visitor centre at La Rocina, which again has a number of interconnected walks and hides. Large numbers of Woodchat Shrike were visible throughout this area. We walked out to the farthest hides first, and were surprised to find another Reed Warbler occupying a tree for feeding and singing:

From the path at the same spot we watched Glossy Ibis feeding:

Another ‘common’ bird in this area is the Nightingale, singing from trees and scrub alike, their bodies trembling with their song as they compete to attract a mate. Being surrounded by singing Nightingales is a wonderful experience and you cannot help but smile. Another common bird though much quieter of song is the Sardinian Warbler:

We also watched Black Kites, Marsh Harriers and a Booted Eagle soaring above the reserve searching for food. Having completed our walk here we set off for our last stop of the holiday further down the track from the visitor centre – the Palace of El Acebron and its surrounding walk. The palace is deserted now and used mostly by nesting House Martins.

The road between the visitor centre and the car park for the Palace was frequented by Bee-eaters:

Lots and lots of them. Of course if you get close they take off and fly on. It almost became a game trying to get close enough to take a picture yet keeping distant enough to not flush them on. The woodland walk in the gathering sunshine of a warm afternoon was lovely. Again we were surrounded throughout by singing Nightingales, joined by Serin, a pair of Ravens who clacked overhead, Chaffinch, Blackbirds and the Barn Swallows and House Martins overhead. The trees were literally buzzing with hundreds of Honey Bees, quite a noise when you hear it for the first time and realise it’s coming from above… It was a very pleasant way to finish our Spanish holiday and a really very pleasant spot.

New Species:
Savi’s Warbler
Great Spotted Cuckoo

Trip species total: 170
New species total: 42

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