Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Doñana National Park

Yesterday we crossed the border into Andalucía for a visit to Doñana National Park probably one of the best known birdwatching sites in Europe. It is a vast area and in a day trip it is possible to cover only a small part.

We chose to head for the José Antonio Valverde Visitor Centre and we timed our visit so that we could have our lunch there. On our way to the Visitor Centre we made numerous stops beginning at a lagoon that had thousands of ducks on it, the vast majority of which were Northern Shovelers. We spent quite a while searching for the local specialities, Marbled Duck, Red-knobbed Coot and White-headed Duck but found only the last of these. At least seven White-headed Ducks were comparatively easy to see even amongst the huge flocks. The lagoon also held maybe 100 Great Flamingos and Black-winged Stilts in numbers that were uncountable - thousands of them. Add Little Egrets, Cormorants, Eurasian Coots, Little and Black-necked Grebes and it made quite a sight, particularly when a Marsh Harrier or a Red Kite passed over and spooked a few hundred birds.

A short distance further on we found our Red-knobbed Coot at a fairly reliable sight for this species that we have seen only occasionally in Portugal. There were several of them wearing neck collars just like the one that occurred at Quinta do Lago earlier this year. Also here was the only Black-crowned Night Heron of the day.

Apart from the stilts it was surprising how few waders we saw. There was an occasional Greenshank but otherwise the most frequently seen species during the day was Green Sandpiper. As we drove along rough tracks with ditches on either side, we flushed Green Sandpipers on numerous occasions. Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers are two of our favourite species - we really are tringaphiles!

Of course there were plenty of White Storks and during the day we came across a dozen or more Black Storks. And eventually we found Cranes. Just how many Cranes there were is difficult to say but one flock that we saw in flight was estimated at about 700. They made a wonderful sight strung across the sky. Also see in skeins were hundreds of Greylag Geese.

Cranes in Spain flying over the plains

It was quite a good day for raptors. As well as Marsh Harriers and Red Kites we saw countless Common Kestrels, a couple of Hen Harriers, a single Griffon Vulture, a Short-toed Eagle and a Merlin. The Merlin was getting amongst the flocks of larks and pipits. There were simply hundreds of Lesser Short-toed Larks.

It was particularly pleasing to find a Barn Owl. It was roosting in a derelict building that we have checked for this species on almost every occasion we have been to Doñana. Today, at last, we found someone at home!

When we eventually reached the Visitor Centre there were rather few birds there compared with the numbers we see in the breeding season but as always we enjoyed watching Purple Swamp-hen and there were several Penduline Tits in the bulrushes.

As we were leaving the National Park, one of the day’s highlights was finding ourselves almost eyeball to eyeball with a Black-shouldered Kite. It was on a roadside post, no more than four feet high, eating a prey item and we managed to pull up almost alongside it before it reluctantly flew off, taking its meal with it. It isn’t often that we can get so close to a raptor in the wild.

Doñana is well know for its spectacular sunsets and as we headed for home the sky turned a marvellous mixture of orange and red that made a fine end to a most enjoyable day.

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