Sunday, 21 December 2008


We’re just back from Spain. We were there with five representatives of other birding tour companies (two Brits, three Dutch) and a Spanish photo-journalist for a four-night stay at the invitation of Turismo de Doñana. From our point of view the object of the trip was to see parts of Sevilla province that we hadn’t visited previously and to find out more about those areas with which we are already reasonably familiar and perhaps learn about some new birding sites.

After spending the first night in El Pedroso, north of Sevilla, we spent much of the first day touring the Parque Natural de la Sierra Norte de Sevilla, a pleasant enough area of smooth, rounded hills with woods of stone pines and oaks and crossed by several rivers. Although we did see an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle, the truth is that we didn’t have a great day’s birding, spending too much time in the minivan as we tried to cover a huge amount of countryside. However, the bird list we were given suggests that it might be a very worthwhile area to explore in the spring and summer when Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Black, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Montagu’s Harriers, Black-shouldered Kites and Black Storks are all possible.

Our second day was spent in two areas to the south and east of Sevilla. We began by driving to Coripe where on a really cold and frosty morning began a walk of 6km along the Via Verde, a disused railway track that actually took us just a short way out of Sevilla province into Cádiz province. In spite of the temperature this was a most enjoyable walk that produced plenty of birds, including Hawfinch and Cirl Bunting before we reached Peñón de Zaframagón Interpretation Centre and Ornithological Observatory. Here is one of the largest colonies of Griffon Vultures in Europe. Apart from the vultures themselves, the main feature here is a remotely-sited digital video camera with a 300mm lens that allows real-time images of the birds and their nests to be seen on a screen inside the Centre. Bonelli’s Eagles also breed here and we were able to watch some wonderful footage taken earlier in the year of a pair of eagles bathing. No Bonelli’s Eagles to be seen now, unfortunately.

From here we went north to La Lantejuela where on the extensive plains that surround the village we were taken to see a flock of about 30 Great Bustards. Also in the same area we saw Stone Curlews and several of the common raptor species. At the edge of the village itself we had a brief visit in rapidly fading light to a complex of sewage and water treatment lagoons. There were Little and Black-necked Grebes here and a selection of the common duck species but it looked like a place that could be very productive at another time of the year. White-headed Ducks are said to breed here.

Our last full day was spent around the eastern side of Doñana National Park, including a stop at the Jose Antonio Valverde Visitor Centre. This was mostly familiar territory for us and it came as no surprise to see Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, White-headed Ducks, Red-knobbed Coots, Purple Swamp-hen, Little Bustard, Common Cranes, Black-crowned Night Herons and countless raptors. A gathering of about 2000 White Storks was quite a sight and with them were Glossy Ibises, Wood Sandpipers and about a dozen Yellow Wagtails. We spent the last hour or so of the day in the Aznalcázar pinewoods in the hope if not with any real expectation of seeing a Spanish Lynx. Our consolation was standing in the dark listening to Tawny, Long-eared and Eagle Owls, all calling at the same time. This just after actually seeing a Little Owl!

Common Kestrel

On Saturday morning, after a short return visit to the pinewoods, we were taken to the FIBES Exhibition Centre in Sevilla to visit Sevilla Son Sus Pueblos, an event promoting tourism in Sevilla province. Sometimes the more formal segments of trips like this, when we have to leave our binoculars behind, can be a bit of a chore but this was definitely an exception. There was a workshop and an opportunity to discuss some of the issues involved in attracting birdwatching tourism to Sevilla; afterwards we enjoyed looking at the many stands on which the small towns and villages surrounding the city displayed their individual attractions.

All in all it was an excellent opportunity to see quite a few places that we might not otherwise have visited. We also renewed existing friendships and enjoyed great hospitality in some very nice hotels and restaurants. Many thanks to all at Turismo de Doñana and especially to Sergio and Manolo, our driver/guides.

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