A highlight, on a recent trip to Andalucia in southern Spain, was discovering the extraordinary beauty of the wetlands of Doñana National Park. It is sited along the banks of the great Guadalquiver River at it’s estuary on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an immense expanse where water has a language described in terms of flowing or still; of lagoons, marshlands, aquafires, ponds, pools. It’s well known as a gathering place for millions of migatory birds. It’s present area covers 50,720 ha. and it’s ecological value is recognised under Ramsar status and as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Guadalquivir river runs over a watercourse 657kms in length and exits at an estuary stretching out into a marshy delta known as Las Marismas del Guadalquivir. It’s Spain’s only navigable river with historic links back to Seville and in Roman times reaching as far as Cordoba. The park has a diversity of ecosystems of caños and cotos, marismas and dunes; it is notable for its biotopes – the lagoons, marshlands, fixed and mobile dunes, scrub woodland and maquis. Five threatened bird species make their home here. It is also one of the largest heronries in the Mediterranean region and is the wintering site for more than 500,000 water fowl each year. Thousands of greater flamingoes come to nest over the spring to summer months. Wading birds, spoonbills and herons and amazing numbers of raptors hover in the airspace above.
Only guided tours in 4×4 vehicles are permitted and we booked a half day tour through the company “Discovering Doñana “. Sonia Alís, our guide picked us up early in the morning and we set off on an exciting tour. Along the sandy road Sonia soon picked up the spoor of lynx and fox. Sonia worked for some time at the Iberian Lynx project and was most knowledgeable on their habits. Soon we were spotting fallow and red deer; wild horses and birds, birds, birds. We appreciated her indepth knowledge on the varied environments and biodiversity of the park. As a protected area it plays a vital part in the ongoing health of migratory bird life, and the interconnection of it’s supporting flora and fauna.
Flamingoes wheel overhead.
Waterfowl find refuge in the reedbeds and spinifex grass
Graceful greater flamingoes.
Stone pine forests form shady corridors in the cotos.
Typical scene with water channels through reedbeds and scrubland trees in the distance.
Wild olive trees and white poplars.
Black storks nesting in the high spots.
Cork oaks, mastic shrubs
Marsh horses – Marismeño is a rare breed of horse indigenous to the marshes of the Guadalquivir River.
Park rangers on horseback and flocks of flamingoes.
“The following is a list of birds that inhabit the park: velvetleaf, bee-eater, hoopoe, dunnock, vulture, curlew, gadwall, mallard, widgeon, snipe, black-tailed godwit, imperial eagle, booted eagle, short-toed eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, Montagu’s harrier, marsh harrier, hen harrier, alcatraz, shrike, lark, greylag goose, bean goose, redshank, lapwing, avetorrillo, eared owl, griffon vulture, black vulture, great reed warbler, teal, white stork, black stork, stilt, ringed plover, Kentish plover, cormorant, crow, cuckoo, spatula, crested coot, toed eagles, sandpipers, duck, quail, redstart, redstart, merlin, black starling, starling, Flemish, coot, horned coot, whiskered tern, black tern, common bargain, egret, squacco, herring gull, Audouin’s gull, black-headed gull, dark gull, purple heron, gray heron, barn swallow, red-rumped swallow, sparrow, house sparrow, tree sparrow, Moorish sparrow, jackdaw, honey buzzard, peregrine falcon, crested tit, tit, goldfinch, eared owl, barn owl, kingfisher, heron, black kite, red kite, common blackbird, glossy ibis, common fly, cattle egrets, teals, bittern, little egret, white wagtail, yellow wagtail, purple gallinule, moscón bird, woodcock, brown nighthawks, wood pigeon, shoveler, robin, spotted woodpecker, finch, woodpecker, moorhen, pochard, totovía, little grebe, mistle thrush, song thrush, curlew, magpie, swift, greenfinch, oriole, Cetti’s warbler, nightingale, little bustard, great crested grebe, shelduck, pied flycatcher, spotted flycatcher, common flycatcher, tufted duck, pochar, ferruginous duck, rabilargo, buzzard, common buzzard, common scoter, short-toed lark, stonechat, merganser, firecrest, gull-billed tern, lugano, water rail, bunting, reed bunting, ortega.”