Donana & Dos Hermanas 20th to 27th September 2014
Saturday 20th September 2014: Sunny 27°C
Arrived about 14:00 with my family, in our Hotel in Dos Hermanas, just outside the city of Seville, after a short flight from Dublin with Ryanair. After a quick check-in, I went for a walk at the rear of the hotel, along a country road near the Canal de Bajo Guadalquivir. Almost immediately I picked up a few birds:- Melodious Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher and Waxbill an unexpected find in this area. The light was beginning to fade, so I headed back to the hotel for a welcome dinner.
Cattle Egret Zitting Cisticola
Sunday 21st September 2014: Sunny with some rain 26°C
After breakfast, I went for a walk in the same area as I was in yesterday, but had a whole day almost to walk in the area of the Canal de Bajo Guadalquivir, La Motilla. This is an area of dry open farmland with a few bushy areas near the canal. In the open fields and near the farmhouse Crested Lark were plentiful, several Yellow Wagtail of the races flava and flavissima and Northern Wheatear were also present. The scrub areas had Willow Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Common Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, and Great Tit could be found in good numbers. Birds of prey were hunting in the large open fields notably, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Red Kite, Black Kite, Booted Eagle and a single Peregrine.
In the afternoon on my return walk back to the hotel, as the sky was beginning to darken, you could see heavy rain falling in the distance, a few more species were picked up including Raven, Grey Heron, Blackbird, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Swift, Barn Swallow, Sand Martin and 100+ White Stork on migration.
Yellow Wagtail Red Kite
Monday 22nd September 2014: Mist/Sun/Rain 29°C
Today was a day I had long cherished, my first visit to the famous Donana National Park. Before I left Ireland I had arranged to meet Luismi Garrido of Andalusian Birding Holidays, someone whom had been highly recommended by another birder on the web, as a knowledgeable birder and good company to boot. This was indeed the case. I had booked Luismi for two days but in the end we spent three days birding in the Donana and surrounding areas.
The day began slowly as we approached Donana in the mist, but already several species had been picked up:- Green Sandpiper, White Stork, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Hoopoe and Azure-winged Magpie. Driving along the road towards our first stop, the Visitor Center Dehesa de Abajo, hundreds of Glossy Ibis and White Stork were flying overhead along with several species of wader including Dunlin, Avocet, Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Northern Lapwing, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Greater Flamingo. After a quick cup of welcome coffee, we went for a short walk around the reserve car park, picking up Yellow Wagtail, Crested Lark, Jackdaw, Common Magpie, Red-rumped Swallow,Woodchat Shrike, and Common Buzzard, whilst down on the lake were hundreds of Glossy Ibis and White Stork, in association with Mallard, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler.
Dehesa de Abajo Glossy Ibis
Leaving the Centre we headed along the edge of the numerous rice fields in the Veta La Palma area, when we came across a channel with numerous herons, egrets and waders; productive since we added another two birds to our list, Great White Egret and Black Stork.
Great White Egret Black Stork
After stopping at several points to observe several large flocks of birds in the area, we eventually arrived at the José Antonio Valverde Visitor Center, just after one o’clock so we decided to stop for lunch.
The pools at the centre were dry, even after the heavy rain that had fallen on the area over the past week; apparently it would take a few weeks of rain to fill them. As we were leaving a flock of Griffon Vulture and several Black Stork soared overhead. Near a pumping station we came across another mixed flock of birds resting on the canal bank and in the adjacent reed beds; in the flock were Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret and several species of duck.
Rice fields surrounding Donana Night Herons: Adult Juvenile
Sitting on pylons nearby were an Osprey, Short-toed Eagle and two Lesser Kestrel and in and around the pump house were numerous Yellow Wagtail, Cetti’s Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Whinchat. In the surrounding fields were Northern Lapwing, Crested Lark, Common Buzzard and Stonechat. The rain that had been forecast finally arrived and as we drove further along the edge of the reserve it was difficult at times to keep up with the number and variety of birds flying overhead. On the roadside fences were the ubiquitous Whinchat, several Common Kestrel and an adult & juvenile Montagu’s Harrier. You could get quite close to the birds as long as you stayed in the car. The rain was getting heavier so we stopped the car at the side of a pond and waited until it passed over.
After a half an hour the weather cleared once more and we drove along a main drainage channel at the northern end of the park; it was an area of open fields and scrub, with adjacent rice fields. This proved a very fruitful drive, notable birds being:- Black-winged Kite, Red Kite, Black Kite, Little Owl, Honey Buzzard, Greater Flamingo, Booted Eagle, Greater Flamingo, Reed Warbler and Melodious Warbler.
Black-winged Kite Greater Flamingo
The evening was getting on and more dark clouds were an ominous warning of more heavy rain to come, so at this point we decided to call it a day and what a wonderful day it had been in Donana. It had more than lived up to my expectations - so many species and in such numbers. If this was ‘off-season’ what a fantastic place this must be in mid-winter with a quarter of a million birds in the park! One of the best birding days of my life. By the the time we got back to my hotel in Dos Hermanas, it was dark and a hot bath and a lovely evening meal ended a perfect day.
Tuesday: 23rd September 2014: Sun/Torrential Rain/Sun 25°C
The biggest factor today was the weather; we started out in the morning in bright sunshine but by mid-morning it had clouded over and by noon it was torrential rain on and off for two hours followed by an evening of pleasant sunshine!
Luismi and I set off at 08:00 and within an hour we were in the Montes de Alcala de los Gazules area in Cadiz province. Heading off the main highway, we quickly were on a good ‘birding road’ [gravel farm road with no traffic]. Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, Crested Lark, Linnet, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Corn Bunting, Yellow Wagtail, Red Kite, Black Kite, Common Magpie, Red-legged Partridge, Little Owl, Little Egret and Cattle Egret were a selection of the birds seen on this drive around the cortijo.
Crested Lark Pied Flycatcher
Almost at the end of the farm road, we noticed a bird flying along the tree tops; it was one of my target birds, an adult female Spanish Imperial Eagle. What a superb bird and thankfully back from the brink; there are now 400 pairs in Iberia, up from a low of 50 odd pairs a few decades ago. The rain had begun to fall so we left the area and headed for some lakes near Jerez. On the way there a Turtle Dove was spotted sitting on the telephone wire, a bird that is becoming increasingly hard to find; only two birds were seen all week. The lakes proved disappointing as there were no terns or gulls present. As the torrential rain came down we stopped at a village bar for a very long lunch! Eventually the rain stopped and we set out for the Sanluca de Barrameda area on the eastern side of the Rio Guadalquivir, which is also part of Donana.
The drive along the Guadalquivir produced several new birds:- Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-necked Grebe and Spotted Redshank. Three more Marsh Harrier were seen along with Lesser Black–backed Gull and Black-headed Gull. All the egrets and herons were present with the exception of Purple Heron, which surprised me, but Luismi said that by the end of September the majority of this species had already migrated to Africa.
Time was getting on so we went to a wooded area, Algaida de Sanlucar near a large pond inside Donana; a hot-spot for several species, but it was lifeless, apart from a Moorhen. However the wooded area had several Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Melodious Warbler and there was a single Reed Warbler in the scrub area around the car-park.
Our next stop was a series of small pools in the Tollos de Bonanza area and at last I saw another of my target species, White-headed Duck. There was one male and two females in the pond and I got excellent views of this iconic species. Also present were Purple Gallinule, Black-necked Grebe, Red-rumped Swallow, Spotless Starling and Spanish Sparrow.
On the way back to my hotel, we had our final stop of the day at a disused quarry; target bird was the resident Eagle Owl, but it had gone! However we did find European Bee-Eater and a Short-toed Eagle sitting on an electricity pylon.
Thursday 25th September 2014: Cloudy/Sunny 29°C
Friday: 26th September 2014: Sunny 28°C
Once again an early start; Luismi picked me up at 08:00 and after negotiating the early morning traffic in Seville, we were in Donana by 09:30. Déjà vu, it was bit misty but this cleared within 30 minutes to reveal a bright morning. The first stop was a small pool area near the road: present were Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Great White Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Greenshank. We then proceeded to the Church of El Rocio; what a unique place; ornithology took a back seat for a while as I walked around the church and its surroundings. A wonderful place.
In winter the area opposite the church is flooded, but not on our visit. The birdlife must be magnificent here when the meadows are filled with water. We walked along the boardwalk at the edge of the meadow; in the reeds and surrounding trees we found Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Northern Wheatear.
Next stop was only a short distance away, Centro de visitantes de La Rocina y Palacio del Acebron, an area of woodland and low scrub. Firstly we went for a walk through the pine tres; difficult to bird at best I find with pine forests, but we managed to locate a few birds notably Pied Flycatcher, Hoopoe, Serin and Short-toed Treecreeper. Walking a further 500m brought us to broadleaf forest; as expected a much more productive area with the highlights being Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Common Redstart, Olivaceous Warbler and Western Bonelli’s Warbler. Also seen were Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Wren, Blackbird and Mistle Thrush.
It was fast approaching 13:00 so we had lunch in the centre car park; the sun was now high in the sky and the temperature 32°C. Several birds of prey were circling in the sky including 20 Griffon Vulture, a Black Vulture, several Common Buzzard and a single Honey Buzzard plus two large flocks of White Storks heading south presumably towards Gibraltar.
After Lunch we drove along an area of short scrub; expectations were not high in the hot afternoon sun but a few birds were showing near the track:- Whinchat, Dartford Warbler, Azure-winged Magpie, and Serin.
Whinchat Dartford Warbler
We then returned along the road towards the Dehesa de Abajo Visitor Center. Along the way we saw several good areas for birds and eventually stopped at one of them, a pool near the edge of the road. As usual there was a variety of species resting quietly in the evening sunshine, among them were Spoonbill, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Greater Flamingo, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Cormorant, Moorhen, Coot, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Common Snipe, Great White Egret, White Stork, Black Stork, Reed Bunting, and Yellow-crowned Bishop.
Little Ringed Plover Green Sandpiper
As the evening light was beginning to fade, I left Donana for the last time and took so many memories of this wonderful birding location. Certainly a place I will return to in the near future.
I would like to thank Luismi for his guiding skills and enjoyable company throughout the three days we birded Donana and its surroundings and can say without hesitation that I would recommend him to anyone visiting the area.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Good numbers of birds at all suitable locations
Ed.O’Hara/Liusmi Garrido [Andalusian Birding Holidays]
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