02-04 February : Doñana

When Ron, who is once more over-wintering down here, wondered if a trip to Doñana might be possible, I had no hesitation in taking up his idea. Admittedly the dates I chose were not of the best, but as they say back home in Yorkshire, ‘owt is better than nowt’. I planned the route with some care as Ron is suffering from tendonitis of an Achille’s tendon, which is very painful.
The first day we would go from Fuengirola to El Acebuche (Hueva) with a look at the sea at Matalascañas, then to El Rocio where we would roost the two nights away in the Hotel Toruña. The second day would be taken up with venturing all the way around to get as far as the Centro José Antonio Valverde and then go as far as posible along La Escupidera, then back via Dehesa de Abajo, all of which was to prove a rather long day. The final day, the Thursday, we would have a look at La Rocina and then, if Ron was sufficiently mobile, we would go as far as El Acebrón, something we didn’t manage.
DAY 1: On the way we saw our first Black Kites (milanos negros) of the year with 5 birds near Chuchena (Huelva), but not before I realised that I had managed to forget to put the big Olympus and telephoto in the car, leaving me with only the bridge Olympus 820. However, such were the distances at we were to be functioning, with much telescope work, the bridge was actually slightly more useful with its greater magnification.
Common Buzzard
El Acebuche is dry and frankly it was a waste of time. Instead of a sheet of water, or at least pools, in front of the hides, there was just a dustbowl. As for birds, even less apart from the traditional pair of White Storks (cigüeña blanca) on top of the information centre, and a diffuse flock of lovely Azure-winged Magpies (rabilargos) moving around with the remnants of food left by a party of school children in their bills, but never sufficiently still to get even a halfway decent photograph. Here too there were the common Magpies (urracas) ad we saw the first Barn Swallow (golondrina común) of the trip, plus a Common Buzzard (busardo común).
From there it was on to Matalascañans where the sea gave a good imitation of a mirror, but apart from a single Sandwich Tern (charrán patinegro) we did see some 5 Razorbills (alca común), an increasingly uncommon wintering species in the Málaga Bay area. By then we had seen something like 15 species in total, which was hardly brilliant.
sunset El Rocio
So, off to El Rocio where we booked in and then walked slowly along to the SEO centre along what I suppose one should call a paseo lagunero, rather than a paseo maritímo. Here at last there were birds all over the marisma. A flock of displaying Flamingos (flamencos) with more scattered all over the place. Spoonbills (espátulas) were, as usual, asleep in daylight hours but stirred as the sun sank towards the horizon, while the Glossy Ibises (moritos) were busy feeding. There was a quite decent selection of ducks, all of them pretty normal although there were lots of Shovelers (pato cuchara) and Pintails (anade rabudo), the males being paticularly elegant, while a scattering of Greylag geese (ansar común) did their own line astern swim-by. Snipe (agachadiza común) were notably abundant on the nearest island and there were at least 54, far outnumbering the 4 Black-tailed Godwits (aguja colinegra) which took off at dusk. At last things were happening and we saw, according to my field notes, some 31 species there with a total of 39 for the day. Hardly brilliant but tomorrow would be another day.
DAY 2: To get to the Jose Antonio Valverde Information Centre, one has to go rather a long way round, at times through some rather nice pines but where we saw/heard next to nothing in the few stops we made. However, once out on the track to the Centre from the paved road, a distance of some 22 kms, the birds started to appear in a landscaoe which is as flat as a billiard table  and I swear you could just make out the earth’s curvature. 
Black and White Storks
There were White Storks (cigüeña blanca) everywhere and we saw some with Black Storks (cigüeña negra) in attendance. In the canal which runs along side the track, a Green Sand (andarríos grande) proved to be photogenic and for once, rather ike the buzzard later, the photo was not of white rump vanishing to the far horizon.
There were plenty of Marsh Harriers (aguilucho lagunero) seen, mostly females and immatures, but with at lerast two superb males seen during the day. I had hoped to see more Hen Harriers (aguilucho pálido) but surprisingly we only saw one, a nice male.  A nice Common Buzzard (busardo común), one of several,  allowed at decent photograph instead of a shot of a rear end disappearing rapidly at low level. Particularly pleasing to the eye was the sight of several Red Kites (milano real) with a few of the rather more dowdy Black Kites (milano negro). There were outnumbered considerably by Ravens (cuervos) and Magpies (urracas), particularly in the large área where the sun-dried bones of dead livestock are mute testimony to the fragility of life, although I must admit that ending up as Griffon Vulture (buitre leonado) food hardly appeals, ecological though it be.
There is plenty of water (as well as a much needed coffee) at the Inforrnation Centre and excellent views from the windows, with a nice supply of ducks and waders, whilst Purple Boghens (calamón) are certainly not in short supply. Notably abundant were the Black-tailed Godwits (aguja colinegra) with a guesstimate of 150+ birds present. Going onward along La Escupidera we  found the Greylags (ansar común) – some flocks of which have been reported flying northwards this morning (09 February). We searched for the Whitefronts which have been reported but with no success. Here too we found plenty of Cranes (grullas). In this section we notched up a total of  41 species.
Green Sandpiper
The second stop of the day was to be at Dehesa de Abajo. The first stop was by a single semi flooded rice paddy, on the face the same as the thousands of hectares if the ithers, but this one had waders. A flock of some 200 Golden Plovers (chorlitos dorados) flashed back and forth over the many Lapwings (avefrías), some 500+,  and once the scpes were uo ad we started looking there were at least 140+ Ruff (combatientes), a suprising 100+ Sanderling (correlimos tridáctilos) and 10+ Little Sint (correlimos menudo). Why only in this paddy, we know not, and when we called by again on the Thursday morning, there were only a few Lapwings.
There was a fair wind blowing and this had concentrated a lot of the ducks and coots at the south side of the Dehesa lake where the road runs by. The place was solid with Red-crested Pochards (pato colorado) and after scanning with the scopes we guesstimated some 1.500 in the lakes with flock after flock scattered over the water, along with a vast number of Coots (focha común), which did not bode well for Ron who had never seen a Crested Coot (focha moruna)  and which made the task of finding look like the proverbial needle in a haystack job.  
We went up to the centre to see what was and on the ‘recent sightings’ board someone had put Red-necked Grebe (somormujo cuellirrojo), a very unlikely record and one that I would be most unlikely to count.  Here some walking was involved in order to get down to the hides, a trail advertsied as being some 500m but the longest 500m that I have ever seen! This was not good news for Ron and on the slow wending way down we saw 4 Thekla Larks (cogujada montesina) very well and a bit further on, with the advantage of height, we stopped to scan and lo and behold, I found a collared (release programme) Crested Coot (focha moruna) with 4 other uncollared birds with it. A new species for Ron, which made his day! The other good bird of the afternoon was a small male Peregrine (halcón peregrino) which flew over unfazed by anything and then there was a Southern Grey Shrike (alcaudón real) – or whatever they are being called now with all the proposed splits!  But all was not yet finished, and the last bird of the day was a Short-eared Owl (lechuza campestre) which flew in front of the car on the way back to El Rocio.

desirable dwellings for White Storks
DAY 3: After breakfast and settling the very reasonable bill we set track for La Rocina, with the option of El Acebron if Ron's Achillle's tendon would cooperate, which it didn't.  However, we visited the first two hides at La Rocina and were inundated by Glossy Ibises (moritos), enjoyed a singke male Marsh Harrier (aguilucho lagunero) and admired the thoughtfulness of man who erected an electricity pylon with enough space for three White Stork (cigüeña blanca) nests. That said, there was little else to attract with a solitary Robin (petirrojo), Cetti's Warblers (ruiseñor bastardo) shouting their presence and a very bonny little male Serin (verdecillo). I should at this point note the presence of processionary caterpillars (procesionarios) whose presence and touch bodes ill for humans and dogs with sores and ulceration and, if the fine hairs are inhaled, kill dogs by asphyxiation.
            Going further and with El Acebron obviously out of the question, we set tracks for Dehesa de Abajo with the aim of seeing, if possible, more  waders and, hopefully, Marbled Duck/Teal. The flooded paddy which had yielded so much the previous afternoon only gave a few Lapwings (avefrías, a single Green Sandpiper (andarríos grande) and 4 Wood Sandpipers (andarríos bastardos). There were stil massive quantities of Red-crested Pochards (patos colorados) and included a  rather odd-looking leucistic one which was also seen on Saturday by a friend from Sevilla. The rest of the birding was rather run of the mill and we set course for home.
            The net result? I calculate some 79 species with one significant miss (or dip as they are known) in the form of Imperial Eagle. At least Ron was very satisfied, I was reasonably so, and he had at last seen Doñana after around 70 years birding.

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