Sunday, July 9, 2017

Doñana Wetland

Described as "Europe's best wetland," Doñana is an incredible vast expanse harbouring some of Europe's rarest species like the Spanish Imperial Eagle, Marbled Duck and Iberian Lynx. Thus it made perfect sense to fly to Sevilla (23 pounds!). I don't know if its relevant to the story but Steve got caught up in customs with an extra bag fiasco and made the plain by about 10 seconds before they shut the door behind him, the most epic plane catch I've seen. Our Morocco leg had been awesome, but this trip was only half over and little did we know we would see a creature so rare and beautiful it would have been beyond our wildest dreams a few months ago. Armed with our Garcia and Patterson guide we set out into the wetland admittedly quite ignorant about how to hit this immense wetland to uncover its hidden gems.

We devoured an immense Sea Bass washed down with sangrias which somehow turned into a bill of 88 Euros. Feeling shocked at how much money we had just blown on dinner, we figured out how we would make up the loss. Clandestine camping would cost zero euros and place us in the stone pine woodland for the dawn chorus. The following morning, we rid our bowels of the last of Moroccan Tagine. I had no regrets as I made the connection with a marinated beef and date cinnamon-spiced tagine which was one of the tastiest meals I've had and the intestinal consequences worth it, my ears detected a Tristram's-like song gurgling in the pines. A careful stalk revealed it to be a spankin' Dartford Warbler in full glory!

We did our first morning at La Rocina Visitors Centre hoping we could scoop up some intel. Straight away we bumped into some Spanish birders about our age who gave us the juice on Savi's Warblers in the marsh. They barely spoke English but Dom's Spanish skills were more than sufficient and mine somewhat better than useless. It was awesome to see so many Spanish birders in the field as we read that birding used to be almost non-existent in Spain but here were some energetic young folks who knew their stuff and a one of them a hottie on top of that. We mobilized toward the marismas and honed in on the skulky reed-dwelling warblers like flies on a turd. We crossed paths with two British geezers who dished out warbler ID nuggets left right and centre. We semi-followed them for a bit in order to leech off their skills but laid off a while so as not to disturb them with our obnoxiousness (our birding gets rowdy son!). We vehemently staked out singing Sedge Warbler which we eventually gave the victory, pressing on to nab sick views of Cetti's Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler and my fave, Savi's Warbler with its generous undertail coverts making its tail look like a ridiculous wedge. After I mistook female pochards for marbled ducks, I realized I needed to regain my birding skills to work in proportion to my amount of rage which, at this point, was high. A wander over to the British dudes secured me a brief view of Icterine Warbler, which would be the only of the trip. By then they were spotting Pied and Spotted Flycatchers so far off in the woods that it was getting a bit ridiculous and we moved on to some birds we could actually see.
The juice on Marbled and White-headed Duck was that the only place to be was the Jose Valverde visitors' Centre so that's where we headed.

Red-crested Pochard
Our red Volvo's low clearance made navigating the insane potholes rather nerve-racking, especially with Dom at the wheel. At our slow speed, however, it was impossible to miss the array of larks and others on the road and fences.

Calandra, Greater and Lesser Short-toed, Wood and Crested Larks were snatched up as were Corn Bunting, Lesser Kestrels and European Roller.

Corn Bunt
Greater Short-toed Larks
Crested Lark
European Roller
Red-rumped Swallow
While trying to photograph a Great Reed Warbler and simultaneously extracting a fly from my eye, Dom started calling out "Tim, Tim!" but since I was in pain with the fly I neglected to look over. Only after did Dom realized that what he had just seen fly over was a Ferruginous Duck. I still have never seen one to this day.

Great Reed Warbler
Eurasian Spoonbill
At last we got to the Jose Valverde visitors' centre and we were truly amazed by all the wading birds: flamingos, herons, ibises and spoonbills everywhere. The knowledgeable nature interpreter helped is ID a "bastard snake" we had almost captured earlier and sent us in the direction of 3 of our most desired species: Great Spotted Cuckoo, Marbled Duck and White-headed Duck. We missed the cuckoos by a few minutes (at the gate to the off-limits part of the reserve) but as consolation I picked out a soaring Spanish Imperial Eagle and we were amazed by all the flamingos doing their in-synch crazy breeding display. I thought "wow, even non-birders would enjoy this."

Greater Flamingo
Yes, they are doing it!

A huge kettle of raptors started up, mainly Eurasian Griffons with a Black Vulture and Red Kite joining the usual blacks. We stopped by the White-headed Duck spot delighted to find a couple of spanky males and a female drifting behind the reeds.

White-headed Duck (taken in Malaga)
We proceeded to our camp, which was along a very wild road east of Valverde where Lynx has been spotted before. We did not see one, but I heard Tawny Owls from our camp and decided to venture over the barbed wire with my headlamp and Steve's speaker and managed to secure a stunning view - a bird I'd really wanted to see on this trip! The exposure was way too low on the shot but I somehow modified it on picasa and it turned out pretty cool!
Tawny Owl

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