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Doñana's Northern Marshes. A return visit in spring 2003.

Guide: John Butler

Visit Johns Web Site, Contact: John Butler

Following on from my visit to Doñana National Park last summer, I still had a couple of species to see that had alluded me during my previous tour.

I knew from John's web site that he had all the specialties staked out and so I contacted him again in the hope that he could squeeze me into one of his tours.

On 18th April I joined Penny and Graham Lower, from Sussex and Simon Woolley and Julia Casson from Winchester for what was to turn into a memorable days birding.

The day started with spectacular views of a Black-shouldered Kite at the Corredor Verde, catching and then eating a Corn Bunting, no more than 120 metres away from us. This was my first lifer of the day. Black-shouldered Kite is a real rarity in Doñana, this was the first breeding pair in many years and John was keeping the precise location secret for fear of having the nest disturbed.

This was quickly followed by views of Cuckoos, Melodious Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas, Great Reed Warblers, Little Owls, Marsh and Montagu's Harriers, Red-legged Partridge, a Western Reef Heron, Purple Swamp-hens, Collared Pratincoles, Ringed, Kentish and Grey Plovers, Little Stints, Temminck's Stints, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpipers, Red and Greenshanks, Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, Crested Coots, Bee-eaters, Woodchat Shrikes, White Storks, Black Kites, Little, Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes.

The Western Reef Heron was my second lifer of the day, views where unfortunately brief, but again without John's help I wouldn't even have found the site.

My third lifer came in the shape of two Red-knobbed Coots at the Dehesa de Abajo.

( I have friends who don't even believe this species exists in Spain, they have spent so long looking and yet failing to see them!). John drove us straight to them.

Red-knobbed Coot
Black Kite
We had our lunch at the Dehesa de Abajo. There were cracking views of Black Kite, White Stork, (This is the biggest colony in Europe!) and Bee-eaters.

After lunch we moved on, into the northern marsh area, were we found Purple, Squacco and Black-crowned Night Herons, Glossy Ibis, Red Crested Pochards, Greater Flamingos, Marbled Ducks, Gadwalls, Spotted Redshanks, Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed and Calandra Larks, Northern and Black-eared Wheatears and Turtle Doves.

We had very close views of Squacco Heron. During the day we saw all of Europes Egret and Heron species.
Squacco Heron

Our day finished as it began, with a raptor spectacular. We watched, enthralled, as a Peregrine Falcon made repeated attacks on a single Black-winged Stilt, which, for 5 minutes, avoided becoming prey by remaining in water and ducking beneath the surface each time the Peregrine swooped.

Living in Morecambe, watching Peregrines chasing waders was hardly a new experience. I turned to get my camera only to see a large bird of prey, no more than 100 metres away and only about 50 metres above us.

I gave the obligatory shout, "BIG BIRD OF PREY!!!".

John (with much more experience of these things) quickly identified it as a Spanish Imperial Eagle. This was my main target bird for the trip (another "lifer") and one I had almost given up hope of seeing. This was also Johns closest ever view of one in flight.

We were lucky here, Spanish Imperial Eagle is a very difficult bird to see and the few nesting birds are all in the inaccessible central part of the park.

As we were driving out of the marshes we were treated to really close-up views of a female Hen Harrier as it passed alongside the vehicle.

In the end we saw over 90 species, the company was good and the birds were obliging. Thank you John for a memorable day.

Johns Web Site Contact: John Butler

Full version of some of these photos (and many more from Spain) can be seen at:

Birdwatching on Spains Southern Coast
John R. Butler: Buy from

Written by local expert and guide, John Butler, "Birdwatching on Spain's Southern Coast", is the ideal accompaniment for the holidaying birder in this part of Spain. The real strength of this guide over similar books is the information about the lesser known sites close the resorts of the Costa's. Great if you only want a quick hours early morning jaunt before the heat of the Summer sun becomes unbearable. Also covered in good detail are Doñana (where John is now resident and available for guiding) and the main Almeria sites...Recommended.

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