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A Report from

Cota Doņana, Spain - 2nd - 5th April 2000,

Colin Davies


We visited Spain for a few days by driving from Portugal. We stayed at the Hotel Turuno, in the wonderful village of El Rocio, south west of Seville. Our hotel overlooked the flooded marsh of La Rocina, and many of the species seen at La Rocina bridge were also seen only a little less well from our hotel balcony.

The weather was poor during our visit, with 50mm of rain during the early hours of 2nd April, and most of the tracks were impassable in a normal car. For example, at the first bridge on the track to Coto del Rey, less than 100m from El Rocio, the river had completely swamped the bridge and was at least 50cm deep, making it difficult even for Four Wheel drive vehicles. Even the streets of El Rocio were a challenge in a normal car!

Fortunately, we had hired a guide for the 3rd April, and he overcame all obstacles to allow us to experience a truly memorable day. I can thoroughly recommend our guide, Claudio Menetti from Discovering Donana, who collected us at 7:00am and delivered us back to the hotel over 15 hours later at 10:30pm. Even after it had long since gone dark, he was happy to take us looking for amphibians! You can contact Claudio at or visit his web site at

La Rocina bridge    02-April-2000

Weather:  Morning - 100% cloud cover, some very heavy rain. Afternoon - 100-20% cloud cover, strong westerly wind, mild (18'C), cold in wind.

Main species seen:

Glossy Ibis 8
Squacco Heron 3
Greater Flamingo 500+
Cattle Egret  many
Booted Eagle 1 Light morph
Purple Gallinule 20+
Whiskered Tern 60+
Black Tern 1
Bee-eater  Many
Black-winged Stilt Many
Red Kite A few
Black Kite Many
 Marsh Harrier Many
Red-rumped Swallow A few
Red-crested Pochard A few
Spoonbill 30+
Savi's Warbler A few
Spotless Starling A few
Short-toed Treecreeper 1
 White Stork   Many
Wood Sandpiper 7+
Avocet 300+
Yellow Wagtail   A few
Nightingale A few
Azure-winged Magpie Many
Iberian Chiffchaff A few

Also seen:     Little Egret (Many), Cetti's Warbler(A few), Willow Warbler(A few), Sand Martin(Many), Swift(Many), Long-tailed tit, Blackcap, Shoveler, Common Sandpiper(1), Green Sandpiper(1), Greenshank, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Greylag Goose(10), Golden Plover(1), Collared Dove, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting(Many), House Sparrow, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Woodchat Shrike(A few), Cuckoo.    

Reptiles: Worm Lizard (Amphisbaenian), Large Psammodromus, Spanish Psammodromus.

There were incredible scenes at the La Rocina bridge, just outside El Rocio, with immense numbers of birds present. The predominant species were the stilts and flamingoes, but there were also many other noteworthy species, including some great views of Savi's Warblers and a small flock of Glossy Ibis. 

At least one Black Kite was always in view, and usually several, and from the hides up to 20 Purple Gallinules walked in full view, and at least three Squacco Herons.

On the edge of a roadside track we turned over a stone and found a Worm Lizard.

Coto del Rey woods and marismas      03-April-2000

Weather: 20-80% cloud cover, light to moderate North Westerly wind, cool in wind, mild (18'C), some hail showers.

Main species seen:   

Spanish Imperial Eagle 2  m & f
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse 3+ m & f
Griffon Vulture  10+
Black Kite Many
Spectacled Warbler 1  singing m
Lesser Short-toed Lark a few
Short-toed Lark a few
Calandra Lark a few
Collared Pratincole 300+
Montagu's Harrier    1  imm. m
Purple Gallinule a few
Purple Heron   3
Black-eared Wheatear   1
Booted Eagle   a few dark & pale morph

Also seen:     Jackdaws, Wheatears, Lapwings, Ravens, Greater Flamingo (Many), Little Egrets, Peregrine, Avocets, Black-winged Stilt (many), Red-crested Pochard (a few), Marsh Harrier (a few), White Wagtail (a few), Bee-eater (many), Woodchat Shrike (a few), Hoopoe (a few), Tawny Owl, Woodpigeons, Serin (many), Azure-winged Magpie (a few), Little Grebe (a few), Corn Bunting, Little Ringed Plover, Green Woodpecker, Red-legged Partridge.

Mammals: Spanish Lynx, Roe Deer, Fallow Deer

Reptiles: Large Psammodromus, Moorish Geckos

Amphibians: Natterjacks

We went out for the day with our guide, Claudio Mennotti and had a fantastic day. We saw many great birds, but the highlight was a mammal, the Spanish Lynx. It walked across the track in front of our Land Rover, and then stood watching us at the side of the track, at a distance of about 20 metres and for about 5 minutes, before walking slowly away into the undergrowth. An incredible experience!

Of the birds, there were just too many to decide on the best. The obvious choice would  be the Spanish Imperial Eagles, which were initially seen to be mobbed by a mixed flock of Booted Eagles and Black Kites, but the Sandgrouse were an excellent view, and slightly unexpected. We heard them a good few minutes before we eventually saw them. The Griffon Vultures were good, as were the 300 or so Collared Pratincoles that were pursued by an awesome looking Peregrine, and we had great views of the slightly uninspiring Lesser Short-toed Larks.

The day which had started at 8:00am with a Lynx, ended at 10:30pm with a mass of croaking Natterjacks in pools just outside El Rocio.

Scrubland near El Rocio    04-April-2000

Weather: 20% cloud cover on the coast, 80% cloud cover inland, some heavy showers, mild (18'C), cold in moderate westerly wind.

Main species seen:

Subalpine Warbler a few
Lesser Whitethroat 1
Cirl Bunting 1
Tree Pipit  1
Iberian Chiffchaff a few
Bee-eaters 100+

Also seen:     Cuckoo, Sardinian Warblers, Hoopoes, Willow Warblers, Collared Pratincoles, Crested Larks, Serins, Black Kites, Azure-winged Magpie (a few)

Sand Dunes between Mazagon and Matalascanas

Weather: 20% cloud cover on the coast, 80% cloud cover inland, some heavy showers, mild (18'C), cold in moderate westerly wind.

Main species seen:

Subalpine Warbler 8+
Dartford Warbler a few
Cirl Bunting a few

Also seen:       Serins, Bee-eaters

Reptiles: Large Psammodromus, Spanish Psammodromus, Spiny-footed Lizard.

One of the features of the holiday was the strong passage of Bee-eaters, and to a lesser degree, Subalpine Warblers. The  latter showed particularly well on the sand dunes, in amongst the resident Dartford Warblers.

Lagunes near Mazagon    05-April-2000

Weather: 20-80% cloud cover, no rain, light to moderate westerly wind, cold in wind, mild (18'C).

Main species seen:

Booted Eagle 2  light & dark morph pair
Subalpine Warbler  a few
Dartford Warbler a few
Short-toed Eagle 1
Great Reed Warbler 1
Purple Gallinule 1
Montagu's Harrier 1 m

Also seen:     Sardinian Warblers, Bee-eaters, Fan-tailed Warbler, Azure-winged Magpies, Magpies, White Storks, Serins, Woodchat Shrikes, Crested Larks, Red-rumped Swallows, Marsh Harrier

Reptiles: Large Psammodromus, Spanish Psammodromus, Spiny-footed Lizard.

We had great views of most birds, but the stars were undoubtedly the Booted Eagles which were heard calling in a wader like way, and seen displaying.

Colin Davies (mail me)

Where to watch birds in Southern and Western Spain
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