The first day we all met successfully at Seville airport and we met our guides Byron and Laura for the first time and introduced ourselves to one another (12 in the group). An hour and half or so later we were in El Rocio on the edge of the Coto Donana reserve. El Rocio was a real surprise, comprising of dust filled streets instead of tarmac with an amazing wild west feel, horses were the norm and cars out of place. We spent the first hour or so before sunset scanning the dried out lagoon, it looked fairly deserted but soon ZITTING CISTICOLAS appeared, STONECHATS and a distant herd of RED DEER. Further scanning added RED KITE and the first SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE of the trip albeit distant, a few late HOUSE MARTINS drifted over the town joined by a few RED RUMPED SWALLOWS. A nice start to the trip. CRIMSON SPECKLED and VESTAL moths added a bit of variety with a SMALL COPPER and BLUE TAILED DAMSELFLY finishing off the first days sightings.
|Sun sets on our first day|
After a great meal the night before and sufficient breakfast we were off into the reserve, CATTLE EGRETS welcomed us and I picked out KINGFISHER on one of the only standing bits of water in the half light. Eyes were peeled as we made our way around the territory of one of the worlds rarest cats. WILD BOAR followed a few sightings of RED DEER and Tom did well to pick out a BUZZARD perched in the early morning mist and occasional flocks of AZURE WINGED MAGPIES (Iberian Magpie by it's new name) ghosted through the low trees, with no signs of Lynx after our first stint we parked up and scanned a large open area, SARDINIAN WARBLERS rattled in the nearby bushes and a flock of GOLDFINCHES were just visible. 8 CORN BUNTINGS flew overhead and when Anna drew our attention to a STONECHAT, Tom again scored with the first GRIFFON VULTURE of the trip sat out in the open on the edge of the mist. Gradually the mist cleared and everyone had good views of the Vulture, WOODLARKS sang as Peter called out and got us onto a fine male HEN HARRIER, unfortunately it headed away and wasn't seen again. Returning to our minibus we headed further into the open area where THEKLA LARKS showed close to the bus and LITTLE OWL and HOOPOE were added perched on a ring of old Eucalyptus stumps. Another trawl round the area was fruitless and we went for lunch.
After lunch, a quick look near the hotel produced an unexpected pair of PENDULINE TITS. We then did the same routes looking for Lynx with no luck then headed towards a more open area, the posts were dotted with WHEATEARS, STONECHATS and good numbers of KESTRELS. A small piece of standing water near a visitor centre held BLACK WINGED STILTS, RUFF, GREENSHANKS and GREEN SANDPIPERS, just a bit further on we found a flock of late LESSER KESTRELS and a STONE CURLEW came up from one of the large fields.
|One of many Griffon Vultures enjoyed on the trip|
|Actually quite cute..........|
|Fine male Penduline Tit|
|Finally got a close Hoopoe|
Today was our last morning in Coto Donana before a 4 hour journey to Sierra Morena.
We once again headed into the park, the KINGFISHER was again sitting on the pipe on the edge of the small piece of water, David managed to see it this morning. Unfortunately the mornings search proved fruitless again, we did see WILD BOAR again lots of RED DEER. A new route and another stop somewhere slightly more open proved eventful SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKES appeared in what seemed like every bush and Anna and Andrew saw a large bird of prey fly into a distant tree, closer inspection revealed a fine juvenile SHORT TOED EAGLE which kindly flew almost overhead after it's brief stop. A RED FOX scuttled across the open with an unfortunate rodent firmly gripped between it's teeth.
The next move was to head towards our final destination in the Sierra Morena area.
on the way we stopped again at some standing water, a BLACK STORK was seen near several WHITE STORKS along a drainage ditch. On a larger bit of water there were maybe 5000 GREATER FLAMINGOS!! Here too were loads of NORTHERN SHOVELER, BLACK WINGED STILTS and a few other waders but highlight for me here was my first ever MARBLED DUCK found by Byron.
By the time we got to our hotel it was almost dusk, Andrew and I headed out for a quick walk and found NUTHATCH, LONG TAILED TIT and CRESTED TIT.
|Young Short Toed Eagle|
|Fox and prey|
|El Rocio our first base - felt like the wild west|
|Impressive part of 5000 Flamingos!|
With impressive pieces of doorstep toast devoured for breakfast and hooting TAWNY OWL added to the list we headed out to the hills, 30 minutes later we were viewing across grassy slopes dotted with trees and bushes, A GRIFFON VULTURE looked down on us from a rocky outcrop as we scanned for any sign of movement, a chorus of bellowing RED DEER were hard to ignore and some impressive stags wandered in out of view. Laura found a MOUFFLON somewhere near a small farm but it disappeared quickly. A DARTFORD WARBLER appeared behind us giving good views. I then saw a pair of white and brown legs standing beside a distant tree trunk eventually the animal moved and it was another MOUFFLON a fine male this time everyone got on in and it stayed in view for several minutes. Our next stop was on a dam just another 5 or so minutes further on, it was very impressive and a beautiful setting. Two HAWFINCH flew over as I got out of the van and 10-15 CRAG MARTINS whizzed around the dam, BLACK REDSTART was seen below the dam and Tom found our first SPANISH IBEX, the first of several in the area. A couple of distant raptors caught my eye and we added CINEROUS VULTURE to our growing bird list, Laura found an exceptionally cryptic male IBEX with just horns and head showing!! as well equally impressive finds of BLUE ROCK THRUSH and ROCK BUNTING, both distant. I noticed another two birds of prey breaking the horizon sitting on a rocky slope, Byron checked them out and they were GOLDEN EAGLES, we watched them for a time including a memorable encounter with one them locking talons with a Vulture. All this before lunch!
During lunch we saw SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE, CRESTED TIT, HOOPOE, COMMON REDSTART and many GRIFFON VULTURES, we had split up a bit so not everyone saw all these, me included.
After lunch we went to the other side of the dam after a short stop at the hotel. Here we were greeted with a nice feeding flock of birds, more HAWFINCHES zipped around a LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER stayed just long enough for ID only. KINGFISHERS and GREY WAGTAILS were along the river and a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER but still no Lynx. We also spent time here looking for Otter but without success.
|Female Spanish Ibex|
|A nice view for lunch|
Today we did the reverse of yesterdays itinerary starting along the river, it was tough going a few things gave themselves up gradually, the undoubted highlight was a superb SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE that sat in the open giving giving excellent scope views, eventually it, and another flew directly overhead, real shame the light wasn't better but brilliant views nonetheless. Still around the river area the first GOSHAWK of the trip made it's way powerfully through the trees on the opposite hillside. A picnic lunch was abandoned as the rain came in but on our way back to the hotel it cleared and we found a nice viewpoint to have lunch. IBERIAN MAGPIES were feeding just below us and above GRIFFON and CINEROUS VULTURES circled above. The preparation of the picnic was interrupted when Andrew caught a glimpse of something crossing the road in the distance, everyone scanned furiously but couldn't relocate what Andrew could only put down as being a LYNX, real shame for all but exciting all the same. Consolation was in the generous and extremely tasty pasta for lunch!
The afternoon saw us back at La Lancha scanning the hills, a WILD BOAR lots of RED, and a few FALLOW DEER were all we could muster. A smart GRASS SNAKE, halted our progress on the way as it idled its way across the track in front of us. More VULTURES took centre stage in beautiful late afternoon sunlight.
|Poor light - Iberian Magpie|
|Ditto - Spanish Imperial Eagle|
|Red Legged Partridge|
|Cinerous (formerly Black) Vulture|
So here we were on our last morning, it was back to the river and after a walk along the track we were rewarded with an OTTER as it showed itself briefly right under the bridge we walked to, almost everyone saw it before it retreated into the rocky bank. KINGFISHERS again whizzed up and down the river below us. We only had a short time, but we also added ROCK SPARROW to the trip list, a HAWFINCH sat close by on a pine and a male BLACK REDSTART caught everyones attention with it's bright white wing flashes. A SERIN called but never came into view. BYRON and LAURA walked back to the vans and soon returned and we were off...
So no LYNX but a really enjoyable holiday and fantastic company throughout with two really good, friendly and knowledgeable guides.
Thanks to all, looks like we'll have to do it all again one day.......