News, Trip Reports, etc

Coto Donana, Spain, 8th to 16th February 2011

IMG 4207 Azure-winged Magpie, 9/2/11, Acebuche
Azure-winged Magpie, Acebuche

Location of Donana

Coto Donana February 2011 gallery

Originally a royal hunting reserve, Donana is administered by ICONA, with the staff headquarters at El Acebuche. The protected area, including buffer-zones, covers over 1300 square kms, making it one of the largest and most important reserves in Europe. In 1994 Donana became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and considering the area purely on merits as a wetland site, Donana must be the best in Europe.
Due to the diversity of habitats, more than half of Europe's bird species are recorded in Doñana, many of them in huge numbers.
The buffer-zones hold most interest for birders, as access to the core area, the National Park, is strictly controlled.
Much has been written about Donana over the years, and the area is now covered well – see reference sources.
We drove down through France and Spain, spending a morning at a mountain site in Extremadura en-route. The object was to visit an area we've not looked at before, the Donana buffer-zones north of the Guadalquivir.


Staying at El Rocio, we visited the El Rocio area, Acebuche, Donana North (as described by Dave Gosney – see reference sources) and Marismas del Odiel only. Most other areas involve going back towards Sevilla and around the Sevilla ring-road. This is an overview of the sites, the two main reference sources give ample information, particularly Dave Gosneys' book. Severe winter storms and torrential rain curtailed our visit somewhat, but then this was February.


A superb site, and well worth two days – we spent a day there. Easy access from El Rocio, either via Almonte and Huelva, the easiest, or the coast road via Mazagon, where GPS to get through Huelva is handy.
The reserve is formed by a central peninsula, with the north-east side across the Rio Odiel heavily industrialized mainly by the petrol-chemical industry. Hence scenically it reminded me much of Canvey Island and Rainham Marshes in Essex – and equally good for birdlife. There is an excellent visitor centre with helpful staff and a short nature-trail, which is good for unmarked Crested Coot. Generally good for gulls, waders, Ospreys and many other species, a true oasis in an industrial desert.


A remarkable town, where 4x4's mix with horses for transport. Because it is conserved as a an authentic Donana town, all the streets are of sand, which after winter rains require caution if in an ordinary car. From a birding aspect, the promenade and the restaurant Meson La Choza are the areas of importance. At the eastern end of the promenade is a new SEO visitor centre, with a nice first-floor viewing terrace, best in the mornings. At the restaurant, there is parking and three new hides for afternoon viewing.


It's easy to spend almost a day here, the nature trail and hides are very good, and there are woodland and heathland species in abundance. Our personal highlight was Vagrant Emperor - four.


Very much like La Rocina, not quite as good, with all but the most westerly two hides (dry even in February) well worth visiting, as is the visitor centre, and the carpark/picnic area for A-W Magpies. Again great woodland and heathland habitat, with the approach road also of interest.


This stately home has a short nature trail starting and finishing at the carpark. Good pinewood habitat and a wooded lagoon, with a small heronry, including Night Heron. We also saw Bullfinch here, rare this far south. The road to the carpark, accessed from La Rocina, has good heathland habitat.


The best thing about this hideous place is the ring-road. We eventually found what passes for a beach, and in ideal conditions for a sea-watch saw nothing. Comes complete with golf course, which must do wonders for the Donana water-table. Well worth avoiding.


This area as described by Dave Gosney consists mainly of a 50km circuit on gravel tracks. Without doubt the highlight of the trip, although we only actually completed it twice due to torrential rain. Note that the track running south from Cortijo de las Madrigales to point 11 on Dave's map is mostly sand, and requires much caution after winter rains unless you have a 4x4. Otherwise the track is no problem in an ordinary car, and as Dave mentions the whole route is sign-posted 'Centro Visitantes Jose Valverde' > (referring to the visitor centre, 13 on Dave's map) and can be done in either direction.

Dave's coverage of the route is excellent, as is his map; this route isn't covered in Garcia/Paterson 2001. The roads between Villamanrique and point 17 may have altered slightly, and the Corredor Verde, a relatively new project, doesn't look quite right on the map. However, these are minor quibbles, and the map is very easy to follow and the information spot-on. With the Spanish penchant for road-building, even in rural backwaters, it's a brave man who takes on a book like this with lots of maps.

We would happily have spent at least 4 days on this circuit in decent weather, such was the quality of birding, even in winter with few migrants around.

A base at Hinojos (see accommodation) or Villamanrique would be an advantage here, thus avoiding the tarmac road between El Rocio and the start of the circuit – this road has mega speed-bumps every 2-300 yards for about 15kms. Presumably this is to protect wildlife as the road is completely rural (and fenced); unfortunately it doesn't work as all residents appear to have 4x4 vehicles!

About 5kms along this road, from El Rocio, there is a bridge over a minor watercourse, just before the woodland starts. The partially flooded fields here were good for waders, Water Pipits and G S Cuckoo, amongst other species.

The visitor centre, Centro Visitantes Jose Valverde, 13, is perhaps the most remote part of the circuit and has a café and exhibition room. Outside, the freshwater lagoons are no doubt excellent in spring and summer.

The Canal del Guadiamar, 15, held good numbers of wildfowl, and two Iberian Bluetails; I'm sure this area would be particularly good for odonata in season.

We found the area around a farm near 17 very good this February – see species list.

The Corredor Verde, 18, was slightly disappointing in winter, but looks like a key site for migrants.

Canada de Rianzuela, 19, was definitely one of the best sites, viewable from the road or from two hides on the eastern bank. There is a visitor centre, the Dehesa de Abajo, (closed when we visited), and paths going off towards the northern end of the lake, the shallow end. This would be well worth exploring, particularly for waders, gulls and terns in season.

The rice fields around Isla Mayor, 22, are of course totally dependant on water levels for good birding. We found one or two fields teaming with waders, Glossy Ibis and Water Pipits, amongst other species.


We spent a morning en-route to Donana at this mountainous site near Plasencia. This is easily worth at least two days exploration, and offers a stark contrast to the well-known lowland Extremadura sites, and to Donana itself. A stay at Hervas, Jerte or anywhere along the N-110 towards Plasencia would be ideal.
We drove the precipitous minor road across the mountains from Hervas to the N-110, through spectacular scenery, snow, and some nice birds. Another minor road traverses the mountains again at much lower altitude just north of the Embalse de Plasencia – here, on the N-110 side, are a network of marked upland trails which looked very promising. The parking/entrance to these is marked by a modern sculptured figure on the north side of the road.


We stayed in El Rocio for eight nights.
Although probably the best location, El Rocio is very busy – every weekend of the year, due to the importance of the church as a centre of pilgrimage. We had problems getting somewhere to stay the weekend we were there, until we found Camping La Aldea; and this was February. The first problem is in winter, during the week most hotels, bars and restaurants are closed. Problem number two is at the weekend everything's booked up! At least the bars and restaurants are open, and it's quite a good atmosphere.
The alternative would be Hinojos, better for a few days doing the circuit. There is a nice looking hotel here, Hostal** Pino Doñana, which we visited, but although there were clients staying there, it was basically 'closed', and the owner lived elsewhere. Although I notice this place has since been removed from the Donana Bird Tours website. Hinojos itself is a very pleasant, much more typically Andalucian town.
The excellent website has two recommendations for this area, including a B&B in Villamanrique, a very good base for doing the circuit.

La Fonda del Rocio, C/Varales, 33. El Rocio – Almonte (Huelva). Tel 675 081 619. E-mail No website, but booked through
I wouldn't recommend this place. The owner takes bookings through agencies, but lives in Almonte and wasn't at the hotel – he gets someone to let you in, who gives you the keys and warns you to keep an eye on the place, and don't let anyone in!! So most of the facilities shown on the web-page weren't available, like the breakfast we'd booked, or the bar, or the 24-hour food, or the wi-fi!

Camping La Aldea, Ctra. El Rocío, Km. 25 - Apartado de Correos nº 1 - 21750 Almonte (Huelva)
Tel. 959 442 677 - Fax. 959 442 582 - E-mail:
Recommended, at least in winter for the bungalows – the pitches looked a bit open. Excellent facilities, with a bar and restaurant with a daily E10 menu in the evenings. Friendly, English speaking staff, this site is open throughout the year. A bit expensive at E44 for a two-person bungalow with no kitchen/cooking facilities, but a fridge. Check the website for special offers in winter – we got two nights for the price of one when we wanted to prolong our stay.


Finding Birds in Andalucia, Dave Gosney, Easybirder, 2009. ISBN 978-1-907316-00-5
I can't speak highly enough of Dave Gosneys' book. I've used his books on many occasions, they're always a reliable source of information with excellent maps – something I appreciate as an ex-cartographer. Don't leave for Donana without a copy!

Where to Watch Birds – Southern and Western Spain, Earnest Garcia and Andy Paterson, Christopher Helm, 2001. ISBN 0-7136-5301-9
Back in 1987, I bought a copy of Andy Paterson's new guide to the region, Birdwatching in Southern Spain, and used it whilst staying several times in Gibraltar. Apart from being an excellent regional guide, I was struck by Andys' intimate writing style.
This applies to this book also, and of course it gives much more background and historical info than was ever intended in the Dave Gosney book. Apparently updated in 2008. Again, indispensable. Very useful site with trip reports for Donana. Another good Donana site.

Public Holidays in Andalucia

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) female
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger) male

BIRDS - 134 species

The purpose of the trip was really to explore Donana with a view to visiting again next winter. We made no real attempt to 'twitch' all the key species – in the event, we saw most whilst trying to familiarise ourselves with locations shown in Dave Gosney's book

'Extremadura' refers only to the area mentioned in 'SITES VISITED' section

'Common', scarce', etc, refers to our observations at the time, and may or may not reflect the true status/abundance throughout the year – see reference sources

Greylag Goose Anser anser
>80 El Rocio, 100+ circuit 12/2/11 and various smaller groups on migration north
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
5 Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11 and 16/2/11
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Small numbers El Rocio, Odiel, >50 Canada de Rianzuela
Gadwall Anas strepera
Small numbers throughout
Common Teal Anas crecca
Large numbers throughout, 300+ El Rocio
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Common throughout
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Large numbers El Rocio, 150+, Canada de Rianzuela and elsewhere
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Large numbers El Rocio, 200+, and elsewhere
Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris
2 Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
Surprisingly scarce; 2 (pair) La Rocina 15/2/11, 5 Canada de Rianzuela 16/2/11
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Fairly common throughout
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
5 Corredor verde 11/2/11, 1 Canada de Rianzuela 16/2/11

Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
1 La Rocina 9/2/11
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Common on all freshwater habitats
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Fairly common on all freshwater habitats, also Odiel
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
6+ circuit 12/2/11, 9 Canada de Rianzuela 16/2/11, 1 Odiel 14//2/11

Northern Gannet Morus bassanus
1 adult Odiel

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Fairly scarce inland, but 100+ Canada de Rianzuela
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
50+ Corredor verde, 6 Palacio del Acebron walk 15/2/11
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
1 circuit 12/2/11, 1 Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Small numbers throughout
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Common throughout, 100+ La Rocina
Great Egret Egretta alba
Scattered individuals, 20+ circuit 12/2/11
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Common throughout
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
4 circuit 12/2/11, 1 Isla Mayor 13/2/11, 1 circuit 16/2/11
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Many nesting pairs Donana and whilst driving through Extremadura
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
Large numbers throughout
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Seen mostly around El Rocio, also c30 Odiel 14/2/11
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus
>500 El Rocio throughout, 150+ Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11, 16/2/11, c100 Odiel 14/2/11

Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
A juvenile NE of Hato Raton, 12/2/11 and 16/2/11
Red Kite Milvus milvus
Many seen whilst driving through Extremadura, 6+ La Rocina 9/2/11, 4+ circuit 12/2/11, 1 circuit 16/2/11
Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
30+ Extremadura 8/2/11 – none seen Donana
Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Seen in all suitable habitat, a count of 25+ circuit12/2/11
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
An adult female NE of Hato Raton, 12/2/11 and 16/2/11
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Common Extremadura, 5+ La Rocina 9/2/11 but obviously scarce where there are no Stone Pine woods
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
A pale-morph adult circuit 12/2/11
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
1 Isla Mayor 13/2/11, 1 Odiel 14/2/11
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni
9 feeding together north of Hato Raton, with a female Common Kestrel defending territory
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Common throughout, a count of 25+ circuit12/2/11
Merlin Falco columbarius
1 near Burgos, northern Spain, 8/2/11
Peregrine Falco peregrinus
1 adult prob. male Odiel 14/2/11

Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Frequently heard in suitable habitat
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Common throughout
Purple Swamp-Hen Porphyrio porphyrio
1 Acebuche 10/2/11, 20+ circuit 12/2/11, 4 Lagunas de Palos y Las Madres, 2 La Rocina15/2/11
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Common throughout
Red-Knobbed Coot Fulica cristata
2 collared birds Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11, 1 un-marked + another heard, Odiel 14/2/11

Common Crane Grus grus
c80 migrating north near Salamanca 8/2/11, c20 north El Rocio 9/2/11, c20 circuit 12/2/11, 2 Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11, c100 feeding, circuit 16/2/11

Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
10+ Odiel 14/2/11
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Fairly common El Rocio and the circuit, c30 Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11, c100 Jose Valverde Visitor Centre 16/2/11
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Fairly common El Rocio, c30 11/2/11, and circuit, c50 Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11, c100 16/2/11
Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
2 circuit 12/2/11, 5 16/2/11
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
2 bridge 12/2/11, 1 Isla Mayor 13/2/11
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
20+ Odiel 14/2/11
European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria
12 bridge 11/2/11, 7 12/2/11, 10+ circuit 12/2/11, 100+ 13/2/11, 10+ 16/2/11
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
10+ Odiel 14/2/11
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Common throughout, including Extremadura
Sanderling Calidris alba
60+ Odiel 14/2/11
Dunlin Calidris alpina
100+ circuit 12/2/11, 100+ Isla Mayor 13/2/11, 150+ Odiel 14/2/11
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Common El Rocio, 100+ 9/2/11, and the bridge
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Large numbers El Rocio, normally 150+
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
20+ Odiel 14/2/11
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
3 Odiel 14/2/11
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
1 El Rocio 10/2/11, 10+ Odiel 14/2/11
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
10+ circuit 12/2/11, 20+ Odiel 14/2/11
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Occasional El Rocio, the bridge, c4 Isla Mayor 13/2/11, 10+ Odiel 14/2/11
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
5 La Rocina 9/2/11, 5 bridge 12/2/11, 20+ Isla Mayor 13/2/11, 5+ Odiel 14/2/11
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
1 El Rocio 10/2/11, 1 bridge 12/2/11, 2+ Odiel 14/2/11
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
10+ Odiel 14/2/11

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Common throughout, including Extremadura
Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii
2 Odiel 14/2/11, an adult and a 2nd-winter
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
The common large gull of inland Donana, 150+ Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11, and 300+ Odiel 14/2/11
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
Mainly coastal, 80+ Odiel 14/2/11

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata
9 NE of Hato Raton 12/2/11
Feral Pigeon Columbia livia (domest.)
Common throughout
Common Woodpigeon Columba palumbus
Fairly common in Donana woodlands
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Common El Rocio, etc

Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius
2 adults, bridge 12/2/11, 1 adult NE of Hato Raton 16/2/11

Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus
1 east of Lucio del Lobo 12/2/11

Common Swift Apus apus
2 Canada de Rianzuela 16/2/11
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
1 female Acebuche 10/2/11, 1 Corredor verde 11/2/11, 1 Odiel 14/2/11
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
2 La Rocina 9/2/11, 1 Acebuche 10/2/11, 1 Corredor verde 11/2/11, 1 circuit 12/2/11
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
2 La Rocina 9/2/11, 1 Palacio del Acebron walk 15/2/11

Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra
60+ NE of Hato Raton 12/2/11
Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens
c10 just north of Jose Valverde Visitor Centre 12/2/11
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Common along the motorway, verges and fences in Donana
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae
2+ La Rocina 9/2/11, 4+ Acebuche 10/2/11, generally on sandy heathland but occasionally on man-made structures
Wood Lark Lullula arborea
1+ singing, Hervas summit area, Extremadura, 8/2/11; 3 circuit 12/2/11
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis
3 Corredor verde 11/2/11, 1 Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11

Sand Martin Riparia riparia
1 circuit 12/2/11, 2 La Rocina 15/2/11
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Fairly common Donana, obviously more scarce towards Extremadura
Common House Martin Delichon urbicum
Common El Rocio, where nest-building

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
Throughout Donana, scattered, low numbers
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta
Large numbers on semi-flooded rice fields, max. c70 circuit 12/2/11, 5+ Odiel 14/2/11
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
3 Isla Mayor 13/2/11
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Very common throughout

Dunnock Prunella modularis
1 La Rocina 9/2/11
European Robin Erithacus rubecula
1 Extremadura 8/2/11, 4+ La Rocina 9/2/11
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
2-3 Extremadura 8/2/11, common Donana, 10+ La Rocina 9/2/11
Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus
2+ Extremadura 8/2/11, 20+ La Rocina 9/2/11, common elsewhere Donana
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
2+ Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
Extremadura, low density in Donana

Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
Fairly common in suitable habitat
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Scattered singles and pairs in all suitable habitat
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
2+ La Rocina 9/2/11, 3+ Acebuche 10/2/11
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
3+ Extremadura 8/2/11, fairly common in suitable habitat, Donana
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
5+ La Rocina 9/2/11, otherwise scattered individuals
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Common throughout. No Iberian Chiffchaffs noted

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Occasional small flocks seen in Stone Pines
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus
Extremadura and Donana, low density in Stone Pines
Great Tit Parus major
Extremadura and Donana, low density in Stone Pines
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
Donana, low density in Stone Pines

Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis
Surprisingly scarce; 2+ Extremadura 8/2/11, 2 La Rocina 9/2/11, 1 Odiel 14/2/11, 2 (a probable pair) La Rocina 15/2/11

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
1 Extremadura 8/2/11, scattered individuals elsewhere
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus
Common Extremadura and Donana in Stone Pines
Common Magpie Pica pica
Common Extremadura and Donana in Stone Pines
Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Strangely scarce – c10 Canada de Rianzuela 13/2/11, 2 circuit 16/2/11
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Seen only on motorway north of Extremadura
Common Raven Corvus corax
The only corvid seen Extremadura/Donana - common

Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
Common throughout south of Salamanca. No flocks of Common Starlings noted
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Common throughout
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
Very scarce; 2 adult males, plumage winter>summer, Odiel 14/2/11, 2 males in summer plumage circuit 16/2/11
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Single obs; 1 Acebuche 10/2/11
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Common in Stone Pines throughout
European Serin Serinus serinus
Fairly common Donana throughout
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
5+ Corredor verde 11/2/11, 3+ circuit 12/2/11, 16/2/11
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Common throughout
European Siskin Carduelis spinus
2 Extremadura 8/2/11
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina
10+ Corredor verde 11/2/11, small flocks circuit.
Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
1 female Palacio del Acebron walk 15/2/11, in sallows, was unexpected
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia
3 Extremadura 8/2/11
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra
Common throughout


Clouded Yellow Colius crocea
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui
Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria 2 La Rocina
Bath White Pontia daplidice Very common
Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni
Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas
Large Tortoiseshell Nymphalis polychloros 1 Extremadura

Iberian Bluetail Ischnura graellsii 2 circuit 12/2/11, next to the Canal del Guadiamar
Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger 4 (3 males, 1 female) La Rocina 9/2/11 was a pleasant surprise – they were not there 15/2/11

Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauritanica
Red-eared Terrapin Trachemys scripta Introduced

Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus