Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Real Birder

Spain - Coto Donana May 2006


    Buy Where to Watch Birds in Southern and Western Spain from Amazon Although we have birded from the Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa in the north and through the central plains to Extremadura in the south on several occasions, we had never previously birded in Andalucia and specifically the Parque Natural de Donana.

    With well over 350 species recorded for the area and an attainable trip list of 100-150 species, it seemed the ideal spring trip. Although the likelihood of a lifer was remote, there is something special about birding in southern Europe in spring.


    Our intention was to organise the trip ourselves, but trying to find suitable accommodation in a central location was proving almost impossible. We could find suitable accommodation that wasn't in the right area, or unsuitable accommodation that was.

    I happened upon Donana Bird Tours, a web site formerly run by John Butler (RIP 15/9/07). This proved to be ideal. With the exception of the flights, John did everything else. I won't go into detail on the service provided, other than to say it is comprehensive and details can be obtained through the link above.

    La Aldea Camp SiteThe flight was something that we had to organise ourselves and our priority remains the same as ever. As we only live 30 minutes drive up the M42 from Birmingham airport, we fly from there whenever we can; we also try to pick a flight that goes at a reasonable time even if this means paying that little bit extra.

    Although the flight was a tad earlier than we would ideally have liked and our destination was Faro, necessitating a 1hr 45min drive to our chosen accommodation, we plumbed for a Monarch Airlines flight arriving at Faro at 09.20 am. This gave us the opportunity to get in a spot of birding on our way to our final destination.  

    The flight was booked through DialAFlight at a cost of £250.00p.p. Cheaper flights from both Coventry and East Midlands could have been obtained at a fraction of the price, but it meant arriving late in the evening and travelling to our accommodation during the hours of darkness. This means you loose a full day of the holiday and as John was picking us up from Faro, we felt it wasn't really fair to expect him to pick us up at such a god-forsaken hour.

    Day 1

    Bungalow No 11The day dawned and we set off for the airport at the ungodly hour of 04.30 am for our scheduled flight at 06.30 hrs. As the flight was only 2/3rds full, the baggage had to be re-arranged in order to trim the plane, delaying our departure by about half an hour. Having spent the same amount of money we would spend travelling with BA to Mallorca we were slightly miffed to find that all drinks and food had to be purchased. It appears Monarch is providing a budget airline service at scheduled flight prices. Having said that we arrived at Faro almost on time and soon met John Butler our guide for 8 days of birding. With a stop for a much needed cup of coffee en-route we arrived at our destination within the prescribed time.

    Our base for the next 9 days was timber bungalow number (No 11) situated in the La Aldea camp site at El Rocio. The bungalow, although basic, was clean and comprised of a living area complete with rudimentary cooking facilities, 1 twin & 1 double bedroom plus bathroom with toilet, hand wash basin and shower unit. The water was always piping hot and our air conditioning worked great; something we began to greatly appreciate as temperatures rose above 40° on a couple of occasions.

    El Rocio MarshAlthough I describe the cooking facilities as rudimentary, muggings still managed to cook egg, bacon, tomatoes, together with toast for breakfast prior to meeting John at 08.30.

    Back to day 1

    After a quick wash & brush up we rejoined John for a few hours birding the local patch. We visited the El Rocio Marsh and the Visitor Centre and nature reserve at El Acebuche. This was a great introduction to the sort of birds we would encounter during the trip, with large numbers of Spoonbills, flamingos, egrets, herons and terns all in abundance at the marsh. Our first day concluded with a perfectibly acceptable evening meal.

    Day 2

    John ButlerRefreshed and after a hearty breakfast, we met John at the camp site restaurant at 08.30 as agreed. This was to be the norm with the only exception being when Norwegians Kaare & Anna Storeheire travelled up from Portugal to join us for our last 2 days.

    John is a very amiable chap and the best complement we can pay him is “You get exactly what it says on his site”. John is very knowledgeable about the birds of his region and he also has an intimate knowledge of all the sites. Having spent the best part of a fortnight birding with him, we feel we have covered the whole of Donana region, together with the wider area.   

    It is not our intention to wax lyrical on birds seen at which site, as this information is contained in the accompanying trip list. Our first full day's birding was done at the following reserves:- The Raya ford, Arroyo de les Canadas and the Palacio del Acebron. Some of the notable birds for the day were Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, White Stork, Southern-grey Shrike, Black-crowned Night Heron, Red-rumped Swallow, Bee-eater, Zitting Cisticola, Nightingale and Melodious Warbler.

    White Stork nesting colony near VillamanriqueDay 3

    Sites visited today were Villamanrique for the Stork colony, the Corredor Verde and the Canada de Rianzuela. Birds of note included Woodchat Shrike, Iberian Magpie, Black-shouldered Kite, Marbled Duck, White-headed Duck and Red-knobbed Coot.  

    Day 4

    Today we were on our own as John had already been engaged to take others out that day. We had decided to use the day to recharge batteries and take things easy.

    After a leisurely breakfast we walked the 1 km to the Marsh at El Rocio, meeting our birding chum Frances on the elevated viewing platform. I was immediately put onto a Little Bittern, showing well in reeds 20 metres from the platform, by a Dutch birder. A great photo opportunity, except that Jude, who had the camera, was getting her tongue sunburned with a couple of birding OAPs from Britain . With no shade on the platform we stayed until early afternoon then returned to one of the bars for a spot of lunch, a well deserved beer and a spot of people watching. The only new birds were Little Bittern and a male Shoveler.

    Rio Guadalquivir FerryDay 5

    Today we were back with John. The sites we visited were Niebla Castle, El Rompido & Marismas del Odiel.

    Some birds of note were Lesser Kestrel, Pallid Swift, Red Knot, Grey Plover, Sandwich & Little Tern, Collared Pratincole & Audouin's Gull.

    Day 6

    Sites visited today were Brazo del Este, Dehesa de Pilas & Isla de los Olivillos.

    Some birds of note were Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Great Reed Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Purple Swamphen, Red-crested Pochard, Avocet, Squacco Heron, Marsh Harrier, Black Tern, Kentish Plover & Dunlin.

    Roller nesting towerDay 7

    Sites visited today were Corredor Verde de Guadimar, Arroyo de Santa Maria, Torre de San Antonio, Las Doblas & Buitrago.

    Some birds of note were Short-toed Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Black-shouldered Kite, Booted Eagle, Bee-eater, Little Owl, Roller, Lesser Kestrel, Woodchat Shrike & Cetti's Warbler.

    Day 8

    Today our chum Frances had a day off and we were joined by Norwegians Kaare & Anna Storeheire. Sites revisited today were El Rocio Marsh, Villamanrique, Jose Antonio Valverde Centre, Cano de Guadiamar and Lucio del Lobo. Some birds of note were Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Black-necked Grebe, Great White Egret, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Calandra Lark.  

    Group photoDay 9

    This was our last day with John. We were once again accompanied by our Norwegian friends as well as Frances. As the previous day, we revisited sites we had visited earlier in the Trip. Sites revisited were, Raya Real, La Dehessila, Corredor Verde, Canada de Rianzuela & Dehesa de Pilas.

    Some birds of note were Great Spotted Cuckoo, Whiskered Tern, Little Owl, Garganey, White-headed Duck, Marbled Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Great White Egret & Glossy Ibis.


    Apart from a few spots of rain on the windscreen during our 4 th day, the weather was dry and hot with day time temperatures ranging from the high 20's to the low 40's. We were told that this was unseasonably high for the time of year.


    El AcerbucheGroan - Flying with Monarch.

    Moan - Being intimately acquainted with every thing that bit or stung in Donana.

    Groan - Loosing my wallet somewhere between leaving the plane and picking up our car.

    Moan - Having the sandy road surfaces of the camp site watered each day so you either walked through dust or mud.

    Memorable Moments

    A Night Heron's tenacity in eating a water snake twice its own length and the look of surprise on its face as the snake continued moving once swallowed.

    Watching Black Kites attack a Black-winged stilt colony with John skilfully explaining the Kites' strategy, with dummy runs and subterfuge.

    Cattle Egret at El Rocio MarshThe White Storks of Villamanrique flying in with items of clothing from someone's washing line to adorn their nests.

    Tracking 20> Griffon Vultures to their kill at the Jose Antonio Valverde centre.

    The vast mixed egret, Spoonbill & heron colonies which contained hundreds of chicks all at different stages of development.

    Trying to order our evening meals, although the menu was in English and trying to explain that we would mix & match our starters caused hilarity on both sides of the counter.

    Just the fact that Donana and El Rocio in particular is unlike any other part of Spain we have been to.


    Species List

    Bird Photos Black-crowned Night Heron


    Pat and Judy Hayes   

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