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Scotland and Spain have been inextricably linked since the time of the Crusades. There are many historical and cultural connections.. Read all about them on this blog!

Doñana National Park..and the Peatlands of Caithness
21 May 2015 @ 17:34

The Peatlands of Caithness in the far north of Scotland are an unlikely "parallel" with Spain´s Doñana National Park near Huelva.  Strange as it may seem, though, it has been identified as such as the same birds breed on both sites.  The Peatlands of Caithness is subject of a huge project at the moment, supported by Scottish Natural Heritage and the European Union.  I hope to get out to Doñana shortly, but meanwhile, below is an article written by Patrick Raines, a keen bird buff who lives in Canillas de Albaida and is a great fan of LetsGoNorth meets LetsGoSouth.  Patrick has given me permission to use his writings here.

"Surely the Doñana National Park can be described as the 'jewel in the crown' of birding sites in Europe.  It is certainly the "lungs" of south-west Spain.  A few years ago that was nearly not the case, when a chemical spillage upstream spewed into the Rio Guadalquivir and began to leach into the Doñana ecosystem.  Fortunately the Authorities reacted rapidly, stemmed and eradicated the disaster.

The Parque is truly wonderful with the number of different bird species too numerous to list.  There are species you would not see in the Peatlands of Caithness, but there are many which do occur in both locations, ie. Curlew, Hen Harrier, Redshank, Lapwing, Teal, Tufted Duck to name a few.  A real oddity is the Chiff Chaff/Iberian Chiff Chaff.  Both occur in the Doñana, but never together.  As the Iberians migrate north from Africa the Chiff Chaff, as we know it, migrates to Northern Europe.  They are virtually identical but with different calls.

The Parque Nacional has the highest protection, surrounded by farmland that is classed as Parque Natural and therefore also protected.  To visit the former, one needs to book a guided tour.  The latter is open for exploration with numerous hides and a huge thatched visitor centre, open to the public.

Two nights and three days are ideal for the avid birder.  The town of El Rocio is a good base with hotels and hostels available.  From this bizarre town which has no paved roads or sidewalks (just sand and hitching rails for horses) one can visit the Doñana and nearby sites.  For wader enthusiasts, the Paraje Natural Marismas del Odiel, near Huelva, should not be missed.  For all visits a car is a must!

Some of the rare birds worth mentioning are - Avocet, Calandra Lark, Purple Swamphen (Gallinule), Red crested Pochard, Red knobbed Coot, White headed Duck, Purple Heron, Squacco and Night Heron and on occasions Golden and Imperial Eagles.  Other raptors, vultures,  Glossy Ibis, Azure winged Magpies, black and white Storks abound.  If you see the Andalucían Hemipode ( Little Button Quail) tell a Ranger, as they are very rare, if not extinct!

Getting to El Rocio is fairly easy.  From Malaga airport drive East on A7 motorway, then North on A45 following the Antequera/Seville signs ( be careful to avoid both Granada and Cordoba junctions).  Near Antequera join A92 West to Seville.  At Seville join the new southern ring road signed for Huelva.  Join A49 West to Huelva/Portugal.  Join A483 South to Almonte.  Follow to end which becomes A483 single carriageway to El Rocio.

In conclusion, the Parque Nacional de Doñana is a spectacular birding site, especially in the pre-nuptual migration months of April and May. The importance of this natural wonder cannot be over emphasised.  The birdlife has to be seen to be believed, not to mention the Iberian Lynx!  Let us hope the agricultural (in some cases historical) workings do not encroach into the Parque Nacional de Doñana

For more information on this wonderful site the book "Where to watch birds in Southern and Western Spain" by Ernest Garcia and Andrew Paterson is recommended."  Thank you Patrick!


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