Nature’s Way

Sandy McNeill
Sandy McNeill

We’ve just returned from our 2nd visit to Donana National Park, witnessing a wealth of wildlife in a variety of impressive landscapes.

The survival of this area as a natural wilderness owes a great deal to its history as a hunting preserve of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia. One of the Dukes married a Dona Ana, and it is after her that the region is named.

The Dukes played host to hunting parties of the Kings of Spain for more than 500 years. As many as 12,000 people assembled for the visit of Felipe IV in 1624, enough you’d expect to scare off all the game for miles. Such hunting spectacles were rare and did nothing to detract from the importance of Donana as a refuge for wildlife. Today that importance has been recognised and Donana has been declared a World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

As well as visiting areas on the peripheries of the park we booked a tour into the park interior leaving from the picturesque cowboy town of El Rocio with its wide sandy streets. This took us through forests of Umbrella Pines teaming with herds of Red Deer and smaller groups of Fallow Deer, but no Wild Boar sightings this time around.

One of the bird highlights were reasonable views of a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles in flight over a lightly wooded area. There are around 10 pairs of eagles in the park, and with a total population of only 140 pairs making it one of the world’s rarest birds. Other birds of prey abound: we saw Red Kite, Hen and Marsh Harriers, Buzzards, Kestrels and a Little Owl.

In the flooded areas there are many water birds: ducks, geese, ibis, herons, flamingos and a large variety of wading birds with thousands of Lapwing and Golden Plover present.

The park is also home to the world’s rarest cat, the Iberian Lynx. Because of its small population, nocturnal habits and the restrictions to visiting many parts of the park, sightings are infrequent.

Donana is a very special place and anyone with an interest in wildlife visiting this part of Spain would be well advised to pay a visit.