El Rocio

Highlights from a far too brief visit to Donana, El Rocio and the Palace Acebrón.

A World Heritage Site and the largest nature reserve in Europe at least a week should really be set aside to explore Donana. Home to the Iberian lynx the most critically endangered of the big cats and located on the flightpath of millions of birds migrating between Europe and Africa it really is an exceptional area.

Quite incredibly on the drive down the road to the Palace Acebrón a movement in the scrub caught my eye. For a few brief minutes we watched a young Iberian Lynx walk slowly along a fenceline. A shame the camera was in the boot but it was such a privilege to see on this occasion I really wasn’t too bothered.

On reaching the Palace, a former hunting lodge it was hot, ridiculously hot. The idea of a stroll through the cork oak woodland was bordering on the insane. However, we enjoyed some superb views of the House Martins nesting adjacent to the main entrance.

 

An unmistakable Scarab Beetle doing what Scarab Beetles do. One of those creatures I’ve been wanting to see ever since The Mummy was released.

 

Unfortunately no sign of the Lynx on the drive back but plenty of Bee-eaters around especially along the fenceline.

Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora.

With the entry to La Rocina being practically opposite El Rocio we decided upon a short visit to one of Spain’s most unusual towns. Owing its existence to the discovery of the Virgin Mary, La Virgen El Rocío a shrine was built and this became the site of miracles and other events. As its fame spread more and more pilgrims came to visit and in recent years during the annual pilgrimmage the town’s population increases from around 700 to over 1 million.

With most of the houses owned by ‘brotherhoods’ and deserted for 51 weeks of the year it really is a strange place. One of the few places where Lee Van Cleef could ride into town and not look out of place.

Black Kite

To add to the surreal atmosphere El Rocio and the wider Donana area are home to an ever present population of Black Kites. Swooping low over the town on the lookout for carrion or any other tasty morsel its surprising to see just how common they are. In addition to the Kites also a few Booted Eagles and even a Kestrel keeping an eye over the parched marshes.

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Charco de la Boca

Heading east past the dried up pool and marshes we called in at the Visitor Centre – Centro Francisco Bernis. In normal years its easy to imagine a superb view out across the marshes from the balcony. Even better when the centre’s Zeiss telescopes are set up and free to use however the ongoing drought had clearly taken its toll and there was little to be seen.

Hmmm………. a real shame to have missed out on the  Black-shouldered Kite, likewise the Spanish Imperial Eagle… (understatement of the year).

No water = no Collared Pratincole and Whiskered Terns.

Fortunately the Spotless Starlings were a bit more obliging.

 

With plenty of wild Horses, flies and other insects around the lack of water still a few Cattle Egrets to be found.

 

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