Coto Doñana - Spain
2005, 159 pages, Full Colour
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The Coto Doñana is a large, wild wetland at the southwestern tip of Europe. It is situated in Andalusia just south of Seville and at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river. The Coto Doñana is a dynamic region of shifting salt marshes, shallow freshwater lagoons, fringed by baking hot, sandy lowlands. On the western fringe of the Coto Doñana National Park, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, lies a highly active system of mobile sand dunes. The sands are swept up by the wind into massive dunes which move implacably inland smothering trees wholesale in the process. However, this impressive natural phenomenon is not only destructive, but also creative as the new depressions are quickly colonised by specialised plants and wildlife. Thus a unique and highly dynamic ecosystem is constantly evolving.
The Coto Doñana (together with the many reserves surrounding the core area) is a world famous 'hot-spot' for birds. Here even the novice can see such distinctive and spectacular birds as flamingos, spoonbills, egrets, herons and so on. To the more experienced birdwatcher, the Coto Doñana is a true birdwatching Mecca; the place to find Iberian endemics (birds occurring nowhere else), such as Iberian azure-winged magpie and Spanish Imperial eagle, as well as rarities like crested coot, purple gallinule (purple swamphen), white-headed duck, marbled teal, glossy ibis, pin-tailed sandgrouse, calandra and lesser short-toed larks, collared pratincole, spectacled warbler and many more.
The Coto Doñana is not only of interest to birdwatchers. For the dedicated all round naturalist, the Coto Doñana should be on the 'must-see' list of places to visit and even the casually interested tourist will find it unmissable.
As an ecosystem, the Coto Doñana is fascinating. The marshes are highly dependent on the winter rains, which spread out over the mudflats and create a massive shallow brackish marshland, which gradually desiccates when the season progresses. These marismas, as they are locally known, are rich in fish and invertebrate life, which in turn act as a magnet to migrating birds. The marismas are also an important breeding site, with the drier parts frequented by steppe species like pin-tailed sandgrouse and lesser short-toed larks, while the wet areas have breeding marbled teals and little bitterns.
The marismas of the Doñana are inseparable from the surrounding lowlands. Here, the summer drought and highly permeable sandy soils have produced baking scrublands and open woodlands of the aptly named umbrella pine. These habitats have a diverse flora containing many species that exclusively occur on the southwest coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The rockroses are particularly well represented. The dry scrubland is home to a variety of birds (e.g. woodchat shrike, azure-winged magpie and many reptile species, including Lataste's viper and - very localised- the European chameleon. The region is also home to one of Europe's largest populations of mongoose and the Iberian lynx. The latter, the world's most endangered 'big cat', now stands on the brink of extinction.
The Doñana exudes both a stereotypical, laid back Mediterranean feel and an atmosphere entirely its own. At its heart the extraordinary village of El Rocío, part wild west town and part shrine, encapsulates the region's unique culture which in turn owes all to the extraordinary landscape.
The Crossbill Guide to the Coto Doñana and surrounding coastal lowlands (2005) introduces you to this fascinating region and provides you with itineraries to discover the area at your own pace. A trip to the Coto Doñana can easily be combined with a visit to the mountain reserves near Ronda (Sierra de Grazalema, Los Alcornocales) and Gibraltar. All these areas are united in the nature Guide to the Andalusian Sierras. Alternatively, you can travel north to Extremadura, which is covered by the the nature guide to Extremadura.
Photograpy: Chameleon, CGF - Dirk Hilbers; Dunes, Saxifraga - Jan van der Straaten; Little Egrets, Saxifraga - Luc Hoogenstein