Once we had showered off the sand from the aborted cycle ride at dusk on Sunday, we left El Rocio campsite next morning and drove to the visitor centre we had not yet been to, El Palacio do Rocina. It was a grand house set in fabulous grounds built by a private individual in the 1960’s and had since become the property of the Coto Donana estate and housed an informative and interesting exhibition. We had a short walk around a lagoon and were delighted to spy a group of 13 night herons, just sitting stock still in the reeds but easily visible.
Our 4 x 4
In the afternoon we had our trip in a 21 seater 4 by 4 unimog. And very enjoyable it was too. We were the only Brits aboard, most of the passengers being Spanish except for one Dutch couple. The driver was very knowledgeable and gave us just the right amount of interesting information, translating into good English after every spiel. He took us on an 80 k drive around the park which is fenced on three sides and bordered on the fourth by 35 k of beautiful Atlantic beach. We drove first along the beach, past cockle pickers who have to have a license to fish here, it looked exhausting and tedious work which they carry out every day at low tide. As the tide rises, they then have to sort their catch, only cockles bigger than two and a half centimetres can be kept. The rest have to be sieved out and left for the tide to take back to the sea. Many of these are then sold at local restaurants at about 7€ a kilo but some of these hardy souls drive all the way to Madrid and back to offload their catch at a higher price of up to 17€ a kilo.
Audouins gulls, easier pickings for them!
After the beach we drove through the forest, mostly pine and olive trees, had a look at some traditional buildings, some of which are still lived in, past the very grand Palacio de Las Marismillas which world leaders often stay at, on past the vast marshland which is unusually dry this year, so the only birds we could see were miles away …. hard to believe after all the rain we’ve had in Portugal. Then we drove back through the sand dunes, back along the beach and on to the centre. We had hoped to catch a glimpse of Spanish Imperial Eagles which are increasing in numbers since the park has been supporting them but as they have just started laying their eggs the route was changed to ensure they were not disturbed. Also there are a number of Iberian Lynx, mongoose and genets living and breeding here but these are mainly nocturnal and difficult to see.
We did however see Audouins gulls on the beach which we first saw in Morocco last year and Kentish plover, wild boar, red and fallow deer. One fact I have remembered….(useful or not) is that there are a mind blowing 1,380 species of flora in Coto Doñana of which I could probably name about a dozen!
The deer are just about to shed their antlers and could be seen rubbing them against the trees
High Rise living 3 pairs of storks sharing 1 pylon!
Our visit to the Coto Doñana over, we headed back next day to Portugal and stayed again in Castro Marim just over the border. Today we have started our journey north towards home, finding a lovely little lay by for lunch near a stream where we saw a wood sandpiper fishing and crag martins zooming about overhead. Now we have come to Mértola which is in the heart of another national park. We spent the afternoon parked by the river Guadiana watching lesser kestrels on the ledges of the castle which we will visit tomorrow. This is also where rare black storks breed but they have not yet arrived back from Africa. However we hope to see great and little bustards which are resident here and which we’ve never seen before. We’re staying in this area…the warmest and most arid in Portugal for a few days before making our way further north up along the border.