Thursday, 31 March 2011

Wildlife Highlights of Coto Donana - 31 March 2009

One of my real highlights of wildlife watching occurred two years ago to the day in Coto Donana, Andalusia, wildlife watching with Mum. I had confidently predicted that we would see the Iberian Lynx, even though chances were close to zero. 

We had booked a day's birding tour with Jose Sanchez of Discovering Donana (highly recommended). Jose had quite rightly let us know in advance that the lynx was not only very unlikely but that as a professional guide in Donana he was not allowed to search for it during the cubbing season and if we saw one we would not be allowed to stop. This seemed pretty reasonable since it is by all accounts it was the rarest of cat species at the time. 

As it turned out, we had to drive through a known lynx area to get into the birding sites and since we wanted to be in the field for as long as possible we were passing through this area at first light. Unbelievably, as we stopped to watch a little owl in the gloom an Iberian Lynx appeared close by on one side of the track. The photo may be blurred, but given the fact that there was very little light at the time, I am delighted that it turned out at all. As you can see it is wearing quite a large radio collar for tracking by conservation scientists at Donana.


The cat then sauntered slowly across in front of us which led to a fairly ridiculous situation where the 'no stopping for lynx' rule seemed to break down a little. Presumably when the Donana authorities had decided this rule they hadn't considered that the lynx may be crossing in front of the vehicle concerned! Needless to say at this point our velocity was just about as low as possible... Just to add to the show the lynx then decided to indulge in some hefty territorial scratching on a nearby pine tree before melting away into the vegetation.
Of course, that was just the beginning of the day. I had a couple of target bird species that I wanted to see - the Red-knobbed Coots that I had seen from a highway in South Africa had never made it onto my list so I was pleased that Jose knew just where to go for one of these. Bird of the day was a pair of fantastic Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a species that I had missed seeing repeatedly in the past. Being familiar with the flight call, Jose picked them up as they flew in to an area of short sandy pasture where the male paraded his exquisite plumage long enough for us savour through the scope.

Another lifer that I was particularly pleased to see later in the day was the Spanish Festoon, a butterfly that definitely appears to be making a point about toxicity. Any insect that has birthwort (Aristolochia) as a larval food plant is probably not a good choice for dinner...

Not to be outdone, the plants saved their ace 'til last with our first sightings of the ever so inappropriately yet appropriately named Naked-man Orchid
Just a few highlights of a great trip - where next, Mum?


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, the Spanish Festoon ... are you sure it wasn't a Map Butterfly? These can be easily confused by novices.

Simon F

Jose A. Sanchez said...

Hi Morg
It's Jose from Discovering Doñana and this is just to thank you for your nice report on your visit to Doñana and your comments on my work. I am glad you enjoyed your tour with me. I'll see you again some other time. Thanks