Our journey, via the Sevilla circumnavigation motorway, produced the odd bird of note such as Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, Blue Rock Thrush and of course many passerines including large numbers of Hirundines and Corn Bunting. We chose to exit the E1 A49 at Benacazón and enter the park area shortly after Aznalcázar. This is very much the scenic route into the park and soon we were immersed in Stone Pine forest with birds scarce, but those we did see included Crested Lark, Azure-winged Magpie, Black Kite, several finch species and White Stork (many pairs nesting on every available pylon close to Venta el Cruce). Time for lunch and a fine local venta at the junction for Isla Mayor (Carne con Tomate yum). After a relaxed meal we headed towards Villamanrique and stopped several times at the many lagoons along this route. We were soon adding new birds to our list including Red-crested and Common Pochard, Black-necked and Great-crested Grebe, Whiskered, Black and Gull-billed Tern, Cattle and Little Egret, Greater Flamingo, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt and many others. Turning right at the ‘T' junction we visited a Black-crowned Night Heron roost and also sighted Cetti's Warbler, Nightingale, several Hirundines and both Pallid and Common Swift. From here we needed to get on towards El Rocío and along our way we saw Spanish Sparrow, Bee Eater and both common Magpie as well as more Azure-winged Magpie. The day ended by checking-out the lagoon by El Rocío. Most notable here was at least 200 Collared Pranticole!
Day 2 - April 9th
Our second day started with a visit to our neighbouring lagoon and several more waders appeared overnight. Along with the Collared Pranticole, we also saw Black-winged Stilts, Avocet, Redshank, Ruff, Snipe, Curlew (only a singleton), Dunlin, Little Stint and Lapwing. I managed to locate a pair of Marbled Teal and many Shoveler with smaller numbers of Gadwall, Teal, Mallard and a single male Pintail. As with everywhere else today we saw big numbers of Hirundines and Sand Martins were obviously moving through in extremely high numbers. Great Reed Warbler as well as its smaller cousin Reed Warbler scratched away in the lagoon's small reedbeds. Moorhen and Coot with several hundred Greater Flamingo adorned the jewel studded early morning waters and a small flock of Black Tern restricted themselves to a corner of the lagoon whilst their more numerous relatives Whiskered Tern hawked the lagoon surface for insects. We headed out towards the visitors centre José A Valverde as we were anxious to see the very large rookery there. We took the necessarily long route, due to access now being closed directly from El Rocío (if they keep closing off areas there will be less and less people visiting this park), to the centre and made a slow drive on the track alongside the Brazo de la Torre. A bonus bird before arriving at the track was Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (7) and we also saw Crested, Calandra, Lesser Short-toed and Greater Short-toed Lark. It was a strange feature of the 3 days not to see many warbler species, normally the trackside Tamarisk produces several migrant warblers at this time of year. We did manage a large flock of Spanish Sparrow before arriving at the visitors centre. The spectacle of so many Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Night Heron, Little and Cattle Egret all nesting in such close proximity was incredible. The wonder of seeing these birds so close to the centre made the somewhat bumpy approach track seem worthwhile. Near to the centre we also managed great views of Great White Egret and had a Spanish Imperial Eagle high above a circling group of Griffon Vultures. It was late and so we headed for an afternoon lunch at Isla Major. I guess after our success in the morning we could not expect more of the same for the rest of the day and so it turned out as we drove along a chosen track to Villamanrique in the forlorn hope of finding Black-shouldered Kite and Golden Oriole! Southern Grey Shrike and Montagu's Harrier did compensate. Back at El Rocío and the several duck species had been joined by 3 Garganey as well as 4 Greylag Goose, there were several Yellow Wagtails of the race flava.
Day 3 - April 10th
The third day started with a quick look at the lagoon and the morning was a mirror image bird wise as the previous day, but one of the acro warblers looked very much like a Savis before it disappeared and refused to show itself again! We wanted to spend some of our morning at El Acebuche visitor centre and try to locate Purple Gallinule. A quick coffee and we were off to the many hides surrounding the lake, but try as we might, we were unable to find the ‘bloody' miserable Purple Gallinule (the first time I think I have dipped on this species), ah well, that's birding. The centre was crowded with people, hardly surprising as we had completely forgotten this was Easter week. We drove to the coast and stopped by the beach near to the Paradore. Again too many people in the area stopped any chance dead of seeing such species as Sanderling, but I was more surprised not to see Little Tern, so common along the beach margins at this time of year. Sea watching only produced Northern Gannet, some gulls including Audouin's, Sandwich Tern and a few Cormorants. We decided to head back to El Rocio and lunch. We stopped again by the lagoon just before you turn right into the village and were immediately rewarded with 00's of Black-tailed Godwit a single Bar-tailed and big numbers of Ruff. Alongside the water's edge there were several Dunlin and Little Stint, the latter far outnumbering Dunlin. After our lunch it was time to head back to the beauty of our mountains here around Ronda. The return journey produced both Booted and Short-toed Eagle with a few goodies such as Hoopoe and Alpine Swift.
With just over 130 species it was a good trip. We particularly enjoyed the atmosphere of El Rocío and the spectacle of the rookery at José A Valverde was enough on its own to make the trip worthwhile. I am still smarting about the Purple Gallinule though!!
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