Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Firsts in Coto Donana

Stone Pines in the Corredor Verde

Garden editor Carol Debney writes:

There's a first time for everything but my first visit to Coto Donana (April 17-21) combined several 'firsts' for me including some new birds and my first bird race. But the trip had a more serious purpose than bird racing – though I now realise just how serious that activity is – as along with Tim Appleton (Rutland Water), Keith Betton (Travel Consultant) and Mike Witherick (Ornitholidays), I was invited to attend the First Professional Meeting of Birdwatching Tourism in Andalusia. This involved some serious meetings intersposed with delicious Spanish food eaten at strange times and the chance to watch wonderful birds in some of the most beautiful woodland habitat I've ever seen. I just fell in love with the area known as the Corredor Verde where tall Stone Pines stand among masses of shrubby rock roses covered in pink and white blooms, wild flowers of many kinds are underfoot and the 'opoo-poo-poo' call of Hoopoes was everywhere.

An abundance of wildflowers

Keith (left) and Tim

Scenic shots of the Corredor Verde

I had reservations about the bird race but it was fun. By Friday our numbers had been swelled by bird tour operators from all over Europe and the USA so competition was fierce. We began with an early morning scramble for breakfast in a local bar where the single-handed owner was overwhelmed by massed-birders demanding coffee and toast. Then we were off. With Keith Betton at the wheel 'The BirdFair Team' was soon clocking up good numbers of species while, as recorder, I tried to scrawl legible lists as we jolted over bumps and potholes. The terrain is rough for this kind of activity as even the metalled roads have lots of speed bumps intended to stop boy racers!

Conference organiser Beltran de Caballos Vazquez (left) and bird-race organiser Jorge Garzón

We finished at 2.30pm when all entries were scrutinised – and a few sightings disallowed! Trust me, I'm a journalist, I'll mention no names! The BirdFair Team came a respectable (we were gutted) third with a total of 104 species, beaten by The International Brigade, led by Gerry Foster Thomas (Celtic Bird Tours) with a total of 112. Lunch and a few beers helped.

The International Brigrade, bird-race winners (Gerry in the hat with the prizes)

My new birds included Crested (Red-knobbed) Coot, White-headed Duck and Azure-winged Magpie which I saw along with other great birds including Black Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, Short-toed and Booted Eagle, Bee-eaters, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Purple Swamp Hen, Little Bittern, masses of herons and egrets, terns, ducks, waders, warblers and larks. I enjoyed the birdrace far more than I expected but I prefer slow birding by foot or even just standing in one place and waiting to see what turns up. Coto Donana would be a great place to do that!

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