The Donana National Park (official website and maps) is a wetland / coastal reserve at the delta of the Guadalquivir River on the Atlantic Ocean and a major site for migrating birds. Over thousands of years the original wide estuary has been closed off by a long, natural sandbar which created a large saline lake now silted up to become a huge wetland area with lagoons, marshlands, sand dunes and moving dunes.
Some lake areas are saline and others are supplied by freshwater streams. This combination makes Donana one of the most important remaining wetlands in Europe. Currently the marshes cover 27,000 hectares but they are the last remnant of wetlands which once occupied 200,000 hectares of the lower Guadalquivir floodplain.
Pine and Oak woodland plus scrubland further enhances the diversity of one of the most important habitats in Europe. This accumulation of ecosystems is capable of sustaining an incredible assortment of wildlife.
The stabilised dunes form an undulating landscape with a vegetation cover varying with the height above the water table. The southern zone is covered by low Pine forest. The area between the dunes and marshland consists of grassland, referred to as “vera” because it is always green and lush. The marshes are fed by autumn and winter rainfall and river flow, and therefore show marked seasonal variations in their extent.
A diverse collection of around 750 species of plants exist throughout the different habitats, including:
1. Marshland/Aquatic – Glasswort, Seablite and Perennial Glasswort.
2. Brackish Lagoon – Reeds and Cordgrass.
3. Dunes – Beachgrass, Portuguese Crowberry, Buckthorn and Juniper.
4. Inland dunes – Wild Olive and Ash trees.
5. Forest – Stone pine and Eucalyptus.
6. Heathland – Heather, Strawberry trees, Thyme, Rosemary and Lavender.
Provinces: Huevla, Seville & Cadiz
Status: Natural Park – 1969, Naional Park – 1978, UNESCO World Heritage Site – 1994
Size: 54,000 hectares National Park Land + 23 hectares surrounding Natural Park Land
Mammals include the endangered Iberian Lynx, Wild Boar, Red Deer, Fallow Deer, Mongoose and Badger.
Reptiles, found mostly in the dunes, include the Spur-thighed Tortoise, Chameleon, Lataste’s Viper and Spiny-footed Lizard. Common fish are Carp and Eel plus a threatened species, the Iberian Toothcarp.
The best times for birdwatchers are:
Spring: to see the influx of migrating birds arriving to breed or rest before continuing their journey.
Autumn: to see the migrating birds that collect to rest and feed before crossing to Africa.
Winter: when the reserve is topped up by rain water and vast flocks of wildfowl.
The summer months see the wetlands beginning to dry, and many of the visitors departing as temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius, leaving only the summer residents. Amongst the numerous species are Griffon Vultures, Booted Eagles, Red-necked Nightjars, Bee-eaters and Hoopoe.
Other birds to look out for are the Spanish Imperial Eagle, Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck and Red-knobbed Coot.
The National Park is under very tight protection, with public access restricted to visitor centres and some marked footpaths. The Natural Park, a buffer zone t the National Park, is less strictly protected with more open access. Being a continuation of the National Park it is also of great importance for migratory and breeding birds.