The Doñana: A Wild Paradise
Located 60 km from Huelva, The Doñana National Park was established in 1969 and has since expanded. In 1988, this wilderness was threatened because of a mining pollution that spread through the waters of the Guadiamar river that runs through the park. Consequently in 1985, the park received the European diploma of protected areas.
The term "Doñana" refers to one of its most illustrious inhabitants, Doña Ana de Mendoza, daughter of the princess of Éboli, and married to the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who retired to live in these lands in the sixteenth century.
This National Park plays a key role to the migratory routes of birds between Europe and Africa; it is also the last refuge for many endangered species.
We begin our Doñana adventure at 6 am since the park is about an hour by car from Sevilla. We choose a cloudy day because the hike in takes several hours and the sun can be brutal. Once we arrive, we meet our guide and climb into a super cool 4x4. This time of year the birdwatching is incredible, and this guide knows all about the migratory fluctuation that takes place here twice a year.
The park features diverse and interconnected ecosystems which allows so many species to flourish. Among these a unique habitats, we first visit the Marismas, a humid area with salty shallows of water, formed during the rainy season. These waters are home to over 30 bird species each spring including doves, upupas, partridges, herons and the beloved Flamencos, whose pink feathers are due to a natural pink dye called canthaxanthin that they obtain from these waters through their diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae.
The wild rabbits are also out in scores today (Oryctolagus cuniculus). This species is the main prey of the Iberian lynx, and also one of the main causes of their disappearance. Recently an epidemic has affected rabbits in Spain and these fluffy disease bearing critters are fundamental to the Iberian lynx's diet.
The Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) is also effected by the rabbits sickness, although you would not know by the numbers to be sighted year round in the park and surrounding areas. There are over 28 species of mammals in Doñana, and thanks to it's proximity of Africa, you can even find Egyptian Mongoose and Genet.
One of the most iconic features of this area is the towering Black Pine Trees. Human animals as well treasure the precious and tasty pine nuts they contain.
Although we did not see the Iberian lynx, we did spot some footprints. Our guide told us that the population grows every year, but it is not easy to spot them especially in the daytime.
As our visit draws to a close we look back on a day of amazing emotions and beautiful views. We learned so much about the rich fauna and flora... but we also know there is much more to discover. The park is not only for naturalists, and we spend the evening in Rocio the adjacent pueblo enjoying a wonderful dinner, conversation and memories.