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In 1956 a team of distinguishedornithologists organised an expedition toexplore the wilderness of marshes andwoodland along the Guadalquivir River insouthern Spain known as the Coto Doñana.At a time when foreign travel was still aremote dream for most people, thesubsequent account of the expedition inGuy Mountfort's classic book 'Portrait of aWilderness' made exciting reading andinspired ambitions to visit this remarkablearea. Five decades later, the Coto Doñanais still regarded as one of the bestbirdwatching sites in Europe but it owes itscontinued existence to the efforts ofdedicated conservationists, who havefought against a myriad of threats, rangingfrom encroachment by farming and touristdevelopments, to a serious chemicalpollution incident. Although the central coreof the area was declared a national park in1969, the conservation struggle continues,but each spring and autumn the marshesstill attract an amazing variety of birds andoffer one of the greatest ornithologicalspectacles on the continent. We begin our holiday in Seville, famous forits oranges and Moorish architecture, fromwhere we will drive south-west to the townof El Rocío, a delightful and elegant villagethat overlooks the lagoon, river andmarshlands that lie within the Coto DoñanaNational Park. With its white-washedbuildings (that include a magnificentchurch) and its unmetalled sandy streets,there is something of the American WildWest about this village! It also makes a finebase as we explore the wide range ofhabitats in the region: the mosaic ofmarshes, Stone Pine woodland, opengrassland and heathland, freshwater poolsand coastal sand dunes. Here we will enjoythe large numbers of birds of prey that arepresent in the park, together with numerousother migrants, including storks, herons,waders, ducks, gulls and terns. We will alsolook for some of the region's specialities,amongst them Purple Gallinule, MarbledTeal, Crested Coot and the rare SpanishImperial Eagle (seven pairs of which occurhere). Additionally, in the drier habitats, wewill search for such species as Azure-winged Magpie, Great Spotted Cuckoo,Tawny Pipit, Lesser Short-toed Lark andRed-necked Nightjar. A range of mammalsmay also be encountered in this part of thepark, most notably the Iberian Lynx, ofwhich a handful remain in this corner ofAndalucia, together with Red and FallowDeer, Hares and Rabbits all, potentially, to be found on the menu of thisendangered cat! For the latter half of our holiday we willfocus on the marshes and paddy fields inthe eastern part of the Doñana, where thebirding is excellent. We will focus, inparticular, on a vast area of 11,300hectares at the heart of the GuadalquivirMarshes that is included within the DoñanaNature Reserve and comprises anextensive area of 'naturally' farmed fish-ponds, pastures for cattle grazing, and ricepaddies - all areas being organicallyfarmed with great awareness of, andprovision for, the vast numbers of birdsattracted to this avian paradise. Avocets,Collared Pratincoles, White Storks, Slender-billed Gulls, Gull-billed Terns and manyother wetland bird species all nest in goodnumbers, whilst in winter hundreds ofthousands of ducks and waders thrivehere. The site also supports large numbersof Greater Flamingoes and Purple Gallinules, as well as Marbled Teal and theoccasional White-headed Duck. It is anexperience which will undoubtedly providethe highlight of this holiday. Both in spring and in winter one cannothelp but be impressed by the sheernumber of birds here. Pools are crowdedwith herons and egrets, flocks of ternsswoop over the marshes, and the sky isfilled with raptors. In spring, additionally, wewill hear the melodic outpourings ofNightingales from almost every thicket, andthe songs of Great Reed, Reed and Savi'sWarblers from the reedbeds, whilst Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles add their liquidtones to the chorus. With practice, some ofthe less familiar songs may also beidentified: the scratchy warbling ofSubalpine and Spectacled Warblers in thescrub, or perhaps the persistent rattle of aCirl Bunting. Chirping tree-frogs andcrickets remind us that not all the soundsare produced by birds and the fragrance ofa myriad of flowers ensure that the Doñanaexperience envelops all of our senses!Raptor enthusiasts will be delighted by theabundance of birds of prey inhabiting theDoñana, amongst them Griffon Vultures,Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Goshawks,harriers and both Red and Black Kites, butit will inevitably be the sights and sounds of the marismasthat will leave the mostindelible memory of our visit to this fragile Spanish wilderness. Spain - The Best of Coto Doñana A thorough, 5-day exploration of the magnificent Coto Doñana National Park in search of theincredible birdlife of both its best and least-known corners, in the company of local conservationists. Thursday 22nd November - Monday 26th November 2012 Cost: £995Tuesday 12th February - Saturday 16th February 2013 Cost: £995Saturday 13th April - Wednesday 17th April 2013 Cost: £995Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFRANCEPORTUGALTRUJILLOEL ROCÍOSEVILLEGUADALQUIVIRRIVERMADRIDATLANTICOCEANMEDITERRANEAN SEASPAINSANLÚCAR DE BARRAMEDAOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Seville and overnightEl Rocío.Day 2/4El Rocío.Day 5Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotel, all roomswith private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy birdwatching walks.FocusBirds.LeaderKevin Elsby, Peter Dunn or ByronPalacios.Single room supplement£95.Web quick search: ESP09123Collared PratincoleWhite StorkCoto Doñana

124Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryAs any map of Spain will indicate, theSierra de Guara, protected as a parque natural since 1990, is one ofthe quietest of regions in the SpanishPyrenees and its outlying foothills. On itsrolling lower slopes, a pretty patchwork ofoak woods, almond orchards, olive grovesand small, irregular wheat fields,traditionally farmed, is to be found.Attractive, limestone villages and theirsplendid churches ride the flanks of thesierra; their populations, like virtually all inrural Spain, are dwindling today andallowing nature back in. Above them lies arugged land, clothed in stunted oak forestand maquis scrub and noted for itsnumerous gorges and canyons, andspectacular cliffs, columns and pinnaclesfashioned from limestone andconglomerate. In high summer the regionattracts French 'canyoners'; during thecolder months this magnificent landscapebecomes the winter capital of Spain'sWallcreepers! It is also a land favoured byLammergeiers, huge numbers of GriffonVultures, Golden Eagles, and theoccasional Bonelli's Eagle, Hen Harrier orPeregrine.Just a few hours away, to the south ofZaragoza, lies a very different 'avianhotspot'. Laguna de Gallocanta is a giantsaltpan, the largest natural lagoon in theIberian peninsula. It lies in a vast, shallowdepression surrounded by distant hills and,although its water levels are dependent onregular seasonal rainfall, at the time of ourvisit it is to be hoped that winter rains willhave replenished them. Gallocanta attractsthe greatest concentration of CommonCranes in western Europe. The largestnumbers, 20,000-50,000, come through onpassage, but increasing numbers arestaying to winter here. Our February visit istimed to coincide with the moreconcentrated spring migration when thelargest concentrations are generally to befound, prior to the Cranes' northboundmigration over the Pyrenees to theirbreeding grounds in northern Europe. Waterlevels permitting, Gallocanta can alsosometimes host good numbers of winteringduck and other waterbirds. The area alsosupports a variety of wintering birds of prey,amongst them Hen and Marsh Harriers,Red Kites, Peregrines and Merlins. GreatBustards breed in this area and althoughthe majority leave in winter, a few individualsare sometimes still present at the time ofour visit.The high páramo, or steppe, surroundingthe lake is also attractive to birds. Here,Black-bellied Sandgrouse and such larkspecies as Calandra, Lesser Short-toed,Crested and Thekla Larks as well as manywintering Skylark may all be found.However, for the best steppe habitat we willspend some time during our transfer dayaround Belchite. Here, 40,000 hectares ofsteppe habitat - including within it theSociedad Española de Ornitología's (SEO)645-hectare El Planerón nature reserve,part-funded by proceeds from the 1992British Birdwatching Fair - present thebest habitat of its type in northern Spain.This windswept, arid land of dusty, red,scrub-covered plains and eroded plateaux,more reminiscent of Morocco orAfghanistan than western Europe, holdslarge percentages of the Spanishpopulations of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse,Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Lesser Short-toed Lark and the elusive and enigmaticDupont's Lark.This 2-centre holiday is designed to offerthe best of these two magnificent regions.First, in the Sierra de Guara, we will bebased in the magical fortress town ofAlquézar, built around a spectacular 8thcentury Moorish citadel which sits on apinnacle above the gorge of the Río Vero.This quaint and ancient town, with itsnarrow streets, sits like an eagle's eyrie ona shoulder of the Sierra, the impressivecliffs that surround it a haven for winteringWallcreepers. From this base, we willexplore the slopes of the Sierra, whereLammergeiers and Wallcreepers will beforemost amongst our target species, andwe will visit the Embalse de la Sotonera, areservoir that attracts thousands of Craneseach spring as they make a final stop torest and feed before crossing the Pyrenees.By contrast, at the Laguna de Gallocanta,we stay in a modern, glass-fronted hotel,set in an isolated position that commandsmagnificent views over the entire lake;views that can be enjoyed equally from thebar, the bed or the bath! The movementsof Cranes at dawn and dusk arespectacular, and will be a highlight of thetour, but for the cultural buffs, so too willbe a visit to the nearby 8th century walledtown of Daroca.Wallcreepers & Cranes in Northern SpainA 7-day winter break, looking first for Wallcreepers, Lammergeiers and other birds of prey in the pre-PyreneanSierra de Guara (Europe's Wallcreeper capital), then at the spectacle of Cranes and waterfowl at the Laguna deGallocanta, and for bustards, sandgrouse and the enigmatic Dupont's Lark in the steppes around Belchite. Monday 22nd October - Sunday 28th October 2012 Cost: £1,195Monday 18th February - Sunday 24th February 2013 Cost: £1,295Monday 21st October - Sunday 27th October 2013 Cost: £1,295Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Zaragoza andtransfer Alquézar.Day 2/3Sierra de Guara, fromAlquézar.Day 4/6Gallocanta and Belchite,from Gallocanta.Day 7Fly London.AccommodationA very comfortable family hotel inAlquézar and a modern, glass-fronted hotel at Gallocanta whichoffers great comfort together withunrivalled views of the lake and itsbirdlife. All rooms have privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A. Optional short walks willbe taken during the course of theholiday, but much of our time willbe spent watching and enjoying theavian spectacles. FocusBirds.LeaderJohn Willsher or Byron Palacios.Single room supplement£165. Availability limited.Web quick search: ESP17TOULOUSEBARCELONACATALONIA LLEIDAGALLOCANTAHUESCABELCHITESIERRADE GUARAZARAGOZATARRAGONAANDORRA BILBAOMADRIDFRANCE SPAINEl PlanerónCommon CranesWallcreeper