February 3rd, 2010
Our leaders, John & Adam, had revised the itinerary to enable those who had ‘lost’ a day travelling (due to bad weather in the UK) to maximise their time, and our first day was spent with John walking across the marshes to El Rompido to catch the bus into Huelva.
The outskirts of town are not attractive but once in the centre we were pleasantly surprised. We had been advised to buy picnic lunches for up to the next 3 days so time was spent in the wonderful covered market purchasing cold meats, cheese & fruit, and gazing with wonder at the amazing variety of freshly caught fish. We were offered tasty samples of Spanish delicacies.
Later we found a small restaurant off the main square, Plaza de las Monjas, & enjoyed lunch outside. Huelva teems with history going back to the early Phoenicians and with the trail of Christopher Columbus who set out from the Rio Tinto with Huelvan sailors to find the New World. Several of us explored the small museum, the interesting English quarter comprising The Queen Victoria housing estate built by the Rio Tinto Mining Company to house British workers, and the cathedral.
It was a shame not to have had more time here. Just as we finished lunch it started raining heavily so we caught the bus back.
Walking across the open marshes to the hotel, we got really, really wet for the first time, not realising we would need a full set of waterproofs for our visit to Huelva. Some had waited for taxis from El Rompido. What Very Wise Ramblers!!
We began with a 6.30 am departure to reach El Acebuche visitor centre in Donana National Park. It was before daybreak when we arrived and fortunately the café opened for us and served very some welcome refreshments! John advised that because of the severe storm the day before (the other group’s 4 hr safari jeep tour had been cancelled as trails near the beach had been washed away) we would not be able to take the Rangers’ tour as they had all been despatched to repair or open new routes. So off we set on foot in very gloomy conditions but very much relieved at the lack of rain!
Because of the eco system in the park, we were obliged to follow the boardwalks which took us amongst olive trees, stone pines and cork oaks into a very small area of Spain’s largest wildlife reserve. Donana NP is a world-class site for migrating birds and home to the Spanish lynx, deer and wild boar. The walk gave us access to bird hides and, by 11 am, we were delighted to notice blue sky amongst disappearing clouds.
Eventually the sun broke through and we were rewarded with sightings of numerous azure magpies and most brilliantly three, yes three purple gallinules which could be seen from the hide on the Acebuche Lake. That made our day! After a picnic lunch we went on for a brief visit to El Rocio, an interesting spaghetti western type town on the north western edge of the marshes. With the sun still shining and a blustery wind blowing, we explored the fascinating wide sandy streets lined with tiny houses with verandas. All had hitching rails outside for horses. John recalled a previous visit when wild pink flamingos had gathered in the car park. Apparently this is a brilliant base for bird watching, but not today. It’s far too windy. A brief visit was made to the ancient walled town of Niebla on the way home but, having been up since 5.30 am, most of us are too sleepy to do it justice!
After a leisurely breakfast with a complimentary glass of bucks fizz, we strolled across the golf course and marshes in the rain to El Rompido to partake of a glass of Rioja with lunch in the Café Sport. Apart from seeing the amazing purple gallinule the day before, this was one of our best days for bird watching. On the way back (even after a brandy & two glasses of excellent rioja) we sighted a black winged stilt, little egrets, heron, cattle egrets, azure magpies, cormorants, curlew (or was it a whimbrel?), ringed plovers, a flycatcher, red shank and top of the list, a hoopoe! How wonderful! We were so excited to see several hoopoes after this in the hotel grounds and on the golf course, they look so exotic. (read part two of my blog)