Perhaps the most spectacular ecosystem in Doñana due to its movement, shapes, textures and especially its contrasting colours.
The dune cycle is very simple: it all begins when successive tides and waves deposit large quanti-ties of sand on the beach.
The prevailing south-westerly wind, known locally as the “foreño”, then pushes the sand away from the shore, drying it and dragging it inland.
The grains of sand clump together and build up on top of one another, forming little sand mountains or embryo dunes. Only some pioneering plants dare to inhabit this zone, such as European marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), which is later joined in its fight to stabilise the sand by spiny thrift (Armeria pungens) and sempervivum (Helichrysum pichardii), among other species.
The embryo dunes grow in size with each successive addition of sand and join together, finally forming huge successive dune ridges that gradually move inland while plant life attempts to colo-nize the sand. One plant that is capable of surviving the movement of the dunes is large-fruited juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus subsp.macrocarpa). It has a root system that means it can “ride” on top of the dunes and this remarkable survivor bears witness to their movement.
As a dune advances it leaves behind a flat, damp surface that is sheltered from the wind and can be more readily colonized by plants. These valleys between the dunes are known as “corrales”; they typically consist of youngish pine trees and soil that is carpeted in rushes. When a dune ad-vances after burying a corral, the hollowed-out pine trees that died in its path eventually appear, generally the trunk and knots of the largest branches. In Doñana these tree trunks are known as “cruces” or crosses.
The structure of plant life in a corral gives away its origins. Pine trees in the same corral are in fact of different ages. Those that are furthest from the coast will be younger than those closest to the sea because the dune advanced over them more recently. It is also true that, although the pine trees nearest the coast are older because they have had longer to grow, they will have to face the next front of dunes advancing from the shore before their younger relations.
Corrales are damp zones with accessible water and are a green haven for species such as short-toed snake eagles, Eurasian hobbies, wild boar, hares, Greek tortoises, snub-nosed vipers, Mont-pellier snakes, rabbits and Mediterranean tree frogs.
Corema (Corema album)
Plant that has colonized the El Asperillo fossil dune system. Its white berries are used to lower fevers.
Spiny thrift (Armeria pungens)
Creates an explosion of pink on Doñana’s beaches, although it is sometimes seen in more inland environments.
Large-fruited juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus subsp. Macrocarpa)
Could be described as a living being because it moves, even though it is a plant.
Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca)
An animal that is sometimes overlooked in this zone and that can be seen almost daily in Doñana’s mobile dunes.
Spiny-footed lizard (Acanthodactylus erythrurus)
A type of lizard that lives in areas with dry, sandy soil and a scarcity of plants. They can measure up to 23 cm. The underside of its tail has a characteristic bright red colour.
Snub-nosed viper (Vipera latastei)
Can measure up to 70 cm long. It is the most common viper on the Iberian Peninsula and is found everywhere except for the far north and the Pyrenees.
When you think of somewhere that has been made a National Park, you imagine somewhere that is a unique enclave with a grand or spectacular landscape. In terms of Doñana, the former is cer-tainly true, but you have to work a little harder to see the latter. Its flatness, aridity at certain times of year and the apparent monotony of its landscapes can make it hard to appreciate its beauty. You could say that it reveals its charms little by little, and only if you take the time to carefully unravel its mysteries and clues, slowly capturing the essence of this nature reserve and the fascinating relationship between its living inhabitants and the physical environment. This is one of Doñana’s main attractions. Let yourself be swept up by it and join the countless other travellers who have been overwhelmed by its magic and its unique and authentic beauty. Sdad. Coop. And. Marismas del Rocío “Doñana Visitas” hopes to share fundamental knowledge about the park with you so that you can appreciate its defining features.
Rutting: one of the most spectacular sights to enjoy in Doñana National Park, this natural phe-nomenon takes place from the middle to the end of August.
When the intense midday heat makes way for an evening breeze, red deer come down from dense thickets to the clearings and pastures of the vera.
Stags bellow their might to the world to draw herds of hinds to their side, jealously defending their family until spring when the hinds give birth to beautiful fawns.
Birds await the long-desired rains that flood the marshland, turn the forests green once more and sate the park’s thirst.
These birds are totally dependent on the level of flooding in this vast water plain for successful breeding; the scale of migration to Doñana is impressive and over 200,000 migratory birds pass through the zone each winter.
Geese arrive in Doñana’s marshland in winter when the cold temperatures in northern Europe freezes the fields where they feed. They are drawn to the gentle winter climate of Huelva’s wet-lands.
Geese feed on sedge roots that grow underwater in the marshes but are hard to digest. To help, the geese swallow sand before feeding; the sand works like sandpaper in their gizzard, making the roots easier to process.
And then the show begins! The break of dawn alerts the geese that it’s time to fly up to the hill that bears their name.
Spring is the moment life returns to Doñana, the days are longer, the temperatures are milder, an-imals awaken after months of lethargy, flowers inundate the landscape with brilliant colours and the sounds of nature fill the air.
In the marshes you can hear Western swamphens grunt while little grebes trill and Eurasian coots squawk in more open waters. Streaked fantail warblers circle the skies above, adding to the scene with their piercing cries.
Flamingos honk, black kites whistle and Imperial eagles give a dry bark as they soar over the pine trees.
This bird starts to appear at the end of March or the beginning of April. They visit in groups of 25-30 birds and are rarely seen travelling solo. Their unmistakeable song is instantly recognised by anyone familiar with it, alerting bird-watchers to scan the skies.
The European bee-eater is definitely one of the most eye-catching birds in these latitudes and pho-tographers and birders enjoy spotting them each year.
Each year, on the weekend of Pentecost Sunday, the village of El Rocío is visited by an immense number of pilgrims who have travelled with their brotherhood on foot, horseback or wagon to pay tribute to the Virgin of El Rocío. The celebration culminates on Sunday to Monday night, the mo-ment of “el salto a la reja” when the procession of the Virgin begins.
El Rocío is the most famous jewel of Doñana, a village with the air of an old settlement by the sea where the waters of the marshlands slowly pool.
This tradition can be traced back to an order issued in 1504 by the Duke of Medina Sidonia and the Asociación Nacional de Criadores de Ganado Marismeño has preserved it until the present day.
La Saca de las Yeguas is, broadly speaking, a farming activity that involves bringing in the marismeño horses that have spent the year grazing and breeding in different areas inside Doñana Nature Reserve and taking them to Almonte for the three-day Livestock Fair.
Once there, in the Huerta de la Cañada enclosure, yegüerizos, specialists in this breed, do the work needed to improve the well-being of these valuable animals, which are unique to the Doñana marshland ecosystem and are in danger of extinction. Once the fair has ended, the animals are returned to their environment where they remain living in freedom until the following year.