Spring is here in Seville – which means warm days, mild evenings, the smell of orange blossom, and a succession of large-scale events revolving around passion, death and debauchery.
Many people will be watching the Semana Santa processions over the next week, as statues of Jesus Christ and Mary are carried on floats, preceded by hooded, robed figures, weaving their way through the packed, narrow streets of the city.
But if the dolorosas (Virgins) don’t float your boat, never fear; there are plenty of other activities near the city, especially if you have children who would rather be running about in an open space, than standing in a crowded alley for hours without being able to see much action.
The huge amount of rainfall we’ve had here in Andalucia over the past weeks and months has meant that any lakes, rivers, streams and other watercourses are full to bursting. While this isn’t much fun if you live next to a river, like people in towns such as Ecija and those near Jerez who’ve been flooded, it is very welcome for some residents of Andalucia, whether permanent or seasonal: namely, the feathered ones.
We first visited Cañada de los Pajaros, a small bird sanctuary south of Seville, back in September 2010 (the name means ravine, or gully, of the birds). When we came it was very dry, with the levels on the lake low, and one large pond had no water at all. Now, however, is a perfect time to go, as there is ample water, and lots of birds to see. The storks are nesting in the pine trees, and watching them fly to and from their tree-top nests, soaring above your head with their broad, jagged-edged wings, collecting twigs to complete the building process, is enough to keep a curious grounded human interested for hours. The Cañada’s location is near the northern edge of Doñana Park, a UNESCO-recognised bioreserve, and one of Europe’s most important wetlands for migrating species, famous for its ample birdwatching opportunities. Many of the birds which live in Doñana can also be found in the Cañada.
The reserve (described as a “servant reserve” on their leaflet; they mean subsidised, I think) consists of a large lake, which you walk around, with a bird hide right on the water, and benches for some peaceful contemplation. At the far end are various enclosures with a huge variety of birds, from tiny, exquisite pratincoles, to bright-red ibises, and some wonderfully-named species: smew and whimbrel. An island in the lake is home to a flock of flamingoes. The sanctuary runs its own breeding programme for crested coots in captivity, the world’s first such, and also has other endangered birds such as the black stork and the marbled teal. You can see up to 200 species in total.
But our favourite part was feeding the birds. All children love being able to feed animals – mine always remember their experience with the goats and even a giraffe at Colchester Zoo in the UK. We bought two bags of bird food – like a finer version of pienso, dry dog food – and the kids watched as swans, geese, ducks and coots waddled over, with varying degrees of confidence, and gobbled up the little coloured nuggets, fighting and flouncing when one got too much, or another wanted to show his mettle. The young geese (as-yet untagged) were soon in trouble if they overstepped the mark, being chased by furious adults.
We got up close and personal with cranes, not your everyday experience, who were amazingly tame. We saw snowy peacocks, strutting cockerels and imperious herons. And the noise was extraordinary: the hoo-hoo of the cranes, the tapping of the storks, the hissing and honking of the geese, the quacking of the ducks, the farting of the coots (at least that’s what it sounded like).
March is nesting season for the storks, who come here to breed from late February until the end of August; their chicks will be born next month. Storks like to nest somewhere high up, safe from predators – you often seen them on top of chimneys; here, they love the pine trees. We also saw spoonbills nesting up in the branches.
We spent a very enjoyable few hours at the Cañada, luckily with sun, then cloud, and the heavens opened when we got in the car to go home (and ate our sandwiches). This is a place where kids can run around without causing too much havoc, it’s a beautiful natural environment, and they’re intrigued by all the various birds – their favourite was one we could barely see, as it was in an enclosure away from the path. It was a mynah bird, which imitated them as they said “Hola!”, right down to the tone of voice. They found it hilarious, and spend many happy minutes chatting to it and then bursting into hysterics of laughter. Helpful, friendly staff, spotlessly clean grounds and easy parking make this an ideal family outing.
Cañada de los Pajaros is near Puebla del Rio, 25km south of Seville on the Aznalcazar road (SE659). Entrance is 10 euros for adults and 6 euros for children over 5 years old. There is a restaurant next to the reserve, as well as casas rurales to rent.
Here are some bird names in Spanish and English:
focha – coot
ciguena – stork
grulla – crane
garza – heron
garcilla – heron/egret
gaviota – gull
malvasia – white-headed duck
espatula – spoonbill
canastera – pratincole