The Odiel Marshes between the sea, the earth and the sky
In front of Huelva, possibly the oldest city in Western Europe, an estuary was born from the tidal sea and the embrace of the rivers Odiel and Tinto whose waters have been plied by Phoenician and Greek boats, attracted by the gold and silver of the mythical Tartessos.
Thousands of years later, the discovery of the most important colony of European Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia in 1977 sparked a movement for the protection of this site. Then in 1983, the Odiel Marshes were declared as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO due to the importance of this area for wildlife and migratory birds. This fact encouraged the Andalusian Government to create the first “Paraje Natural” in this region. Beside this the area has been recognised as a Ramsar Site (International Wetlands Convention), Special Area for Protection of Birds and Site of Community Importance by the European Union.
Because of this, the Odiel Marshes Nature Reserve has become one of the major and best preserved wetlands in Iberia, a paradise for birds that discover a fantastic collection of habitats to feed and to breed in; salt-pans, lakes, forest, sandbanks, tidal channels and rivers. The tide is the main factor that makes this area such a productive place with such a high biodiversity (including the endemic beetle Akis saltesiana and butterfly Malacosoma laurea). The tide really sets the pace of life here. Every six hours the seawater comes in full of nutrients that are spread through the veins of the marshes. Have you ever wondered why so many waders can be seen on a mudflat? Around 30.000 micro organisms live on a square metre of mud; hence the Odiel Marshes is a paradise for waders and water birds.
The Odiel Marshes Nature Reserve has always been in the shade of the world famous Coto Doñana, however this area is the perfect complement to the birds of Doñana as it is only 30 minutes from this renowned National Park. Moreover, as a tidal wetland, the Odiel Marshes are not affected by the lack of rainfall and an extensive checklist is guaranteed even in dry periods. As formerly mentioned, the different habitats favour a big variety of birds (around 150 species throughout the year) among which we highlight:
Resident: Shelduck, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Marsh Harrier, Peregrine and Stone Curlew.
Winter: Great White Egret, Common Scoter, Osprey, Audouin´s Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Caspian Tern and Bluethroat.
Summer: Purple Heron, Osprey, Montagu´s Harrier, Booted Eagle, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Crested Coot, Collared Pratincole, Little Tern, and Bee-eater.
Migrants: Knot, Spotted Redshank, Roseate Tern, Arctic Tern and Black Tern.
Certainly the Spoonbill is an historic emblem of this natural site, however, in recent years another bird has taken centre stage here. The Odiel Marshes is the principal wintering site for Ospreys in Spain with around 30 individuals, 60 in the whole province. In addition, eight years ago they began a reintroduction programme that has become very successful. In 2009 three chicks were born, the first in 70 years on the Spanish mainland, and this year the nesting population has risen to 7 Ospreys (two pairs and a trio!). Fish will not be safe anymore!
Since the bird ringing station started in 1997, this has become very important for bird research in Spain. In 15 years over 25.000 birds of 43 different species have been trapped in the summer night ringing programme whose main purpose is the monitoring of waders and terns (50% of the total recorded in Spain). About 600 of those birds had already been ringed abroad, the majority of them in Britain and Holland. In this programme more than 1.000 volunteers from all over the world have participated making the Odiel Marshes a place for the celebration of birds.
Therefore, the Odiel Marshes Nature Reserve is a wonderful meeting point between the sea, the earth and the sky where our beloved birds come from. And in February this will hopefully be a meeting point between me and you.
Bird Guide and ABS Member