Vera and scrubland
The “vera” is an ecotone, meaning it is a bordering zone between two different ecosystems, in this case the mainly stabilised sand (eolian sands) and the clay soil of the marshland. The vera has such ecological and functional importance in Doñana that is should be appreciated on its own mer-its as an ecological feature with exclusive characteristics.
This border between the clay and the sand covers over 800 hectares in the National Park and it runs from a few metres wide at some points to up to a kilometre across (some areas also exist with no transition zone where the sand dunes run straight into the marshland.) Groundwater from the sand rises up towards the surface where it meets the impermeable clay soil of the marshland and this simple phenomenon is what makes the vera vitally important.
The vera is always green and water is available for the plants that live here all year round, regard-less of the fact that the marshland can look like a cracked and dusty desert in the height of sum-mer. If there is accessible water, there is life.
A large number of animals visit the vera throughout the year but tend to concentrate here during the hottest months because, as seen above, green pastures can still be found in this zone when they are impossible to find anywhere else. Examples of these species include numerous red deer, fallow deer, wild boar and livestock.
Some cork oaks still grow in the vera, survivors of ancient forests, and, like balconies over the marshland, they create the famous “Doñana aviaries”: trees packed with herons, spoonbills, egrets, storks and black-crowned night herons who, in strict hierarchical order, are spread across the cork oaks in noisy breeding colonies throughout spring.
Some of the most important plant life in the vera, aside from the cork oaks, includes the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), wild olive (Olea europarea var. sylvestris) and elmleaf blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius). There is also a dense band of different species of rushes (Juncus spp.) that is used by species such as the yellow western wagtail, pipit, red-legged partridge, rabbit, Iberian ribbed newt, common vole and Iberian spadefoot toad.
The vera is an example of the biodiversity found in the borders between different ecosystems and, above all, it demonstrates the riches of these lands as a mosaic of landscapes with different, sometimes contradictory, characteristics that are all brought together in the space of Doñana.
What species are found in the vera of Doñana?
Eagle fern (Pteridium aquilinum)
Found in damp zones, it gives an intense green colour to river banks and turns brown when it dries, although it doesn’t die.
Cork oak (Quercus suber)
Tree typical to Mediterranean hills that ultimately lost ground to the pine tree in Doñana. The favourite tree for nest-building for many bird species, the “Doñana aviary” is an example.
White poplar (Populus alba)
Tree closely associated with the vera whose name comes from the whitish underside of its leaves.
Fallow deer (Dama dama)
Species that was introduced into Doñana in 1920 that is found in the meadows along the edge of the marshland. It is identified by its shovel-shaped antlers.
Red deer (Cervus elaphus)
Can be heard during its mating season close to El Acebuche Visitors’ Centre. It grows new antlers each year.
Wild boar (Sus scrofa)
The long teeth seen on males are canine teeth rather than tusks.
SPECIAL MOMENTS IN DOÑANA
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.
Arrival of wintering birds at Doñana
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.
The geese at dawn
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 in Doñana
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.
Visit from the European bee-eater
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.
Pilgrimage of El Rocío
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.
Saca de las Yeguas
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.