I have just returned from a trip to the national park at Doñana where I spent a couple of days with some of our senior Biology students, my colleague Dr Jan Walker, and local guides who know the place like the backs of their hands. And even though I am several hours drive away my head is still full of the sights and sounds of that extraordinary place.

Every day I have been there I have seen and learned new things but today was really extraordinary because I was able to see, for the first time, one of Doñana´s iconic animals – the Spanish imperial eagle.

Doñana has many reasons to be famous. If you are keen on birds you may well have heard of it or even been there yourself. Our guide, Antonio, pointed out that about 95 percent of the bird species of Europe have been seen here. Now, as the winter approaches, many of the waterfowl from northern Europe will abandon their frozen waterways and overwinter in the shallow marsh which is now swelling following recent rains. In the summer the marsh is dry and the winter visitors will be gone. There are geese here now but more, tens of thousands more, will be following soon.

The two most important animals to be found at Doñana, at least in the public eye, are the Spanish imperial eagle Aquila adalberti and the Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus. The fact that these two steal the show gets on the nerves of the guides here who are keen to point out that the flora of Doñana is amazing, as are the mushrooms and toadstools and frogs and lizards and tortoises and snakes and so on.

There is one thing, part from their high profile that the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian Lynx have in common. Both feed almost exclusively on rabbits and so, while there are plenty of rabbits around and the rabbits are free of diseases that can decimate their populations, both the eagle and the lynx thrive here.

The Spanish imperial eagle is found mainly in central and south west areas of Spain and in adjacent areas of Portugal. I understand that there are about 9 breeding pairs in Doñana. The world population is thought to be less than 500, all of which are located in the Iberian Peninsula and the vast majority in Spain.

The bird I saw today was in the top of a large pine tree and was spotted by the driver of the 4 wheel drive truck which gives a limited number of visitors daily access the national park. This guy had pretty sharp eyesight because only the head of the bird was visible above the canopy. Without binoculars it was just barely visible and would not have been noticed at all unless it was pointed out.

I managed to take a photograph but the picture was, quite frankly, crap and so I have selected below a decent image of this eagle so you can see for yourself, if it is not already familiar to you, what a beautiful bird it is.

Here is a picture I pinched from www.visitextremadura.co.uk

The Spanish Imperial Eagle. I pinched this photo from from http://www.visitextremadura.co.uk