Sunday, October 13, 2013

Morocco Birding Sept/October 2013

White-crowned Black Wheatear

I get to count my blessings that both companies and individuals like to have me guide for them whilst visiting Morocco. I love this wonderful country, the scenery, the wildlife and the people. Each visit cultivates the passion I have for Morocco. Increasingly I am involved in guiding people who are putting together their own itinerary and tailoring the holiday to suit themselves, of course with help from myself and associate companies. On this occasion I had the very real pleasure of accompanying visitors from America and showing them their wish list and more, thank you Bruce and Brenda…

Barbary Macaque monkey
Bruce and Brenda had designed their tour to get the most out of local culture, history and of course wildlife, so the route involved some fairly long days, but always the interest was held by the variety of subject and scenery. They were also able to add days both before and after their guided time with me, always a good idea to enjoy time on your own! The chosen route involved meeting-up in Fez, where our intrepid travellers enjoyed the ancient souk, before proceeding to Midelt, then into the Erg Chebbi sand dune complex of the Moroccan Sahara. After the spectacle of the dunes we struck out to the west and visited the stone deserts around Boumalne de Dades, staying in one of my favourite Kasbahs. Next up we travelled across the High Atlas Mountains to Marrakech, then on to Tiznit for a couple of days in and around the Oued Massa. Then it was back to Marrakech and a parting of the ways, although Bruce and Brenda were to spend three more days unaccompanied, other than with our driver, in Morocco.

Moussier's Redstart
The journey from Fez incorporated a lunch stop at Ilfrane and allowed for us to visit the very picturesque area Forét de Cedres, an ancient forest and home to Barbary Macaque monkey, as well as one or two specialist birds we were in search of. At this point it is probably best to give the reader an idea of Bruce’s wish list: Bald Ibis (seen), Marbled Teal (not seen), Barbary Partridge (seen), Double-spurred Francolin (not seen), Houbara Bustard (not seen), Cream-colored Courser (not seen), Crowned Sandgrouse (only Black-bellied seen), Red-necked Nightjar (not seen), Egyptian Nightjar (seen), Barbary Falcon (seen), Greater Hoopoe-Lark (seen), Bar-tailed Lark (not seen), Thick-billed Lark (not seen), Lesser Short-toed Lark (seen), Dunn's Lark (not seen), Thekla Lark (seen), Wood Lark (seen), Temminck's Lark (seen), African Blue Tit (seen), Iberian Chiffchaff (seen), Fulvous Chatterer (seen), Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin (not seen), Atlas Flycatcher (seen) and Moussier's Redstart (seen). Various reasons, not excuses, contributed to the not seen list, mainly we visited the wrong areas or birds had already passed through on migration, of course some species are just plain difficult too!

Brown-necked Raven
The journey from Midelt to Merzouga took us over the Atlas Mountains and through some magnificent scenery. High in the mountains we found Black and Seebohm’s Wheatear as well as a number of Ruddy Shelduck around the high lagoons. Moussier’s Redstart were fairly frequent in scrub areas, whilst a Barbary Falcon gave a showing in the high pass. We listed a number of prime species during the day and managed to see our bonus bird the Pharaoh’s Eagle Owl, superb. Arriving at our hotel we were greeted by a gang of Fulvous Babbler (Chatterer) and both Spotted and Pied Flycatcher. The grounds produced odd passerines such as Sub-alpine Warbler, Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail, but during our two nights here Bruce managed to locate the highly prized Egyptian Nightjar, a great find and an extremely rare bird in Morocco. Our journeys into the surrounding desert were hard work, but we did manage one or two target larks including Desert Lark, plus the odd Brown-necked Raven, always good to see and seems to be increasing in the southern deserts.

Erg Chebbi dune complex
Heading westwards we made our way to Boumalne de Dades and giving ourselves time we had to show off the Todra Gorge, spectacular despite becoming a bit of a tourist trap. Grey Wagtail and Crag Martin showed well here as well as House Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush, used to be a time when Bonelli’s Eagle could be seen here, but I’ve not observed it here for the last 5 or more years! After lunching in the gorge we drive to Boumalne and allowed time for a slow recce in the area of the famous Tagdilt Track. We managed a few target birds here including Greater Hoopoe Lark, Temminck’s Lark and other regulars such as Trumpeter Finch, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Greater Short-toed Lark. Some of Bruce’s must see birds were also seen and one of the showiest was Red-rumped Wheatear, a large member of a great family of birds! Migrants were apparent with Pied Flycatcher and Common Redstart very common in the riverside (Dades) wadi. We dipped on Cream-coloured Courser here and in Merzouga, but I think they must have dispersed westwards already.

Greater Hoopoe Lark
Our next destination was Marrakech, so important to get an early start that would allow for various excursions en route. We drove through the beautiful Valley of Roses and made good time that allowed an off road desert drive seeking Thick-billed Lark, however the best we managed was a couple of close-ups of Spectacled Warbler! Miles from water we had the bizarre experience of seeing Osprey perched on a tall pylon in the middle of sand desert, also we were treated to some absolutely beautiful male Desert Wheatears. The odd flock of Eurasian Bee eater brightened our journey and eventually, whilst crossing the High Atlas, we found African Blue Tit for Bruce. Long-legged Buzzard also showed well and there seemed to be a clear demarcation between southerly White-crowned Black Wheatear and its higher altitude cousin Black Wheatear. Entering the city of Marrakech the birding never stopped with both Little and Pallid Swift wheeling around in the skies above the metropolis, Booted Eagle soared above the hotel to the sound of Common Bulbul as groups ransacked empty restaurant tables…

Northern Bald Ibis
Tiznit was our next stop for a 2 night visit. It would give us time to visit the area surrounding the Oued Massa as well as a visit or 2 to the Oued Sous, a superb estuary in danger of disappearing under pressure from development, but to date a worthwhile birding area. Our first day was spent at the Oued Sous, where we had great view of Barbary Falcon and Black-winged Kite as well as a plentiful supply of waders/shorebirds, but the star for the day was an adult Isabeline Wheatear, just a stunning bird. Stone Curlew were found in their normal haunt near to Oued Massa, whilst a 2 year old Bonelli’s Eagle hunted over the reeds near to the shoreline. Our first full day was dedicated to finding Northern Bald Ibis and after what seemed an age we finally found a group of c.50 birds on the cliff tops north of the Massa, looking towards Agadir we spotted another, much larger group of around 150 birds, so in total we were observing almost half of the world’s population, amazing! Our next day involved heading back to Marrakech, but not before exploring the upper reaches of the Oued Massa where we eventually caught-up with another must see bird for Bruce the elusive Black-crowned Tchagra.

Barbary Squirrel
Full species listing will appear in a separate blog.

Why not consider tailoring your own tour to Morocco and make use of reliable drivers and guides, plus assistance in choosing tried and trusted accommodation? See more Here and Here

The Moroccan Sahara

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