Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Doñana - The shame of Doñana

Guy Mountfort was the prime instigator of the successful financing for purchasing land that saved the Doñana as we know it today. And yet you would never know it, unless you read various literature and references made in some official documents. It simply beggars belief that no visitor centre, no monument, no plaque or Park literature pays respect to the saviour of the land which forms the main part of this wonderful National Park.

1960 rumours were heard developers had their sights on the lands of the Doñana  By 1961 these rumours were confirmed, there were plans for a holiday camp stretching the full length of the sand beaches of the Doñana and the worst was plans to drain the protective eastern barrier of the marismas! The most notable of local people to side with the crusade of saving the area were Don Manuel and Don Mauricio González, as part owners of the Coto, with much to gain financially from the proposed developments; they heroically supported efforts to preserve it.

Money was needed to stem the advances of developers and Guy Mountfort mobilised support, a move that led to the renowned formation of the World Wildlife Fund. So eventually money was raised and with the support of the Spanish Government the area was purchased and the National Park came into being. Whilst local park centres and reserve areas pay tribute to local Spanish pioneers, just where is the local recognition for the hero and champion of the Doñana, Guy Mountfort? For me it is an extremely sad omission by national and local authorities alike. Be sure if it were not for Guy Mountfort, there would be NO Doñana!!

Birds of Morocco - Part One

I hope you enjoy reading a brief introduction to some of the birds found in Morocco, this the first of many blogs on birds in Morocco, and here I refer to 3 favourite species I love to see on my visits to this great birding destination. It is actually very difficult to sit down and write an article about the birds of Morocco without also waxing lyrical regarding the scenery, people and history of this mystical country. I guess, for the uninitiated, Morocco most probably conjures-up visions of just sand and dust. Nothing could be further from the truth! Conditions here, despite its close proximity to Europe, are very different with wadis, deserts, plains, forest, mountains, coasts and islands. The diversity of these habitats are reflected in the number of bird species found in this most exotic of north African countries, with over 450 species it is a must visit country for any with a passion for our feathered friends.

Atlas Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris atlas

Such a beautiful looking lark, this species has run the gauntlet of name changes in recent times, going from Shore Lark to Horned Lark and now, just like the Pied Flycatcher, has seen another change to Atlas Horned Lark. Whatever the powers that be decide, it is a species both hard to find and in equal measure rewarding when you do. If you indulge in bird listing or species collection, then it’s to Morocco you will have to go to add this species.

The Atlas Horned Lark, as the name suggests, is largely confined to the higher reaches of the Moyen and Haut Atlas ranges of mountains in Morocco, where it is locally common. It is resident and only subject to altitudinal dispersal rather than full blown migration. When winters are particularly bad and snowfall is heavy in the higher reaches, these birds can descend to the foothills, but very rarely to much lower elevations. Good areas to find them are the Tizi-n-Tichka pass and the ski resort of Oukaimeden, although they have a habit of proving difficult to spot, often feeding around cushion plants and resting away from the windward side of these thick cushion plants.

Desert Sparrow Passer simplex saharae

I think I will always remember my first real sighting of this elegant sparrow, easy everyone had told me, just pop along to the Café Yasmina! Well the first sighting I had was a disappointing 300m away through a scope! On several days’ expedition, almost exclusively to find this bird, we ended-up being frustrated. We had done our homework and a reoccurring remark in literature was the frequency by which they could be discovered around camel droppings. Needless to say we didn’t find any using this search criterion, but I guess we did become overnight experts on camel droppings! We blazed the recommend trails, crossed countless and baron sandy desert areas, all to no avail. Eventually we decided to give it up and just enjoy yet another visit to our favourite Sahara region that is Morocco.

Needless to say we finally caught up with these sparrows and in an area we really weren’t expecting to, M’Hamed, the end of the road in the Draa Valley. In the end it was rewarding and has continued to thrill on each subsequent visit. Like a London bus, we didn’t find one, we found several. Now they are a regular whenever we tour Morocco and we have our own little private place where more recently we have counted near 40 individuals flocking together. Oh, and yes the wait was worth it, they really are a most attractive bird, both the female and male, in fact the two sexes look totally different and so give you the feeling of two species for one!

Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita

Classified as a critically endangered species the bald ibis is an unsurprising popular target bird for many visiting birdwatchers. Although it might also qualify for membership of the beautifully ugly brigade, it is nonetheless a superb reason for birding Morocco. Subject to some local projects for protecting both breeding and feeding areas, the population seems stable for now, but the future remains far from certain with coastal and inland developments continuing to threaten current protection and conservation work.

The Atlantic Ocean coastal stretch, both north and south of Agadir, is the main area for this ibis. The bird is normally found feeding a little inland from the main breeding area and as good a place to find them is in and around the Oued Massa nature reserve. North of the reserve is open and sparsely vegetated where these birds look for a favourite food scorpions! South of the reserve the local refuge tip near to Sidi-Ouassai is always worth a look as they are often there scavenging among the refuse. Also south of the village a track passes along the clifftops where these birds can often be seen in flight and feeding among scrub.

To present all the birds and their habitats in Morocco will require several blogs and although there are so many other favourites of mine not included in this brief introduction, I hope you will at least be tempted to visit this wonderful destination at least once in your lifetime.

To join me on various tours in Morocco, please see the link below: