Monday, October 28, 2013

Sunday Driver - Serranía de Ronda

After some long overdue rain, not much to be fair, the sun came out; deep blue adorned the skies, whilst not a single cloud dared appear. Well, what did you expect I might do on such a day? Yep, of course you are right, I headed out to survey my local patch, my realm, the Serranía de Ronda, that most magnificent of areas with such a diverse range of habitats, it simply is the most wonderful of regions to live and explore. Birds, animals, flowers, scenery, culture and great food, what a combination to ensure you never get bored.

Not unnaturally the good turn in the weather brought out the locals in force, walkers joined the mushroom hunters and families were picnicking in the local natural parks, whilst I joined the many Sunday drivers, at least until I left the main roads and went on my beloved track to Llanos de Libar, the starting point of my route. There were plenty of birds around, made flighty by the number of walkers in the area, but I did manage a few peaceful moments and photograph a couple of species. Some winter visitors made their first appearance for me, 3 Alpine Accentors hopping around on the track, whilst a female Ring Ouzel joined the throngs of Spotless Starlings feeding on haws in the Hawthorn cluster near to the beginnings of the track.

Southern Autumn Crocus
At a much higher altitude Southern Autumn Crocus provided an opportunity to attempt some arty approach with my toy camera! Huge mixed finch flocks were around the cultivated halfway mark along the track and these were joined by large parties of both White Wagtail and Meadow Pipit, both winter visitors to the area. Thekla Lark proved very obliging for a change, they obviously didn’t realise I had my camera with me, so managed some half decent photos, examples of which appear on this blog. Northern Wheatear are still passing through and a new one for me this season, a male Merlin, made an unsuccessful swoop at one of the wheatears.

White Wagtail (immature male) fresh from a bath
The highest reaches of the track was to prove disappointing due to the number of mushroom hunters walking around scouring the meadows for their bounty. Aren’t these important fungi protected in this UNESCO Biosphere Park? If not why not, they are an important food source for insect and animal alike. Judging by the harvest, some of the collectors must have been gathering for commercial gain too! Probably me being grumpy due to the disturbance these folk created and only managed a few scenery shots before departing.

Black Redstart - large numbers in the area and increasing
The change in weather, now warm with clear skies, accounted for the number of Griffon Vulture in the skies, such large gatherings riding the thermals and up draughts, there were literally hundreds around the valleys and mountain tops. The influx of Black Redstarts continued apace with good numbers all along the track, they will soon peak and settle to a lesser number for the winter. Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear were singing and enjoying the sunshine, whilst Rock Buntings continued to tease my efforts to get a decent photograph, little blighters!

Upper meadows of Llanos de Libar very quiet due to many mushroom pickers!
The end of my day was spent around the higher reaches of the Rio Guadiaro, where things were remarkably quiet for such a warm day. One thing that struck me was the lack of large numbers for Chiffchaff, they are normally abundant by now, but then again maybe they are more widely distributed due to the warm weather, seeking the sanctuary of the river in harsher conditions. Still, bent the old duffer’s back and took an upshot of the river and generally enjoyed wandering on the river bank.

Rio Guadiaro - got down low for this, but trouble getting back up, age!!
More photos of the day below.

Griffon Vulture - so many riding the thermals and up draughts.
Lower area of the Libar track
Thekla Lark - didn't spot the camera this time!
A Loosestrife? Not too sure about this one.. must look it up.
The ancient Oak Forest of the upper Llanos de Libar

For more information on the Serrania de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema please visit our website HERE

For information about Worldwide Birding Tours please use this LINK

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Autumn's Road to Nature

Its official, autumn post migration is tough work for the birder! Or at least at higher altitudes, when even familiar birds, ones that don’t migrate, can disperse to lower lands! Of course my patch, the Serranía de Ronda, is so peaceful now, no holiday traffic, not so many walking the trails, just me and my toy camera! Even though by local standards this is the quiet time for birds, the cross over from summer departing migrants and the awaited arrival of wintering birds, there is still plenty to make the journey out of the door worthwhile, besides I am getting bored doing admin tasks!!

Autumn's (October) road to nature
Lately I have been sneaking days out, when really I should (must) do some administration work for the tour companies. However the lure of the great outdoors has been irresistible and the promise of winter is fresh on the winds, so I do not want to waste opportunities whilst the sun shines. Our days are still warm, the nights a little cooler, so I guess its no surprise to find plenty of dragonflies, butterflies and plants still attracting attention whilst walking the area or just driving around. Work also provided some nice birds plus some interesting ones like one of the photos below of a Thekla Lark with an abnormal upper mandible, just look how long and hooked it is, quite the reverse from what it should be i.e. blunt ended. Also a colour ringed Griffon Vulture (immediately below) and a Black-winged Kite in the area, which was a very pleasant surprise.

Griffon Vulture, Serrania de Ronda, Andalucia, Spain - yellow colour ring black lettering 15P
The photos below of Thekla Lark, ringed Griffon Vulture (above) and Black-winged Kite were taken by Peter Bonne Eriksen and reproduced here with the kind permission of Peter. 

Thekla Lark with abnormal upper mandible.
Thekla Lark above... Really a very strange individual with abnormal upper mandible. Normally the bill is blunt and hook tip more associated with Crested Lark, although some juvenile Thekla can have slight hook to U.M. Thought this might interest some of you.

Black-winged Kite - rare visitor to my patch!
All other photos are mine and were taken with the Canon PowerShot SX50.

Rock Petronia / Rock Sparrow
Rock Sparrow or Rock Petronia above, not the best of photos, but it does help with id, especially the head markings which always show. Unlike the yellow breast spot seen on the bird to the left, this can be tricky to spot on most occasions. Another noticeable field mark is the faint white tip to the tail when the bird is flying away from you, which is very often the only view you get of this species!! I hope this might be helpful.

Western Willow Spreadwing Chalcolestes viridis
Collared Dove
Griffon Vulture
Red-rumped Swallow nest - wonder if they will use it next year?
White Wagtail - through the fence....

For more information on the Serrania de Ronda and the Sierra de Grazalema please visit our website HERE

For information on Worldwide Birding Tours please use this LINK

Monday, October 14, 2013

Morocco Birding Species List

Red-rumped Wheatear. 

A species list to supplement the original tour report, which can be found on this link. The tour took place between the 27th September and 6th October 2013. It was a time when most of the major autumn migration had been and gone, whilst the region was awaiting the arrival of winter residents. So the timing could have been better for a more comprehensive bird list, but despite the timing we managed a good cross section of species and managed the great majority of our target birds.

Greater Hoopoe Lark
Species List.

Ruddy Shelduck                  Tadorna ferruginea
Gadwall                                Anas strepera
Mallard                                 Anas platyrhynchos
Northern Shoveler               Anas clypeata
Eurasian Teal                       Anas crecca

GALLIFORMES: Phasianidae
Barbary Partridge                 Alectoris barbara
Little Grebe                          Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe           Podiceps cristatus
Black-necked Grebe            Podiceps nigricollis

Greater Flamingo                 Phoenicopterus roseus

PELECANIFORMES: Phalacrocoracidae
Great Cormorant                  Phalacrocorax carbo
Long-tailed Cormorant         Phalacrocorax africanus

Little Bittern                         Ixobrychus minutus
Grey Heron                          Ardea cinerea
Little Egret                           Egretta garzetta
Cattle Egret                          Bubulcus ibis
Squacco Heron                    Ardeola ralloides

Squacco Heron
CICONIIFORMES: Threskiornithidae
Glossy Ibis                           Plegadis falcinellus
Northern Bald Ibis                Geronticus eremita
Eurasian Spoonbill               Platalea leucorodia

White Stork                          Ciconia ciconia

Osprey                                 Pandion haliaetus

Black-shouldered Kite          Elanus caeruleus
Short-toed Eagle                  Circaetus gallicus
Western Marsh-Harrier        Circus aeruginosus
Montagu's Harrier                Circus pygargus
Eurasian Sparrowhawk         Accipiter nisus
Eurasian Buzzard                 Buteo buteo
Long-legged Buzzard          Buteo rufinus
Bonelli's Eagle                     Aquila fasciata
Booted Eagle                       Aquila pennata

Lesser Kestrel                     Falco naumanni
Eurasian Kestrel                   Falco tinnunculus
Eurasian Hobby                   Falco subbuteo
Lanner Falcon                      Falco biarmicus
Barbary Falcon                     Falco pelegrinoides

Common Moorhen               Gallinula chloropus
Red-knobbed Coot              Fulica cristata
Eurasian Coot                      Fulica atra

Stone Curlew                       Burhinus oedicnemus

Grey Plover                         Pluvialis squatarola
Common Ringed Plover       Charadrius hiaticula
Little Ringed Plover             Charadrius dubius

Eurasian Oystercatcher        Haematopus ostralegus

CHARADRIIFORMES: Recurvirostridae
Black-winged Stilt                 Himantopus himantopus
Avocet                                 Recurvirostra avosetta

Common Sandpiper             Actitis hypoleucos
Green Sandpiper                 Tringa ochropus
Spotted Redshank               Tringa erythropus
Common Greenshank          Tringa nebularia
Wood Sandpiper                  Tringa glareola
Common Redshank             Tringa totanus
Whimbrel                             Numenius phaeopus
Black-tailed Godwit              Limosa limosa
Bar-tailed Godwit                 Limosa lapponica
Ruddy Turnstone                 Arenaria interpres
Sanderling                           Calidris alba
Dunlin                                  Calidris alpina
Curlew Sandpiper                Calidris ferruginea
Ruff                                     Philomachus pugnax
Common Snipe                    Gallinago gallinago

Common Sandpiper
Slender-billed Gull               Chroicocephalus genei
Black-headed Gull                Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Audouin's Gull                     Ichthyaetyus audouinii
Yellow-legged Gull               Larus michahellis
Lesser Black-backed Gull    Larus fuscus
Little Tern                            Sternula albifrons
Gull-billed Tern                    Gelochelidon nilotica
Caspian Tern                       Hydroprogne caspia
Black Tern                           Chlidonias niger
Common Tern                      Sterna hirundo
Sandwich Tern                     Thalasseus sandvicensis

Black-bellied Sandgrouse    Pterocles orientalis

Rock Pigeon                        Columba livia
Common Wood-Pigeon        Columba palumbus
Eurasian Turtle-Dove           Streptopelia turtur
Eurasian Collared-Dove       Streptopelia decaocto
Laughing Dove                    Streptopelia senegalensis

European Scops-Owl           Otus scops
Pharaoh Eagle-Owl              Bubo ascalaphus
Little Owl                              Athene noctua

Egyptian Nightjar                  Caprimulgus aegyptius

Pallid Swift                           Apus pallidus
Little Swift                            Apus affinis
Alpine Swift                          Tachymarptis melba

Common Kingfisher             Alcedo atthis

European Bee-eater            Merops apiaster

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

Southern Grey Shrike          Lanius meridionalis
Woodchat Shrike                 Lanius senator

Eurasian Jay                        Garrulus glandarius
Magpie                                 Pica pica mauritanica
Chough                                Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Alpine Chough                     Pyrrhocorax graculus
Eurasian Jackdaw                Corvus monedula
Brown-necked Raven          Corvus ruficollis
Common Raven                   Corvus corax

Greater Hoopoe Lark           Alaemon alaudipes
Desert Lark                          Ammomanes deserti
Greater Short-toed Lark       Calandrella brachydactyla
Lesser Short-toed Lark        Calandrella rufescens
Crested Lark                        Galerida cristata
Thekla Lark                          Galerida theklae
Wood Lark                           Lullula arborea
Shorelark                             Eremophila alpestris
Temminck's Horned Lark     Eremophila bilopha

                                   Temminck's Horned Lark                            
Eurasian Crag Martin           Ptyonoprogne rupestris
Barn Swallow                       Hirundo rustica
House Martin                       Delichon urbicum

Coal Tit                                Periparus ater
Great Tit                              Parus major
African Blue Tit                    Cyanistes teneriffae
Eurasian Nuthatch                Sitta europaea

Short-toed Treecreeper       Certhia brachydactyla

PASSERIFORMES: Troglodytidae
Wren                                    Troglodytes troglodytes

Common Bulbul                   Pycnonotus barbatus

Zitting Cisticola                    Cisticola juncidis

Cetti's Warbler                     Cettia cetti
Savi's Warbler                      Locustella luscinioides
Eurasian Reed-Warbler        Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Western Olivaceous Warbler    Hippolais opaca
Willow Warbler                     Phylloscopus trochilus
Common Chiffchaff             Phylloscopus collybita
Iberian Chiffchaff                 Phylloscopus ibericus
Blackcap                              Sylvia atricapilla
Western Orphean Warbler   Sylvia hortensis
Greater Whitethroat             Sylvia communis
Spectacled Warbler              Sylvia conspicillata
Dartford Warbler                  Sylvia undata
Subalpine Warbler               Sylvia cantillans
Sardinian Warbler                Sylvia melanocephala

Spotted Flycatcher               Muscicapa striata
European Pied Flycatcher    Ficedula hypoleuca
Atlas Flycatcher                   Ficedula speculigera
Bluethroat                            Luscinia svecica
Black Redstart                      Phoenicurus ochruros
Common Redstart                Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Moussier's Redstart             Phoenicurus moussieri
White-crowned Black Wheatear           Oenanthe leucopyga
Black Wheatear                    Oenanthe leucura
Northern Wheatear              Oenanthe oenanthe
Seebohmi's Wheatear          Oenanthe seebohmii
Mourning Wheatear             Oenanthe lugens
Red-rumped Wheatear        Oenanthe moesta
Black-eared Wheatear          Oenanthe hispanica
Desert Wheatear                  Oenanthe deserti
Isabelline Wheatear             Oenanthe isabellina
Whinchat                              Saxicola rubetra
Stonechat                            Saxicola torquatus

Blue Rock-Thrush                Monticola solitarius
Eurasian Blackbird               Turdus merula
Mistle Thrush                       Turdus viscivorus

PASSERIFORMES: Malaconotidae
Black-crowned Tchagra       Tchagra senegalus

Spotless Starling                  Sturnus unicolor

Western Yellow Wagtail       Motacilla flava
Grey Wagtail                        Motacilla cinerea
White Wagtail                       Motacilla alba
Tree Pipit                             Anthus trivialis
Cirl Bunting                          Emberiza cirlus
House Bunting                     Emberiza striolata
Corn Bunting                       Emberiza calandra

Corn Bunting
Chaffinch                             Fringilla coelebs
European Greenfinch          Carduelis chloris
European Goldfinch             Carduelis carduelis
Eurasian Linnet                    Carduelis cannabina
European Serin                    Serinus serinus
Hawfinch                              Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Trumpeter Finch                  Bucanetes githagineus

House Sparrow                    Passer domesticus
Spanish Sparrow                  Passer hispaniolensis
Rock Sparrow                      Petronia petronia

Moroccan Sahara - Join us on a Safari Tour, see links below:
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

October Days

A bit of a blogfest right now as I have a window to play catch-up on my blog! So my apologies in advance, for what might seem like a deluge of blogs! I guess October is one of those in between kind of months, a period in time when migrants heading south have largely been and gone, whilst it is still a tadge early for our regular winter visitors to arrive, well at least this early into the month. And yet there is still so much to enjoy in the local mountains, butterflies, dragonflies and newly emerged plant life, a time of plenty for the nature enthusiast.

Thekla Lark
Here are just a few photographs of the past week here and I hope you enjoy this latest collection, all taken using the Canon PowerShot SX50. I am still feeling my way with this camera and like all good men, I haven’t yet read the manual… who knows what I might get around to taking photos of once I've done the manual? Anyway a few efforts below and I need help with some ids if folk can help?

Andalucian Bush Cricket

Epaulet Skimmer

Narsissus cavanillesii

Marsh Frog

Pied Flycatcher

Desert Darter.

Speckled Wood - much brighter here than N.Europe

Western Willow Spreadwing [Chalcolestes viridis].

Finally a local scene!

For more information on the Serrania de Ronda, Sierra de Grazalema please visit our website HERE

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