Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Morocco - 2020 Spring Safari Road-trip

House Bunting getting to grips with a seedhead

Tour date: April 4th to April 12th  8 nights 9 days

"A unique High Atlas Mountain to Sahara Desert experience where you will be accompanied by one of the most experienced bird guides in Morocco".

Boumalne High Atlas Plateau

Day 1.  Arrival day and the group will stay 30 minutes away from the main airport of Marrakech. The gardens are rich in birdlife, so birding begins upon arrival.

Day 2.  We drive over the highest pass in the High Atlas Mountains, stopping at various vantage points to view specialist birds. We will also make a diversion, a loop that re-joins the main road, so we can find some difficult species such as Maghreb Wheatear. We stay overnight in the gateway to the Sahara Desert, the charming town of Ouarzazate.

Our journey through the High Atlas Mountains

Day 3.  We set-off south and will stop at a wadi, here we have great chances of finding elusive migrant birds hard to find elsewhere, before crossing the The Jbel Saghro (or Djebel Sahrho) Mountains. We will follow the Oued Draa and then divert eastwards to our next destination Erg Chebbi and it’s impressive dune complex. Our hotel here is ideally placed to find migrant warblers and some typical desert species.

Deep into the Sahara Desert

Day 4.  A day in the Sahara Desert and chances to see all of our target birds including Desert Sparrow, Egyptian Nightjar, Dunn’s Lark, Cream-coloured Courser, Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Lanner Falcon and many more, that will also include Sandgrouse species.

Our favourite desert Lark sp. The Hoopoe Lark.

Day 5.  We travel northwest to the high plateau of Boumalne de Dades. We should add several new species here to our growing bird list, the area is renowned for the site Tagdilt Track, but there are so many other great sites we will also visit.

Red-rumped Wheatear has to be one of the most impressive of wheatears in Morocco

Day 6.  We revisit our hotel in Ouarzazate, before departing we will visit various sites at Boumalne and stop at other sites before we arrive at Ouarzazate. On this occasion we will have time to explore the local lake and surrounds of our last desert location.

Gorges de Dades

Day 7.  Time to head back over the highest pass of The High Atlas Mountains revisiting a few special sites, including a river crossing and wadis. Being a week later we will have the chance to spot later migrants such Ortolan Bunting, Orphean Warbler and possibly both Eastern and Western Olivaceous Warblers etc. We will stay in the garden Riad as of our first night outside of Marrakech.

Emerging on the Atlantic side of the High Atlas Mountains

Day 8.  After birding the gardens before breakfast we will head up high into the High Atlas Mountains to the ski resort of Oukaïmeden. A real departure from our desert experience we will be looking for high mountain species such as Horned Lark, Crimson-winged Finch, Seebohm Wheatear, Alpine Chough and Red-billed Chough, we will also look for good views of Barbary Falcon and Moussier’s Redstart. Dipper and Common Rock Thrush might also be seen here.

Cream-coloured Courser always a favourite

Day 9.  A relaxed start to breakfast, packing and then airport transfers as required. Hopefully everyone will have enjoyed their adventure in an exotic and the unforgettable Morocco.

Sunrise over the Sahara Desert

For further information please email Worldwide Birding Tours at adm.spanish.nature@gmail.com

The highlight of the Sahara, an Egyptian Nightjar

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A Suburban Wildlife Garden - Andalucía

For a little bit of self-indulgence and fun, I thought about my suburban garden here in the heart of Andalucía and how, with a little foresight, it has progressed for the wildlife it attracts.

The whole of our garden is bare limestone rock and stratus steeply inclined westwards and sloping towards the main house. We have an area terraced in 3 parcels for plants; these were constructed several years ago and filled with topsoil. The only planting we have done is some fruit trees in the higher terrace, leaving the others to grow wild and then cleared in mid-summer. Of course the wild areas attract seedeaters and provide cover for lizards and insects, the flowering plants are a magnet for butterflies.

We have added a water feature in the shape of 2 small ponds, although one is very small. Here in Spain water attracts the birds more than the provision of food, I guess elsewhere in Europe more gardens tend to put feeders out and birds have learnt to visit those gardens, not so here. So the construction of the ponds and stocking them with natural plants has certainly worked for aquatic life and has been a huge success for Dragonflies and Damselflies, some 15 species have been recorded and 13 of those have been seen ovipositing in the ponds. To date the ponds have not been overly successful attracting many bird species, but there have been enough for me to hold out hope for the future.

The only concession we have made to the beautification of the garden is to add plants in pots around the terraced areas, a bit of colour and indulges my wife’s love of plants. So essentially it is a wild garden, bordered on the northern side by a neighbour, but by open common land to the southern side. Of course the common land provides habitat for a range of fauna and flora, worth mentioning are 8 species of orchid we have discovered growing on this open area.

The limestone slope of the garden has several wild figs growing whilst the rear bordering dry stone wall is sheltered by the overhanging limbs of 3 large oaks (Quercus rotundifolia), the leaf drop here provides a mulch as well as compost and many small plants are able to take a tenuous hold on life here, including the indigenous and colourful Antirrhinum majus (common snapdragon) is prolific during early spring through to the end of June. Several thistle species thrive and of course these attract Goldfinch and Greenfinch close to our house where we can view them while sitting on the terrace with a beverage or two.

Garden wildlife has produced one or two surprises, not least the appearance on two occasions of adult female Spanish Ibex (Capra pyrenaica), we even had 2 adult females on the roof of our house, which proved entertaining and expensive, as we had to replace a few pantiles. Whilst in the garden on another occasion, I had 2 adults attempt to come over our high wall whilst looking at me in some gone-off fashion as if I shouldn’t have been there. Not to be outdone, later in the same week I had a doe Red Deer attempt the same thing.  The dry stonewalls hold a small population of Brown Rat and this attracts the odd visit of the nomadic Weasel; it really is great fun to watch the busy antics of this mammal.

Of course I have an interest in all aspects of nature, but life from a very early age has seen my main interest focused on birds. I have been involved in the science of birds for over 40 years, although loathe that I am to admit it as a sign of my age, this is nearer to 50 years. So unsurprisingly I had set out to attract as many birds as possible into our garden. The provision of water was the first task followed by allowing areas of the garden to grow wild, only being controlled in mid-summer. So far, if I am honest, I am a little disappointed with the lack of regular visitors to our ponds other than the plentiful House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon, Blackbird, Goldfinch and Serin, with Song Thrush and Black Redstart visiting in winter. Frequent, but not daily visitors are Blackcap, Wren, Short-toed Treecreeper, Great and Blue Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Linnet. Odd birds have visited the margins of the ponds, not on a regular basis, but nonetheless exciting for me to be able to record, these include Booted Eagle (it took a Feral Pigeon from the side of the pond), Grey Wagtail, Woodchat Shrike, Northern Wheatear, Orphean, Subalpine and Bonelli’s Warbler, Firecrest, Cirl Bunting, Crested Lark with both Green Woodpecker and Great-spotted Woodpecker.


The ponds are just one aspect of a wildlife garden, planting or letting wild plants thrive gives a ready source of both insect and seeds to attract birds, all my finch species are regular visitors and these are joined in summer by Spotted Flycatcher, the odd Cuckoo and the fleeting appearance of the master of ambush the Sparrowhawk, no doubt attracted by the number of small birds frequenting the garden. Dense foliage and grasses attract small rodent too and in turn this has seen frequent visits to the garden by our local Little Owl with Tawny Owl also around during the nights, we even hear Eagle Owl on occasions. During summer I often hear and sometimes see Red-necked Nightjar hawking the sky above the garden and the adjoining open common land.

Other wildlife consists of an abundance of lizard species including the impressive Ocellated Lizard (Timon Lepidus) sometimes referred to by the grand name of Jewelled Lizard, frogs and toads, 42 species of Butterfly recorded so far, the odd snake species, 9 species of bat and can’t resist to mention 138 species of bird seen either in or above the garden.

So I finish with saying that with just a little foresight, a little planning and lots of patience you can establish your own wildlife garden and create your very own private nature reserve and a small piece of paradise to boot.

Note for interest: Part of the garden taken during May 2018.