Cape Town 2019 Birding Tour. Trip Report

Start Date: August 15th, 2019

Number of species seen: 247

Group size: 4

All images by Carles Oliver

Day 1. During August 14th the tour participants arrived to Cape Town. The lovely accommodation where we were hosted welcomed them or organised a transport from the airport, and we all met in the next morning, when an early start was mandatory to catch up with our boat. Yes, today was offshore day! So, before raising we all met, and drove the short distance to the harbour. Our small boat was there waiting for us and during the short chating with our experienced captain we really saw the firsts birds of the tour. Harbault’s Gulls were really common, and the harbour had some Kelp (Cape) Gulls flying around. In a close dek we had a small flock of Ruddy Turstones, and a flyby Grey Heron pointed the right direction to connect with the first flock of Cape Cormorants having some rest in the outer dek.

Once the last details were ready, we sailed off in a really calm ambient. The raising light produced some epic views on the bay, while our boat was gaining distance from the coast. We didn’t have to wait long until we saw our first speciality; as usual, one or two Subantarctic Skuas were soon wondering around, to lose interest after some seconds. Our boat kept its way while enjoying flocks of Cape Cormorants flying low over the sea, and some African Penguins close to a small bay, probably getting in the ocean from a nearby colony. Soon after we got the firsts Sooty Shearwaters of the day, a sign of being close to leave the Bay, and soon as meeting the waves of the open ocean we contacted with the first of many White-Chinned Petrel. Some of these lovely birds were flying around along with a pair of Sooty Shearwaters when we got the first unexpected sight as 1 Flesh-footed Shearwater appeared along with the Sooties to do a pair of fasts flybies and go back into the sea!

Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) during our offshore from Cape Town. Image by Carles Oliver

That was a very fortunate encounteer since this species is normally easier to see in the North-east of South Africa. We were just chating about when the captain informed us of some whales around. The boat change the direction from South to West, and a pair of minutes later we were enjoying 2 Humpback Whales right in front of us. Humpback’s are often found around the boundary of the continental platforms, so this was the rights place for them to be. Happy after such a nice sight we turned South to keep exploring the ocean. 3 Shy Albatrosses pointed us the right way, even if they were not really close. We got some 15 minutes of rude sea, and after that the ocean appeared as calmed as the Aegean Sea in a summer day! More White-Chinned Petrels appeared and inmediatly after we got a very close Shy Albatross that landed some metres from our boat. One of the tour participants spotted the first Black-crowned Albatross of the tour while the captain adviced us about 3 Wilsons’s Storm Petrels in the back! Personally, I was concentrated in a majestic Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross coming from the front of the boat. I was enjoying the view when second bird appeared behind, clearly bigger and greyish than the Sooties Shearwaters around. It didn’t take long to see that it was a massive Southern Giant Petrel that came really close to the boat to fly around and stop on the sea. We spent some 10 epic minutes enjoying all of these species. Unfortunately the Wilsons’s Storm Petrel (the only ones of the tour) never came really close but some really close Pintado (Cape) Petrels were a good consolation for all tour participants.

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) just South of New Hope Cape. Image by Carles Oliver

For some time we were having Shy, Black-crowned & Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses flying around plus Cape & White-Chinned Petrels passing close to the vessel. We moved half a mile just to explore a bit beyond and there we got a superb Northern Giant Petrel that directly came to our boat to pass by extremely close before stopping and harrasing an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albratross.

We were all delighted of being so lucky when our captain got a message: a fish carrier was close. These massive boats fish in the deep water South of the Good Hope Cape and can wonder for weeks in large areas of the ocean.

Even 2 miles away from the boat the massive concentration of wildlife was evident. Thousands of sea birds were following it, including all the species that we saw before but also the firsts Cape Gannets of the trip. There were also an important number of South African Fur Seals  and tens and tens of Albratrosses of different species. We approached a bit more and a carefully scanning revealed at least two Antarctic Prions, a scarce species that was really celebrated by the tour participants. For some time we were trying to keep track on these small, lovely petrels to try to get some shots, but it was really impossible to get them close in the mess of 100s of Sooty Shearwaters, Cape Gannets, Antarctic Skuas and Albatrosses around.

Adult Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri).

Subantarctic Skua (Catharacta antarctica)

Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus)

 

Even when approaching we realise that there were some major species among the long queue of birds following the carriers. And now that we were close we could confirm at least 7 Southern Royal Albatross following the carrier. These authentic giants cover enormous distances to feed. It is known that they can come to Southern Africa to feed for some days from their nesting colonies in New Zealand!

The movement of the birds was constant, with waves and waves of birds getting in and out. And then, along with 3 Southern Royal Albratross we saw at least 2 Northern Royal Albatross, a really scarce species in these trips and something we never expected to see in our tours to South Africa! All tour participants enjoyed good views and photos on the birds, and we were about to go back to Cape Town when a last surprise was still waiting for us: Our captain found 1 Spectacled Petrel just passing by us along with White-Chinneds!! This was the perfect way to start our way back to the coast.

Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora)

This was our only one Spectacled Petrel (Procellaria conspicillata), a species not very common in the area.

Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora)

A mess of South African Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) moving along with Sooty Shearwaters (Ardenna griseus), Cape Gannets (Morus capensis), White-chinned (Procellaria aequinoctialis) & Cape Petrels (Daption capense), Kelp (Cape) Gulls (Larus dominicanus vetula) , Subantarctic Skuas (Catharacta antarctica) plus Shy (Thalassarche cauta) & Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris).

Back in the Bay, we still had a pair of stops to have close views in both Bank & Crowned Cormorants. Both species are endemic to Southern Africa, and globally endangered. We all had good views along with South African Fur Seals having a good sun bath.

Back on ground we had a moment to sit and enjoy some extra meal. The sandwiches on the boat were great, but it was also nice to enjoy some food on the ground, actually! After a passionate chating on seabird conservation efforts, we moved to our next location. Still time to visit two spots, both really close to our accommodation.

Crowned Cormorant (Phalacrocorax coronatus), an endemic near threatened of Southern Africa.

As anyone coming to Cape Town, it is always mandatory to enjoy some one of the African Penguins colonies around the city. African Penguins started to colonise some beaches in the Greater Cape Town about 25 years ago in a natural process of expansion. Our time in the African Penguin colony not only produced excellent views in this highly especialised birds, but also served as a first contact for the group with some common species such as Cape Wagtail, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, African Oystercatcher, Cape Turtle Dove, and Yellow Canary. We also enjoyed good views on Yellow Mongoose and Cape Hyrax, both endemics of Southern Africa and a good adding to our mammal list!

African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) really close to Cape Town.

The last stop in this long, intense, and incredible first day was to explore a small marshy patch really close to our accommodation. This small wetland is just under a rocky slope, providing a good mixt of species, from the hills to the reedbeds. A first look in the area allowed us to locate the firsts Blacksmith Lapwing of the tour, feeding in the short grasses around the pond along with 2 Crowned Lapwings. The water level in the pond was surprising low but stil supporting some birds including several Cape Teals, some Yellow-billed Ducks, African Black Duck, 1 Hottentot Teal, Malachite Kingfisher and 2 Red-knobbed Coots; Grey Heron and Little Egret were fishing around while a colony of Cape Weaver were busy preparing the nests. A lovely song came down from the rocky slope and soon were all enjoying a Cape Rock Thrush singing from the small ridge. A bit lower in the slope we found the 2 firsts Cape Spurfowls, while a Common Fiscal was overlooking the area in search of the last prey of the afternoon. The group withdrew to the van, that was parked by some Common Starlings & Red-eyed Doves. Happy after such a great day, we came back to our accommodation for a deserved dinner & rest!

Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris)

In this small pond we got the only 2 Red-knobbed Coots (Fulica cristata) of the tour.

Day 2. The second day of the tour was devoted to explore False Bay Eastern side. Here we were to explore a pair of spots expecting to find some of the specialities living in the famous fynbos and rocky areas around. Always with the Ocean as a background, we first explored a small plain with some rocky outcrops. The group didn’t move from the van when we found the first Cape Grassbird of the tour, along with Red-winged Starlings and a gorgeous male Orange-breasted Sunbird. Great start! In front of us, a short walk along a beautiful, open fynbos with a large rocky slope to the left, that soon produced Cape Bunting, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cloud, Zitting & Pipping Cisticolas (or Neddicky, its wonderful local name), Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow Bishop, and some Cape White-eyes. A pair of White-necked Ravens provided excellent views both in flight and on the ground.

The morning had been sunny and warm until that far, until a cold fog came front the Ocean. We kept on for a further exploration revealing one of the main targets of the stop, as after some scanning we located a Ground Woodpecker perched on a rock. We all enjoy great views on what soon turned up into two individuals. They were really active, moving from a pair of big boulders to the ground to feed, and then back to the boulder to rest. This is a endemic species of woodpecker living in areas without trees. They nest on banks, where they do excavate a tunnel as a kind of bizarre Kingfisher. As we were enjoying the bird, the only one Cape Siskin of the tour just flew over and stopped for some time in a dead branch! This is another endemic, and sometimes a hard target!!

Ground Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus) male providing excellent views.

Cape Rockjumper (Chaetos frenatus) was one of the main targets in the tour.

We were clearly in the good way. A pair of Rock Kestrels came to the sky just by the time that a Sentinel Rock Thrush started singing. It was being a great morning, but even improved when a whistle came from the slope. It took us quite a lot of scanning but we finally found out 2 Cape Rockjumpers moving on the grouns while calling each other. We could enjoy over 5 minutes of these birds moving in the slope, appearing and disappearing in the rocks. Mid way beetwen a Wallcreeper and Roadrunner, these birds are really worth to see!!

Back into the car, we had a short drive until our next stop, a small Botanical Garden by the hills carpeted with fynbos. In here we had a first contact with common species living in woodlands or tall scrubs such as Olive Thrush, Southern Masked Weaver, Laughing Dove, Brimstone Canary, Cape Robin Chat but also enjoyed great views in a small flock of Swee Waxbills and the only views on Cape Sugarbid and Blue-Mantled Crested Flycatcher of the trip!

Glad after this great morning, we had a small lunch break in a lovely road restaurant. After enjoying some local cuisine, we still had one stop before driving back to Cape Town. A close coastal wetland provided us with a different set of species. The wetland is surrounded by a rich grassland where we enjoyed Cape Spurfowl, African Pipit, Plain-throated Martin, African Stonechat, Bokmakierie and Jackal Buzzard.

Swee Waxbill (Coccopygia melanotis)

Kittlitz’s Plover (Charadrius pecularius).

Once in the marshy area, a general look into the area revealed large flocks of Hartlaub’s Gulls roosting in different islands and, along with them, a small flock of 3 Antarctic Terns. This is again a scarce species so we were really glad to enjoy them.

The vast salt lagoons and marshes were also having small flocks of Kittlitz’s Plovers as well as several Greater Flamingoes and Pied Avocets. A distant juvenile African Fish Eagle being harrased by a African Marsh Harrier female was also a great sight, Back in the car park, our 3 firsts Levaillant’s Cisticolas were singing around, allowing good views.

It was time to go back to Cape Town, were we would spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the wonderful False Bay Nature Reserve. Due to a traffic jump, we did arrive to the False Bay NR a bit later than expected. Despite that, the birding was stunning. In the lagoons around it was a complete set of the ducks living in the area including several Cape Teals & Shovelers, Yellow-billed Ducks, Red-billed Teals plus the most sought-after species: Southern Pochards (30+) and Maccoa Ducks (12+). We also got two flying Spur-winged Geese, a Purple Heron plus flocks of Cattle Egrets and Glossy Ibises. The ponds were also having small numbers of Little, Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes, all of them with nesting populations in the tip of Africa.

Southern Pochard (Netta erythrophthalma) in False Bay Nature Reserve at sunset.

A short walk around provided first views on Black-shoulded Kite and the endemics Grey-winged Francolin & Cape Sparrow. It was some gorgeous patches of reedbeds, and there we found our only 3 African Swamphens of the tour along with Black Crakes, a nice Little Bittern (African race), Lesser Swamp Warblers and flocks of the very soiny Little Rush Warbler. A really sought-after African Rail called a pair of times but, despite our hopes, never appeared in the out…

It was already time to go back to the car. Pied Kingfishers and Great White Egrets were hurring to catch a last fish when we discovered a small flock of Spotted Thick-knees in a plouged area. Back to car, we still had at least one more African Rail calling… No time for more, time to enjoy a nice local wine and have some dinner!

Day 3. The weather became stormy during the last evening, and during the whole night we were having a heavy rain in Cape Town. This day we were supposed to spend most of the day in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. When we did arrive the weather was even worst, with some strong wind. So we did a second coffee and wait for some time. After some wait we managed to spend 90 minutes of birding in Gardens, always with some rain and poor visibility. Still, we got good views in 2 Sombre Greenbuls, Common Chaffinches (introduced here by the British), Cape Batis, 4 Forest Canaries, Familiar Chats, 1 flyby Lemon Dove and several Cape Robin-chats. A lovely Knysna Warbler was singing in the undergowth but despite our efforts it was not possible to see this elusive bird. So, after some time in the gardens, it was clear that the weather was not going to improve so we decided to start moving to our next area to explore.

But before we could enjoy 2 Spotted Eagle Owls roosting in one of the largest trees in the Botanical Garden! It was really a pity that we had to cancel the wonderful walk we had in mind.

Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo capensis) roosting in Cape Town Botanical Gardens.

Southern Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) female, one of the commonest birds in the area.

Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra), one of the many endemics to enjoy.

The rain was still heavy, so we moved a bit earlier than expected to the West Coast National Park, a coastal area inmeadiatly North of town. The weather in that area was clearly better, with only some high clouds and a really comfortable temperature. Our first stop was to do a walk in a small open area. Here, with the dense scrubland surrounding the dense scrubland, we had first views on really common species living in this dry fynbos such as Karoo Scrub Robin, Bokmakierie, Karoo Prinia and Grey-backed Cisticola. A short walk around also produced Speckled & Red-faced Mousebirds, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, African Hoopoe, Ant-eating Chat and Cape Clapper & Karoo Larks. Small herds of Bontebock and Eland were feeding along with Common Ostriches and flocks of  Pied & Wattling Starlings. This was a really enjoyable place but time was running and we had to check a different corner. 

Karoo Scrub Robin (Cercotrichas coryphoeus), one of the most conspicuous birds living in the Karoo bushland.

Cape Shoveler (Spatula capensis) female.

Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler (Sylvia subcaeruleum)

South African Shelduck (Tadorna cana).

Stenbook (Raphicerus campestris), one of the mammals we could enjoy at West Coast National Park.

A small pond in the middle of the karoo beyond provided with other interesting birdlife. Here we got Black Crake, 2 Cape Shovelers and Little Rush Warblers while a small flock of Common Waxbills were drinking water. In the short walk to pond we got the first of many Black Harriers flying over the karoo in a majestic image. In the water, a pair of the endemic South African Shelducks were really celebrated. But the best was to come. After a while checking the pond, a call came from the swamp, barely few metres from us; a Red-chested Flufftail! No movements allowed and after a pair of minutes of wait, a Flufftail just runned in front of us!! Great!! In the way to car we still enjoyed more Black Harriers but it was already a bit late so we drove to our accommodation close to the National Park but we still had a last stop in an open area close to the B&B, where good views on 2 Fiery-necked Nightjars flying around, singing and performing a beautiful display!

Glad after this wet but incredible day, we had a good dinner and better rest.

Day 3. Early morning breakfast in our small sea-side accommodation, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from a small cliff. This day was calm and bright but it was a ruff sea out there! From our terrace we enjoyed some Rock Martins flying around but also sometime far more special. Distant in the sea we got at least two Southern Right Whales breathing under the waves. Not every day you enjoy some whales while having your first coffee!

After breakfast we went back to the North Coast National Park, to concentrate in a walk in the limit of the dense fynbos and a large grassy patch. The karoo was full of birdlife and we enjoy great views on Levaillant’s Cisticolas, Karoo Larks, Karoo Scrub Robins singing. The walk was extremelly productive. In a short time we got all 3 species of Mousebirds living here: Red-faced, Speckled and the endemic White-backed). Temperature was extremely pleasant and that favour small birds to show including Protea Canary, Bar-throated Apalis, a gorgeous Malachite Sunbird displaying and the really sought-after Layard’s-Tit Babbler in a great view at short range!

Bar-throated Apalis (Apalis thoracica).

Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens), endemic to South Africa.

The also endemic White-backed Mousebird (Colius colius).

The amazing display of Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa).

Southern Black Korhaan (Afrotis afra), another sought-after endemic.

Wonderful meadows at West Coast National Park.

A short incursion in the seaside provided with excellent views on African Oystercatchers (Haematopus moquini)

One of the many Black Harriers (Circus maurus) that we saw at West Coast National Park.

Once inside the grasslands, we enjoyed the songs of Bokmakierie mixing with the ones from Cape Longclaws and Cloud Cisticolas singing in flight, with a small herds of Elands feeding here and there, and Common Ostriches suddenly appearing from the karoo. An close, explosive song announced the first Southern Black Koorhan of the tour. This is another really sought-after endemic!

We were really lucky as the Koorhan was lekking close to us for some time, and all tour participants had amazing views on this bird. A further scanning soon reavealed some Cape Spurfowl (they had been noisy the whole morning) but also a flock of its more scarce relative, the Grey-winged Francolin, feeding by the end of the grass. A Cape Capped Lark just flew from our feet at the same moment that one of the tour participants found the first pair of Blue Cranes of the tour! What an amazing birds… The birds in this area look like endless! An African Hoopoe showed up in a dead tree, and soon was joined by a different bird; a lovely Acacia Pied Barbet!

Our next stop was to explore a shore of the main lagoon in the National Park. This big lagoon, mainly salty, has several patches of reedbeds due to small springs coming from the subsoil. Here we got lovely views in both Greater and Lesser Flamingoes but also Hadeda Ibises, several Black-winged Stilts and Pied Avocet plus close views on a pair of Cape Longclaw nesting in the grass by the path. Here we also got Cape Teals, Crowned Lapwings and our only one Common Sandpiper of the tour. Among the several Cape Wagtails we were greeted with a Yellow Wagtail, a rather unexpected sight!

The lagoon itself was having some waders including Eurasian Curlews, Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Whimbrels, Greenshanks, Common Ringed Plovers, Dunlins and 20+ Curlew Sandpipers. But probably most eyes were concentrated in some close African Oystercatchers. Around the bank we had some Western Reef Egrets and Grey Herons but also 1 Squacco Heron and Purple Heron. In the distance, we enjoyed 7 White-fronted Plovers moving along 2 Wood Sandpipers. Flocks of Great White Pelicans were moving over the lagoon, towards the depeer areas, mixing with the many Caspian & Gull-billed Terns that were pratolling it. In this location we also got 1 Black-tailed Goodwit, a really scarce species in the area…A really good bird for South Africa with most of the locations concentrated in this same lagoon!!!

Back to the fynbos, we headed to our next stop. We did some haults in the way to enjoy some Bonteboks appearing here and there. This beautiful antelopes were really close to extinction and by 1830 only 22 remained. Black Harriers were also stopping our way as we got not less than 6 of them in a short drive, including some close views. Once parked, we did a short walk in the area, a dry fynbos with some sandy open areas, and we soon had excellent views on our main goal, a Cape Long-billed Lark moving in the open area. But this corner was about to produce a bigger surprise. A small flock of birds was moving, mainly Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, but it also appeared our only Grey Tit of the tour, another sought-after endemic. And when we were about to go back to our van, a wonderful male Dusky Sunbird appeared in the vegetation to provide us with a short, but terrific view! This species, is normally referred to live in Northern areas, but it has been expanding the range in recent years.

We then had a stop for our picnic enjoying some great views on the central lagoon, with large flocks of Cape Cormorants getting in and out from the sea. For us it was time to leave this National Park and drive inland to the karoo areas. The 90 minutes long drive proved to be extremelly productive. Along with several large flocks of Southern Red Bishop along the way, we had two stops in our way. Still close to the coast, we spend some time in a farm land, where we found several African Pipits, at least 2 Nicholson’s Pipits (a recent split from Long-billed Pipit due partly to allopatric distributions and sedentary habits of both populations) along with them, 3 Capped Wheatears, some Red-capped Larks  and Malachite Sunbirds.

Next stop was already close to Ceres. Here, close to a mountain pass, we were surprised by 2 magnificient Verreaux’s Eagles and joined in the sky by 1 Peregrine Falcon. Here we also had first views for the tour on Alpine & African Black Swifts flying low at incredible speed!

Nicholson’s Pipit (Anthus nicholsoni).

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii), another majestic bird of prey for the tour!

Beyond Ceres and the hills around, the landscape faces a dramatic change. An inmense desertic plain extends in an endless way. This is the karoo, an incredible ecosystem for wildlife, and especially for birds. Due to the limitations of time in this pre-tour, we only had some hours in the afternoon to explore the area. In future tours, we will dedicate one day and a half to explore this amazing place!

Even with our limited time, we can say that we did pretty well. A first stop in a small valley surrounded by mild bushy hills produced a number of goodies. Here we enjoyed more endemics such as Cape Penduline Tit, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Long-billed Crombec, Mountain Wheatear and Karoo Thrush. But probably the most celebrated bird in this stop was a wonderful male Black-headed Canary superbly perched in a small reedbed. Unfortunately the bird didn’t stay there for long before it came back to the plains beyond the small valley.

During the next hour, a combination of road birding and some selected stops provided with some good addings like Lark-like Bunting, Rufous-eared Warbler, Grey-backed Cisticola, Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Chat and larks including Large-billed, Karoo Long-billed & Karoo Larks. A last stop was made in a dry stream and there we could enjoy good views on 1 male of the also endemic Namaqua Warbler that was singing in a really active way.

After such a nice (but unfortunately rather short) exploration of the karoo, we drove to our next accommodation beside Bontebok National Park, where we did arrive a bit beyond sunset.

Day 4. Bontebok NP & De Hoop Nature Reserve After a nice breakfast we drove the few miles into Bontebok NP, a small but really interesting protected area. Here we spent 3 hours in the morning, that were really productive!  & De Hoop Nature Reserve. Some drive into the reserve produced excellent views on Bontebok, Cape Mountain Zebra, Grey Rhebok and Red Hartebeest.

A fast scan in the grasslands of the park from an advantage point produced the first of several Denham’s Bustards during the morning. Here we had some Red-capped Larks singing and we were surprised by a Secretary Bird flying over us, stopping in the grasslands and feeding not far from Denham’s. A further stop to enjoy some distant Cape Mountain Zebras was even more surprising since we found a Karoo Korhaan just beyond them, moving in the tall grass!

Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)

This Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) was rather unexpected, and really celebrated!

Grey Rhebok (Pelea capreolus), a wonderful antelope living in small herds.

The Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra), a very endangered endemic.

Denham’s Bustard (Neotis denhami) at Bontebok National Park.

Duets of Bokmakierie (Telophorus zeylonus) can be listened in nearly every thick bush.

Levaillant’s Cisticola (Cisticola tinniens)

We still some more time driving in the area, adding 2 Southern Black Korhaans displaying and 1 rather unexpected Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk going for Levaillant’s Cisticolas in the grasslands. After this driving we explored the evergreen vegetation along the Breerivier. Here we got excellent views on Southern Tchagra, Bokmakierie, Pied Acacia Barbet, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, White-backed Mousebird, Bar-breasted Apalis, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Grassbird, Greater-double Collared Sunbird & Pin-tailed Whydah among many others.

We enjoyed a nice picnic by the Breerivier before driving to the coast for an afternoon exploration of the De Hoop Natural Reserve. In the between both natural sites we enjoyed many flocks of Blue Cranes feeding on the farming areas, many times around the water holes  but most of the times feeding in the fields, many times really close to the lane. Along with them several Capped Wheatears and African Pipits. Here we also enjoyed a pair of small flocks of Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark. Surprinsigly the only sight of the species during the tour. Around the ponds there were plenty of Egyptian Geese and Spur-winged Geese.

Once we arrived to De Hoop Natural Reserve we didn’t have to wait long until we got our first good bird since we had a stop by the lane to enjoy a small flock of Cape Vultures feeding in a carrion! Cape Vulture is an endemic species with decreasing populations. In Western Cape there is only one colony left, inside the De Hoop Natural Reserve. There were 8 birds and we even were granted with a massive Martial Eagle joining them in the carrion!

Blue Cranes (Anthropoides paradiseus), another endemic to enjoy during the tour.

Agulhas Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda brevirostris), a Lark only living around the Agulhas Cape.

Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres). There is only one colony left in the this South African province.

Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus), a superb endemic antelope living in South Africa.

Cape Spurfowl (Ptermistis capensis).

We went throught grasslands and fynbos with scattered herds of Elands, Bontebok and Red Hartebeest while driving towards the sea. In our way we got good views in a number of birds but nothing really special out of 2 Southern Black Korhaan displaying. Once by the ocean, we concentrate in locating the main goal for the late afternoon; to find some whales.

All the coast East from Cape Town has become really famous since host good densities of Southern Right Whales that come here from June to December. The can be seen all along the coast but there are some areas wheere the whales can come especially close to the coast.

After some scanning enjoying African Oystercatchers, Antarctic Skuas and Kelp Gulls we were able to locate up to 3 Southern Right Whales, two of them really close to the beach. It was a female and her calf that spent half an hour feeding and playing only 40 metres away from the sandy beach!

We were lucky and could enjoy the whales for long before driving to our accommodation in the De Hoop Natural Reserve.

Day 5. Knysna & Garden Route. This day we drove East to explore the famous Garden Route and its impressive montane broad-leave forests, the Southernmost of the Afromontane ecoregion! This can be considered as a small adding for our clients that year, and something not planned to do in futures issues of the tour, since we will broadly cover this ecosystem in our main tour exploring South Africa.

After leaving Bontebok early in the morning, we drove for a pair of hours until the Garden Route. During the way we had some nice birds as we got some Black Saw-wings here and there, and some Forest Buzzards along the way. Even some miles before arriving to Knysna the change in the habitat is evident with some wonderful corners covered by a gorgeous broad-leave forests and large Yellowwoods (Afrocarpus & Podocarpus) just by the road.

Knysna Turaco (Tauraco corythaix) is restricted to the coastal Afromontane forest in South Africa and a small patch inside Kruger National Park.

Grey Cuckooshrike (Coracina caesia).

White-starred Robin (Pogonocichia stellata).

Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus)

Our first stop in the morning was a short walk North of town. In a 90 minutes short-walk we enjoyed a good number of specialities including large flocks of Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler normally joined by some Cape Batises. Terrestrial Brownbuls & Sombre Greenbuls were also common and their calls filled the moist atmosphere. After some walk we were granted with great views on one of the targets that morning, as a Chorister Robin-Chat showed up by the path; a bird that was really celebrated for everybody in the group. Some monumental trees were along the path, with some Outeniqua Yellowwood (Afrocarpus falcatus) growing above 40 metres tall!

More and more Yellow-throated Woodland Warblers were showing in mixed flocks with Cape White-eyes and lovely Collared Sunbirds, but not far from one of these flocks we got 2 Southern Black Tits, the only ones during the tour! With little time to enjoy them as they were moving fast, a superb Grey Cuckooshrike appeared from the undergrowth to show superbly for a couple of minutes while moving in the branches. But the most celebrated species in this stop was the Knysna Turaco, another beautiful South African endemic. In our way back to the van we still enjoyed great views in 1 male White-starred Robin while moving in the low strate of the forest.

After a short driving we arrived to the second spot to explore the moist forest. A lovely path that partially runs along a small stream. Here we got some good birds even before getting in the forest. In a clearing by the van, some Amethyst Sunbirds were feeding around us. Once inside the forest, we were surprised by the 2 Lemon Doves taking off at close range. The birds flew into the forest and took us really long to relocate them! Some Knysna Turacos appeared in the while, and provided again excellent views. Some Red-billed Wood-Hoopooes were also moving high in the canopies. After such a nice start we decided to walk a bit more. Activity was low but we were granted by finding a lovely Knysna Dwarf Cameleon in the path!!!

Happy after such a great finding we kept a bit more inside the forest. And we were granted with some nice birds, at the end! A small flock of Black-headed Orioles were moving up the trees, calling and singing and we got nice views on them. Suddenly, a Greater Honeyguide appeared right in front of us, while a Klaas’ Cuckoo was calling deep in the forest. We moved a bit closer to the Cuckoo and then the Orioles started to move, and along with them we got 3 Grey Cuckooshrikes, 1 Olive Woodpecker and 1 Scaly-throated Honeyguide!

African Spoonbill (Platalea alba).

After some lunch we drove some miles to a salty wetland to look for different specialities. Here, our main target was the rather scarce Chestnut-banded Plover. And after some scanning we found at least 14 of them feeding in the salty marshes. The area was plenty of Curlew Sandpipers and Pied Avocets, and some Little Stints were also present.

Lesser & Greater Flamingoes provided gorgeous views in sunset light. Here and in the fresh water lagoons around we got good views on African Spoonbills, Whiskered Terns and the only Goliath Heron of the tour!

Day 6. Garden Route – Cape Town. Last morning of birding around the Garden Route. This time we choosed an open land with some old trees. The landscapes resembles the acacia thornbush even if the forest is really close. The area proved to be extremely productive!

Red-necked Spurfowl (Pternistis afer).

Southern Boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus).

Cape Longclaw (Macronyx capensis).

Yellow Mongoose (Cynictis penicillata).

Burchell’s Coucal (Centropus burchelli).

Southern Tchagra (Tchagra tchagra).

Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus).

We enjoyed a good mixed of open land, woodland & scrubby areas. Emerald-Spotted Dove, Fork-tailrd Drongo, Yellow Weaver, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Southern Boubou, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Burchell’s Coucal, Cape Longclaw, Red-necked Spurfowl, African Hoopoe, Southern Tchagra and Capy Glossy Starling to name a few, but the most celebrated bird of the last morning of the tour was the Knysna Woodpecker, again an endemic with a small range that appeared after a long scanning in a open woodland by the savannah open space

Really happy to enjoy all of these birds, we started the drive back to Cape Town where evening flights were waiting for all the tour participants, and the guides!

Please, take an eye to all our birding tours here: Barcelona Birding Point

Thanks for reading us!

Cape Turtle Dove (Streptopelia capicola).

 

 

 

Field ID: Thekla versus Crested Lark

Larks constitute a Family of birds normally living in open countryside with most of the species related to dry lands, grasslands and semi-arid countryside. Africa is the continent with the higher number of species of Larks, with a wide variety of them also living in Asia, Australia and Europe. Only a reduced number of Larks are present in the Nearctic.

Since most of Laks are adapted to live in semi-arid countryside, they are mostly terrestrial and normally have brown upperparts, often with stripes in both the upper side and the underside.

Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix signatus) female in a lava field. Affar Region, Ethiopia. November 2016. Image by Carles Oliver.

It is because of this that Larks are often seen as one of the most difficult groups of passerines for many birdwatchers. In Europe, probably one of the most trikky species to tell apart are Thekla & Crested Larks. Even local birdwatchers with a long experience in the field, show evident problems to tell these two species apart from each other.

Here we will try to help a bit in this sense, remarking some interesting differences between both species.

Many, many field guides remark some general differences between Thekla & Crested Lark. Some of the most important field marks to point out a Thekla Lark from a Crested are its shorter crest, and its rather shorter, heavier bill. Well, despite these remarks can be useful in many cases, we should not try to identify these species only based on the length of the bill or the crest. This is not only because of young Crested Larks tend to show shorter bills and crests, but also because of intraspecific differences in the length of the bill inside the same species, gender differences and also because appreciation of these characters in the field can be difficult depending on the light, the distance to the bird and the angle of observation.

In the next lines we will try to point out some interesting tools for a correct field identification of the European races of these species:

COLORATION & STRUCTURE,

The general coloration of Thekla Lark is grey to dark brown, while Crested Larks are normally close to be sandy colorated. Always being light brown. Structurally, Thekla Lark is slightly smaller, but also more compact and shorter tailed than Crested Larks are. Its winds are also shorter, and the general sensation of the bird when flushed out is of a “large Woodlark”. Crested Lark shows longer “hands”, and the sensation of the bird in flight is “diffuse”. Still, these differences can be difficult to notice in the field when not used to dealing with Larks.

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Crested & Thekla Larks ringed by Sergi Sales in Lleida Steppes, Catalonia. Image by Josep Martínez Ortiz.

UNDERWING,

Underwing is one of the most useful remarks to tell apart both species. Crested Larks always show creamy, brownish underwing while Thekla Lark shows whitish underwing covers. This is useful in all plomages and all ages, at least for the European races of both species.

BREAST MARKINGS,

The most useful remarks to identify correctly these species in the field are, by far, the facial and breast markings. About the breast, Crested Larks show a fine streaked, and this delicate pattern clearly expands to the flanks in all plomages. The markings have a diffuse end in the breast. Compared with those in Cresteds, breast markings in Thekla Larks appear heavy, being more a dropping than a barring. In fact, many people compare the breast pattern of these two species with that in Eurasian Sparrowhawk versus Northern Goshawks, being Crested Lark the closer to the fine  streaked Sparrowhawk, and Thekla Lark the one with heavy dropping resembling Northern Goshawk. Moreover, breast markings in Thekla Larks show an abrupt end, and you easily can draw an imaginary line that separates the markings from the really white belly. This is not possible to do with Crested Larks since their diffuse barring does not show a clear border. Its extension to the flank makes this even more evident.

FACIAL MARKINGS,

One of the things we must think about when dealing with these species is to pair attention to the facial markings. Thekla Lark presents a really complex facial pattern if compared with those in Crested Lark. Thus, Thekla shows evident complete eye-ring; a well defined, long supercilium that; almost complete malar stripe and a even (but not always), with some barring in the ear covers (unstreaked in Crested), and a white dot just behind the submoustachial stripe. Most of these patterns are absent or are really diffuse in Crested Larks. Most Crested Larks show a supercilium, but are also not well defined and barely extend beyond the eye.

When looking at the head of a Thekla Lark, all of this produces the sensation of treasuring a lot of information, and thus it contrasts a lot with the head of a Crested Lark, giving the sensation of emptiness or lack of information.

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Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) in Lleida Steppes, Catalonia. May 2020. Image by Carles Oliver

BILL,

Crested Lark shows a longer, thinner bill than Thekla Lark, with a noticeable hooked tip in the upper mandible. Be aware about young Crested Larks, that often show shorter bills.  A close view with good light in a Crested Lark, it should be possible to see the darker tip of the bill (absent in Thekla Lark).

TAIL,

Thekla Lark’s tail is slightly shorter than Crested’s. Regarding ringing bibliography, tails in Thekla Lark males rank from 54 to 62mm, while in Crested Larks go from 59 to 69mm. This difference links perfectly with what was explained about the structure of both species, as Thekla Larks is clearly more compact in flight, and can recall a much shorter tailed species. The longer tail in Crested Larks tends to make this species somehow bigger.

But beyond the length, tail coloration can be also a good point to tell these species apart. Again Thekla Lark shows a more contrasted pattern, with brown to orangish outer tail feathers and upper-tail coverts. The tail also shows a strong contrast between these feathers and two blackish central bands. All of this is again reproduced in Crested Larks, but they lack the rusty tinge in the upper-tail covers. Moreover, the contrast between the outer feathers and the inner bands is poor, and in many worm birds it tends to disappear!

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Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) in Lleida Steppes, Catalonia. March 2019. Image by Carles Oliver

HABITAT SELECTION,

In Europe, these two species coexist in Mediterranean areas, and many times we can find them in areas with a large fragmentation of habitat as a result of human activity or environmental factors. Thus, we often find both species living side by side whether because their habitats are mixed or because they touch each other. But even if in most cases we cannot trust only in habitat selection to identify these birds, is still a useful tool that can help us in the fields.

  • Thekla Lark is a specialist that can be only found in areas of natural steppe and semi-desert vegetation. The bird can be found in plains and ondulations as long covered by natural steppe or semi-desert vegetation. In addition, Thekla Lark is also found in hillsides with low scrubby vegetation (even if it is quite dense) with some sparse trees.
  • Crested Lark is a generalist species. It has successfully adapted to live in farming areas, but also in periurban and industrial soils, where they find excellent conditions based on bare soils. Crested Lark tends to avoid any hills or mountains, but in low densities can be found in small patches of proper habitat inside hilly areas (even tiny farmed valleys inside a large hilly area can support some Crested Larks).

As many hillsides and steppe areas are just surrounded by farming areas, both species can be detected in several locations almost at the same time. Moreover, Thekla Larks living in hillsides with dense scrubs, may use the surrounding farm lands to feed, even if they keep using the hillsides to nest.

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Crested & Thekla Larks complex spatial distribution due to habitat selection in a Los Monegros. Aragón, Spain. June 2016. Image by Carles Oliver

Last but not the least, both species are resident. However, they tend to do small winter movements. Crested Larks tend to associate with large mixed flocks of other Larks and Finches in winter, while Thekla Lark is less likely to do so.

As a general conclusion, the best way to tell apart Crested from Thekla Larks is to take in count different aspects including face patterns and general coloration. Tail & wing lenght are also important, but probably some experience is required for a correct identification if only using this features. Underwing and tail pattern are the best way to tell them apart, since they are constant in all ages and plomages, but many times to see these details is not easy in the field. Habitat selection can be also used, but it is necessary to be aware on how close both species can be found in the field.

I hope that these tips may help you on the trikky world of larks ID. Now it is time to test your new skills in the field!

Bibliography: Demongin L. (2016) Identification Guide to Birds in the Hand. Beauregard-Vendon.

Catalonia in winter Birding Tour, 2020 Trip Report

Number of days: 6

Tour participants: 5

Dates: February 6th to 11th, 2020

All images along the tour by Brian Buffery, Giovanni Grieco and tour leader Carles Oliver.

The tour participants to the tour flew into Barcelona prior the tour started. We met the next morning in their hotel neat the airport for an early morning transfer to the Pyrenees. Temperature was high as a result of several days of high pressures, and temperatures escalating above 20C in the days before the tour started.

Day 1. Once in the Pyrenees, we drove up until 1600 metres high and spent some time in a rocky slope with small cliffs. There, we got good views on Rock Buntings, singing and showing up really well. European Crested Tits were also noted, but we didn’t have any other good bird. From there, the lovely lane brought us throught Mountain forests with small flocks of Mistle Thruses and Common Crossbills. Once the forests end, the lane crosses some alpine meadows show. Due to the long period of high temperatures, the snow was few, and concentrated in a certain slopes. We spent some time scanning, with little success. Only a few Eurasian Griffons were moving in the sky, joined by 1 Common Raven.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), a common but always wonderful flycatcher to see.

We spent some time scanning the snowed slopes with little luck, and we were about to leave when 3 Snowfinches flew from a spinned slope, really high up in the mountain. Despite teh birds were extremelly far away we decided to spend some time scanning the slope.  But nothing. Sowe drove half a mile, and scan again. And now we were more lucky as a nice flock of about 25 Snowfinches showed in the sky, flying from a close slope. The birds we actually doing some short flights to inmediatly reland in the slope, so we got excellent views on the birds walking on the snow, feeding and preening. Unfortunately all birds were a bit far up in the slope, so not really excellent chances for photography. We spent about half an hour waiting for the birds to eventually come down the slope and have closer views. Unfortunately the birds never came really closer.

Happy after the enjoying a species I was not expecting to find, we kept our way and came back to the mountain pass. There, there was a good number of Eurasian Griffons passing by, producing some really good views. Here we also got excellent views on a flock of Alpine Chough flying over, calling, and playing in the sky as only a Chough can do.

Only a pair of minutes after the Chough did its show, a large raptor was seen along with Eurasian Griffons. Moving slowly above the slope, an impressive adult Lammergeier was moving to our position. Everybody connected with the bird of prey way before the bird was close, so everybody enjoyed excellent views on the bird approaching us… The majestic bird just passed over us, the snow reflecting on the underwings so we all enjoyed the details of the axiles, the underwinds and its iconic moustache. The bird was around for some minutes, and we still had a second Lammergeier passing by before we moved to our accommodation for some rest.

We got our first views on Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) in the first morning of the tour.

After some resting, we still had time to explore a wooded slope in search of some new species. The area was full of Common Crossbills, some of them singing. A lovely Iberian Green Woodpecker was a celebrated spot in the group. The area was full of birds: Eurasian Siskin, Mistle Thrush, Rock Bunting, Shorttoed Treecreeper and Crested Tit were also noted. Big flocks of migratory Common Chaffinches were around. We did a number of stops along the lane, and among them 2 Citril Finches passed over our heads, calling. Unfortunately only one tour participant had a view in these birds.

The afternoon was going away and as the night came we moved to a proper spot for the most difficult of the Owls in Europe. We didn’t have to wait long because soon after sunset we had a Tengmalm’s Owl singing quite close to our van! The bird started singing about 80 metres away so we just walked inside the open woodland, trying to find the small owl. We enjoyed a wonderful listening but despite our efforst, we never so this scarce owl!

Sunset is to arrive to the Pyrenean subboreal forest.

Day 2. After a good rest, we just started our second day by spending some time in the same lane where we were the last afternoon. Our goal was to have better views on Citril Finches. But that morning we were no lucky about them. After this we spent the rest of the morning in a mountain pass closeby. A huge flock of above 70 Red-billed Choughs was feeding on the greenish slopes that were supposed to be snowed. High temperatures for 15 days in a row right before the arrival of the group had been meltering the snow, and despite our efforts we were uncapable to find any Alpine Accentor, the main goal of the morning.

Crag Martin (Ptynoprogne rupestris) showinfg the tail markings.

After lunch we drove to the steppes for some afternoon birding. Our first stop was to check some corners looking for one of the most sought-after species in this habitat. Meanwhile, we enjoyed very much to find a large flock of over 150 Eurasian Tree Sparrows. Several other species were recorded around including Eurasian Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting, European Stonechat, Eurasian Skylark, Northern Lapwing, Common Kestrel, Crested Lark, Common Buzzard, Meadow Pipit and several more!

To spot Little Bustards (Tetrax tetrax) out of the nesting season can be difficult.

In our second stop we were more lucky, and after some scanning we found 12 Little Bustards in a nearby field. They were hiding in a filed with tall vegetation and we could only count them after a long wait and search of the small neck appearing above the grass. While enjoying them, we got other good birds around including 1 Great White Egret, Grey Heron , Mistle Thrush and Zitting Cisticola.

But a good surprise was to come. In a nearby field, a large flock of over 150 European Golden Plovers was resting. It look like the typcical large premigratory flock. While trying to count the Bustards, Gio was scanning the plovers and he was lucky enough to find out a 1st winter Eurasian Dotterel right in the center of the flock! What a nice spot!!!

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) in a flock of Golden Plover close to Linyola.

After such a great spot we just moved to a nearby wetland for the last stop of the day. The large fresh water lagoon is placed in the middle of a large plain, and attracks good number os Western Marsh Harriers that roost in the reedbeds. We counted no less than 23 of them! Eurasian Teals, Northern Shovelers, Common Snipes, Reed Buntings, Water Rail, Northern Lapwings, Redcrested Pochards and big numbers of Great Cormorants and Western Jackdaws were all enjoyed, but probably the best birds for most of the tour participants were the Western Swamphens showing in the reedbeds, and noisily calling as the sunset approached. A wonderful end of the day!

During the afternoon we found this roosting place with +150 Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus).

Day 3. This day we drove up a long valley, into the a Catalan shire called Pallars, to look for some Pyrenean especialities. Our first stop was in a huge gorge. There, we hope for the most wanted bird for many birdwatchers visting the Pyrenees in winter, the Wallcreeper. During a pair of hours we walked and scouted the rocks all around, hoping for any movement in the cliffs. Whitebellied Dippers were singing, very active in the river, and we counted 4 in single corner of the river! Some Eurasian Griffons were also moving in the sky, and didn’t take long until the massive silouhette of 1 Lammergeier appeared from the massive cliffs. Red Kite and Rock Bunting were also enjoyed.

After a long search, we finally found an extremelly distant Wallcreeper in a big, plain rock face. Only 1 tour participant saw the bird, so we all spent a lot of time trying to refind the bird. Some minutes passed away, and nobody was having the Wallcreeper…but suddenly a something moved in the rocks really close to us, inmediatly at the other side of the river: Wallcreeper!

Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), always a challenging bird!

We were having a Wallcreeper right there, and this time everyone in the group found the bird without difficulties! We spent a pair of minutes enjoying of the bird moving in the rock face, beside a huge cavity. As always, it was great moment for anyone in the group!! After taking photos and recording videos we were enjoying the bird until it moved away from the rock face… and then came the typical question, was that the same bird that we were looking for extremely high up, or was it a different one? Who knows…

In this stop we still enjoyed a pair of other good birds before going for a coffee stop as Shorttoed Treecreeper and Eurasian Crag Martin showed really well in our way to the car.

After our pic-nic stop, we spent a pair of hours exploring a wooded lane, a wonderful spot for Citril Finches. Again, Common Crossbills were common and active. There were flocks of Eurasian Goldfinches and Common Chaffinches and, while scanning the flocks looking for something different, we enjoyed 2 superb Lammergeiers flying ove us in beautiful light. After a long, long scanning, 2 Citril Finches were seen when driving down the lane so we inmediatly stopped, with the finches calling around and moving in the trees for a some seconds before they moved away as they seemed associated to a huge flock of Common Chaffinches. We scanned over and over the flock but we were uncapable to refind them. Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Hawfinch were noted in the while.

One of the 4 Lammergeiers (Gypaetos barbatus) seen during that day.

The last stop of the day was to look for Eurasian Black Vulture. The Catalan Pyrenees holds a small population of about 50 individuals, concentrated in a pair of valleys but expanding in range and numbers. The whole day had been poor in raptor activity and, when we did arrive to the observation place, the raptor activity was minimal. Still, there were some Eurasian Griffons flying and after some hard scanning we found at least three distant Eurasian Black Vulture circling along with them. Another Lammergeier was also found, by the way. Here we also enjoyed some small birds including Cirl Bunting, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Sardinian Warblers. After this stop we drove back to our accommodation for a good dinner and rest.

Day 4. Early morning start to explore the steppes. After a transfer we did arrive to the dry lands where most of the specialities are to be found. Unfortunately the weather was not good at all, as it was extremelly windy… Windy days can be terrible in the steppes, being quite easy to miss most (or all) the good birds in such a conditions.

But we were confident so our first stop was in a corner were Sandgrouses use to feed in early morning. A first look to the area revealed no activity at all. Only 1 or 2 Calandra Larks were flying, almost no songs in the sky. A distant Red Kite was the most notiable… We moved slowly along the lane, carefully scanning the fields that were hurt by the wind. It took us a good while until we found the first Blackbellied Sandgrouse on the ground. A male. Did an effort to get the scopes out so everybody could enjoy despite the really strong wind. Some minutes later, a small flock of 5 Pintailed Sandgrouses moved from a nearby filed, coming closer to us. It took some time to put everybody in the birds as they mild so well even if it was so few grass! Our happiness was complete when we realised that there were also some Blackbellied Sandgrouses on the ground, only few metres away from the Pintailed’s!! So, at the end, we had both species together side by side, feeding, preening and enjoying the hard morning weather!

Due to very strong winds, this is the best image we got on a Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) during one of the last tours to Morocco. No images during this tour…

A short drive in the area around provided us with good views on Thekla, Calandra & Sky Larks. Also Little Owl, Iberian Grey Shrike and Redbilled Chough. Due to the wind it was again little movement of raptors in the sky, or that is what it looked like until 4 Golden Eagles appeared in the sky at the same time! Two adults and 2 juveniles playing long time with the wind at short range.

This obliging Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) was the first of the 5 seen during the day!

After a coffee stop we still had time to enjoy some good views on Lesser Shorttoed Larks before changing the habitat to explore some cliffs nearby.

The short drive to the clay cliffs produced several White Storks, some of them in their nests, Spotless Starlings, and Common Buzzards. Once arrived, we were suprised by a bird moving in the cliff.A Wallcreeper!!! Amazing. It is not normal to see a Wallcreeper so low, and it is even more strange to see it in a clay cliff which is not especially in the middle of the plains! Again everybody enjoyed the bird while moving up. Higher, a Blue Rock Thrush was also really showy. After a pair of minutes enjoying the bird we lost it and spent some time looking for the Black Wheatears living in this spot. After some minutes we had a pair of Black Wheatear moving in the broken slope. Here we also got the firsts Black Redstarts and Common Chiffchaffs of the tour.

This Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) was totally unexpected, and shared cliff with Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear.

After such a wonderful stop, we faced our transfer to Ebro Delta, a pair of hours of driving with several surprises in the way. The area between Lleida Steppes and Ebro Delta is a complex, hilly area crossed by Ebro river. It is good nautral border and a natural corridor that many birds use between the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrenees. The afternoon was sunny and calm and soon we realised that it was a good number of birds of prey migrating. After a pair of stops we had 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle, 1 Black Kite, 1 Northern Goshawk, several Common Buzzards and a few Eurasian Sparrowhawks moving North.

Once in Ebro Delta, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Northern Bay, where we enjoyed good views on a long list of species. Slender-billed & Audouin’s Gull were the most celebrated but the list also included Whiskered, Caspian & Sandwich Terns, Black-necked Greve, Red-crested Pochard, Kentish Plover, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Knot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Little Stint, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Common Redshank, big flocks of Greater Flamingoes and Mediterranean Gulls plus ruff views on a female Bluethroat that showed shortly due to the strong wind! After such a great end of the day, we drove to our accommodation for a good rest and plentiful dinner. 

Day 5. After enjoying our breakfast we went out to take a fast look to a small pond just by our hotel. There, we had a good surprise as a male Little Bittern moved in the reeds providing good looks. Cetti’s Warbler and Little Egret were also seen there!

But our first serious stop of the day was by the largest fresh water lagoon in the delta, called l’Encanyissada. A pair of stops were enough to catch with some of the most sought-after species. While flocks of Greater Flamingoes were passing over, we enjoyed wonderful views on Western Swamphens. In the lagoon there were flocks of Blacknecke Grebes but out attention was focused in the reedbeds. Cetti’s Warbler was showing well in some small plants by the reeds and 2 Water Pipits were seen in a nearby channel along with Green Sandpiper. But all alarms went on when a “tak-tak” came from the reeds. There was a Moustached Warbler just along the edge of the reedbed, calling and moving really low in the brown steems. It didn’t take long until all tour participants were enjoying good views on this shy species!

But the bird spectacled kept going. A flock of 5 Wood Sandpipers flew over right at the same time that 1 Whitespotted Bluethroat male called from the reedbed. A bit of scan was required before all tour participants enjoyed excellent views on this bird. The male was actually quite showy and it was calling a pair of times as it was moving along the shore of the channel. A further scan along different channels revealed at least 5 Bluethroats, 2 of them being males in full summer plomage.

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) in typical winter habitat.

After such a successful stop we decided to move on to explore some salt marshes. The area is an important nesting place for several species, including Audouin’s Gull, and we could see that many of them were already back in the area. At least 80 Audouins’s were there along with Caspian Terns, Grey Plovers, Kentish & Common Ringed Plovers, 100s of Dunlins and at least 7 Little Stints in the middle.

Audouin’s Gulls (Ichthyaetus audouinii) already busy in their colony.

From there we end the morning by exploring a sand bar facing South. This is a good place where to enjoy waders, Terns and Gulls. Several Great Crested Grebes were on the sea, as the sand bar protects a large inner bay. Along with them, 4 Blackthroated Divers were fishing and offering great views, but the best was to discover 1 Great Skua resting on the sea, far away but still offering a god view. Closer, flocks of Dunlins & Kentish Plovers were really appreciated by the group, along with the Slenderbilled Gulls side by side to Mediterranean Gull. A good way to walk the path of telling them apart. Northern Gannet and Ruddy Turnstone were also enjoyed in this stop.

Western Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) has become a common view in Ebro Delta.

To enjoy our picnic we went inside a wooded hide. From the hide, it didn’t look like a lot of birds, but we were having a good fun with the nice views on Western Swamphens and Cetti’s Warbler while a Booted Eagle was circling. Suddenly, a Great Spotted Cuckoo crossed the lagoon to stop right beside the hide! Wonderful!! This species of cuckoo arrives really early in the season and by the end of February you can expect some of them moving around, but due to the few time we had in the steppes, I was not expecting to see them at all!

Slim numbers of Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata) overwinter in Ebro Delta.

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) is a scarce migratory bird in Ebro Delta itself.

During the afternoon we drove up along a lane to explore a mountainous areas some 30 miles away from Ebro Delta. It is extremelly windy and we had to drive up and down the lane a pair of times before we succeed, but finally we got what we were looking for and 2 Alpine Accentors were seen in the lane, right in front of the car!!! The birds were just feeding by the lane despite the extremelly strong wind but unfortunately they flew off down the slope before we could take any image of them…

Spanish Ibex (Capra hispanica) in a typical view.

Really happy about this spot, we moved to our final stop. A lovely Mediterranean gorge hosts some really good specialities. Weather conditions were hard so bird activity was really low. Still, we got good views in a female Spanish Ibex and we were about to leave when a call came from high up the cliff and a wonderful male Bonelli’s Eagle came down to inmediatly display over the valley. It called again just when dramatically dived in the sky to come back to the cliffs in a fast movement!!! What a incredible sight to end the day!!!

Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) displaying in late afternoon.

But this was not all. After dinner we just went out to the hotel grounds, were the tour participants enjoyed wonderful vews on 1 Eurasian Scops Owl that is actually nesting in a nest box right there!!!

Eurasian Scops Owl (Otus scops) already at nest at the end of February!

Day 6. Our last day of the tour we spent the morning in the delta. In our first stop we were scouting a large marshy area: big flocks of Blackwinged Stilts and Pied Avocets were resting there along with Northern Shovelers, Pintails, Blacktailed Godwits, Common Kingfishers, Shelducks and other goodies. Beyond this spot, the paddy fields around provided good birding and an accurate scan we enjoyed good views on 30 or more Ruffs but also Dunlins, European Golden Plovers, huge flocks of Glossy Ibises, obliging Lesser Shorttoed Larks and 1 Peregrine Falcon (probably a calidus race).

Young Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) love to feed in the paddy fields.

It was time to head back to the airport but we still had time for a pair of fast stops around Barcelona. Our picnic stop by the airport reported Water Pipit. The afternoon was rainy and cold but we still tried to get the impressive Red-billed Leiothrix, an alien species living in some well forested areas in Greater Barcelona. By the time we did arrive, the temperature was low but we still managed good views on Firecrest as well as Monk Parakeet, Coal, Longtailed and European Crested Tits.

Ans this was the end of this wonderful tour to the Pyrenees, despite the really high temperatures!! Already ready for our next adventure, happening very soon.

Do you want to join us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birding Trip Report. Gàmbia, Desembre del 2019

Dates: Del 8 al 14 de Desembre del 2019
Número de participants: 3
Número d’espècies: 270

Totes les imatges del report són obra del tour leader Sergi Sales

Dia 1: Aquest primer dia ens aixequem amb tranquilitat per gaudir d’un abundós esmorzar. És un dia assolejat, amb 20ºC i gens de vent. El dia anterior, el grup ha arribat a l’hotel a l’hora de sopar després d’un vol directe des de Barcelona i els habituals endarreriments aeroportuaris a l’arribar a Gàmbia. Un cop recuperats després d’un bon descans i un abundós esmorzar, ens trobem amb el nostre guia local al lobby de l’hotel per començar a gaudir dels ocells de la zona!
La primera parada del tour serà la a zona de Kotu, una barreja d’ecosistemes amb manglars, zones agrícoles i petites restes de selves litorals. La
parada que fem a un pont sobre els manglars és espectacular amb Giant, Pied, Blue-
breasterd, Malachite Woodland Kingfishers: 5 espècies espectaculars al mateix
sector!

Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis).

Lesser Honeyguide (Indicator minor).

També estan presents un bon assortit de limícols i ardèids. Apareixen els primers Long-
tailed Cormorant del tour. Un grupet de Blue-cheeked Beeaters sobrevola la zona i
cacen insectes des dels cables de la llum.
Comencem a endinsar-nos per zones agrícoles amb petites clapes selvàtiques on veiem
Senegal Coucal cantant i Western Red-billed & African Grey Hornbills. La sorpresa en
aquests moment va ser l’observació d’un ocell pujant per un tronc deixant-se observar
a plaer, ni mes ni menys que un Lesser Honeyguide envoltat de Beautiful Sunbirds i Western Square-tailed Drongos.

Finalment arribem a unes bases de depuració amb bons grups de White-faced
Whistling Ducks i diferents espècies d’ardeides, African Jacana, la subespècie
africana de Black-winged Stilt i un bon nombre d’actives Spur-winged Lapwings.
De tornada veiem African Pied Hornbill, l’abundant Western Plantain-eater i les
primeres Wattled Lapwing.
Ens dirigim cap a una zona de platja privada on dinem extradionariament be arrant de
platja alhora que gaudim de les primeres vistes de xatrac & gavines del tour.

Després d’un breu descans, prospectem una nova zona on escoltem i veiem
Double-Spurred Francolin i Green Woodhoopoe. A una petita bassa gaudim de la
tàctica de pesca de la Black Heron, amb els seus espasmòdics moviments obrint i tancant les
ales per fer ombra a l’aigua i atreure els peixos. Tornem al cotxe tot veient a plena llum
del dia un Pearl-spotted Owlet, al mateix arbre per on es movia un White-breasted
Cuckooshrike!!

Pearl-spotted Owlet (Glaucidium perlatum)

Acabem la jornada gaudint de noves espècies i aprofitant les oportunitats que brinda els
jardins del nostre hotel per poder fotografies d’una bona varietat d’ocells.

Dia 2: Aquesta segona jornada ens dirigirem cap zones de Selva Litoral on encara hi ha
sectors ben conservats. Una bona caminada ens proporciona cites molt interessants
d’espècies que després seran difícil a la resta del tour, entre elles destaquen Levaillant’s
& Klaas’s Cuckoos, Black Scimitarbill, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Red-Shouldered
Cuckooshrike i els primers de molts Yellow-fronted Canary al llarg del tour.

Violet Turaco (Musophaga violacea).

Però sens dubte uns dels moments més emocionats van ser les diverses observacions
de Guinea & Violet Turacos.
Cap el migdia arribem a una zona humida que malauradament s’ha assecat molt en els
darrers dies, baixant una mica les expectatives de les espècies que pensaven detectar.
Tot i això, mai decep i veiem Intermediate Egret, Pink-backed Pelican, Black crake &
African Darter.

Intermediate Egret (Egretta intermedia).

Una volta posterior per finalitzar el dia ens van donar les primeres observacions de
gran rapinayies, Long-crested Eagle, Lizzard Buzzard, African Harrier Hawk i especialment Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle, una de les espècies més celebrades de la jornada!

Dia 3: Aquesta fou la jornada de internada a l’interior del país, cal llevar-se una mica d’hora i conduir pels fantàstics hàbitats més sabanoides i secs de l’interior, amb un bon nombre d’espècies típiques d’aquests hàbitats que
només podríem observar en aquesta jornada. Però sens dubte la gran estrella era la
recerca del Egyptian Plover, molt escàs i localitzat i per això sempre molt cobejat entre els observadors d’aus de tot el món!
Al llarg del viatge gaudim de rapinyaires com Dark Chating Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk,
Grassphopper Buzzard, Abyssinian Roller & Great White Pelican.
Una breu aturada ens permet fer recerca i detectar un parell d’impressionants
Abyssinian Ground Hornbill!!!

Abyssian Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus).

Al llarg del trajecte anem fent aturades treballant el màxim d’hàbitats possibles, en
una de les incursions detectem Brown-rumped Bunting, Sahel Bush Sparrow,
Northern Anteater & White-fronted Black-chat, mentre que en una zona agrícola abandonada veiem les úniques Black-headed Lapwing del tour.
Finalment arribem a unes petites basses on sense sortir del cotxe veiem un Egyptian
Plover a molt curta distància. Gaudim d’una observació fantàstica, però malauradament una persona espanta amb la seva caminada l’ocell. Fins a quatre vegades el tornem a detectar però ja més lluny.

Egyptian Plover (Pluvianus aegyptius).

L’entorn d’aquestes bassetes conformen un lloc espectacular, ple d’ocells on
destaquen els vistosos plomatges dels Exclamatory Paradise-Whydah, compartint
arbre amb Cut-throat Finches, Bishops, Queleas i altres espècies…
Una bona decisió del guia local va ser fer pícnic amb vistes a una bassa enmig de la
sabana on hi havia una continua entrada i sortida d’ocells atrets en aquesta època seca
per la zona humida.  Un gran número d’ocells s’atansen a la bassa per veure aigua, i una mica de paciència i concentració permeten descobrir dues sorpreses: la presencia de Chestnut-back Sparrow-lark & de Gosling’s Bunting.

Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark (Eremopterix leucotis).

Gosling’s Bunting (Emberiza goslingi).

Ja de tornada anem fent parades per cercar amb èxit African Golden Oriole, Bruce’s
Green.pigeon, Brubru com també Yellow-biled i Woolly-necked Storks.
Bon nombre de rapinyaires observats entre els que destaquen White-backed Vulture,
Gabar, Brown & Banded Snake-eagles. Arribem cansats de la llarga jornada però molt
satisfets amb el resultat aconseguit.

Dia 4: Matí de visita a una comunitat local on mantenen una reserva natural, amb varis
hides amb punts d’atracció per ocells on pots observar un gran nombre d’espècies
típiques d’aquests ambients de selva litoral, entre ells African Green Pigeon, Blue-spotted &
Black-billed Wood-dove, Greater Honeyguide, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Yellow-
breasted Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Grey-headed Bristebill i fins a cinc espècies de Sunbird! Però el lloc es famós perquè tenen localitzats depenen el moment i l’any
vàries espècies de mussols (Greyish-eagle, Verreaux’s & African Wood Owls), alhora
que també els increïbles Long-tailed & Standart-winged Nihtjars.

Greyish Eagle Owl (Bubo cinerascens).

Long-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus climacurus).

Standard-winged Nightjar (Caprimulgus longipennis).

Per la tarda visitem les grans piscifactories properes, amb molts ocells en aquelles que
mantenen aigua, força limícols però també African Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill &
Quailfinch.

Dia 5: Després d’un abundant i variat esmorzar, sortim a prospectar altres zones de
selva litoral per tal d’intentar especialitats d’aquest hàbitat.
Visitem un mosaic de zones agrícoles, taques de selva i zones properes a nuclis rurals
on fem bones observacions d’espècies com: Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Northern
Puffback, Sulphur-breasterd Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Greenbul i fugaces observacions de l’espectacular Oriole warbler.
Aprofitem per fer fotografies de varies espècies com Red-necked Falcon, Black-winged
Kite & Little bee-eater.
Finalment acabem la visita, com molt altres llocs fent un descans a un Jungle-bar on
prenent una beguda fresca pots espera alguna de les espècies que freqüent els punts
d’aigua. Allà vàrem gaudir de les visita de els dues espècies de Turaco, African & Black-
headed Flycatchers i els únics Western Bluebill del tour.

Western Bluebill (Spermophaga haematina).

Per la tarda visitem la famosa zona de Tanji a la cerca de gulls & terns, però encara és
més interessant la zona dunar amb taques de vegetació que concentren gran quantitat
de passerines i altres espècies d’ocells com per exemple Four-banded Sandgrouse,
Fanti Sawwing, Pied-winged Swallow & Stone Partridge.

Four-banded Sandgrouse (Pterocles quadricinctus).

Dia 6: Aquest dia gaudim d’un canvi radical d’hàbitat, visitant una zona humida litoral, Kartong Wetland, on es conserven bones extensions de canyissars i a on hi ha un centre d’anellament i
investigació.
Un dels objectius era la African Collared Dove, la qual no tardem a detectar entre un
grups mixtes de tòrtores i coloms. Al ser una de les darreres zones amb aigua,
concentra encara un bon nombre d’ànecs (incloent Spur-winged Goose), limícols i
ardèids. Als canyissar s’escolten vàries espècies de boscarles. Però sens dubte, l’estrella
del matí va ser un mascle de Greater-painted Snipe, que desprès de molta estona de
scouting, es va deixar veure, immòbil al marge d’un camp!

Greater painted Snipe (Rostratula bengalensis).

Dinem a un lloc extraordinari amb vistes a un manglar que limita amb Senegal, allà
continuem amb bones observacions de varies espècies de manglars, entre les que
destaca un Brown Sunbird.
Finalment fem un nou intent caminant per una paradisíaca platja a la recerca de dues espècies; Kelp Gull & White-fronted Plover. El limícol es deixa veure en solitari o petits grups a la
pròpia sorra de la platja.

Yellow Penduline Tit (Anthoscopus parvulus).

A la distància veiem un gran grup mixte de gavines i xatracs, on podem apropar-nos i
escanejar bé. Entre Grey-headed, Lesser-backed i 1 Yellow-legged Gulls (!!)
aconseguim detectar 2 1st winter i 1 sub-adult de Kelp Gull. A més, un grup de vaques que descasen a la sorra de la platja ens proporciona una bona oportunitat per fer bon un bon reportatge de Yellow-billed Oxpecker alimentant-se activament. Gran dia amb un total de 131
espècies observades!

Dia 7: El darrer dia el fem visitant la famosa reserva d’Abuko, on fem els darrers
intents per certes especialitats que encara no hem trobat o que hem observat breument. Una de les estrelles eren el Collared & Scarlet-chested Sunbird, els quals vàren ser vistos mirant
amb atenció els sunbird de les zones amb flors. També veiem Diderick Cuckoo,
Senegal Eremomela, Green-backed Camaroptera & Yellow-breasted Apalis.

Finalment tornem aviat a l’hotel per preparar la tornada fen la darrera volta als jardins
dels hotel amb la millor observació del viatge de Oriole Warbler!!

Gran final per un viatge amb una llarga llista d’espècies observades. Un sincer agraïment a la gran feina del nostre guia local i a la seva extansa xarxa de contactes al país.

Cocodril del Nil (Cocodrylus niloticus).

Oman Birding Tour 2020 Trip Report

Dates: February 5th to February 14th, 2020

Number of participants: 5

Number of species: 194

All images in the trip report by tour participants Bauke Kortleve & Philippe Marchessou and tour leader Carles Oliver.

Flocks of Tristam’s Starlings (Onychognatus tristramii) can be seen in rocky scarpments in the Dhofar, but also inside mountain villages.

Day 1. Coming all tour participants from a variety of countries, we all flew into Oman along February 4th. We met for dinner, and those arriving later in the evening, for breakfast early in the morning, in February 5th. 

After enjoying our delicious breakfast we left the accommotadion and started the tour. Temperature was 18ºC in a lovely sunny day. After negotiating the traffic in Muscat we did arrive to Al-Ansab Lagoons, a small natural reserve inside Muscat providing really good birding.

Despite some diversion at the main gate, we did arrive to the typical places. Inmediatly after getting out of the van we got the firsts Purple Sunbirds of the tour. A lovely male singing in bright glossy black coloration and a female feeding in the rich vegetation of a rocky slope. White-spectacled Bulbuls were also seen around.

Graceful Prinia (Prinia subflava), one of the first birds to appear in the tour.

One of the view points over the lagoons was offering a wonderful spectacle. A flock of 9 Greater Flamingoes was an evident spot in the lagoon while waders were coming in and out. We soon noticed some Marsh Sandpipers feeding along with Ruffs, Little Stints and at least 1 Temminck’s Stint. In the wàter surface there were several Mallards, Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers, Pintails as well as Little Grebes and Eurasian Coots. The few bushes around the view point were also having some nice birding activity, and we got our first Clamorous Reed Warbler, and 3 lovely Indian Silverbills feeding on the grassy vegetation.

A short walk around produced several Common Chiffchaffs (probably all of them abietinus race) and 2 Grey Wagtails in a nearby stream. A second pool was flattered with ducks, including several Common Pochards, 1 Tufted Duck and 3 Garganeys. In the shores of the lagoons, some Great Cormorants were roosting along with Great White Egrets and Grey Herons. And with them, 1 first winter Purple Heron was trying to don’t be discovered.

Purple Sunbirds (Cinnyris asiaticus) are a common view in Northern Oman.

Al-Ansab has three different hides, and from the last one we enjoyed the first Citrine Wagtail of the tour, a bird highly celebrated in the group. Several Common Moorhens were feeding in front of the hide, but everything moved fast when Keith spotted a Grey Francolin beside the reedbed! The bird provided with really short views before it went behind a tamarisk. Decided to improve our views, we just walked to the opposite side of the hide and got good views on 3 birds moving around. While looking for the bird we got our first Lesser Whitethroats of the trip! Some Green Bee-eaters were flying around, showing superbly, and the photographers in the group hap time to enjoy with them while some Pale Crag Martins were flying around. Beyond, in a hilly area, we found 1 Persian Wheatear at the same moment that 3 Pallid Swifts screamed in the sky because of the fast flight of a Western Marsh Harrier. That was definately a good start for our tour. 

We later came back to this same spot for our picnic lunch, with a similar list of species and the only (and really interesting) adding of 1 Eastern Orphean Warbler that move from a low bush in front of us and produced short but decent views before flying back up to the canopies, and blind out.

Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) in almost full summer plomage.

After such a good start we moved to the coast, a short transfer of 15 minutes, to explore a number of mudflats. In two locations we got a good list of waders including a flock of 15+ Temminck’s Stints, Lesser Sand Plover, several Ruffs, Common Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, and Dunlins.

We then move to the Al-Qurum Natural Reserve, inmediatly East of Muscat, where we did two stops, seaside and inland.

In the seaside we had the change for first views on Caspian Gulls along with Greater Crested, Lesser Crested & Sandwich Terns. Heughlin Gull were common, as they were the Steppe Gulls. In the beach we also got Eurasian Whimbrel and a nice flock of mixed Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers roosting on the river mouth. Everything under the close view of Common Mynas.

Small numbers of Crested Honey Buzzards (Pernis ptilorhynchus) overwinter in Oman.

Our second stop was to explore a pair of corners inland., just following along a small stream. We parked the car and inmediatly had two raptors in the sky, being moved by House Crows. There were 2 juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, one of them quite pale, that were having some difficulties against the crows. Happy with such a nice encounteer we entered the path to stop again as 1 Isabelline Shrike catched our attention. The bird was standing high up in a bush, with a lovely afternoon light. Few minutes after the group was delighted to see 1 Crested Honey Buzzard circling quite low above the area, joined in the blue sky by the first Western Osprey of the tour. The path brought us to a nice corner of marsh while Rose-winged Parakeets were calling in the sky. A short walk around revealed a lovely and rather surprising Desert Whitethroat, a bird considered still a race of Lesser Whitethroat (treated sometimes as a form of Asian Lesser Whitethroat) for many, but considered as a full species for others. The bird was showingly small and extremely pale, depending on the angle being almost as sandy as a Asian Desert Warbler, with a slight contrast between the mantle and flight feathers. It gave us a great view of some minutes long, being able to have proper looks to the rather dark lores, well contrasted with the sandy mantle. Once everyone in the group had good looks on the bird, we all kept moving along a rich vegetated corridor, where 1 Song Thrush flew out of our way. Just few metres beyond, 2 Clamorous Reed Warbler were showing superbly in the dense vegetation, joined by a Great Reed Warbler some meters away!

Clamarous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus) showed really well in Al Anqsar.

Once in the marsh we enjoy some nice waders and kept scanning the few Common Snipes, hoping for a Pin-tailed Snipe to appear. Never did it. Al-Qurum Natural Reserve is having several interesting corners. A short-walk around brought us to a place with some big trees and several open spaces, here we had 3 Indian Rollers flying around and showing really well in the afternoon light.

Indian Rollers (Coracias benghalensis) are common in a variety of landscapes in Northern Oman.

The well known central lagoon was the only place during the trip where we saw Indian Pond Herons, a minimum of 3 of them were seen along with some Squacco Herons. A correct identification of these species is always challenging, and the best way to tell them apart is from the bill and lore coloration. Indian Pond Heron is always having a black final area in the lower mandibule, a well defined and contrasted patch (above 30% of the bill length) while Squacoo Heron shows a more difuse blackish area in the lower mandibule. Besides, Indian Pond Herons usually shows blackish lores, helping a lot in a correct identification of the bird.

The central pond not only produced all Indian Pond Herons of the trip, but also 2 Red-crested Pochards females (scarce bird in Oman), 1 female Tufted Duck, Gull-billed Tern, and the firsts Striated Heron and Black-crowned Night Heron of the tour. 

Back to the car, we just drove to a different corner of the park while enjoying the sunset. Was not still dark when we got inside a lovely, quiet corner, having some big trees. After some minutes of scanning we found our goal for that evening, a wonderful Pallid Scops Owl singing and showing superbly. We had the bird for about 25 minutes, barely 15 metres away from us. The view was so great that even some local people came to enjoy the views in the scope!!!

Pallid Scops Owl (Otus brucei) produced long views in our first evening in Oman.

Glad after such a good start for our tour, we came to our accommodation for a great dinner based in Arab, Indian and International cuisine.

Day 2. After a good rest we drove West to a small river mouth with rich mangroves, a good place to look for some specialities. Our main hope was to contact with the local race of Collared Kingfisher, a splitable population with slim populations along the Eastern coast of Arabia. We arrived quite early to the place, enjoying good views on Indian Rollers along the last part of the road, but despite our efforts we could not contact with any Collared Kingfisher. Instead we had 2 Common Kingfishers moving in the mangroves, Western Marsh Harrier, Western Osprey, Lesser Sand Plovers, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, Lesser Whitethroats (blithy), and the best views on Greater Hoopoe Lark along the tour as one bird was singing and displaying just beyond the mangroves.

Numbers of Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis) were less spectacular than in previous years, but we still enjoyed tens of them during the tour!

We then had a stop and some rest before driving up Al Hajar Mountains, where we were going to spend the rest of the day, staying there a bit beyond sunset. After a 60 minutes transfer we did a first stop in the mountains, in a savannah-like ambient. There we enjoyed good views on 1 female Hooded Wheatear just next to 1 Isabelline Shrike. Once around the gorge, we explore a bit the area, and we all got good views on 3 Desert Larks feeding on the wadi, but also Eastern Black Redstart, Hume’s Wheatear, Pale Crag Martin, 1 juvenile Blue Rock Thrush and 3 singing Striolated Buntings that never produced a proper view. But probably the most interesting bird at that point was 1 Variable Wheatear moving in the rocky slopes, a bird that is one of the long list of scarce winter visitors to Oman.

White-spectacled Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos), the commonest Bulbul in Oman.

After this exploring we move to our last destination that day, one of the impressive gorges West of Samail. Here we had some time explore the bush in the wadi, producing really good looks on 1 Hume’s Whitethroat, Striolated Buntings and at least 4 Plain Leaf Warblers moving in the small trees in the wadi. The afternoonn was advanced and we spent some time scanning the cliffs in search of the most enygmathical bird in Oman, the poorly known, Omani Owl.

Plain Leaf Warbler (Phyllosocpus nitidus), one of the smallest on its genus, overwinters in small numbers in montane oases in Northern Oman.

In the time we were scanning, we were lucky to find out a nest of Egyptian Vultures high up in the cliffs, and enjoyed good views on the scope. A further scanning in the skyes around produced 4 more Egyptians, joined in the sky by the massive shape of a Lappet-faced Vulture. The birds were soaring and the Lappet-faced started to fly lower and lower above one slope, until it landed. Despite it was far away, everyone in the tour had excellent views on the scope of this scarce giant of the Omani skyes!

The impressive gorges in Al Hajar Mountains are home for the poorly known Omani Owl.

Glad aftert such a good selection of species, we waited until it was dark. Our scans in the cliffs were unseccful to find any roosting owl. Once the darkness arrived, we were soon surprised by the song of an Omani Owl coming from high up in the cliffs. A short series of 4 or 5 “uuu”, not really different from the typical Tawny Owl song. We had the bird singing 3 times, and for a while it looked like it was a second Omani Owl replaying far down away in the gorge. Still, and despite our efforst, it was not possible to get anything else than these impressive calls in the middle of the quiet night.

Day 3. After a good breakfast we transfer South. A 90 minutes drive brought us to a different landscape of open acacia grassland, and the first oases of the tour. But earlier we had a roadside stop, since about 40 Steppe Eagles were flying around, quite close. They were also on the hills around, and a proper scanning around produced as well several Egyptian Vultures, 1 Griffon Vulture, 1 Greater Spotted Eagle adult and 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles! Along with, several Brown-necked Ravens. The images of the raptors in the sky was an amazing and all enjoyed really much! Other good birds around included 2 Striolated Buntings (best views on the tour were here) and 2 Hume’s Wheatears.

Striolated Buntings (Emberiza striolata) can be suprisingly difficult to spot.

Once arrived to the oases we spent some exploring. It was plenty of Little Bee-eaters and 5 Indian Rollers spotted, very vocals at that location. Graceful Prinia, Purple Sunbird, Common Chiffchaff (abietinus race), and distant views on Lesser Whitethroat were also noted, including a very pale individual. Here we came to look for Yellow-throated Petronia and, in the search, we found 1 Red-breasted Flycatcher, a really appreciated bird for the tour participants. When coming to the car, a slim sparrow appeared right in front of us. With the dark and long bill, plane and dark head, this Yellow-throated Petronia showed up only for few seconds before flying away, and unfortunately most of the tour participants never contacted with the bird. We still had time scanning around the oases, but we could not refind the bird.

Indian Silverbill (Euodice malabarica) keeps good populations in Northern Oman.

After this stop we just did a fast stop in the grassy savannah like ambient next to it, having our first looks in the trip for Desert & Isabelline Wheatears. Common Kestrel and Crested Lark were also noted.

Day 4. After a mostly transfer day went for a pre-breakfast walk around our accommodation, located in a remote coastal area i North-east Oman. A short-walk around the hotel produced wonderful views on Black-crowned Sparrow-larks. We could see them singing and displaying in the sky as well as feeding on the ground in small flocks, including both males and females. At the same time, a flock of 8 Tawny Pipits were seeing, as well as Brown-necked Ravens, Indian Silverbills, Desert Larks, a closeby Isabelline Wheatear and some Desert Wheatears

Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Eremopteryx nigriceps), the second commonest lark in Oman.

After breakfast we drove South to the area were Crab Plovers are normally found. Along the way, a sandy desert of golden dunes offered incredible landscapes. Some kilometres South of our accommodation we saw a tiny area with water and some bush. Taking advantage of this, we did a stop and explore around. Inmediatly after living the car we had 1 Persian Wheatear, an encouraging start. The tiny water pond didn’t look like having so much else, until a Sylvia warbler flew out from a bush, a Menetries’s Warbler! The bird flew away, but not far. We had all to run a bit and scan a lot but finally everybody got excellent views in actually 2 Menetries’s Warblers (one of them a male showing a slight pinkish tint in the breast, as James noticed).

Menetries Warbler (Sylvia mystacea) male.A scarce overwintering bird in Oman.

Happy all after such a wonderful spot we came back to the van for a final, short drive. We were at place about 10 o’clock. The huge bay, was full of Sooty Gulls and Slender-billed Gulls. Heuglhin’s & Steppe Gulls were also common. A first scan of the area produced big numbers of Western Reef Egrets, Bar-tailed Godwits, Little Stints, Eurasian Oystercatchers, Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers, Dunlins, Grey Plovers plus about 30 Curlew Sandpipers, some Sanderlings, and some Eurasian Curlews. Some Gull-billed & Caspian Terns were flying here and there. But no Crab Plovers. We kept scanning, and scanning. But nothing. Waves and waves of waders were moving into the bay, mostly Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlins, but not only.

And then Bauke suddenly noticed that we were having 3 Crab Plovers right in front of us, really close! We all had excellent views, and a fast re-scanning produced produced 14 of them! Suddenly all appeared. Only ten minutes later, a counting along the shore produced 47 Crab Plover!!!!

We enjoyed wonderful views on Crab Plover (Dromas ardeola), a massive, elegant a really sought-after wader.

We had time to enjoy of the Crab Plovers, and all the waders around, including 1 Greater Sand Plover in almost full summer plomage. 1 Clamorous Reed Warbler was in the small mangroves by the shore, and 2 Little/Saunder’s Terns were flying around,1 of them showing clear characters of Saunder’s (An extended blakish, well contrasted primaries from P9 to P7 or P6). After long enjoying the Crab Plovers and the birding expectacle around we moved a bit, to scan for different kinds of Gulls. Our main goal was Palla’s Gull, but we couldn’t find any this time as we were a bit in the season for them, this year. Instead we got nice views on 1 full adult Baltic Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus) and several Greater Crested, Lesser Crested & Sandwich Terns.

After some more birding we came back to our accommodation for some rest and eventually enjoy of the swimming pool.

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii) in almost complete summer plomage.

Day 5. Long transfer until Salalah, but with interesting stops in the middle. First stop early in the morning to explore a nice desert patch with some vegetation. Here we got our first Southern Grey Shrike (aucheri race) and nice views on Desert Wheatears. But the best was the nice views on the first Asian Desert Warbler of the tour. We got the bird tipically moving in the low, small bushes but also literally running on the sand, for long just following a male Desert Wheatear, a behaviour related several times to this species nesting in Central Asia.

Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti) is the commonest among the wide variety of Wheatears in Oman.

The second stop was a bit later in the day, to explore the formerly famous an excellent Qitbit Hostel. This accommodation is now abandoned, and its gardens are not any more a magnet attracting specialities. Here we only got 1 Eurasian Hoopoe, and a small flock of Common House Martins joined by 1 Barn Swallow

Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis aucheri), a resident bird in Omani deserts.

As this location was empty of any interest we drove some more miles, to explore some Sewage Farms. Here we found an authentical magnet for birds. Just got into the farm, a harvested field was filled up with birds. Both Isabelline & Desert Wheatears (the second with interesting examples of 1st winter birds) were common. Also White & Yellow Wagtails. Tens of Tawny Pipits were also feeding in the many insects. A nice surprise was a flock of 9 Cream-coloured Coursers feeding in the area, allowing nice photo opportunities. The field was also having tens of Crested & Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks. 3 Marsh Harriers & 4 Common Kestrels were feeding in the many grasshopers, and a male Pallid Harrier was really celebrated by the tour participants.

Cream-coloured Coursers (Cursorior cursor) in the sewage fields. A magnet for birds in the desert.

A bit beyond, a second field was also having a good birdlife. In this case, out of the regular species, we enjoyed 4 Common Cranes and 1 female Montagu’s Harrier scanning the field on search of any potential prey.

As the sun started to go down we came to the road, whilling to arrive to Salalah. But some Sandgrouses made this to happen later than expected. Some Greater Hoopoe Larks crossed the road just minuted before a small flock of Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouses flew off from the side of the road. We stopped the car inmediatly, but unfortunately nobody connected with birds, this time. More flocks were in the air so we decided to drive slowly to scan properly the surrounding areas. Just few miles away, a wonderful flock of Spotted Sandgrouses were flying low around, and decided to stop in front of car, right by car, providing excellent views to all tour participants! 

Happy after such a wonderful end of the day, we just covered the last miles to our hotel in Salalah, where we enjoyed the first of a row of wonderful dinners, and a good rest.

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellinus) is a common bird in Oman during winter.

Day 6. Our first in Salalah was devoted to get proper views in some of the many sought-after species living around this city. We explore the well known Ayn Hamrat, a location combining indigenous decideous forest, riverside & savannah like ambients, with a nice bushland and a wonderful stream.

Just got out of the car and we got our firsts Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, a wonderful bird that was coming in small flocks to drink water from the stream. Common & Green Sandpipers were spotted along the stream, as well as 1 Grey Wagtail. We went for a short-walk when James spotted 1 juvenile Shikra perched in a fig tree, overlooking the main pond in the stream. 

Shrikra (Accipiter badius) keeps

Right after a Palestine Sunbird flew over, providing with a first glence of this beautiful species. The attention of group was captured then by Keith, whom spotted a small flock of Arabian Partridges running away from us. They climbed up the hill, providing us with excellent views. Many Abyssian White-eyes were around, in small (and sometimes not that small) flocks. The first of several African Paradise Flycatchers was seen, and the group was enjoying with such a wonderful bird when Keith went on again, this time with our first Arabian Warbler skulking in the vegetation a bit up in the slope, around from where the Partridges were moving. But got really good views but another bird claim of attention, since a wonderful Eastern Imperial Eagle was soaring low in the slope, probably hoping for a Partridge. The bird, slowly circling, showed the beautiful barring in the head and extending also to the throat. What a bird!

Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena) inhabits forest edges and tall bushland.

But Keith was not giving up and again hit us, this time with a Black-crowned Tchagra low in the bushes! The bird was moving on the group, tacking advantage from the shady area to discover and capture insects. Few meters beyond we found our first Blackstart, quite confiding and showing us the beautiful black of its tail as it was open it several times. A pair of Shinning Sunbirds was in the same tree were the Blackstart was, and all the group had great views on the shinning green coloration of the male, but we got distracted by a small flock of African Silverbills that shortly landed in front of us. By that time we had a different bird in the sky, now was time for a 1st winter Short-toed Snake Eagle, that soared low among the decidious trees. At that moment Bauke had the 2 first Fan-tailed Ravens of the tour flying up in the cliffs, and we could even listen their toy-like calls from the distance. That was right before we had our firsts Long-billed Pipits moving in the bare ground, under the trees. These birds showed really tame, just as the African Paradise Flycatchers around, for enjoyment of the photographers in the group.

African Paradise Flycatcher (Tersiphone viridis), a wonderful drop of African birdlife in Oman.

We then decide to go down a bit the stream, prior taking a look the dry plains around. Some Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks were around, and James spotted our first Steppe Grey Shrike in a branch, overlooking the open space. Back to the woods, we took a look to the well vegetated stream, were we got 2 White-breasted Waterhens calling from the dense vegetation, a 1 Common Snipe flying from the shore.

Flocks of Tristam’s Starlings were coming to drink water, locating them by their beautiful wistles far before we could see them. They were joined by several Ruppell’s Weavers, and many Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. The fig trees above the area was having some Sunbirds, including two wonderful Palestine Sunbirds, for admiration of the group. 

We kept scanning around, the trees filled up with birds, when 1 Asian Koel just appeared in front of us! This is a really overwintering bird in Oman, and almost became the hit of the day for at least 1 member of the group! 

Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus), a really scarce overwintering bird in Oman.

After some time by the stream we decided to do a second short-walk, this time a bit beyond, and our effort was really worth it. At some point, a small flock of 4 Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks passed over us, calling and stopping a bit beyond. A bit of running was required but we arrived at the place were the birds landed. They were calling all around, even singing! A really long half a minute passed away until we relocated the birds in a distant bush. Great! We got everybody in the birds, with excellent views despite not being inmediatly close to us.

This is probably the best image that the group could get in Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks (Rhynchostruthus percivali).

We dediced to go back bu the stream, maybe the Grosbeaks were coming to drink water…They never did. For instance we got 1 Isabelline Shrike. After a nice picnic by the shade of the many trees we just went to the next location, overlooked by 1 Booted Eagle.

We spend some time in afternoon exploring Raysut. Unfortunately this year there were few Steppe Eagles in the area, and that day more interesting bird we had at the rubbish dump was a solitary White Stork. We also got 1 Citrine Wagtail, 1 Temminck’s Stint and 5 Little Ringed Plovers and a small flock of Whiskered Terns by visiting different ponds. 

As Raysut was not as great as the last years, we just went to the sea, where big flocks of birds were waiting for us. At least 15 Terek’s Sandpipers were seeing in the place, along with several Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers, Little Stints, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 1 Intermediate Egret, several Heughlin’s Gulls, Caspian Terns, 12 Western Ospreys, 1 Black-eared KIte, 4 Steppe Eagles, Grey Plovers, Dunlins, and mixed flocks of Citrine & Yellow Wagtails (beema & thumbergi races.

We still got time for a last stop, and we went to explore the Museum. There we got unforgettable views on Spotted Thick-knees, sometimes just a few meters away from us! We counted a minimum of 10. Other interesting birds in the gardens of the museum included Ruppell’s Weaver, Palestine Sunbird, Citrine Wagtail, Laughing Dove and Squacco Heron.

Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis) in glorious afternoon light.

A really short drive brought us back to our accommodation for a well deserved rest.

Day 7. This day we basically explored the some spots North of Salalah, and in particular the mountainous areas in Dhoffar. 

But before we went up to the hills we did spend some time in the early morning. We left the car right beside a big river moth, and got the firsts birds of the day. Green Sandpiper, Eastern Black Redstart and Isabelline Shrike. A fast scanning of the lagoon revealed 9 Cotton Pygmy Geese, including a drake male. Marsh Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit were both feeding in the shores and it didn’t take long to locate the first of 3 Pheasant-tailed Jacana, feeding on the floating vegetation or even swimming along with Common Moorhens.

Cotton Pygmy Goose (Nettapus coromandelianus) has become really scarce in Oman in recent years.

1 Greater Spotted Eagle was standing up in a tree, thinking about possible preys. In the water, 4 Garganeys were spotted, while the shore produced Temminck’s Stint, Lesser Sand Plover, and 1 Curlew Sandpiper. The only one Eurasian Spoonbill of the tour passed over us while 2 White-winged Black Terns were roosting on a floating branck. Happy after such a good selection of birds, the group started to move, but we then we found 2 Red-knobbed Coots! Despite they were not very close, we all got good views on the main remarks.

Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata) keeps being considered a rarity in Oman, with some individuals overwintering around Salalah.

After such a great place for allus we drove up to hills, to keep having some incredible birds.

A 30 minutes drive brought us up to the hills. In the way, some Steppe Eagles offered good views and a few Long-billed Pipits crossed the road. Once in the area, Bauke spotted the first Arabian Wheatear of the trip in a wire. It was a nice male, and was busy feeding 2 hungry young birds that allowed beautiful views on this small species. 

Arabian Wheatears (Oenanthe lugentoides) are early nesters.

Just arrived to our main destination, we parked the van and started scanning around. 1 gorgeous Bonelli’s Eagle was patrolling the area, in really low, and slow flights producing what was the best views I ever had in this species! During the next hours we saw this same individual patrolling a small patch of land, always extremelly low. What a present for all of us!

This Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) kept flying above our van for several minutes in the Dhofar Mountains!

This hillsides are literally filled up with Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. It is difficult to understand how they can be so common… Wherever you look around, there were small flocks of these birds. Still, there are many other birds around. As we were walking around, Keith pointed out 2 Arabian Partridges. Both Shinning & Palestine Sunbirds were seen feeding around, while flocks of Tristam’s Starlings were flying over. Fan-tailed Ravens were also common, with rather nasal, short calls emerging from the sky as they were diving in groups going after the raptors they could find in the sky. Now was time for a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle to be joined by the ravens…

Arabian Partridge (Alectoris melanocephala), another Arabian endemic that provide with excellent views.

As we walked around we found a number of Tree Pipits, overwinter in the area in good numbers, but also Lesser Whitethroat, Tawny Pipits, African Silverbills and Ruppell’s Weavers. Suddenly, a tiny rock got alive from under our feet and became a wonderful Singing Bush Lark that stand for us for a walk-away views that allow all tour participants enjoy all the details of birds, including those alula lovers in the group!

Singing Bush Lark (Mirafra cantillans) is a common bird in the Dhofar high grasslands.

Some uplands in Dhofar region are full of beautiful Tree Pipits (Anthus trivialis).

Our walk was being really productive and improve after we found 1 Eurasian Wryneck feeding on the ground along with Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. Some Blackstarts were also present, one pair even nesting in a wall hole, and 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle flew over us, getting an advice from the local Bonelli’s, you better don’t do that again.

And finally, after some hours of scanning, we got a small flock of Yemen Serins drinking water along with Buntings. We were really lucky this time, and at the same time that we saw them, a flock of 5 just came directly to us, stopping in a wire right in front of us and providing excellent views. They were calling and soon some 10 birds more joined the party. They were in the wires but also on the ground and even on the roof of a close building!! We enjoyed the birds for ten minutes and then decided to move for a further exploration of the area.

After some scanning we got excellent views on a flock of Yemen Serin (Crithagra mechanensis).

The Yemen Serin is endemic living in mountain plateaus in Yemen and Oman, with only a handful of locations where to see the bird. Nowadays Oman is the only place where to try to see the bird safely.

A short drive lead us to an advantaged point where scan for raptors and small passerines. Unfortunably the area was now foggy, but we still got excellent views on a pair of Arabian & Desert Wheatears, Eastern Black Redstart and amazing views on a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle perched on a dead tree few metres away from the van!!!

juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), in an impressive view by our van.

Arabian Wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides) inhabits mountain rocky areas in the Dhofar.

This was a wonderful end of the day. We still had a chance for a stop in local bakery and enjoy nice local sweets before we head back to Salalah.

Back in the city, we still invested some time in its famous Sun Farms. There we had some interesting birds including a flock of about 120 Pacific Golden Plovers along with at least 3 European Golden Plovers resting in a plugged field. Not far from there, a flock of 7 Whitewinged Black Tern were flying around in a small marshy area inside the same farm. 1 Yellowbilled KIte was seen flying around the area. It was time to come back to the our accommodation for a nice rest and dinner.

Pacific Golden Plovers (Pluvialis fulva) in Salalah Sun Farms.

Day 8. Offshore day. We arribed early morning to the harbour. There, the many traditional fishing boats were filled up with Sooty Gulls, allowing wonderful views. Around the smaller boats, some Grey Herons and Western Reef Egrets were a good entertaiment while our boat was ready.

Once out of the harbour, we enjoyed a really plain sea. Heuglin’s Gulls were flying around, and small flocks of Greater Crested Terns provided excellent views. It didn’t take us long until we got the firsts Red-necked Phalaropes feeding in floating algae. During the 4 hours of the boat trip we got several flocks, totalling at least 50 birds.

Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) are a common view offshore Dhofar.

The Arabian Sea around Salalah is also really good for sea mammals and we were pleased to find a big herd of more than 200 Indian Spinner Dolphins. These small dolphins were swimming quite fast to the South, and we enjoy close views as we followed for some minutes. The image of these small dolphins, spinning and jumping around was a really enjoyable moment!

Spinners Dolphins (Stenella longirostris) were a good company while scanning for sea birds in our offshore North of Salalah.

Back to duty we turn again into the sea, to keep a bit of distance from the coast. Soon, we have the first Masked Booby flying over, and some minutes later we had good views in a flock of 4 of them while Red-necked Phalaropes were busy feeding and wondering around. We kept scanning around and we had short views on a distant dark Shearwater. The bird looked like a Fled-tailed, but was a distant, brief view so could not identify. 

Masked Boobies (Sula dactylatra) nest not far from the continent in Oman.

The density of birds is low in this sea, but we were lucky to have a Red-billed Tropicbird passing above us, and the whole group enjoyed great views in a bird that was really celebrated. That was brilliant! And only a pair of minutes after we had a dark, long-tailed Petrel flying around, a Jouanin’s Petrel! Unfortunately it was too fast for some of the tour participants, but not a bad view at all. We kept fighting for a better view until Keith just saw another Jouanin’s coming directly to us from the back of the boat, and this time everybody got excellent views on the Petrel as only passed 20 metres away from us!! Happy after the great views in such a scarce bird, we still were scanning for some time, looking for Persian Shearwaters. During the next half and hour we still had 2-3 more Jouanin’s, but never got any Shearwater.

The vey scarce Jouanin’s Petrel (Bulweria fallax) is normally one of the top targets for any birder visiting Oman.

Glad after the good offshore, we just came to our accommodation to have some rest before going for an afternoon outing.

After having a good rest we did have some late afternoon birding to explore some planes North of the Salalah, where we had some interesting birds including a flock of 11 Eurasian Stone Curlews in flight, 1 Eastern Imperial Eagle and flocks of Greater Short-toed & Crested Larks. As the sunset was arriving we went to a forested area. There we had our first Red-tailed Shrike of the tour perched in some death vegetation, and while we were enjoying this beauty we got our first Arabian Scops Owl singing from the woods. 

After some scanning we finally connected with a wonderful male Arabian Scops Owl that provided us with stunning views. At least other 3 birds were singing around in a sight that was highly celebrated! Happy after such a nice encounter we came to the accommodation for a good rest.

Arabian Scops Owl (Otus pamelae) proved that can cooperate for photo tours!

Day 9. Really early morning start with a short transfer to the desert to look for a number of desert specialities. We had some drive until Mudday, a small oases some 35 kilometers to the Yemen border. Here we first had a break to enjoy our take away breakfast just after the raising. 

Both Laughing & Eurasian Collared Doves were singing in the place along with Whitespectacled Bulbuls. A pair of Blackstarts were also a nice view while enjoying our breakfast. A first walk around produced little out of 2 Lesser Whitethroats (halimomendri race), 1 Song Thrush calling in flight and 1 Brownnecked Raven passing by. 

Then we walked until the corner where we enjoyed most birds one year ago. After a pair of minutes of searching we were grateful to find 1 male Nile Valley Sunbird, calling and showing really well in the wires and in the palm trees around. This bird was really celebrated by the group, and it was soon joined by a female! 

Nile Valley Sunbird (Hedydipna metallica) male, a typical inhabitant of oases in Oman.

Only a pair of minutes later, and when most of the group was still enjoying the Sunbirds, a bird came in flight, it was a female Grey Hypocolius!!! The bird directly landed in the wires right in front of us, giving us wonderful views before diving into a thick young palm tree. Everybody was extremely happy at that moment as the Hypocolius is one of the most sought-after birds in the region!!! The bird only showed for half a minute,and we were just talking about this point when a second Hypocolius landed in the same wire. And this time was a superb male!

Grey Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus) male & female (below), probably the most celebrated birds of the tour, showing superbly in early morning light.

This time everybody enjoyed of a long sight in the Hypocolius allowing several shots,and even went vocal a pair of times before diving as well in the same thick bush where the female went down from the wire!

It is difficult to explain how happy the group was at this point. And it was only the beggining of the day! After enjoying the Hypocolius we just did a short walk around and got the second Redtailed Shrike of the tour catching the morning light in some dead bush. Was not even nine in the morning! In the area where the vegetation was more rich we got some Common Chiffchaffs moving up and down but the surprise was to find the second Red-breasted Flycatcher of the tour moving in the low palm trees along with an African Paradise Flycatcher. What a strange pair of hunters in the middle of the desert!!

One of two Red-tailed Shrikes (Lanius phoenicuroides) that we enjoyed in the last days of the tour.

As was still early in the morning we went to have a look in a nearby oases. Only 3 miles away there is another corner with luxurian vegetation and some palm groves around. But the area was surprisingly empty of birds. We had a pair of short walks and were productives at the end, as we enjoyed the best views on Asian Desert Warbler of the trip, and a Desert Lark that landed in a small clay cliff in front of us.

Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) in palm groves at Qitbit.

Back to Mudday we soon were surprised by the calls of tens of Sandgrouses. Flocks and flocks of Chestnutbellied Sandgrouses flew over the oases. Among with them, we got good views on 12 Crowned Sandgrouses flying quite lowl. We decided to follow them, and after some minutes we got the place where they seemed decided to land.

Crowned Sandgrouses (Pterocles coronatus) are a difficult target in Oman. In this issue we got unforgettable views!

After a short wait, the first 4 Chestnutbellieds landed in a hillside, fastly followed by more and more, and by a small flock of Cronwed Sandgrouses that decided to land just beside us!!! Suddenly we looked like surrounded by Sandgrouses, with the Crowneds decided to approach a tiny pond of water, and the more numerous Chestnut-bellieds offeing us extremely good views as about 40 birds were coming to drink water in a small stream!!!!! What a wonderful sight!!!!

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles exustus), the commonest Sandgrouse in Oman.

We had a wonderful hald an hour, enjoying flocks of Sandgrouses coming to drink water in the tiny pond. And after this time they vanished as fast as they arrived! Extremelly happy after such a wonderful morning, we started the way back to Salalah, with a nice stop in our way to enjoy a lovely Bartailed Lark in the side of the road.

Back in our accommodation, we enjoyed a short break to recover from the early start, and we went South of the city to explore some coastal areas.

The first stop could not be more productive, as we enjoyed good views in a massive flock of over 200 Socotra Cormorants feeding in the sea. They typically move in extremelly dense flocks, and keep feeding all together in giant fisheries. Along with them there were several Sooty Gulls but also 12 Brown Bobbies, some of them quite close to the coast. Some Tristam’s Starlings came to the view point, adding some excellent photo chances to the place!

Liltte Stints (Calidris minuta) were common in many coastal mudflats and other wetlands.

A bit more to the North, a superb river mouth reaches the Arabian Sea. A stop there was mandatory, and we had a good variety of birds including some Garganeys, Tufted Duck, Greater Whitefronted Goose, 5 Pintails, LIttle Stints, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, Eurasian Teals, Greater & Lesser Crested Terns, Blacktailed Godwit and several species more.

As we still had some time, we did a small detour exploring a nearby wadi, and we were lucky enough enjoy 4 Sand Partridges running in the rocky slopes as well as a close by Arabian Wheatear male!

Part of the group exploring a wadi around Salalah.

Typical Dhofar coastal area.

Day 10. Last day of birding of the tour. In the early morning we went back to a palm grove are in Salalah, hoping for some views on Bruce’s Green Pigeons, a bird that had been scaping from us along the tour. We spend some time in the area, adding 1 Crested Honey Buzzard and good views on Yellow Wagtails (meena) but being uncapable to find any pigeon.

We then moved to the Sun Farms of the city, where we did have Sand Martins and Whitewinged Black Terns. Unfortunately was quite windy and we didn’t get permit to get inside the farms so we decided to move to a nearby wetland to spend the last time before taking our plane back to Muscat.

Blackstart (Oenanthe melanura), a common but localised bird in Dhofar area.

Once in the wetland, we were once again surprised by the variety of birds. Despite the wind, the water was full of ducks including Garganey, Eurasian Teals, Northern Shovelers and 2 Pintails. Common, Gullbilled, Whiskered and 8 Whitewinged Black Terns were all added to the list of the place. Marsh Sandpipers and Temminck’s Stints were the most interesting waders. Blackwinged Stilts, Greater Flamingoes and Graceful Prinia were all noted. As a good end, James spotted a Namaqua Dove in a fence.

This Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) was the last adding to the tour list.

After this last birding we headed to the Salalah Airport, where a short internal flight brought us to Muscat for a comfortable overnight before everyone could take a plane back home!

In 2021 we will go back to Oman, join us for a good fun and a great birding!

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OTHER WIlDLIFE

Variable Colotis (Colotis phissada) in Sun Farms 150 miles from Salalah.

Diadem Butterfly (Hyppolimnas myssipus)

One-pip Policeman (Coeliades anchises) at Al-Ansab lagoons.

Blue Pansi (Precis orithya) was present in some well vegetated locations.

Mantidae sp. in a desertic area close to Masirah Island.

Spain Tour 2019

Tour Participants: 5

Dates: From April 15th to April 26th, 2019

Number of species of birds seen: 227

 

Summary

During the tour the temperature ranged from 02ºC to 29ºC. We recorded 7 mammal species, over 227 species of birds and 3 species of reptiles. The species mentioned in the daily summaries are only some of those seen.

Day 1: Monday 15 April: Madrid to La Mancha Humeda and onto Extremadura.

Our trip begun with us meeting for a breakfast at our Hotel in Madrid. After meeting our local Guide and driver Carles we negotiated the Madrid traffic and made our way for the Navaesca lagoon and wetlands. As we left the city and headed into the Winelands and agricultural fields on route we enjoyed sightings of: Common Magpie, Black Kite, Common Wood Pigeon and Crested Lark.

Our first stop after a well deserved coffee break was Navaesca Lagoon south west of Madrid and here we enjoyed some amazing birding with highlights being: 50+ White-headed Duck, Cetti’s Warbler, Common Shelduck, Black-headed Gull, Ruff, Common Greenshank, European Penduline Tit, Bearded Reedling, Greylag Goose, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Red-crested Pochard, Little-ringed Plover and European Goldfinch to name a few. Luck was on our side this morning as we had really top cracking views of these species, we managed brief views of a Moustached Warbler but this unfortunately avoided us despite numerous attempts to relocate. We enjoyed our lunch watching the Whiskered Terns and had a good fly by sighting of a Mediterranean Gull.

White-headed Ducks (Oxyura leucocephala) are a scarce resident duck in Central Spain and along the Mediterranean coast. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After lunch the wind picked up and bird activity died down so we made our way to the Extremadura region.  On our way to the Extremadura region we enjoyed road side sightings of: Booted Eagle, European Griffon Vulture, European Black Vulture, White Storks nesting, European Stonechat, Hawfinch, Western Marsh Harrier and Corn Bunting. At our accommodation in Extremaduta we enjoyed amazing next door birding including sightings of European Blue Tit, Black Kite, Red-rumped Swallow, Iberian Magpie, Common Cuckoo, Black-winged Kite, European Bee-eater, Mistle Thrush, Common Chaffinch, Great Tit, Woodchat Shrike, White Wagtail, and Booted Eagle.

We got daily great views on Black-winged Kites (Elanus caeruleus) during our stay in Extremadura. The fact that one pair nested in our accommodation grounds helped a bit 🙂 Image by Carles Oliver

What a great start to our tour as we enjoyed sunset over the snow capped Monfrague Mountains. Our dinner was enjoyed over a glass of red wine as we chatted about the excellent first day we have enjoyed. Also hearing common cuckoo call its characteristic cuckoo clock call again is always an enjoyable experience. We all slept well after a great day of birding.

 

Day 2: Tuesday 16 April.                             Monfragüe National Park.         

Our morning begun nice and early with breakfast at our lodge as we could hear the birds waking up. We could hear Common Cuckoo calling from the breakfast table, which is not to shabby. We made our way towards the open fields know to be a good spot for both Little and Great Bustards. Lady luck was on our side and one of the first birds we saw in the area was a stunning male Little Bustard which offered us excellent views and and a flight display- wow this was enjoyed by all as these birds are now critically endangered so getting good views of this male was enjoyed by all. Just as we thought what more could we ask for, we had an incredible sighting of a Great Bustard displaying, what a pleasure. After some scanning we found a lek of about 5 males displaying for one females attention, it’s was most comical and most enjoyable to watch this behavior. Other highlights included: female Montagu’s Harrier, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Skylark, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Whinchat, European Stonechat and Red-legged Partridge.

A quick coffee stop was enjoyed overlooking the Gredos mountain range, here we enjoyed a spectacular sighting of both Spainish Imperial Eagle and Cinereous Vulture flying right over us and giving us amazing views. On route to Monfragüe National Park we enjoyed sightings of: European Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Great Tit, Eurasian Wren, Eurasian Blackcap, Woodlark, Spanish Sparrow, Lesser spotted Woodpecker and we hade a brilliant sighting of Western Orphean Warbler- sometimes a difficult bird to see!. As we enjoyed our lunch in the Oak fields we were treated to stunning views of a pair of Short-toed Treecreepers– it was most enjoyable to watch their behavior and antics. As we made our way into Monfragüe we enjoyed a cracking sighting of a Short-toed Snake Eagle with a snake in its mouth as it flew by and over us.

Little Bustard (Tetrix tetrix) showing really well in our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

 

The Monfragüe National Park is a special protected area for Birdlife in Spain and we enjoyed some wonderful sightings of the Griffon Vultures flying over us and in-front of us. Other top sightings included: Cinereous Vulture, Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Rock Bunting, Black Redstart, Subalpine Warbler, Crag Marting, Peregrine Falcon and Black Stork. It was truly an amazing day birding in Extremadura and we all had a wonderful and busy day. As we made our way back to our accommodation we all chatted about the various sightings we enjoyed and also got chatting about the various conservation efforts been made in Europe to protect birds.

 

Day 3: Wednesday 17 April.                            The Caceres Plains and Arrocampo wetlands.                                                                                                               

Our day started nice and early with breakfast and coffee as we got ready for another exciting day of birding in Spain. We made our way to Campo Lugar to improve our views of Great Bustard. On route in the town of Campo Lugar we had great views of Pallid Swift. In the grasslands we were rewarded with excellent views of Great Bustard which was enjoyed by all. Other highlights included: Gull-billed Tern, Northern Raven and Calandra Lark.

In the town we enjoyed a lovely coffee in a small Spanish coffee shop and were treated to exceptional views of Lesser Kestrel colony on a tower, we also had a good view of our first Iberian Grey Shrike of the trip. After our coffee stop we made our way to check the nest boxes put up for the European Rollers and we had good views of the birds nesting and even mating- these are incredible birds that make an extraordinary migration from Southern Europe to Southern Africa and its amazing to see the birds in Spain that we see in Southern Africa. We also enjoyed sightings of Eurasian Hoopoe and Iberian Grey Shrike.

One of the many Great Bustards (Otis tarda) that we enjoyed in Extremadura. Image by Carles Oliver

We made our way to Alcollarin Dam to see which migrant water birds would be around and enjoy our lunch. Our day just got better and better from this point and we enjoyed some incredible birding at the dam and we had sightings of: Collared Practincole, Northern Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, Common Kingfisher, Temminck’s Stint, Kentish Plover, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian Spoonbill and Black Tern– this is some incredible birding for Southern Europe and everyone enjoyed the avian gems on show. Just as we thought things could not get better we had a lovely sighting of two European Otters swimming in water in front of this- truly amazing and a mammal lifer for all on the trip. As we travelled we chatted about our great day and I enjoyed learning from Larry A about North America and the great birding he enjoys in the State of California. It was also intresting to hear from Larry how the Black Tern in the States is a different tern to the one we have just seen in Spain. Larry also enjoyed the sighting of the Temminck’s Stint as it was a bird he wanted to see.

Spanish Magpie (Cyanopica coocki), a must-seen endemic to get when birding in Southern Spain and Portugal. Image by Carles Oliver

The views of about 30 Collared Practincoles impressed Pam as they flew over head. We enjoyed some down time at the accommodation before dinner and enjoyed a wonderful dinner and some good Spanish wine as we chatted about our wonderful day, birding stories and finished off our listing.

Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) in the grasslands near Campo Lugar. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 4: Thursady. 18 April.           Extremadura to the the Ebro Valley.

Our day begun a little earlier than normal as we decided we would check out the Arrocampo wetlands before moving onto the Ebro valley. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast before heading to the wetlands. Lady Luck was on our side and as we arrived at the wetland and made our way to the hide, we had a great sighting of a male and female Ferruginous Duck fly up and give us brilliant views of this hard to see species of Duck in Europe. It’s estimated that there are about 7 pairs left of these birds in Iberia so seeing a pair was really exciting and enjoyed by the whole group. The birds also decided to come and land on the pond in front of us and we got some really good views of this beautiful duck. Other highlights at the wetlands included: a Purple Heron, Little Bitten, Western Swamphen, Savi’s Warbler, Sand Martin and we unfortunately only managed to hear Water Rail. We were soon back on the road and heading for the Ebro Valley, today was set aside as a day of travel and we had a good 5 hours drive to get to the Ebro Valley and our accommodation.

European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) were a common view in several areas along this tour. Image by Carles Oliver

On the way we had panned a stop to try and find Bluethroat and Rufous-tailed Thrush but unfortunately the weather was not playing along and we had cold and rainy weather high up in the mountains with temperature dropping to 3 degrees Celsius- not ideal for bird watching. We did however get sightings of: European Serin, Eurasian Jay and Eurasian Robin. Our efforts were also rewarded with a wonderful sighting of a Common Salamander- Salamandra salamandra. This was a great find and this amphibian gem was enjoyed by the group, especially by Pam and myself.

We made our way to the Ebro Valley slowly as most of the drive was in the pouring rain, which did not help our birding efforts. As we approached our accommodation we went to the site where Dupont’s Lark occurs and tried our luck in locating this sought after species. Unfortunately the weather didn’t help us and the gusting wild and cold made finding the bird impossible. We did however enjoy views of a Golden Eagle hunting European Rabbits. We enjoyed a quick shower and freshen up before enjoying a lovely dinner together and a good nights rest.

Day 5: Friday 19 April.              Ebro Valley and transfer to Pyrenees.

Our morning begun nice and early so we could get out and try for the Dupont’s Lark again. After breakfast we headed for the area we had been in the previous day searching for the Lark and our luck changed for the better. With the weather being calm and cool with no rain and wind we knew this was our best chance to see the bird. Lady Luck again was on our side and within 30 minutes we had spectacular views on a male Dupont’s Lark– this was just great and made up for our efforts from yesterday. The bird performed well and we could all enjoy this beauty. Larry was particularly chuffed as he had thought we would not see the bird- patience and perseverance paid off.

Other highlights for the morning included: Greater Short-toed Lark, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, European Turtle Dove, Calandra Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Carrion Crow and Willow Warbler. After a short coffee break we made our way to an area to try and improve our views of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and this we did with 5 birds showing well in the scopes- we then got treated to a fly by and all had awesome views of these magnificent birds. Another highlight was a male Pallied Harrier flying over the grasslands which we all managed to get good views of- this species is rare in Spain and was a good record for the tour.

In the tour we were lucky and enjoyed multiple and long views on Dupont’s Larks (Chersophilus duponti) in the wonderful steppes close to Codo. Image by Carles Oliver

We stopped to enjoy some of Spain’s old castles and made our way to lunch in the town of Bujaraloz and after a wonderful lunch enjoyed some birding at a nearby pond with us seeing: Green Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and Northern Shoveler. We made our way onto the Pyrenees and our accommodation. A strategical stop was made at a spot to try and find Black Wheatear and this paid off with us getting some good views on a pair, we also enjoyed sightings of good numbers of Griffon Vultures as well as Thekla Lark, Sardinian Warbler and Spectacled Warbler. We made our way into the Pyrenees Mountains and the birding that lay ahead of us was off the charts with us getting good views of Long-tailed Tit, Egyptian Vulture, Bearded Vulture and a male Wallcreeper moving along the rock face, this was a magical end for this day, probably one of the best days during the tour!

This male Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) delighted us with great, but a bit distant views, just in our first stop into the Pyrenees. Image by Carles Oliver

We quickly freshened up and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at our accommodation at, the foot hills of the Pyrenees. What a brilliant day.

 

Day 6: Saturday 20 April.                                                 The Pyrenees.

Our morning once again begun nice and early so we could get into the high mountains of the Pyrenees and target some of the special birds of the high altitudinal areas. After a lovely home cooked breakfast we made our way to the Portalet mountain pass at about 2000m above sea level. We had a few high mountain birds to target.

Not really an average sight on Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus). Image by Carles Oliver

The snow capped mountains and the scenery was absolutely spectacular and we enjoyed taking in the magnificent part of Spain before crossing into France. Soon after entering France we enjoyed some good birding with us getting good views of: Bearded Vulture, Northern Wheatear, Red Kite, Yellowhammer, Water Pipit, Alpine Accentor which put on a wonderful display. We also enjoyed the antics of the Alpine Marmots on the cliffs. We also had spectacular close up views of both Alpine and Red-billed Chough. What a great morning of birding.

Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) showing superbly during our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

We enjoyed launch overlooking the snow capped mountains and made our way further into France to continue our birding and try for the elusive White-backed Woodpecker- we unfortunately only could hear this bird and could not get any views on the species, we did however enjoy good views of: Ring Ouzel, Tree Pipit, Common Firecrest, Citril Finch– a good bird to see and with exceptional views which made Larry’s day, Eurasian Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Goldcrest and a Song Thrush displaying for us- all in all some good birding. We made our way back up the Pyrenees through the maze of tunnels and into Spain to get to our accommodation in time for a lovely home cooked traditional meal. This is exactly what the group needed and we all had a well deserved nights rest after another good days birding.

The very scarce and located Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conscipillata) was really showy in the early afternoon. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Day 7: Sunday 21 April.                                                   The Pyrenees.

Another early start was on the cards for us in order to get out to the San Juan de La Monastery to try for the elusive Black Woodpecker. A quick walk around our accommodation after our lovely breakfast yielded us good views of Common Rock Sparrow– our first bird for the day and new for the trip. At the monastery luck was on our side and we managed to get several views of the hard to find Black Woodpecker. We also enjoyed very close up views of: Eurasian Treecreeper, Eurasian Crested Tit, Coal Tit and Eurasian Jay.

After a long search, we finally managed great looks on this Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris). Image by Carles Oliver

Despite the rather poor light, Ring Ouzels (Turdus torquatus) gave us great sights up in the Pyrenees. Image by Carles Oliver

We made our way further into the Pyrenees towards Echo valley. Roadside birding included Griffon Vultures, a Booted Eagle being mobbed by a Red Kites and Egyptian Vulture. We headed high up into the mountains to our lunch stop and while having lunch enjoyed great sightings of Dunnock, European Robin and Coal Tit. We birded the area after lunch and had some really good birding with highlights being Citril Finch, Cirl Bunting, White-throated Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Short-toed Treecreeper, Marsh Tit and Common Chiffchaff. We all had some time to relax before dinner and enjoyed another wonderful home cooked meal by our host. The place we are staying is a traditional Spanish farm house that was built in the 1700s and had been tastefully upgraded and gives a lovely warm feel to it. The host is so welcoming and Larry S, Larry A, Pam and I really enjoyed staying here. The warm hospitality and traditional home cooked meals were welcomed and enjoyed by all. We all had a good nights rest after another great days birding in the Pyrenees.

 

Day 8: Monday 22 April.                                  Lleida Steppes.

We had a slightly earlier start today so we could get into the lower Step areas and Open fields of the lower Pyrenees to target a few birds we had missed. After a lovely home cooked breakfast we said our goodbyes to our wonderful host and headed out. The area in which we started our birding has some of the best Steppes and open grassland in Spain and as soon as we got into the area we had a wonderful sighting of a Short-eared Owl that was perched and proceeded to give us a wonderful fly by- a highlight for all on the tour and a great start.

We enjoyed some good birding with highlights being: Little Owl, Black-eared Wheatear, Calandra Lark, Common Redstart, Tawny Pipit, Whinchat, Thekla, Greater-short Toed and Lesser-short Toed Larks. The hard scan around pay off when we finally got 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos feeding in an open field. We managed to get long and wonderful views on both birds on the ground, but we could not get too much close of them since they were feeding on a sensitive field, nesting ground for Sandgrouses and Larks. After a slight drive and a short coffee stop we stopped along a small stream and enjoyed some more birding with our first views of: Eurasian Golden Oriole, Wood Warbler, Common Nightingale and Alpine Swift. We also had some really good views of Rock Bunting and Cirl Bunting.

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) in a late evening sight that included some great vocalisation. Image by Carles Oliver

We made our way further south to Fraga, just outside or Lleida and checked into our accommodation for the night. We decided to take a slight afternoon break as tonight we are going to take a night drive and target some of the nocturnal birds in the area. We all deserved the slight bit of downtime and after a slightly earlier dinner went off into the late afternoon and night to see what nocturnal birds we could find. Luck was once again on our side and we had an incredible night drive with us getting great views of Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Western Barn Owl and Eurasian Scops Owl. We were very lucky to get great views of all of these species and it made it an Owltastic day, with us seeing 5 species of owl in the day, that being: Short-eared Owl, Little Owl, Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Western Barn Owl and Eurasian Scops Owl. We all enjoyed a good nites rest after another great days birding.

 

Day 9: Tuesday 23 April.                                       Lleida to Ebro Delta.

Another early start was on the cards for this morning so we could make our way to the Ebro Delta but still try and connect with a few birds we need in the area. After a lovely breakfast we were soon on the road and heading for the flowing step landscape just outside of Lleida. The break in the rain meant we could try see what birds were active and we had some good sightings with highlights being: Common Nightingale– finally some good views, Eurasian Hobby, Ortolan Bunting, Subalpine Warbler– great views, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Rock Sparrow and improved views of  Eurasian Jay.

Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) is a scarce migratory bird in Catalonia. Due to a huge irruption, during the tour we enjoyed a good number of them. Image by Carles Oliver

A stop along the nearby stream yielded us with a great sighting of Hawfinch- a difficult and tough bird to see, and we got good views. We soon were back on the road, heading for the Mediterranean coast. A quick lunch stop was enjoyed at a local tapas bar before making our way to a spot to try for Dartford Warbler– luck was on our side and we enjoyed good views on a pair of birds and also got some good views on a Common Whitethroat– the first for the trip. We soon moved onto a local wetland to check for any migrating birds and got rewarded with good views of Wood Warbler, Western Bonelli’s Warbler and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

We made our way down to the coast and arrived at the Ebro Delta in the late afternoon to some perfect weather conditions and we got treated to some exceptional and exciting birding. We enjoyed views of: Curlew Sandpiper( breeding plumage), Eurasian Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Slender-billed Gull, Dunlin, Common Shelduck, Garganey, Western Osprey and Bar-tailed Godwit in breeding plumage which was enjoyed by all as no one had seen the bird before in breeding dress.

Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) in almost full summer plomage at Ebro Delta. Image by Carles Oliver

As we left the bay we had the most incredible sightings of Audouin’s Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull and Eurasian Curlew all sitting in the open offering excellent photo opportunities and also gave us a chance to compare the different Gills next to each other and therefore learn how to ID them. Both Larry’s enjoyed this opportunity. We made our way to our accommodation close to the Ebro Delta, settled in and had a lovely dinner talking about our great day and completing our lists. We all had a good nites rest after another great day.

 

Day 10: Wednsday 24 April.                                                  Ebro Delta.

We begun our day once again with an early start and a lovely breakfast and then headed out to explore the Ebro Delta and surrounds for the day. A walk around our accommodation yielded us sightings of Black-crowned Night Heron, Mediterranean Flycatcher (a really good bird to have in Catalonia since is nesting in the islands of the Western Mediterranean), European Pied Flycatcher and Little Bittern. We made our way north into the Delta to the point and had some really good birding with highlights being: Icterine Warbler, Western Yellow Wagtail, Purple Heron, Collared Pratincole and Red-crested Pochard. Unfortunately the wind picked up badly and this halted our birding, we decided to stop for a coffee break and try plan B.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorac nycticorax), a common nesting heron at Ebro Delta. Image by Carles Oliver

Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla), a wonderful sight close to Ebro Delta! Image by Carles Oliver

We did have some excitement in one of the Subalpine Warblers we saw and photographed as we thought it could have been the recently split- Moltoni’s Warbler but after extensive checking and sending pics to experts we decided that is was a Western Subalpine Warbler. We also enjoyed watching a flock of about 50 Yellow Wagtails in a field close to the car and this gave us a chance to study the different races and we decided we have races from Italy, Iberia, NW Africa and Central Europe all in one spot- interesting stuff which was enjoyed by all but especially Larry S as he could also photograph the birds well. Our plan B kicked into place and we decided to enjoy lunch in a near by hide and boy did this work out as we had some exceptional birding which included: Little Stint, Baillon’s Crake, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, Little Ringed Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Common Snipe and Wood Sandpiper. What a lunch stop!

Ebro Delta is always a guarantee and this time provided with really close views on Collared Pratincoles (Glareola pratincola). Image by Carles Oliver

The biggest surprise of our lunch was the Jack Snipe that showed up and was on display feeding right in front the hide offering exceptional views- this was truly amazing as this is a hard bird to see and to see it so well was amazing. The bird was also a lifer for all on the trip. We decided to take a slight break from the wind before heading out again in the late afternoon. The afternoon was enjoyed coming to grips with the different Gulls and Terns of the area, and we enjoyed the late afternoon watching the terns coming into roost, we enjoyed good sightings of Caspian, Little and Whiskered Terns. We enjoyed a lovely traditional dinner at the lodge while we chatted about the excitimng day and also enjoyed working through our checklists and rounding off another great day. After dinner we enjoyed a slight walk around the accommodation and got good views of the nesting Eurasian Scops Owl.

And this Jack Snipe (Lymnocriptes minimus) was probably the most celebrated bird of the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

Although this Temminck’s Stint (Calidris temminckii) moulting to summer plogame (see the Black center in the wing feathers) was also a hit! Image by Carles Oliver

 

Day 11: Thursday 25 April.                         Ebro Delta and Tortosa Beseit Natural Park.                                                                                                                      

We started our day once again nice and early with a lovely breakfast before heading out for some birding. The weather looked promising and we enjoyed great views of Black-crowned Night Heron at our accommodation. We made our way into the Delta and had a good sighting of Common Reed Bunting at the local wetland, the species we saw is actually Iberian Reed Bunting, the race is know as Witherbyi and could in the close future become a new split and species so it was really good to get good scope views on this endangered species. Other highlights included: Common Shelduck, Caspian Tern, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Great Reed Warbler and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) controlling its territory from an advantatged point. Image by Carles Oliver

We made our way off the Delta towards Tortosa Beseit Natural Park to try a spot we know of for Bonelli’s Eagle. Luck was on our side and we arrived at the nesting area and had great views of the pair sitting up on the rocks, we also managed to get great scope views on a chick sitting on a neat nest- wow what a great sighting of this endangered Eagle. We made our way down into the Delta for lunch and had some good road side sightings of Short-toed Snake Eagle and Booted Eagle. Just before we lunch we got lucky and had a Red-footed Falcon fly by us while driving and we managed to relocate the bird and have exceptional views. The bird was flying and hawking insects and also perched close to us. We enjoyed lunch in the field and had our first European Honey Buzzard for the trip fly pass and offer decent views.

Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus), again a scarce migratory bird in Catalonia that we were lucky yo enjoy in Ebro Delta. Image by Carles Oliver

We decided to take a short break before heading out in the afternoon to do some shore birding. Our afternoon birding was a great success with us enjoying some top birding at one of the local hides. Highlights at the hide included: Melodious Warbler, Water Rail, Eurasian Spoonbill, Temminck’s Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, Willow Warbler and fabulous views of the Jack Snipe in-front of us in the open purring on a show. We had a fabulous sunset over the water with the Greater Flamingoes and Pied Avocets offering us great shots as we got the reflections off the water- what an incredible way to spend our last evening on tour. We enjoyed a lovely dinner and chatted about the great day and tour we have had and how it’s sad that it’s already over. We all enjoyed the wine on offer and took a short walk outside to locate the resident Eurasian Scops Owl and we all have good views of the bird on the nest box. We all have a good nites rest after another great day.

Melodious Warbler (Hyppolais polyglotta) showed really in Ebro Delta along with its much scarcer relative Icterine Warbler (Hyppolais icterina). Image by Carles Oliver

Eurasian Scops Owl (Otus scops) provided with great sights in our accommodation at Ebro Delta. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Day 12: Friday 26 April.                             Ebro Delta to Barcelona via Llobregat Delta.                                                                                                                     

Our final day of the tour started with a lovely breakfast and a walk around our accommodation. The weather was juts perfect for our last day and our walk after breakfast rewarded us with great views of a Garden Warbler which was new for the trip. We were soon on the road and made a short stop along the coast to scan for sea birds and this rewarded us with scope views of a Mediterranean Storm Petrel, closer to the shore we enjoyed views of Lesser Black-backed Gull and a European Shag sitting on the rocks giving us wonderful views.

Mediterranean Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii), a splitable race to take in count. Image by Carles Oliver

Soon we were back on the road towards Barcelona and the Llobregat Delta to see what we could find. We decided to bypass Barcelona and spend some time at the Llobregat Delta before ending the trip later in the afternoon in Barcelona. A stragic stop just outside of the Llobregat Delta rewarded us with good sightings of a pair of Iberian Green Woodpeckers; we got some really good views of these birds. We also enjoyed views of Monk and Rose-ringed Parakeet. Larry S took some time to enjoy and photograph the Common Swifts flying over head. We moved onto the Delta to enjoy our lunch in one of the bird hides. This worked our really well and we enjoyed some good views of: Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Collared Pratincole, Ferruginous Duck, Common Shelduck, Ruff, Common Greenshank and Common Redshank. What a way to enjoy our final lunch of the tour. We then knew we had to make our way into the hussel and bussel of Barcelona City to get to our hotel for the night.

After negotiating the Barcelona traffic we made it to our hotel in the city center and it was time to say our goodbyes after an incredible birding trip through the country of Spain. It’s always sad saying bye to lovely guests like Larry S, Pam and Larry A and it’s was an end to an incredible tour. We had a great time together, the trip was enjoyed by all and I had a great time. Our goodbyes were said and it’s always rewarding to have guests say they loved the tour and will back with us again. I would like to thank Larry S, Pam and Larry A for a wonderful trip, for the Enthusiasm, patience and all the laughs and good times we enjoyed.

And this was the end of the trip. Please contact us for more birding in Spain and other countries by info@barcelonabirdingpoint.com or visit our website with plenty of information about, http://www.barcelonabirdingpoint.com

 

 

 

Morocco Birding Tour 2019 Trip Report

Starting Date: 14th March, 2019

Number of participants: 5

 

Day 1. After arriving to Marrakech from different countries, the tour participants to explore Morocco in 2019 assembled in one hotel in town. Next morning, we had an early breakfast and left the accommodation in a bright morning. While getting in the van, we got the firsts birds of the trip: Eurasian Blackbirds, some House Buntings and several Pallid Swifts flying over.
The day was sunny and calm. High temperatures affecting Europe had been also recorded in Morocco, and just one day before we arrived the city scored 32ºC, a mark more likely to happen in mid May than in mid March.

The first area to explore was Imlil valley, South West of Marrakech and already well inside the Atlas. A first stop en route provided us with good views on Lesser Kestrels in a small colony by the road. There were at least 8 of them, flying and chasing each other while callin, and some tour participants had here the firsts African Chaffinch of the trip.
Kept driving for 10 minutes more until we parked to scan some decidious trees. Not even 1 minute after everybody was out the van we already had 1 Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker moving along the line of trees, and offering great views while moving up in a poplar. The view was incredible and everybody enjoyed it but after a pair of minutes we got distracted 2 Atlas Great Spotted Woodpeckers doing its way in the trees. This is endemic race, a also a canditate for a future Split from the European forms. 1 African Blue Tit came out to give us great views, just at the same time than the Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker flew in for a closer view, perching low in poplar! The bird sat there for more than 3 minutes allowing everybody to have wonderful views on the bird!

Levaillant’s Green Woodpeker (Picus vaillantii) performed really well in the very first stop of the tour! Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

The Woodpecker slowly made its way up the branch while our attention went to 2 Red-rumped Swallows flying over along with some Little Swifts. White Storks were moving around while an Eurasian Wren was singing low in the dense undergrowth. A nice male African Chaffinch was showy in a wire so everybody had excellent views on it. After some more views on the Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker we decided to move on to the next spot.

In our way we just got 2 Barbary Partridges flying around and 2 Short-toed Snake Eagles circling in a nice view. We had a stop in a slope covered by wonderful juniper. After few scanning we just got a pair of Tristam’s Warbler moving low in the junipers but the birds were extremelly restless, most of the time moving really low in the bush so it made difficult to get the bird for most of the tour partipicants. We didn’t give up. We kept scanning around while having ruff views on the birds moving low in the junipers. A pair of Coal Tits was feeding in the junipers, 1 male Sardinian Warbler was a nice adding and we got excellent views on a Rock Bunting singing from the top of one of the highest trees. But the Tristam’s was still not showing well. Everybody in the group was already having brief views on the rusty wings, contrasted with the lovely greyish head, but never long enough to enjoy. We were really about to leave when a wonderful male just came out of the vegetation, showing out in the top of a juniper for some seconds! Time enough for everybody to connect with the bird and have good views on the details!

The very restless Tristam’s Warbler (Sylvia deserticola), another of the regionals that we enjoyed during our first day in the Atlas mountains. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a wonderful views we got back to the minibus and kept going up. When crossing a small pinewood a song came inside the van; North African Treecreeper! We stopped and started scanning around. North African Treecreeper is noticeably different from Short-toed Treecreeper. The North African race (mauretanica) is a serious canditate for a future split based on calls, song and also plomage differences from the European race.

We went out and scan the tree. Soon we were enjoying a wonderful male Firecrest and a bit more to right, we got the North African Treecreeper singing from a branch! It was really great to have the bird singing in the same brach for nearly a minute!! African Chaffinches were also showy but our attention turned to a pair of Eurasian Sparrowhawks displaying up in the sky! 2 Hawfinches were calling in the patch but, despite our efforts, we never connected with them…

North-African Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla mauretanica) is a probable split based on morphology and calls. Please pair attention on the wing pattern. Image by Carles Oliver

Back to the minibus we just drove until Oukaïmeden with small flocks of Red-billed Choughs joining us during the tour. Once in Oukaïmeden a fast scanning around allow us to have good views on Mistle Trush but also in a nice mixed flock of Common Chaffinches and Bramblings. We got really good looks in some male Bramblings in summer plomage while feeding in the grass.

Red-billed Choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) are basically a high mountain bird in the Atlas, reaching lower altitudes than Alpine Choughs. Image by Carles Oliver

For us was also time to feed so we went into a restaurant and have a good meal. After lunch we kept scanning for some of the good high mountain birds living in the area. Had a pair of short walks with nothing else but obliging Black Redstarts. We walked around a small village expecting to be more lucky. And we did. 1 Little Owl was nicely showing in one of the roofs and 3 Atlas Shore Larks flew around, chasing each other in a really fast sequence. We tried to refind the larks, but was impossible. We were going to try a last attempt in a different corner of the valley when a bird appeared in front of the van: 1 African Crimson-winged Finch! Again went down and got good views on the bird. It flew to the right, just to join two more finches on a corcreek by the track. A fourth bird appeared from some where… We kept enjoying such a scarce bird when they suddenly flew out, flying up in the valley followed by a small flock of Common Rock Sparrows. Few minutes after the finches came back, now reconverted in a flock of 8 and we got really good views on the birds in walk away views.

A small flock of the high moutain-living African Crimson-winged Finch (Rhodopechys alienus) delighted us with close views. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after these nice views we just got back to our accommodation for some rest.

Day 2. We got an early morning start with a transfer of about 3 hours to Agadir. Some road birding allow firsts views on Algerian Shrike but also Crested Larks. Our first stop was near Tamri, the most famous place to try to have Northern Bald Ibis. We parked the van with a light fog fastly disappearing and fastly got nice views on Black-eared Wheatears singing in the bushland. Thekla’s Larks were also active and got nice views on one male Spectacled Warbler. 1 Algerian Shrike was sat up in a bush, allowing nice views while going on with the difficult taxonomy of the group and the slight differences between Algerian & Canary Island Shrike (koenigi). At this moment, a migratory flock og 5 Yellow Wagtails passed above us while calling on its way back to Europe.

We got several excellent views on European Serins (Serinus serinus) in diferent places along the tour! Image by Carles Oliver

A short walk in the wonderful dunes allow to see a distant flock of Northern Bald Ibis. There were 8 birds feeding on the ground with 3 more small flocks moving here and there in the getation. In the distance, some birds were flying above the cliffs, carrying preys to the nearby colony. We were having nice views on the birds until 1 Long-legged Buzzard appeared in the sky and all ibises flew off. Some of them came our way, allowing excellent views on flight. They flew over us, landing a bit beyond. We just moved 40 metres and then we were having a flock of 9 birds moving on the ground in a wonderful light. The birds were tipically feeding by peeking the ground in a nervous movement to get insects and other invertebrates. The birds kept coming closer and closer and, at the end, we got them only 30 metres away from us!!

Happy after such a wonderful views we just went back to the van and left the area for a good lunch. Our lunch got a bit longer than expected to appear on table but we were joined by lovely views on Red-rumped Swallows and Pallid Swifts. Back in the field we went to Tamri Estuary for some birds. Just arrived we got 2 Moroccan Wagtails flying around, one of them offering good views to all tour participants. A short walk in the beach is necessary to have good views on the estuary. It is also a good place for Kentish Plover and we got good views on a bird in winter plomage. It took some time to put everybody on the bird but we all finally got excellent views. Once closer to the mouth of the river we got good views in a large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls joined by 20+ Audouin’s Gulls including adults but also interesting 2nd year plomages. Yellow-legged Gulls were also in low numbers. In the river, 15 Eurasian Coots were feeding and 2 Western Marsh Harriers were flying above the reedbeds. The shore was having some small birds and we were happy to have 2 more Kentish Plovers along 1 Gull-billed Tern and 1 distant Dunlin. 4 Common Ringed Plovers were also resting in the beach, not far from the flock of gulls. Grey Heron and Little Egret were also noted.

This year we got unforgettable views on Northern Bald Ibises (Geronthicus eremita) since a small flocks was feeding close by for 15 minutes! Images by Carles Oliver

Scanning the area around we got a Sedge Warbler calling in small patch of reeds just in our back. Some scanning was required but we all got good views on the bird, moving along with a Sardinian Warbler. Zitting Cisticola and Cetti’s Warbler were also moving around. In the opposite side of the river, a small flock of Northern Bald Ibis was roosting. A nice way to say good bye to this wonderful corner!

The thick coastal fog made more difficult to spot Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus). Image by Carles Oliver

Back in the minibus we drove back to Agadir, where we were going to explore the Estuary of the River Souss, inmediatly South of the town. Driving in the area we had several good views on Maghreb Magpies. Once arrived we spend a good time scanning the shores. There were several Black-headed Gulls, 10+ Medirranean Gulls (mainly juveniles) and two distant Slender-billed Gulls roosting along with Black-headeds and Lesser Black-backes. Up in the river, a distant flock of Greater Flamingoes was a nice adding and, by the flock, we noted the first Black-winged Stilt of the trip.

A closer area of the estuary was having 2 gorgeous Ruddy Shelducks showing really well. Along with them, good numbers of Common Redshanks but also several Greenshanks, Common Sandpipers, Eurasian Curlews, Eurasian Oystercatchers and Grey Plovers. 2 Ruffs were also feeding in the shore and we got 2 Wood Sandpipers flying around the area. A further scanning produced a wonderful Eurasian Spoonbill feeding on the water, approaching us with its typical side-to-side movement. A Western Osprey was aware of all this activity, catching a lot of good afternoon light. The bush around was having some small birds, including Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, European Serin and Maghreb Magpies. I was expecting some migratory small birds, but got nothing. Instead we got a nice Eurasian Sparrowhawk perched low in a tree and a favolous flock of 44 Eurasian Spoonbills passing over.

Maghreb Magpie (Pica mauretanica) is the very last bird becoming a full species among the several distinctive races living in Morocco. Image by Carles Oliver

Mallards, Great Cormorants and 1 distant Common Shelduck were noted before going to our accommodation for some rest after a long, but good day!

Day 3. Another sunny day in Morocco. This time we were exploring the Massa River. A number of ponds, marshy areas and reedbeds compose a great birding area in the lower Massa. Ours first stop was to explore was of these ponds. Even before getting out the van we started getting good birds. 2 Eurasian Hoopoes were feeding by the road and a nice flock of Spanish Sparrows was along with them. Some Moussier’s Redstarts were moving in the euphorbias that carpet the slopes around. A fast scan produced Little Egret feeding on the shore along with 2 Eurasian Moorhens. Deep in one tamarisk tree, a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk was overlooking the pond. The riparian vegetation was full of Cetti’s Warblers singing and 1 obliging Sedge Warbler that came out of the vegetation to take a bath right beside some Spanish Terrapins. A short walk around produced the first Common Chiffchaff of the trip as well as African Chaffinches and 1 surprisingly Eurasian Wryneck up in a palm tree. The bird was feeding between the death hanging leaves of the palm tree, joined by Common Bulbuls and Eurasian Blackcaps. Some Laughing Doves were feeding on the ground, but also singing in the trees around. A distant Black-crowned Tchagra was singing in the distance…impossible to reach.

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) with a prey in lovely morning light. Image by Carles Oliver

Our second stop was to explore another corner of the Massa River with few reedbeds but good mud product of the low water level. Here we had a flock of 6 Eurasian Teals feeding on the mud, joined by 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Common Snipe, 1 Common Sandpiper and 6 Little Ringed Plovers displaying and working hard to “fence” their territories. 1 Eurasian Spoonbill was roosting in the area along with 2 Great Cormorants. We kept scanning around and suddenly we had a Black-crowned Tchagra sang in big bush in the left. We all scanned around, being uncapable to find the birds. For instance, we got good views on 1 Willow Warbler moving on the open ground nad 1 male Subalpine Warbler skulking in the bush. Several European Serins were also really active, with close views on some singing males. We moved about down the river to scan a different angle of the bushland and then is one of the tour participants went on locating 1 Black-crowned Tchagra quietly preening in the top of one of the bush! Really a great spot that we could enjoy for long since the bird stayed in that position for above 5 minutes! Excellent views!!

Black-crowned Tchagra (Tchagra senegalensis) inhabits dense bushland and farmland in Southern Morocco. Image by Carles Oliver

We came back to pond for more scanning. Now, 1 Italian Yellow Wagtail was moving in the mud, providing good views. Then, 1 female Little Bittern just cross the pond, offering views in flight for a few seconds! Always wonderful to enjoy a Little Bittern, even if being short views… Still, the area was not offering anything else so we decided to leave, not without listening a distant Common Nightingale before getting inside the minibus.

Our last stop that morning was to explore one of my favourite corners of the river. We walked along the riverside. African Chaffinches were quite active, singing and feeding around and 2-3 Black-crowned Tchagras were also singing from deep inside the bush. 2 Black-crowned Night Herons were roosting in the rank vegetation, offering good views. 1 Common Kingfisher was also perched in a low branch. Along the shore, 5 Green Sandpipers and 1 Greenshank were also visible along with 1 lovely Squacco Heron. 2 Glossy Ibis passed over, going to one of the main roosting places in the area. We kept walking and scanning around. The small bush around produced really good looks on Common Chiffchaff and Sardinian Warbler but fastly our attention went to 1 Brown-throated Martin flying really low above the water! The bird, moving fast, was followed by up to 3 more birds moving around and allowing great looks!

Egyptian Mongoose (Herpetes ichneumon) was one of the surprises in our morning in the Massa River! Image by Carles Oliver

 

Moussier’s Redstarts (Phoenicurus moussieri) is a fairly common bird in some areas of the Souss-Massa National Park. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after this really celebrated bird, we kept enjoying the good general birding around, this time in the way of some Laughing Doves, Little Egret, Moorhens and obliging European Serins. In the way to the minibus a song came out from the tamarisks. We moved slowly in the area until we found a good angle inside the bush and everybody in the group had wonderful views on the Western Olivaceous (Isabelline) Warbler. We had a pair of other birds singing before in the sames pot, but always deep inside the vegetation so we could not have a good view. The bird kept singing for about 1 minute so everybody had good views in the scope. After that the bird moved to the left in the tamarisks, with a series of good but brief views as the bird got inside the vegetation at the same time of catching insects.

Happy with this nice views we just headed to our accommodation for lunch. In the way, we anyway had a stop as a distant Western Orphean Warbler showes up far away in a palm tree. We had the bird in the scope but unfortunably not everybody had proper views on the bird. In this same spot we enjoyed European Stonechats, Crested Larks, Corn Buntings and up to 5 Willow Warblers lining on a fence!

A nice lunch and a refreshing drink gave us new energies to go on with the afternoon. Started to move back to Marrakech but before had a short stop in a different spot of the river. This is actually a roosting place for Glossy Ibises. A flock of about 60 were in the place this time. We scanned around for some minutes but got few. About to leave when the call of a Moustached Warbler came from down the reeds! We waited for long, waiting for something to happen. Suddenly, a bird came flew a pair of metres but inmediatly got again down. Still, enough to confirm that it was a Moustached! We waited for several minutes but nothing happened. We were close to leave when the bird appeared low in the reeds, at the other side of the pond and showed well for about 7 seconds! Unfortunately most of the group was far away so only a pair of tour participants got the bird. After that we waited some more time, but the bird never showed up.

We just arrived to Marrakech for lunch after a rainy transfer by motorway.

Day 4. This day we explored a number of spots in our way to Ouarzazate. Leaving Marrakech we did a first stop in a small gorge where to scan for some birds. In the way, Black Wheatear, Thekla Lark and Short-toed Snake Eagle were all seen witht the eagle having a sun bath in the morning sun. It was clear that some migration was going on since a pair of flocks of Black Kites were circling in the sky when arrived to the cliff. Here we scan for the top of the cliffs resulting in excellent views on 1 Lanner Falcon flying alongside 2 Eurasian Kestrels. This was an excellent comparision on size and structure between both species that all tour participants apreciated.

Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) it is only found in the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco, so it is must-seen bird for all birdwatchers visiting the region. Image by Carles Oliver

From the top the of cliff we were overlooking a small stream so again a good chance for some general birding. Both Grey Heron and Little Egret were fishing along the bank and a proper scanning produced 2 Wood Sandpipers and some Little Ringed Plovers. A flock of 8+ Common Rock Sparrows flew off the cliff and tipically stop on a wire in a nice but short action. Black Wheatears were really close and 2 Red-rumped Swallows also showed really well.

Back to the main road we were stopped by a Booted Eagle (light form) and 2 European Bee-eaters while Spanish Sparrows, European Serins and Eurasian Hoopoes were active all around. We did a coffee stop and it was a really productive one since we had no less than 11 Black Kites in really close views along with 1 Marsh Harrier and 2 Common Swifts passin over! Just at the moment to get inside the car, 2 Black Storks joined the thermal were most of the raptors were circling, allowing really good looks!

Our second stop of the morning was a bit less productive since we only had European Stonechats, Crested Larks, Sardinian Warblers, Serins and Corn Buntings. In fact we were arriving a bit late to the location but our delay was having a good explanation in the way of 1 Barbary Partridge really close to the van in the outskirts of Marrakech catching a wonderful morning light and 1 Great Spotted Cuckoo crossing the road right in front of the minibus! Unfortunably only some of the tour participants enjoyed this bird…

Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara) delighted with great views, being one of the most celebrated birds by all the group. Image by Carles Oliver

We faced to Marrakech. No traffic in the road so we did some miles before stopping and enjoying a good lunch with wonderful views on the lower Atlas mountains. Once back to the road, our next stop was to explore the highest part of the Atlas. When going to Oukaïmeden we were missing Alpine Choughs due to the unexpected high temperatures. Now we were stopping to check for them. But never found them! Instead we got 2 Red-billed Choughs chasing 1 Long-legged Buzzard along the valley. The raptor went to look for shelter in the cliffs and we were surprised to see that the bird was actually landing on its nest! We had good views on the Long-legged Buzzards by the scope. We scanned for Alpine Chough. But nothing. 1 Common Raven was noted before coming back to the minibus.

Our last stop of the day, already around Ouarzazate was to explore a small oasis with some olive and almond trees and big tamarisks. A really good spot for migratory birds. Here we enjoyed the firsts Woodchat Shrikes of the trips and ruff views on 1 Grasshoper Warbler skulking on the grass…1 Common Whitethroat showed up but nobody really connected with that bird out of me. Few birds in this spot. A final scan was done in the desertic slopes around, producing the firsts White-crowned Black Wheatears of the trip. Suddenly, a bird was moving by the road and it turned out in being 1 Desert Lark gentlenly walking by the tarmac. Nice views!

Our first stop in proper habitat gave us great views on Desert Larks (Ammomanes deserti). Image by Carles Oliver

That was the day. After few miles left we arrived to Ouarzazate for a nice dinner and a deserved rest time!

Day 5. Early morning start to explore the dump inmediatly South of Ouarzazate. The dump was built to prevent big affluences of water in the lower Draa and has become one of the most important inland wetlands in Southern Morocco. A short walk is required to reach the shore. During the walk we had several good views on Maghreb Larks but also Woodchat Shrikes. Spectacle, Sedge & Subalpine Warblers were all seen. Walking in the sandy and bushy area (it is huge project to replant tamarisks) we got a Black Stork taking off from few metres in front of us! The bird flew to look for a new place where to land and rest a bit in its migratory journey.

Desert Lark (Galerida macrorrhyncha) inhabits barren areas and farmland South of the Atlas mountains. Image by Carles Oliver

A small stream comes down to the dump. Along the shores we had good views on Little Ringed Plovers but also 2 Little Stints and several Iberian Yellow Wagtails. Flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks were passing in low flight, moving North. As we arrived close to the water, we got more and more wagtails, including some White Wagtails and the first Meadow Pipit of the trip.

This is one of the 2 Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) that we saw during the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

We finally got to the water. Some Northern Shovelers were feeding on the shore along with a pair of Eurasian Teals. Deep in the vegetation there were some Red-knobbed Coots feeding in the vegetation. 2 Black-winged Stilts and 1 Greenshank were also noted. But we were not having great views on the birds (the coots are always a good target in this trip) because of the dense vegetation inside the water so we decided to try a second area of the dump, hopefully producing better views.

In the way back to the minibus we got 2 Black-eared Wheatear, 2 Desert Wheatears and 1 Northern Weathear while small flocks of Black Kites were circling up on its way back to Europe. The morning light also helped in having really good looks on 2 Wood Sandpipers in the shore of the stream and better views on Maghreb Larks.

Once in the car we drove some miles until a our next attemp to approach the shore. The drive down, crossing a steppe land was really productive with a family of White-crowned Black Wheatears feeding its chicks, 2 Desert Larks, Desert Wheatears and lovely views on 1 Tawny Pipit. Once beside the lake we enjoyed great views on 1 Osprey flying above the dump. Ruddy Shelducks were also shoring nicely. Here we also had distant views on Great Crested Grebes and Grey Herons while hundreds of White Storks were gathering in huge flocks, circling up in the sky as they were ready to cross the Atlas! A distant flock of Black-winged Stilts were seeing flying, joined by 1 Black-tailed Godwit. 1 Marsh Harrier were also overflying the reedbeds. Just in the limit of the vegetation, some waterfowl was feeding. We had Eurasian Teals but also proper looks on Red-knobbed Coots showing the typical shape of the shield. But the very best bird of the area were 3 Marbled Teals showing in lovely light and moving fast in the open water to get shelter in the aquatical vegetation. Everybody in the group had excellent views on the birds and it was one of the most celebrated birds of the tour!

White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga) is a common resident bird in Southern Morocco. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a wonderful and rather unexpected finding we just headed back to the main road for a good lunch. Refreshed by the shade and the food, our transfer to Boulmane du Dades happened fast and comfortably. Once checked in our hotel we still had some time to rest before going for some exploring of the huge steppes inmediatly South and East of Boulmane.

And we had a pair of excellent hours there! Just arrived there we had a flock of tens of White Wagtails moving in the area along with some Meadow Pipits and Northern Wheatears. A further scanning produced the firsts Red-rumped Wheatears of the tour with beautiful views. We did a stop to enjoy Temminck’s Larks, being as numerous as I never saw before! They were everywhere. We also had good numbers of Fat Sand Rats moving around.

Temmick’s Lark (Eremophila bilopha) is one of the most attractive larks to be found in Morocco. Image by Carles Oliver

Juveline Temmick’s Lark (Eremophila bilopha) in the sandy landscape. Image by Carles Oliver

Our last stop was to explore a small corner. Less than minute after arriving we were having good views on Cream-coloured Coursers. We counted 11 of them running (coursing) and delighting our group with wonderful views. A further scanning around also produced good views on 1 Thick-billed Lark moving among the vegetation but our attention came fastly to one bird flying to us that turned out to be 1 Greater Hoopoe Lark! So we were having at the same time Coursers, Thick-billed Lark and Greater Hoopoe Lark!! What a momment of the trip. In fact, Temminck’s Larks were also around…

This issue Cream-coloured Coursers (Cursorior cursor) looked like being everywhere in the Moroccan steppes. Image by Carles Oliver

We ended the day with great views on both Greater Hoopoe Lark and Cream-coloured Coursers just by the minibus, complemented with views with the scope! When driving back to our accommodation, a flock of 11 Stone Curlews were a final bonus for the evening!!

Greater Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes) singing in the evening light. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 6. This morning we enjoy a great breakfast in our accommodation before going back to the huge steppe area around. Our first stop is a stream with some ponds of water so likely to attrack Sandgrouses to drink water. In our way to the spot we had several Desert and Red-rumped Wheatears along the road as well as some Temminck’s Larks. Just arriving, we had a Booted Eagle in the opposite bank of the the stream, barely 50 metres away from the minibus! A short walk around the area fastly produced first sights on Trumpeter Finches moving around the broken terrain. We also had European Serins, Greenfinches and Goldfinches moving all around. Thekla Larks were really showy as well. But no Sandgrouses… A harder scanning of the area produced 1 Woodchat Shrike, Common Bulbuls and 1 Corn Bunting and suddenly we got a far calling in the sky and some seconds later we got 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouses flying around to stop in a distant point. Some of the tour participants got distant views in the scope but unfortunably the flock flew out before everybody could enjoy them… We still wait a good while, scanning for migratory birds but getting little. 2 Black-bellied Sandgrouses flew over us, allowing really good views on them. This year the area looked like having few Sandgrouses so we went to a different spot.

In the opposite with previous years, Trumpeter Finches (Bucanetes githagineus) were rather scarce. Still, we had some excellent sights on them. Image by Carles Oliver

A short drive in the steppes allowed us to see more Temmink’s Larks (everywhere this year) along with Greater Hoopoe Larks singing and displaying around in a wonderful way! When enjoying the Larks we were distracted by a distant flock of birds flying that it turned out to be 20+ Cream-coloured Coursers!! Kept scanning around, now in a small farm land. The place was plenty of Northern Wheatears in migration North, joined by Yellow Wagtails but also 1 Woodchat Shrike. 1 Desert Grey Shrike was also a nice adding to our list!

We then went a bit further. A crag in the area is a good corner for som especies and we did well in coming to check that small area! Just arrived with the minibus had close, really close views on Cream-coloured Courser as 6 birds were moving alongside our van! Suddenly, a bird crossed the dart road, stopping 60 metres away in the slope. It turned out to be a Thick-billed Lark! So we stopped and jumped out to try to improve the views we got the day before. Hard work as we were all the time distracted by the Coursers moving beside us. We gathered and went closer to the lark. A close approximation allowed us to have wonderful views on the bird (a female) while being concentrated in killing a big cicade! The bird was simply 20 metres away from us in really good light!

Thick-billed Lark (Rhamphocoris clotbei) is a rather nomadic lark, normally having scattered populations in Southern Morocco. Image by Carles Oliver

Very happy after such a nice views we just moved on to explore that crag but again something took our attention as a close bird was singing behind us. We all turned back and a absolutely amazing Maghreb Wheatear appeared in front of us, barely 30 metres away! We all had really good views on the bird despite it was highly mobile in the slope. This was one of the most celebrated birds in the trip!!!

Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe halophila) is a scarce bird living in semi-arid country side including plains, small gorges and broken terrain. Image Carles Oliver

Amazed after all the good birds around we jsut went down the crag. The place is hosting a pair of Pharaon Eagle Owl and soon we were all having nice views on one roosting deep inside a hollow. All the group was delighted with this amazing views and all the good birds in such short time! And we were just chating about when a spectacular Lanner Falcon appeared up in the sky, flying low over the crag with incredible good light so everybody could enjoy the magnificient bird. After some circling, the bird just started calling in a soft way and disappeared fast to one side of the crag. Absolutely stunning!!

Happy after such a productive morning we just came back to our accommodation for a good lunch and some rest before doing some afternoon birding. Before dinner we just went out for some fast birding. Visiting some cliffs we just had good views on both Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear while Trumpeter Finches were moving around. A bit beyond, a last stop allowed us to enjoy 1 Black Redstart as well as two wonferul Barbary Falcons flying around, diving in an incredible manner and we also had good views on the cliff.

The sun was not specially high any more so it was time to go back to the accommodation, enjoy our dinner and have some good rest!

Day 7. Batteries recharged after a good rest, went down for breakfast. This day we were moving from Boulmane du Dades to Merzouga so it was time for some stops in the way while approaching the desert. It was again a sunny day but colder than expected (contrastin with the higher than average temperatures in the Northern slope).

Iberian Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava iberiae) is a migratory bird in Southern Morocco. Image by Carles Oliver

Before doing some kilometers we just did a stop in one of these corners attracting many migratory birds. Here we got a numerous flock of White Wagtails and Greater Short-toed Larks, being joined by 2 Iberian Yellow Wagtails, several Meadow Pitpits and Northern Wheatears and 1 British Yellow Wagtail. Desert & Red-rumped Wheatears were also noted. A Little Owl sitting on the top of a pile of stones was a nice adding to the day list!

This lovely Little Owl (Athene noctua) was a good adding in our last visit to the steppe lands inmediatly South of Boulmane du Dades. Image by Carles Oliver

We then went for a 90 minutes transfer to stop in a desertic spot. This is a well known place for Scrub Warbler so we parked the minibus and started scan around. The area was having some hundreds of Greater Short-toed Larks feeding on the ground and moving in a endless motion around the scrubs. 2 Tawny Pipits were also moving along with them. Woodchat Shrike and Northern Wheatears were also noted. Flocks of swallows were passing by, and along with the Barn Swallows we did enjoy the firsts Sand Martins of the trip. We just walked a bit around, covering as much territory as possible. Spectacled Warblers looked like common, with some males even singing and showing up in the top of a bush for a while.

Herds of Dromedaires were grazing in the area, being a really nice setting of low scrubland in the desertic plain with tall mountains as a remarkable frame. Our walk was being not that productive as it was no trace of Scrub Warbler so we decided to go back to the minibus when suddenly something moved in front of. A bird skulking down with a long tail: Fulvous Babbler! Fastly we were all in the bird and we had wonderful views not in one but in 5 Fulvous Babblers moving on the ground and even going up in a bush to offer us a remarkable view of the birds!

This family group of Fulvous Babbler (Turdoides fulva) provided with walk away views while searching for Saharan Scrub Warbler. Image by Carles Oliver

We came happy to the minibus so we decided to do a last stop before going for lunch. The stop produced the same birds in the last one (out of the Babbler) but just when we were coming we got 2 Bar-tailed Larks walking around us. In our way back tot the van, a male Thick-billed Lark flew in front of us to stop some 100 metres away!

Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti), one of the commonest birds in the Moroccan deserts. Image by Carles Oliver

Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura) proved to be more elusive than usual. Image by Carles Oliver

After lunch we just kept our way to Merzouga, to end the day with some birding in the impressive lake in the middle of the desert. Here, the afternoon light gives the lake in the dunes a amazing reflection of a bizarre mix of Flamingoes, Stilts and sand dunes…
The lake was just as great as always. About 400 Greater Flamingoes were roosting in the deeper part of the lake. All around the shore, hundreds of Ruddy Shelduck and good numbers of Black-winged Stilts were feeding. Along with them small numbers of Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers but also Wood & Green Sandpipers, Greenshanks as well as 2 Little Stints and 1 Common Snipe.
A big flock of Eurasian Coots were feeding and we were able to pick up 3 Red-knobbed Coots among them. A bit beyond a flock of 13 Ferruginous Ducks were diving in search of food, with a closer flock of Common Pochards providing good views. Midday between them, an unexpected male of Tufted Duck was a good adding to our lists. 2-3 Gull-billed Terns were flying above the lake. Far in the distance, a flock of Pied Avocets were feeding along with Stilts.

Ruddy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea) can be really common in the brakish, poor vegetated lakes in Southern Morocco. Image by Carles Oliver

We just moved a bit in the shore to have a change of angle and keep scanning. As moving in the sparse bushland around we got good views on Subalpine & Willow Warblers. Scanning the lake we got a good flock of 15+ Marbled Teals, moving in the opposite bank. Many ducks were concentrated there including Shovelers but also Eurasian Teals, Northern Pintails and 1 Garganey that unfortunately nobody else saw out of me.
Great Crested Grebes were also noted all around and big flocks of White Storks and Barn Swallows started to gather around to spend the night. It was momment for us leave and go to our accommodation for a wonderful dinner and some good rest!

Sunset at the famous “Merzouga lake”. Good surprises were waiting for us in this lake the last day of the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 8. Our day in the desert was this year especially wonderful. Ours first stop that day was to enjoy some close views on Desert Sparrows deep in the desert. A party of 10 of them were feeding, providing with excellent views on both males and lovely females showing that orangish coloration so typical in true desert birds.

Some of the really good looks that we had on males and females Desert Sparrows (Passer simplex) around Merzouga. Image by Carles Oliver

Our second stop was to visit a pond where Sandgrouses come to drink water from all the area around. The “pond” is few more than a 10 metres long streght of water, few centimetres long. In the way we had firsts views on Brown-necked Ravens. Once in the place we had to wait a bit. Some flocks of Sandgrouses were flying around. A small flock of 4 Spotted Sandgrouses came on the ground and walked a bit but still far away from the water. More flocks were arriving from the desert around. We counted about 50 Spotted Sandgrouses and 16 Crowned Sandgrouses in different flocks landing about 300 metres away from the water.

More minutes of waiting with little action. Suddenly a male Spotted Sandgrouse arrives flying until the water, drinks and inmediatly goes away. One minute later 3 more Spotteds come to drink water. Then 5 more. And suddenly tens of them arrive to the pond in a mess of calls powerful wingbeats. Both Crowned & Spotted offer good views to everybody in the crew and after few minutes they all fly away!

The delicate design of Spotted Sandgrouse (Pterocles senegallus) females is perfect to disappear in the stony desert. Image by Carles Oliver

Mixed flock of Crowned (back) and Spotted (front) Sandgrouses attending the water point. Image by Carles Oliver

Around the pond we only have 4 Crowneds and 3 Spotteds, far away, still waiting for drink water. Suddenly, a Lanner Falcon appears in the sky chasing a Feral Pigeon. The bird offers brief views and it is interesting that it flies over all Sandgrouses but see none of them!

Our next stop is to visit a ringing station of the Catalan Bird Assotiation (Institut Català d’Ornitologia). When arrive we are lucky enough to the guys being ringing in that momment. And we are truly lucky as they are ringing only one bird, 1 Iberian Chiffchaff that was already captured some days ago!!! Birds in the area can stay several days feeding as they have to accumulate enough grease to finish the migration back to the nesting places. They area likely to need a good recovery since this area is normally the first stop for them after crossing the Sahara desert!

Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus) was one of the surprises of the tour. Trap and ringed by Marc Illa we enjoyed good views on hand and later around the oases. Please pair attention on the citril yellow on the supercilium but also in the upper breast, around the carpal joint and in the vental area, contrasted with a really white underneath, Image by Carles Oliver.

It is always nice to have such a close views in taxa which is normally difficult to identify in the field (virtually not possible as long the bird doesn’t call…)

We also did a short walk around the area. The bush land around the ringing station produced great views on common migratory species such as Common Redstart, Woodchat Shrike, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Willow Warbler, Subalpine Warbler as well as 1 female Bluethroat. We also relocated the Iberian Chiffchaff feeding along with 1 Western Bonelli’s Warbler, resultin a nice comparision on structure and sizes.

Happy after such a good encounteer we kept moving on, this time to visit a roosting place of Egyptian Nightjars. When arriving to the area our local guide was already waiting for us and it took short to contact with 2 different Egyptian Nightjars roosting in the wady!

Egyptian Nightjar (Caprimulgus eagyptius) roosting in a wady. Image by Carles Oliver.

Nearby the Nightjars we were having a African Desert Warbler when passing by with the car. So we just went to have a look. Subalpine & Spectacled Warblers were around and we also had Bar-tailed Larks moving around along with Common & Pallid Swifts, but no signal of the African Desert Warbler. Finally we decided to try somewhere else and we were lucky enough to have the bird even before getting out of the car! This time the small warbler showed really well and everybody had excellent views on the bird!!!

African Desert Warbler (Sylvia deserti) has very low densities along wadies and areas with proper vegetation. Image by Carles Oliver

After this we just drove to Rissani for lunch and some rest but in the way we had to do a pair of stops: first for a distant flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters that finally produced excellent views and the second in a lovely male Seebohm’s Wheatear by the road!

Blue-checkeed Bee-eater (Merops persicus) was one of the most celebrated birds by all tour participants. Image by Carles Oliver

The last stop in this incredible day was to look for Saharan Scrub Warbler. This bird can be really tricky, as everybody that has birdwatch in Maghreb probably has noticed. We did a good scanning in one of the territories and got some birds in migration including Hoopoe, Greater Short-toed Larks, Common Redstart and Subalpine Warbler. Also a pair of Spectacled Warbler and Desert Lark were noted. After the long scouting we really were about to abandon when suddenly a Saharan Scrub Warbler flew under our feet and moved to right. The bird fastly stop on the ground, tailed up, showing really well. Part of the tour participants had the bird moving but other people had only the sense of motion…The bird was still moving in the scrubs and we were really trying to keep track on it! Some more brief views, on the ground or flying (then showing the long, rounded, white tipped tail as well as the barred back, rump and tail) and the bird literally disappeared in the scrubs…We searched and searched for it and we were still capable to relocate it but we were absolutely uncapable to do any tour participant reconnect with it… At the end, some people had good views but others only ruff views on this really, really skulking bird!

After this we headed back to out accommodation for some rest!

Day 9. This morning we went back to the lake of Merzouga for some birding. One of the corners of the lake provides excellent habitat for a number of scarce migratory species. In our way we got a female Montagu’s Harrier doing its way North. Also in the way we enjoyed excellent views on Brown-necked Ravens while moving in the desert. Once arrived we did a short walk around. The shore of lake here is a gentle prairie of grass with scattered tamarisks and small ponds and channels. An excellent corner to look for scarcer birds.

Brown-necked Ravens (Corvus ruficollis) can be scarce depending on the year. Image by Carles Oliver

Many Iberian Yellow Wagtails were around. The riparian vegetation was full of warblers, mainly Sedge Warblers bul we also got several Subalpine Warblers (inornata and cantillans races, mainly), Willow Warblers and 2 Eurasian Reed Warblers. 1 Common Redstart and 1 skulking Bluethroat were also noted. 2 Red-throated Pipits flew over us, but nobody could connect with the birds in the sky. Other good birds around included Meadow Pipits, Red-rumped Swallows and Maghreb Larks.

We then went to spend some time in one of the few locations for Eastern Olivaceous Warbler around Merzouga. We went in a short walk around an area with tamarisks trees and other bush. This year the area was virtually empty of the birds, normally singing around at the end of March. We neither had many migratory birds, as usual. A scan in the area produced some Subalpine Warblers along with Western Bonelli’s & Willow Warblers. We spent some time here scanning the trees and got brief views on both Garden & Melodious Warblers up in the canopies. A single Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was found singing and, after a long search, we had good but brief views on the bird!

Marbled Teals (Marmaronetta angustirostris) were having good number in some location in Morocco. Image by Carles Oliver

After this we came back for lunch in our accommodation and, after lunch, we went to spend some more time in the lake. Light and temperature were really pleasant for birding when we approach the water and we enjoyed excellent views on 30+ Marbled Teals. A mixed flock of ducks concentrated our attention as it was having Northern Shovelers, Eurasian Teals and something else…A proper scanning revealed a female Blue-winged Teal (!!!!) and, further on, a hybrid of Cinnamon Teal x Northern Shoveler!! An amazing to see this North American vagrants in the Saharan desert!!!
This was one of the best momments of the tour! We got good views on the ducks, paying special attention to the mix of characters of the hybrid…Unfortunately we were a bit far away to take any Picture but we were informed that the birds had been there for some weeks.

After enjoying really much these ducks we kept scanning around and got some good birds in the way of a juvenile Eurasian Spoonbill and proper looks in a drake Garganey.

Happy after this nice afternoon we came to the hotel for our last dinner in the desert before going back to Marrakech.

Day 10. Final transfer from the desert to Marrakech. This is a typical driving day. All the typical that can be with a mid way stop to enjoy Pharaon Eagle Owl but also close views on Desert Lark and Desert Wheatear.

Pharaon Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) showed really well and twice during the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

The way back was a bit longer than expected due to some rain in the desert and along the Southern slope of the Atlas. Many small “wadys” (dry rivers) were actually having water and the road was having several water courses crossing it…We finally arrived to Marrakech for a nice dinner and a last surprise in the way of 1 North African Tawny Owl calling in the gardens of our accommodation. Definately a good way to end our tour.

Looking forward our 2020 issue. Do you want to join?

Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica), a common view along the tour in Morocco. Image by Carles Oliver

 

 

Influx of Crakes (genus Porzana) in Catalonia

Late March and early April is normally one of the best moments to look for Crakes in Catalonia. Despite the migratory movements of all three species ocurring in the country (Spotted Crake, Little Crake and Baillon’s Crake) start along February and stretches well inside May, the last days of March and early April concentrates a good number of them.

This 2019 sightings of Crakes in Catalonia were low. Spring migration was rather late for some species and it looked like it was so for all Porzanas. Until the very last days of March there were only a handful of sights, mostly concentrated in typical areas for these species.

Little Crake (Porzana parva) male at Riu Besòs, Barcelona. The bird stayed some days in the same location. Seen during our tour on 29th March. Image by Carles Oliver

But this was to change fast as from March 28th there were reports some Little & Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) in diferent coastal wetlands along Catalan coastline. On March 30th-31st the increase on sights was huge, with several Spotteds reported in diferent areas, even in small ponds and other unusual locations. On March 31st up to 4 diferent Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla) were seen in diferent locations (Aiguamolls de l’Empordà, Aiguamolls de Pals, Riu Besòs & Pantà del Foix). All birds out of one “joined” by Little or Spotted Crakes in the same spot.

This abrupt influx could be explained by a change in the weather conditions. A low press System was affecting SW Europe and combined with Eastern winds in the Mediterranean. Enough explanation? Probably not…

On 31st March we were leading a trip to Aiguamolls and enjoyed 4 Little Crakes (Porzana parva), 2 Spotted Crakes and 1 Baillon’s Crake only in two spots, 200 metres away from each other!

Please enjoy this small selection of images from these days. Several local birdwatchers have enjoy them. Today, 4th April, there were still 2 Baillon’s & several Spotteds around!

One of the 2 obliging Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) seen in Aiguamolls de l’Empordà during our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) in Corncrake-like action! Image by Carles Oliver

 

The spots can be really efficient to make Spotted Crakes disappear in the riparian vegetation. Image by Carles Oliver

One of the Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla) in Catalonia during early April 2019. This one proved to be really cooperative at Riu Besòs. Images by Carles Oliver

 

Here a nice comparative of Baillon’s (above) versus Little Crake (below). Differences on coloration and structure are evident. Images by Carles Oliver

Finland & Finnmark Birding Tour 2018 Trip Report

Dates: 11th June to 20th June, 2018

Tour participants: 4

 

Day 1. As usual in this tour, all participants assembled at Helsinki Airport for an afternoon flight to Ivalo. After a quiet flight we landed in Ivalo, deep inside Arctic Finland late in the afternoon and headed directly to our accommodation in a cold and rainy weather. After dinner we went for short walk around and connected with some common birds. Here we got our firsts Yellowhammers singing but also Fieldfares and Redwings. A nearby lake offered also good views on Tufted Ducks and a pair of Goldeneyes.

Day 2. We wake up again in a cold, wet morning with only 4ºC. An early start was mandatory to catch up with some of the key species we were looking for during our techinically first day of the tour. After some pre-breakfast in our accommodation we drove some miles South of Ivalo, where a patch of mature forest host some of the main targets in the tour. We left the highway and started exploring the canopies in search of some birds. Everything was really quiet as a slim rain was falling down. We drove some miles, checking some corners with little result but, at one point of the lane we stop the van as one wonderful female Capercaillie was standing up by the lane, barely 10 metres away of the van and totally in the out! We enjoyed very much of that view. We slowly went a bit back, and as not raining any more we could enjoy with the view of the bird really long. The wonderful bird was studying as for a pair of minutes and then slowly started to move into the forest walking on a bare slope. We still had time for improve the view and the shots as the bird stoped a last time to take a last glance on us before disappearing in the vegetation.

This female Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) was really close to be the first bird of the tour. Image by tour leader: Carles Oliver

Absolutely amazed of having a Capercaillie as one of the first birds of the trip we kept driving up. Here there is a moment when the forest become really mature, having good old trees around. We parked the car and walked around. Bramblings were singing around and a Common Snipe was flying over. Here, we had also some common birds in this kind of habitat including Tree Pipits, Redwings, Willow Warblers and Common Cuckoo flying over. Bramblings were especially active that morning and several males were singing, flying around and dispalyinhg. We just walked a bit along a path slightly going up the slope. Here we had a bird flying away from us, and as briefly stopped, we discovered a wondeful Ring Ouzel that unfortunately almost inmediatly took off and disappeared inside the forest. From the top of the slope we could scan around and from there we got a male Capercaillie standing up in the middle of the path, some 400 metres away from us! What a wonderful view. Unfortunately the bird was fast in disappear and, despite our efforts, we could not relocate that massive grouse. We kept scanning and got lucky since 3 Siberian Jays came out of the forest and gave us wonderful views while feeding on the top of the trees and moving aroung in the canopies. Few metres away, a wonderful Siberian Tit was calling so we took advantage and enjoy wonderful views.

Siberian Tit (Poecile cinctus) is one of the main targets for many birdwatchers visiting Finland. In 2018 there were many of them! Image by Carles Oliver

After such a wonderful start we decided to drive a bit along the tracks. It was still cold and cloudy but with no rain for long. Along the driving we got some Green Sandpipers singing here and a pair of Greenshanks. Common Snipes look like being everywhere. After some kilometers we enjoyed another wonderful moment as one male Black Grouse was standing inside the forest, 20 metres away from the minibus! We again enjoyed walk-away views on the bird, having different angles on it so everybody could enjoy the bird. Suddenly, a second bird appeared from a small ditch in the forest, feeding on the berries. This second male had not see us at all and when saw us flew us, closely followed by the first bird. Wonderful! Black Grouse is a quite difficult bird to get in June and we were not expecting to see this species along the tour at all! We still had a pair of stops along the track, having a total of 5 more Siberian Tits along this way!!

Black Grouse (Tetrix tetrix) is a bird that we don’t expect to see along the trip, but this year got incredible views! Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after this wonderful start we went for coofee before driving South for some more birding. After some nice and warm coffee we started our transfer South towards Oulu, but before we still had a short stop not far away from the highway, since one pair of Northern Hawk Owl had been seen around. We did a short walk around, doing an accurate scanning. Northern Hawk Owls use to stop quite in the out, many times on tree tops, but they also can be hard to find out. After about half an hour of scanning we got nothing and we were really about to withdraw when one of the tour participants found a wonderful young Northern Hawk Owl standing up in the middle of one garden. It was a quite grow up chick, already capable to do a short flight… We all have wonderful views on the bird. Some minutes later we managed to find a second chick, deep inside the garden. Suddenly a Great Spotted Woodpecker called around and the shape of an adult Northern Haw Owl passed above us to stop in a close wire, allowing really good views. We all enjoyed very much of this moment. The adult was really garding the area so we went a bit away to make them feel better. After some minutes the adult came closer to the garden and stopped in a tree top nearby. It was moment for us to leave and keep moving South.

Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula), one of the most sought-after birds of the trip. Images by Carles Oliver

 

 

Glad with the wonderful morning we had all enjoyed, the transfer South was really pleasant. We did some stops in the way, anyway. The first exploration of he tour in a typical wader nesting place was quite productive. We got (distant) views on 2 Common Cranes, some summer plomaged European Golden Plovers, Reed Buntings singing, several Meadow Pipits and 2 Whooper Swans. The second stop was a bit less productive: 1 Western Osprey flying around plus a really interesting Little Bunting singing in the low rank vegetation! We scanned hard trying to find this really bird but unfortunately we never found it… The transfer also produced some typical roadside birds in the way of 1 White-tailed Eagle, Goldeneyes and Red-breasted Mergansers.

Once in our accommodation we had a good rest before having dinner. After dinner we took advantage of the wonderful light outside so went for a short walk. In the fields, some Rooks were moving here and there, being this species quite scarce in Finland. Skylarks and Reed Buntings were singing and we enjoyed of wonderful views in a pair of Pied Flycatchers nesting inmediatly around the parking place. 1 Common Rosefinch was also singing from the top of a tree, but didn’t allow any photo… We went then for a short walk in a close marsh. There we had wonderful views on some male Ruff showing stunning summer plomages, moving in the tall grass. Common Snipes were displaying all around and a Lesser Whitethroat showed briefly inside a bush.

A short walk introduced us until a platform. In front of us had a wonderful view on Liminganlahti estuary. Flocks of Pintails were in the marshes. Wigeons, Eurasian Teals and Whooper Swans were all common. More distant, a huge flock of 300+ Common Cranes were roosting in the marshy area. Little Gulls were flying over in what was a wonderful scene to be admired! Several waders were moving around. Wood Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers and Eurasian Curlews were spotted. Also a wonderful flock of 20+ Spotted Redshanks in wonderful summer plomage! This is species is the one which is leaving before the nesting areas, located more to the North. The flock we saw were probably males already in their way South! Back in the marshes, a proper scanning revealed a Short-eared Owl flying over, being “joined” by 2 Hooded Crows.

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) is a common breeder in Liminganlahti. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a wonderful end of the day we just came back to our accommodation for a good rest.

Day 3. We wake up with in a wonderful sunny morning and went off our accommodation for an early morning birding. Our first goal was to explore a pair of lagoons offering potential good birds. In the short transfer to the lagoons we had some nice birds. 100+ Common Cranes were feeding in a farmland along with Northern Lapwings and Eurasian Curlews. In the highway South of Oulu we got a wonderful male Pallid Harrier flying over, something quite unexpected and celebrated.

Hundreds of Common Cranes were seen around Liminganlahti. Image by Carles Oliver

Our first stop was in a lagoon. A fast scanning produced Common Scoter along with Goldeneyes. Distant Whooper Swans were also noticed. A second scanning produced good views on 4 wonderful Velvet Scoters and also the only 2 Goldcrests of the trip in the trees around the lagoon. Our second stop was also quite successful. Parked by a busy road we searched in a pair of ponds. We didn’t wait long since 1 Terek’s Sandpiper flew inmediatly in front of us producing really nice views! After a little while, the bird went to the opposite side of the lagoon but then we got 2 more Terek’s close enough to enjoy good views and some more shots! This was absolutely great since Terek’s Sandpiper has become really rare in Finland with only a handful of pairs around Oulu! Around the place of the Terek’s we got other nice birds including Common Whitethroat and Common Rosefinch.

Terek’s Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) has become extremely scarce in Finland. Image by Carles Oliver

Satisfied for this rather unexpected success we scanned a bit around and got some Sedge Warblers in a nearby reedbed. The water body and shores around were having Common Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Common Redshank and Eurasian Teals. Before going to forest, we still had some time check the estuary itself, where we got several Little Gulls moving, a distant Greylag Geese, Western Osprey, and the very first Arctic Tern of the tour was delighting us with good views.

After such a great start of the day we moved to check for some owls. Not far away from Oulu there are several locations for many of the species living in the country. We first went to a place for Eurasian Pygmy Owl, located on a mature spruce patch. After few scanning we got absolutely amazing views on the bird as it was perched only three metres away from us. We enjoy it long views on this wonderful tiny owl and we left the place without disturbing it!

Eurasian Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum) delighted us with wonderful views deep in a mature forest. Image by Carles Oliver

We then went to check a place for Ural Owl but we had no luck and the nest was empty…No signal at all on this bird at the location. But around there it was also a nest of Great Grey Owl so went to try this bird. In the way, we had 3 Eurasian Woodcocks flying from the lane and 1 Eurasian Nuthatch showing really well as we parked the mini bus. We spend quite a long time looking for the nest this massive arctic owl but we finally got lucky and enjoyed incredible views on the Great Grey Owl lying on the nest. The nest was located in a really low location so we were not expecting to see the bird that close!! We still had some time looking for the pair of the Great Grey Owl as it had to be roosting nearby but despite our efforts we could not find it at all.

This Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa) was always vigilant to our movements. We never came closer and failed to find the male, probably nearby. Image by Carles Oliver

After a short stop to have some coffee we kept going our route. A nearby place was having a pair of nest boxes for Tengmalm’s Owl so we went to check. The first nest box was damaged so could not host anything. Second nest box was apparently in good conditions but looked like having no owls inside. We neither saw any signal of activity below the nest box. We started the way back to the van when a several calls of Tits and Blackbirds came from the direction of the nest box. We fastly went to check and found a wonderful Tengmalm’s Owl stiking its head out of the nest box! What a wonderful sight, especially after thinking we were going to miss this bird!!! We had good views on the bird for a pair of minutes, when it went down in the whole and disappear. Happy after another wonderful sight we came back to mini bus.

Tengmalm’s Owl (Aegolius funereus), probably the most difficult owl in Europe, was offering rather typical views while blocking the entrance of its nest. Image by Carles Oliver

In the way we had good views on 2 Spotted Flycatchers and had 2 Song Thrushes flying as well as Eurasian Treecreeper. In a nearby field, a Common Kestrel was hunting. We still had plenty of time so we went on driving for a way until a new place where to try Ural Owl. And this time we got lucky.

A Scottish Pine forest surrounded by farmlands is hosting a nest box. In our short walk until the area Yellowhammers and Tree Pipits were singing all around. Eurasian Jay was also seen, being the only was sight of the bird in the tour! Once in the place, we proceed with a proper scanning around. We got 1 Eurasian Treecreeper but little more out of that. About to leave the area, we did a last, desperate scanning and then we got a wonderful adult Ural Owl standing deep inside the forest!

The massive owl was a wonderful view inside the deep canopy and could enjoy the bird long. We had time to scan around and actually found a grown chick of Ural Owl closer to us, inside an area of young trees. This was already wonderful and really celebrated in the group! After enjoying the birds a good while we went back to the minibus to keep going on.

Ural Owl (Strix uralensis) proved to be, once more, a tricky bird. Image by Carles Oliver

 

We had good views on a passing Pallid Harrier in the early morning while driving towards Oulu so we decided to go back to that area and scan for eventually have better views. In the way, we got excellent views on Black-tailed Godwits in one of the very few nesting places in Finland! Once in the place we scanned the large fields and we fastly got noto ne but 2 males Pallid Harriers in diferent areas of the field! One of the birds moved our way and we had chances for some nice shots, despite the wind! 2 Short-eared Owls were also hunting in the area and were a nice add to our day list (5 owls in a day, not bad at all!).

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) is a scarce nesting bird in Finland. Best populations to be found around Oulu. Image by Carles Oliver

 

It is a poor imatge but views on Pallid Harriers (Circus macrourus) were superb. Image by Carles Oliver

After this wonderful day we just had a 90 minutes transfer to Kuusamo. In the way we had first views on Black-throated Divers in splendid summer plomage. Once where arrived to the hotel we went for a good dinner and a long rest.

Day 3. This day we were concentrated around Kuusamo, where a number of key species can be seen. We had a really early start to look for Grouses. We drove around expecting to connect with some of them but we were unlucky that morning and we could not find any. We did a number of stops and enoyed good views in both Smew and Surf Scoter. Goldeneyes and Tufted Ducks were widespread. While enjoying one male Surf Scoter we got 2 Siberian Jays moving really close to our minibus and a pair of flocks of Common Crossbills feeding around and the common view of Mealy Redpolls flying around.

Siberian Jays (Perisoreus infaustus) can be really tame, once you find them! Image by Carles Oliver

We then went to explore Parikaala, one of the best places where to try Red-flanked Bluetail. Just arrived to the parking place we got a good views on a small flock of Parrot Crossbills moving up in the canopies. A walk around produced good views on Tree Pipits as well as the only one European Crested Tit of the trip! In our walk we were joined by the distant call of a Black-throated Diver and the display flights of Wood Sandpipers. After some walk we started looking for Hazel Grouses in one of their favourite corners. We carefully scanned around hoping to see the bird grazing or resting on a tree branch, No results until the clear call of a male came to us. It was not specially far away. More scan. Little walk. The bird was calling a second time. We waited long in the place, hoping for a movement to come out from the canopie but, unfortunately, it never hapenned.

Few minutes later a different song came to us. 1 Red-flanked Bluetail was singing around. We scanned the tree tops around and got distant views on males singing from a tree top! We tried to get closer but far before we arrived the bird was down again….

 

We kept going up and enjoyed really good views in a pair of Bohemian Waxbills feeding on berries in a small tree. 1 Scandinavian Willow Tit passed by, calling, and god good but brief views on the bird. But then everything went fast because 1 Tree-toed Woodpecker was calling in the distance. We gather until the area where the bird was calling and scanned around. Nothing. Moved to small elevation giving us a good view from where to scan the area and then we got the bird in a tree and inmediatly took off flying to out left, allowing really good views in flight! The bird went away quite far so we walked dow and track the area. Its call came out several times but we never could reconnect with the bird…

Numbers of Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) had dropped since our visit in 2017. We hardly saw 10 individuals in the whole trip. Image by Carles Oliver

We then decided to try again the corner where the Red-flanked Bluetail was singing and this time we were lucky as the bird showed up really well, singing out from the top of a tree. This area is normally having different males (we counted no less than 6 in 2017) but this year it appeared to be only one… Happy after this successful views we went the way back to the car. Around the parking place the flock of Parrot Crossbills were still visible alowing good views.

This was the only one Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) for us this year. Passerines overwintering in Asia proved to be really scarce. Image by Carles Oliver

After this productive morning we went for a good and early lunch and some rest. The afternoon came soon and before going for dinner we went for some birding not far from our accommodation. We were to enjoy some water birds in one of the many lakes near Kuusamo. Fieldfares, Hooded Crows and Redwings were all common views. The short track to the platform was having a close Little Bunting singing around and we were soon enjoying good views on this scarce bird!

Intimate views on Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla) near Kuusamo. Image by Carles Oliver

From the platform we could enjoy Whooper Swans but also close views on Black-throated Divers, Goldeneyes and displaying Common Snipes.

Day 4. This day we had a really chilly and wet morning. Went to a different spruce area hoping for more Red-flanked Bluetails to be but, unfortunably was really windy. We only got some Bohemian Waxbills and 1 Scandinavian Willow Tit. Still, we decided to spend some more time by the road hoping for some activity. Song Thrush was singing and a Common Crossbills. A single Willow Warbler was singing in the canopy. Weather was stil cold and unfriendly but then we did lucky as suddenly 1 Three-toed Woodpecker passed by our side, allowing good views in flight and going inside the dense canopies! We scouted all the area around but the windy conditions were not the best to find anything on the trees. After some more time in this area we decide to leave for some warm coffee!

After a good warm coffee we just started moving North but stopping in a nice lake inmediatly North of Kuusamo. Once more we got excellent views on Whooper Swans, with Greenshanks and Reed Bunting singing around. 2 White-tailed Eagles were seen flying around and a small flock of Common Terns were feeding in the lake. Goldeneyes, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Ducks were all seen but the bird that was really celebrated was one wonderful Red-necked Grebe in nesting plomage, showing really well by the opposite shore of the lake.

Black-throated Divers (Gavia arctica) are a common view in Finish lakes. Image by Carles Oliver

Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) are the commonest ducks in most freshwater lakes in Northern Finland, along with Tufted Ducks. Image by Carles Oliver

After this great stop we kept driving North for some 90 minutes, until we crossed a patch of wonderful ancient spruce forest. This is also a good place were to stop so we did so to take a look. Bramblings and Redwings were all around along with Tree Pipits. A pair of Bohemian Waxwings flew over and 1 Common Cuckoo was heard singing nearby. Many Willow Warblers were singing around, some of them really road by road. In the low vegetation in the left side of the road we got something bigger moving and we were grateful to see 3 Pine Grosbeaks feeding on berries few inches from the ground. The birds came down to the road picking on the dart. The birds allowed us to come closer and we got excellent views in on them three bu thre group really enjoyed the male, showing really nice colours.

A small flock of Pine Grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator) was feeding on dart in a minor road. Image by Carles Oliver

Back to the car we kept moving and scanning. Some more miles North we had to stop again, this time because of a small flock of Parrot Crossbills feeding also on the dart! After these happy findings we kept driving North for a pair of hours to arrive back to Ivalo, where we sleeping some miles of the town.

Day 5. This day we went to explore some bog areas for waders West of Ivalo. Here large areas are occupied by shallow water marshes. The dense vegetation around hosts several interesting species. We arrived early morning and scan around. Some really nice Wood Sandpipers were singing and displaying around and the sound o the displaying Common Snipes were constant. Some Mealy Redpolls passed by, calling. Then a small bird flew from the grass around to end a close tree and we found ourselves enjoying the very first Red-throated Pipit of the trip. The bird allowed good views, despite being a bit inside a small tree. Happy after this good start we kept scanning and found a Jack Snipe displaying in the sky, passin over us over and over and allowing excellent views. We did a small short walk in the marshy area and easily got 1 Red-spotted Bluethroat running in front of us. After some metres of run the bird just turn so everybody in the group had excellent views.
We still had some time around with the wonderful Jack Snipe still flying above us, displaying and diving into the dense vegetation. 2 Greenshanks were also singing in the bog and 1 European Golden Plover was also noted.

Red-spotted Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica svecica) was also a really celebrated bird in the group. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a good start for the day we went for a short walk in a nearby hill. Up in this hills the tundra dominates the landscape and it is possible to find really exciting species.

The short walk was dominated by dozens of Meadow Pipits singing and showing in the short grass lands. European Golden Plovers looked like being everywhere and 1 Eurasian Whimbrel was noted close to a small mountain pass.

From here we got an impressive view on this area of Scandinavian Alps, some sumits still with snow in the distance, while the Eastern part of the view was blocked by the rocky scarpment of a nearby peak. The scan around the area produced more European Golden Plovers and 1 Eurasian Dotterel showing really well in the Western part of the meadow. We tried to approach when something really floating passed over us: 1 Long-tailed Skua!

Long-tailed Skua (Stercorarius longicaudatus), a really smart bird both on the ground and in flight. Image by Carles Oliver

The bird just flew over to stop in some 100 metres away, in a tiny hill stiking up from the grassy plain. We had incredible views on the birds when a second individual came from the same side and both birds went to the sky for a full dispaly of flights, dives and
chasing. After this incredible sight we came back to the Dotterel. If was not there any more. A bit of scan was necessary to relocate the bird, but we all got it again in the bins, now definately more far away. We tried to approach but unfortunately the bird flew along with 2 European Golden Plover and we lost track of them.

Still having some time before lunch we decided to go a bit closer of the rocky scarpment, expecting species related with this kind of landscapes. We scanned all around with little feedback and were about to leave when 1 Snow Bunting appeared from somewhere! The bird just landed close to us, allowing some nice views while the bird was feeding.

Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) typically favours the contact area of rocky scarpments with tundra grasslands. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after this nice morning, we just went down for a nice lunch. But prior lunch we had a stop in a stop lagoo, where a nice flock of 17 Red-necked Phalaropes was feeding. Wonderful, some of them beautiful females! Along with them some male Ruffs but also Eurasian Teal. Bluethroats were singing around, including a brief view on a male. Here we also got a small flock of Arctic Terns in their way to nesting sites. Already really close!

All the group was delighted with the intimate views on Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus). Image by Carles Oliver

Some male Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax) were at its best. We enjoyed a good variety of plomages. Image by Carles Oliver

After lunch we did a pair of stops in different ponds and bog but we did not have any other result out of the firsts Arctic Redpolls of the trip! 2 birds flying and perched low in a small tree that gave us really good views.

The rest of the afternoon we just took advantage of the feeders in our accommodation to enjoy excellent views on Pine Grosbeaks. The feeders also attrack large numbers of Mealy Redpolls and some Bramblings. The feeders also attrack Pied Flycatcher, Greenfinches, Common Redstart and Red Squirrels.

Day 6. Early morning once again to go North, into Norway. Still, before crossing the border we had a good stop along the way. A extensive area of bog is having small populations of Broad-billed Sandpiper. Here we had Wood Sandpipers, Ruffs, Golden Plovers and Common Snipe displaying. 2 obliging Siberian Tits were also a good addition along with Common Waxbills and distant Great Grey Shrike and 1 Black Grouse flying across. Unfortunately we had no contacts on the main target there…

Feeders are the best option to enjoy close views on Mealy Redpolls (Liniaria flammea). Image by Carles Oliver

One of the nine Siberian Tits (Poecile cinctus) seen during the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Along the road we had some stops: Common Crossbills (always worth checking) but also Rough-legged Buzzards and Tufted Ducks were seen.
Once in Varanger we did a short stop in Nesseby. Here we had excellent views on a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes and some Ruffs. Common Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin were also nice addings to the trip list. Beyond Nesseby flocks of Red-breasted Merganser and Goosanders were seen on the fjord. Also large flocks of Common Scoters (200+) along side Surf Scoters.

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) keeps good densities in Lapland bogs. Image by Carles Oliver

Kittiwakes were already a common view, with flocks of hundreds of them moving along the coast, along with Herring, Great Black-backed & Common Gulls. Along the road we had firsts views on nesting Parasitic Skuas, sometimes allowing really close views! Along the shore, White-tailed Eagles were a common views, sometimes alone but sometimes congregated in small flocks.

Rough-legged Buzzards (Buteo lagopus) are a common view in the lower areas of Varanger. Image by Carles Oliver

Our way to Vadso produced a nice surprise in the way of 2 Tundra Bean Geese resting by the road! This was a rather unexpected finding! Oystercatchers & Common Eiders were already everywhere, even along the acess bridge to Vadso. A short walk in the area produced wonderful views on Common Redshank singing but also lovely views on Arctic Redpolls and Red-throated Pipit feeding around. Some elusive male Ruffs were also spotted in the tall grass, althought they were reluctant to show properly. The small lagoon was having some Red-necked Phalaropes and the place produced good views in the only one Pomarine Skua of the trip!

Along the trip we enjoyed some good views on Arctic Redpolls (Liniaria hornemanni), always a wonderful bird to see. Image by Carles Oliver

Red-throated Pipits (Anthus cervinus) replace Meadow Pipits in the tundra areas in Finnmark. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Our attention was concentrated in trying to find Steller’s Eider (had one around in 2017) but no luck this time.

The final drive to Vardo still produced a Short-eared Owl by the road so another stop had to be made. Once arrived to our accommodation we got a good rest before dinner. After dinner, we still had 1 hour to enjoy the midnight light. A short drive was done and got excellent views on Little Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Horned Larks, Red-throated Pipits, Parasitic Skuas and a wonderful male Lapland Bunting!!! What an amazing end for the day!

A stop was required as this Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) was hunting by the road. Image by Carles Oliver

Parasitic Jaegers (Stercorarius parasiticus) nest in low tundra plains, not far away from the shore. Image by Carles Oliver

White-tailed Eagles (Hieraaetus albicilla) are always a superb view. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 7. This day we didn’t go for a really early start but have some time to recover. Our boat to Hornoya was our first appointment so after breakfast we went to the dek. Here we had a good scan around while Arctic Terns were flying around us. Black Guillemots were also a good attraction, but being a bit elusive this time. A second year Glaucous Gull was found roosting in one of the buildings at the other side of the harbour, providing with good views in the scope.

Once in the Arctic Ocean we were soon enjoying with thousands and thousands of Guillemots were carpeting the Ocean. Razorbills were also numerous and Puffins were also moving around in good numbers. As approaching the island, the noise and the smell becomes more intense. Here, 250.000+ are nesting in a huge colony. Atlantic Shags were also all along the shore, always in the big rocks protecting the island. Even before arriving to the island we got some Brunnich’s Guillemots showing really well along with other auks.

This is what you can expect when approaching Hornoya. 1000s of Guillemots but, can you find the Brünnich’s Guillemots in the imatge? Image by Carles Oliver

Once in the cliffs, Brunnich’s Guillemots tend to nest quite high so it makes more difficult to have excellent views on the birds. Still, with a bit of patience, the whole group enjoyed great views on them. A walk around easily produce ridiculous views on Atlantic Puffins. Several Parasitic Skuas were flying around, patrolling in search of a easy prey. Along with them and the hundreds of auks in the sky we also got 1 Gyr Falcon patrolling above the colony of Herring Gulls. Gulls were not happy about the presence of the predator and they made sure the Falcon to notice about! We had a good sight and the bird disappeared in the massive movement of birds in the sky. As the group was a bit disperse taking photos, not everybody enjoyed the Falcon. We hoped for the bird to reappear, but never happened. We kept enjoying the magnificient concentration of birds and also picked up really good views on Rock Pipit (littoralis) and really close views on Black Guillemot.

Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) and Razorbills (Alca torda) in Hornoya. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Brünnich’s Guillemot (Uria lomvia) was really celebrated for our clients. Image by Carles Oliver

 

General view of part of the colony at Hornoya. Image by Carles Oliver

Great Black-back Gull (Larus marinus) predating on Atlantic Puffin. A belt of predators surround the colony. Image by Carles Oliver

Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle) avoids the big colonies and nest in small parties. Image by Carles Oliver

Scandinavian Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus litorallis). a good adding for the list. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Once back in Vardo we went for lunch. In the afternoon we went along the coast, expecting some nices species. We again got nice views on Lapland Buntings, Temminck’s & Little Stints, Shore Larks & Whooper Swans in the tundra. In the coast, the firsts flocks of Long-tailed Ducks were seen along with Common Eiders and Red-throated Divers.

Temminck’s Stints (Calidris temminckii) were once the commonest wader in most of coastal tundra in Varanger. Now they have become scarce. Image by Carles Oliver

Lapland Buntings (Calcarius lapponicus), always a wonderful bird to see in summer plomage. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 8. This day we drove even more North to explore the Northernmost fjords in Varanger. Along the way we stopped several times. Roadside birding in this part of the world can inlcude Long-tailed Skuas but also Rough-legged Buzzard, Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Diver and others.

Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea), a urban bird in Varanger! Image by Carles Oliver

A selected stop in the higher plateau produced 3 Snow Buntings along with Dotterel, Tundra Bean Goose, Long-tailed Duck, Lapland Bunting, Golden Plover and Eurasian Curlew. A proper scan around allowed us to find the first Rock Ptarmigan of the trip! A short drive and we were having really close views on the bird, still showing a good number of white feathers.

Tundra Bean Goose (Anser rossicus) was also really celebrated by our clients. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Male & female Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus), a really nice finding. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Always worth to check the lakes when being in Varanger, Scaups (Aythya marila) can be around. Image by Carles Oliver

 

During the afternoon we arrived to coast. Here we had more scanning, this time in the shore. Several Common Eiders were roosting and feeding and we were lucky enough to find 1 female Steller’s Eider feeding along with them! We approached the group and everybody had excellent views on them despite the misty ambient!

An adult female Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri) was showing really well despite the difficult weather conditions. Image by Carles Oliver

After enjoying long this lovely duck we just went to our accommodation for some rest and good dinner.

Day 9. This day we spent the morning in exploring a patch of coast producing good birding most of the times. But before we had a second visit to the Steller’s Eider, being now really more far away than the afternoon before. We also had another stop in the way, this time to explore a nice landscape for grouses. And we were right in our thoughts since we had 2 Willow Grouses flying around, one of them stopping for some seconds on a rock before disappearing in the grass! A brief view, but worth it! We scanned around trying to relocate them, but was impossible.

This female King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) didn’t stole the show despite the fog in our last full day of the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

Kept going our way. Once in the patch of coast, the area was totally foggy. We just kept driving until the closest village, where we had a coffee. The fog was not going to disappear so we moved to shore to scan for birds. A small corner looked like interesting and we cheeked all Eiders around, and we were lucky since a female King Eider was among them! This was one of the most celebrated bird of the tour, along with Steller’s Eider!! We had a good time enjoying this bird, most of the time sleeping but sometimes active and moving along with 2 Long-tailed Ducks and Common Eiders.

As it was foggy we started drive back until we found a window without fog. Stop and check. Beside the car, 2 Twites flew off up to the cliffs! In the sea, we fastly saw several Northern Fulmars moving along the coast. About 30% of them were of the beautiful blue form. There were still some fog. We did some scouting looking for Yellow-billed Divers, but never found them… and only got Black-throated Divers. Instead had several flocks of Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks. Also some Manx Shearwaters moving up and down. One of the tour participants found 1 Fin Whale moving close to coast. Wonderful spot!

After some more scanning in a pair of Windows in the fog we just drove South for a final overnight near Ivalo, where we arrived for some rest and a good dinner.

Day 10. Final morning of the trip and still some time to check for some birds. It was rainy and really chilly but went to a corner offering good chances for buntings. We waited under the rain but nothing happened for long. We were really about to leave when, suddenly, a bird came out of the vegetation to stop in a nearby tree and started singing: was 1 Rustic Bunting!

Light was poor and we were all wet and cold but this very last minute sight was absolutely worth it!!!

After this we just drove to the airport to take our flight home. Never tired of birding in Lapland. Join us!!!

Oman Birding Tour 2019 Trip Report

Dates: 29th January to 7th February, 2019

Tour participants: 5

Seen bird species: 210

Tour Leaders: Sergi Sales & Carles Oliver

After an afternoon flight we arrived to Oman beyond midnight. Passport controls were fast and we arrived to our hotel in Musqat after a comfortable shuttle transport from the aiport.

Day 1. After a good rest and a great breakfast in our hotel we went for a short walk in some tree just by our accommodation. It was time to have a first contact with some common species in Northern Oman. Probably the first bird of the tour were 2 Purple Sunbirds, seen feeding in the trees along a small gorge. Just around, a wonderful Indian Roller was hunting from the wires crossing the gorge. Indian Silverbill, Common Myna and several Laughing Doves were also seen and celebrated. We also had the interesting local race of House Sparrow, being smaller, duller and more grey in the upperside than the races we are more used.

Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis), a wonderful small bee-eater to be found in Northern Oman. All images in this trip report by tour leader Carles Oliver. All rights reserved.

After this small taste by our hotel we drove a short distance to explore the Al Ansad Wetland. This is a small complex of lagoons with riparian vegetation that can be really productive. A first scanning produced Black-headed Lapwings, Crested Larks, Purple Sunbirds, White-spectacled Bulbuls and 1 White Wagtail. A juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle just passed over us giving excellent views in the morning light.

The firs lagoon was really productive. It hosted a good selection of ducks including Mallards, Gadwalls, Eurasian Wigeons, Pintails, Eurasian Teals, Tufted Ducks and Common Pochards. About 20 Greater Flamingos were roosting in the lagoon joined by 5 Eurasian Spoonbills. Black-winged Stilts, Ruffs and 1 Black-tailed Godwit were feeding inmediatly around. By the reedbeds we found 1 Eurasian Coot along with several Eurasian Moorhens and Little Grebes. Grey Heron, Cattle Egret and Great White Egrets were also present in small numbers.

Temminck’s Stints were common with at least 8 birds feeding along with some Little Stints. At least 3 Marsh Sandpipers were also present along with several Common Sandpipers. The good scanning of the area produced as well 1 Citrine Wagtail and 2 Yellow Wagtail (one of them being a male beema race). Some Common Snipes flought off and the Bonelli’s Eagle came back and had a second flight over the water. Was in that moment that the only White-tailed Lapwing of the trip came up from behind a sand bar and we all could enjoy good views on the bird for a pair of minutes. This was already a good start!

Graceful Prinias (Prinia gracilis) are a common view in a number of grassy habitats in Nortern Oman.

Unfortunably the bird was a bit far and came down again to the opposite side of the bank. We spent several minutes trying to relocate the bird, but was impossible.

Happy after such a good start we just moved on along the path. Not far from there we were distracted by the first of several Graceful Prinias singing from the top of a bus. A closer view was demanded so we moved on just at the moment than a flock of Sand Partridges flew off from under our feet! After some good shots in the Prinia our attention was concentrated by a very close Little Green Bee-eaters catching insects at short range. Its footage from the minor branches of a small tree was really productive in photographic terms!

The area was still producing interesting sightings. A group of White cheecked Bulbuls were moving in the bushland and 1 Indian Silverbill was busy while bringing nest material inside a small tree. The same juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle that we saw flying over the lagoon was now sheltered by the shade of a small cliff. A last walk in the area produced some Great Cormorants, the first Greater Spotted Eagle high up in the sky and good views in 1 rather unexpected Eastern Orphean Warbler skulking inside a bush!

Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) showed out really well in the firsts days of the tour.

We then went to the coast, where we had some food near the beach while we were scanning around. Here we had several Heuglin’s Gulls moving in the coast along with the commoner Black-headed Gull. Also some Caspian Gulls were seen, mainly adults. 2 Sooty Gulls passed by but unfortunately a bit far away for everybody in the group to enjoy them. At least 2 Great Crested Terns were moving in the coast and we had really good views as one approached the dock where we were scanning from. A tiny wady in our way was also providing good birds, special mention to our first Greater Sand Plover, Pacific Golden Plover along with Common Sandpiper and Common Redshank.

Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) is a recent arrival to Oman, just arrived to Southern Oman a few years ago, where it is as common as in the North.

 

The slender Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) is the commonest Lapwing in the region, by far.

We decided to spend the rest of the day in Al Qurm Park. This is a well known birding spot in Musqat hosting some very interesting specialities. Our arrival to park was really good as 1 Indian Roller was hunting in the parking and only few metres inside the park we had our first Grey Francolin of the trip running up the slope. In the trees, a Common Chiffchaff was seen (here presumably all Chiffchaffs belong to abietinus or tristis races, thought now Siberian Chiffchaff is claimed as a diferent species for some). A small channel of water connects the big central lagoon of the park with the sea. This channel proved to be really productive as we fastly spotted 1 Striolated Heron hidden in the shady bank. Few metres away from it we found 1 Acrocephalus. Silence and check for some seconds before confirming that was a Clamorous Reed Warbler! This was a bird really celebrated by the group. The bird provided really good views in the out for quite long, moving always really low in the vegetation, but clearly in the out. The channel itself was attrackting some Pallid Swifts to drink water and we all enjoyed lovely views on these birds. A Purple Heron flew over and its shade made Common Sandpipers and Black-headed Lapwings move away. Inside the park we enjoy a new Indian Roller until a small shrike was located in the top of the tree. At first it looked like a Isabelline but finally it turned up to be a Red-tailed Shrike, a recent split from the former.

Two images on a 1st winter Red-tailed Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides). Pair attention in the vermiculated extending all along the flank, with a tawny vental area contrasting with white undertail coverts. Uppertail coverts appear reddish, but not uniform as expected on Isabelline Shrike.

 

Clamorous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus brunnescens) was spotted a pair feeding in the out along the tour.

 

Striated Heron (Butorides striata atricapilla) is a scarce resident bird in dense vegetated marshy areas.

The central pond was low of water but as good as always. 1 Whiskered Tern was flying over and 1 Western Reef Egret was fishing along with some Cattle Egrets. Fastly our attention was for “Squacco like” herons around the pond. After some scanning we found the 2 firsts Indian Pond Heron of the tour, feeding along with 4-5 Squacco Herons. Little Grebes and Eurasian Coots were also present in the pond.

Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii) is a scarce winter visitor but we got excellent views on Muscat itself. Image by tour leader Sergi Sales

We still had a further walk around the trees. Rose-winged Parakeets were everywhere and a Alexandrine Parakeet was heard in the air. It was time to go but then we found a wonderful tree full of Common Chiffchaff, Purple Sunbirds and at least two Lesser Whitethroats (Desert Whites?). As the area proved really interesting we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in around. A short walk from the park allowed us to explore some tidal muds richly vegetated. Here we found some interesting passerines including Isabelline Shrike, 2 Bluethroats and Eurasian Reed Warbler. Some waders were present in the small mudflats including several Eurasian Whimbrel, 1 Eurasian Curlew, 15+ Spotted Redshank, Dunlin, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover and some Common Ringed Plover. 1 Intermediate Egret flew over us in its way to the sea and 1 Garganey took off from a tiny patch of marsh but the best bird in the spot was a Pin-tailed Snipe that took off along with 1 Common Snipe from the flooded areas. Some Snipes were moving around so we carefully checked every single bird leaving the area. At least 15 Common Snipes left in different waves and we got good views in 1 Spin-tailed showing the remarcable blackish uderwings and contrasted belly.

Purple Sunbirds (Cinnyris asiaticus) is one of the most unobtrusive birds in Northern Oman. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a great encounteer we still looked for something else in this corner. Some Eurasian Moorhens were seen feeding in the grassy areas and 1 Grey Heron arrived for a evening meal. The time of our own evening meal was not far any more so we left the area for a good rest in the hotel and a dinner to go throught all the birds of our first day in Oman.

Spotted Redshanks (Tringa erythropus) at Al Qurm Park the first of the tour.

 

Day 2. After our good buffet breakfast we left our hotel to explore the Western coast of Northern Oman. But, as tyde was low, before going West we came back for a while to Al Qurm beach. Just arriving we found a small flock of gulls in the beach along with some terns. A fast scan revealed some Great Crested Terns along with Sandwich Terns. Most of the gulls were the splitable Steppe Gull (Larus fuscus babarensis) and got good views and comparision of structure with a lovely Caspian Gull adult. Heuglin’s Gulls were also present in the flock, including different ages and intermediate plomages. Not far after we found the first Palla’s Gull, a 3rd year bird. What a incredible gull! Not only the shape of bill but the general structure of the bird was simply massive. Here, all tour participants enjoyed very much with this flock of gulls and having adults of Caspian, Steppe, Heuglin’s and Palla’s all together in a small flock was really celebrated and appreciated for everybody! Small flocks of Slender-billed Gulls were also present at the beach.

Adults Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans) -left- and 2 Steppe Gulls (Larus fuscus barabensis) -center and right- in Al Qurm.

 

Palla’s Gull (Ichthyaetus Ichthyaetus) was one of the most celebrated target in the crew and a wonderful bird to watch. Here an adult in winter plomage.

Around the flock of gulls there were some waders and it didn’t take long to spot some Lesser Sand Plovers moving in the sand. There were about 30 individuals in different smalls flocks. Here we also had  Greenshank, Kentish Plover, Whimbrels, Common Redshank, Western Reef Heron in light form (less common in the area) and Lesser Crested Tern. Again, we enjoyed views on Lesser Crested Terns side by side with Great Crested Terns so a good comparision on sizes, structure and colour could be made. Some Sooty Gulls were also flying around but we only had a single bird stopping on the ground. We spend some time enjoying these gulls and terns but also scanning around looking for other specialities. Some scouting inland produced 6 Common Snipe sleeping on the grass, Black-headed Lapwings, Common Kingfisher and Graceful Prinia and 2 Grey Francolins having a sand bath.

Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) in winter plomage. The combination of long legs, relatively thin bill and slightly contrasted lore allows to avoid confusion with Kentish & Greater Sand Plovers.

Back to the sea shore, we had big flocks of Great Cormorants flying around and we enjoyed how fast they moved as the nets of the fishermen were into the water. A nice espectacle to be seen! More plovers were arriving from the East, clearly bigger and heavier than all species around; 8 Great Sand Plovers! Again, a good comparision on size, shape and facial pattern was made with its relative the Lesser Sand Plover

2 Greater Crested Terns (Thalasseus bergii) -left- in an interesting comparative of sizes and structure with 2 Sandwich Terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis) at Al Qurm.

After such a wonderful stop we then drove to the West, towards the Sun Farms. These are water-assisted grassy crops being a magnet for a good number of species. Despite some reports of the explotation being abandoned from some years ago, we decided to approach and take a look. It was an excellent decision, as you will see.

We arrived to the area were the Sun Farms were and well, it was no sign of any grass anywhere. Still, even before arrived to the exact place we were obligated to stop the car and walk around as a family group of Arabian Babblers were moving just by the track. Unfortunately not everybody in the van enjoyed excellent views so we parked the car and walk around looking for this wonderful bird.

Arabian Babblers (Turdoides squamiceps) showed really well along the tour. Please note how coloration change depending on the light in these two images.

The flock of birds were still moving around in the semi-desert so we decided to do a short walk around expecting to improve our sight. Purple Sunbirds were everywhere and a nice flock of lined Indian Silverbills was welcome by the photographers in the group. A Common Kestrel was circling up in the sky among Pallid Swifts and Crested Larks were singing and moving all around. In a shade, a Tawny Pipit showed really well for a pair of minutes while 1 Hoopoe was diving its bill on the sand looking for warms, but still no signal of the Babblers. While searching for them we had another really good bird appearing. A characteristic “txac” call came from the acacias around us and, after some scanning, we all had excellent views on 2 Hume’s Whitethroat! This is a quite recent Split from Lesser Whitethroat inhabitating juniper formations in Iran and Afghanistan high mountains. They are easy to tell apart by calls but also due to the clearly darker head, auriculars and nape of the Hume’s if compared with Lesser. The back and mantle in Hume’s Whitethroat is also darker than in Lessers, showing