Arxiu de la categoria: Morocco

Morocco: from Atlas to Sahara tour. 2016 issue

 

Dates: from April 1st to April 10th, 2016

Number of participants: 5

Number of species: 189 + 4 races

This is the official report of the 2016 issue Moroccan early spring trip by Barcelona Birding Point led by Carles Oliver. Our trip started this year in 1st April, some weeks later than in previous issues but having more or less the same itinerary.

Day 1. After a good breakfast in our hotel in Marrakech we head to the Atlas. Here the landscape becomes more wet than around the city and the valleys start to show river side forests along every single stream while the slopes around are covered by juniper scrub lands.

Our first stop in this ambient fastly produced the first birds of the trip. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major numidus) showed really well in the popplars. Right behind us we had 5 Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes buvryi) showed out in the top of a close orchad tree. Some other birds around included African Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs africana), Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), European Serin (Serinus serinus), Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) and African Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae ultramarinus), what a beauty!

Common Nightingales (Luscinia megarhychos) were singing around but we could not get any view on them, yet! Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) and White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) were all the time flying around while the firsts Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica) of many during the trip showed well flying over the orchads. Andreas spot also the first Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) of the trip calling from the top of a roof!

The main goal of the stop was, still, not hard to find out as a male Levaillant’s Woodpecker (Picus vallantii) was appearing along the tree line and showing really close. We all got excellent views on the bird moving along the tree and even drumming! What a bird!!

The African Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs africana) is a common view in the Moroccan forests and it is also a possible future split. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P11104861704765193

Levaillant’s Woodpecker (Picus vallantii), a scarce near-endemic living in the Atlas Northern slope. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_162995014.opV1uoPM20175606

Our second stop of the day produced also a really good list of birds. Only after getting out of the car we got +4 Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) along with 5 migratory European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster). Soon after we got excellent views on the local race of Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans inornata) singing and hiding, as tipically, really well, in the scrublands. A short walk in the area produced a Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), a briefly seen pack of Barbary Partridges (Alectoris barbara), a male Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) singing from a perch,+4 Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica) and one wonderful Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) singing from a really tall perch and flying away. But the best of the stop were the awesome views on Tristam’s Warbler (Sylvia deserticola) when a male came out from the bush land around. We were lucky as we could follow the bird among the vegetation for some minutes!!! This bird is also a Moroccan near-endemic and, well, sometimes not easy to spot.

tmp_P1110354672025633

Tristam’s Warbler (Sylvia deserticola), a tricky near-endemic warbler living in mountanious open scrubs. Image: Carles Oliver

After that we just head to Oukaïmeden, the main stop of the day, since it is the best place for high mountain birds in Morocco. Still, even before arriving to Oukaïmeden we had to stop three times. The first spot to enjoy a flock of +8 Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanii). The second stop produced a wonderful combination of raptors in the sky with both Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus cirtensis) and Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) soaring over the slopes and a wonderful flock of over 40 Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). In the last stop we enjoyed a pair of light forms Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata) disturbed by Ravens (Corvus corax).

Once in Oukaïmeden we promptly had our first Common Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) and the near-endemic Seebohm’s Wheatear (Oenanthe seebohmi), counting over 20 of each of them at the end of our stay in Oukaïmeden. A flock of over 200 Alpine Choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) were flying over the opositte slope, impressive! A short walk around produced a good flock of Common Rock Sparrow and, alomg with them, Linnets (Acanthis cannabina), 2 Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus deichleri) and our 3 Common Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) along the trip. Soon after Bauke spot the first Atlas Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris atlas) of the day! Walking around we spot about 30 of them and didn’t have to wonder more to have our 2 firsts African Crimson-winged Finches (Rhodopechys alienus) showing close but briefly!! Still expecting a better views we walk a bit more further when Bauke spot, in a private moment, wonderful flock of 5 finches perched on a rock. What a view! This was to rank among the highlights of the trip!

tmp_162996002.DsgjDv2O-800227594

Seebohm’s Wheatear (Oenanthe seehbomi), again a near-endemic living in the high mountain grass lands in Morocco and Algeria. Image: Bauke Kortleve

tmp_P111039661063234

Atlas Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris atlas), an endemic race (and possible future split) endemic of NW African high mountains. Image: Carles Oliver

tmp_P1110398-886624818

African Crimson-winged Finches (Rhodopechys alienus) has been recently split from Asian Crimson-winged Finch. This was, of course, one of the highlights of the trip! Image: Carles Oliver

After a good lunch around we still enjoyed of the beautiful view of over 100 Choughs feeding on the grasslands around. They were mainly Alpine but some Red-billeds were providing really close views! A little walk further away still produced some really good birds. 1 Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) was singing from the top of a ridge. Below, 4 Water Pipits (Anthus spinolleta) were feeding along the stream along with a pair of Grey Wagtails (Motacilla cinerea), Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) and Mistle Thrush. A wondwerful Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) male was really celebrated in the group and gave us excellents while moving on ground. The last bird in appear up here was a distant but good view on a Dipper (Cinclus cinclus), a bird which has here its southermost population. Before coming back in our car, we still had 1 Booted Eagle in the sky.

tmp_162995895.zArcEkQ4379124863

Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) light form flying. This species nest in good numbers around Marrakech. Image: Bauke Kortleve

A new stop in a phantastic Spanish Fear (Abies pinsapo) spot produced some birds regarded to canopies. Coal Tits (Periparus ater) and Firecrests (Regulus ignicapilla) showed really well. A flock of 4 Siskins (Spinus spinus) was a really good bonus!

Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus), a gorgeous bird that we could enjoy up to 4 times along the tour. Image:Bauke Kortleve tmp_162989808.9rq534VV524274501

Day 2. An early morning start for our transfer to the area around Agadir. In our way we could see some flocks of European Bee-eaters in their migratory way and both Woodchat (Lanius senator) and Algerian Shrikes (this last a probable future split from Northern Grey Shrike).

Once arrived there we did a stop in the Tamri Stuary. From here we could see our 2 firsts Northern Bald Ibises (Geronthicus eremita) preening by the water. It was a far but really intense view because all the extremely delicated situation of this species worldwide! A fast view on the stuary produced a flock of 5 Eurasian Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia), Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), 2 Ruddy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea) and a good flock of gulls and terns roosting on the beach.

We decided to do along the beach to have better views on the Ibises. Soon we discovered a pair of Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) that provided excellent views along with Moroccan Wagtails moving on the beach while several Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus) were moving over us. During the walk we had at least 2 Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans) in the scrubs along the sandy area. When arrived closer to the stuary we had excellent views on the Ibises but also good views on +20 Audouin’s Gulls (Larus audouinii) sleeping on the beach along with +20 Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis) along with Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis), 2 Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), 2 Common Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula) and Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra). In the way back to the car we had more views on Subalpine Warblers and a pair of flocks of Spanish Sparrows that had wonderful views on some males showing full summer plumage.

Not satisfied with the views we had on Northern Bald Ibises we went to explore the fields around expecting to find any group feeding on the sandy areas or going for water somewhere. After a short exploration we had some individuals flying around. Finally, we had at least 7 individuals moving on the slopes, feeding on ground and enjoyed of really close views of birds flying around us!!!

tmp_162990663.wCPk9nM7-1417787750

Above & below Northern Bald Ibises (Geronthicus eremita) flying in some of the really close views we enjoyed in Tamri. Images: Bauke Kortleve

tmp_162990203.eytMTA9q-1674484015

These slopes are also great for other birds as we had at least 2 Spectacled Warblers (Sylvia conscipillata), Thekla Larks (Galerida theklae) and wonderful views on at least two pairs of Black-eared Wheatears (Oenanthe hispanica). Before leaving the area we had to stop again since a Long-legged Buzzard was soaring really close of the car, along with 1 Common Kestrel. Close by we also enjoyed 1 Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus brookei).

Our next stop was in Cape Tamri, expecting to have some migratory sea birds. We did not do a long stay because of the strong (and cold) wind but still we had +100 Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) flying North along with +3 Manx Shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus) and, the best, 1 Razorbill (Alca torda). This bird was my first Razorbill so far South, despite during this winter it had been some sights along this coast.

Last stop of the day was to explore the Souss River just beside Agadir. This really well known site is excellent to locate gull, terns and waders that cannot be located anywhere else during the trip! Before arriving we had some beautiful views on Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) and Moroccan Magpie (Pica pica mauretanicus). The mudflats along the river had +30 Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola), 1 Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), Curlew (Numenius arquata), 2 Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus), several Eurasian Oystecatchers (Haematopus ostralegus), Common Ringed Plovers and good views on 5 Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica), a pair of them showing a wonderful summer plomage.

There were several flocks of gulls in the mudflats. Scanning them we had 5 Mediterranean Gulls (Larus melanocephalus), 2nd year all of them, +15 Slender-billed Gulls (Chroicocephalus genei) and Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) along with Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A big flock of over 50 Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica), some of them offering great views all around. Here we also had our firsts Zitting Cisticolas (Cisticola juncidis) of the trip. When arriving to our hotel we still had a wonderful view on a flock of over 40 Glossy Ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) flying over the area. Without doubt was an incredible end for our second day of the trip!

Day 3. Even before getting inside the car we already had a pair of really good birds. A pair of Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) was showing really well (and close) and, beyonf them, a pair of wonderful Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) were sleepping in the bare slope. After a good view from the scope we just got inside the car and approached the birds, getting excellent views on them without disturbing them!

During the trip we had estremely close views on a pair of Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) roosting just by one of our accommodations. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110474874202186

Our first stop in the morning produced an amazing range of birds. A small pond in the river Massa produced our Savi’s Warbler (Locustella naevia) and Little Crake (Porzana parva) listened in the reeds around. Here we also had good views on +3 Isabelline Warblers (Iduna opaca), Iberian Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava iberiae), 2 Cetti’s Warblers (Cettia cetti), 2 Western Bonelli’s Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli), Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), several Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans) and Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) as well as commoner birds including Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficallis), African Chaffinch, Sardinian Warbler, Common Bulbul and several Laughing Doves (Streptopelia senegalensis). The area around was being highly productive and we could wish to do not move from there in the whole week!! We came out of the vegetation to have a better view on the pond when a Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) appeared flying over the small pond. The bird was really celebrated although the best bird in the stop were two wonderful Black-crowned Tchagras (Tchagra senegalensis) appearing really close to us. We could enjoy of really close views on the birds while moving on ground and around us. What a start for the day!

tmp_P1110301658253305

The Black-crowned Tchagra (Tchagra senegalensis) has in Morocco its most Northern population and the only one in the whole Western Palearctic. Image: Carles Oliver

Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri), a wonderful near-endemic that can be surprisingly common in some areas. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110574-597447472

 

tmp_163009098.5Wen19qi-1281162645

This was our only one Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris) during the trip. A bird that was highly celebrated by the group. Image: Bauke Kortleve

The transfer to our next stop produced wonderful views on a group of 4 European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) in the wires along the road. New stop, new pond. First sight here were two beautiful Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) sleeping in a tamarisk with a wonderful Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) singing right beside them. What a good combiation of birds! Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) and Little Grebe were also present here.

In the fields around we spotted a pair of European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) and Corn Buntings (Miliaria calandra) while both Black-crowned Tchagras and more Turtle Doves were singing around us. A new Little Bittern was appearing from the reeds and flying over the pond but unfortunately we couldn’t relocated when stopping again among the vegetation. At the same time a Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) joined the pond, stopping close to the Grey Heron. Again some Isabelline & Subalpine Warblers were moving by the edge of the reeds and our only one Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) of the trip flew over us moving to the West…

Last stop of the morning. A tiny pond that was really productive for migratory birds. Again Subalpine Warblers and Blackcaps were moving here as well as Western Bonelli’s Warbler. A carefully scan of the area produced Isabelline Warbler, European Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus), Sedge Warbler, Willow Warblers (Phylloscopus trochilus), Cetti’s Warbler as well as 3 Squacco Herons (Ardeola ralloides), 1 Great White Egret (Chasmerodius albus), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) and Italian Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava cinereocapilla). The third Little Bittern (this time, a male) appeared from the lush vegetation! Here we also had the “rarity” of the trip; a Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) showing really well, but rather shortly, in a tamarisk along with other warblers. This is a quite scarce bird in migration in West Europe and NW Africa so we can considered as the “best” bird of the trip! After such a successful morning we just came back to our accommodation for a good lunch and a bit of rest! During the afternoon we just travelled back to Marrakech after enjoying a bit of the dunes in the National Park.

Day 3. This day we were just crossing the Atlas to start exploring the Southern slope of this huge mountain range. But before and during the crossing we had some good stops.

First stop of the morning we did some birding in the olive orchads immediatly around Marrakech. Here we had some of the near-endemic Spotless Starlings (Sturnus unicolor) as well as several Common Bulbuls (Pycnonotus barbatus). Sardinian Warblers, African Chaffinches and Greenfinches we also present along with Africcan Magpies. Flocks of Little (Apus affinis) and Pallid Swifts (Apus pallidus) were flying over us. Here we had a good selection of migratory birds. Subalpine & Willow Warblers were common and we had also 2 Common Whitethroats (Sylvia communis) and Western Bonelli’s Warbler. The first of many Common Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) were also showing out here and we also enjoyed the first Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) of the trip showing really well in the out and even allowing good comparitions with both Willow and Isabelline Warblers!

Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) is a common (and beautiful) migratory bird in Morocco. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163012942.08mAHsr0957271599

 

The second stop of the trip was even more interesting. While driving the road up to Ourika Valley Bauke was having a new pack of Barbary Partridges by the road and a Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) was appearing in the sky. We stop, of course. We all had excellent, but short, views on the Kite flying around. Scanning the fields around we had a Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) on a post. Also a really good bird. There, European Stonechats (Saxicola rubicola), Cirl BuntingsZitting Cisticolas and Corn Buntings were all showing well.

A bird calling not far from us decided us to explore a bit further away, just at the moment that 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) were appearing, calling both of them, from the olive trees! We had great views on the birds flying and, after some wait, we had them also on a tree top, calling, preening and giving us a really good show!!

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius), sometimes a tricky bird, gave us an excellent view and was considered as one of the highlitghs of trip by some members of the group. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163013527.9VbkDwtG-1955674302

 

While driving up the Atlas we still had to stop a pair of time. The first because of a really close Short-toed Eagle flying over the car and the second because Andreas spot 2 European Rollers (Coracias garrulus) on a wire just by the road. Those birds gave us excellent views (and shots) during a pair of minutes. After they were living we just came out of the car to enjoy the landscape and at this moment a small flock of 6 migratory? Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanii) passed over us, flying North!

European Roller (Coracias garrulus) was an unexpected (and very wellcome) bird while crossing the Atlas. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_162991385.KQmAv8yO-235324741

 

Moment to have lunch, and some birds. 2 Booted Eagles were flying over the terrace while waiting to be served. Around the restaurant 1 Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) was singing quite close so we decided to try to have a look on the bird. And what a look!! We could see the bird calling and singing during 5 minutes, extremely close (4 metres?). Not bad for be waiting in a restaurant!

This Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) was the first of many of them during the trip. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110591244564080

Our driving along the Atlas still gave us some more birds. Louise spot 2 Ravens and 1 Long-legged Buzzards. We did a pair of stops expecting to have, soon or later, some migratory raptors. Unfortunately we had nothing and our only migratory success were over 25 European Bee-eaters and a big flock of +100 Western House Martins (Delichon urbicum).

Once in the Northern slope we did a first stop in a typical migratory area. Here we had close views on common migratory birds such as Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans), Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Woodchat Shrike and great views on 2 Western Orphean Warblers (Sylvia hortensis) skulking inside a tiny almond tree along with Great Tit. The bird was also really celebrated! This place also offered our first of many Maghreb Larks (Galerida macrorrhyncha), a recent split from Crested Lark.

tmp_162991676.OWkvO9FT1193768910

After some minutes of scanning a tiny almod tree this Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) was finally giving us wonderful views! Image: Bauke Kortleve

A last stop of the day was done along the road to look for the near-endemic, and very scarce, Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe lugens). After some scanning of the slopes around we got a really nice male up in the ridge of the cliff, moving in and out of some big hollows. What a bird! A probable female was also moving down in the slope but couldn’t be confirmed because of the wind and because the bird was disappering in the slope. We still had some more scanning trying to have better views but was impossible to relocate the birds and only got White-crowneds

Stream in the Atlas Northern slope. This kind of ambients can be really productive. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163035790.Y1nud5AF182175417

 

After such a good day we just did the short transfer to our accommodation, located in a wonderful oasis-like area. During the short transfer we still had a Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) and 1 British Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima) in some fields being irrigated as well as several Maghreb Larks and some family groups of White-crowned Black Wheatears were spotted as well as a pair of migratory Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe) as well as our firsts Fat Sand Rats (Psammomys sp.).

Day 5. Early morning start and first scanning of the area around our accommodation. In the stream nearby we found 2 Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubius) and 1 Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) along with Grey Heron. A first stop in the steppes around produced 2 Desert Larks (Ammomanes deserti) and a first look on Desert Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor elegans) despite the really, really strong wind…

The day before, by passing with the car, we just saw a good place with some water so we decided to do a stop there and enjoy the birds moving around. We had a good flock of over 20 Yellow Wagtails (mainly Iberian), 3 Little Ringed Plover, +4 Common Sandpipers and one pair of Ruddy Shelducks being this the first close view on this species so far.

After that we just went to the big dam immediatly South of Ouarzazate. Here, as always, there were tones of birds. Andreas spot 5 Eurasian Spoonbills roosting in the edge of the water while +100 Greater Flamingoes and +60 Glossy Ibises were feeding around. Here we also had our firsts Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) as well as +15 Collared Pratincoles (Glareola pratincola) roosting in the mudflats. Other birds here include 1 Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) and our only one Dunlin (Calidris alpina) of the trip. Our only Calidris, actually…

Great White Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron and Cattle Egret were all around the dam and 1 Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) was also flying over.

Maghreb Lark (Galerida macrorhyncha), a recent split and a common bird in farm land ambients South of the Atlas. Image:Bauke Kortleve

tmp_163005170.R7pnM3YZ309794029

Also in the mud around, several Yellow Wagtails were feeding… and along with them were pipits… I think the very first pipit we had that day was a meritory Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus), being this species a scarce migratory bird in Morocco. At least 3 Water Pipits (Anthus spinolleta) were there along with the wagtails along with 2 Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis), a rather late birds.

Migratory birds were moving around and Bauke spotted the first Blue-checkeed Bee-eater (Merops periscus) of the trip and the unfortunately only sight on Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus), a female. A small flock of Common Swift (Apus apus) was also moving here along with several House Martins and Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) and some beautiful Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica).

On the water, huge flock of +200 Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata) gave us good views and a distant Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) was a good bird to add to the bird list of the trip. Around the water, in the tiny riparian vegetation we had a Chiffchaff moving on ground as well as the most strange sight on Savi’s Warbler (Locustella luscinioides) I’ve ever had. The bird was clearly nervous and moving in the open, showing really well despite the really strong light. It was moving also on ground for a while, a behaviour quite common, but normally impossible to see in the field.

tmp_162999202.rOO7G09Y1866016626

During the trip we also enjoyed other wildlife, like this wonderful and impressive Bell’s Dabb Lizzard (Uromastyx nigriventris). Image: Bauke Kortleve

After arrived to our accommodation in Boulmane du Dades, we still had the afternoon to enjoy the famous Tahdild Road. That afternoon we had our firsts sights of many Temminck’s Lark (Eremophila bilopha), a wonderful, beautiful bird for me. We had also our only 2 Cream-coloured Coursers (Cursorior cursor) in a long, wonderful sight of the birds running in the steppe-lands. 1 Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) was also showing well and we had our firsts 2 Thick-billed Larks (Rhamphocoris clotbei) flying over the steppes. Unfortunately only Gerda had them along with me so the next day our goal was to find a better ones!

Day 6. Full day in the steppe-lands around Boulmane and also some time to enjoy the Gorge du Dades. A first stop in the steppe land immediatly around Boulmane produced 3 Red-rumped Wheatears (Oenanthe moesta) and wonderful views on +6 Trumpeter Finches (Bucanetes githagineus) along with with Thekla, Temminck’s and our only one Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) of the trip. 2 Seehbom’s Wheatears and 2 Woodchat Shrikes were a nice bonus, especially the wheatears!

tmp_P1110650-1067284061

Temminck’s Lark (Eremophila bilopha) a wonderful beauty living in the highland steppes. Image: Carles Oliver

A second stop around produced +3 Desert Wheatears (Oenanthe deserti) and wonderful views on Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandrella rufescens) & Fat Sand Rats. 1 Long-legged Buzzard was moving around and he had good views on the bird while perched in the steppe. 4 more Trumpeter Finches were also a good bonus here.

Third stop, this time in a good corner for larks and sandgrouses. We walked along one “stream” and got really nice views on Desert Wheatears and a favolous male of Thick-billed Lark (Ramphocori clotbei) that Andreas spot moving on the sand. We all enjoyed really good views on the bird while typically moving in the open areas, looking for food. As always, several Temminck’s Larks were also around and, when coming back to car, we still had a wonderful Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) moving on ground and providing us with really good views while following it!!

In this issue we have had, again, wonderful views on Thick-billed Larks ( Ramphocoris clotbei) being this male the first we had on ground. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163002769.naPwKCbi859924125

After lunch and some rest we just went around to explore one gorge just by Boulmane. Here we start to scan around when, suddenly, the impressive call of a Pharaon Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) came to our ears. The bird was really, really close so we just ketp slowly moving and scanning around until Bauke was finding the bird in a hollow in the cliffs! We all enjoyed the bird while sleeping and calling every 4-5 minutes… What a view!!

Pharaon Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) at its roosting place. It is wonderful to remember it singing among the rock while sleeping! Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_162999255.FM967Sc9634381549

In the gorge around we also had some other birds including Common Kestrel, White-crowned Black Wheatears, Crag Martins (Ptynoprogne rupestris) and Desert Larks that showed really well and allowed really close views! An impressive Bell’s Dab Lizzard (Uromastyx nigriventris) was also a good bonus for all the group.

Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti), a common bird living in semi-desertic areas. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110741356951003

After that we still had some time to explore the Gorge du Dades. A first stop here looking for a better view on Barbary Partridge produced nothing at all… Despite this and along the road, we had some Blue Rock Thrushes and Black Wheatears as well as +10 Crag Martins (Ptynoprogne rupestris).

The next stop provided us with a distant but good view on a Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinoides) right in the top of a cliff. The bird didn’t stole the show and after a pair of minutes just left the cliff to directly fly towards a really distant Booted Eagle that was on ground! After some fight in the air, the Falcon just left the area a second Booted appeared in the sky, stopping both of them on a dead tree up in the top of the cliff. A really different view from those I’m more used in the Pyrenees!

Still in our way back to the hotel we had to do a stop in the road since another Barbary Falcon was flying just over the car and did an incredible flight down chasing a small bird and losing itself in the palm orchards around the Dades River…

Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) is a near-endemic bird living in cliffs and bare slopes. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110361-2024504895

Day 7. Early morning start with the main goal to locate some Sandgrouses, a bird that was scaping us, so far. A pair of stops during the morning provide us with good looks to many interesting birds including +8 Red-rumped Wheatears, Desert Wheatears, Trumpeter Finches, Temminck’s Lark, Greater Short-toed Larks, 4 Long-legged Buzzards (including 2 juveniles) and 4 migratory Black Kites (Milvus migrans) but so signal of Sandgrouses any where…

Typical semi-arid countryside at the Southern slope of the Atlas mountains. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163035764.KotVvjuH-770739485

Finally we arrived to one place with some water… we didn’t have to wait for long until the first flock of Sandgrouses was appearing flying around! 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) showed their great way of flying! We decided to go closer to the water and had really close, wonderful views, on a pair of Black-bellieds, great! After some waiting there we could determine that at least 25 Black-bellied Sandgrouses were moving there in different flocks and we enjoyed of great views on some big flocks in the slopes around the water. Unfortunately we had to leave the area without signal of Crowned Sandgrouses (Pterocles coronatus), a bird that we finally missed during the trip, despite the many efforts to find one!

tmp_P11107851528891148

Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis). This year we enjoyed of extremely close views on this bird. Always a wonderful experience! Image: Carles Oliver

Male (left) and female (right) Black-bellied Sandgrouse approaching to a pool in the morning light. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110790-461008862

After such a wonderful encounter we just drove some mile East to explore a point where in 2015 we had Scrub Warbler. Unfortunately, a walk around only produced Spectacled Warblers, Woodchat Shrike, Maghreb Lark and a distant Lanner Falcon.

After lunch, we explore a second location for Scrub Warbler. A walk around was extremely productive. Along the ouadi (local name for the dry river beds in the desert and semi-desert) we had some flocks of Trumpeter Finch, Woodchat Shrike, 2 pairs of Spectacled Warbler, several Temminck’s Lark and one wonderful Thick-billed Lark moving around us!!

The scanning of the many scrubs around was not producing the desired bird until Bauke spot 3 Scrub Warblers (Scotocerca inquieta saharae) about 50 metres from us. It was probably a family group and the birds showed out for some seconds. We fastly moved there to re-scan all the area but unfortunately we couldn’t have again the birds. Still, when looking for them, we got again a distant Lanner Falcon and a  really unexpected Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura) moving in the sandy area!! A good bonus, anyway!

This Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura) was a great surprise while scanning for Scrub Warblers. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163002617.48BUvk1R1540056097

In our way down to our hotel in Merzouga we still had time to admire some of the many flocks of Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters moving in the oases along the road including some really close views!

Definately not a bad view on Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters (Merops persicus). Male and female that were also maiting by the car. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P11108091577880534

Day 8. Our day in the desert started in an excellent way. While waiting for some of the group, Gerda and I had a wonderful Lanner Falcon perched on ground directly in front of our hotel!! The bird just flew off and came to us, flying really close to the main building, going behind it and reappearing soon after joined by… a second Lanner!! Amazing!

The first stop of the day produced some typical migratory birds such as Common Redstart, Subalpine Warbler, Willow Warbler and European Bee-eater. Still, the main sight here was a phantastic pair of Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex) showing out really well while perched along with House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) or while looking for food in the dunes around… what a beauty!

Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex) was one of the highlights of the trip and we enjoyed of walk-away views on them. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163002416.lzGjpXr798094972

In our second stop that day we explore a “ouadi”. Here we had our first of many (+8) Greater Hoopoe Larks (Alaemon alaudipes) that day. The birds were singing and displaying in a wonderful view, despite being a bit far away. Other birds here include Desert Grey Shrike, 3 Black Kites migrating North, Woodchat Shrike and 1 Greater Short-toed Lark. Still, no signal of the main goal in this stop… Some minutes later we had one of them calling and, finally, our local guide spot 1 African Desert Warbler (Sylvia deserti) about 200 metres “down” the ouadi. After a fast run towards the bird (and after a second running, actually…) we finally had really good views on one of the warblers (there were two moving around).

African Desert Warbler (Sylvia deserti) was finally appearing, despite required a long scanning (and some running!). Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163040525.JSQhrLFN-1391371798

Happy for the good bird and the good exercise we came to the car. In the transfer we had some Brown-necked Ravens (Corvus ruficollis) flying here and there as well as several Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) flying North.

In our next stop we had 2 Egyptian Nightjars (Caprimulgus aegyptius) roosting on ground under the scarce vegetation of another ouadi. We, of course, had really long views on them and observed how they were oppening the eyes every minute or so, to check the area around… Other birds here included African Desert Warbler and Hoopoe Larks singing around and 3 Bar-tailed Larks! After some driving we also got 2 Spotted Sandgrouses (Pterocles senegalus) showing really close. It was also an excellent sight and very good for photographers in the group. After some more driving we had up to 8 Spotted Sandgrouses in different locations… Still, we didn’t get any Crowned, that was again the main goal of the driving.

Egyptian Nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius), again one of the highlights of the trip. This year we enjoy two birds while roosting. Below, Spotted Sandgrouses (Pterocles senegalensis), a “common” sandgrouse living in the desert. Images: Carles Oliver   tmp_P1110870-1473069912

 

tmp_P1110893586568729

After a good lunch we just kept looking for birds. In the oasis-like areas we had several Maghreb Larks, Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters, Turtle Doves, Greenfinches, White-crowned Black Wheatears, House Buntings, Laughing Doves and Common Kestrels but probably the best birds there were 1 Little Owl (Athene noctua) roosting in a tiny cliff and two family groups of Fulvous Blabblers (Turdoides fulva) skulking really low and inside the low palm trees, moving on ground and performing their really characterystic calls. Again a wonderful bird! We just finished the day with some relax in our hotel and, who wanted, enjoyed also the Common Nightingale and even Orphean Warbler showing in the grounds of the hotel.

Day 9. Just when opening the door of my room that day I could see a good day was waiting for us since a Grasshoper Warbler (Locustella naevia) was right in front of me, 5 metres to me, moving in the open! Unfortunately I didn’t have my bins ready… well, I was not expecting such a sight!!! I have to say that it was the first of the day, but not the last. The first stop of the day was in an oasis-like area, just following a small stream surrounded by large tamarisks. Here we soon listened our first Saharan Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna pallida reiseri), a race that some argue as being a different species from Eastern Olivaceous. A minimum of 5 individuals were singing around and, after some carefully scanning of the canopies, we all had good views on the birds! Other birds moving here included also Isabelline, Willow, Subalpine & (many) Western Bonelli’s Warblers. Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters were flying around along with European Bee-eaters, a nice combination!

Rufous Bush Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes) was again one of the highlitghs of the trip and a bit unexpected sight due to the dates of the trip. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110938 copy1137287082

After spending quite a long time enjoying the birds in the stream we spent the rest of the morning trying to locate Crowned Sandgrouse around. Unfortunately we had no contact with this species althought we still got 2 Trumpeter Finches and really close view on 2 Hoopoe Larks and +30 Brown-necked Ravens, many of them really close.

tmp_163002753.ImQjzJT1788667931

Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis) can be common around the desert. Image: Bauke Kortleve

Even before having lunch we had time to take a look into a pool in the desert. Here we had no big surprises out of Sedge & Eurasian Reed Warblers singing in the reeds, Little Ringed Plover and Little Grebe enjoying the water and 1 Marsh Harrier flying over…

tmp_P1110953-606422891

Greater Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes), a quite common bird in the desert that gave us great views on its wonderful display flights. Image:Carles Oliver

During the afternoon we just did a walk in a forested land close to our hotel. This was probably one of the best spots in the trip… here we had +6 Common Redstarts moving along with both +2 Spotted (Muscicapa striata) and +5 Pied Flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca). We spent some time enjoying really close views on both Savi’s (Locustella luscinioides) and Grasshoper Warblers (Locustella naevia), both of them skulking in the vegetation and showing really close! Bauke spot two new Scrub Bush Robins moving on ground! Willow, Western Bonelli’s and Subalpine Warblers were all around us and we also got Turtle Dove and Eurasian Reed Warbler in the orchads. While walking in the area Louise spot a Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) moving in the canopy. After several scanning we finally managed to have the birds (there were two!), first in a short flight and finally both of them flying up in the sky and moving to the North, hopefully expecting to arrive to South-West Europe in the next days!!

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis), a common bird in the oases-like areas. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163035084.a2k58pWH256717357

This was a really wonderful end of our really last birding day in the trip… I could personally be there for weeks but it was already dark so we came to our accommodation to have a good dinner and rest!

Day 10. The very last day of the trip was a long, but good, transfer from Merzouga to Marrakech. In the way up we still had some good surprises, like a wonderful Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) flying really low over the car around Rissani! It is always nice to see them in Morocco, since there are really few left of them in the country…

White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga) becomes a common view immediatly South of the Atlas mountains. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163002691.I9YQHCrV-1320209401

One stop after lunch produced several warblers. Out of the “normal” migratory birds down here we got again nice views on Western Orphean Warbler, Goldfinch and Saharan Olivaceous Warbler.

While crossing the Atlas we had a pair of stops to try to find some raptors. Again we were not really lucky and we only got a really distant eagle moving East. It was a Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) but unfortunately nobody in the group had good views on the bird. A second stop in the Atlas was more productive. Here we had African Chaffinch, Grey Wagtail, +5 Nightingale, Blackcap, Winter Wren, Great Tit, European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) and our only one Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) of the trip! Probably the best birds in this stop were a gorgeous Booted Eagle, dark form, hunting in the fields around and 3 Hawfinches showing really well just by the road. Excellent!

tmp_P1110970-596736897

The very last stop of the trip was in some open fields, no very far away from Marrakech. Here we had good views on Stonechat, Woodchat Shrike and a new Western Orphean Warbler was showing a bit far, but well, good views after all. The best bird was, still, the 4 Barbary Partridges enjoyed while moving on ground in the fields. This bird didn’t offer any good view during the trip so far so it was a wonderful end for the trip!!

When we finally arrived to our hotel we were a bit tired of the long trip but we really satisfied of the wonderful trip we had. Weather this year was perfect all the days and we all enjoyed a good group of birdwatchers with really interesting chatings about the natural and human history of Morocco…

tmp_P11109651961468438


Sunset in Ourika Valley, in our very last stop of the trip… Image: Carles Oliver

Well, this was the trip… 2017 issue of the trip will run from 21st March to 30th March. Do you really wan to miss it?

You can have more images of the trip by following this LINK Many thanks to Bauke Kortleve for sharing his excellent images!!

To see the report of the 2015 issue please follow this LINK

Anuncis

Morocco; from Atlas to Sahara Tour, 2015 issue report

Number of species: 173 Unexpected birds: Pallid Harrier (2), Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Aquatic Warbler

P1060123 copy

Part of our small group birdwatching around Boulmane du Dades.

As every year, in 2015 we had our early spring Moroccan tour. This issue streght from March 21st to March, 30th. As usually the tour started and finished in Marrakesh, the legenday & wonderful town known as being the “gateway to the desert” in Morocco. Day 1. The tour started with a change in the planning since we were adviced by one of our costumers that his plane was delayed for 10 hours so we had to reorganise our planning and spend some time spotting birds immediatly around Marrakesh instead of going directly to Agadir, as originally planned. That morning was finally really productive since we had time to explore some interesting locations around the city. There we could spot our first Thekla Larks of many more along the trip as well as 1 Booted Eagle, 1 Barbary Partridge singing in the fresh air of the morning and the first Algerian Shrike (a probable future split from Great Grey Shrike). Zitting Cisticolas were singing in the air while a pair of Moroccan White Wagtails were chasing insects in the short grass lands. Cattle Egrets and White Storks were also moving on the grass, looking for some casual preys. First views on Common Bulbul, Spotless Starling and Moroccan Magpie were also made along the morning and the local race of Greenfinch was also spotted in the olive groves along the road.

P1050872

Algerian Shrike (Lanius excubitor algeriensis), a probable future split that will become a new near-endemic for Morocco.

After some birding in the open fields we moved close to a golf course were many times it is possible to see migratory birds. We spotted some Iberian Yellow Wagtails feeding on the grass. Over the grass there was a big flock of House Martins, Barn Swallows and Sand Martins hunting insects. Some Pallid Swifts joined them but the best were 2 Brown-throated Martins flying along with them! It was a wonderful view and we were really happy with it since I didn’t expected to have the bird that close of Marrakesh, becoming a nice bonus.

Motacilla subpersonata

The endemic Moroccan Wagtail (Motacilla subpersonata) in a stream near Marrakesh

The morning was still long so I decided to explore a small river some kilometers South of Marrakesh. Here small orchards are to be found both sides of the stream and a line of small cliffs face one of the side of the river. This is a place were sometimes Brown-throated Martins are nesting so we were expecting to find some of them. Well, soon after our arrival at least 3 of them were flying really low and being especially interested in some nests placed in a small afluent of the river. It was a really nice view!! Some minutes of birding around produced some other birds such as Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Common Kestrel, Blue Rock Thrush, White Wagtail, Common Linnet and Cetti’s Warbler nerviously singing in the reeds. After all costumers joined the group we finally left Marrakesh towards Agadir. After our arrival to Agadir and our check-in in the hotel(where we were wellcomed by a House Bunting singing in the roof of the hotel and some Little Swifts fluing around) still had time to enjoy a bit of nice birding. We went to the mouth of the River Souss, a superb birding spot which is inside the town itself. In the way to the mouth we spot some birds. A brief stop allowed us to see the first of many Laughing Dove as well as Great Tit, African Chaffinches and several Moroccan Magpies. In mudflats we could spot some waders: several Common Ringed Plovers, Curlews, Dunlins as well as our only one Spotted Redshank during the trip and a wonderful flock of over 40 Common Shelducks flying North over the see line. Day 2. The day start with a new change from the original planning. We were supposed to be visit the mouth of River Massa but, as it was no time in a single day to visit both River Massa and Tamri the group agreed to avoid River Massa and go for Tamri. In addition, we explore longer the mouth of River Souss that was so productive the afternoon before. We arrived to Souss River mouth’s quite early and enjoy some good staff. Flocks of Dunlins were feeding quite close from us and 2 Curlew Sandpipers were feeding along with them. At the other side of the river, an  Osprey was in a  pylon, quietly eating a fish while a superb flock of 7 Eurasian Spoonbills arrived to feed on the mud flats! Here and there there were Oystercatchers as there were also some Grey Plover, some of them showing already some of their beautiful summer plomage. Other shorebirds present there included Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Sanderling, our only one Little Ringed Plover of the trip and 2 Black-winged Stilts, the first of the year for me! There were also some Great Cormorants (nominal race) as well as Little Egrets, Grey Herons and 1 Great White Egret.

IMG_3911

African Blue Tit (Cyanistes ultramarinus) has darker blue and more constrasted head patterns than Eurasian Blue Tits.

Flocks of gulls were moving up and down the river and a good roosting site was located at the other side of the river. Along with the commoner Black-headed, Yellow-legged and LBB Gulls we could spot a minimum of 7 Mediterranean Gulls and 2nd year Slender-billed Gull. Always a nice bird to watch! We scan also for Audouin’s Gulls (one of my favourites, but without luck!) In the roosting place a small flock of Sandwich Terns were sleeping and we were glad to see how a Gull-billed Tern joined the roosting flock. We walked a little bit inside the bush land to get some migrating passerines. Soon we got the firsts birds since several Subalpine Warblers were moving in the bushes. After a short walk surrounded by Subalpine Warblers some Blackcaps were  appearing as well. Jerome spotted a favolous Nightingale moving in the open and flying away really fast. 4 Common Chiffchaffs and several Willow Warblers were also moving in the bushes. Along with them, some resident Sardinian Warblers were singing and it do so 2 Turtle Doves in the distant eucaliptus (we tried to find them out, but it was impossible). Finally, a female Marsh Harrier came out of the reeds to say good morning to the group and go for some hunting somewhere else. At this moment, a wonderful flock of over 90 Greater Flamingoes appeared from the sea and flought over the river mouth for a pair of minutes, looking for a place to stop. Finally, they decided to come the same way they came… After such good start we moved to some fields near the river’s mouth. There, a nice combination of salt marshes and cereal crops allows a good general birding. The area was full of Yellow Wagtails, mainly Iberian but at least 1 Italian Yellow Wagtail (cinereocapilla) was moving with them! In  the fields around we counted 4 Woodchat Shrike, several groups of Common Bulbul as well as Corn Bunting and Moroccan Magpie. In the salt marshes we spot a minimum of 25 Stone Curlews roosting in the mud flats, half hidden by the tall vegetation. Around them, a flock of 9 Ruffs feeding on ground along with Wood Sandpipers and Dunlins.

IMG_3860

Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) in a winter ground in the Zäers, Northern Morocco.

After a wonderful time birding it was also time to have some nice meal. We stop in a hotel in our way to Tamri and, after having a good rest and meal, we followed our way to the top place for Northern Bald Ibises. Unfortunately, it was raining. After a quite cold morning, a small rain start to fall down about noon.

P1050862

Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) looking for food in the plains around Cape Tamri. Image: Carles Oliver

We arrived to Tamri and, after some search, we could spot a small flock of 8 individuals feeding on ground. We carefully walked to them, having care of not disturbing the birds. We enjoyed the birds for several minutes, seeing how predated over sand beetles and larvaes. Several photos and videos could be recorded. After some minutes, a new flock arrived. There were already 25 individuals in front of us!! The scenery was awesome. The brown dunes, the gentle, green slope, such endangered bird quietly moving here and there… that I didn’t disturb the group of birdwatchers telling them about a Black-eared Wheatear just close to us… It was the only appearing in the tour and I was the only one watching the bird 😦 The rain made us move. It was getting cold and rainy so we came back to the Tamri. From the village itself we could spot 3 Peregrine Falcons. A little rain join us once more but a really short walk along fig and palm groves was really productive. A flock of Sand Martins flew off some reedbeds joined by >3 Red-rumped Swallows. In the groves around we spot several birds: 2 Cirl Buntings, 2 RavensSardinian Warblers, some Goldfinches, a fast Wryneck (briefly showing in a small branch) and a wonderful flock of over 30 Spanish Sparrows preening on a little tree!

IMG_3659

This Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) appeared near our group for just a few seconds and immediatly disappeared. Image: Carles Oliver

The rain became heavier so it was time to go to our hotel. That afternoon we came back to Marrakesh, having a good dinner in a fancy restaurant in Gueliz district, known as being the most attractive area of the Ville Nouveau of Marrakesh. Day 3. This day we were exploring the area around Oukaïemeden. This ski resort, placed right in the centre of the High Atlas, allows an approach to the high mountain specialties living in Morocco. Even before going inside the Atlas we had some nice birds. 2 Algerian Shrikes (a probable future split from Northern Grey Shrikes) were standing by the road showing the thin white supercilium and the buffy breast. Moroccan Magpies were all around and some Little Swifts were flying over. Not a bad start!

IMG_4917

Moroccan Magpie (Pica mauretanicus) shows a fancy looking and it is considered now a full species.

Along the road we could see some interesting birds. Anna spot what it was our already 4th Moroccan Wagtail (Motacilla subpersonata), a recent split. European Serin, Cattle Egret, Common Bulbul, African Blue Tit, Great Tit, Firecrest and Chiffchaff were also appearing. A Short-toed Treecreeper (endemic race in Morocco) was also singing around but despite our efforts to attrack it to the road, we could not properly see the bird! A second stop upper in the road was even more interesting. A flock of over 27 Red-billed Choughs were just by  the road and 1 female Black Redstart was standing in a building around. We were enjoying the Choughs when a quite distant Levaillant’s Woodpecker started to call! We looked for it and we finally could locate the bird at the top of a wood pylon, showing really well! At the same moment Anna called me as she had seen something really close in the road. We all went to take a look and saw a wonderful Moussier’s Redstart just by the road, showing first on a rock, then running up and down on the grass. We were enjoying three really good birds at the same time and at that moment we would prefer to have a pair of extra eyes!

Moussier's Redstart - Phoenicurus moussieri copy

Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) is a near-endemic mostly living in the Atlas and in hilly areas around.

As the Levaillant’s was still calling from the same position we decided to go closer. We walked for over 200 metres and got a really better view. Then we pair attention that by the pylon a bird was standing at the top of pile of rocks. It was a male Blue Rock Thrush! It was showing briefly but still was a nice view. The Levaillant’s went away but the walk back to the car reported African Chaffinches, Serins, a female Moussier’s Redstart and House Bunting, 2. When arriving to Oukaïemeden weather conditions were quite bad. It was snowing and the fog was quite dense, with a poor light. Still, the birding was superbe! A flock of over 30 Alpine Choughs was easily located in the snow, providing really good views from the car. After a short-walk we could locate the two firsts Horned Larks feeding on ground. We kept walking for a while a good flock was located. It was, actually a mixed flock since 15 Crimson-winged Finches were with them! Despite the poor light and the cold, they allowed really wonderful views and images…

Rhodopechys sanguinea

Crimson-winged Finch in the Atlas. Despite the bad weather, they allowed wonderful images.

After a good time there we made a stop in the road by a stream. This area is one of the few in Morocco providing Dipper and one of our costumers from Canada really wanted to have one of this. In average conditions the bird it would appear. Unfortunately, we could not spot any of them and our efforts to find a Dipper only reported a Grey Wagtail and a Black Redstart… It was time for lunch and get some warm… the unnormally low temperatures and rainy weather we were having were challenging the tour but still we got nice views on all main birds so far!!

P1050896

Atlas Horned Lark feeds along with Crimson-winged Finches and other high mountain birds. Image: Carles Oliver

After lunch time a short walk in a scrub land was programmed but it had to be cancelled due to the heavy rain. It was 17:00 so we came to the hotel to have some rest and enjoy a dinner in Marrakesh famous central square later in the eve. Day 4. This day we crossed the Atlas to arrive to our first contact with the steppes and semi-deserts located immediatly South of this mountain range. A long, fascinating road leads you up by several mountain passes. Soon, weather conditions showed not as good as expected. It snowing  quite heavily and traffic was slow. For a while, I was considering to come back to Marrakesh and go ahead with any alternative planning. Finally and thanks to the several tracks going up and down the road was good enough to keep going, and we crossed to the South slope. As soon as crossing the main mountain pass, weather totally changed. It was sunny and quite warm, but really windy. Some short stops in road allowed us to count over 60 Black Kites migrating North despite the huge difficulties they had due to the strong wind. A minimum of 4 Marsh Harriers were also counted.

milvus+Atlas

Black Kite (Milvus migrans) migrating with the snow of the Atlas behind. Image: Carles Oliver

Our first long stop was near Ouarzazate, in a location were a pair of Maghreb Wheatear was nesting that season. I saw the birds some days before so we stop and started to scan around trying to locate the birds. It was really windy, time was passing and the birds were not appearing. We spot our 2 firsts Black-crowned Wheatears and the first Desert Wheatear for the tour, but it was impossible to locate the Maghreb ones… Finally this was the only good bird not appearing in the tour. A pitty! Still, a second stop reported some good birds. In a farm land close to the place were we first stop, several Yellow Wagtails (iberiae) were feeding on ground beside some Greenfinches. Raptors were still moving North by the valley so we spot a very nice Montagu’s Harrier male and a distant Short-toed Eagle circling in the sky. But the best was a wonderful male of Pallid Harrier flying really low over the fields while flying North to get to Europe!! We were all really excited for this bird, not a common view in Morocco since most of them migrate via Turkey and Greece! Good for us!

IMG_4517

Temminck’s Lark is my favourite lark living in Western Palearctic, Image: Carles Oliver

Still, the really windy conditions made really difficult to have a good birding so we continued the road to Boulmane du Dades, expecting to have a final stop in any non-windy spot along the road. A second stop was made before arriving to Boulmane, in a good area for Maghreb Wheatear. The really strong wind made really difficult to scan around so, from the car, we could see 2 Woodchat Shrikes and 2 Desert Grey Shrikes (again a future split from Northern Grey Shrike, really easy to tell apart from Algerian Shrike!) This was the end of the day so we arrived to our hotel and had a good rest! Day 5. Early start, good breakfast and go to steppe lands aroung Boulmane to have a great day of birding! Quite early in the morning we did some stops in the steppe lands. Well from the beggining several Greater Short-toed Larks were moving in the steppes. We had really wonderful views and had also the chance to compare it with 1 or 2 clear Lesser Short-toed Larks moving also in the area (two species than can be difficult to tell apart for many birders). Still, the main goal of this early stop in the steppes was to find out the beautiful Temminck’s Horned Lark, my favourite lark in Western Palearctic. It took about 10 minutes to have the first pair moving on ground and we could all observe the wonderful combination of its sandy upper coloration, the black mask, heavily contrasting with the pure white face and the two delicate black “antenas”… always a superb bird to me!

IMG_4410

House Buntings are a common view in Southern Morocco and have recently expand their range to Central and Northern Morocco.

I did a second stop in the steppe land, this time focusing on Sandgrouses (in our 2014 tour we had a flock of over 60 Black-bellied Sandgrouses plus 18 Crowned Sandgrouses here). This year we only got 2 Black Bellied Sands flying over the steppe. Still, the place reported a nice Collared Pratincole flying over the steppe vegetation moving North (migratory?), several Thekla Larks and 2 Short-toed Eagles circling in the sky and moving North. They were obviously migratory birds but still they were disturbed by a local Barbary Falcon that was trying to push them away!! The difference of sizes was spectacular to see up in the sky! A bit after we got our first flock of Cream-coloured Courser of the tour. 9 individuals quite close and showing well, running up and down in the open steppe vegetation. The strong wind from the previous day had stop but still the temperature was lower than average. Still, some migratory birds were moving. We had several Desert Wheatears as well as 1 Red-rumped Wheatear (male) and a migratory Northern Wheatear. Flocks of Common Swifts were passing by as well as Barn Swallows joined by Sand Martins. A group of 5 Black Kites was spot in the sky right before Jerome spot a bird of prey flying quite low over the steppe. After half a second it was clear that the bird was a male Pallid Harrier! The second in two days! The bird was moving quite fast (still a bit of wind…), really low and in a few seconds desappeared in an ondulation of the terrain. We all look all around trying to refind the bird, unsuccessfully!

bonagran

Cream-coloured Couser, a slender specialty ocurring in open desert-like areas.

So, we were again alone in the steppes, just joined by the group of Cream-coloured Coursers. Not a bad company, anyway! So, we enjoyed how they moved and feed on ground while (at least me) putting an eye in the sky (who knows what was next!) And the next was one Long-legged Buzzard appearing circling in the sky. It is always nice to see these raptors that, due to poissoning and hunting are scarcer year after year in Morocco. To end the morning we visited a small stream near there expecting to spot some migratory passerines. Right arriving there we got a Tree Pipit flying off the stream so I expected to find something else. No migratory birds were in the stream but a small flock of 3 Trumpeter Finch, including a beautiful male. We had excellent views on the birds drinking water and preening. In the while, 2 Red-rumped Swallows came to the stream and, after circling a bit, kept flying to somewhere else.

camachuelo1

Trumperter Finches favours Rape seeds due to its high water content.

In the afternoon we went to spend some time in the Gorge du Dades a wonderful setting of small villages, oasis, olive groves and sandy cliffs host there a good selection of birds. We didn’t have some much time. Still, around the river itself we had a good flock of Blackcaps joined by Western Bonelli’s Warbler. Anna spot 1 Hoopoe in the farm next-by and allowed nice views on it. A brief view on Cetti’s Warbler in the riberside vegetation was a nice bonus. African Chaffinch, African Blue Tit and Sardinian Warbler joined us as well. In the way back we stop by some cliffs and had a good Black Wheatear (later we had a really wonderful one in the hotel itself). It had been a long, complete day and now was time to have a good dinner and a good rest!

beehmoii

Seebohm’s Wheatear has been recently split from Northern Wheatear and has become a new Moroccan near-endemic. Image: Carles Oliver

Day 6. Again in the morning in the steppes, this time with strong wind (again) and looking for Thick-billed Lark that has in this area some of the few nesting places in Southern Morocco. In the way to the steppes we had our only one Seebohm’s Wheatear of the trip, a wonderful male that for sure was waiting for better weather to go back to high mountain grasslands. In the steppes, we enjoyed a Red-rumped Wheatear male but soon we spot a pair of Thick-billed Larks. They were showing really well in a small stone hill in the steppe area and seemed to be collecting nesting material on ground.

Thick-billed Lark - Ramphocoris clotbei

Thick-billed Lark is a rather nomadic species living in large steppe areas

We saw the birds moving up and down from a small area beyond the stone hills. So, we moved a little bit and wait for a while, trying to discover the area where the larks were building the nest. After a small waiting a female was arriving to that area, running among the short vegetation. It was carrying what looked to be some feathers from a chicken. After some running turn left, coming directly to us and, after about ten metres the bird was stopping and getting inside its nest. We could easily see how the bird was building the nest. Behind, some Lesser Short-toed Larks were moving around. One minute or so latter the male was also arriving to nest bringing some extra feathers. It was a really wonderful view. Some minutes later we withdraw to do not disturbe the birds. After such a wonderful sight all the group was really happy so it was decided to go to the place were the Cream-coloured Coursers were seen yesterday to try to get better images. Unfortunately only five of the nine seen the day before were relocated and they didn’t allow to improve the images we took the day. In before. In contrast all the place was full of Temminck’s Larks and Greater Short-toed Larks. It was time to go to Gorge du Dades to look for one striking bird; the near-endemic Tristam’s Warbler. Inside the mountains the wind was extremely strong. We stop in some places looking for the bird but no luck. It was really little movement of small birds. Still, we had a really nice Hoopoe, several Common Kestrels, Nightingale and Black Redstart while a small flock of Common Linnets passed by. Trying to keep the group in protected places against the wind we found 2 Blue Rock Thrush (male and female) that allowed wonderful sights and images as well as 2 Rock Buntings, 1 House Bunting and Black Wheatears.

Blue Rock Thrush in Dades Gorge.

Blue Rock Thrush in Dades Gorge.

We had a lunch in the mountains and taking advantage of terrase in the restaurant we could see a good number of Crag Martins as well as Blue Rock Thrush, Grey Wagtail and African Blue Tit. Once the lunch was delaited we came to the place for Tristam’s Warbler. Weather conditions had changed quite a lot with only a soft brise moving among the rocks so I was now optimistic about finding the bird. Soon, a male was listened singing really up in the slope. We waited for some minutes and finally the bird was moving down the slope to stop immediatly below us in a small tree. It was a wonderful male showing really well and even allowing a record shot. A walk around allow us to (briefly) see a female but didn’t allow any approach.

P1050982

Tristam’s Warbler in the best image that allowed in our 2015 tour. Pair attention in the fine brownish wing pannel to identificate the bird.

The rest of the afternoon we explored a small gorge down the mountains. The area presents a really low, scarce vegetation and it is a really good place for a number of birds. Just after a short walk we could listen a Spectacled Warbler singing up in the hills and, at the same time, a pair of Desert Larks moved in front of us, at the other side of the stream. We scoped the Desert Larks but in the meanwhile the Spectacled Warbler was lost. Soon after a pair Black Wheatears showed really well and a small pack of 3 Trumperter Finches appeared in the gorge to feed on ground around us. Some metres beyond that place a male Moussier’s Redstart appeared for a while showing its incredible plomage but was for short and it was not enjoyed for the whole group. It was time for last stop and the target was a small decidous forest by Dades River. Here we could see Blackbirds but also 1 Woodchat Shrike, 1 Western Bonelli’s Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, Common Bulbul and European Serin. In the way back to the hotel we had to stop in the road as 1 superb Bonelli’s Eagle flow over us to say us good by and wishing us a good trip! Day 7. Early morning start and road to the East, towards Merzouga. Before, it was time to take a small look in a gorge to try to find the secretive Pharaon Eagle Owl… without luck. Still, we have some good birds;  1 female Thick-billed Lark showing really close, 2 Desert Larks, 1 Long-legged Buzzard and a pair of Red-rumped Swallows were all seen.

deserti1

Desert Larks life in semi-arid, hilly areas. Image: Carles Oliver

Once in the road we did some stops providing more Desert and Red-rumped Wheatears. After a pair of hours of drive we stopped in a dry river bed to look for Scrub Warbler. We hadn’t had to wait long until a gorgeous male was showing well. Singing from the top of some bush or feeding on ground around them. This is normally a really striking bird and it is sometimes not appearing when exploring the country by yourself or even in a bird trip. In the area was little movement so we came to the car as I wanted to stop in a place which is normally providing good birding on migratory passerines. We arrived there and it was really quiet. Flocks of House Sparrows were moving in the sandy palm tree orchad plus some Greenfinches here and there. There were only few birds moving in a tree just beside the path so we were there and spot 4 “Subalpine Warblers”, all of them males. Taxonomic treatment of this species has been changed in the very last years so it has been recently split into 3 different species (Western, Moltonii’s & Eastern). So, what it was my surprise to see in that bush a male  having all patterns of Eastern Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia albistriata). Light grey upperparts and rump, evident, well defined and wide white moustache along with strong reddish throat and breast as well as white belly and vental area. A great and unexpected sight that we could see for some minutes before but, unfortunately could not take any image of the bird!! No other birds were moving around and the heat was quite strong so we came to the car to follow the road until our hotel in Merzouga were we could have some rest, some chating about the exciting birding in the morning and to prepare ourselves for a small afternoon trip to Merzouga’s lake. That lake, placed in right beside one of the limits of Moroccan Sahara, acts as an iman for thousands of migratory birds as a mandatory stop after crossing the endless desert. Our one hour long visit to the lagoon that afternoon produced a fine selection of ducks including >50 Ruddy Shelduck showing their beauty along the shore of the lake. There were also 5 Northern Shovelers, 10 Marbled Ducks (really endangered ducks), 1 Garganey and a wonderful flock of at least 15 Ferruginous Ducks!! Small groups of Red-knobbed Coots were also feeding across the lagoon. The lake also reported some waders. We had 1 Stone Curlew, 4 Kentish Plovers and 4 Ruffs along with several Black-winged Stilts, Redshanks and Common Ringed Plovers. At least 10 Gull-billed Terns were over flying the lagoon and the Great Crested Grebes diving in. And all of this with the sandy dunes around the lagoon reflecting their colour in the flocks of Greater Flamingoes!!! The desert around the lagoon reported also 1 Nightingale, 1 Northern Wheatear, 1 Woodchat Shrike and Desert Wheatears moving along with some Greater Short-toed Larks… After such a nice selection of birds we came back to hotel to have a nice dinner a some rest! Day 8. This was our full day in the desert to look for desert specialties, some of them quite scarce or elusive. After having a good breakfast our 4×4 was waiting for us out of the hotel. Our first stop was to look for the scarce Desert Sparrow. After a short wait in a incredible setting of dunes and palm trees we spot one male arriving to the top of a small construction along with House Sparrows. It was there for some minutes, preening and showing in the wonderful morning light.

P1060044

Desert Sparrows (Passer simplex) live in the desert and are highly dependant on dromedaries to look for their food.

Our second stop reported us 2 Greater Hoopoe Lark, 1 Bar-tailed Lark, 1 Desert Lark, 1 Hoopoe and 1 African Desert Warbler singing in the top of a bush. We were enjoying for quite long of the bird moving up and down along the sparse bushy area while feeding on caterpillars. While enjoying the warbler a huge flock of 64 Pin-tailed Sandgrouses flew over us calling and flying towards Algeria, where they sometimes go to feed. In the meanwhile Anna spot 1 Cream-coloured Couser and a carefully scanning of the area produced 3 more to be add to our list.

P1060101

Bar-tailed Larks have become quite scarce in some areas in Southern Morocco. Image: Carles Oliver

The African Desert Warbler allowed excellent images but, despite our efforts, this time we could not get close enough to the Greater Hoopoe Lark to take any nice photo. With the help of a Lahce, our local guide, leaded us towards a place where a Egyptian Nightjar can be seen roosting in the desert. It is always an amazing to see their wonderful camouflage (thought they roost on ground in the middle of the desert!) We were there for a quarter or so and quietly leave the location to do not disturb the wondeful bird that, like a sphynx, was sleeping on the sand!

Egyptian Nightjar - Caprimulgus aegyptiacus

Egyptian Nightjar, a wonderful bird totally adapted spend the whole day under the sun of the desert.

After that we had a short stop in some “farm larnds”. Here we were expecting to find some migratory birds but was quite quiet. Still, 2 Maghreb Larks were appearing as well as 1 Winchat and 2 Norther Wheatears. Back to the desert a group of 4 Brown-necked Ravens showed well, but very briefly, by the road. In the “hammada” desert and after a short research we found our first pair of Spotted Sandgrouse of the trip, again allowing gorgeous views and good shots.

P1060165

Spotted Sandgrouse is a typical inhabitant in stony deserts

It was already midday so we went to Rissani to have some lunch and we kept going on to spot some more birds. The oasis and orchards around Rissani were this year extremely productive as we found a family group of at least >10 Fulvous Babblers, 2 Blue-checked Bee-eaters, >4 Maghreb Wheatears, 4 Desert Grey Shrikes and 2 Little Owls roosting along with several Laughing Doves and Common Bulbuls!!

P1060209 copy

Fulvous Babblers can be surprisingly strikking to spot in the Palm groves where do they live

This was right before to explore a clay cliff hosting White-Crowned Wheatear and the impressive Pharaon Eagle Owl. It took us a little bit longer than expected (we enjoyed the White-Crowneds…) but we finally had really good views on a bird sleeping in a shade of a cavity. Unfortunably this time the bird was a little bit far away and we could not have really good shots on it! While watching the bird we had a unexpected visitor since a Barbary Falcon came and stop in the cliff where the Pharaon Eagle Owl was, just hundred metres from where the owl was!! A wonderful end for a wonderful day!

Barbary Falcon

Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinoides) on a cliff around Merzouga

Day 9. This morning we wake up with a nice flock of over 20 European Bee-eaters flying over our hotel, right beside the Erg Chebbi. This day we explored some areas for migratory birds. In our first stop we got 2 Olivaceous Warblers calling but we couldn’t get any clear view of the birds. In addition we got 1 Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Subalpine Warblers, 1 Squacco Heron, 2 African Wagtails and 2 Ruddy Shelducks. Later in the morning we did a stop in a small river, one of the few places with good riparian vegetation all around the area. The reedbeds were full of Sedge Warblers and European Reed Warblers. 4 Blue-cheecked Bee-eaters and small flock of Little Swifts were flying over us, really close allowing incredible views on them. Among the riparian vegetation we got a second Squacco Heron for that morning. We were checking for Crakes as this location is quite good for them. Still, we had no luck this time!

cerceta-pardilla-2

Marbled Ducks favours shallow, often temporary, lakes.

In the river we also spot 1 African White Wagtail and many Yellow Wagtails (iberiae). We were about to live when a bird moved really close in the reedbeds. We all stop and carefully scan the reeds… some seconds later we were shocked to see 1 Aquatic Warbler moving quite close to us!!! It showed well for some 5-10 seconds and immediatly after it disappeared again in the reeds!! It was a great end of our visit to this small wetland!!! Before going back to our hotel for lunch we made a final stop to try to get better views on Saharan Olivaceous Warbler. I tryed this time a different location with bigger trees and some sparse branches to give us more chances. In the area it was 1 Turtle Dove singing as well as some Moroccan Magpies, European Serin, Spotless Starling, Laughing Dove and Blackbirds. After some research I spot a bird right in front of us, singing and showing well in the sparse branches. Got it! An excellent end to our morning! In the afternoon, new visit to the Merzouga lake. We got more or less the same birds than two days before (including the flock of 10 Marbled Ducks) but we could a gorgeous flock of >30 Garganeys as well as a flock of 12 Common Pochards. A minimum of 6 Black-crowned Night Herons were also sleeping in the reeds and Greenshank and Bar-tailed Godwit were spotted in the shore.

P1050835 copy

Black-winged Stilt in the Merzouga Lake, a typical stop for several thousands of migratory birds.

Day 10. Last day of the tour and Merzouga-Marrakesh transfer. But before we had time to visit a small cliffy area around Rissani. We only had 1 hour before start our trip back but it was enough to have a wonderful Lanner Falcon on the cliff, preening in the early morning light. In the area, a pair of White-crowned Wheatears were moving at the foot of the cliff and 1 Desert Lark was moving also in the area. We started to go back to the car when a small flock of 4 Crowned Sandgrouses passed by us showing really well. Despite the flock was not enjoyed for the whole group, it was a fantastic end for our time in the desert.

IMG_4989

Bonelli’s Eagle is, despite a steadily decline, the commonest eagle in Morocco. Image: Carles Oliver

We stop a pair of times in the way back but we only got a pair of distant Bonelli’s Eagle… was during the afternoon in the Northern slope of the Atlas, in a small poplar forest. Here we spot 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, Cirl Bunting, Common Bulbul, Hawfinch, Nightingale, Short-toed Treecreeper, African Chaffinch, African Blue Tit and Eurasian Robin. And this was the end of the tour. We are already excited about our next issue… do you feel like coming 😉