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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

 

 

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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

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 really little contrast.

A further scanning in the area still produced a nice male Black Redstart of the Eastern phoenicuroides race and a superb male Pallid Harrier flying around and stopping in the low branches of a distant tree for some minutes. Namaqua Doves were passing over us and we could count up to 8 individuals of this beautiful bird. It was a very productive corner but since no signal of the Babblers around we decided to go on but, just when most of the people was in the car, we had 2 Arabian Babblers coming to us and stopping some 60 metres from us. More and more birds came front he tangles and we arrived to count up to 9 of them!

Indian Silverbills (Eudice malabarica) showing the white rumps in a typical group view.

We had the birds around for some minutes in what was a really unexpected encounteer in one of the most difficult species in the area! We moved but we didn’t really arrived that far away since we fastly found 1 male Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark some 35 metres from us. Not far, an obliging Isabelline Weathear was a good first for the trip.

It was time to go to our next location. A short drive allowed us to arrive to Liwa mangroves. This is home of two of the most wanted species for all birdwatchers coming to Oman: Collared Kingfisher and Sykes Warbler.

Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) is a common bird in most of coastal Oman. Image by Sergi Sales

Tyde was low and we decided to go on with a short walk along the mangroves. Sooty Gulls were really common as walked in the beach and good numbers of Slender-billed Gulls were also seen flying around. Great Crested Tern was less common, with only few moving along the shore.

In the mangroves it was little movement. A small flock of Eurasian Whimbrels were looking for some food in the mud, joined by 4 Spotted Redshanks. A pair of Common Sandpipers were typically moving up and down along the shores. It was time for a bit of scan and most efforts were placed in the most suitable channel to host a Collared Kingfisher. After 15 minutes of scanning a chunky, white shade emerged from the mangroves to stop in outer skinny branches of a dead mangrove. This was a wonderful views even if not specially close. Things improved really much when the bird turned, showing the typical collar and the beautiful blue-greenish in the upperparts. This view was really celebrated by the group. A Common Kingfisher joined its relative for a better comparision of shape and size.

The bird showed for about 2 minutes and after that came back deep inside the mangrove. We still waited, hoping for a better view and some photo chances that never arrived. Still, the group was really happy to see such a scarce bird! Remember that Collared Kingfishers living at Arabian Peninsula are from “kalbaensis” race, an extremely endangered and more than a probable coming split from the nominal race living in most of Asia!!

Isabelline Shrike (Lanius isabellinus) male in Liwa mangroves.

More than happy about this wonderful sight we kept scanning the area looking for Sykes Warbler. All eyes were to the mangroves when a hard “tchak” came out from the dense vegetation. We scanned for long. First a Isabelline Shrike, after a Graceful Prinia showed nicely, but we didn’t get any other bird from the bush.
We still had some time before sunset so, decided to get somethin different from the area we just drove around the mangroves to the plains placed at the opposite site. A short drive around proved to be quite productive. A first small bush was having 2 White-eared Bulbuls, 2 Common Chiffchaff (not really grey ones) and a third species tha flew off. Not a long scan was necessary to enjoy the female Menétries Warbler. The bird stayed in a low bush for over 2 minutes so we had time enough for looking for the differences from this species and its relative, the Sardinian Warbler (a bird that was more familiar for some members of the group).

This female of Ménétrié’s Warbler (Sylvia mystacea) was the only one membre of its species to appear in the tour.

After driving for 5 minutes more we stopped in a different place and scanned around. 3 Isabelline Weathears were found along with the first Desert Wheatear of the trip. Up in a tree, a wonderful Southern Grey Shrike was looking for an evening meal. The last bird of the day turned up to be a Red-tailed Shrike!

Happy for the good birds of the day we just came back to our hotel for a good rest and dinner.

Day 3. Today we were leaving Muscat and starting our way South. Inmediatly beyond the city, an impressive spine of mountains goes up until 3000 metres high. This is area is home of very interesting birds, some of them unique. During that morning we crossed the mountains, spending some time in a key location looking for some of them.

Here the landscape is controlled by towering bare mountains speckled by small elevated plateaus. In the untouched valleys you can see sparse acacias in an semi-desertic ambient. Our first stop was really a random one. As always scanning the sky we finally got a good bird as 1 Egyptian Vulture was spot high up in the sky. It happen that it was a good place where to stop so we did so and, eventually, scanned around. At the other side of the road we got a Red-tailed Wheatear, a really good bird that may not appear in every tour. All the group was delighted with this little wheatear when a small, whitish bird appeared from the right, moving low in the scrubs. It was an Asian Desert Warbler! It was an amazing to see these two really good birds together! The Asian Desert Warbler flew off and, as not everybody in the group had got good views, we decided to do a short walk around. After some 5 minutes of scanning we relocated the bird and everybody had brilliant views on the tiny bird.

Asian Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana) in a typical view of the species.

Only a small point on the Asian Desert Warbler. I’m personally used to see African Desert Warbler and I was glad to see how different both species are. More than what you can expect from the plates. Asian Desert Warbler is far more grey than its African counterpart and the grey body is having an evident contrast with the orangish tail. In the African Desert Warbler, all body is strong sandy colourated.

Our road stop also produced Isabelline Shrike and Northern Wheatear. We still drove for about half an hour before arriving to our next stop, a gorgeous gorge with a wadi and a pair of oasis-like corners. This is a well known place for the recently discovered Omani Owl, one of the main targets in the trip. As we got inside the gorge we had several Striolated Buntings singing around as well as Lesser Whitethroats in the scattered trees, Purple Sunbirds, Pale Crag Martins and 4 different Egyptian Vultures. Here we spent several time scanning some roosting places of Omani Owl but with no result. Then we moved up in the wadi until a small oasis. In the way, a Bonelli’s Eagle made us stop and it was a good decision to do so since we had 1 Lappet-faced Vulture appeared high in the slopes and showing really well for half minute! This was a bird really celebrated by the group!!

Egyptian Vulture (Neoprhon percnoptreus) flying above a gorge in Northern Oman. Always nice to see that this species is doing well somewhere outside the Pyrenees!

Once arrived we walked a bit around. An obliging Red-tailed Wheatear was a good chance to compare the species with other wheatears while taking some shots. Nearby, 1 female Common Rock Thrush was also showy in the rocks. This is a quite scarce overwintering bird in Oman. A further walk lead us to a small group of trees. Here we easily located the firsts Plain Leaf Warblers and we had a good time enjoying the nervous moviments of this tiny Phylloscopus until the whole group had good views on them. There were al least 5 birds there! Here, a Hume’s Leaf Warbler was also calling in the canopies. We kept scanning but nothing different appeared until 2 Bonelli’s Eagles adults flew over soaring fast and disappearing beyond the gorge.

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis) juvenile.

 

Hume’s Wheatear (Oenanthe albonigra) looked like common in a pair of gorges South of Muscat. Image by Sergi Sales

 

Red-tailed Wheatear (Oenanthe chrysopygia) was the commonest wheatear in the broken landscape of the Northen Oman mountain chains.

After such a successful stop we came back to the place of the Omani Owl. We searched for quite long but, unfortunably, we were totally uncapable to find any of them around. I was already quite midday so we went for a light lunch in a road restaurant nearby.

After lunch we left the mountains, crossing the desert in our way to our accommodation inland Oman. Before sunset we did a small stop in a suitable place. Here we got good views on Brown-necked Ravens, Desert Wheatears, 3 Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks (1 male, 2 females) and 1 Asian Desert Warbler.

We arrived to our accommodation far beyond sunset and recharged energy for the coming day.

Day 4. This day was basically a road day in our way to Salalah. After breakfast we headed to Qirbit for some morning birding. Once the oasis by Qirbit we did a walk around expecting some small birds. The desert around was hosting some Desert Wheatears and we got really good views on our 3rd Asian Desert Warbler for the trip. A aucheri race Southern Grey Shrike was calling from the oasis vegetation and several Eurasian Collared Doves were around. We spent about 25 minutes at the oasis and we only got 2 Lesser Whitethroats and 1 Black Redstart.
After such a disapointing numbers we came back to our Qitbit to explore the gardens. These gardens have been really famous for several years and a must for every single birdwatcher exploring inner Oman. Unfortunably the motel in Qitbit is now close and the gardens abandoned so the variety of birds here has collapsed. We didn’t know about we it was evident that the place had once better times. We still had a good surprise in the gardens since a Black-throated Thrush flew off from one of the trees!! The moved into a dense vegetated patch and we decided to follow it. After some wait we had the bird flying to a small pond of water and got good brief but good views on the bird while drinking water.

As Qitbit was disapointing for us in terms of birds we kept driving some more miles South to arrive to a number of farms where irrigation allows a variety of grassy crops. It was midday so quite hot but we still were expecting some good birds. Along the track accessing the farmland we had a number of good birds including several Isabelline Wheatears along with some Desert and Northern. The area was literally full of grasshopers so the presence of 1 Isabelline Shrike was justified. In one of the stops to check around we got 3 Black-crowned Sparrow-larks singing and moving around. Crested Larks were all over. A random stop produced wonderful views on 1 Long-billed Pipit by the car, and everybody enjoyed quiet long. Around, several Tawny Pipits were also seen, some of them performing superbly.

One of the 2 Pied Wheatears (Oenanthe pleschanka) noted in the ferms.

Once by the crops we noticed an even higher density on Wheatears and also Tawny Pipits. 2 Pied Wheatears including a moulting young male were an excellent adding to the tour list. A little walk by the grass produced several Yellow & White Wagtails and we all surprised to listen 2 Quails singing in the field! Several Laughing Doves were in the area, and this was the first place where we noticed the dark form of this beautiful species. The walk was not especially interesting until we got a bird landing in the field. It was a small lark. It was a Skylark actually. It was moving along with a White Wagtail and it looked clearly smaller, thin-billed than the European Skylark. Then a Common Kestrel appeared so all birds flew off to confirm the bird (birds as it was a second one!) to be Oriental Skylarks thanks to the wing patern when flying (mainly the lack of white stripe in the …..

We still spent some more time in the fields. The Oriental Skylarks flew really far away so no chance for a relocalization. After some time without any relevant activity we decided to leave to Salalah.

African Lime Butterfly (Papilio demodocus) were common in the farm land in the desert.

Before living we invested some time on butterflies. Here it was a great variety so we enjoyed some of them, taking good images. After a good driving we finally approached the incredible Jhoffar Mountains. Here, in the road mountain pass, we did a fast stop to enjoy some birds. The firsts of many Fan-tailed Ravens were seen around, offering good chances for photographers in the group. Also Tristam’s Starlings were really showy, with small flocks of about 10 individuals moving around. The short stop turned in a longer one since a small flock of Wagtails included some interesting ones. There were 4 White Wagtails and some Yellow Wagtails including a male Balkan Yellow Wagtail (feldegg). A proper scanning in the White Wagtails produced a Masked Wagtail (personatta) in winter plomage. Beyond the wagtails, an large area of graminea was covering part of the slope. There we saw a small flock of Singing Bush Larks moving around, flying up and down to disappear in the tall grass. Despite our efforts, we couldn’t have a view of the birds on the ground, yet.

Tawny Pipits (Anthus campestris) were common in around the grassy areas in the desert.

There were also some raptors in the area. 1 Common Kestrel was hovering in the area around and 2 wondeful males Montagu’s Harriers passed by the highway with lovely afternoon light. In the distance, 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle was also a good spot!

After such a productive end of the day we arrived to our accommodation in Salalah for a god rest after a long driving day!

Day 5. After a wonderful breakfast in our hotel in Salalah we left towards Raysut, expecting to spend the whole morning in the area. Still, before heading to Raysut we invested 1 hour in a small wetland near our accommodation. Here we got the first views of many of Rüppel’s Weavers, including a wonderful male building a nest. The ambient was clearly warmer than in Muscat. Along with Rüppell’s Weavers we got Graceful Prinias, as common as in the Northern part of the country.

Rüppell’s Weavers (Ploceus galbula) are really common in the Dhofar area. Image by Carles Oliver

The small wetland is in fact a river mouth, known many times as Eastern Salalah Wetland. Here, the floating vegetation was perfect for a number of species and many Eurasian Moorhens were seen taking advantage of it. A Great Reed Warbler appeared from the riverside vegetation while Wood & Green Sandpipers flew around. 7+ Citrine Wagtails were seen feeding, walking and a very obliging stopping really close. In the open water it was a good flock of 15+ Tufted Duck along with Northern Shovelers and Eurasian Teals. But the lagoon was having also one of the most celebrated birds of trip, a small flock of 8 Cotton Pygmy Geese were roosting in the center of the lagoon, providing good views when one of the males put its head up for a pair of minutes! Happy after this happy encounteer we kept scanning around. Both shores were having some Squacco Herons and, at least, 2 Indian Pond Herons were along with them. Some Gull-billed Terns were flying over the lagoon, joined by 1 Whiskered Tern. A further scanning in the right shore, where more floating vegetation was concentrated, produced 1 Pheasant-tailed Jacana swimming along Moorhens!

One of the many Citrine Wagtails (Motacilla citreola) seen around Salalah.

The group was really satisfied after these nice findings. In our way back to car a Common Chiffchaff came across our way and stopped in a branch, preening.

We left the area towards Raysut. The place is well known due to the great concentration of eagles, mainly Steppe Eagles, but also other interesting species. Even before arriving to the rubbish dump we had our firsts Steppe Eagles flying over in a wonderful variety of plomages that will make enjoy every single raptor lover! When being closer we counted hundreds of them circling in the sky, taking advantage of the first thermals. We knew that earlier that week somebody estimated about 500 Steppe Eagles to be in that rubbish dump. Well, they were probably right! Along with the Eagles we also saw a more impressive spectacle: Hundreds of Abdim’s Storks circling in two different flocks! Previous census numbered in about 150…Here there were at least 300 of them!!

Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) around Raysut, where hundreds of them can easily seen.

Happy about this incredible spectacle we drove a bit expecting to find some raptors on ground. No long drive was required. After some hundreds of metres we got at least 6 Steppe Eagles on the ground in a wonderful set! We took our time studying the plomages and structure of the birds and, after that, we drove to some lagoons SW from the dump. Unfortunately the lagoons seemed to be totally dry and only a handful Tristam’s Starlings and a pair of Desert Wheatears were left in the place.

Juvenile Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis). This individual was flying on a flock of 50+ of them.

We then decided to move towards the coast, to find a different lagoon. Overpassing with the car it was evident that it was having water. A flock of 20+ Greater Flamingoes were there, feeding in the deepest part of the lagoon. At the other side, with small lagoon of shallow water and wide areas of rocks, a party of 150+ of White Storks were roosting, preening or tentativally trying to catch a fish or something from the minor lagoons.
We parked and walked until an apropiated view point. 2 Caspian Terns were flying up and down the river. Lower, 1 Whiskered Tern was doing so, stopping sometimes by a solitary Squacco Heron. Some Grey Herons were also in this part of the river. Tens of Rüppell’s Weavers were in the reeds and their whistles were a constant sound in our ears. In the sky, 2 Western Ospreys were patrolling the lagoon. One of them tried for 4 times to catch a fish but with no luck at all…Finally flew the area toward to sea in a short flight, probably to rest and wait until better times to come. The sky was providing a lot of activity. 4+ Black-eared Kites (race lineata of Black Kite) were also patrolling the sky, probably unhappy after the unsuccessful attemps of the Osprey. Waves of birds of prey were coming down the river from the rubbish dump, located some miles up by the river. They were mainly Steppe Eagles but along with them we spotted our firsts 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles of the trip! An intense scanning of the raptors produced also 8+ Greater Spotted Eagles circling and also stopping in the cliffs by the lagoons. They were clearly coming to take a bath and drink water. One of this Greater Spotted Eagles came down the lagoon and stopped right in front of us! An amazing view of such a incredible bird. Delighted after such a wonderful sights we walked a bit down the lagoons, approaching the area of pools were most of Storks and Herons were. We didn’t cover a long distance before we had to stop again due to 2 magnificent Great White Pelicans flying low over us. This a species considered as a rarity in Oman so we were not really expecting to enjoy them in this tour! The birds passed by us going to the see, joined by a small flock of Barn Swallows.

Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) in Raysut.

 

Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga) near Raysut ponds.

 

Great White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocratus), a really scarce species in Oman, were another of the main attractions in Raysut.

The ponds were fullfilled with birds. There were 120+ Grey Herons roosting in the roocky river bed, beyond the ponds. Along with them there were some Western Cattle Egrets, 1 Little Egret, some Western Reef Egrets (both white and dark forms) and 1 Intermediate Egret. The ponds were hosting Common, Wood & Green Sandpipers but also Greenshanks, Common Redshanks, 3 Ruffs and some Temminck’s Stints. A wonderful Pheasant-tailed Jacana already developing the typical breeding long tail projection was really showy and allowed some record shots. Here we also had good views on the impressive Pearl Emperor (Charaxes varanes) female, a wonderful large butterfly that flew over our group!

Beyond the ponds, the massive flocks of White Storks and Grey Herons were, for sure, hiding something else so we started scouting them. 1 African Sacred Ibis was found, to turn into 3 individuals later in the day. Also 1 Glossy Ibis was discovered feeding in what we supposed was a tiny pond. Beyond the Herons and the Storks, 1 Greater White-fronted Goose was moving in the scattered rank vegetation.

Beyond this area a small estuary was concealling the stream and the sea. A fast scanning concluded some 1000s of waders but also 4 Western Ospreys and some Greater Spotted Eagles on the beach. We just decided to come closer abd have a good scanning.

The area was simply great. Thousands of waders were feeding in the mudbanks. Many Dunlins, tones of Little Stints but also Common Sandpipers, Common Ringed Plovers, Common Redshanks, Greenshanks, Bar-tailed Godwits and some Kentish Plovers of the witish local race. 4 Eurasian Oystercatchers were counted along with several Eurasian Whimbrels. Here, some Lesser Sand Plovers were seen but the most popular wader were the Terek’s Sandpipers moving around. We counted at least 23 of them, some of them doing their typical short runs in search of food. These birds are authentical runners!

The lower Raysut ponds were hosting a incredible variety of birds!

In the sea, flocks of Socotra Cormorants were moving up and down and we enjoyed a pair of their typical massive flocks. Greater Crested, Lesser Crested & Caspian Terns were all around but the most interesting were two Saunder’s Terns moving South along the coast in what it turned out to be the two only Saunder’s of the tour, a species we were expecting to be commoner.

The area was really interesting. Also for gulls. Here we had good views on Heughlin’s, Steppe Gulls and also Caspian Gulls. It was funny to go throught the flock of gull, with some unclear individuals and many other showing typical characters of any of the species. A solitary Palla’s Gull was also noted in the flock.

The bay also produced good views on Delphins. In fact we got two different species with a small party of Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins and at least 1 Indian-Ocean Humpback Dolphin moving close to them.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophaisanus chirurgus), one of the most celebrated birds around Salalah.

After such a wonderful morning we just had a break for lunch. After our break it was time to go up in the hills to look for a number of other species. Now the landscape changed a lot with mild hills covered by a carpet of small decidous trees, with the impressive Dhoffar mountains in the back.

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting (Emberiza tahapisi) enjoy huge densities in the Dhofar region. Image by Carles Oliver

Flocks of Rüppell’s Weavers jeweled the road as we were approaching the location. African Silverbills joined them. Few minutes later the whole group was enjoying wonderful views on Cinnamon-breasted Buntings and Abyssian White-Eyes. Many of them were coming to drink water in a small channel.
A short walk around was soon producing interesting birds including Palestine and Shinning Sunbirds as well as a lovely flock of African Silverbills. White-eyes were extremelly common , moving up in the canopies but also low in the branches, few inches from the ground. One of these flocks brought associated a lovely African Paradise Flycatcher, one of the most celebrated birds in the afternoon. In total, we counted up to 4 individuals, including one showing a full breeding tail in whitish colour!
The walk was being very productive, especially after 2 Blackstarts appeared really close to the path, delighting us with cracking views! The lower vegetation around was also promising so we went a bit out of the bigger trees to take a look. It proved to be a wonderful decision since we soon had 1 Arabian Warbler moving in one of the small trees. The bird showed nicely and its movements reminded us those of an Orphean Warbler. Right side by side from the Arabian Warbler we had another surprise since 1 Black-throated Tchagra pop up from the very dense vegetation to give us poor views. The bird was moving really low in the scrubland so a bit of wait was necessary until the bird decided to “jump” into the open for half a minute!

 

Abysssian White-ete (Zosterops abyssinicus), another common bird in bushland and forested areas.

 

Blackstart (Oenanthe melanura), another of the “African” specialities of the Dhofar region. Image by Carles Oliver

The locations was proving to be really productive and the landscape around was dominated by the impressive rock faces of the Dhoffar mountains. Here the cliffs were monitored by a good number of raptors. They were mainly Steppe Eagles but we could also see 3+ Eastern Imperial Eagles, 1-2 Greater Spotted Eagle and 1 Golden Eagle.

Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena) showed really well despite the poor image.

 

African Paradise Flycatchers (Terpsiphone viridis) were not scarce but sometimes difficult to see, often moving associated with White-eyes flocks.

 

Black-crowned Tchagra (Tchagra senegalensis) appeared briefly in the low scrubland.

Before heading to our accommodation we still had a last spot to try to add something else but we only added 1 male Blue Rock Thrush and several Isabelline Wheatears along with a superb Greater Spotted Eagle overwatching the whole area from a pilon.

Day 6. This day we drove some miles North from Salalah to enjoy our sea trip in search of some of the specialities living in this part of the Indic Ocean. The small harbour from where we depart was full of Sooty Gulls, alowing really close views on this lovely species. Moreover, the harbour was also hosting several Heuglin’s Gulls and some Caspian & Steppe Gulls. Inmediatly after our small boat left the harbour we had the first surprise in the form of a flock of Black-crowned Black Herons roosting on the external deck boulders. There were not alone but joined by several Gulls, some Grey Heron and 2 Western Reef Egrets. As the boat passed by we had really good views on the Herons.

Sooty Gull (Ichthyaetus hemprichii) portrait in the harbour few momments before starting our offshore trip. Image by Carles Oliver

Once in the open sea we started a hard work to attrack the some sea birds. Soon, a number of Sooty Gulls were following the small boat. A few minutes later we had the first target appearing in the way of a small flock of 3 Persian Shearwaters flying above the waves. Unfortunately they appeared as not interested in our small boat and kept flying away. Encouraged after such a good start we kept going off shore. Flocks and flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes were all over on the extremelly plain sea and their pure white bodies were like tiny lighthouses in the deep blue sea.
We enjoyed several close views on them but take good photos on them proved to be more difficult than expected.

Flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) were moving in the sea offshore Dhofar region. Image by Carles Oliver

The boat trip was going well but even improved as the 2 Masked Boobies flew over our boat! Great views on a really celebrated bird that, unfortunately seemed to have no interest at all in the food we were offering them. We kept scanning and feeding for long, expecting to attrack a Jouanin’s Petrel, one of the top targets in the offshore trip, but we had no luck in this…
We enjoyed up to 14 Masked Boobies with some great views and a second flock of Persian Shearwaters passed by us but no signal of the Petrel. Midway in the sea trip we got excellent views on Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins and enjoy some great views on them while jumping in the waves and chasing tunas. A Green Sea Turtle was also a good addition to our list! It was a quite large one (about 1,5 metres) and it was in the surface only for few seconds…

Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra) was one of the most celebrated birds on our offshore trip.

 

Socotra Cormorants (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) were moving in large flocks along the coast.

 

Heuglin’s Gull (Larus heuglini) in winter plomage during our offshore trip.

 

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin during our offshore trip near Salalah. Image by Sergi Sales

Once back on the continent we just went for something to eat. Happy for the relative
good sights during the sea trip we just changed and went to the explore the highest area in the Dhoffar Mountains. A number of lanes go up in the slopes, allowing excellent birding all around. The way up produced excellent views on Long-billed Pipit, Blackstarts and Isabelline Shrikes.

This juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) was one of the most iconical image of the tour to Oman. Image by Carles Oliver

Once in the high plateau we were lucky enough to enjoy a nice flock of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, Long-billed Pipits and wonderful views on Singing Bush Larks. Beyond there, a male Arabian Wheatear Scanning the slopes inmediatly around we found a incredible flock of 20+ Yemen Serins feeding on the ground and showing wonderfully in a rocky area close to the road. We were amazed to have such a great views on this species, being this area the only one place in the world where it is possible to enjoy it!

Singing Bush Lark (Mirafra cantillans) offered lovely views on our exploration of Dhofar Mountains. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Tristam’s Starling (Onychognathus tristamii) is a scarce urban bird in Salalah and around. Image by Carles Oliver

 

The group enjoyed long views on a flock of the near-endemic Yemen Serin (Crithagra menachensis) in the Dhofar. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Female Arabian Wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides) showing the orangy patch in the ear-coverts and the difusely barred breast. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a good views on many key species we kept moving in the slopes. Inmediatly around a small village we found 1 Eastern Imperial Eagle on a wood pilon. The bird showed nicely and allowed really good shots! Up in the sky, raptor action was increasing. In less than 15 minutes we counted 7 Eurasian Griffons, 10+ Eastern Imperian Eagles, Steppes Eagles, 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle and 1 Bonelli’s Eagle!
Still, the most wanted Eagle was not showing…yet. In our way up we did also a short stop in a pond and got one of the surprises of the trip.

The impressive landscape up in the Dhofar Mountains. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a great found we decided a proper stop in a pond and scan around. Many Abyssian White-eyes were moving around and 2 Shinning Sunbirds delighted us with its incredible colours.
Our last stop that day brought us to a wild scarpment. It was really windy and foggy so we were expecting little that afternoon. Fan-tailed Ravens were moving all around the cliffs and the area around produced wonderful views on Tristam’s Starlings. The scanning around was producing little else and we were already considering to leave when an enormous black and white shape emerged from the fog to fly up in the cliff: it was a Verreaux Eagle! The bird was just playing with wind, moving up and down in the cliffside. Few seconds after a second Verreaux Eagle appeared as well from the fog and we all enjoyed wonderful views in what is one of the most espectacular eagles on Earth! The birds kept appearing and disappearing from the bog for at least 15 minutes, doing incredible acrobatical flights and even stopping in the cliffs for short!!

We got some impressive views on Verreaux’s Eagles (Aquila verreauxii) despite the intense fog! Images by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a successful afternoon we just headed back to Salalah, where a good last stop was waiting for us. Urban birding in Salalah can be really good so we went to one of its urban parks, close to our accommodation, to finish the day. Out of the common Laughing Doves, one of the first birds we got were to Plain Rock Martins resting in one of the buildings of the complex. They offered good views on a bird we could see in flight so far. Beyond the building a small lagoon offered really good views on a flock of Whiskered Terns and also a pair of Caspian Terns. Citrine Wagtails were quite common in the flooting vegetation and 1 Palestine Sunbird showed superbly in low rank vegetation. 2 Indian Pond Herons were also present, catching the afternoon light in a wonderful way. Passing over the lagoon by a small bridge, we explored a palm tree orchad. Here we got one of the main targets of the visit in the way of 2 Bruce’s Green Pigeons showing in a wondeful way, first in a wire, later on a tree while feeding on fruits. This was again a really celebrated bird for everybody in the group.

Bruce’s Green Pigeons (Treron waalia) on a feeding tree in Salalah. Image by Carles Oliver

We kept moving in the area. An open field beyond was hosting waves and waves of Yellow Wagtails, including some nice summer plomaged “feldegg” and “beehma” birds. 1 Isabelline Weathear was also really showy in the area, as it was a Graceful Prinia. The channel around is an interesting roosting place for waders and, at that time, tens of Common Sandpipers were concentrating in the area along with 15+ Greenshanks and several Green Sandpipers. Sun was starting to go down but before we left we still had another top target appearing in the way of 2 Spotted Thick-knees posing for us under one fot he small olive trees in the garden.

Pale Crag Martin (Ptynoprogne obsoleta) is much a urban bird in areas of Muscat and Salalah. Image by Sergi Sales

 

Citrine Wagtails (Motacilla citreola) were again a major attraction for the tour participants. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Spotted Thick-knees (Burhinus capensis) resting on an urban park in Salalah. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a great views we just came back to our hotel to enjoy another great buffet dinner.

Day 7. This day we had a very early start with a small tranfer back to the desert, were in a small oasis we were expecting to find Grey Hypocolius as well as other top target birds. After our transfer we enjoyed our packed breakfast while scanning around. Not long at all until we got the first good bird in the way of a gorgeous mal Nile Valley Sunbird just around our car. Not many time for photographs in this wonderful bird because 1 Grey Hypocolius just flew over us (!!) stopping about 200 metres away from us. We just moved on and after some searching in the area we got brief views on a wonderful male up in a palm tree! But was a brief view as the bird pop down and disappear. Spent some time around with little result out of more views on the male Nile Valley Sunbird, joined now by a female!

Nile Valley Sunbird (Hedydipna metallica) showed superbly, including this male singing and displaying. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Grey Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus) female. A flock of 3 individuals were seen in our day in the desert. Image by Carles Oliver

We walked around hoping to have the Hypocolius appearing again but we got nothing but a pair of glimpses on 3 of them moving around. Blackstarts were singing around as the sun was getting higher.
Suddenly, a flock of birds appeared moving in the sky, Sandgrouses! A flock of 30 of them was moving in the distance, apparently moving down to drink water in a small pond beyond the vegetation. We just drove down the area, stopping in a decent distance to the pond. And then it came waves and waves of Sandgrouses, calling and flying extremelly fast around the pond. They were mainly Chestnut-bellied but also Spotted Sandgrouses were mixed with them.
First it was a flock of about 30. But then it came a second flock, and a third, and a fourth. Suddenly the sky look like full of them, with flocks coming in and out, landing, walking, flying fast from few inches to the ground or flying up in the sky while calling. This was propably one of the most remarcable momments of the tour. We estimated about 150 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses and 30+ Spotteds! In one the last flocks coming in we also got at least 1 Crowned Sandgrouse! It could not be better. Wrong. It could.
Right when all Sandgrouses were flying around with their noisy call, 2 Grey Hypocolious jumped on the wire just by our car, allowing some great views on them. ! female in particular stayed in the wire for about 5 minutes, allowing great images! We especially enjoyed the female, being there for some minutes while the male was only a little while…

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles exustus), the commonest Sandgrouse in Oman in our 2019 tour. Image by Carles Oliver

More and more flocks of Sandgrouses were coming down to drink water. Now not only in this corner of the oasis but also in many other areas around. So we moved a bit to try to get better views on the different flocks and, maybe, something different. But we were already at the end of the spectacle and we only got closer views on a small flock of Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouses walking right in the tarmac. They were there for a pair of minutes and after that they flew off. Very little movement of Sandgrouses were left already…2 Blackstarts were singing in nearby cliffs. Got a nice view on them before heading back to Salalah.

Back in the coast we decided to spend some time in ponds in Raysut. There we were compensated with great views in a big flock of Abdim’s Stork, a species that we had only in flight until that moment. But in the ponds we had a flock of 200+ having a bath or simply resting in the gravel shore. Along with them, a good number of waders including several Temminck’s Stints and some Little Stints. Little Ringed Plover, Greenshanks and Common Sandpipers were also there.

Abdim’s Storks (Ciconia abdimii) at Raysut ponds. Up to 200 were seen! Image by Carles Oliver

After an early lunch we just got back to the hills. This time we went a bit inside the fabulous decidous forests covering much of Dhoffar Mountains Eastern slopes. Here we enjoyed with several flocks of Abyssinian White-eyes and some African Paradise Flycatchers. A pool in the forested areas produced good views on a male Shikra posted in the shade, waiting for potential preys to come. The trees around were hosting good numbers of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, Blacktarts but also 1 Siberian Chiffchaff that was calling in the canopies, making much easier to identify the bird. A small walk was done in nearby meadow, where we had a Red-throated Pipit flying over us.

This day we waited until dusk, and then we were to explore an interesting point for Arabian Scops Owl. We just waited until dark and after some minutes we got a wonderful Arabian Scops Owl calling really close to us. It was a question of minutes to get excellent views on the bird, and with the help of special lights we got incredible shots in the owl!

Arabian Scops Owl (Otus pamelae) gave us excellent views on our nocturnal trip around Salalah. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a nice views we came back to the hotel for some dinner and rest.

Day 8. That sunny morning we went to try a different place for Arabian Golden-winged Hawfinch. In our way to the little pond were the birds use to come to drink we had a stop as 2 Arabian Partridges were standing by the road in lovely morning sun. Once in the pond, good numbers of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings and African Silverbills were attending the water. We decided to wait a bit. 1 male Namaqua Dove passed by the pond at the same time that a Greater Spotted Eagle was flying over. Few more minutes of waiting and a female Shikra appeared up in the sky, offering good views.We kept scanning around the ponds, were some flocks of Abyssinian White-eyes were also coming. Then, something moved fast around one of the ponds, and a fast scanning produced a Grey-headed Kingfisher! This was a surprising sight since this species is suposed to arrive in Oman during early April (!!). We anyway enjoyed very much this really unexpected bird as was flying around the pond, chasing dragonflies in a really effective way! The bird showed really well for up to 20 minutes, until a big herd of cattle came to drink water.

Grey-headed Kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala) was an unexpected goodie in our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

 

African Silverbills (Euodice cantans) came to drink water in a pond at the Dhofar Mountains foothills. Image by Carles Oliver

It was already quite and it was clear that Hawfinches were not coming to drink water, so we decided to move, missing this wonderful bird. This day we were facing a transfer North but before that we were still having some time to check the Salalah farms.
We checked s two of them before driving North. In our first location we got Clamorous Reed Warbler and up to 5 Graceful Prinias. The grasslands were hosting several Singing Bush Larks that were singing and performing around. Up in the sky, 4 Forbes-Whatson Swifts passed over us, offering good views in both the general colour and the white spot in the throat. Out of this, the grasslands were poor in birds so we decided to move to a second farm. A drive around this second place produced Hoopoe, Green & Wood Sandpipers and the only one Yellow-billed Kite of the trip. Still, the area was poor again in birds so we decided to leave the area and start moving North.

Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis aucheri), a resident shrike in Omani deserts. Image by Carles Oliver

In our way North we did one stop midway. A short walk in the desert produced 1 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, 2 Black-crowned Sparrow-lark and 5+ Greater Hoopoe Larks chasing each other and doing acrobatical flights in a lovely afternoon light. After this good sight we just drive until Duqm, arriving a bit after sunset.

Day 9. This day we ha dan early breakfast and left North to explore the …… Bay. This is huge estuary concentrating hundreds of thousands of waders. When did arrive tide was low and birds very distant. Still, we had good views on several Bar-tailed Godwits, Kentish Plovers, Dunlins, Grey Plovers, Eurasian Curlews and Lesser Sand Plovers. Flocks of Greater Flamingoes were roosting in the water, just few inches inside the Ocean. There were several Caspian Terns flying up and down the area and there were flocks of Sanderlings all along the shore.

Despite this, and after 45 minutes of scanning, we were uncapable to connect with our main target in this point, the Great Knot. So, we finally moved some miles North to keep scanning the estuary but from the Northern side. We drove some 40 minutes scan around the deck where some ferries are connecting with Marisah Island.

Impressive flocks like this of Sooty Gulls but also Steppe & Heuglin’s Gulls were a common view on the estuary around in front of Marisah Island.

 

Flocks of Crab Plovers (Dromas ardeola) were moving in the inter mareal plateau along with several other waders.

In the beaches around there were literally thousands and thousands of Sooty Gulls. Along with them, huge flocks of Slender-billed Gulls were also a good views. Probably more than 7000 Slender-billeds and number even higher of Sooty Gulls! This wonderful espectacled were complemented by 100s of Caspian and Heuglin’s, being Steppe Gulls the less numerous in the area. A scan along the bridge giving access to the ferries produced a small flock of Common Terns, and not far away from them our only one White-cheeked Tern of the trip! Once in the deck we also enjoyed excellent views on Greater Crested Terns. Back in the mainland it was time for the tide to go down once more. Loads of waders came in. And along with the most common species we had wonderful views in 50+ Crab Plovers feeding in the shore and moving along with Bar-tailed Godwits. They were a bit distant but still this was definately one of the images of the tour for some of the tour participants and for sure a wonderful way to end the trip!

Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis) were showing really well in our way back to Muscat. Image by Carles Oliver

 

The best views on Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks (Eremopterix nigriceps) came right before heading back to Muscat. Image by Carles Oliver

In our way out of the area we still had a final stop since a really close Brown-necked Raven was offering nice views. Close by, a lovely Black-crowned Sparrow-lark gave us the best views on the trip, joined by a small flock of Tawny Pipits! These were the very last birds of the trip. After this we just drove back to Muscat for a nocturnal flight back home after a wonderful tour in Oman!

Please check our website for the upcoming issues of this trip. If not finding the information, please contact us: info@barcelonabirdingpoint.com

The Gambia Tour January 2019 Trip Report

Dates: 15th to 22nd January, 2019

Tour participants: 7

Seen bird species: 243

Day 1. We wake up on 16th January at our accommodation by the Gambian coastline. We just arrived the day before in an evening flight from Barcelona, where the tour participants had being assembling during the day from different countries.
Our first morning in The Gambia, and as the whole tour, was sunny and calm so we headed to the restaurant of the hotel for a good breakfast. While enjoying the coffee, we also had firsts contacts with some common birds in the area.
Yellow-billed Kites were ovicous in the sky along with Pied Crows. Speckled Pigeons were spotted in the roofs around and some Hooded Vultures were overflying the hotel grounds. Western Cattle Egrets were taking an eye to our tables and at some point they looked like seriously considerin to join us for breakfast… Flocks of Village Weavers were passing along with some Purple Glossy Starlings. The surprise of the morning came along with our second coffee in the form of 3 Royal Terns. A good surprise to get in the terrace of the hotel.

Egyptian Plover (Pluvianus aegyptius) was the most celebrated of all targets appearing in the tour. Image: Philippe Marchessou

After breakfast we moved to the nearby Kotu Bridge. This is one of the main spots in coastal Gambia as it combines mangroves nicely preserved with paddy fields and scrubs. From the bridge we easily went on some common species: Pied Kingfishers were all around along with Long-tailed Cormorants and Pink-backed Pelicans. Several Western Reef Egrets were fishing in the shores along with some Squacco & Grey Herons and a single Great White Egret. In the muddy areas we spotted a flock of 20+ Common Ringed Plovers and 4 Little Ringed Plovers. Spur-winged Plovers were all over, calling and chasing each other. Around the bridge we found a obliging Broad-billed Roller and everybody in the group enjoyed excellent views in wonderful morning light. In the bush around we also had good views on the active Beautiful Sunbirds, including 2 wonderful mails, few inmature males and several female type birds. A proper scanning in the mangroves rapidly produced 1 Striated Heron down the river, joined by 1 Squacco and some wonderful Black Herons, some of them in the darkest area of the river banks.
Up in the sky there were Hooded Vultures and Yellow-billed Kites along with African Palm Swifts. A fast scanning produced also 2 Mottled Spinetails, a rather scarce bird in the area, and some Wire-tailed Swallows that happenned to come to the bridge, where they came down to stop in the wires around.
The bush land around the bridge kept producing good birds: Blackcap Babblers were seen flying over and 2 Long-tailed Glossy Starlings showed in glorious morning light. A pair of minutes after 1 Golden-tailed Woodpecker came out showing in some nearby branches. This was a quite celebrated bird as it was the first important target in the trip to appear. But the bird festival was not out, of course.

Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) is a massive kingfisher not always linked to water coursers. Image by tour participant Philippe Marchessou

A further scanning in the mangroves revealed 30+ Senegal Thick-knees roosting in the shade. Also 2 Malachite Kingfishers were pointed out. It was coming up a wonderful morning and was only to improve as the scanning from the bridge revealed 1 male Subalpine Warbler and close views on African Darter. One of the tour participants listened a Eurasian Reed Warbler so we came to try to have good views in the bird. This was a nice decision as we got the Reed Warbler but also a showy Northern Puffback male scattering inside the bush and finally crossing the small road with a short flight. Lovely views.
We started to scan beyond but before we even got any bird with the scope we had 2 Giant Kingfishers flying over our heads and heading the scrubs beyond the bridge. These massive Kingfishers can be difficult to spot but we were lucky enough to enjoy them for long, as one of the individuals came back to one of the wires of the bridge for a while. At this time we also got 2 stunning Blue-breasted Kingfishers coming out of the mangroves to stop in a low post inside the water, just by the bridge.
Scanning up the river we still got excellent views on Western Grey Plantain-Eater and African Grey Hornbills.
It was time to move and enjoy a walk in the paddy fields but we were again retained in the bridge. This time was a second male Subalpine Warbler showing well in the ranked vegetation and a small group of Red-chested Swallows that arrived to feed around.

This Broad-billed Roller (Eurystomus glaucurus) was the first thw group enjoyed as step down from the van. Image by Carles Oliver

We finally got to move from the bridge and started a short walk around. We inmediatly connected with the first of many Yellow-billed Shrikes while Senegal Coucals seemed to be common around. The followed a thin path getting inside rice fields and crossing a number of small marshy areas. Squacco Heron, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Yellow Wagtail and Wood Sandpiper we all seen at this point. The place is known as a good spot for Little Bittern. Unfortunately we were uncapable to enjoy any of them. Flocks of Bronze Manninkins were flying around and we soon found ourselves enyoing Little Bee-eaters. They offered wonderful views when stopped in the low branches, sometimes few inches from the ground. The dense scrubland around is good for a variety of birds and we enjoyed more Manninkins, Red-billed Firechin, 2 Little Weavers, 1 Black-headed Weaver building a nest and 1 male Splendid Sunbird. A Common Whitethroat female came out of the dense vegetation and offered good but short views to most tour participants.

Blue-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon malimbica) -below- and Western Reef Egret (Egretta gularis) are two main targets for anyone visiting The Gambia. Images by tour leader Carles Oliver

Up in the air there were small parties of African Palm Swifts. The air was starting to be worm so more birds of prey were moving. They were all Hooded Vulture, Yellow-billed Kites and 1-2 Black Kites but we also got a Red-necked Falcon that gentlenly perched on the top of a tree, allowing excellent views in the scope. In our way back to the main road  2 African Spoonbills showed up in the sky.

Now we headed to a nearby pond while surrounded by Yellow-billed Shrikes, Senegal Coucals and Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters. Soon after a bright blue flash came from a palm tree and turned out in being a Blue-bellied Roller. This bird was particularly celebrated by the group and we kept enjoying it for some minutes. Belong the palm tree there were some scrubs and here we found out up to 4 Tawny-flanked Prinias that also performed really well.

We just kept going, enjoying Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Beautiful Sunbirds. Our next stop was a little pond near Kotu Bridge but before arriving we found a Lizzard Buzzard perched in our way. 2 African Pied Hornbills were trying to disturb it from that place, and they got it! The pond itself restulted a bit disapointed: 3-4 African Jacanas were in the shore but, out of this, we only got Greenshanks, Green Sandpiper and 2 Eurasian Moorhens (the only ones in the tour).

A beautiful dialogue was set up between Lizzard Buzzard (Kaupifalco monogrammicus) and 2 African Pied Hornbills (Tockus fasciatus) as the Hornbills were concentrated in disturbing the small raptors. They succeed. Images by tour participant Philippe Marchessou

Our way back was equally as productive as the way in. A Green Wood-Hopooe appeared in the wire around, allowing some excellent shots. Along with this bird we got a flock of 4 White-billed Buffalo-Weavers. But the most celebrated bird at this point was a pair of Pearl-spotted Owlets found by the path. These small owls, with close relatives in both North America and Europe, were one of the main attractions of the day! Around them, several Senegal Coucals were visible, Blue-bellied Rollers were still up in the palm trees and a delicate Fork-tailed Drongo was scanning the sky from a bush. But probably the most interesting bird of the way back was a lovely Grey-backed Camaroptera showing in excellent way really low in a bush and also moving on the ground while collecting nesting material. All members in the group enjoyed very much (as I did myself) with this wonderful bird and such a good views!

Pearl-spotted Owlet (Glaucidium perlatum) was the first of many species of owls appearing in the tour! Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Green Wood-hoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus) is common in a palm trees groves and semi-arid countryside. Image by tour participant Philippe Marchessou.

Back in Toku Bridge we just went to the nearby water point, kept by the Gambian Bird Association staff. This tiny water pond attracks good numbers of birds and it is a really productive. In 15 minutes of wait in the shade we got Vinaceous Dove, Red-chekeed Cordon-bleu, Red-billed Firefinch, and Northern Grey Sparrow. The waiting there was even more productive as we got an Isabelline (formerly Western Olivaceous) Warbler moving in a small tree inmediatly above the pond and a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird up in a kind of fig tree.

All the group was delighted after such a wonderful morning! But it was lunch time so we moved into a nearby restaurant by the beach. Here we enjoyed some good food and had some rest from midday heat while scanning the sea. The sea watching was more or less productive as we got some Sandwich Terns moving up and down in the coast and 2+ Pomarine Skuas chasing terns far offshore. When about to leave we got the first Lesser Crested Tern of the tour perched on a floating balloon and everybody got nice views in the scope.

One of the 3 males Greater Painted Snipes (Rostratula benghalensis) roosting in the mangroves near Toku Bridge. A rather unexpected sight. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After our lunch we just headed to a new pond. The walk produced first views on the spectaculars Yellow-crowned Gonolek and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers along with Village Weavers and African Thrush skulking on the ground. Here we also got good views on a quite remarcable Nile Monitor feeding on some rubbish in the ground. At the pond itself, we scanned hard looking for our main target and we soon could enjoy good views on 3 male Greater Painted Snipes in the scope! They were really hard to see but we were lucky enough as one of them just moved a bit and we catched this movement. A severe scanning of the bank finally produced the three birds. At the same pond we also had Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank.

Little Bee-eaters (Merops pusillus) are a common view in coastal The Gambia. Image by Philippe Marchessou.

Just happy after such a good views on one of the main targets of the trip, we just came back to the small water point we visited earlier in the day. A different set of species were seen there: Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Red-billed Firefinches, Yellow-fronted Canary but also White-crowned Robin Chat! A final walk into the palm trees groves produced excellent views on Beautiful Sunbirds as well as the first sight on Senegal Parrot, a wonderful way to end the day.

Senegal Parrots (Poicephalus senegalus) are surprisingly noisy, even for a Parrot. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a great day we just came back to our accommodation for a great dinner and wonderful rest!

Day 2. This day we just headed North from our accommodation, arriving as far as the Northern border with Senegal. Our fist stop was at Kartong Mining Area. This is a former grave mining place, now closed and hosting a great birdlife. Just arrived we started enjoying good birds. Flocks of Piapiacs and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings seemed to be everywhere around, joined by Purple Glossy Starlings. Here we also got or first group of Callythrix Monkeys, a recent split from Grey Monkey. A first scanning around produced up to 3 Senegal Coucals, a common view in this location, as well as several Western Grey Plantain-eaters, Beautiful Sunbirds and 1 stunning Abyssian Roller perched on a fence. A White Wagtail passed by and stoped close by our van. This was moment that a Rufous-crowned Roller just punched the Abyssian Roller from its post! A walk around the area produced Tawny-flanked Prinia but also a Fine-spotted Woodpecker, both Greater and Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings, Isabelline Warbler, 2 Zitting Cisticolas, 2 Black-rumped Waxbills and Woodchat Shrike. The water level in the whole area was really low and bird activity, limited.

You simply cannot get tired of Beautiful Sunbirds (Cinnyris pulchellus). Image by Carles Oliver

Scanning a second pond we had some African Jacanas, Malachite Kingfisher and 1 African Swamphen (the only one of the tour!) feeding out of the vegetation in a muddy area. Happy with this nice spot we all kept scanning around while taking a look to the skyes. It was already 10:30 and quite warm so it was a nice moment for raptors to move. As always, several Yellow-billed Kites and Hooded Vultures were seen soaring or circling in the sky but a proper scanning of the tree line in the distance revealed a mínimum of 3 Palm-nut Vultures, all of them wonderful adults.

This is a very special bird of prey spending most of the time in forest and palm-tree areas, where they look for palm-nut fruits, the base of their diet. They also scavenger, especially along water bodies and eventually predate on a long list of small animals, from invertebrates to young birds.

Senegal Coucal (Centropus senegalensis) -below- and Eastern Grey Plantain-Eater (Crinifer piscator) performed really well in morning light at Kartong marshes. Images by Carles Oliver

The views on the bird were great, although a bit distant. We also enjoyed two of them flying around and showing their wonderful plumage. While enjoying this raptors I listened both Black-crowned Tchagra and Sulphur-breasted Bush-Shrike singing from the far tall thickets, about 300 metres away. Despite our efforts to locate these birds, it was impossible to find out. Our effort was conpensated by a Grey Kestrel that kindly came to stop in a nearby palm tree. All the group enjoyed great views on this bird!

We still spent some time scanning a pair more of pools but with really poor results so we decided to move on and take a look to the nearby beach in search of some major targets. Once parked by the beach we all walked down to the shore, ready for a shortwalk along the beach. A first scanning easily produced several Sanderlings, 2 Eurasian Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstones and 1 Grey Plover. The sky was full of terns moving up and down. As we walked North it was easy to find out Sancwich’s & Caspian Terns. Small flocks of Grey-headed Gulls were visible roosting on small rocks in the ocean or flying overs. We were fast in locate the first of many Lesser Crested Terns as well as several Caspians. We kept moving North with the wonderful blue of the sky and ocean as an unforgettable frame until we arrived to an area where the beach comes wider. A small scanning easily reveleaded 1 adult White-fronted Plover along with 3 Kentish Plovers. We all enjoyed great views on the tiny plover while moving on the beach. Again scanning the sea we got a female Western Marsh Harrier and the first small flock of Royal Terns moving along with other terns. We counted not less than 17 of them! A good number of birds where moving North in the bay. A Little Tern flying along with some Sandwich’s and Caspians. About 45 Pink-backed Pelicans where resting on the beach and the sea and then is when one of the local bird guides came to us to advice us on a group of Bee-eaters flying above the scrubland beyond the beach.

Eurasian Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a common overwintering bird in coastal The Gambia. Image by Philippe Marchessou

I think I was not the only one to missunderstand “Common Bee-eater” so I thought they were having a small flock of European Bee-eaters. Good spot but I personally kept concentrated in a far flock of gulls including some Audouin’s Gulls and other beauties. The surprise turned out when the “Common Bee-eaters” turned on to be Northern Carmine Bee-eaters so I fastly adviced the guys and moved inside the bushland. Everybody followed us and all the group was enjoying these wonderful birds in a pair of minutes. There were 5 of them, catching insects with fast flights from the thin branches of a 4 metres tall dead tree, A small partie of Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters were moving alongside and allowed excellent comparatives of such incredible species.

A gorgeous flock of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters (Merops nubicus) showed really well during our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

Structural differences between Northern Carmine Bee-eater (left) and Blue-checkeed Bee-eater (Merops persicus) are evident in this imatge. Image by Carles Oliver

Photographers were specially delighted with the views on these species of Bee-eaters and we spend enough time to scan around in a proper way. A good number of Pink-backed Pelicans were resting on the beach and we had good views on them and also a in some Hooded Vultures nearby. A Common Sanpiper, Eurasian Whimbrels and 2 Grey Plovers were around in the small ponds of the tiny estuary but probably the best bird were a pair of Senegal Eremomela moving quite fast in the dense vegetation.

After such as good spot it was time to head back to our van. It was already quite hot and the flock of gulls was not any more in the beach. Still, the walk back provided us with really good views on a juvenile White-fronted Plover and on a small flock of Mosque Swallows that were chasing insects above the scrubs.

White-fronted Plover (Charadrius marginatus) is a scarce coastal Plover in West Africa. Image by Carles Oliver

Once arrived by our we still had time to enjoy a good refreshment. Natural orange juice or some soda before going to our restaurant for lunch! But even in this resting time we got our small piece of good bird since 1 Tawny Eagle was spotted at the beach. Unfortunably the bird just flew off but we still had good views on the bird flying away from us. It turned to be the only one of this species along the trip… Amazed after this lucky encounteer we just finish our drinks and drove for about 20 minutes until a small and lovely restaurant by the river that works as Southern Gambian border. Here we enjoyed the best fish (and probably the best meal) of the trip while having some good birds. At the opposite bank of the river was Senegal so those (me included) working on list per countries were delighted with this!

So, in the Senegalese side of the river we enjoyed 2 Bar-tailed Godwits that were also new for the trip. There were several Pied Kingfishers, Western Reef Egrets, Great White Egrets and 1 Eurasian Oystercatcher (the only one of the trip!). A pair of other good surprises appeared as we spotted 1 Great White Pelican and a really distant Goliath Heron (this one in the Gambian side) walking along the shore.

Western Ospreys were extremelly active at the site and we had several wonderful views in two adults performing and calling around. After lunch we just sat by the river, in a good shade and scan around. 1 Slender-billed Gull appeared in the river (not sure what side) and a small flock of Gull-billed Terns were a non-top show up and down the river. Also Common Ringed Plovers, Spur-winged Plovers and the closest views on an Eurasian Whimbrel I have ever had! From were I was I could listen a call up the trees, behind our position so I went for a small walk and found 1 Isabelline Warbler (formerly Western Olivaceous Warbler) moving up in the riverside vegetation. A second bird moved along with and after some minutes the bird was finally showing well; it was a Brown Sunbird! A fast call and the whole group joined to have an excellent sight on the bird preening and standing for long. And then we realised there were two Brown Sunbirds and not only one.

As most Eremomelas, Senegal Eremomela (Eremomela pusilla) were moving in small parties. Image by Carles Oliver

We left the area really happy after such a good combination of good birds and excellent food. Our next stop was in Tanji Beach. Here we decicated a good walk around the coastal scrub looking for Four-banded Sandgrouses. Unfortunately and despite our efforts we could not find any of them… Still, the area was really rich in birdlife. Senegal Eremomelas looked like being everywhere, including a good flock of 11+ moving in the scrubs. Common Nightingales were calling in the dense thickets but we never got any view on them. One of the first birds in the area was our first Violet Turaco of the trip, that kept moving agaisnt the sun all the time! Black-billed Wood-Doves were also common and got several of them being flushed while looking for Sandgrouses. In the middle of our search a fig tree kept being full of birds, including two wonderful Bearded Barbets moving along with Common Bulbuls (local race called now Upper Guinea Bulbul). It is always a pleasure to enjoy such a wonderful birds!

The wonderful Bearded Barbet (Lybius dubius) occurs in a variety of habitat in The Gambia. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

The area was also rich in finches, allowing excellent views on Red-billed Firefinches but also in Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and Orange-cheeked Waxbills. A mixed flock of both species along with Bronze Manninquins was one of the hits of this afternoon. Back to the van we just drove back to the esturary were we scanned the flock of gulls looking for something special. Unfortunately we only got a pair of Black-headed Gull amongst several Grey-headeds’. It was a bit late in the afternoon and some fishermen were coming back to the beach. The Tanji fish market was waiting for them and the treasures they were bringing from the Ocean. It was an excellent decision because we enjoyed very much with the activity and the colours of the fish market but also because many gulls were attackted to the fish market, including 2+ Kept Gulls. We had really good views on the birds and a good comparative with a 1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gull. Well, don’t forget we got our first flock of House Sparrow of the trip!!!

Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala) is the commonest finch in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

The Tanji fish market is a wonderful way to understand how coastal human comunities live in West Africa. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy with this rather last minute addings we came back to our hotel for a good rest and dinner.

Day 3. This day we were going the explore inland Gambia. Despite we didn’t check out of our coastal hotel we were not coming back to sleep there but going to Tendaba Camp, probably the best option to explore inland Gambia while avoiding long transfers. Well, the planning of the day was a bit difficult. Due to the drought most of the Egyptian Plovers were already back far inland or in Senegal but we were still having chances in a small pond at the Northern bank of the country. So we left our accommodation and headed to the main ferry crossing the Gambia River near Banjul. Unfortunately that day it was a meeting between Senegalese and Gambian PM so the ferry was overbooked! The result of this was a long, long wait first to get the tickets and then to cross River Gambia.

In our way to the ferry we had far away views on a flock of Greater Flamingoes and we passed by one of the only 2 Black-headed Herons of the tour.

During our wait we enjoyed views on some Cape (Kept) Gulls in the decks along with absolutely wonderful views on Pomarine Skuas (at least 11 of them!!!) chasing gulls and terns (mostly Lesser Crested Terns) by the beach, many times passing over the fishermen in the beach itself. We enjoyed very much these views but probably not enough to forget about the four hours long wait… To see these Skuas chasing all those terns and stopping right by the beach or on the sea was one of the most unexpected sights for many of our clients, and very appreciated!

Once at the Northern bank we drove up the river and after some miles we did our first stop. The first Dark-Chanting Goshawk was up in a pylon so enough reason to stop and take a look. At the same place we had some Namaqua Doves flying around, a common view in Tendaba area. Another road stop allowed us to connect with the first 4 Black-headed Lapwings of the trip. We kept driving a bit more and got “typical” road birding such as Brown Snake Eagle and Gabar Goshawk.

Dark Chanting Goshawk (Melierax metabates) during our exploration in Gambian Northern Bank. Image by Carles Oliver

A fast stop at Kaur produced flocks of thousands of Red-billed Queleas flying into the reeds that were dramatically chased by a Lanner Falcon. Squacco Heron, Wood Sandpiper and Pied Kingfisher were also showing nicely. Soaring above the reeds and the floodplains we also got 2 Montagu’s Harriers (juvenile and male) and 1 Western Marsh Harrier. Before our main destination we still had another road stop, this time for 4 Black-headed Lapwings posing by the road.

We finally arrived to the small pond where we were specting to have our target. We all jumped out of the car and inmediatly were enjoyed walk-away views on 1 Egyptian Plover!!! It was worth the extra effort, after all! The bird was moving in the shore along with other waders (Common Sandpiper, Spur-winged Plover, Green Sandpiper) and was extremelly tame, allowing all member in the group to enjoy suberp views and not worst images. It was also incredible to see the behaviour of the bird, a mixture between a Plover and a Stone Curlew…

Egyptian Plover (Pluvianus aegyptius) cooperated to get a wonderful series of shots! Images by Carles Oliver

 

The pond itself was really rich in birdlife. While we were approaching the Plover we had 2 Pale Flycatchers moving low in the rank vegetation. A really short walk around allowed some excellent and unexpected specialities. 1 Brown Snake Eagle showed really well and the dead branched os a pair of trees were a true magnet for a good number of species. 2 Bearded Barbets were showing well, promptly replaced by 2 African Collared Doves! The largest tree was the most interesting small birds (mostly finches) were all the time moving around. A small group of 10+ Cut-throat Finches was moving around, also Red-billed Queleas and Red-billed Firefinches. 3 Exclamatory Paradise Whydahs showed up in the trees, 2 of them showing full lenght tails!! This was a very celebrated bird in the group. Finches were coming and going. A flock of 3 Northern Grey Sparrows came in but something smaller, rather yellowish appeared along with them; it was a female Sudan Golden Sparrow!! Wow, this was quite unexpected and an excellent bird to see, really! Next flock came in, this time lovely Namaquas Doves that were moved by 2 Long-tailed Glossy Starlings. It took a pair of minutes the finches to came back, this time more Cut-throat Finches than before but this time along with 3 White-backed Seedeaters.

Bearded Barbet (Lybius dubius) was one of the many species enjoyed at the tiny pond where the Egyptian Plover was. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

This was a great spot and I’m just looking forward coming back there next year! But it was time to move. Time to go back to the Southern bank of Gambia. This time the ferry near Tendaba was fast and still allowed us a final stop in the savannah before going to our accommodation. Dark-Chanting Goshawk was showing again superbly so we did a random stop, trying to find something else. I we did it. Nearby it was a small flock of 3 African Wattled Lapwings moving in the semi-arid contryside. Not easy to see and took us some time until everybody in the group enjoyed good views on them. Before going back to our van, 2 Bruce Green Pigeons flew over allowing fast but intense views on these magnificient birds.

Vinaceous Dove (Streptopelia vinacea) -left- and male Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) in a lovely comparative. Image by Carles Oliver

By the time we arrived to Tendaba it was almost dark but we were happy after enjoying excellent views on the Egyptian Plover and other great birds!

Day 4. Early morning start this time to enjoy the mangroves by Tendaba Camp. The mangroves are part of the large Kiang National Park. Here we enjoyed wonderful views on Western Reef Egret, Striolated Heron, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, African Fish Eagle, African Cormorant (lucida race of Great Cormorant), White-throated Bee-eaters, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Collared Sunbird, hundreds of African Darters and the only one Purple Heron of the trip. The boat trip goes in a laberinth of channels penetrating in the mangroves and it is wonderful way to explore such a incredible habitat.

The group enjoying the mangroves at Kiang National Park. Image by Carles Oliver

A quite hard scan was necessary to discover some of the White-backed Night Herons roosting in the mangroves but after some minutes everybody in the little boat got great views and some shots in the birds. We counted 4 birds in different spots, a number quite low if comparin with other times. Soon before living the mangroves we listened 1 African Blue Flycatcher so we stopped, scanned trying to find out the bird. Unfortunately it was no way and better views on the bird were relicted to a flash of a shadow moving up in the canopy. Back to the river we experienced how strong the wind was. The river at this point is about 1 quilometer wide so it can take some time to cross. It was quite hot and a pair of waves brought a kind of not very wellcome refreshment to some of the tour participants. Fortunalety was only a pair of times and we came back fast to Tendaba, where went to enjoy a walk around.

White-backed Night Heron (Gorsachius leuconotus) showed well despite being really deep inside the mangroves. Image by Carles Oliver

African Darter (Anhinga rufa) is a common view at Kiang National Park. Image by Carles Oliver

The hill beyond Tendaba Camp can be quite good for birding. Despite being quite windy we still had lovely views on Abyssinian Roller, Pygmy Sunbird (male and female), Beautiful Sunbird and European Bee-eaters. A pond equiped with a small hide provided excellent views on both Namaqua Doves and several Black-billeds Wood-Doves. Here we also had Red-billed Queleas, Northern Red Bishop, Black-rumped Waxbills, Red-chekeed Cordon-Bleus, 2 Bush Petronias and Northern Grey Sparrows.

Pygmy Sunbird (Hedydidna platura) ranks among one of the most espectacular Sunbirds in The Gambia. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

It was quite midday and time to move on. Our next stop was the famous Raptor Bridge, where we stopped for a pic-nic. Here we enjoyed the best raptor action of the trip. Just arrived we had a good troop of Hooded Vultures and Yellow-billed Kites moving over. Also 4+ Rüppell’s Vultures, 10+ White-backed Vultures and 2 Eurasian Griffons were flying over. 3 African Harrier Hawks were also well visible, including 1 juvenile. One pair of Grasshoper Buzzards was also appearing two or three times in the sky. The tree that was offering us its shade had 1 Isabelline Warbler and close to the bridge it was also 1 Black-headed Heron, Squacco Heron, Intermediate Egret and 1 White Stork (!). White Stork is a commonview on passage but really scarce in winter time in The Gambia so always a really good bird to see!! We kept scanning for raptors. Our efforts were compensated with a Wahlberg’s Eagle showing well as well as with 1 Palm-nut Vulture cincling along with White-backeds’.

Palm-nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis) is one of many targets of the trip. We enjoyed several views on the bird. Image by Carles Oliver

After our canned pícnic we moved to our last stop of the day, to visit a small patch of untouched native forest. The walk around was really good and produced good views on Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, a juvenile Greater Honeyguide, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, ruff views on Double-spurred Francolin (one of our client got moret han ruff views), Blue-spotted Wood-Doves, Western Bonelli’s Warbler and wonderful Green-headed Sunbirds attending a small pond.

Green-headed Sunbird (Cyanomitra verticalis) is a scarce resident in a gallery forest and other habitats. Image by Carles Oliver

But these wonderful birds were not the real reason of our visit. When arrived a local guide was waiting for us. The first bird he showed us was a pair of Greyish Eagle Owl roosting low in a tree. 5 minutes more of walk were mandatory to arrive to our next target, and we got excellent views. Both female and male Standard-winged Nightjars gave us amazing views, the male showing the penants in the wings…Unforgettable! Last stop, deep in the forest, allowed us to enjoy 1 African Wood Owl up in the trees. Wow, a think these were the best 90 minutes of the tour for some of our clients!!

Greyish Eagle Owl (Bubo cinerascens) at its roosting place. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

 

Standard-winged Nightjar (Macrodipteryx longipennis) female (above) and male (below) was a nice and unexpected finding. Please pair attention in the male wing projections! Images by Carles Oliver

African Wood Owl (Strix woodfordii) was surprinsigly hard to find up in the gallery forest canopy! Image by Carles Oliver

After this wonderful last stop we just headed back to our hotel, where we had a wonderful extra long shower and also extra long dinner!

Day 5. In a new sunny and lovely day we directly went to the famous Abuco Natural Reserve. Several good birds to be discovered. A first scanning from one of the view points allowed to see Broad-billed Roller, Osprey (extremelly close), Giant Kingfisher (even closer), Squacco Heron, African Darter, African Grey Woodpecker, Black-necked Weaver and Heuglin’s Masked Weaver. The place was having a good activity and didn’t take long until one of the tour participants talk about a dark-and-reddish bird skulking on the ground…A fast scan in the area produced great views on 2 Western Bluebills! The small patch of vegetation was having a good activity and we also enjoyed Little Greenbul and Black Crake. 1 juvenile African Harrier-Hawk came into the trees nearby, moving into the water the only one Nile Crocodile that we saw along the tour.

We enjoyed obliging Western Osprey (Pandion halietos) -above- and Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) -below- at Abuco Natural Reserve. Images by Carles Oliver

A small walk around proved to be really productive. A tiny pond rich in floating vegetation produced excellent views on a pair of Western Bluebills along with Bronze Manninkin and a gorgeous Oriole Warbler feeding really low in the vegetation. A female Common Wattle-Eyed was also moving along with the Oriole Warbler, allowing good views to all tour participants. Here we also got excellent views on both male and female Grey Woodpecker working on a tree. 1 Snowy-crowned Robin Chat was quite showy for some time, alway on the ground under dense cover. Both African Paradise and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers were common in the forest, many times associated with White-eyes. Our walk deep inside produced also 2 Grey-headed Bristlebills moving low in the vegetation. This is a quite shy Babbler that can be quite difficult to see. Blackcap Babblers are not that difficult but always a pleasure to enjoy. A pair of flocks gave us good views. Our walk deep in the forest brought us until a place with really big trees. Was time to scan. Not long until we got a Westen Grey Plantain-Eater flying over…and then appeared the 1st Green (now called Guinea) Turaco. First one, but then more Guinea Turacos were joining the trees. Violet Turacos came also along. The birds were looking for the fruits they typically feed on so were moving slowly in the branches or “jumping” from one branch to the next. That corner was still rich in small birds and we catch up with a nice flock of 5+ Yellow-breasted Apalis moving up in the canopies.

Violet Turaco (Musophaga violacea), always in search of mature fruits, was showing really well in Abuco Natural Reserve. Image by Carles Oliver

Guinea Turaco (Tauraco persa) was always moving high up in the canopies. Image by Carles Oliver

Still time for exploring a pair more of corners so we went on and find an open space with good activity. Here we enjoy great views on Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, nice views on a Lesser Honeyguide and a small flock of Lavender Waxbills moving in and out in the low branched of a dead tree. Fanti Saw-wings were flying low in the clearing and eventually stopped by the Bee-eaters. A bit beyond we still had time check a last tree. Not less than Bearded Barbets were in the place!

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater (Merops hirundineus) inhabits dense forest edges, normally moving at low level. Image by Carles Oliver

Little Greenbul (Adropapus virens) is common in gallery forest and dense mangroves. Image by Carles Oliver

Western Bluebill (Spermophaga haematina) is one of the most spectacular passerines living in the gallery forest. Image by Carles Oliver

For lunch we went to the nearby mangroves, where a restaurant in the tide area offered a good selection of food and shade plus obliging Callythrix Monkey feeding on the fish and Beer (!) and, in fact, anything they could get.

Mudskipper (Periophtalmus koelreuteri) -above- and Callithrix or Green Monkey (Chlorocebus sabaeus) -below- were two of the main attractions in our last visit to the Gambian mangroves. Images by Carles Oliver

In the afternoon we went to spend some time in Brufut Reserve. Here a local guide was waiting for us to guide us into a special tree. Both Brown and Blackcap Babblers were around, Western Red-billed & African Grey Hornbills appeared and some African Thrush showed briefly in the vegetation. In the tree, a superb pair of Northern White-faced Owls. All tour participants got again wonderful views in this unique owl. Great!

The group enjoyed 2 Northern White-faced Owls (Ptilopsis leucotis) roosting in a tiny tree. Image by Carles Oliver

We then kept scanning around. We got ruff views on Yellow-throated Leaflove and African Pygmy Kingfisher. A Grey Woodpecker didn’t stole the show and, with a perfect light, was the main character of several shots. A short walk around brought us (again) to a huge fig tree. Several sunbirds were feeding there including Beautiful, Variable and 2 Copper Sunbirds showing typical black, rather long undertail. The tree was full of Common Bulbuls, Yellow-fronted Serins and Village Weavers but also had some Western Grey Plantain-Eaters. Finally we got really good views on 2 African Green Pigeons feeding high up in the tree.

Copper Sunbird (Cynniris cupreus) male moulting to breeding plomage. Note the long, black tail. African Green Pigeon (Treron calvus) attended a busy fig tree (below). Images by Carles Oliver

Then we had a small walk around. 1 African Golden Oriole flew over while a obliging flock of Orange-cheeked Waxbill showed up in perfect light. A juvenile Greater Honeyguide also flew over our heads. Our guide brought us to another special corner where, after some reseach, we enjoyed Long-tailed Nightjars male and female. The birds looked like quite nervous so we worked quite hard to not disturb the birds at all. I have to say that the all tour participants did really well on this, despite being a bit challenging since the female was a bit to close to the path! Still not out because a final walk produced Klaa’s Cuckoo, another Copper Sunbird and several Red-chested Swallows. At the end we just sat down by a pond. Several birds came to it. Good numbers of Blue-spotted Wood-Doves, Lavender Waxbills, African Paradise Flycatcher, Guinea Turaco, African Yellow White-eyes, Yellow-throated Leaflove, African Thrush, Little Greenbul and Eurasian Reed Warbler all came our of the dense vegetation!

Yellow-throated Leafloves (Chlorocichla flavicollis) were one of the most celebrated birds from our visit to Brufut. Image by Carles Oliver

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus) is one of the commonest small finches in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

Black-necked Weaver (Ploceus nigricollis) inhabits well forested habitats in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone rufiventer) at Brufu Natural Reserve. Image by Carles Oliver

Long-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus climacurus) was one of the most wanted birds by the group! Image by Carles Oliver

Well, happy all after such a wonderful day, we just came to our accommodation in a short transfer to enjoy the rest of the evening.

Day 6. The las full morning in the trip we went to explore Pirang National Forest. This is one main spot for the always extremely difficult White-spotted Flufftail. Best time for the bird is, probably, October-November. Despite this, we dediced to go and try (in Catalonia we say “let’s throught a stone and see what happens”). Well, this time nothing happened. We wait a long time but unfortunately nothing came out of the jungle. Despite this, Pyrang was giving us some good birds. The first was (finally) proper view on a Double-spurred Francolin when we were arriving to the location. Inside the forest we enjoyed a pair of excellent views Green Hylia and excellent views on African Pygmy Kingfisher on a water pond. A Little Greenbul was also really obliging despite the pond was quite deserted (probably 2 African Harrier Hawks were the responsable on this low activity). Deep in the forest we also got ruff views on a Buff-spotted Woodpecker. Once again we were brought to one of these special places. Deep in the forest, a Chattering Bluebill was listened callin but, despite our efforts, we could never conect with this small cuckoo. A nest of Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, where we could see one adult (probably a female) along with a chick. What a incredible view on such impressive bird.
At this corner of the forest it was a lot of activity. A flock of 30+ African Yellow White-Eyes were moving up in the canopies. Along with them Paraside FLycatchers, Common Wattle-Eyes, Isabelline Warbler and Yellow-breasted Apalis.

Green Hylia (Hylia prasina) was personally one of the birds of the trip. Look at the massive supercilium and the bulky, rather sunbird-like bill. Amazing for a warbler! Image by Carles Oliver

 

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird (Pogoliunus chrysoconus) appeared is a common bird in The Gambia, always in low densities. Image by Carles Oliver

 

A flock of Orange-cheeked Waxbills (Estrilda melpoda) delighted us while searching for African Pygmy Kingfisher. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Our best views on Palm-nut Vulture were deep inside the Pyrang forest! Image by Carles Oliver

 

We got intimate views on Verreaux’s Eagle Owl (Bubo lacteus) at its nest. Wonderful and rather unexpected! Image by Carles Oliver

A tiny African Pygmy Kingfisher (Ceyx pictus) was one of the most celebrated birds of the trip. It took as a long search! Image by Carles Oliver

Not a bad end to our visit to Pirang. For lunch we decided to go to another pícnic as this was allowing us to spend more time in interesting spots. A drive brought throught interesting places with some impressive butterflies. This little transfer was having a small and unexpected break since my cap get off my head and actually went off the car so we, of course, had to stop and went back (in a quite busy road) so I was able to get my cap back. Fortunelly I think only a pair of cars went over the cap before I could get it back!!!

Only got ruff views on 1 Guinea Baboon (Papio papio) despite being very vocal at Pyrang Forest. Image by Carles Oliver

Finally arrived to the place, a pair of selected stops produced some good birds, including a pair of views on Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle, one of the main targets of the tour and quite celebrated in the group!

Some road birding was really productive with nice vice on Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, ruff views on Mottle Spinetail & Stone Partridge, Little Weaver and Variable Sunbird.
Once we arrived to the savannah we started adding some new species. A Black-winged Kite was really close to the road, as it was a Long-crested Eagle. Some skinny trees produced excellent birds including Striped Kingfisher, Northern Black Flycatcher, Dark-Chanting Goshawks, White-rumped Seedeaters and a very distant African Hawk Eagle. The final drive to our accommodation was still successful, with Fork-tailed Drongo, Shikra, Rufous-crowned Roller, Yellow-billed Shrike and Gabar Goshawk as road birds!

Dark Chanting Goshawk (Melierax metabates) in typical tree. Image by Carles Oliver

Fine-spotted Woodpecker (Campethera punctuligera) joined a flock a Sunbirds attending the blossom in the savannah. Image by Carles Oliver

Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) was one of the many raptors appearing in our afternoon in the savannah. Image by Carles Oliver

Striped Kingfisher (Halcyon chelicuti) is one of many species of Kingsfishers living far away from water cousers. Their main prey are grasshopers and dragonflies. Image by Carles Oliver

Long-crested Eagles (Lophaetus occipitalis) are a common view in Sub-Saharan Africa but always a wonderful bird to see. Image by Carles Oliver

 

This wonderful male Shikra (Accipiter badius) just turned out while enjoying a colony of White-billed Buffalo-weavers close to our accommodation. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 7. Last day of our tour. This day we were concentrated in the grounds of our hotel. After breakfast we just went down to the gardens, where we had really good views on Oriole Warbler, White-crowned Robin-chat, Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling, Grey Woodpecker, Piapiacs, Broad-billed Rollers, a surprising Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Lesser Honeyguide, Village & Black-necked Weavers, Hamercop, Little Swifts, Purple Glossy Starlings and both Blackcap & Brown Babblers. Many of them allowing good photo chances. A short scanning in the sea produced a Great White Pelican, only the second of the trip!

Grey Woodpecker (Dendropicos goertae). Image by Carles Oliver

 

Western Red Colobus (Piliocolobus badius). Image by Carles Oliver

 

African Thrush (Turdus pelios). Image by Carles Oliver

 

Lesser Honeyguide (Indicator minor) was one of the main attraction of our morning in the gardens. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Oriole Warbler (Hypergerus atriceps) did really well in hiding. Images by Carles Oliver

 

Bronze Mannikins (Spermestes cucullatus) were really tame in the gardens. Image by Carles Oliver

 

White-crowned Robin Chats (Cossypha albicapilla), one of the most common and noisy birds in the gardens. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Long-tailed Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis caudatus). No comments. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) are extremelly common, even for this species. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Long-billed Shrike (Corvinella corvina) was also hunting in our hotel grounds. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Blue-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon malimbica) was showing superbly at the grounds. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Purple Glossy Starlings (Lamprotornis purpureus) are the commonest Lamprotornis in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Yellow-crowned Gonolek (Laniarius barbarus) is one of the most espectacular bush-shrikes in Africa. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava). Image by Carles Oliver

 

Hooded Vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus) are extremely common in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Bronze-tailed Starlings (Lamprotornis chalcurus). Please note the short primary projection and the contrast between uppertail, rump and vental area. Image by Carles Oliver

After enjoying the grounds and a good lunch in the beach we just took off to the airport, where our plane back to Barcelona was waiting for the group!

It has been a gorgeous 1st issue for our The Gambia tour.
Remember, in December 2019 we go on with the 2nd issue!! Join us for birds & fun!!!!

The group, happy after some great birding days! Image by Junkung Jadama of Birding Gambia.

 

List of mammals of the tour:

  1. Guinea or Red Baboon (Papio papio)
  2. West Red Columbus (Piliocolobus badius)
  3. Patas Monkey (Cercopithecus patas)
  4. Callithrix Monkey (Cercopithecus sabaeus)
  5. Gambian Sun Squirrel (Heliosciurus gambianus)
  6. Striped Ground Squirrel (Euxerus erythropus)

List of reptilians of the tour:

  1. Gambia Agama (Agama weidholzi)
  2. Brook’s House Gecko (Hemydactylus brookii brookii)
  3. Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus)
  4. Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)

    One of the three diferent Nile Monitors (Varanus niloticus) that we saw along the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Maghreb Magpie split from Eurasian Magpie

The population of Magpie living in North Africa and commonly known as Moroccan Magpie has finally been split from Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) under the name of Maghreb Magpie (Pica mauretanica). Range of the “new” species comprises Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia with a small and isolated population in Western Sahara.

IOC World Bird List, in its paper Version 8.2 (Jun 27, 2018) includes Maghreb Magpie (Pica mauretanica) as a new species from Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica).

Maghreb Magpie (Pica mauretanica) is quite unmistakable bird in the field. Out of the wonderful and evident bare blue skin beyond the eye, the bird is noticeable smaller and shorter winged than Eurasian Magpie. Thus, proportions are similar than the Iberian Magpie (Pica pica melanotos). The typical white patch in the wing coverts is also smaller in the Maghreb Magpie than in Eurasian Magpie.

 

mauretanica1

Maghreb Magpie (Pica mauretanica) near Agadir in our trip in 2016. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Habitat selection is also different. Maghreb Magpie prefers open woodlands, gardens, and periurban lands in plain areas, with better densities in some coastal areas, avoiding or appearing in low densities in farm land.

This split comes to join a long list of forms inhabitating Morocco than have been upgraded to full species in the last years: Atlas Flycatcher (Ficedula speculigera), Maghreb Lark (Galerida macrorhyncha), Moroccan Wagtail (Motacilla subpersonata), African Crimson-winged Finch (Rhodopechys alienus) and Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe halophila) have been some of the last.

Other races occurring Morocco very likely to become full species in short include African Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla mauretanica), North-African Tawny Owl (Strix aluco mauretanica) and North-African Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes buvryi).

 

Rhodopechis 2 copy

African Crimson-winged Finch (Rhodopechys alienus) in High Atlas, Morocco, during one of our tour. Image: Carles Oliver

 

How to see these birds? Barcelona Birding Point offers a trip to Southern Morocco every late March and along the trip you can see all these species out of Atlas Flycatchers which occurs later in the season.

Emberiza & CIA a la Marató Ornitològica 2018

Aquesta és la crònica de la participació de l’equip Emberiza & CIA a la Marató Ornitològica organitzada per SEO/Birdlife. Els integrants del grup enguany van ser en Víctor Sanz, Ramiro Aibar, Antonio Martínez i Carles Oliver. També el fill de l’Antonio, l’Oriol Martínez, que amb només 11 anys va estar sempre alerta i assenyalant rapis al cel!!

Durant tota la jornada vam gaudir de molt bon temps. Tot i la previsió de pluges disperses més o menys generalitzades, vam tenir sol quasi tot el dia, gens de vent i cap gota d’aigua. Condicions idònies, tret de la temperatura un pèl massa alta al migdia. Només una coseta abans de començar, algunes de les localitzacions les mantindrem en secret…secret professional, vaja.

La jornada comença unes hores abans que comenci el termini pròpiament dit per fer la Marató. La nostra data escollida és el dia 6 de Maig i ens trobem a les 21:00 del vespre del dia 5 a Sant Andreu de la Barca. La idea és trobar-nos abans per fer un àpat més o menys en condicions i acabar de perfilar el que serà l’itinerari i els tempos a seguir durant la marató. També és moment d’estrenar l’equipació d’enguany, disseny exclusiu de samarretes by Victor Sanz!

Ens posem en carretera direcció a Lleida i deixem enrere Sant Andreu. Aprofito aquest espai, i crec que parlo en nom de tot el grup, per mostrar tota la nostra solidaritat amb la comunitat educativa d’aquesta vila arran dels vergonyosos atacs patits al llarg de les últimes setmanes. Des d’aquestes línies us diem que no esteu sols!

De camí cap a Lleida toca fer parada per sopar. Tot va amb normalitat, més enllà de que el restaurant escollit inclou Cobaia al Forn com a segon plat del menú…estranyament ningú no escull rosegador com a plat principal de l’àpat nocturn…particularment em quedo amb ganes de veure com la serveixen…

Un cop sopats enfilem cap a la primera localització. Aquesta primera parada és molt important quan fas una cursa com aquesta. La localització nocturna (o les localitzacions nocturnes) han de permetre treure les màximes espècies de nocturnes (mussols i caprimulgus) possibles sense haver de recórrer a les últimes hores del dia per empaitar-los, quan el temps escassejarà, tots anirem molt més cansats i cada espècie pot suposar un sobre esforç.

A les 00:07 arribem a la primera localització, dins territori aragonès. Abans no baixem del cotxe ja sumem la primera espècie: Xot (Otus scops). Perfecte. Aparquem i escoltem al voltant. Un parell de rossinyols (Luscinia megarhynchos) canten a la foscor acompanyats d’un parell de xots. Deu minuts d’escolta no produeixen res més. Hi ha un punt de nerviosisme…Un torlit (Burhinus oedicnemus) reclama en la distància però no alleugera la pressió. De cop, al lluny, un siboc (Caprimulgus ruficollis) canta. Molt bé. Enguany als Caprimulgus els hi ha costat d’arribar des d’Àfrica però a nosaltres amb un ja en tenim prou. Tot seguit una cria de mussol banyut (Asio otus) reclama des d’una taca de pins llunyana. Només ens en falta un. I arriba. Una òliba (Tyto alba) fa el seu reclam característic en passar per sobre nostre. Perfecte!

Ens movem una mica. Fem una mica de prospecció per mirar de trobar uns mussols emigrants (Asio flammeus) que es mouen per la zona, sense sort. No tenim massa temps i toca parar orella en una llacuneta propera. En la distància se senten més rossinyols però també rascló (Rallus aquaticus), cabusset (Tachybaptus ruficollis), polla d’aigua (Gallinula chloropus) i fotja (Fulica atra) reclamant. Però se sent un altre reclam així ens movem una miqueta i escoltem millor per esclarir i si, tenim un rascletó (Porzana parva) a la llacuna. Això és excel·lent perquè és una mica inesperat. Però encara tenim més, perquè un bitó (Botaurus stellaris) canta unes quantes vegades darrera la sorollada de rossinyols que canten des dels tamarius! Anem molt i molt bé, tot i que ens queda molt per patir. Cal perseverar!

Fem un curt recorregut un cotxe per mirar de trobar un dels ducs (Bubo bubo) que viuen a la vora. Voltegem un territori. Els ducs acostumen a estar per aquí però no els podem trobar.. Decidim fer una passejada per la zona, aviam si tenim molta sort i els fem moure. Res. En comptes d’això sentim, des del turó, un altre bitó cantant en un estany diferent de l’anterior!! Plaga de bitons… Tornem tots a la furgo. Amb tot ja són quasi les dues. Toca començar a moure’s cap al Pirineu. Aquí hem fet bo i massa!

De camí cap a la Vall Ferrera fem una paradeta ràpida a prop de Tremp. En un paisatge de màquia i roureda fem una escolta ràpida que ens permet sumar gamarús (Strix aluco). De fet, en sentim 3! L’enganyapastors (Caprimulgus europaeus), l’altre objectiu de la parada, no apareix. Preocupació menor, al vespre. Seguim.

 

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En Ramiro Aibar i en Víctor Sanz gaudint del primer escorxador (Lanius collurio) de l’any moments abans de marxar cap a Collegats.

 

Arribem a algun punt de la Vall Ferrera i fem escolta. Són quasi les 5:00. Deu minuts i els ding! de la becada (Scolopax rusticola) anuncia el seu vol al nostre voltant. Les llunes de Júpiter són testimonis del seu vol feixuc mentre continuem sondejant el silenci a la recerca de més espècies. Hi ha una mica de cansament però la temperatura és agradable i la nit està sent profitosa. Tot i així ja queden molt lluny les nits sense dormir de quan érem més joves.

Cap a un quart de sis comencen a cantar els Túrdids. Tord comú (Turdus philomelos), griva (Turdus viscivorus) i merla (Turdus merula) són dels primers. Una mallerenga petita (Periparus ater) molt matinera es deixa sentir i els pit-rojos (Erithacus rubecula) no fan tard a les primeres tonalitats ocres del cel. Cotxa fumada (Phoenicurus ochruros), reietó (Regulus regulus), merla de pit blanc (Turdus torquatus) i mallerenga emplomallada (Lophophanes cristatus) són detectats en un lapse de pocs minuts. Però cap espècie de pes (amb el permís de la merla de pit blanc).

Decidim fer una caminada amunt, aviam què trobem. Hi invertirem massa temps, en part perquè la foscor fa que em desorienti (…) Però tindrà els seus fruits. Caminem vessant amunt en un paisatge dominat per un bosc de pins emmoquetat per nerets i nabius així que a ningú ens estranya quan en la profunditat del bosc sentim els típics sorolls d’un gall fer (Tetrao urogallus). Excel·lent! Caminem molt poquet més i fem una mica més d’escolta. La caminada pren tot el seu sentit quan el reclam d’un mussol pirinenc (Aegolius funereus) arriba a les nostres oïdes! Perfecte! El mussol pirinenc és una de les espècies més difícils per una marató així que poder-lo incloure és sempre un luxe i un orgull.

Decidim començar a baixar i fer una petita volta. Crasso error. Perdem temps. El rellotge corre, ja és dia obert. Pardal de bardissa (Prunella collaris), picot negre (Dryocopus martius), pinsà comú (Fringilla coelebs), gaig (Garrulus glandarius), cucut (Cuculus canorus), sit negre (Emberiza cia), picot garser gros (Dendrocopos major), bruel (Regulus ignacapillus), trencapinyes (Loxia curvirostra), cargolet (Troglodytes troglodytes) i raspinell comú (Certhia brachydactyla) són agradosament afegits a la llista de la nostra marató. Però ens falla el lluer (Spinus spinus). Nidificant escàs i localitzat al Pirineu, aquesta espècie acostuma a ser fàcilment detectable a la localització on som. Però no avui, no ara.

 

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Llucareta (Serinus citronella) mascle lluint disseny alar a la Vall Ferrera.

 

Arribem tardíssim al cotxe. Marxem, marxem, marxem. Són les 7:15 però no cal entrar en pànic. De baixada, quasi a la carrera, hem vist i sentit llucaretes (Serinus citrinella). Hem tret quasi totes les espècies que havíem de treure. Quasi totes. Abans de marxar, però, fem un mos al costat del cotxe. Última oportunitat per lluer i raspinell pirinenc (Certhia familiaris) per unir-se a la festa. No ho faran…Marxem, marxem, marxem!

De baixada per la pista afegim tallarol de casquet (Sylvia atricapilla) i 1 puput (Upupa epops)… una puput en un bosc dens, molt dens de pi roig a uns 1300 metres d’alçària (!!!). Puput en hàbitat de picot negre… Per a mi, l’observació més curiosa de la jornada.

Parades ràpides en diferents prats. Alguna de gens productiva. Entrem a un prat i pam! un pinsà borroner (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) marxa volant de la capçada d’un bedoll. Parem per fer un cop d’ull. El prat ha estat pres per una horda de trencapinyes que sotmeten el prat als seus designis, desfoliant les capçades de bedolls, àlbers i qualsevol arbre que hi hagi. Què fan aquí baix? Repassem el prat. Parella de mallerenga carbonera (Parus major) i alguna mallerenga blava (Cyanistes cyaneus). Res de especial. Però vet aquí que surt un bitxac rogenc (Saxícola rubetra). Serà l’únic del dia! Continuem baixant. Següent prat. Sembla que res, tret d’un fantàstic colltort (Jynx torquilla) que s’arregla el plomatge al sol… De nou, l’únic del dia! Toca paradeta al riu: cuereta torrentera (Motacilla cinerea), picot verd (Picus sharpei), mallerenga cuallarga (Aegithalos caudatus), tudó (Columba palumbus), orenetes cuablanca i vulgar (Delichon urbicum – Hirundo rustica) i també roquerols (Ptynoprogne rupestris). On és la merla d’aigua? És tard. Marxem.

Propera parada, a prop de Sort. De camí cap allà, típiques espècies de carretera. La primera, una merla d’aigua! Tres dels cinc la veiem en una curva. Bé. Garsa (Pica pica), Cornella (Corvus corone), pardal comú (Passer domesticus), colom roquer (Columba livia), falciot comú (Apus apus) i estornell vulgar (Sturnus vulgaris) “cauen” a diferents antenes i similars de Tremp. D’aquí agafem una petita carretera que ens fa guanyar alçada (però perdre temps, Déu meu que llarga que es fa…) i arribem a localització a les 9:00 tocades. S’ensuma el desastre del timing…

Però el lloc val la pena. En 14 minuts contats d’observació sumem: tallarols emmascarat (Sylvia hortensis), de garriga (S. cantillans) i vulgar (S. communis), escorxador (Lanius collurio), còlit gris (Oenanthe oenanthe), bitxac comú (Saxícola rubicola), merla roquera (Monticola saxatilis), cotoliu (Lullula arborea), passerell comú (Carduelis cannabina), Cadernera (Carduelis carduelis), mosquiter pàl·lid (Phylloscopus bonelli), hortolà (Emberiza hortulana), perdiu roja (Alectoris rufa), gralla de bec vermell (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), capsigrany (Lanius senator) i gratapalles (Emberia cirlus) tot i que els ocells quasi no canten aquest matí. Un escaneig ràpid del cel produeix un trencalòs (Gypaetos barbatus) i un grup d’abellerols (Merops apiaster) en migració ens passen a tocar. Primer rapinyaire del dia! I just en marxar una alosa (Alauda arvensis) ve a aterrar a la nostra esquena. Tot un detall. Agraïts.

Baixem. Encara anem tard. Propera parada; Collegats. Cuereta blanca (Motacilla alba) i Corb (Corvus corax) a la carretera. Voltors comuns (Gyps fulvus) al cel. Dins la furgo discutim si parar o no a Collegats. Guanya que parem, encara bo. De camí (encara no hi som?) una parella d’àguiles calçades (Aquila pennata) ens fa mig parar un moment. Són una fase clara i una fosca. Bé. Una mica més avall un aligot comú (Buteo buteo) es creua al cel amb una àguila marcenca (Circaetus gallicus). Sembla que hi ha moviment de rapinyaires.

Collegats. Tothom fora i mirada a l’infinit. Voltors. Milans negres (Milvus migrans) en migració cap al Nord. Aufrany (Neophron percnopterus) contra els penya-segats. Bon dia maco! Algú veu un falcó peregrí (Falco peregrinus). Poc després un esparver vulgar (Accipiter nisus) remunta amb uns voltors. Una probable àguila daurada (Aquila chrysaetos) se’ns escapa per mil·lèsimes. Qui l’ha vist no pot confirmar. Com la trobarem a faltar! Llàstima! Mallarengues al nostre voltant. Res de l’altre món fins que un picot garser petit (Dendrocopos minor) tamborileja a tocar del grup. 1, 2, 3 vegades. Molt bé! No hi comptàvem. Marxem, que fem tard!

Ja són tres quarts d’once quan enfilem cap al Sud. Destinació; estepes! Tenim una tiradeta…De camí, típiques (i no tant típiques) espècies de carretera. Entre Àger i Balaguer oriol (Oriolus oriolus), tórtora turca (Streptopelia decaocto) i ballester (Apus melba). Entre Balaguer i Àger estornell negre (Sturnus unicolor), cogullada vulgar (Galerida cristata), ànec coll-verd (Anas platyrhynchos), cruixidell (Emberiza calandra), gafarró (Serinus serinus), gralles (Corvus monedula), xoriguer comú (Falco tinnunculus), arpella vulgar (Circus aeruginosus), falcó mostatxut (Falco subbuteo) i aligot vesper (Pernis apivorus). Hi ha força rapinyaire al cel, el que és d’agrair en un dia com avui. Ja a prop de la nostra destinació un fantàstic astor (Accipiter gentilis) vola a prop d’una marcenca aturada en un torre d’electricitat.

Ja passem clarament de les 100 espècies. Arribem a les estepes. Ara l’objectiu és arribar ràpid a la primera localització i, com a mínim per a mi, menjar. La bateria interna està baixa i si volem rendir a la tarda bé hauríem de menjar alguna cosa! A un parell de quilòmetres del lloc a on parem ja entrem en zona molt bona. Seguim sumant. Còlit ros (Oenanthe hispanica), Cogullada fosca (Galerida theklae), Guatlla (Coturnix coturnix), Pardal roquer (Petronia petronia), gaig blau (Coracias garrulus), tòrtora (Streptopelia turtur), trobat (Anthus campestris), calàndria (Melanocorypha calandra) i, just en aparcar, terrerola vulgar (Calandrella brachydactyla).

 

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Merescut descans de l’equip a Monegros després d’un matí molt intens!

 

Fa sol i bastanta calor. Estem a uns 24ºC i, tot i que la previsió era de ruixats dispersos, només plou vitamina A. No hi ha massa activitat. Són les 13:20 quan ens aturem, no precisament la millor hora…Durant el quart que estem aturat només sumem milà reial (Milvus milvus). No són bones notícies. Les aloses becudes (Chersophilus duponti) que tenim bastant a prop no es deixaran sentir amb aquesta calor tant sobtada…

Ens movem. Tenim una llarga llista d’espècies i el temps és curt. Tombem i la perseverança ens premia amb increïbles observacions de terrerola rogenca (Calandrella rufescens). Fem unes quantes fotos. Val molt la pena. Seguim tombant però no hi ha quasi activitat. Anem a un raconet a on podem tenir sorpresa i bingo!, dues xurres (Pterocles orientalis) es mouen en un guaret. Seguim al guaret. Terreroles vulgars arreu i 3 xurres més, però sense senyals de les gangues (Pterocles alchata). No tenim més temps per a elles. Una llàstima!

 

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Petita llicència fotogràfica el plena marató però és que aquesta terrerola rogenca (Calandrella rufescens) bé s’ho valia!

 

Ens movem uns quilòmetres. Una prospecció ràpida (molt ràpida) a una zona arbustiva produeix tallarol trencamates (Sylvia conspicillata). Una mica més enllà mussol comú (Athene noctua). Fem un cop d’ull a una colònia de xoriguer petit (Falco naumanni) però sense rastre d’ells. S’olora el pànic dins la furgo! Sense temps per a més baixem a uns tallats vora un riu. Última oportunitat per a un bon grapat d’espècies. El Delta de l’Ebre ens espera, ens crida! Parem al peu dels tallats i seguim afegint noves espècies. Un parell de bosquetes vulgars (Hippolais polyglotta) cantes a les bardisses vora el bosc de ribera. Verdum (Chloris chloris), rossinyol bord (Cettia cetti), tallarol capnegre (Sylvia melanocephala) i sit negre canten al voltant. A dalt del turó una tallareta cuallarga (Sylvia undata) fa un vol curt d’un arbust a un altre. Amb això n’hi ha prou. Als tallats raspem un parell de xixelles (Columba oenas) i un mascle d’esparver cendrós (Circus pygargus) ens passa per sobre. Ja són les 15:00. Hora de marxar!

Pugem a la furgo, 400 metres i hem de parar! 3 xoriguers petits volen als tallats. Així que aquí estàveu! Ara sí, marxem! Poc després un segon mascle d’esparver cendrós vola en paral·lel a la furgo. Silenci mentre tothom mira per les finestres. Quina meravella d’ocell…Anem cap al Sud. Hi ha qui aprofita per dormir. El dia està sent intens i fa estona que tenim la sensació d’anar tard. Ara és el moment de relaxar-se una mica. Uns esplugabous (Bubulcus ibis) en un lloc indeterminat ens marquen el camí a la terra baixa.

 

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Moral alta en els trajectes. Aquí la comoditat del transport s’agraeix!

 

Passat Flix fem una paradeta de 3-5 minuts. Només sortir de la furgo una merla blava (Monticola solitarius) ens passa volant per sobre mentre un trist (Cisticola juncidis) va fent al cel. Repassem en busca de rapinyaires. Res. Corb marí gros (Phalacrocorax carbo) al Riu Ebre. Marxem.

-Espera.  Qué pasa?   -Rapaz en la torre de electricidad. Da la vuelta! Da la vuelta!

Tornem carretera amunt uns centenars de metres i sí, una àguila cuabarrada (Aquila fasciata) està aturada en una torre d’electricitat. Bé! De camí entre Flix i el delta no afegirem res de nou tret d’un falciot pàl·lid (Apus pallidus) que es deixa prou bé per ser identificat. Els nostres esforços (anar a 87km/hora en comptes de 95km/hora) per veure una oreneta cua-rogenca són debades…

Són les 17:35 quan arribem al Delta de l’Ebre. Aquí la desfilada d’espècies és ràpida i àmplia. Són a la zona Nord. Hem decidit que ens mourem de Nord a Sud. Martinet comú (Egretta garzetta), gavià argentat (Larus michahellis), pardal xarrec (Passer montanus), bernat pescaire (Ardea cinerea), cames llargues (Himantopus himantopus), gavina riallera (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), cabussó emplomallat (Podiceps cristatus) i capó reial (Plegadis falcinellus) són dels primers a caure.

Anem de camí a El Goleró. El nivell d’aigua està baix i està mig ennuvolat. És una bona combinació. Ens sentim contents i frescs, descansats. Hem arribat prou d’hora al Delta, el que ens garanteix temps per fer un cop d’ull a uns quants hot-spots. Tota la sensació d’estres que hem acumulat al llarg del matí es fon amb la brisa del mar per donar pas a un ritme compassat i natural d’anar sumant. El Goleró es mostra benèvol amb nosaltres però sense escarafalls. Gavines corses (Larus audouinii) i capblanques (Larus genei),  gavians foscos (Larus fuscus) i fumarells carablancs (Chlidonias hybridus) són evidents arreu. Gamba verda (Tringa nebularia), gamba roja vulgar (Tringa totanus), garsa de mar (Haematopus ostralegus), pigre gris (Pluvialis squatarola) i territ menut (Calidris minuta) són els primers limícols afegits a la llista. Al voltant nostre hi han molts xatracs comuns (Sterna hirundo), bastants de bec-llargs (Sterna sandvicensis), 2 de grossos (Hydroprogne caspia) i 1 de menut (Sternula albifrons). Als canyissars de darrera nostre canten balquers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) i boscarles de canyar (Acrocephalus scirpaceus). Flamencs (Phoenicopterus ruber) i xibecs (Netta rufina) també es deixen veure. Una inspecció més detallada de la zona produeix becut (Numenius arquata), tètol cuabarrat (Limosa lapponica), corriol camanegre (Charadrius alexandrinus) i corriol gros (Charadrius hiaticula). Ens movem cap a l’Est i, en una parada per repassar limícols, ens sorprèn el cant d’un borcarler comú (Luscinia luscinioides). Una mica més enllà la sorpresa és més gran quan un blauet (Alcedo atthis) surt volant d’un pont per perdre’s en un canal. A la última parada aquí gaudirem de remena-rocs (Arenaria interpres) en lluent plomatge nupcial a més de sumar territ gros (Calidris canutus) i agró blanc (Egretta alba).

 

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Els últims remena-rocs (Arenaria interpres) en pas són sempre els que llueixen un plomatge més espectacular. Aquest bé es va merèixer una paradeta!

 

Ha estat un bon començament. Bona part dels camps del Delta comencen a tenir aigua i es poden veure alguns limícols aquí i allà. La temptació de parar cada pocs camps és molt gran i de vegades no tenim més remei que fer-ho. De camí entre Goleró i Alfacada veiem valona (Tringa glareola), xivitona (Actitis hypoleucos), martinet ros (Ardeola ralloides) i curroc (Gelochelidon nilotica).

Un cop arribats a l’Alfacada ens acantonem a la torre, a on corre una brisa que ens va refredant a mesura que passen els minuts. Tots menys els més llestos baixarem gelats…El privilegiat punt d’observació ens permet sumar un bon grapat d’espècies: ànec blanc (Tadorna tadorna), ànec cullerot (Anas clypeata), griset (Anas strepera), batallaire (Philomachus pugnax), bec d’alena (Recurvirostra avosetta), mosquiter de passa (Phylloscopus troquillus), polla blava (Porphyrio porphyrio), martinet menut (Ixobrychus minutus) i martinet de nit (Nycticorax nycticorax). Des de dalt la torre repassem el mar, que se’ns mostra com un fantàstic desert blau amb alguna taqueta bec-llarga que es cabussa i torna a tirar amunt… Una potencial fotja banyuda (Fulica cristata) es deixa estimar durant quasi mig minut a Buda, davant per davant de la torre, però uns tamarius dificulten l’observació i no podem extreure una conclusió definitiva… al llarg de l’estona que estem dalt intentarem relocalitzar-la, debades. En baixar de la torre notem que les cames pesen. Estem cansats. Són més de les 18:30, no ens queda massa temps.

 

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Últims moments de llum. Moments per comentar el dia, fer bromes, rascar alguna última espècie i menjar alguna cosa a les Salines de Sant Antoni. Feia fresca!

 

Tirem cap als Eucaliptus. Una ràpida inspecció dins el camping produeix xarrasclet (Anas querquedula), ànec cuallarg (Anas acuta), morell xocolater (Aythya nyroca) i ànec xiulaire (Anas penelope). Un cop fet el tràmit comentem si anar a l’arbreda de la zona d’acampada o a Riet Vell per migrants. Optem per Riet Vell i dóna un gran resultat: Papamosques gris (Muscicapa striata), mastegatatxes (Ficedula hypoleuca) i cotxa cua-roja (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) són tots afegits en 5 minuts junt amb una gavina capnegra (Larus melanocephalus) que reclama en el camp del costat. Bravo!

D’aquí volem a Sant Antoni, la nostra esperança per un grupet de limícols que semblen no voler aparèixer. De camí cap allà, ja amb el sol molt baix, apuntem un grupet de 7 tètols cuanegres (Limosa limosa). En arribats a les salines repassem bé cercant corriol petit (Charadrius dubius) o territ variant (Calidris alpina) però sense ser capaços de trobar cap d’aquestes espècies. Mentre sopem gaudint d’un màgic capvespre a les Salines de Sant Antoni encara sumem perdiu de mar (Glareola pratincola). Ens sentim genial. En part perquè un error al sumar ens fa pensar que hem superat de llarg les 200 espècies… En realitat estem una mica per sota.

Un cop acabats de sopar fem un parell de parades a la sortida del Delta, ja camí de Barcelona, per mirar de sumar l’enganyapastors. Però no surt. Al final decidim (bueno, jo ja estava bastant fora de combat) de provar sort a Sant Andreu de la Barca. Arribem justets, justets de temps. 23:47 comencem escolta…23:53 un enganyapastors canta a la vall que tenim a l’esquerra. Espècie número 196!

Tothom a dormir!

 

Com a resum crec que puc dir tranquil·lament en nom de tots el membres del grup que estem molt satisfets per aquesta edició, la primera en la que hem inclòs el Pirineu de Lleida en l’itinerari. De ben segur que no serà la última!

El timing se’ns ha anat una mica al Pirineu, en bona part per la passejada una mica massa llarga a primeríssima hora del matí. Això ha fet que no poguéssim tenir tot el temps que haguéssim volgut per explorar les estepes i, el que és pitjor, ens ha fet arribar a una hora que feia molt difícil sumar espècies com el sisó (Tetrax tetrax), especialment amb el sol picant tal i com ho feia al migdia! Però bueno, que consti que ja tenim la clau per superar-nos el 2019. Amb il·lusió!

En defitiva, que una cursa ornitològica pot ser molt divertida. No cal fer-se mala sang amb el que facin els altres equips (fins a cert punt) i és sempre molt millor si vas amb amics! Això sí, requisit indispensable, estar tocat de l’ala…

Com a últim apunt, un reconeixement especial a l’Oriol, un birder de només 11 anys que va gaudir com el que més, que ens va aguantar a tots 4 durant 24 hores i que de ben segur esdevindrà un naturalista de primera! Felicitats Oriol!

 

HORA INICI: 00:00                 HORA FINALITZACIÓ: 23:59                  INTEGRANTS EQUIP: 5

LLISTAT D’ESPÈCIES CONTACTADES PER L’EQUIP EMBERIZA & CIA EN LA MARATÓ ORNITOLÒGICA 2018

  1. Ànec blanc (Tadorna tadorna)
  2. Ànec xiulaire (Anas penelope)
  3. Ànec griset (Anas strepera)
  4. Xarxet (Anas crecca)
  5. Ànec coll-verd (Anas platyrhynchos)
  6. Ànec cuallarg (Anas acuta)
  7. Xarrasclet (Anas querquedula)
  8. Xibec (Netta furina)
  9. Morell xocolater (Aythya ferina)
  10. Gall fer (Tetrao urogallus)
  11. Guatlla (Coturnix coturnix)
  12. Perdiu roja (Alectoris rufa)
  13. Corb marí gros (Phalacrocorax carbó)
  14. Bitó (Botaurus stellaris)
  15. Martinet menut (Ixobrychus minutus)
  16. Martinet de nit (Nycticorax nycticorax)
  17. Martinet ros (Ardeola ralloides)
  18. Esplugabous (Bubulcus ibis)
  19. Martinet blanc (Egretta garzetta)
  20. Agró blanc (Ardea alba)
  21. Bernat pescaire (Ardea cinerea)
  22. Agró roig (Ardea purpurea)
  23. Cigonya blanca (Ciconia ciconia)
  24. Capó reial (Plegadis falcinellus)
  25. Flamenc (Phoenicopterus roseus)
  26. Cabusset (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
  27. Cabussó emplomallat (Podiceps cristatus)
  28. Aligot vesper (Pernis apivorus)
  29. Milà negre (Milvus migrans)
  30. Milà reial (Milvus milvus)
  31. Trencalòs (Gypaetos barbatus)
  32. llistat en construcció. Us remeto al text per saber més 😉

Is April the best month for birding in North-East Spain?

Every little time we got requests of birdwatchers that, interested about coming to do some birdwatching in Catalonia, ask us about what it is the best time to come.

Well, this is always depending on what do you want to see… But it is not wrong to think on spring as being probably the best time for birdwatching. In the Mediterranean this means a combination of excellent, sunny weather with pleasant temperatures, high activity of the nesting species (resident or not) and tones of migratory birds in their way to Northernmost nesting grounds.

I personally love April. It is just because of the really good general birding. This is probably one of the best moments in the year for Crakes. And not talking about listen them, but talking on seeing them! Migration goes in excellent numbers along Mediterranean wetlands and, along with warblers, waders and raptors, it is always possible to enjoy Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) or Little Crakes (Porzana parva). Early April is also a good time to look for Iberian Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus ibericus) as they hang around in their way to their nesting grounds. Along the month waves of Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus), Black Kites (Milvus migrans) and Montagu’s Harriers (Circus pygargus) are to arrive to their nesting grounds. Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus) are already defending their territories as they arrive as early as early-mid February.

 

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Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) show up all along March and April in all kind of wetlands. Numbers are highly variable depending on the year. Image: Carles Olive

 

 

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Egyptian Vultures keep expanding in Catalonia. They arrive as early as February. Image: Carles Oliver

 

By mid April Woodchat Shrikes (Lanius senator),  Spectacleds (Sylvia conspicillata), Subalpines (Sylvia cantillans) and Orphean Warblers (Sylvia hortensis) will be all at their nesting grounds, but it is mandatory to keep searching for not-that-common birds in migration that can easily include Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix), Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin), Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) along with some Balearic Flycatchers (Muscicapa tyrrhenica) to be discovered among the many Spotted Flycatchers (Muscicapa striata).

 

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Western Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans) are a common migratory bird all along April. From 10th onwards they can also be found at their nesting grounds around. Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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Wood Warblers (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) are exclusivelly migratory birds in Catalonia, an rather scarce! They normally are to be found in mixed migratory warblers flocks. Image: Carles Oliver

 

But probably the best is that all of that can be done while still enjoying on Wallcreepers (Tichodroma muraria) in the Pyrenees as they still goes up. They are not that “easy” to find as in winter but still is mandatory to check some spots! And now, while looking for them, it is likely yo see superb Common Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis) or Rock Buntings (Emberiza cia) singing around!

In the wetlands, Bluethroats (Luscinia svecica) keep going North and more active as never before so it gets easier to locate them, and Iberian Reed Buntings (Emberiza s. whiterby) are also showing well within its tiny range! Small flocks of waders and beautiful ducks such as Garganeys (Anas querquedula) can be seen in every wetland and you can enjoy male Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax) going up with their splendid spring plomages. Few days ago we just got a mixed flock of Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) along with Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta), Ruffs and Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa) only 30 minutes after enjoying a Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) singing right in front of us…

 

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Garganeys (Anas querquedula) show up in good numbers all along April. Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) in flowering steppe vegetation. April at its best. Image: Carles Oliver

 

No mention to the steppes… they are never as beautiful as are in April. And are really productive! Many areas are carpeted by yellow, red and white flowers and Little Bustards (Tetrax tetrax) sing in the middle of the flowers while flocks of Sandgrouses (Pterocles sp.) and Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) feed around. You will listen some 100s of Calandra Larks (Melonacorypha calandra) and Corn Buntings (Emberiza calandra)… you may think; “it would not be 100s!”. Yes, 100s

In the fields, flocks of Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava spp.) feed along with Pipits (meadow, tree, red-throated?), Great Spotted Cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) will always be really busy and noisy at this time while small parties of tiny Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanii) move up and down in the air…

 

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Great Spotted Cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) are superb birds! Arriving along March, they are especially active in early April. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Yes, spring is here and, maybe is not that important whether April is the best moment to enjoy birds in Catalonia or not. It is still a wonderful time to come and enjoy!

Check out our birding trips at barcelonabirdingpoint.com our contact us to design your birding adventure at info@barcelonabirdingpoint.com