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

Anuncis

Tour Winter Birding Break in Catalonia, 2018 issue

Dates: 13th to 16th February, 2018

Number of participants: 5 

2019 dates: February 19th to 23rd. Join for great birding and good fun!

Day 1. February 13th

We start our tour by picking up the tour participants from their hotel and about 7:45 we were already out of the city. This time the first destination was the farmland plain of Llobregat Delta. This worked really well and it was done to allow some clients to join the trip as they were landing in Barcelona minutes before 9:00.

So, after a fast coffee we went out to have some birds. Temperature was 10ºC with clear sky. We explored a farming area extremely close to the airport combining small fields and patches of decidious forest. We soon had the first flocks of finches of the trip. Mainly Common Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), Eurasian Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and Eurasian Greenfinches (Chloris chloris) but also several European Serins (Serinus serinus) feeding on ground. Our quest bird for the site was Iberian Green Woodpecker (Picus sharpei), a recently split species from European Green Woodpecker being endemic of the Iberian Peninsula.

 

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European Serin (Serinus serinus) is common bird in Catalan lowlands. Image: Carles Oliver

 

We soon had some birds calling around and it was not long until we got nice views on one individual perched in a tree for long. That was a really nice view followed for 2 more birds flying around and interacting.

The fields kept producing good birding as there were several Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros) and some Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) moving around. Also Common Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) and the firsts of many Crested Larks (Galerida cristata) of the trip were appearing.

While moving in the area we had a distant male Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) perched in the top of a tree while some Eurasian Siskins (Carduelis spinus) flew over us with no change for a proper view. Was time to go to the airport but we still had time to enjoy 3-4 Hoopoes (Upupa epops) feeding on the ground and we could enjoy how the birds were digging on the sandy soil while looking for warms and small insects.

 

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Iberian Green Woodpecker (Picus sharpei) was the first quest bird showing nicely in the tour. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Hoopoes are mainly summer visitors in Catalonia but in the last 20 years more and more birds are staying all year round. Now, in Llobregat Delta, there are a pair of winter roosting places and they normally move in small flocks at the beggining of the day.

Soon after one of the members of the trip had 2 Red-legged Partridges (Alectoris rufa) and the whole group enjoyed the birds. That was a really good start of the trip but now was time to pick up the rest of participants and go up to the Pyrenees.

After a two hours long transfer from the coast we arrived to Catalan Pyrenees to explore the high mountain slopes. That afternoon we were cofused in a mountain pass about 2000 metres high to look for the main targets of that day; Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor. Weather was still okay but it was broadcasted a huge weather change for the afternoon including heavy snow and Siberian-like temperatures, and the extremely dark cloudes coming from our left were the prove that the broadcast was right, this time. So, we were not having a lot of time, probably 2 hours or so…

After some exploratory stops we just decided to walk a bit along the lonely road. Both species use to move in flocks in winter and the size of the flocks can be really variable, from 2-3 birds to 100 of them! We were lucky this time and didn’t have to wait much until we found some birds moving in the open, grassy slope. It was a small flock of 4 Alpine Accentors (Prunella collaris) feeding in the slope! We walked a bit up, and enjoyed extremelly close views on the birds that produced really good images! Unfortunately it was no signal of Snow Finches, which may be appearing along with Alpine Accentors, sometimes.

 

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Alpine Accentors (Prunella collaris) close up. A small flock allowed us really close views at our first attemp in Catalan Pyrenees. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Back to road we decided to keep exploring up the road. Weather was getting much and much worst and we were having some Snow and wind. A new stop some half a quilometre beyond produced lovely views in a herd of Pyrenean Chamoises (Rupicabra pyrenaica) while enjoying with the calls and moviments of a small flock of Red-billed Choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). Here we also enjoyed the first raptor of the trip: a juvenile Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus)! The bird just appeared at the other side of the valley and we all had its majestic flight for some time before it became difficult to track due to the falling snow…

Lammergeiers are nesting not far from the place and a mininum of two juveniles plus the adults are likely to move in these slopes, and this despite the density of the bird is lower than in other areas of the Catalan Pyrenees!

Out of a pair of small flocks of Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) and 1 or 2 Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) there was not much other activity in the mountain pass as the weather was turning really bad so we decided to start going down, always really slow to allow some scan around and try to get something else! And we got something else…. Suddenly, a big flock of about 80 Snow Finches (Montifringilla nivalis) came down from one of the slopes, and extremelly fast passed by the van! What a great view of the birds showing its really long, white-and-black wings and the interesting white pattern in their tails! We stopped and could enjoy the call of the birds in the snowy landscape. We were even luckier since some ten of them stopped in the snow for some seconds, some feeding on the teasels sticking up from the Snow. It took 20 seconds before the birds followed the whole flock moving down the slope. What a magical view!! And just in time!!

 

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This Snow Finch (Montifringilla nivalis) posed for about 10 seconds before following the whole flock down the slope! Image: Carles Oliver

 

Happy about our success we decided to stop in a coffee shop where we had a rather late lunch. This kind of places sometimes attrack high mountain birds and this time we got a Water Pipit (Anthus spinolleta) and 1 White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), nice combination.

After lunch we head down the valley where weather was better so we decided to explore the fields around the village where were going to sleep. One hour of exploring was enough to get a really nice set of species. We were in La Cerdanya, a lovely Pyrenean valley that is many times concentrating large flocks of finches and buntings.

We just visited an area where birds go to roost and found good number of Yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella), Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus), Corn Buntings (Emberiza calandra) alongside 35+ Rock Buntings (Emberiza cia), a good number of Cirl Buntings (Emberiza cirlus) and 8+ Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla). What a wonderful combination of birds! The trees nearby were hosting a small flock of 6 Hawfinches and we also listened the distant call of an Iberian Green Woodpecker

That was the end of the day and we just drove 10 minutes more until our accommodation, where we had a good rest and an excellent local cuisine dinner.

Day 2. February 14th

Our second day of the trip started with a massive snowfall in all the area around teh Pyrenees. We were actually lucky to leave our accommodation quite early in the morning since weather conditions kept getting worst and worst in La Cerdanya for the next hours and many people were incomunicated and even the village where we were staying was incomunicated for about 1 day!

But when the worst was coming we were already in the road and all roads we were passing by were clear enough to guarantee a fluent, although slow, traffic. This day we were explorig a diferent valley, called Pallars. The area is considered as the best for raptors in the whole Pyrenees, not only for the massive numbers of vultures but also because it hosts a healthy population of Eurasian Black Vultures.

Our first target bird was the famous and wonderful Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria). During previous trips this year we were having a bird showing quite well in a gorge about 11:00 to noon so about 11:00 in the morning we were already scanning the rocks. This is a bird that can be really difficult to find so a carefully scanning of the cliff faces is mandatory if you want to keep your changes on the bird high.

While scanning around we got 4-5 Dippers (Cinclus cinclus) singing and moving in the river crossing the gorge. Some tits were also showing well including Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus rosaeus), Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) and Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla). Raptors were not moving so much because of the snowfall and only a few Eurasian Griffons (Gyps fulvus) were showing in short views moving along the cliffs. The ambient was really cold (-6ºC) but, fortunately, with no wind. The scanning kept the same until we got a moviment high up in the cliffs. Only a brief glimpse in a bird moving in and out the rocky slope. We all stick together and scanned around but with no feedback for about 2 minutes, and then a wonderful Wallcreeper showed out, and flew down the cliff the emerge not far away from us!

The bird was moving for a while, getting in and out a pair of wholes and finally stopped in a rock, preening for about one minute. After that the bird just flew and crossed the gorge, getting to the opposite site and flying up the slope so we alll lost the bird. It was a really nice view of about a pair of minutes. Excellent.

Happy about this nice views in such a difficult conditions we decided to go to the closer village, get a coffee and scape the bad weather.

In the afternoon, and after a rest of a pair of hours in our accommodation, where we had our packed lunches, we decided to go out and try something else. Weather conditions were improving. No snowfall any more and small patches of blue sky were a good start to think that afternoon could be good for raptors.

So, about 15:00 we arrived around Boumort Game Reserve, where there was “some” activity. And that “some” activity included about 40 to 50 Griffons circling and try to get higher as well as 7 Red Kites (Milvus milvus) in our way up to the area. We parked around and started scanning the cliff faces and all around.

Soon, we found our first adult Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) soaring along cliff Ridge and this bird was immediatly followed by a second adult, and by a juvenile! More and more Griffons were now in the sky and also 2 Eurasian Black Vultures (Aegypius monachus) joined them. Soon, more Blacks were coming from the far side of the cliff and we counted a mínimum of 8 individuals moving around. Mainly juveniles, showing really black but also some adult, with a dulkier coloration and a wing profile not as extremelly squared as the juveniles.

 

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Adult Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), one of the at least 8 individuals we had along the tour. Image: Carles Oliver

 

The fields around were having a good moviment of birds including Woodlarks (Lullula arborea) singing out in the surprisingly sunny afternoon, Mistle Trush, European Serins, Cirl Buntings, Rock Sparrows, Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), Linnets (Carduelis cannabina), Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and a fast-flying Citril Finch (Carduelis citrinella). This bird, a main target of the trip, was unfortunately not stopping at all and only a pair of the participants could notice it and get some details on the bird (larger than Serin, longer tailed and showing a clear wing bar). The bird flew pas us up the valley but it was no chance to follow it since the track was closed due to the snowfall…

Back to the cliffs we could still enjoy more and more vultures, with Lammergeiers passing every whiles and Black Vultures and Griffons circling above us. Small flocks of Red-billed Choughs were also moving around and 1 Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and 1 male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) were both a good adding right before we started coming back to our accommodation

Day 3. February 15th

Early morning start, this time to explore some high mountains woodlands before going South to Lleida Steppes! Main quest bird of the morning was Black Woodpecker. Never easy! The original plan was to explore a really wonderful place north in the same shire but, due to the Snowfall, the track was probably block…So, we changed the plan and went to a tarmac lane leading to a sky resort that is was for sure clear.

We arrived there a bit before 10:00 with a cloudy but quiet weather (about 0ºC). The area to explore is about 1700 metres high and much warmer than in the valley due to the typical thermical inversion of the high mountains.

Some birds were moving around and we soon had good views on some Crested Tits (Lophophanes cristatus), Coal Tits (Periparus ater), Short-toed Treecreepers, Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) and one Firecrest. A small flock of Common Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) were showing well in the top of some pines including a long-staying singing male!

We just kept searching for the main goody up the there and did a pair of walks, still having more small birds moving in the canopies but with no new addings to our list, out of some Mistle Thursh. It was taking a bit long with and the rather boring moment was broken by a Lammergeier soaring extremelly low over the slope in what it was propably the closest view we have had in the whole winter on the bird!

The group was still magnetised by the smart raptor when a clear call of a Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) came up from the slope. The bird was quite close, actually. We stood there for a while and the bird came to us and perched some 50 metres away, high up in a tree so everybody had excellent views on the bird. The bird was still calling a pair of times more and then flew to our left and gave us excellent views on it in flight!

 

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Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus matrius) was showing surprisingly well despite an extremelly windy and snowy previous day! Image: Carles Oliver

 

We were all satisfied with such a good views on a bird that is famous for being shy and rather unobtrusive so we started moving South, and explore the plains known as Lleida Steppes and located inmediatly South of the Pyrenees. Less than 90 minutes of drive were enough to produce a massive change in the landscape, and to lead us to our accommodation for the last night of the trip.

Along the way we enjoyed of several Griffons and Red Kites flying around and we had a nice to stop to enjoy the two firsts Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) of the trip. These birds are endemic of the Iberian Peninsula so they are always a must-see bird!

Iberian Grey Shrike are slightly smaller than Northern Grey Shrikes are, and show less powerful, more compact due to a slightly shorter tail, and clearly darker especially in the undersides, where it shows a pinkish buff which is not always easy no notice. It has also a shorter bill, plainer culmen on it and a thin supercillium if compared with Northern Grey. When flying, looks like smaller bird with smaller white patches in the wing coverts.

Our first movement in the steppes was Utxesa, a wetland surrounded by large reedbeds. Far before stopping the car we were having about 10-12 Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus). Main quest birds here were all living in the reedbeds. The afternoon was a bit chilly but with no wind, something really important when exploring these kind of habitats. It didn’t take long until we listened the firsts calls of Western Penduline Tits (Remiz pendulinus) and Cetti’s Warblers (Cettia cetti) and a proper scanning of the reedbeds and riberside vegetation produced good views on them as well as Sardinian Warblers and several Chiffchaffs. A Cirl Bunting was moving in the crops nearby and it was even singing for a pair of times. A small walk in the area showed extremely productive, and a group of 8-10 Bearded Tits (Panurus biarmicus) showed up in the reeds. A further channel produced 1 Water Pipit (Anthus spinolleta) and 1 male Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), white medal, running in the mud and showing well in the reeds around! That was one of the main targets of the trip and we really good views on this bird! Here we also had a Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), maybe a overwintering bird or maybe an early migratory bird going back to their nesting sites in Northern Europe.

 

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Male white medal Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) at Utxesa reservoir. A beautiful sight! Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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Western Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus) at Utxesa reservoir, Lleida. Note this male is still not showing totally in full adult plumage, with not fully contrasted head-neck colours. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Next movement was to visit a small valley immediatly South of Lleida city. A road stop some kilometers before arriving to the main place was mandatory as we spotted 1 Little Owl (Athene noctua) perched on a tree. We all enjoy with this view and, as being some movement around, we got out the van to have a 5-minutes walk. This produced good views on Crested Larks, 2 lovely Hoopoes (Upupa epops) feeding on ground and 2 Dartford Warblers (Sylvia undata) skilking in the low, sparse vegetation. The only ones of the trip! Few metres beyond, already all back up in the van, we had a second Little Owl really close to the van, producing really good views on the bird!

 

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We just had this Little Owl (Athene noctua) in our way so we just had to stop and enjoy. Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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And we were leaving we just found a 2nd Little Owl 80 metres beyond! Image: Carles Oliver

 

And we arrived to our main stop in the area! We were in a landscape totally diferent was the morning. Landscape South of Lleida is a dry, semi-arid traditional farming with plenty of wheat fields and almond orchards. Here there are almost no water courses and the few streams have some poplars and riberside vegetation while the slopes around are rocky, dry and covered by low, dense scrublands. It was 16:40 and a lovely light was bathing the valley.

Main quest here is a pair of Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) nesting around in the cliffs. We carefully scanned the cliffs and finally found one adult sleeping deep inside the vegetation. It was a wonderful view despite the poor images we could get on the bird. We all kept an eye on the owl in the case it was moving while enjoying the birdlife around. The slopes around were full of Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) and Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) but we also got lovely and extremely close views on 8 Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes). 2-3 Redwings were also around and a proper scanning in the slopes around was soon producing 2 wonderful Black Wheatears (Oenanthe leucura), again one of the main targets of the trip! The male was quite active and moving up and down in the slope, stopping the same in rocks but also in the top of well exposed branches. So, we were having at the same time Eagle Owl, Black Wheatears and Hawfinches!

 

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White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) are a common view around Lleida, also in winter. Image: Carles Oliver

 

In this place, a tiny stream is going down the valley so we decided to walk down for 400 metres until a crossroad nearby. Midway down, a small pond was attracting tones of Chaffinches and also more Hawfinches were coming down to drink. A short time there, waiting, produced a wonderful male Brambling but also 2 Cirl Buntings coming to drink water. Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits were also around. Arrived to the crossroad we had the chance to scan at the other side of the valley. Here some Crag Martins (Ptynoprogne rupestris) were patrolling along the cliffs searching for insects and here we also had excellent views on a male Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius). An Iberian Green Woodpecker was calling around but we could not get any view on the bird. In the nearby village, loads of Spotless Starlings (Sturnus unicolor) were singing and performing, coming down to tha valley and many times stopping in the banks around so we could have really good views on them. Several Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) and 3 Red-billed Choughs were also present. Back to the cliffs, there were still more surprises since in the top of an old house we got 6 Rock Sparrows (Petronia patronia) in lovely light. Around the cliffs some Thekla Larks (Galerida theklae) were singing and callin and we got also good views on the birds. Still surprised how many birdwatchers consider this bird as being really scarce…In Catalonia and the Iberian Med coast is a common bird as long you look for them in the proper habitat: scrubby slopes and steppe lands.

 

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Male Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) in Lleida Steppes. A massive irruption of them has arrive this winter to Western Europe! Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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Cracking Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) in lovely afternoon light in Lleida Steppes. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Back to car we still had time to take a look on the Eagle Owl, still roosting in the same place so we just decided to start going to our accommodation…

But we still had time a for 5-minutes stop just before arriving to our accommodation in a farming area, where a flock of Little Bustards (Tetrax tetrax) was spending the winter. It didn’t take long to locate them and we could all enjoy great views on the birds while moving in the well-vegetated fields. The group was counting 37 individuals including males, females and juveniles, easy to tell apart by the design in the upperparts and other details.
A five minutes scan around allowed us to have other interesting birds including several White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) moving around, Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea) as well as a flock of Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) and Eurasian Skylarks (Alauda arvensis). That was the end of a gorgeous day and time enjoy a good dinner and drinks!

Day 4. February 16th

Last morning of the this rather short version of our winter trip (normally it should run for 5 days) and time to explore some amazing spots looking for some top target birds. Early morning breakfast and transfer to the West, getting inside Aragón for some miles to explore a lovely patch of steppes. In our way, the highway was always full of Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis), Red Kites and White Storks.

Arrived to the area to explore about 9:00 we just had a first stop in some fields concentrating Sandgrouses in winter. That morning was a bit quiet but our scanning was still producing a flock of 8 Pin-tailed Sandgrouses (Pterocles alchata) forraging on the ground. We all enjoyed of wonderful views on them and listened the typical “ga-ga” in our left so another flock was moving nearby.

The firsts Calandra Larks (Melanocorypha calandra) were starting singing here and there and soon we had several birds flying around, flying, singing and displaying along with Thekla Larks. We just drove 5 minutes to one of the places where Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) is still to be found. All the way, Calandra, Thekla and also some Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandra rufescens) joined with their songs. It was definately a good moment to go for Dupont’s Lark.

 

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Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) in a previous tour. Note the well contrasted face markings, including a kind of “eye ring”. Also the “pure” whitish belly and flanks if compared with Crested Lark. Image: Carles Oliver

 

This Lark is a bit a mistery. It is reluctant to fly, and when do it, it normally flies short distances. It calls few times and spend most of its time running on the ground where it looks for insects, warms and spiders. Its rather dark coloration make the bird extremely difficult to find.

So, we drove really slowly, listening for any singing bird. As everything was quite we just arrived to one of the typical places and stop and stay inside the car for some minutes. Nothing singing but Calandra, Theklas and Lesser Short-toeds (not bad, anyway). 2 Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) pass by us but unfortunately nobody in the group noticed the birds. 5-10 minutes and nothing. Scanning all around and nothing. Well, went out of the cars and prepared the scopes. Nothing. Plenty of Calandra singing and a distant, really distant Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) calling. We just waited for half an hour, in silence and by the car, and nothing. But then a song came to us. Dunpont’s Lark singing. Difficult to listen because of the massive activity in Calandras and so on but still was there, in somewhere. Some more wait and got two males singing. One at our right, another at our left. Good! Everybody scanning and nothing. 2-3-4 minutes of wait and nothing, only Calandras and Theklas in an endless wave of songs and then a Dunpont’s again at our left, closer. Many times they just sing between run and run, every 2-3 minutes scan  really tricky! Again some wait, a really distant bird was singing, as well. More Calandras everywhere and then our Dupont’s started singing really, really close! It looked like being just-in-front-of-us! The bird went on singing of almost one minute, good. And then we found it, standing up quite in the open and singing about 35 metres from us!! What a view!!! Make sure that everybody in the group was having the bird (not easy to find) and try to get some images. Now there were 3-4 males singing but it is always difficult to say due to the Calandra & Thekla songs and, in fact, because the Dunpont’s song itself is designed to make the bird more difficult to spot. We all enjoyed a quite long view on the bird and then the lark was moving in the steppe vegetation so we could track the bird for some metres before it was disappearing…Wonderful!

 

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The always elusive Dunpont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) was giving superb views few metres away from the car. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Well, happy all the group for such a successful morning we then invested some time in enjoying good views on Lesser Short-toed Larks and trying to find a flock of Black-bellied Sandgrouse but we had no luck in this second species. We then decided to move to a nearby wetland where have our packed lunches. But before arriving we had a stop in the road, a Marsh Harrier was diving on a juvenile Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and attacking it in a really agressive way. We could not figure out was the goldie did to deserve such a treatment but Marsh Harrier was extremely ungry. Maybe starting to defend a nesting territory?

Once in the wetland, inmediatly South of Candasnos, we start having our lunch while scanning the diferent ducks around. Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were the most common by far but we also got Gadwalls (Anas strepera), Eurasian Teals (Anas crecca), Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata) and 8 Common Pochards (Aythya ferina). Still, the best was a flock of 12 Red-crested Pochards (Netta rufina) including some drake ones.

After lunch, a short walk around produced Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus), 2 Penduline Tits (Remiz pendulinus), and a walk along a channel gave 1 female Bluethroat and 1 Jack Snipe (Lymnocriptes minimus) that flew out and circled us to dive at our back. This was a really nice surprise since is a fairly scarce bird down here! The corn fields around the lagoon where carpeted with Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) and 1 Merlin (Falco columbarius) came to this area in a really fast Flight when we were scanning around!

Last birding movement of the tour was to drive further West to look for Great Bustards (Otis tarda). A small populations lives in Los Monegros and a proper management is likely to do this population increase number in coming years. Nowadays, less than 80 individuals are left.

 

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Part of the flock of Great Bustards (Otis tarda) that we enjoyed in our last afternoon at Los Monegros. Note the central bird already having being “moustached”. Image: Carles Oliver

 

So, we just drove around a proper place to find them, always joined by Calandra Larks and huge flocks of Linnets (Carduelis cannabina) and Corn Buntings (Emberiza calandra) and we were lucky to find a flock of 14 males quite easily. It is always wonderful to enjoy such a magnificient birds in the endless farmed plains where do they live. Despite what many people thinks about these gorgeous birds, Great Bustards are not really steppe birds, but grassland birds, and their habitat selection is less exigent than Little Bustards or Pin-tailed Sandgrouses so are (technically) capable to live in a wider range of habitats.

We just ended the trip with the wondeful view of these giant birds in the cereal crops, hoping them the best in their fight for surviving and started coming back to Barcelona, where we arrived a bit after sunset!

A wonderful end for a really successful trip despite the extremely challenging weather conditions…

2019 dates: February 19th to 23rd. Join for great birding and good fun!

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Morocco: from Atlas to Sahara tour. 2017 issue

Dates: from 20th March to 29th March, 2017

Number of participants: 5

Number of seen species: 190 + 6 races

This is the official trip report of the early spring Moroccan tour, 2017 issue, by Barcelona Birding Point and led by Carles Oliver. It has been our 4th edition and, I have to say, probably the most successful so far.

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Spotted Sandgrouse (Pterocles senegallus). 2017 has been an excellent year for Sandgrouse. We got terrific views in 3 different species. Photo by tour leader Carles Oliver

Day 1. As usual in this trip, all participants assembled in Marraquech during March 19th, arriving from different countries and cities so people had time to arrive tothe designated hotel during the afternoon or the evening.

For those of us arriving March 19th, the weather was not really friendly as a massive rain wellcomed us to a country which is normally having very pleasant weather conditions at this time of the year.

We all had a good breakfast and got a lot of energy to start our trip. Even from the car park, minute 1 of the tour, we had some good birds. Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus), House Bunting (Emberiza sahari) singing from the balconies of the hotel as well as good numbers of wonderful Pallid Swifts (Apus pallidus) flying around. A careful scanning of the swifts produced our firsts 3 Little Swifts (Apus affinis).

The orchads around produced Blackbird (Turdus merula), Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Common Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) and mating Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus). Even before we left the parking place we had a first surprise since a overflying Osprey (Pandion halieatos) took us all out of the van. Always nice to see them!

First transfer to Marrakech outskirts while enjoying some close ups to typical “road birds” such as Moroccan Wagtail (Motacilla subpersonata), White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) and Moroccan Magpie (Pica pica mauretanica), an endemic race to NW Maghreb and a good candidate for future splits. Our very first stop brought us to a poplar forest by the road.

Here, soon after leaving the van we were having really good views on the Moroccan race of Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major lucidus), easy to tell apart because of the large red cloud in the vental area, the blackish collar and the rather dirty white underparts. We had close views on two individuals as well as beautiful views on African Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae ultramarinus) while hanging on the branches and chasing each other. Great Tit (Parus major), Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) and firsts Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) and Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) of the trip were also around.

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High Atlas from Marraquech outskirts. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver.

2 Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) were singing quite deep inside the forest so we didn’t try to have any approach to them. African Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs africana) were also celebrated as we had close views while feeding on the ground. In the air, a mixed flock of Little Swifts and Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica) was also popular in the group while Cattle Egrets (Bulbulcus ibis) and White Storks were moving up & down the valley. A bit more of scanning was required to find the main target of this stop but, finally we got really close views on 2 Levaillant’s Green Woodpeckers (Picus vallantii), moving up in the trees and mating just ten metres from us!! To see this tip of behaviour is always a bonus!! Male was calling really close of us but still we could not find it. We moved some metres to the right and got excellent views on the male moving up the tree, just to meet a female in the next branch and go on for some work looking forward the next generation!!!

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Alpine Choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) are a common view in High Atlas uplands. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a great start we just drove a pair of miles up the same road for a second stop. Even before arriving a road-stop was required since a Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) was spotted in the sky. A really low bird, magnificient views. Numbers of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) were moving North in a run to reach their nesting sites in Europe and 1 Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) was fastly moving among the juniper trees.

Second stop of the trip to explore some open juniper scrub land. A short walk around the area fastly produced a good number of Blackcaps, the firsts views (of many in the trip) on Moussier’s Redstarts (Phoenicurus moussieri), Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) and very distant Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) calling. No signal of our main target this time but still we flushed a solitary Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara) that almost everybody could enjoy. Before coming back to car we still decided to take a second look beyond. Some birds were calling in the distance…

After some minutes of walking we stop to scan the bush land. A shrub full of berries in front of us was having movement inside. Here we had excellent views on the inornata race of Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans), the race nesting in Morocco. A wonderful male showing really well. More movement inside the scrub, we waited a bit and then a superb male Tristam’s Warbler (Sylvia deserticola) was showing well, alongside with the Subalpine Warbler! It is always a pleasure to have two similar warblers together so everybody can compare differencies in structure and coloration.

We enjoyed the bird for some seconds before flusshed out the scrub… We still waited there some minutes and we got a second Tristam’s, noticiable because of the less contrasted coloration. That was definately a good start with really good views on an often tricky species. We still invested 10 minutes more around, trying to have better views (and photos) in the species but our efforts only produced Eurasian Robin (Erithacus rubecula).

Happy all with such a wonderful encounter, we start moving up the Atlas, enjoying the superb landscapes of endless rocky slopes contrasting with extremelly green crops in the lower, arid slopes. We still had another stop before heading up. A pair of small cliffs are hosting a colony of Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanni) so we stopped to have good views on them. Unfortunately they seemed to not be all there (yet?) and we only had 1 male Lesser Kestrel flying plus and 3-4 Common Kestrels around. Still, the stop was not bad since we had good views on European Serin (Serinus serinus) and Tomas spotted a female Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius). Midway up we also had a first close-up to Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura), a wonderful bird only living in Iberia & Morocco. Other good birds were enjoyed in the road; Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus cirtensis), Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) and Common Raven (Corvus corvus).

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Massive high mountain landscape in the Atlas in the transition from alpine meadows to rocky slopes. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Once arrived to Oukaïmeden we first enjoyed the flocks of Choughs around. 100+ Alpine Choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) were joined by 30+ Red-billed Choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and we all had really close views on the birds! A short walk around produced beautiful views on 5 Common Rock Sparrows (Petronia petronia) as well as one of the few European forms of Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) of the trip! The slopes beyong were hosting several Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros) providing really good views on both males and type female birds. We still walk a bit more but we had no signal of the main targets of the area… When coming back to the car park we had 1 Atlas Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris atlas), a race considered by some as a full species. This bird was landing on a slope beyond us and, just when we were about to leave, we got a flock of African Crimson-winged Finch (Rhodopechys alienus) feeding on the ground in that same slope! In half a second they went down the slope and we could have excellent views on, at least, 40 of them!! After some minutes of enjoyment we decided to go for lunch… we all deserve it!

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African crimson-winged Finch (Rhodopechys alienus) is a Maghreb endemic and one of the most wanted species when visiting the Atlas. We enjoy 40+ of them. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After a food lunch and some rest we still came to the same spot where we had the finches hoping for a better views on Atlas Horned Larks… this was a not that easy task on a normally easy-to-find bird. Still, after some minutes of scanning, we found a really nice individual feeding on the ground and we all had good views of the bird in the scope. It was just feeding along with several African Crimson-winged Finches, enjoying again majestic views on these birds! Before leaving the high mountains we still had a pair of stops. First stop, by one stream, was producing Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) along with Grey-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava flava), Blue Rock Thrush male, Black Wheatear and some Black Redstarts. The second stop was even more successful since we had really good views on Coal Tit (Periparus ater), Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus), Greenfinch, Blackbird and the endemic race of Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla mauretanica) that was showing really well and let us listen its really different song and calls several times. This race is, again, a good candidate for a future split.

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Mistle Thrushes (Turdus viscivorus deichleri) are smaller, slimmer and more contrasted than “European” forms and a good candidate for future split. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Other good birds here included good views on Mistle Thrushes (Turdus viscivorus deichleri) and 1 Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) that was singing up in the trees but only showed breefly by flying above us and disappear again in the canopies… The road down to Marrakesh only produced Cattle Egrets, White Storks and some more typical road birds until we stopped not far from the city, to enjoy a wonderful view on the mountains in the afternoon light. Here, a fast scanning in the fields produced a gorgeous Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) flying, hovering and hunting in the open fields!! Some scatered pairs are to be found all along this valley but they are normally difficult to spot. We could all enjoy the bird for over 5 minutes… An amazing view on an amazing bird!! A wonderful end for a really good first day of the trip. If my memory is not bad, that eve we counted 57 sps of birds (not bad for a day in the mountains) including several target birds and some nice bonus birds…

Day 2. Early morning breakfast and direct transfer to Agadir area, having important species to be found there… A first stop by the sea offered us good views on a flock of gulls roosting in the sand. A carefully scan of the flock produced Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis atlantis), Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus) and 5+ Audouin’s Gulls (Larus audouinii) including a second year bird! This is always a very appreciated gull since it is critically endangered (+60% of world’s population nests in Ebro Delta, Catalonia!). Other good birds around included Algerian Shrike (Lanius elegans algeriensis), Thekla Larks, 2 Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos) beautifully displaying in the beach (!) and 1 Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) roosting in the cliffs beyond. This was a good spot since it is a very scarce bird in Morocco!

After three hours since we left Marrakech we arrived to Tamri, a well known place to try to have Northern Bald Ibis (Geronthicus eremita). We arrived a bit late in the morning because of the difficult traffic when crossing Agadir (still “enjoying” that city) but still full of energy. Here, sandy dunes are beautifully jewelled by low bush and, in some places, carpeted with incredible grassy areas performing really well as a feeding area for the ibises. Northern Bald Ibis is a critically endangered bird having in both Tamri and Souss-Massa National Park its only viable population all over the world!

Once arrived to the place we just did a short walk and soon had interesting birds around. Several Spectacled Warblers (Sylvia conspicillata) were singing and performing around us and obliging Woodchat Shrikes (Lanius senator) were also seen in the bush land. A bit beyond we enjoyed really good views on a pair of Algerian Shrikes (Lanius elegans algeriensis), a race of Desert Grey Shrike recently split from Northern Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor). This area is also good for Black-eared Wheatears (Oenanthe leucura) and we also had really good views on some males and, at least, one female. Other good birds around included several Thekla Larks, 2 Moussier’s Redstarts, 2 Subalpine Warblers and the firsts Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) and Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe) of the trip.

Northern Bald Ibises were taking long to appear and some members in the group started to become nervous… we still had some walk in the hope of a bird appearing at any momment to feed in the open fields, but nothing happenned… I was honestly thinking about going for lunch when 1 Ibis appeared flying straight to us. It stopped some 300 metres away from us so after having some good views in the scope we decided to come a bit closer… the bird was walking on the sand, looking for preys. Unfortunately for us this ibis was really keen since it got a lizzard really soon and fastly flought back to the cliffs where the colony is placed.

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Northern Bald Ibis (Geronthicus eremita) is the most endangered ibis in the world and a must for anyone visiting Morocco. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

We decided to wait a bit more and walk a bit beyond in the hope of having better views and our effort had a wonderful success since we soon got 4 Ibises flying close to us in a magnificient view! A small flock of 7 individuals also passed really close to us and we all got really good views right before 1 of them decided to stop less than 50 metres from us. Incredible views of the bird walking up the hill in the  lush vegetation, looking for preys!!! We all enjoyed the birds and valorate the work of the people working there to manage and protect the colony of such as stunning bird!! After such a success we went for a bit of rest and lunch. It had been a good morning so far!

After lunch we went to a small quarry formerly hosting Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) but after some scanning we got no signal of any falcon at all. Instead, we got a flock of 15+ European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) overflying us!

Next stop in the trip was Cape Tamri. Here is a really good seawatching point and I’m always happy to invest some time here!! We enjoyed almost one hour of scanning in the Atlantic. We soon had several Atlantic Gannets (Morus bassanus) moving around, some of them quite close. Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis) were also spotted moving along the coastline, scanning for fish. I think the best birds were appearing some 10 minutes after our arrival… 4 Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) gave us relativelly close views as migrating North and immediatly after them we spotted 2 Great Shearwaters (Puffinus gravis) moving also North. Most of people in the group got these wonderful birds, but not everybody… Only a pair of minutes after that we all got 1 Great Skua (Stercorarius skua) flying up and diving in the sky while fiercely chasing Gannets! This was a great start but unfortunately we got nothing else as bird migration seemed low that day. Still, this is also a good place to see Euphorbies in detail, a group of plants having several endemic species in this part of Morocco and in the Canary Islands.

Still, before leaving we still added Pallid Swifts flying over us and we still added a pair of species when leaving: 3 Ruddy Turstones (Arenaria interpres) flew off from the rocks and Tomas had 1 Wimbrel (Numenius phaeopus). The transfer along the coast still produced some other good birds as Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and Great White Egret (Casmerodius albus) were spotted in sea side. When being close to our accommodation, a final stop was made since a Little Owl (Athene noctua) sat by the road in the very last light of the day while Nightingales were singing in the dusk… After enjoying long views on the tiny owl, we just drove to our accommodation in the Souss-Massa National Park for an overnight.

Day 3. After a really good rest we started early that morning. Weather was quiet and sunny so we decided to do a pre-breakfast short walk (10 metres) around our accommodation that produced an excellent list of birds: House Buntings, Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus), really obliging Moussier’s Redstarts, European Serins, Laughing Doves (Streptopelia senegalensis), Sardinian Warblers, European Bee-eaters flying over and Common Quails (Coturnix coturnix) singing in the fields around. We took a look the slopes around since Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) are often around (and they were calling during the night) but we had no luck about.

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Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) is probably the most spectacular Maghreb endemic. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Main target was surprisingly easy to find since we had two Black-crowned Tchagras (Tchagra senegalus) singing immediately around our accommodation. A bit of scanning and some patience was needed to discover them but finally we all enjoy of long a good views on the birds singing in flight and also moving inside some small trees! Happy with this excellent start of the day we came back to our accommodation for some breakfast.

The very first stop of the trip produced again a good numbre of birds. Greenfinches, Sardinian Warblers, Moussier’s Redstarts, Black-eared Wheatears, Laughing Doves and Subalpine Warblers were all showing well. We stopped just by a small pool in the Souss River, a wonderful place for waterfowl and migratory passerines. Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) were added to our trip list. Little Egret was showing shortly but well and Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) overflight us.

Inside the reeds we had good views on Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) and Sedge Warblers (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) while calling not far from the water. At least 2 Tchagras were calling around but we could not have views on them… Here we got first views on Isabelline Warblers (Iduna opaca), also known as Western Olivaceous Warbler, moving in a small Tamarisks. Under it, a pair of Spanish Terrapins were peacefully having a sun bath. A short stop road onwards produced little out of some Eurasian Reed Warbler and 1 female Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) showing quite well up in the reeds. A third stop was much more productive.

Even before parking we got Willow Warbler & Chiffchaff by the pond. Here a dense forest of small Tamarisk is found so it is a really good place to look for passerines. Soon we had excellent views on Isabelline Warblers along with Eurasian Reed Warblers. In the pool itself, a pair of Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis) were keen in territorial fights. Subalpine Warblers were also showing in the vegetation around just beside where a flock of 6 Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) were roosting! We were really enjoying that small pond! Suddenly, a flock of 17 Glossy Ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) overflew us moving down the river and their irruption brought us to spot 2 European Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) down the pool. A small walk was required to scan properly all the area. 1 Black-crowned Tchagra appear just under our feet to gave a second excellent view on such spectacular bush shrike! And then is when we start spotting Little Bitterns. If not wrong there were 4 of them! The most impressive, a male standing up out the reedbeds in full summer plomage. I think it was there for more than 20 minutes while another male was busy chasing females (2?) up and down the reedbeds… impressive for a normally secretive guys!!

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Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) is normally an obtrusive species living in riberside vegetation. Not that time. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Down the stream a Squacco Heron (Ardeolla ralloides) was also found and, in the fields around, the local form of European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola), really more contrasted that average continental forms… Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra), Zitting Cisticolas (Cisticola juncidis), European Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and Crested Larks (Galerida cristata) gave also good views. But probably the best bird in this stop were the 4+ Brown-throated Sand Martins (Riparia paludicola) flying really close to us along with some Barn Swalows and (at least) 1 Sand Martin (Riparia riparia). It seemed that they nesting in the bank by the pool, something I never so before in that pool (I will take a second look in 2018, hopefully…). That was an excellent stop, and it was only 10:20 in the morning! We still explored another corner of the river. Here we got really close views on Spanish Terrapins along with amazing views on Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) singing 2 metres away from us! Iberian Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava iberiae) was also really obliging in this spot. Common Bulbul, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Moroccan Wagtails were also seen as well as Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) singing from a dead tree. We scanned around for other birds but bird migration seemed to low so we got anything else than 2 Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos).

Back to our accommodation we enjoyed a really good lunch and, after some rest, we start going back to Marrakech. Still, we had a pair of hours to invest in the Massa estuary, always a wonderful place for birdwatching. The list of birds here was really long and included 1 Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), 200+ Common Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula), 100+ Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus), 20+ Dunlins (Calidris alpina), 20+ Sanderlings (Calidris alba), 7+ Knots (Calidris canutus), 12+ Ruff (Philomacus pugnax), Common Redshanks (Tringa totanus), Greenshanks (Tringa nebularia), 20+ Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica), 1 Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), 10+ Little Stints (Calidris minuta), +5 Eurasian Curlews (Numenius arquata), 15+ Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola), Common Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and lovely views on the several Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta) and Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) along the mud flats.

A careful scanning on the flocks of gulls roosting along the river mouth produced Yellow-legged Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) and 5+ Mediterranean Gulls (Larus melanocephalus), all of them 2nd years. But the most celebrated gulls were 3 Slender-billed Gulls (Chroicocephalus genei) all of them adults, that were showing the beautiful pinkish buff in their breasts… Several terns were also sleeping, many times mixed along with gulls. Almost 100 Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica) we counted and some Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis) were also seen, allowing good comparision in structure and size between both species. Beyond the estuary we still had a flock of 25+ Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber) as well as good numbers of Grey Heron, Little Egret and Great White Egret. 60+ White Storks were also roosting  in the mud flats… Some Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) were roosting as well in the mud and we were all happy to find a Moroccan Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo morocannus) among them! This is a really scarce race (and a good candidate for a future split…) All of this while one confiding Osprey was eating a fish in a post. After enjoying this amazing spot we drave back to Marrakech to enjoy a good dinner and a better sleep!

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Moroccan Magpie (Pica pica mauretanica), a beautiful race likely yoel be recognised as full species in short time. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Day 4. This day we crossed the Atlas North to South, enjoying a good variety of landscapes and some of most unforgettable views you can get in this mountain chain. But before going really up we still had a pair of morning stops. First stop along one gorge East of Marrakech. Here we enjoyed some birds along the road including Black-eared Wheatears, Thekla Larks, Crested Larks and Black Wheatears.

We soon did a stop at the top of some cliffs. 1 male Blue Rock Thrush was on a pylon by the van so it was a good start. Two pairs of Common Kestrels were having an argument in the sky but fast our attention was concentrated on a wonderful Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus) sitting on the top the cliff! We got stunning views on the bird while preening and overlooking the valley around. After everybody could enjoy the bird we started to scan the river and the valley beyond. We invested about 30 minutes and during the whole time the Lanner Falcon stayed at its place, providing us with good views from differents angles. The scanning of the river soon prodided with up to 7 Ruddy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea) that were really wellcome in the group. Brown-throated Sand Martins were also flying along the stream along with at least 1 Western House Martin (Delichon urbicum) and some Crag Martins (Prynoprogne rupestris).

A carefully scanning of the small muddy areas produced 3+ Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubius) & 3 Green Sandpipers (Tringa ochropus). Up in the sky, a flock of 30+ Black Kites (Milvus migrans) suddenly appeared, circling, but they soon kept going North, following their migratory route. We short stop beyond this point still produced anothe good bird, since 15+ Spanish Sparrows (Passer hispanoliensis) were spotted in a small field by some houses. Here we also had House Sparrows, Sardinian Warblers, Woodchat Shrike, Common Bulbuls and close views on 1 Zitting Cisticola. In the wires there were also 2 Common Rock Sparrows, but I think I was the only one to have them, the group was concentrated in enjoying the Spanish ones…

Back to the main road up the Atlas we still had a number of stops in the Southern slope. The lowest one produced typical views on Thekla Lark, European Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, Woodchat Shrike and Sardinian Warbler but also wonderful views on 1 Barbary Partridge in the middle of one field. This corner is having huge density of them and don’t really know any other place in Morocco where finding this bird is so easy! Here we also had the firsts 2 White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) of the trip and 2 extremely close Little Ringed Plovers. The very last bird before living the area was a wonderful Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata), ligth form, really low over the olive orchads…

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Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara) can be surprisingly difficult to spot. This year we got excellent views, again! Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Some more stops along the road were done as raptors were spotted. 4 Booted Eagles, 2 Eurasian Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) and 1 Short-toed Eagle were all seen along the road. Once in the highest area of the road (above 2000 metres!) we still had a pair of stops to admire the landscapes around. Common Raven were around and we were surprised by 1 Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus brookei) flying around us, quite close! At 2200 metres we still had a new stop since 1 male Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) was spotted just by the car! We enjoyed good views on the bird while flying against the strong wind!!! In the slopes above, a flock of Alpine Choughs was also a good bird appearing!

Once in the Southern slope the temperature started to go up fast, but it was really, really windy. Despite the really strong wind we decided to explore a small valley before going to our accommodation in Ouarzazate. Here we were looking for Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe halophila), one of the most difficult birds in Morocco. After more than 90 minutes of scanning we decided to quit and go to rest after a good day. No signal of this Wheatear. Still, we had firsts views on Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti), White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga), both lifers for everyone in the group, plus good views on Black-eared Wheatear, Northern Wheatear and Moussier’s Redstart.

Day 5. Early morning start. After the difficulties of the last afternoon because of the wind, that morning we were all hoped for a calm day. Weather conditions were much better and after breakfast we confirmed that it was no wind at all. Happy for that we decided to have a second look to the same location we were the afternoon before. Unfortunately this place produced no Maghreb Wheatear since we only had exactly the same species than we had the afternoon before…

Still, a short exploration of some orchads around produced really good birds including 4+ Hoopoes (Upupa epops), +5 Common Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), several Subalpine Warblers and 5+ Western Bonelli’s Warblers (Phylloscopus bonelli). The site also produced lovely views on Maghreb Larks (Galerida macrorrhyncha) and we even got some good views on Thekla and Maghreb Larks side by side, a good way to see how different do they are! As “always”, Woodchat Shrikes were also around. A second stop by the road was made to check for Maghreb Wheatear with no signal of any bird… still, we had even more Western Bonelli’s & Subalpine Warblers plus Chiffchaff and 100+ Black Kites (Milvus migrans) that were moving North!! It was a beautiful view to see them flying quite low and everybody enjoy to see them fighting against the wind (it was still windy high up). As there were some raptors all the time around we did a further stop to check around for something different and we got our only 1 Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) of the trip, and more Black Kites!

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Western Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans) can be really common during some weeks in early spring. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

When coming back to Ouarzazate (not even 10:00am), Tomas spotted a flock of small birds by the road so stop to take a look. After some scanning we found that there were 40+ Greater Short-toed Larks (Calandrella brachydactyla). We got nice views on them! Even inside the city we also had a stop since a field was flooded really close of the road… a good excuse to stop and check. This field was full of Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava sps) and some check showed us some Iberian Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava iberiae), 1 Scandinavian Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava thunbergi) and nominal Grey-headed Wagtails (Motacilla flava flava). Here we also had good views on at least 1 surprising Water Pipit (Anthus spinolleta) and 3+ Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis). Green Sanpiper & Little Ringed Plovers were also present here while flocks of swallows and European Bee-eaters were seen around. Here I had one pipit showing some whitish stripes in the back and plane face… still, anybody can had good views in this bird… unfortunately!

After this stop our next stop was the big dump immediatly South & East of Ouarzazate. A short transfer was necessary to arrive to one of the best places for birding in the dump. Here we soon had good views on Kentish Plovers (really common this time), Black-winged Stilts, Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata), Ruddy Shelducks, Grey Herons, Greenshanks, Little Stints, Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus), Common Ringed Plovers and Redshanks. Good birds included 5 Curlew Sandpipers (Calidris ferruginea), 2 Spotted Redshanks (Tringa erythropus) and a good flock of 20+ Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta) spotted by Frumie. Special mention to 4 Collared Pratincoles (Glareola pratincola) roosting in a small mud flat, good spot by Tomas, 1 juvenile Short-toed Eagle, 2 Montagu’s Harriers females (1 of them a superb melanic form) and, after a funny short walk, hundreds of Red-knobbed Coots (Fulica cristata) feeding, preening and fighting in the water along with Ruddy Shelducks! The dump provided also with good views on Isabelline Warbler, Pallid Swifts, Iberian Yellow Wagtail & Maghreb Larks.

After lunch we did our transfer to Boumalne du Dades and, after check-in in our accommodation we spent the afternoon in the famous Taghdild Road. Even before arriving we just did a first small stop since a flock of Greenfinches were feeding by the road when suddenly, a gorgeous Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinoides) appeared from the sky in a very agressive dive close to the finches. We all jumped out the van and could have really good views on the fast flying, small sized, falcon. Really pointed wings and size and structure a bit resembling to Merlin (Falco columbarius). That was a brilliant start to our afternoon!!

Once in the place several stops were made and we had really lovely views on both Desert (Oenanthe deserti) & Red-rumped Wheatears (Oenanthe moesta) as well as Thekla Larks, Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandrella rufescens), Greater Short-toed Larks. Special mention to our firsts Temminck’s Horned Larks (Eremophila bilopha) of trip! This lark still ranks as my favourite lark… what a lovely bird! The afternoon was being good and we add 1 female Black-eared Wheatear to our day list plus some Northern Wheatears and White Wagtails. By the rubbish dump we also had a small flock of 4+ Trumpeter Finches (Bucanetes githagineus) but most of the group only had poor views on the birds. There were simply too much inputs around so the people was dispersed!! 2 Long-legged Buzzards were showing well around… We kept moving in the steppes, the endless, ondulate steppe all for us! I just love this place… After some kilometres (2, 5, 10?) we just had 2 Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) flying around us. We had good views on them! Kept moving on and we flew 2 more, quite close! Time to check around… Soon we had really good views on a pair of Black-bellieds moving in the steppe some 50 metres in front of us. We enjoy them really a lot, with a lovely afternoon light! They even decided to cross the road and the male had a sand bath right in front of us!!

A further scan soon produced the top bird of the day, since Tomas spotted a flock of 8+ Cream-coloured Coursers (Cursorius cursor) moving at our right. Once out of the van we got lovely views on the birds in the scopes… doing their small runs while looking for beetles, their favourite prey! Along with them, a pair of wonderful Hoopoe Larks (Alaemon alaudipes) were really showy and, despite they were not really close, we all enjoy their exhibition flights while singing! That had been a wonderful end for a not really bad day! We came to our hotel to have a good dinner and a chat about all the birds we had enjoyed that day!

Day 6. We started the day with bad news on weather. The afternoon before we had quite a lot of cold wind and since it didn’t stop during the night we were facing a cold, windy morning… difficult conditions to spot the birds we needed. Still, we went down the plains full of energy and soon we started having good birds. 3 Long-legged Buzzards gave us really good views as did Red-rumped Wheatears, Temminck’s Horned Lark, Thekla Lark, several Greater Short-toed Larks moving aroung and Little Ringed Plovers, White Wagtails, Iberian Yellow Wagtails and Meadow Pipits! We decided to stop and scan in a place that look like particularly good and we fastly got 2 Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) roosting on the ground! It was a lovely view… a further scanning produced really good views on 2 Tawny Pipits (Anthus campestris), a species which is normally not appearing in this trip!! Despite the really good sights wind was still really strong so we decided to come back to the van and scan while driving slowy, expecting for something more…

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Temminck’s Lark (Eremolauda billopha), a small lark living in highland steppe plateaus. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

It took some kilometres until Adrianne was having a bird in the road…. 1 male Thick-billed Lark (Rhamphocoris clotbei)!! The bird flew off, but didn’t go far so we came out and walk around, scanning. Unfortunately we could not have it again… We kept driving around and scanning until we got some Thick-billed Larks flying around! They were stopping not far from us so we stopped and jumped out the van… and well, this time we had really good views on a 3+ Thick-billed Larks moving on the ground! This bird was really celebrated by the group, also because it became the easiest lark to identified!! Thick-billed Larks can be quite difficult to spot since their numbers are highly variable depending on the year (normally really low) and become highly nomadic birds when out of the nesting season… Happy after this spot we decided to try a different location.

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Thick-billed Lark (Rhamphocoris clotbei) is a highly nomadic bird out of nesting season. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

A stream beyond the area is normally having water and it is a good place for migratory birds. A really unknown pond not far from there is a really good place as it attracks Sandgrouses in dry years. We checked all places but none of them were having water at all. The place was quite poor in birds this year. Still, we had good views on House Bunting, Woodchat Shrike, Isabelline Warbler, Maghreb Lark and W Bonelli’s Warbler.

Next stop was to explore a small gorge close to Boumalne. We left the van for a short walk, sheltered from the wind. The place was really productive since we had really good views on Desert Larks, 4 Black-eared Wheatears, European Serins, House Buntings and one pair of lovely Trumpeter Finches that were showing really well while feeding on the ground. We just stopped by a view point to scan the gorge and we soon we enjoying excellent views on 1 roosting Pharaon Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) by its whole!!! What a stunning bird! We spent some 20 minutes enjoying the owl and the finches, the owl calling a pair of times to remind us he was the Sir of that land..

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Pharaon Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) delighted us with walk-away views, and some action! Phonoscoped by Carles Oliver

After such a successful start we just went to the famous Gorge du Dades to have some lunch. Still, in the way up we had to do a fast stop since a Short-toed Eagle was cicling in the sky. The bird was fastly dissapearing behind the mountains but it was replaced in the sky by a superb Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata)! The bird was in fact chasing the Short-toed!!! We didn’t see the fight properly since it happened out of our view but we had the Bonelli’s going up and diving to where the Short-toed was flying. This first Bonelli’s was soon joined by its pair and then we had excellent views of both birds circling in the sky… impressive! Happy after such a wonderful sight we finally got to the restaurant and enjoyed some rest…

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Dades Gorges, combines geat birding with ashtonishing scenery. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

We had a lovely lunch enjoying the sun that was fastly warming up the air. Several Crag Martins were flying around us. African Chaffinch, African Blue Tit & Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) showed well in the Dades River. 1 Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) was singing at the other side of the river but, despite our efforts, none of us could see the bird so it could not be add to the trip list. After lunch we did a pair of stops looking for Rock Buntings (Emberiza cia) but we only got a distant bird calling in the gorge… still, we enjoyed good views on Blue Rock Thrushes, Black Wheatears, Sardinian Warblers, Common KestrelCrag Martins and 40+ Red-billed Choughs

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Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) is having in Atlas mountains its Southernmost population. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

A further stop was made in a cliff and we were soon enjoying a Barbary Falcon quite close in the very top of the cliff. It was a really good view and I was personally surprised on how fast we found the bird!! Still, this species is having a pair of territories around Boumalne so it is a really good place for them! The very last stop of the afternoon was to explore some orchads that can host a good variety of migratory birds. Here we had W Bonelli’s Warbler and we were surprised by really close and long views on 1 Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) and 4+ Common Whitethroats (Sylvia communis). A singing Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) focused our attention and, after a long scanning, we finally managed to find the bird singing from a quite high perch! This view was also quite appreciated in the group. Here we also heard Cetti’s Warbler singing & Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming. After such a successful afternoon we came back to our hotel to enjoy some Moroccan tea and dinner!

Day 7. This day started with a clear rise on the temperatures. After some windy and chilly days we finally left the hotel in a sunny, calm, warm day! During that day we were driving South towards the desert… to meet the Sahara!

In our way South we had some stops, anyway. Our first stop was to explore some proper habitat for Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe halophila). A pair of days ago we failed to find any of them so we were all hoping for better luck this time. Once we left the car we had some good birds moving around: House Bunting, a small flock of Trumpeter Finches, Desert Wheatear and 1 female Moussier’s Redstart. We decided to do a small walk, exploring some slopes beyond the road. After few minutes we arrived to a proper place to scan different rocky slopes around. There we had good views on Red-rumped Wheatears, Desert Wheatears, Northern Wheatear, White-crowned Black Wheatear and Desert Larks.

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Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe halophila) is a scarce bird with a very limited range. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Suddenly, a Wheatear came to us extremely close… it was so close that we had difficulties in recognise that it actually was a female Maghreb Wheatear! We followed the bird in the slope but it was disappearing really fast! After less than one minute a gorgeous male was also appearing about 15 metres from the group. Then we all had excellent views on the bird. After having a small insect in the poor vegetated plain it flew up to the ondulated terrain. We walked some metres to keep the track of the bird and we again had excellent views on the this craking bird for almost one minute. After that it flew off, going beyond the small hills around… After such a wonderful views we “all came back really happy to the mini bus. In our way back we still had time to pick up a plentiful Spectacled Warbler male and a Booted Eagle soaring over the mini-bus.

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Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe halophila) in black-throated form was showing that well for some time. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

A final stop was done in our way to the Sahara, this time to explore a place for Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta). Despite our efforts we could not locate any of them, this time. Instead, we got wonderful views on a pair of Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura) moving in the really open landscape they favour. Our walk along a pair of dry river beds produced also good views on Desert Grey Shrike (Lanius elegans), 3 Woodchat Shrikes, Spectacled Warblers and a good flock of 15+ Greater Short-toed Larks feeding few metres from us.

After this good stop we just went for a rather frugal lunch and drove to our accommodation in the desert, where we could enjoy of some rest and a wonderful sunset in the dunes…

Day 8. Everything ready for our day in the desert. Our local guide punctually came to our accommodation in Merzouga and we started our trip while listening the “tac-tac” calls of the Subalpine Warblers all around the gardens of our hotel. In our aim to find them we had also good looks on some Willow Warblers.

Our first stop that morning was to check a small water pond where Sandgrouses are coming to drink water. Sandgrouses need to drink water almost daily, especially during the nesting season, when they bring water to the chicks using an extremelly especialized feathers in the breast. The severe drought during the winter had left very few water sources left in this part of Morocco so we were expecting to have some flocks moving around.

Even before arriving to the pond we had our first flock of Spotted Sandgrouses (Pterocles senegallus) lying on the stony desert. We had really good views on the birds and we enjoyed taking some photos. Once placed near the pond we had time to scan the large plain around. Soon we spotted several flocks of Sandgrouses, including both Spotted & Crowned Sandgrouses (Pterocles coronata). A Barbary Falcon appeared in a incredible dive in a good trial to pick one of the several Sandgrouses around…

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Spotted Sandgrouse (Pterocles senegallus) female posing for us in the desert. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After 10 minutes of waiting, finally one flock of Crowned Sandgrouses came to the pond. They landed some metres away from the water preening and walking slowly while waiting for the proper moment to drink water. And suddenly the momment arrived. In few seconds tens of Sandgrouses flew to the pond from all around the plain. In few seconds we were surrounded by small flocks of them, all flying around and coming in fast approaches to the water!

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Flock of Sandgrouses drinking water in the desert. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

The sound of these hords of Sandgrouses landing and taking off from the pond in different waves is ranking high in my birding memories and something that all participants in the trip will remember for ever!!

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Crowned Sandgrouses (Pterocles coronata) is often a scarce species living in semi-arid countryside. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After several counts we concluded that a minimum of 48 Crowned and 120+ Spotted Sandgrouses were around us!!!

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Mixed flock of Sandgrouses coming to drink water in a tiny pond in Merzouga. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After enjoying as long as necessary of such a magic momment we moved to explore a nearby oases. Here we soon enjoyed some good birds such as Woodchat Shrike, Common Redstart, Subalpine Warbler and Melodious Warbler while some flocks of European Bee-eaters were moving around. A short scanning around let us locate a wonderful male Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex), our main target in that location! We had a male and one female in walk-away views while preening, feeding along House Sparrows and calling all around. What a beauty!

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Back to the desert we spent some time in a wadi with some sparse vegetation. Here we were soon enjoying 2 Hoopoe Larks (Alaemon alaudipes) moving in the desert, singing and offering good views in a short display. Brown-necked Ravens (Corvus ruficollis) were flying around and we had our first views on these desert birds. A few metres after we spotted a wonderful African Desert Warbler (Sylvia deserti), a bird that can be quite difficult to locate! In a pair of minutes we were all enjoying of really, really close up views on the bird and photographers in the group were really happy about such a close views!!

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The morning was great so far. Our next stop was really deep in the desert where we met our special guide to help us locate the scarce Egyptian Nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptiacus). Soon, we were amazed about the skills of that nomad, a silent and pleasant old man, that fastly located not one, neither two, but three nightjars roosting in the wadi…

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Our group enjoying some birding in the desert. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

We could enjoy incredible views on them in the scopes and had a hard but wonderful time until all members in the group could find the birds with their our bins… Everybody enjoyed to see how such a big birds can be so hard to spot while roosting directly on the ground, out of any vegetation! Because of that, this was the bird of the trip for many of the participants in the trip.

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After such a successful morning we went for a good lunch and some rest. After our rest we went for a short exploration of some oases around Rissani, where we had excellent views on Maghreb Larks and the firsts Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters (Merops persicus) of the trip. Superb birds that we could enjoy while catching insects in flight around us! Other birds here include also Blackbird and Laughing Dove. Some scanning was required to have the main target of the stop, thought. Despite the strong sun, we had a Fulvous Babbler (Turdoides fulva) sitting low in a palm tree. We fastly all moved to the bird, trying to cut some of the three hundred metres from it and us… After a small running we had good views on the bird, now joined by a second individual, that were flying around us!!! Happy all with the good views on this difficult species we decided to invest some time in a final stop.

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One of the three Egyptian Nightjars we had during our trip! Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Our last stop that day was to look for the very scarce and difficult to spot Scrub Warbler. A first walk around the area alowed us to have our only 1 Seebohm’s Wheatear (Oenanthe seebohmii) of the trip, that was really celebrated in the group. Hoopoe Larks were also around there. We had a walk along the wadi, trying to cover as much area as possible to try to have this elusive bird. After more than 40 minutes, we were all about to quit when Tomas had something moving low in the vegetation very close to us… I saw it for 1 second but it was a Scrub Warbler!!!

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Seehbom’s Wheatear (Oenanthe seehbomi) is nesting in high mountain grasslands. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Everybody jumped off the mini bus and started scanning the bush immediatly around, but nothing. We spent an extra 20 minutes scanning all around we were uncapable to relocate the bird that looked like being into the sand… A pitty, because only me and one participant could have a really short view on the bird…

Still, the day had been amazing and we all came back for some rest and wonderful dinner in our accommodation!

Day 9. This was our very last day of “birding” of the trip, since the last day was, as usual, basically driving but with a really good surprise in the morning… After breakfast we drove a short distance until one nearby hotel, having really extensive gardens and orchads which are really good for migratory passerines.

The day before had been windy so the sensation when we arrived was quiet. Still, after a short walk, we started to have some good birds. 3 Common Redstarts were spotted in the orchads followed by several Western Bonelli’s Warblers and Subalpine Warblers. Up in one tree it was also a Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) but I was the only one in having this bird… A carefully scanning produced Willow Warblers and 1 Chiffchaff. Soon our attention was demanded in a medium size bird skulking low in the grass and, after a bit of waiting, we soon were all enjoying of really close views on a group of three Fulvous Babblers! It was phantastic to see them that close as they were looking for food in the rather tall grass while doing really soft contact calls… that was really improving the views we had on this bird the day before!

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Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), a common bird in migration in Morocco. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

We enjoyed the Babblers long while keep scanning for other birds. White-crowned Black Wheatears were all around as it was a wonderful flock of European Bee-eaters. Here we also had Blackbird, Laughing Dove, European Robin and Sardinian Warbler. It was starting to be windy again so we looked for shelter around the walls of the hotel as some birds did since here we had really close views on one male Common Redstart, Woodchat Shrike and 1 wonderful Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) that was posing for us for more than 5 minutes!!! Great found!!

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Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) is normally really obtrusive but this year we had walk-away views in the open. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Once outside the hotel, we did a final round to try to have something else. In this second walk we had good views on Western Olivaceous Warbler (also known as Isabelline Warbler) and a second W Orphean Warbler but not so much else. Right before leaving Tomas spotted a Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) in the tamarisk around. We all enjoyed good views on the only one “real” flycatcher we had in the trip!

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As was already quite windy we decided to change location and try a small stream running in the desert, expecting to have some more migratory birds while being sheltered from the wind. Once we arrived we realised we were sheltered from the wind but the reedbeds were not so it was going to be challenging to find anything down there. Still, we did a walk, and it was great!

Here we enjoyed of really close views on Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters flying around us and catching insects all around! A short walk along the reeds soon produced Eurasian Coot, a pair of Eurasian Reed Warblers singing and Iberian Yellow Wagtails in the move around. Woodchat & Desert Grey Shrikes were seen around. 1 Little Egret was fishing down the river and Sand Martins were seen in small flocks all along the river bed. But the very best bird in this spot was a wonderful pair of Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris) that were flushed from the river and gave us excellent views while flying around!!

This is a really scarce and endangered bird with some good populations in Morocco and South Spain. Due to the drought I was not really expecting to find any so this was a wonderful bonus for the trip! These ducks were really celebrated by the group. We kept scanning but the wind was not really helpful so we decided to go to Rissani for an early lunch.

After lunch we went to a small tamarisk forest expecting to have good views in more migratory and some good specialities… Here we found tones of Western Bonelli’s Warblers that were all around us along with Subalpine Warblers… A pair of Moroccan Wagtails flought along and we had really good views in a nearby pond. There we also had some Black-winged Stilts, 3 Little Ringed Plover, Moorhen and Laughing Dove. A mixed flock of both European & Blue-chekeed Bee-eaters gave us a good comparition of both species and a Turtle Dove was singing from a wire, giving also good views.

Back to tall tamarisk we kept looking for the main target of this stop, to have good views on Saharan Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna pallida reiseri), a race that is considered for some as a different species. Difficult to tell apart from Western Olivaceous Warbler is smaller, less heavy-billed a rather more rounded-headed that Western Olivaceous.

So, we invest quite a lot of time trying to have good views. We had at least two males singing quite close inside the tamarisk but, despite our efforts, we could not have more than glimpses of half-a-secong to one second in the birds… The wind and about 10 Western Bonelli’s Warblers in the same bush were not really helpful… After some long “fight” we finally decided to quit, more or less satisfied with these rather poor views.

After arriving to our lodge, some members in the group decided to stay in the accommodation for a walk in the dunes and those who want to join were coming for a final walk in our first location. In this 30 minutes visit we didn’t add anything different from our morning visit but had really good views again in Western Orphean Warbler, Isabellines Warbler and Fulvous Babbler

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Dunes textures in Merzouga. A wonderful experience. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Day 10. Very last day of the trip and final transfer to Marrakech. But before we still had to do some duty. We came to one of spots were we first were looking for Scrub Warbler as not everybody in the group was enjoying this bird. We didn’t have a lot of time to invest so we had a walk along the wadi, expecting to have any signal of bird activity out of the Hoopoe Larks displaying around and the beautiful Desert Wheatears.

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Greater Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes) is probably the most spectacular lark living in Morocco. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

We did a long walk, carefully scanning all bush around and listening for any small call coming from anywhere around us but, after half an hour we got nothing. Well, I stopped there, thinking about going back for the car and the many birds we had enjoyed when, suddenly, a extremely low call came to my ears. I looked to my left and I saw a small movement inside one bush and, before my brain could react, a wonderful Scrub Warbler was appearing on the ground, 3 metres from me!

I shout everybody to come (all of them dispersed in the wadi). Some running was happening and soon everybody was close. The bird was still around, skulking and moving. Some seconds of waiting and then we all had excellent views on the bird, that was appearing on the ground for a couple of second before coming back inside the bush. The bird was moving bush by bush, in a bush-ground-bush sequence that gave us really good views and probably the worst ever shots on this species… Excellent! Everybody in the group had enjoyed almost one minute of the movements of such a tricky bird.

We were all happy with the very good views in such amazing bird! After this stop we only had services stops in our way, and some raptor stops… The first raptor stop for a wonderful pair of Bonelli’s Eagles North of Ouarzazate flying really low over the road that gave us amazing views on the birds!

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Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) is still a quite common raptor in Southern Morocco. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

In the top of the Atlas we had some road birding with some Northern Wheatears, Mistle Thrushes, Common Kestrel, Common Raven and 5+ Booted Eagles appearing.

After this we celebrated our arrival to Marrakech with a wonderful dinner. That was the end of a wonderful 10 days, 10 nights trip with many, many birds and excellent views on all main targets! 190 species of birds seen and a lot of fun!!!

Also was the momment to pack everything and, for those staying in Marrakech, to start enjoying the city and the amazing cultural

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Sunset view in Marrakech, a wonderful way to finish our trip. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

heritage of the whole country!!!

2018 trip is happening March 13th to March 22nd… YOU WANT TO MISS IT?

 

 

 

Czech Republic Spring Tour. 2017 issue

Dates: March 8th – 12th, 2017

Number of participants: 3

Number of species: 84

Day 0. After our arrival to Prague and assemble with the rest of the group on March 8th, we started driving South towards Sumava National Park. The transfer is normally of about 120 minutes, but due to some works in the highway, our transfer was a bit longer than expected.

Because to this delay we were arriving during the night to our accommodation and lost the chance of searching for some owls around. We still had a short time around but unfortunately we got nothing of interest.

Day 1. After a very early breakfast we headed directly to look for one of the main target species of the trip: Black Grouse (Lynurus tetrix). After a short driving we arrived to the proper habitat and we started scanning all around looking for some birds already lekking in the meadows.

It didn’t take long to located the first 4 males in the open, standing up and very showing. After enjoying this very successful start we decided to move a bit to have a better view. This movement allowed us to find 2 more males even closer to us. One of them was in full display, showing the beautiful white feathers of the open tail and also heard the calls of the male.

Black Grouses in their leck in Sumava National Park. Image by participant Bauke Kortleve

Records shot showing the complex wing pattern in Black Grouses. Image by participant Bauke Kortleve

 

It was a quite active morning for birds and these same fields we had the firsts of many Yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella), Mistle Thrushes (Turdus viscivorus), Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) and Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo). A distant European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) called from a lane of poplars.

In the while, 4 Black Grouses were flying over the field, showing their long, lyre-like tail and their wing white band, and stopped near the displaying male, reacting quite agresively…  This was one of the best moments of the trip! Wonderful.

Delighted for such as fast a wonderful sight in one of the main targets of the trip we decided to spend more time scanning some other of the favourite places for this species to display in the Sumava area. After a short drive we scanned different places around for them but we had no other views on the birds. Still, we got white-headeds Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus caudatus) showing very well around as well as Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris), Great Tit (Parus major), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Redwing (Turdus iliacus) and Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) as well as Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and 2 Common Teal (Anas crecca).

This area also produced lovely views on Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) showing very well in the taller bush while overwatching the open fields for preys. A further exploration of the area only produced some groups of Roe Deers (Capriolus capriolus), a pair of Ravens (Corvus corax) and a lovely flock of Eurasian Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula europaea) feeding on ground.

After this we decided to try a pair of places for Hazel Grouse (Bonasia bonasa), a very shy species, very shy and thus many times not appearing. A first trial brought us to a typical habitat of spurce forest with some fir and, of course, hazel trees. Here it was a lot of activity with several Crested (Lophophanes cristatus) and Coal Tits (Periparus ater) moving around as well as Common Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), European Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), Marsh Tit, Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) moving around. Unfortunately we found no grouses in this spot but our effort was not lost since we had good views on 1 Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes).

When coming back to the car we listen a Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus) calling by the minor road we came by so we decided to go fast to try this really good bird. Once we arrived the bird was calling really close so we decided to walk a bit inside a field to try have the best view possible. We walked about 200 metres inside the area scanning all around but the bird seemed to move further away, clearly out of patch we were in. We were about to withdraw when a Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) called from really close so we walked few metres towards the area where the huge woodpecker was calling from and, suddenly, two birds flew off from the ground, ten metres in front of us: Mistle Thrush to the left… and Hazel Grouse to the right!

We immediatly concentrated in the Hazel Grouse. The bird typically flew some 20 metres to stop inside a low fir. We decided to envolve the tree and scan very carefully the inner branches… nothing.

We decided we get a bit closer and then the bird flew off rear. We decided to do some waiting… 5 minutes and nothing. We are about to withdraw when, suddenly, the bird started singing from the canopy! It had to be really, really close (less than 20 metres!!). Still some more waiting (and taping) to try to attrack the bird, a main target for anyone in the group! Our waiting proved to be useful since the bird was suddenly appearing flight and stopping deep inside a fir, right in front of us!! We still waited, breathless. Some seconds after the bird flought immediatly above us in a impressive view, showing the very long neck and typical small crest of the males!! The bird stopped for a while in a visible place up in a fir, unfortunately too short for any shot right before it did a second flight over us!!

We had really good views on Hazel Grouse, despite it was really hard to photograph. Image by Bauke Kortleve.

What a view!! We all agreed we would not get a better views on that male as it was quite unlikely to do anything else but fly over us over and over. Very content with such a great (and rather unexpected) sight we headed to our accommodation for a wonderful garlic soup & gulash and some rest before concentrate in woodpeckers during the afternoon.

After lunch & rest we still had some three hours before dinner and we went directly to try to have good views on woodpeckers. After a short drive we arrived to one of the best places for them in Sumava and the place fastly proved its value since immediatly after leaving the car we had a Black Woodpecker calling really close to us. This time we enjoyed of really close views on it! Excellent start!

Black Woodpeckers are common in most of the forest in Bohemia. Here one obliging view in Sumava NP. Image by participant Bauke Kortleve

We kept going on and walked a mile or so, carefully scanning and listening for the main target, Grey-headed Woodpecker. We went into two different territories, trying to locate them, but everything we got was Great Spotted Woods, Nuthatches and a pair of Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) mating not far from us. Still, a wonderful sight! Landscape here was also impressive, with a mature Beech forest with some impressive Maple trees (Acer sp.) as a secundary tree.

As our scan was being not very successful we decided to come back to car and try somewhere else. But only 200 metres after walking we had a Grey-headed Woodpecker calling really close from the path! After some waiting we had excellent views on both male & female, perched in the trees around!!

Grey-headed Woodpecker has been decreasing in several spots accross Europe but is still having good population in Czech Republic. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Everybody was really happy after such a excellent and long views on the bird! But, as it took longer than expected, we decided to directly come to our accommodation in order to have dinner and to enjoy longer time to scan for owls during the sunset and dusk.

After an, again, wonderful dinner (salad & stew, good combination!) the group headed to our first place for owls. We didn’t have to wait long since even after we closed the doors of the car we were hearing a Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum) some 100 metres from the parking place. We immediatly go for it and, after some minutes of accurately scanning of the canopies we got the male singing from one of the trees! It was a beautiful image kept singing for several minutes, watching us at times but mainly taking an eye around… what a view!

Encouraged for this early success we then moved to an open area around, were Ural Owls (Strix uralensis) are likely to be hunting at dusk… unfortunately we had no luck this time… Still, we had a very close Ural Owl singing from the canopies but, despite we tried to find the bird, our efforts produced nothing. A further exploration of another territory still produced a good listenning in 1 Tengmalm’s Owl (Aegolius funereus), also known as Boreal Owl, singing in the area. Unfortunately, we got no sights in any of them…

Got really good views on Pygmy Olw despite the poor light! Images by tour leader Carles Oliver

Day 2. New very early start this time to scan in the highest areas of the Sumava National Park. After a good breakfast and about 40 minutes of driving we arrived to our first location of the morning. This is an open spurce forest where it Capercaillies are likely to show up in the tree branches during very early morning. Unfortunately, weather didn’t helped us so much, since it was quite foggy at times, windy when not foggy…

Despite our efforts scanning all canopies around we could not have any Capercaillie… only a distant Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) and a overflying Northern Bullfinch (P. pyrrhula pyrrhula) were of interest. But just when thinking about leaving for a coffee, we listened a very, very distant Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) calling in the large forest… We then decided to invest some time scanning and taping, and after some efforts, the bird came close and it was briefly located while calling from the top of a spurce tree!!! Excellent! The bird was very showy and turned up the white tail while calling, as normally Nutcrackers do when marking its territory. This sight was really short and, unfortunately, not every one in the group enjoyed the bird… We still invested quite long scanning all canopies around but no new signal of the bird was found…

After a short break for a coffee and warm up we headed to our next location. Our main goal was Three-toad Woodpecker, a really endangered species only living in mature conifer forests. Unfortunately, when arriving to the location was really windy and, during the two hours that we spent walking in the impressive primary forest we had no contact on any woodpecker at all! The best bird here was a pair of Willow Tits (Poecile montanus) quite showy when walking up the trail.

After lunch we started the transfer to Moravia (Eastern Czech Republic) but, before, we had time to visit an enclousure where about 25 Eurasian Bison (Bison bonasus) are living in half-freedom. A free population has been already living not far from Prague during the last years but unfortunately they are inside a military area so they are not possible to visit. Still, we were lucky to see the Bisons so well, as they were out of the forest and allowed good views on them! White Wagtails (Motacilla alba), Fieldfares and Yellowhammers we also all around!

A small herd of Eurasian Bison is visible in some enclousures near Sumava National Park. Unfortunately not released, yet. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After this and short stop in Holasovine village (UNESCO site) we drove to Nové Mlyny area for two more overnitghts.

Day 3. After a good rest we soon realised that this was in the way to become a great day. Even before leaving the parking place of the accommodation we had a fast-flying Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus)!! We searched for the bird, but was lost quite far away…

A pair of minutes later we were enjoying a large flock of some hundreds of Tundra Bean Geese (Anser fabalis rossicus) and White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). A carefully scanning of the flock produced at least 2 Taiga Bean Geese (Anser fabalis fabalis)!

Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), Common Gull (Larus canus), Marsh Tit, Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix), Magpie (Pica pica), Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) were also around.

White-tailed Eagles gave us several good views during the lasts days of the trip. Images by participant Bauke Kortleve

After such a wonderful start we decided to take a look to the lake. Just few metres after leaving the car we had a Black Woodpecker overflying us! Wow! Once in the lake, we got even better views on the geese and also Mallard, several Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) and drake Smews (Mergellus albellus) and Goosander (Mergus merganser). Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) were flying around and, a bit more far away, wonderful Caspian Gulls (Larus cachinnans) were also easily spotted along with Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus), Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) and a flock of Common Pochards (Aythya ferina). Here Bauke spotted probably the only one Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) of the trip, while Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius) were all around…

A second stop along the Nove Mlyny lake produced a wonderful view on thousands of geese that were probably resting in their migration back to the North from their winter grounds in South East Europe. Here we also enjoyed our firsts 14 White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) of the trip! One of them showing really well while perched on a tree but most of them flying above the lake. What a impressive birds!!

Still with plenty of time that morning we decided to explore a pair of smaller ponds for geese and ducks… Our first stop was really, really impressive since a not very large flock of mainly White-fronted Geese were in front of the hide. A fast scanning produced 4 Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna), 6 Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata), Great White Egrets (Casmerodius albus) and Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea). A carefully scanning of the geese was promptly reporting the first surprise: one superb Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) was swimming along with them!! The whole flock was moving quite fast left to right and we soon got blocked by the reedbed. Still, everybody in the group had really good views in this impressive goose!!

Red-breasted Goose is a rarity in Czech Republic. I was told it was one in Nové Mlyny this winter but I didn’t think we could be lucky enough to have the bird, especially after the news informing of massive geese migration flying back to the far North in the previous days before our arrival to Nové Mlyny!!!

Red-breasted Goose among Greater White-fronted Geese in Nove Mlyny. Image by participant Bauke Kortleve

A further scanning of the flock was still even more surprising, since our local guide located what it looked like a Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus) sleeping along with White-fronteds!!! He was not totally sure, thought. But we all pointed our scopes and, yes, it was a wonderful Lesser White. What a spot! The bird was actually sleeping but, even when doing so the yellowish ocular ring was obvious and the shape and coloration of the bill were also indicating to a Lesser White-fronted Goose. A bit of patience and finally the bird showed the full neck and head. Excellent views!

Lesser White-fronted Goose (the bird with the head up) is a globally endangered bird and we were really lucky to pick up one in Nové Mlyny. Image by participant Bauke Kortleve.

Especially because only 30 seconds after the whole flock flew out (because of an overflying White-tailed Eagle) and didn’ show any more as we were totally blocked by the reedbeds… The wonderful views of the White-tailed Eagle fishing in the lake and latter being chased by 3 other WT’s didn’t compensate the rather short views on the geese… Still, we had been extremelly lucky. Only five minutes later and would miss these really good birds!

The last stop in this long morning was in a small quarry. And well, I felt as being at home, as our target bird was a Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria). We were told one of them was overwintering in this area so, as having time, we decided to invest some time and try to have this wonderful bird. Once again that day we were lucky and even before arriving to the quarry we could easily spot the bird, a male, that was showing very well and even singing!!!

After some minutes enjoying the bird around us and having incredible views with the scope we decided to go for lunch and a bit of rest. It had been a wonderful morning!

We also enjoyed this very showy male Wallcreeper, a really scarce species in Czech Republic. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Our short siesta time brought us back to the field full of energy so, before taking the car, we just did a short-walk around our accommodation. 3 Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros) were feeding in the orchads around and a Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) flew off around us.

Soon after we had a Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopus syriacus) flying around a line of poplars. The bird was not really cooperative but we finally got long and excellent views on the bird! After that we decided to spend some time in some large gardens, expecting to have more woodpecker. Surprisingly the gardens were quite busy and we failed to have any woodpecker. Instead of that we enjoyed several views on Hawfinches, some of them really close! Here we also took a look to a Long-eared Owl winter roosting place for but, as expected, was already empty.

After enjoying for a while the magnificient XVIII gardens in Lednice we decided to come back to our accommodation for an early dinner. This was allowing us a better rest and an earlier start in our last morning, when we were having less than two hours of light before heading to the airport!

We got nice views on Syrian Woodpecker not far from our accommodation in Moravia. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Day 4. Very last morning! Priority to woodpeckers. We directly headed to an oak forest since our goal was to have good sights on Medium & Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.

When we arrived to the area several Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming around. After some scanning we got nice views on 1 Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis). Black Woodpcker was also calling in the distance. After some scanning we soon had a Medium Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus medius) showing really well and, with a bit of patience, we got excellent views on the bird! Wonderful sight!

Middle Spotted Woodpecker is not scarce in riberside forests as long as having some large oaks. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

We then moved a pair of miles up the same minor road. Once we went out of the car we enjoyed scoped views of a male Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) sitting on a branch deep inside the canopy. After much scanning for LSs we finally managed to have one Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) in the top of an oak, calling and drumming. Some 3 more males were listenned drumming around!

We still had time to stop for a final view on the lake, with good views on Smew, Goosander, Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula) and the only 3 Eurasian Wigeons (Anas penelope) of the trip!

It has been a wonderful birding break! I’m already looking forward our 2018 issue, it will be even better, for sure!

Feel like joining us?

 

 

Fuerteventura Birding Tour 2016. Trip report

Dates: December 6th to 10th, 2016

Number of participants: 3

Weather conditions: Sunny all long. We had, as usual, early morning clouds but breaking after 10am. A soft brise was also present most of the days. Temperatures; 18ºC to 24ºC.

Day 1. December 7th. After our late afternoon arrival to Fuerteventura from our Barcelona flight we woke up early in our seaside hotel in El Cotillo to enjoy a good breakfast before starting birding. Still, in the gardens of our hotel a first of many, many Spanish Sparrows (Passer hispanoliensis) was spotted doing its typical call. This is the only one species of Sparrow living in the island being really common in every single garden! After breakfast we did the short transfer to our first location. El Cotillo-La Oliva area is a well known area for steppe birds, hosting most (if not all) the especialities living in the island. In our first stop we soon located some Berthelot’s Pipits (Anthus berthelotii), the first Canary Islands endemic of the trip, along with several very vocal Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens).

Some scanning around produced 2 Hoopoes (Upupa epops) landing on some rocks, one of them doing its wonderful song. A male European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) was spotted in the steppe and broke some hearts as a close relative of it was expected instead… still, this was the only European Stonechat of trip!

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Berthelot’s Pipit (Anthus berthelotii) is probably the commonest passerine in Fuerteventura.

In our way to our very first important stop we enjoyed views on Canary Islands Ravens (Corvus corax tingitanus), a superb and very different bird from European race due to their shorter tail, more rounded wings, smaller head and very distinctive (rather crow-like) calls. This a good candidate for a future split… In the distance, some Stone Curlews were calling but we could not locate them…

Once we stopped we immediatly spotted a magnificient Houbara Bustard (Chlamidotis undulata) preening about 100 metres away from us. The bird was really concentrated in cleaning its plomage so we could enjoy it as long as necessary to have excellent views. At the same time we kept scouting looking for some females but we had no luck… Instead we had some really confiding Canary Islands Shrikes (Lanius (elegans) koenigi) around. The status of this bird is still controversial. Nowadays there are two main theories; the first arguing to be a different species (Lanius koenigi), the second (and more accepted) arguing to be conspecific with Desert & Algerian Shrikes (Lanius elegans koenigi), and still some other theories. Wherever these birds were really cooperative and photographers appreciated very much really close views on them.

We kept scanning ditches around and our work proved not to be unhelpful since we had 2 Barbary Partridges (Alectoris barbara) feeding in one of the ditches. It was a great spot since this can be a difficult bird to spot so it was great to have so early in the trip!

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Canary Island Shrike (Lanius (elegans) koenigi) is a splitable endemic easy to find in Fuerteventura.

 

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Barbary Partridges (Alectoris barbara) can be difficult to spot but we had several good sights on them.

After such a good start we decided to explore a small canyon (barranco) close by. Several Berthelot’s Pipits were around and here we had very good views on some really confiding Spectacled Warblers (Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis). We decided to walk a bit up the “barranco” and, after only 100 metres of walk we found an extremelly close Fuerteventura Chat (Saxicola dacotiae) male on a Cactus. Soon after we found the beautiful female around and enjoyed of very long and close views on them. This is the only endemic bird of Fuerteventura and one of the main target birds for any single birdwatcher visiting the island…

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Fuerteventura Chat (Saxicola dacotiae) is restringed to this island and a must for any birdwatcher visiting it!

While enjoying the chats we also had another good encounter since a small flock of about 6 Trumpeter Finches (Bucanetes githagineus) came to stop only 20 metres from us! Again, we could enjoy them quite long while feeding on seeds in tiny bush. A few after a Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo insularum) appeared in the sky. This is again an endemic race of the Canaries, and a bird that looks like quite different from continental forms! In this barranco we also had our firsts Greenish Black-tips (Elphinstonia charlonia) moving around along with Painted Ladys (Vanessa cardui) and 1-2 Red Admirall (Vanessa atalanta).

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Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus) is the commonest finch in Fuerteventura.

After such a wonderful mid-morning we decided to have a change and go to Los Molinos reservoir, the main wetland in the island. In our way to the reservoir we stopped a pair of times to enjoy some flocks of Spanish Sparrows. Linnet (Carduelis cannabina), Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) and Robin (Erithacus rubecula) were also seen. Our last stop produced also 2 Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) but, unfortunately I was the only one to see them…

Even before arriving to Los Molinos reservoir we started to enjoy the visit. Birding in this location is highly variable depending on water level but this time we were lucky, as water level was high and the whole “barranco” beyond the dump was having water running down. 1 Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus dacotiae) was gliding over and allowed us excellent views on this (again) endemic race! Ruddy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea) we common this year as we count no less than 60 of them in the lake! When approaching the reservoir we had really close views on them. Some of the birds around included Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) +70, Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) 2, Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 3, Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 1, Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 1, Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) 6, Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) 2, Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) 2 and 3 Little Egret (Egretta Garzetta).

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Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandrella rufescens) are good imitating other birds. This bird imitated Fuerteventura Chat, Stone Curlew and Berthelot’s Pipit amongst other birds.

The best birds in the wetland this time were +15 Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) and one unexpected Garganey (Anas querquedula). Here we also had our only one Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) of trip, perched on a wall along with Canary Islands Shrike & Hoopoe, good combination of birds! It was lunch time so we head to a close place to enjoy some food and, why not, some shade! Before that we had to do an emergency stop since a Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus majorensis) was spotted perched in one slope. Despite the bird was quite far away, we enjoy good views on the bird while feeding around joined by a pair of Ravens… This was a good spot and, surprisingly, our only Egyptian Vulture in this trip!

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Spanish Sparrows (Passer hispanoliensis) are the only sparrows in Fuerteventura.

After lunch we came to the semi-desert area around El Cotillo. Here we spent some time scanning some farming areas, where we had 2 Barbary Partridges and our only one Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) of trip. A short drive around the area produced our main target that afternoon since 3 obliging Cream-coloured Coursers (Cursorior cursor bannermani) were located, doing their typical short runs. They were really cooperative and delighted the whole group! Nevertheless it was considered one of the birds of the trip!! corredor-sahariano-071216-1-copy   img_9876

We hept moving in this area, having always confiding Berthelot’s Pipit around. Not long after we had a flock of 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) flying not far away from us… They stopped in a hill but, as we had not so much light left, we decided to move.

We still had to have a last stop. After a short transfer we arrive to an area were one of the main targets of the trip is normally moving. A short wait was done in late afternoon light and then, with the very last light, it was appearing a wonderful Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinoides) with a prey, flying fast around the valley! We were lucky as the bird decided to do a pair of rolls in the air so we could have good views on the falcon before desappeared! We were all really happy of having such a view on a bird that many birdwatchers visiting the island are missing!! The population here is tiny, probably only 2-3 pairs!! Happy after such a successful day, we head back to our hotel for some rest (& good food!).

Day 2. December 8th. After the success of the day before, we decided to do a pre-dawn start and go to the same place where we had our first Houbara Bustard the day before. When we arrived to the place the bird was immediatly located and we were delighted to see it in full display! It was evident that that place was his lek this year. Displays of Houbara Bustard are really spectacular and even funny. Males place the head rear on their back and then open and show all white feathers in their breast and along the neck. Once in this position, the bird starts running in small, 5-6 metres of diameter cercles. Like this, the bird looks like having no neck, neither head. It looks like a running snow ball, actually! We enjoyed very much of such a exhibition, that was repeated several times. Unfortunately the bird was a bit far away to take any proper photo… After such a good start in our second day we decided to do some further exploration in the same area, that was soon producing to more distant males displaying in different corners, in the semi-arid countryside. No females were spotted, suprisingly!

When we were about to leave the area we had a wonderful Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus insularum) sat down some meters away from our car! This was a wonderful spot and photographers in the group (once again) really appreciated it! Stone Curlews living in Canary Islands are, in average, darker and more contrasted than those living in Africa and are good candidates for a future split.

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Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus insularum) are not uncommon in Fuerteventurs, but always challenging to find.

After leaving the semi-desertic area we headed towards maybe the only one reliable spot for Atlantic Canary (Serinus canaria) in Fuerteventura. We arrived quite at midday to the place and soon after parking we had a male Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) singing close by. This sight was followed by our only one seen Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) of the trip. After some meters of exploration we listened some Canaries moving up the slope, at the other side of the barranco, so we headed to that area and soon we were enjoying a wonderful, 4-5 metres away male singing and calling from its perch. As an interesting point, this male looked like being imitating the calls of African Blue Tits… never listened thst before. This finch is also an endemic bird but this time shared by Canary Islands, Maderia and Açores.

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Atlantic Canary (Serinus canaria) is Macaronesian endemic having a tiny population in Fuerteventura.

We counted up to 4 Atlantic Canaries in the slope, not a big number but enough for the small group! Several obliging Spectacled Warblers were also very active in that slope, singing from the bush land but also performing song flights so we invested some time in having even better views than the previous day!  Even before being back to the village we had our last target bird in this location, as 1 African Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae ultramarinus) was seen flying over our heads. We followed this bird to have better views and soon were enjoying really close views on two individuals in a dense tree, joined by 2 Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita).

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African Blue Tits (Cyanistes teneriffae ultramarinus) are conspecific with those living in Morocco.

We also had some wonderful butterflies here, including the first Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus) of the trip, Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshallii) and +5 Bath White (Pontia daplidice). A Blue butterfflie was also flying around but couldn’t have proper views on it…

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Bath White (Pontia daplidice) is probably the commonest butterfly in the mountainous orchads in Fuerteventura.

We leaved Betancuria for our next stop, this time in the South part of the island. After lunch we arrived to the area around Oasis Park Fuerteventura, where so scaped birdlife can be seen. Just a few miles before arriving a new Laughing Dove was spotted crossing the road in flight. Again I was the only one in having the bird our efforts in recolate the bird were useless. Once we arrived to the are around Oasis Park we had some good views on impressive Monarch (Danaus  plexippus) joined by some Plain Tigers (Danaus chrysippus). These butterflies were really celebrated by the group! We did some walks around but only had 3 Chiffchaffs, +2 Blackcaps singing from some bush, 1 Robin and the omnipresent Spanish Sparrows & Collared Doves… A bit more of effort was done and we finally got something as 1 Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) was appearing and showing well (although distant) in the top of one tree. It looks like there is a small population breeding around this zoo. We still had some more time around but only produced a small Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild) flock calling inside a fenced area…

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Red-vented Bubul (Pycnonotus cafer), an scaped that is probably having a tiny self-sustained population.

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We decided to change our location and explore the urban “forest” at Costa Calma. We found the place really quiet and for 10-15 minutes we only had 2 Chiffchaffs… and Spanish Sparrows. But when thinking about leaving the area we spotted a wonderful Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus). We approached the bird until we could have really good views (and shots) and then is when we realised a second YB was calling deeper inside the canopies! That was a really good bird a quite celebrated. We still had some more time is this spot, hoping for something different but we only got a flock of 7-8 Eurasian Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis).

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One of the two self-found Yellow-browed Warblers (Phylloscopus inornatus) at Costa Blanca.

It was only one hour left until dark so we decided to explore some semi-desert areas around Costa Calma. Right when arriving to the designated place we had a wonderful flock of 13 Black-bellied Sandgrouses that allowed a long sight while feeding on ground in the afternoon light. A short drive after this encounteer we also had really good views on 2 close Cream-coloured Coursers showing really well! We still had time for a further exploration and got what we were looking for… 2 magnificient females Houbara Bustards feeding close by, in lovely sunset light. This time we really enjoy the way they delicatelly feeding on the bush around and how they were running around in the middle of the steppe land!

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Houbara Bustard (Chlamidotis undulata) was showing really well almost daily along our trip!

An amazing view to end a wonderful second day of the trip!!

Day 3. December 9th. This day we were supposed to “jump” to Gran Canaria to add some different species and, especially, the really scarce Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch (Fringilla polatzeki). Unfortunately this option was finally not possible and we had to stay in Fuerteventura. We invested the morning in scan the shore around El Cotillo. Here we spotted Eurasian Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) in several spots as well as Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula). Along the coast several Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis atlantis), a slightly smaller and less powerful race if compared with the nominal race living in the Mediterranean. Other birds appearing here include 2 Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis), 3 Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) and my first ever Trumpeter Finch by the sea! The best birds along the morning, still, were located around El Cotillo, where we had +13 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), 3 Dunlin (Calidris alpina), 1 Little Stint (Calidris minuta) and 1 Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola).

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Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) is a good resident bird along Fuerteventura beaches.

Several stops were done to scan the sea, looking for Shearwaters or other sea birds but, unfortunately, nothing of interest was spotted along the whole morning… After lunch we came back to the semi-desert area, trying to have a second look on Barbary Falcon. We explored the same area where we had the bird a pair of days before but we had no luck. Instead we got a new flock of 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouses, really close views this time, as well as a lovely view on a pair of Barbary Partridges that, this time, was allowing good shots.

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Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara), always a good bird!

Day 4. December 10th. Last morning in the island. We decided to have a last look to the semi-desert specialities. 3 Houbara Bustards were located again easily but the best of that visit was 1 Stone Curlew close by the dart road. After this good start we decided to go for Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis), a species that had been escaping from us, so far. We stopped in the same area I spotted two individuals a pair of days ago and we were lucky since we had a really good view on a bird perched in a wire even before leaving the car!

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Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) is a pretty scarce dove in the Canary Islands, and beautiful bird!

As we were close to Los Molinos reservoir we spent some time there, as well. New and excellent views on Fuerteventura Chats and Trumpeter Finches were done and allowed good photos. We also added some new species to the tour list. 5 Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were seen along with 2 Pintails (Anas acuta), 2 Eurasian Wigeons (Anas penelope) and 4 Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea) but the best birds in this stop were the flocks of at least 18 Black-bellied Sandgrouses flying really low all around and stopping to drink water around the reservoir! It was a lovely view and quite unexpected, actually! img_0187

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Female & male Fuerteventura Chats (Saxicola dacotiae), personally the besg bird living in Fuerteventura!

Right before arriving to the airport we still had time to do some exploration in some Golf courses nearby. 2 Ruddy Shelducks were walking along the greens, a very different sight! 2 Common Sandpipers, 3 Common Ringed Plovers and 1 Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) were also seen as well as 2 White Wagtails (Motacilla alba), 2 Grey Wagtails (Motacilla cinerea), 1 Chiffchaff and a pair of Greenfinches (Chloris chloris) flying around…

And this was the end of a really successful trip, expecting to have a even better trip in 2017 or early 2018, when we will look for the very scarce Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch!

Join us for more fun & birds!!!

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Marató Ornitològica 2016. Emberiza & cia Team

Número d’espècies: 162           Observadors: 4

Un any més ens hem animat a participar a la marató ornitològica. Amb un itinerari bastant estudiat i un equip amb molt ambient vam intentar batre el nostre propi rècord de 175 espècies, establert l’any 2015.

Els participants d’aquest any vam ser en Víctor Sanz, en Mike O´Neill, en Ramiro Aibar i un servidor, Carles Oliver. Aquest post en un resum de l’esperiència viscuda al llarg d’aquella jornada.

 

Els integrants d’Emberiza & cia d’enguany. D’esquerra a dreta: Victor Sanz, Carles Oliver, Mike O´Neill i Ramiro Aibar.

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Vam escollir la data del dia 1 de Maig per a realitzar la marató, bàsicament perquè era la que més s’ajustava amb els nostres respectius calendaris laborals. Per segon any consecutiu visitaríem diferents localitzacions del Pirineu, Delta de l’Ebre i Franja de Ponent per tal d’aconseguir el major número d’espècies possibles.

Malauradament, la metereologia no va estar de part nostra. Al llarg de tota la jornada vam patir vent del Nord entre moderat i fort, que va fer molt incòmode l’observació d’ocells. A més a més, el fort vent va estar acompanyat, de matinada, per una intensa nevada al Pirineu, que va fer pràctimanent impossible assolir els objectius previstos a les localitzacions escollides. La neu també ens va acompanyar al Pirineu i, de fet, al llarg de tot el dia. Les temperatures van oscil·lar entre els -5ºC i els 12ºC, en un ambient més propi del mes de Febrer que no pas de començaments de Maig. 

 

Aquesta parella de cuabarrades ens va donar un bon espectacle i va merèixer una bona parada en el trajecte Delta de l’Ebre-Franja de Ponent. Imatge: Victor Sanz

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La jornada la vam començar a la 13:44 a la Ronda de Dalt amb molta il·lusió i molt, molt orgullosos de les nostres samarretes (gràcies Víctor!). Un cop tots reunits i apilats els trastos en un dels vehicles vam fer una primera parada a peu de Ronda. Aquí ja vam poder comprovar les baixes temperatures (només 11ºC!!!) i la baixa activitat d’aus que seria la tònica general de jornada. 

Només vam poder sentir 3 Xots (Otus scops) i 1 Rossinyol comú (Luscinia megarhynchos). Malgrat els nostres esforços per sentir alguna cosa més, enguany l’Enganyapastors (Caprimulgus europaeus) va fallar a la seva cita habitual, sent la primera baixa del dia…

Una mica després de les 4:00 arribem a la nostra segona parada, a l’alt Pirineu. Aquí, sota una important nevada, vam fer diferents parades per escoltar nocturnes, amb un resultat totalment negatiu. Després d’una hora de intents sota la neu i el fort vent vam fer una petita escapada a la vall per intentar el Gamarús (Strix aluco) que sí que vam sentir (tímidament) malgrat el vent. Aquí també va cantar una Cotxa fumada (Phoenicurus ochruros).

De tornada a les alçades vam un últim intent per aquelles nocturnes més altimontanes, sense èxit. A l’albada ens van arribar els primers cants i reclams: Pit-roig (Erithacus rubecula), Griva (Turdus viscivorus), Pardal de bardissa (Prunella modularis), Pinsà comú (Fringilla coelebs), Mallarenga petita (Periparus ater), Tord comú (Turdus philomelos), Mallarenga emplollada (Lophophanes cristatus), Bruel (Regulus ignicapilla) i Raspinell comú (Certhia brachydactyla). 

Una miqueta més avançat el matí s’hi van sumar un segon grup, no tant matiner: Reietó (Regulus regulus), Picot verd (Picus sharpei), Picot garser gros (Dendrocopos major), Pica-soques blau (Sitta europea), Sit negre (Emberiza cia), Cucut (Cuculus canorus), Corb (Corvus corax), Merla (Turdus merula), Mosquiter comú (Phylloscopus collybita), Trencapinyes (Loxia curvirostra) i Llucareta (Carduelis citrinella). Van fallar algunes espècies però, tenint en compte les pèsimes condicions metereològiques, no ens podíem queixar!

De camí a la vall encara vam sumar alguna que altra espècie com la Cuereta blanca (Motacilla alba), el Tudó (Columba palumbus) o la Cornella negra (Corvus corone). Un cop arribats a la vall la nostra primera parada va ser en un petit estany que va ser molt, molt productiu. Aquí en Mike va veure una parella de Morell de plomall (Aythya fuligula) i, a prop seu, també hi havia Cigne mut (Cygnus olor), Ànec coll-verd (Anas platyrhynchos) i Ànec mandarí (Aix galericulata). Al voltant de l’estany hi havia Xivitona (Actitis hypoleucos) i Gamba verda (Tringa nebularia), una espècies gens habitual a la zona! A les arbredes del voltant hi vam afegir Gaig (Garrulus glandarius), Tallarol de casquet (Sylvia atricapilla), Verdum (Chloris chloris), Mastegatatxes (Ficedula hypoleuca), Mosquiter pàl·lid (Phylloscopus bonelli) i Mallarengues blava (Cyanistes caeruleus), carbonera (Parus major) i cuallarga (Aegithalos caudatus). 

La següent parada va ser uns quilòmetres més avall de vall. Aquí vam afegir a la llista Verderola (Emberiza citrinella), Gratapalles (Emberiza cirlus), Tallarol de garriga (Sylvia cantillans), Cargolet (Troglodytes troglodytes), Passerell comú (Carduelis cannabina) i una molt tardana Titella (Anthus pratensis). Aquí també vam veure els primers rapinyaires del dia, en concret Xoriguer comú (Falco tinnunculus), Milà negre (Milvus migrans) i Aligot comú (Buteo buteo). 

La última parada a la vall ens va reportar molts Voltors comuns (Gyps fulvus), Milà reial (Milvus milvus) a més a més de Cuereta torrentera (Motacilla cinerea), Pardal roquer (Petronia petronia), Pardal xarrec (Passer montanus), Cadernera (Carduelis carduelis) i Roquerol (Ptynoprogne rupestris).

Martinet ros (Ardeola ralloides), un dels ardèids més comuns al Delta de l’Ebre

Squacco Heron

Abans d’enfilar fins a un coll de muntanya vam, però, decidir de fer una paradeta als afores d’un poble, en un lloc de petits camps de conreu que acostumen a ser molt productius. Va ser una de les decisions més encertades de la jornada, ja que amb prou feines bufava vent. 

Aquí vam poder afegir a llista Cotoliu (Lullula arborea), Bitxac comú (Saxicola rubicola), Bitxac rogenc (Saxicola rubetra), Garsa (Pica pica) i un molt aclamat Hortolà (Emberiza hortulana); el primer de l’any per a tots nosaltres! 

Un cop guanyada alçada vam comprovar les pèsimes condicions meterològiques, amb cops de vent molt fort que amb prou feines ens permetiren de sortir del cotxe. Malgrat això vam poder sumar alguns dels objectius principals, com Gralla de bec groc (Pyrrhocorax graculus), Gralla de bec vermell (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), Còlit gris (Oenanthe oenanthe) i Merla roquera (Monticola saxatilis) amb un parell d’exemplars volant increïblement alt malgrat el vent. 

Algunes de les espècies que no van aparèixer i amb les que hi comptaven són, entre d’altres, Merla de pit blanc (Turdus torquatus), Lluer (Spinus spinus), Picot negre (Dryocopus martius), Trencalòs (Gypaetos barbatus), Grasset de muntanya (Anthus spinolleta), Pinsà borroner (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), Alosa (Alauda arvensis) i Guatlla (Coturnix coturnix)…

Les últimes parades al Pirineu, abans de sortir “volant” cap al Delta, ens van reportar Tallarol gros (Sylvia borin), Esparver vulgar (Accipiter nisus) i Merla d’aigua (Cinclus cinclus), una espècie aquesta que només va poder gaudir en Víctor.

Cap al migdia vam arribar al Delta de l’Ebre. En sortir del Pirineu superàvem les 80 espècies, així que la cosa no anava tant malament… De camí cap al Delta vam sumar unes quantes espècies, pescades en vol com el Ballester (Apus melba) i la Cotorreta de pit gris (Myiopsitta monachus) a l’alçada de Sant Cugat o  les Orenetes vulgars (Hirundo rustica) i cuablanques (Delichon urbicum).

En arribar al Delta hi havia una munió de Falciots negres (Apus apus) i Orenetes de ribera (Riparia riparia) per tota la zona. En arribar allà i malgrat el vent, ràpidament vam sumar un bon grapat d’espècies com Martinet ros (Ardeola ralloides), Martinet blanc (Egretta garzetta), Esplugabous (Bubulcus ibis) i Agró roig (Ardea purpurea) així com Cames llargues (Himantopus himantopus), Fumarell carablanc (Chlidonias hybridus), Curroc (Gelochelidon nilotica), Gavià argentat (Larus michahellis), Gavina riallera (Chroicephalus ridibundus) i Gavina corsa (Larus audouinii). 

Un petit passeig al voltant d’un canyissar no va donar els fruits dessitjats però encara i així Boscarla de canyar (Acrocephalus scirpaceus), Polla blava (Porphyrio porphyrio), Polla d’aigua (Gallinula chloropus), Fotja vulgar (Fulica atra), Arpella vulgar (Circus aeruginosus), Xibec (Netta rufina) i Cabusset (Tachybaptus ruficollis) no van fallar a la cita. 

En arribar a El Goleró vam veure un gran estol de +100 Xatrac comú (Sterna hirundo) acompanyats d’alguns Xatracs bec-llargs (Sterna sandvicensis). La zona, com és habitual, era ben plena de larolimícols. Aquí hi havien alguns exemplars de Gavina capblanca (Chroicocephalus genei) i +120 Territs becllargs (Calidris ferruginea) acompanyats de Territs variants (Calidris alpina) i Territs de tres dits (Calidris alba) junt amb alguns Territs menuts (Calidris minuta) i nombrosos Corriols grossos (Charadrius hiaticula). A la llunyania hi havien estols de Flamencs (Phoenicopterus roseus). Aquí també vam poder veure l’únic Trist (Cisticola juncidis) de la jornada a més del primer estol d’Abellerols (Merops apiaster) en migració.

Vam continuar ruta pel Delta apropant-nos a l’Aufacada per tal de mirar de sumar algunes espècies més, sobretot de limícols. Abans d’arribar vam poder veure nombrosos Capons reials (Plegadis falcinellus) i +30 Perdius de mar (Glareola pratincola) i Cueretes grogues (Motacilla flava) junt amb estols d’Estornells negres (Sturnus unicolor) i alguna Cogullada vulgar (Galerida cristata). En arribar a l’Aufacada vam poder sumar Bec d’alena (Recurvirostra avosetta), Ànec blanc (Tadorna tadorna), Papamosques gris (Muscicapa striata), Cotxa cua-roja (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), Ànec griset (Anas strepera) però res més…

Una mica decebuts per la baixa tònica general de la jornada vam fer una última visita al Delta, a les Salines de Sant Antoni. Aquí vam veure les primeres Gambes rojes vulgars (Tringa totanus) de la jornada junt amb Corriol camanegre (Charadrius alexandrinus) i +15 Remena-rocs (Arenaria interpres). Aquí en Mike va localitzar el nostre únic tètol del dia, un cuabarrat (Limosa lapponica) i en Victor va localitzar al seu costat un Gamba roja pintada (Tringa erythropus) i un Xatrac gros (Sterna caspia) una mica més enllà.

Sense més temps per a dedicar-ne al Delta, vam marxar en direcció a Los Monegros. Anàvem una mica moixos ja que, també al Delta, havien fallat moltes, moltes espècies com el Martinet de nit (Nycticorax nycticorax) -tot i que ens vam aturar davant una colònia…-, Martinet menut (Ixobrychus minutus), Xatrac menut (Sternula albifrons) a més de nombroses espècies migratòries comunes com el Batallaire (Philomachus pugnax), la Valona (Tringa glareola) o el Pigre gris (Pluvialis squatarola)…

Així doncs vam enfilar carretera amunt. Durant el trajecte havíem de mirar de sumar dues espècies des del cotxe mateix, i ho vam aconseguir. Primer 1 Oreneta cua-rogenca (Cecropis daurica) ens va passar per sobre i, poc després, en Ramiro va localitzar 2 Àligues cuabarrades (Aquila fasciata) volant molt a prop de la carretera i barallant-se amb una marcena, en el que va ser un dels highlights de la jornada! Una mica més endavant de la carretera ens van passar fins a 3 Oriols (Oriolus oriolus), genial!

La moral va pujar ràpidament i encara ho va fer més quan, als voltants de Lleida, en Ramiro va fer parar el cotxe per un rapinyaire volant sobre els camps… era un Esparver d’espatlles negres (Elanus caeruleus). Fantàstic! Vam poder gaudir una miqueta del bitxo abans no marxés en direcció Sud. Ara la moral la teníem alta!

 

Esparver d’espatlles negres (Elanus caeruleus), un nidificant escàs a la Plana de Lleida. Imatge: Carles Oliver

Black-winged Kite

En arribar a la zona de Monegros a explorar la moral va tornar a baixar. Aquí també bufava el vent! Malgrat tot algunes espècies van començar a sortir: Cigonya blanca (Ciconia ciconia) i Rossinyol bord (Cettia cettia) van ser els primers a afegir-se a la llista a la zona. 

Una primera parada en uns tallats per cercar Merla blava (Monticola solitarius), Còlit negre (Oenanthe leucura), Tallareta cuallarga (Sylvia undata) i Xixella (Columba oenas) va ser totalment negatiu i només vam poder sumar Cogullada fosca (Galerida theklae) i Còlit ros (Oenanthe hispanica)…

Clarament desanimats vam començar a explorar l’estepa. Aquí la cosa no va estar gens facil però encara vam poder salvar Capsigrany (Lanius senator), Terrerola rogenca (Calandrella rufescens), Terrerola vulgar (Calandrella brachydactyla), Calàndria (Melanocorypha calandra), Guatlla (Coturnix coturnix), Botxí meridional (Lanius meridionalis) i Torlit (Burhinus oedicnemus). Els rapinyaires estaven desaparescuts… En Mike va localitzar un Mussol comú (Athene noctua) i va esclatar l’alegria, fins i tot patíem per aquesta espècie!!

Una mica més d’exploració va afegir Tallarol trencamates (Sylvia conspicillata), Xoriguer petit (Falco naumanii), Sisó (Tetrax tetrax) i Xixella a la nostra llista.

 

Estols de Capons reials (Plegadis falcinellus) són facilment observables al llarg de la carretera que mena a l’Aufacada. Imatge: Carles Oliver

Morito - Capó reial    

A última hora del vespre ens vam dirigir a un riu proper. Aquí, in extremis, vam afegir Falcó mostatxut (Falco subbuteo), Bosqueta vulgar (Hippolais polyglotta) i Tallarol capnegre (Sylvia melanocephala), del que només vam veure una femella en vol just en el moment de fer-nos la foto de grup!!!

Passat vespre ens vam apropar al mateix lloc que l’any 2015 havia produit Siboc (Caprimulgus ruficollis), Òliba (Tyto alba) i Mussol banyut (Asio otus) amb extrema facilitat però malgrat la nostra espera i esmerçar-hi molta atenció i energia, no vam aconseguir res…

El trajecte final cap a Barcelona va ser com una mena de miratge en el que quatre zombis compartien vehicle i monosíl·labs…

Així que la cursa va acabar amb 162 espècies. La conclusió final és que les dures, molt dures condicions meteorològiques (més pròpies del mes de Febrer que del Maig) van fer que no gaudissim a plaer de cap de les localitzacions i, tot i passar una bona estona, hem de tenir un pla d’emergència per a dies de vent!!

Com a highlights del dia ens queden l’Hortolà, l’Esparver d’espatlles negres i la parella de cuabarrades tenint més que paraules amb la marcenca. 

Esperem que l’any que ve la temperatura pugi fins als 20ºC en algun moment del dia 😉 Sense vent, esperem millorar, de llarg, els resultats d’enguany!!!

Morocco: from Atlas to Sahara tour. 2016 issue

 

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

Number of participants: 5

Number of species: 189 + 4 races

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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