Arxiu d'etiquetes: birding

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?