Arxiu d'etiquetes: Desert Sparrow

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?

 

 

 

Anuncis

Morocco: from Atlas to Sahara tour. 2016 issue

 

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

Number of participants: 5

Number of species: 189 + 4 races

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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