Arxiu d'etiquetes: Morocco

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, 2015 issue report

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

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Part of our small group birdwatching around Boulmane du Dades.

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

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

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

Motacilla subpersonata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Rock Thrush in Dades Gorge.

Blue Rock Thrush in Dades Gorge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Egyptian Nightjar - Caprimulgus aegyptiacus

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

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

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Spotted Sandgrouse is a typical inhabitant in stony deserts

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

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

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

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Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinoides) on a cliff around Merzouga

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

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Marbled Ducks favours shallow, often temporary, lakes.

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

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

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

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

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