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Southern Morocco 16-23 March 2010

More images coming soon….

Southern Morocco 16-23 March 2010
Birding the Deserts, Atlas mountains and coast.

Top Bird! Desert Sparrow, Touareg Nomad Camp, S of Erg Chebbi MJM


High fives after seeing the enigmatic Desert Sparrow, can you see it?…..

African Crimson winged Finch, Oukaimeden, MJM

‘Atlas’ Shore Lark, Oukaimeden MJM


Cream coloured Courser, Yasmina, MJM

Thick-billed Lark, Tagdilt, MJM

I travelled with four other ‘hand picked’ birding friends which consisted of.. Jer ‘Jubs’ Squire (JJS), Paul ‘Walks or Walkdy’ Walkden (PW), Bob Radford (RR), Neil ‘Smarty’ Smart (NRS) and myself (MJM). We flew from Bristol to Marrakech and stayed in the country for 8 days and 7 nights. On the first night we stayed at Chez Juju at Oukaimeden (cold showers, good food and they kindly placed heaters in our rooms, it froze outside at night and we felt the altitude, I had a migraine attack possibly from the height we were at but more likely from the stresses of the week leading up to the trip, incidentally the week ended on the same note probably through lack of sleep) on 16th for the High Atlas above 3000m and Ourika Valley birds, Hotel la Valee in Toubante (good food, swimming pool that we did not use, dining in an authentic giant nomad tent set up inside a room, hot showers) near Ouarzazate on 17th  for the Tagdilt Track and Boumalne de Dades/Tinehir/Tinejdad/Erfoud/Rissani to the Auberge Derkaoua (luxury food and hot showers when the generator is on, swimming pool and very relaxing place all round, great birding in the gardens c £60.00 per night) which is N of Merzouga on 18th and 19th,as a base for all desert and dune birding around Merzouga, the Erg Chebbi and Rissani. We hired a Toureg guide and 4wd from 0500 to 1200pm on 20th who took us on a night drive, around the Erg Chebbi to c15km of Algeria, a nomad camp for tea. A great day out but one of our main targets was not located. We returned West via the same route but took in a detour to the Scrub Warbler site N of Goulmima and ended up at the birders favourite Hotel Soleil Bleu, Boumalne de Dades on day five for more Tagdilt track action. We had a lie-in to 0730 and birded the area all morning to early afternoon, the loss of a room key caused some disruption but the manager of the Hotel was a decent fellow and sorted it out eventually, was very helpful. A long drive saw us give up and stay at Tazanakht on 21st because it was on the way and we were tired, to our great surprise it was a dry town for alcohol and we were as usual in the mood for a couple of bottles of beer to slake our thirst each evening. It did us no harm to miss out and the Hotel Taghdoute gave us a very good meal and breakfast, one of the best and all for c£14.00 each, JJS and I were kept awake for much of the night by the street noise/cars etc (cold shower in the evening). On the 22nd we stayed at the Hotel Hagounia (warm excellent showers) in Insegane for Oued Sous and Tamri as we were leaving on the 23rd. This place was not particularly great, in fact grotty but was only £6.50 a night pp. We ate at a French Restaurant c2km out of town which was quite a walk, had a great meal and a taxi back. A race back from the coast with Jensen Button like manoeuvres from me saw us reach the airport with five minutes to spare.

Car/Mileage

We hired a Peugeot Partner for c £350.00 and had to add extra insurance and drivers on top at 300 dirham per person. We began on 96000km, day two 9700km, day three on 96318, day four 96729, day five 96877 and finished on 98276km. I believe I personally drove c1750 of this total. Driving was quite an experience and in many cases not for the feint hearted but there was give from the drivers around you despite the initial madness on show.

Culture

Moroccans are very friendly and helpful people, we had a little over the top sales efforts at Oukaimeden with fossils/minerals which were spectacular but too much for the Ryanair 15kg limit. Otherwise it was low pressure sales and in few places. It is essential to take a step back and think about the big picture, most are kids and are just trying to make a few quid, at Dayet Srij (Lake Merzouga) the kids follow on bikes and quietly and gently rolled out newspaper with their wares, just have a look and be polite, I did buy a bracelet for my daughter. We had a couple of kids following us at Rissani, they just wanted to practice English but were so noisy we could not hear or locate Saharan Oli Warbler, this was annoying but with the benefit of sleep and hindsight not really a problem, more time and less birding would have seen us more relaxed. We tipped Guardiens who looked after the car at night, c 20 dirhams seemed OK. We tipped an unofficial guide who was hanging about the Oued Massa reserve entrance 40 dirhams, he was not content with this! The guy hid when an official van went by and signalled for us to be silent. In many towns we were the only N Europeans but never felt threatened, a few sad souls we encountered were clearly insane but were no bother. In the Atlas the kids wave as soon as they see who is in the car, I thought it was down to my recent BBC appearances but then remembered they probably do not watch TV. Even two year olds were playing on the side of the road. We were asked for money by kids around Agadir, they signed hunger and the need for shoes but when they realised we were not going to give them anything started laughing and joking with us, I was asked if I wanted to see ibis and for un stylo (a pen) by one Barcelona FC shirt wearing child of 8, I said I would show him some and that I did not have a pen on me so he rode off laughing barefoot down the hill at Tamri. Some women did not like to see us in shorts, we had a tyre problem which was fixed for 50 dirhams in Massa but were getting looks, at Tamri the women shouted no at us if we glanced in their direction, they were all covered head to toe and we all were very admiring of the colourful robes that brighten up the whole country. I would say it is best to keep your zip-offs on when near Moroccans out of respect. At Oued Massa, everyone said hello, bonjour and we extremely friendly, great to be amongst.


Audouin’s Gull, Agadir MJM

Sites

The high Atlas around Oukaimeden and the Ourika Valley, Tizi n Tichka pass at 2500m, Ouarzazate and the Barrage el Mansour Reservoir, Boumalne de Dades and the famous stone desert (hammada) of the Tagdilt tacks/Inoukien road, the Deserts around the Erg Chebbi, the Oasis from Rissani to West of Jorf, the scrubby desert N of Goulmima, cultivations and tamarisk stands en-route including the ‘Magic cultivation’-12km from Tazenakht on Taroundant road, the Sous Valley, Oued Massa reserve and the sandy hills and dunes along the coast around Tamri oued mouth.


Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker, near Asni turnoff, Atlas MJM

Spotted Sandgrouse MJM

Bird list (in capitals were our highlights)

  1. 1.      Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna; a few pairs seen at the Barrage el Mansour, Ouarzazate on 18th.
    2. Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea; c 20 at theBarrage el Mansour, Ouarzazate on 18th, 1000+ on Dayet Sriji (Lake Merzouga) on 19th and 20th, we had brilliant views of such large flocks with many close to us and confiding. In addition two seen flying over the road having left a wet wadi near Tazanakht on 22nd and they were seen at Oued Massa.
    3. Mallard Anas platyryhnchos; c20 seen at the mouth of the Oued Massa on 22nd.
    4. Northern Pintail Anas acuta; c25 seen at Dayet Sriji (Lake Merzouga) on 19th and 20th.
    5. Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata; seen at Barrage el Mansour, Ouarzazate with c 20 on 18th and c30 at Dayet Srij on 19/20th.
    6. MARBLED DUCK Marmaronetta angustirostris; Two seen in flight on the Barrage el Mansour, Ouarzazate on 18th, at least 200 on Dayet Sriji (Lake Merzouga) on 20th and 4,4, 3, 6, 2 and 4 flew low over us at Oued Massa as they left their feeding site and headed to a roost at dusk. I have seen this species in Spain around 5 visits in various places but the flock on 20th was the largest I have ever seen, very impressive. The overhead flight views on 22nd were also very memorable.
    7. Eurasian Teal Anas crecca; seen at Dayet Sriji.
    8. Garganey Anas querquedula; Three or four seen in flight and landing among the tamarisks where two male and a female were noted on Barrage el Mansour on 18th.
    9. Common Pochard Aythya ferina; c35 were present on Dayet Sriji on 20th.
    10. Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula; a male among the Common Coot flock at Barrage el Mansour on 18th and  c10 seen at Dayet Srij on 19th.
    11. Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara; I located two on rocky outcrops near the Asni junction when coming down from the high Atlas on 17th.
    12. Common Quail Coturnis coturnis; one heard at Barrage el Mansour on 18th?
    13. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis; seen at Barrage de Mansour on 18th and c350 at Dayet Sriji on 19th and 20th. Flocks of this tiny diving bird were seen together at the latter site with up to 65 tightly bunched in a ‘fishing fleet’, I have never seen them being as social as this before.
    14. Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus; a few pairs at Barrage el Mansour on 18th and 100+ at Dayet Sriji on 19/20th.
    15. Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo; seen at many of the wetland sites.
    16. Cattle Egret Bulbucus ibis; seen in Jorf along the main road in town breeding in the palm trees, small young to nearly fledged birds present, they were also seen in small numbers at Oued Massa.
    17. Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides;  around 8 were seen at Dayet Sriji on 19th and c6 seen at Oued Massa on 22nd.
    18. Little Egret Egretta garzetta; seen at many of the wetland sites, a few wadis that still held water, c 200 were at Dayet Sriji.
    19. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea; c30 at Barrage el Mansour on 18th and 200 at Dayet Sriji on 19/20th.
    20. Purple Heron Ardea purpurea; c5 seen mainly in flight at Dayet Sriji on 19th.
    21. White Stork Ciconia ciconia; c 450 at Barrage el Mansour on 18th, seen in the Souss valley  in large circling flocks on c50 and on the rooftop nests in a few places on our travels.
    22. Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus; a flock of 13 flew over us at Oued Massa at dusk on 22nd.
    23. NORTHERN BALD IBIS Gerontica eremita; We searched the Tamri area on the morning of 23rd where NRS located 2 in flight N of the Oued at c 2 miles away. We relocated to where they landed and soon had more in flight and distantly feeding in the coastal hilly dunes. A party of 4 gave good views as they dropped near us down the slope to the sea, they were regularly put up by foraging women with donkeys, this was not a problem to the birds as they seemed to ‘know the score’. Back at the car PW picked up 2 walking along the road which gave even better views. After celebrating seeing one the world’s rarest birds we had a cold drink in Tamri among the bustle of the main drag with a goats head for company nearby (a butchers shop). We bought bananas, apples and oranges and left the town for our long drive to the airport when at the police checkpoint I spotted three ibis near the road. They allowed fantastic views from the car. We saw more in flight on the way out of the area.
    24. Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia; three at Barrage de Mansour and 33 at the Oued Massa reserve.
    25. Greater Flamingo Pheonicopterus roseus;  three were at Barrage de Mansour on 18th, 600-1000 at Dayet Sriji on 19/20th.
    26. Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus; JJS saw one from the car near Marrakech on 16th, all other passengers and the driver MJM, were very much focussing on the activity on the manic road to the Atlas. The species is not regularly found in this area so is notable.
    27. Osprey Pandion haliaetus; one or two fishing at the Barrage de Mansour on 18th.
    28. Booted Eagle Aquila pennata; pale phase birds at Tiz n Tichka pass on 17th and Tadgilt area, Boumalne on 18th. One or two more noted.
    29. Black Kite Milvus migrans; singles noted on our travels with a few at Barrage el Mansour and large flocks with storks in the Souss valley.
    30. Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus; noted at Barrage el Mansour and Dayet Sriji with single males over the desert with Erg Chebbi dune backdrop on 20th and over cultivations in the Souss Valley, Hotel de ??
    31. Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygarus; a male was hunting the many larks of the stone desert of the Tagdilt track on 21st.
    32. Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis; Seen along the road to ?? on telegraphs with another over the nearby hill. One in the hammada South of the Erg Chebbi, also seen well from the road out of Tazanakht, great views of one with a Fat Sand Rat on a wall.
    33. Common Buzzard Buteo buteo; one in the Souss Valley on 22nd.
    34. Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus; one seen near Jorf.
    35. Common Kestrel Falco tinnuculus;  seen daily in all habitats.
    36. Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo; one seen by JJS over a wadi near Merzouga on 19th.
    37. BARBARY FALCON Falco pelegrinoides; one low over the rocky hills on the Tagdilt track area on 21st with subsequent sightings in this area on the same day plus one or two more noted between  Boumalne and Taznakht.
    38. LANNER FALCON Falco biarmicus; One seen very well circling the rocky hills on the Tagdilt track on 21st with outrageously spectacular views of one hunting larks later in the day (different bird). It powerfully beat its way at the Magrheb Wheatear we were all watching, and I was photographing when it made a beeline for me! At the last minute it rose before what I thought was the coup de grace for me. The other lads all found it very funny. 
    39. Spotted Crake Porzana porzana; one seen by MJM in the pools of the Oued Massa on 22nd.
    40. Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus; one or two at Dayet Srij and Oued Massa.
    41. Eurasian Coot Fulica atra; seen all the wetland sites with 300 at Barrage el Mansour on 18th, 1000+ at Dayet Srij on 19/20th.
    42. RED KNOBBED COOT Fulica cristata; two were found among the Common Coot on the Barrage el Mansour on 18th. They loosely associated with the raft of Coot.
    43. Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus;  Large numbers on Dayet Srij, perhaps 50 and Oued Massa c10
    44. Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus; one was seen in flight by JJS at the Barrage el Mansour on 18th.
    45. CREAM COLOURED COURSER Cursorius cursor;  the first one was seen S of Auberge Tresor, 4 seen on the 14km track to Auberge Yasmina, 2 from the car near Goulmima,  8 seen on Tagdilt tracks on the way to and 4 on the way  back from the Wheatear wall/ruin, 2 seen in flight and on the ground at the Magrheb site on 21st, on the 22nd we saw 4 from the car en route from Tazanakht to Taliouine. We also saw one or two more from the car between Erfoud and Boumalne but never noted where.
    46. Little-ringed Plover Charadrius dubius; it was seen at all the wetland sites and a wet splash on the road near Auberge Tresor, the wadi at Rissani and other wetlands.
    47. Kentish Plover Charadrius  alexandrinus;  RR located a few on the shore of Dayet Srij and one was at the wadi in Rissani.
    48. Dunlin Calidris alpina; two at Dayet Srij on 20th.
    49. Little Stint Calidris minutus; two at Dayet Srij on 20th and one in the wadi at Rissani on 21st.
    50. Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus; singles were seen at the wetland sites and one at a camel drinking pool on the Tagdilt track.
    51. Greenshank Tringa nebularia; two at Barrage el Mansour on 18th and two at Dayet Srij on 20th.   
    52. Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago; two at Barrage el Mansour on the 18th and three at Oued Massa on 22nd.
    53.  Ruff Philomachus pugnax; two at Barrage el Mansour on 18th.
    54. Black-headed Gull Chroicephalus ridibundus; 20 at Dayet Srij on 19th.
    55. Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis; seen along the coast.
    56. Audouin’s Gull Larus audouini; four on the beach at N of Agadir and 20 at Tamri.
    57. Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus; seen along the coast.
    58. Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis; c30 on the beach at Tamri on 23rd.
    59. Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica; seen at all the wetland sites but were notable at Tamri for being among the previous species.
    60. BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE Pterocles orientalis; JJS spotted four sandgrouse sp over a hill which eventually turned to nine as they landed on a ridge and seemed to be taking minerals between Tazanakht to Talioiune 22nd.  
    61. SPOTTED SANDGROUSE  Pterocles senegallus; After I made a u-turn to inspect a damp patch in the roadside desert which held LRP and undoubtedly had sandgrouse potential,  JJS located a flock of 23, this site was near the Auberge Tresor on 19th. This bird got a vote from PW for bird of the trip.
    62. CROWNED SANDGROUSE Pterocles cororatus ; we got to the well known site at the Tagdilt track/Inoukien road by 0830 and the birds arrived soon after at c 0900 giving great views. We and other birders present did however stay on the road and near the car to let the birds come in to drink undisturbed, I recommend all birding crews/groups do the same in the interests of the birds. We had 19 and 9 arrive and watched them for an hour until they satiated their thirst and left.
    63. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon Columba livia; some birds with reasonable credentials were noted as well as Feral Pigeon.
    64. Common Woodpigeon Columba palumbus; seen in the Atlas and Souss Valley.
    65. Collared Dove Streptopelia decaoto; seen commonly but some very dark birds were seen in Ouarzazate and Auberge Derkaoua which did not look like regular Collared Doves.
    66. Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur; two seen on the track at the back of Hotel with Argan habitat, Sous Valley in Gosney on 22nd.
    67. Laughing Dove Stretopelia senegalensis; a pair seen at the Hotel le Vallee, Tabounte near Ouarzazate on 18th.
    68. Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus; one calling at Oued Massa on 22nd.
    69. Little Owl Athene noctua; one seen near Rissani and another on the Oued Massa reserve.
    70. EGYPTIAN NIGHTJAR Caprimulgus aegyptius; after getting up at 0400 and staying out to 2000 in the same day for them at the Auberge Tresor (Gosney site, seen by an Irish crew the day before) and Auberge Derkaoua around the pool in the evening and early morning plus in suitable wadis on a early morning 0500 search via 4×4 out around the Erg Chebbi we failed! Four members of our crew including me were delighted to have one fly across the road at night in front of us on the way back from the Scrub Warbler site S of Goulmima on 21st.
    71. Common Swift Apus apus; this species was seen in large numbers around towns and migrating over the Tagdilt.
    72. Pallid Swift Apus pallidus; c300 studied over the sea cliffs S of Tamri.
    73. Alpine Swift Apus melba; JJS spotted one over the Barrage el Mansour on 18th.
    74. LITTLE SWIFT Apus affinis; great views of this charismatic bird were had in the Sous Valley near Taroundant and other towns. The raised wing ‘butterfly floating glide’ display was seen well as pairs toured together or entered nest areas which were on ground level open shop fronts.
    75. Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops; a pair in the palms outside the hotel at Hotel le Vallee, Tabounte, Ouarzazate, singles from the car en-route to Merzouga, around the Auberge Derkaoua, up to 8 migrants in one small cultivation on the Tagdilt, six burst out of a thorny bush together. Seen daily in a variety of habitats.
    76. European Bee Eater Merops apiaster; heard at a couple of sites before being seen well in flocks at Hotel with Argan habitat in the Sous Valley, at Tamri and other places on 22nd and 23rd.
    77. BLUE-CHEEKED BEE EATER Merops persicus; at Rissani NRS located three bee-eater sp on wires at the Saharan Olivaceous Warbler site, on inspection we found c8 of these gorgeous birds and had great views. Later the same day we found a further 23 by the road W  of Jorf/Fasna and again they showed very well for us on wires and tamarisks.
    78. LEVAILLANT’S GREEN WOODPECKER Picus vaillantii; I located one on call initially and then found it on show after climbing a rock near the Asni turnoff. It showed for a prlonged period and was still calling half an hour later.
    79. Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla; I found one in tamarisks whilst we searched a nicely cultivated patch on the Tagdilt track.
    80. Crested Lark Galeridia cristata; seen commonly along roads and in suitable habitat.
    81. Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla; flocks of up to 300 seen with perhaps 10-15,000 seen in the Merzouga area and South side of the High Atlas/ Tagdlit.
    82. Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti; a few seen in the Tagdilt area on 18th and 21st with what appeared to be two pairs on the first small exposed rocky hill where the rocky mountains start (S side of Boumalne road, west of Tagdilt to Inoukien tarmac road).
    83. BAR-TAILED LARK Ammomanes cinctura; seen singly and small flocks in the sandy areas of the Tagdilt track and in large numbers and even flocks in all areas around Merzouga/Erg Chebbi.
    84. THICK-BILLED LARK Ramphocoris clotbey; what a bird, a real hit with all of our crew and we all seemed to drop on them around the same time west of the Tagdilt track to Inoukien road on 18th and 21st, also seen on the Taznakht to Talioine road on 22nd.
    85. HORNED LARK Eremiphilia alpestris atlas; small flocks and singles seen all around the ski station and in the car park at Oukaimeden on 17th.
    86. TEMMINCK’S LARK Eremiphilia bilopha; very confiding and common in the Tagdilt area and around Merzouga. Great little birds and the song heard regularly.
    87. HOOPOE LARK Alaemon alaudipes; this was a bird I used to see daily when I was resident in the UAE it was great to be among them again. It is a canny species that runs away through cover when it has had a look at you, best views were from within the car but we all scoped them display flighting from a perch, the bird transforms into a pied wonder when its wings open but returning to earth sees it close them fully reminiscent of a Stuka dive bombing raid. It is easy to call as a courser when travelling at speed and seen out of the corner of the eye in the desert.
    88. Sand Martin Riparia riparia; a few seen at Oued Massa and one over the Tagdilt track.
    89. Brown throated Sand Martin Riparia palaudicola; Poor views of one at the Oued Massa pools were not satisfactory to allow contentment when banking a lifer. Also known as Plain Martin.
    90. Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica; Seen daily on passage and feeding around all habitats.
    91. Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica; seen on the Marrakech to Oukaimeden road and Sous Valley/Oued Massa/Tamri areas.
    92. Common House Martin Delichon urbica; one over the Toureg Nomad camp, Erg Chebbi on 20th and seen at the Barrage el Mansour on 18th.
    93. Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris; I located two in an apple orchard on the Taznackht to Taliouine road.
    94. Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis; seen at the Barrage el Mansour on 18th.
    95. Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus; one seen by all but heard by a couple of us at the Barrage el Mansour on 18th.
    96. White Wagtail Motacilla alba; seen in many places.
     97. MORROCAN WAGTAIL Motacilla alba subpersonata; too good to not be given full mention or even status. A pair at was at the Barrage de Mansour on 18th, one in the wadi at Rissani on 21st.
    98. Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava; seen in a wide range of habitats from swimming pools to desert splashes. We noted flava (Blue-headed), Iberiae (Iberian) and flavissima (Yellow). The latter sounds different to the Iberians.
    99. Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea; seen in the Atlas around Oukaimeden and Barrage el Mansour, perhaps one or two others noted en-route.
    100. Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhychos; heard and seen in the open in a small area of cultivation on Taznackht to Taroundant road.
    101. Common Redstart Phoenicurus pheonicurus; many noted on migration at Barrage el Mansour c 4 on 18th, Tagdilt track area c6 on 21st and at a few other locations.
    102. Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochuros; very common at Oukaimeden, one had extensive black to the belly.
    103. MOUSSIERS’S REDSTART Phoenicurus moussierri; males in stunning plumage seen on the way down from Oukameiden on 17th, near the Asni turn off in a steep valley with stream and further sightings at Hotel ??male and female by the tracks, at Oued Massa and one or two others.
    104. Stonechat Saxicola torquata; three at Oued Massa on 22nd.
    105. Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe; lots seen S of the High Atlas, c 40 noted Taznakht to Taroundant road on 22nd.
    106. Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica; seen around Merzouga, Boumalne, Tagdilt area, many c10 along Taznahkte to Taroundant road on 22nd. Two of the masked types were seen otherwise they were all black throated forms.
    107. MAGRHEB WHEATEAR Oenanthe halophila; (aka Western Mourning Wheatear) a male was eventually located at the regular site (Gosney’ wheatear wall’) on 21st. It showed well on the SE corner of the ruins and ranged down the slope to the cultivations and small building closer to the farm. RR voted this his bird of the trip.
    108. WHITE CROWNED WHEATEAR Oenanthe leucopyga; seen very commonly from Boumalne to Merzouga with a few others noted west of the former town. A very confiding bird and seen at nearly every stop.
    109. BLACK WHEATEAR Oenanthe leucura; a pair located by NRS from the car after crossing the Tizi n Tichka pass, another pair on a wall at the Apple orchard stop from Taznakhte to Taliouine road.
    110. DESERT WHEATEAR Oenanthe deserti; very common from Boumalne to Merzouga in many habitats.
    111. RED RUMPED WHEATEAR Oenanthe moesta; lots seen in pairs around the Tagdilt track area and seen around Merzouga. They were feeding young at the ‘wheatear wall’.
    112.Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus; seen at Oued Massa on 22nd.
    113. Mistle Thrush Turdus iliacus; many seen around Oukaimeden on 16/17th.
    114. Blackbird Turdus merula; common but has a different song and indeed call.
    115. Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitaris; a male at Oukaimeden on 17th, JJS saw one in Marrakech suburbs from the car on 16th.
    116. SCRUB WARBLER Scotocerca inquieta saharae; I located one and also heard 4kms S of Gosney site and was seen by three of the crew.
    117. Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla; Two at Hotel la Vallee, Tabounte, Ourazazate on 18th and also seen on 21st-23rd.
    118. Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis; two were in the cultivation hotspot on the road out of Taznakhte. It was also seen in the Sous Valley.
    119. Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala; a few seen/heard on our travels until one seen at Auberge Derkaoua on 19th and in the Sous Valley 22nd, males and females noted at Oued Massa.
    120. Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata; seen well, often males singing and display flighting with one showy bird at the cultivation on the Tagdilt track and others seen on 21st and 23rd.
    121. Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans; it was very common around the Tamarisks of Merzouga, the Erg Chebbi and many places daily to 23rd. A constant companion at our breakfast table and whilst swimming in the pool at Auberge Derkaoua when we allowed ourselves an hour off.
    122. AFRICAN DESERT WARBLER Sylvia deserti; a very special little bird, we had great views of one singing in a grass dune field at the S end of the Erg Chebbi, a second was singing nearby. Much more striking than the Asian birds I have seen in the winter when working in the UAE.
    123. Tristram’s Warbler Sylvia deserticola; despite checking hundreds of ‘Subalps’ we did not locate one in the Merzouga area, i did however see a dull bird with more extensive rufous underparts/wings and a indistinct sub-moustachial stripe atop a roadside bush at Aouluz on 22nd but after stopping and searching we could not locate it. I would put money on it being one but not satisfactory to be happy enough as a decent birding experience of the species.
    124. Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobanus; seen and heard at Oued Massa on 22nd.
    125. Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis; seen on 18th/19th 22nd and 23rd in cultivations and lower levels.
    126. Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti; heard at Oued Massa.
    127. European Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus; two heard and seen at Oued Massa on 22nd.
    128. ISSABELLINE WARBLER Hippolais opaca; one seen very well at the magic cultivation site near Taznakht and three heard singing at the Oued Massa reserve. Otherwise known as Western Olivaceous Warbler.
    129. Willow Warbler Phllyoscopus trochilus; one seen at the magic cultivation on 22nd.
    130. WESTERN BONELLI’S WARBLER Phllyoscopus bonelli; three seen very well at the magic cultivation on 22nd.
    131. Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybitta; seen at many sites.
    132. Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus ibericus; one at the magic cultivation on 22nd, a greenish bird, yellower underparts and bright yellow supercilium in front of eye were noted.
    133. Winter Wren Troglodytes troglydytes; seen commonly at Oukaimeden, different song  also seemed to have a longer tail.
    134. Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca; JJS saw one in Tamarisks at Barrage el Mansour on 18th.
    135. Great Tit Parus major; seen in the mountains and at Oued Massa.
    136. AFRICAN BLUE TIT Parus teneriffae ultraminus; common at Oukaimeden and seen at other sites, nice bird.
    137. GREAT GREY SHRIKE Lanius excubitor; elegans race seen very commonly from Marrakech to Merzouga, probable algieriensis seen along the coast near Tamri. JJS found a beetle larder on an acacia near the Erg Chebbi, probably of this species.
    138. Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator; seen daily but a large fall on 22nd had occurred, we must have seen 1000 of them between Taznakht and Oued Massa, every bush or tree had one atop!
    139. BLACK CROWNED THCAGRA Tchagra senegalus; two or three displaying birds seen at Oued Massa at the entrance to the reserve on 22nd. Dawn and dusk are best to see and hear them.
    140. COMMON BULBUL Pycnontus barbatus; Very common in gardens and some wooded wadis.
    142. FULVOUS BABBLER Turdoides fulva; seen in acacia at the Erg Chebbi on 20th and at the Scrub Warbler site N of Goulmima with 3 and 4 on 21st.
    143. MORROCAN MAGPIE Pica pica mauratanica; RR spotted a pair on the roadside near Agadir on 22nd we saw c 10 more subsequently all from the car. They have much more black in the plumage, lack the green sheen on the tail and most importantly have a patch of blue bare skin behind the eye.
    144. Red billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax; c 200 seen at Oukaimeden.
    145. Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus; c100 around Oukaimeden.
    146. Common Raven Corvus corax; seen along the coast near Agadir and Tamri.
    147. BROWN NECKED RAVEN Corvus ruficollis; c20 seen around Merzouga/Erg Chebbi. Yasmina on 19thand 20th.
    148. Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor; seen in the Sous Valley, Oued Massa, Tamri and Marrakech.
    149. House Sparrow Passer domesticus; very common.
    150. Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis; three seen in an acacia on the 4wd tour SW of the Erg Chebbi, I also saw one from the car at a road side nest site.
    151. Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia; very common around Oukaimeden on 17th.
    152. DESERT SPARROW Passer simplex; three seen well including a confiding male which fed in the door of the Toureg nomads mud house, South of the Erg Chebbi on 20th. Most of us were drinking sweet minted tea on the carpet outside the mud with our guide Achmed and one of the residents. NRS was trying to call me over to a male but lost the ability of speech, he had found one of these little beauties hopping around the hut. It was bird of the trip for three of us and made even more surreal by 4 wheel drives and motorbikes flying past at over 100mph in clouds of dust  as they took part in the Rallye Toureg, this following the same Paris to Dakar rally route. We found none at any other site including Auberge Yasmina. The drive here was horrendous and not to be taken lightly especially if you dip, it was worth it for the dunes and views and to inspire a dip in the pool.
    153. Chaffinch Fringilla celebs africana; a common bird at Oukaimeden on 16th and 17th, a few of these lovely birds seen elsewhere.
    154. Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina; seen around cultivations after leaving Taznahkt to Oued Massa.
    155. European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis; common in small numbers.
    156. European Greenfinch Chloris chloris; much brighter birds than ours seen.
    157. European Serin Serinus serinus; common around towns and cultivations.
    158. Common Crossbill Loxia curvisrostra; one or two in the valley near the Asni turnoff.
    159. Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus; a very common bird in all desert areas with some large vocal flocks seen, quite confiding.
    160. CRIMSON WINGED FINCH Rhodopechys sanguineus; we were delighted with such close views of this charismatic bird at the Oukaimeden ski-lift area. A flock of 30+ fed on walnut pieces left by the ski guides the day before and many were gathered around this place. We watched them on the cables and snow traps here before they began moving up to the snow line. We noted c160 in this area.
    161. Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra; seen and hear commonly in the Sous Valley 22/23rd.
    162. HOUSE BUNTING Emberiza sahari; very common around buildings, our first bird of the trip with one hopping around inside the Marrakech airport terminal cafe and 8 in the car park outside. Seen and heard daily.

Species not seen but looked for
Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata; we looked in all suitable habitat around the Erg Chebbi with a ‘guide’ and 4wd . The Saudi Falconers are hammering this species each winter and it is scarce, there is also talk of released birds in the area, it would be interesting to know if they are Maqueen’s or Houbara , if, this is the truth. I can’t help thinking that with the benefit of experiencing this tour that we may not be helping it’s cause by looking for them, if it was only for birders seeing them and the often tolerance these birds show when they are only being watched it would be OK. The fact they are hunted as well could cause problems. We followed a little used ‘track’ that must be the ‘Houbara’ route. I also wonder what will happen to the desert vegetation if driven on regularly by 4wd without controls, a free for all seems to be the case! The long term outlook may not be good and it would undoubtedly be better if controls were in place, it would be easier to find birds that are used to seeing 4wd on regular routes.  

Seebhom’s Wheatear Oenanthe seebhomi; we were a little early at Oukameiden for them I feel but one was reported outside the Soleil du Bleu, Boulmane the day before we stayed. We tried for Saharan Olivaceous Warbler in the wadi at Rissani but being the middle of the day, very hot, very tired (three nights of 4-5 hrs kip) had a couple of Morroccan kids wanting to sing and practice their English to us and having just watched the kaleidoscopic Blue-cheeked Bee Eaters were a little overwhelmed with colour and were losing enthusiasm for itchy scratchy things in bushes. Shameful but reality birding.

Pharoah Eagle Owl; We did not look for this bird but is was seen by other birders at Rissani and by a dutch crew near the drinking hole on the Tagdilt track. Ring Ouzel was also seen by the same guys at Oukameiden on 17th around the herders huts. We had a marvellous set of birds and cannot complain as all were quality sightings and experiences, I shall never forget this trip.

Mammals

Algerian Hedgehog Aterix algirus; JJS found one rolled into a ball at the entrance to Auberge Derkaoua (The Desert Inn) on 19th.
Bat sp; perhaps a few species seen over many towns/wadis but not specifically identified.
Cape Hare Lepus capensis; seen near the Erg Chebbi in grassy dunes.
Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus; one in the grounds of Auberge Derkaoua on 19th.
Barbary Ground Squirrel Atlantoxerus getulus; seen in the Anti Atlas.
Greater Egyptian Jerboa Jaculus orientalis; one lamped outside Auberge Derkaoua at night on 19th, JJS saw one in the grounds of the same Auberge in daylight on 20th, c10 seen in the night drive on 20th by 4wd around the N end of the Erg Chebbi. I have always wanted to see this creature as my Grandfather was a Desert Rat in WW2 fighting Rommel’s Afrika Korps in N Africa.
Shaw’s Jird Meriones shawii; I saw a creature at the Scrub Warbler site that fitted this sp rather than any others. It was smaller than Fat Sand Rat and it was seen only an hour from dusk.
Fat Sand Rat Psammomys obesus; Very common in the Tagdilt track are and Merzouga, quite confiding especially from a car and no doubt a staple diet for many birds. Their numerous tunnels in sandy soils were found everywhere. I found it a very pleasing creature to watch.

Dragonflies

Emperor Anax imperator; males seen at Oued Massa on 22nd.
Lesser Emperor Anax parthenope; seen at many sites.
VAGRANT EMPEROR Anax ephigger; seen in the wadi adjacent to Auberge Derkauoa on 19th and around Dayet Srij in large numbers on the same day. Probably responsible for many other sightings.
Red veined Darter Sympterum fonscolombii; very common around Dayet Srij on 19/20th. Bluetail sp Damselfly Ischnura sp; still working on the id of many seen at Dayet Srij on 19th but Oasis and Saharan probable.
A further species of dragonfly was seen at Oued Massa but not i.d’d.

Butterflies

Cleopatra
Large White sp
Small White sp
We are still working on the list…

Martin McGill, 29 March 2010

We had fun too, see below.

There used to be a wetland around here….must… keep… looking…

We found him two days later…gave him a drink and.. he was ressurected as……
Obi Wan Kenobe from Star Wars c1977.
(Where is the Seebhom’s Wheatear Obi Wan?, your our only hope)
May the force be with you Jubs..
Last seen in a wadi near Tazanakht, the saga continues……

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at 7:26 pm

1-31 March 2010 blog and sightings

31 March 2010 Some images from last weekend including the Buuzard which shows characters of Long-legged Buzzard.

Dead Harbour Porpoise, Severn Est.

30 March 2010 My first House Martin (in the UK) of the year from the Holden Tower, WWT along with lots of Swallows today, see WWT site for more sightings from me including the Great White Egret again this afternoon.

The Little Egrets are returning to my area..got to get the nest sites out!

A Jackdaw I saw outside my home this evening, it shows a whitish collar not of the soemmrringii type I see in Finland but an intergrade called monedula (Scandinavian) or a monedula x spermologus (UK version) intergrade.

Far right bird and two images below.

 

24-28 March 2010 Back at WWT I was too busy 24 and 25th for birding but a Swallow was of note on the latter date. I saw 50 Sand Martin and c10 Swallow on the way home at Frampton Townfield Lake. On 28th at WWT I caught up with the French Great White Egret in the 100 Acre, 50 Acre, South Lake and Bottom New Piece as it hopped it’s way South. Mike King tipped me off as it was seen at Saul Warth earlier that morning. On the estuary a dead Harbour Porpoise was stranded on the sands and nearby a Merlin dashed in front of me in the 50 Acre. At 1255 I spotted a Buzzard sp on the 100 Acre/50 Acre hedge which immediately ‘spoke’ to me as being very reminiscent of Long-legged, a species I have seen plenty of and all week in Morocco. Very warm tones against cream stood out. I took some mental notes and shaky digiscoped images as I hung out of the Landrover. When repositioning to get a better view by heading S away from it (it had dropped down onto the ground) it flew off low North which I missed but was seen by my Spanish Volunteer, Pau. Either I am burnt out tired and seeing things or this was a very unusual bird, it’s legs were very long, perching easily on the thorny hedge and appeared to extend well past its red  ’trousers’ like a Marsh Harrier. It was pale headed and breasted with large reddish chestnut patches on the thighs lightly meeting in the middle and rufous on the uppertail. I noted at least 6 Common Buzzard around the immediate area and none looked anything like this bird.

16-23rd March 2010 I have been away…

The delightful Moussier’s Redstart, Oued Massa Reserve

A week in Morocco touring the country was a wise move, more to follow when I get time with a full trip report.

15 March 2010 No real surprises at WWT today but JSL and I had a Water Pipit over where we were working and he saw the Bittern in the open field of the 100 Acre at 3.45pm. This bird has been seen in the fields a few times in the last week or so perhaps looking for voles. I thought it would have departed by now with ideal migration conditions. At least 9 Bewick’s Swans remained today.

Merlin 1st summer male?
I often see Merlin in transitional moult in March at WWT with presumed young males showing 50/50 blue/grey feathers and retained juvenile worn feathers. This bird is much less advanced than what I usually see but may well moult rapidly at this time of year. The end of March and first week of April is the best time of the year to catch up with this dashing little falcon in my area.

Tail and tertials are very worn but the fresh blue feathers are apparent

 

14 March 2010 A WeBS count a WWT occupied part of my morning and produced the expected drop in numbers. The Greenland White-fronts and Pink-footed Goose remained. Best bird was a Merlin in the 100 Acre which appears to be a first summer male.  I saw a Little Egret over the A38 on the way home.

12 March 2010 Had a good look around Frampton on Severn for Sand Martins this morning but found none. Good to see c10 Redshank around the foreshore floods and 5 Dunlin and a good selection of Duck. Nick Goatman reported 60 Bewick’s Swans over Frampton heading N at 0630, WWT is missing 60 Bewick’s this morning and 55 were seen heading over a site in Norfolk at 1030 this morning! Shame I was asleep then as they would have gone right over my house.

11 March 2010 Rather quieter at WWT as winter birds leave but birds of the week made an appearance for me. JSL and I went to the southern fields of the reserve to collect some sheep netting, it was needed to continue with a major job we have on in the north of the reserve. I walked through the marsh to get the wire and heard two geese flying behind the hedge of the Top New Piece, I had no binocular on me but I called them as Greenland White-fronts and sure enough when they appeared in view of JSL’s bins he confirmed their id and followed them in flight to the Tack Piece. We finished up a few little jobs and made our way to the Stephen Kirk hide, there they were in full view with 110 E. White-fronted Geese and the Pink-footed Goose. Great birds, longer legs, neck, wings, taller, lankier all round with very dark plumage, almost blackish, heavy belly bars and larger white frontal shields. Great birds especially among the Russian cousins. No need for me to mention the most obvious feature which is an orange bill rather than pink.

Greenland (top left two) and Russian White-fronts

Been very busy felling, clearing scrub, fallen timber, stripping out fences and putting in 250 posts to create a new fence to improve and enhance our wetlands. Hope to finish this work by the end of March. Lapwing displaying behind.

4-10 March 2010

Highlights this week are shown by my images, a cold but very sunny week with birds passing through and some winter favourites having to hang on as the wind has been coming from the east.

Eel

The first Little-ringed Plover (LRP) of the year on S. Lake.

 

Jack Snipe,  Top New Piece WWT
Panasonic Lumix DMC F7 (purchased from In Focus) and Swarovksi HD 20-60X65
I saw two very close to where I was mowing, one was in the Top New Piece, the other in the Bottom New Piece, the first I watched, photographed and left to carry on it’s business, the second I showed to JSL, it did fly a short distance and landed nearby in full view. The bobbing action and stealth behaviour was seen with both, they lie down motionless until they feel unthreatened then stalk along bobbing and swaying. The camouflage and colours are remarkable.

What’s that?

Can you see it?

Got to have good eyesight to spot them!!!!

Common Snipe
Highly unusual for it to sit and pose, they normally fly off when you get anywhere near.

Juvenile White-fronted Goose and male Gadwall
The goose now has a white frontal shield, this is not present Oct-late January/February and moults in but note no belly bars yet.

Yellowhammer, I watched c 20 near my home, some of the males were in song in the bright sun.

Pink-footed with the White-fronted Geese.

3 March 2010 The Pink-footed Goose, 186 E White-fronted Geese and 150 Bewick’s Swans and Green-winged Teal remain at WWT Slimbridge.

2 March 2010 I was filming with the Countryfile team today in amazingly lovely weather. A long day with a few good birds thrown in.

My earliest ever White Wagtail, WWT Slimbridge
Seen over the high tide among the tidal debris.

  

Water Pipit, WWT Slimbridge MJM
This bird was obligingly calling regularly. I have been seeing this species at regular intervals around the reserve in the last three years, changes in the management of parts of the reserve have benefited this bird which was previously very scarce. It still remains very hard to see with most views of flyovers as it usually feeds around the scrapes/wet fields etc often in long grass.

 

1 March 2010 Some great weather today.

Lapwing at WWT Slimbridge, Tack Piece
An albanistic bird with white patches on the back, also Redshank and Dunlin with white panels in the wing this week and the white-headed Dunlin seen here this winter.

Pochard at WWT Slimbridge MJM
Large scale departures of this long distance migrant in evidence this week along with many duck species.

Long-tailed Tit at WWT Slimbridge MJM
A species that nests early and should be incubating eggs by the end of the month.

Bittern in flight through the reeds and taken from a boat.

Female Black Redstart at Sharpness 27 February 2010 MJM

Ended Feb with this showy little bird.

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Martin

at 11:52 pm