Arxiu d'etiquetes: Birding in Morocco

Morocco Birding Tour 2022 Trip Report

  • Dates: March 12th to March 25th, 2022
  • Number of participants: 6
  • Species seen: 190

All images in this trip report by Carles Oliver. All rights reserved.

Overview. Our 8th tour to Morocco explored again one of the most popular routes in Southern Morocco. Combining excellent mountain birding in the Atlas with the stunning variety of birdlife living in the transitional plains between the mountains and the Sahara, this tour embraces a good array of habitats that provides excellent chances for all the main specialties living in the area. This year, the tour was marked by an unusual cloudy weather and very cold temperatures. During our stay in Agadir, we had general rains in the area, and the snow was appearing a pair of times during the tour. This situation was translated in a poor bird migration, with several trans-Saharan migratory species showing very thin numbers, when not being totally absent from our trip list. Despite the general unusual weather, we got excellent views on all specialties out of Thick-billed Lark. The tour had also a pair of very interesting birds, as males Little Crake and Pallid Harrier were seen both around Ouarzazate.

Day 1: Early breakfast in our hotel in Marrakech before going out and enjoy a sunny but rather fresh day. All tour participants were arriving along the day before in a number of afternoon flights, and we all met for an evening meal.

Before getting to the van we had some nice looks to the Marrakech urban birdlife. A number of Pallid Swifts were flying low, and we got good views on the colour and structure. On the same hotel, two House Buntings were singing their heart out while Sardinian Warblers, Common Bulbuls, Spotless Starlings and Eurasian Greenfinches were also noted.

Maghreb Magpie (Pica mauretanica) showing out its smart blue facial markings

In our way out of Marrakech we had first views on Maghreb Magpies, a recent split from Eurasian Magpies, on the wires or feeding on the ground, often along with Cattle Egrets. Our first stop was to explore a lovely valley in the Atlas. Here, small patches of riverside forests are surrounded by the wallnut orchards while the slopes around are fittered with Juniper srublands. Soon after living the van we had our first Levaillant’s Woodpecker (aka Atlas Green Woodpecker) nicely showing. We could all have excellent views while the bird was slowy moving in the branches of tree, in an interesting warbler-like behaviour. 2 African Blue Tits appeared as well in the same place, and a showy Eurasian Wren was a nice adding. Great Tit was calling in the distance, and European Serins were moving all around. A bit more of time in this wonderful location allowed us to have 3 Little Swifts, our first Moroccan Wagtail, Great Spotted Woodpecker and lovely views on a male Cirl Bunting.

The North African race of Great Spotted Woodpeckers are quite disctintive, showing a darkish tint in the breast and extensive red in the vental area
Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker, the first of many specialities showing in the tour
African Chaffinches are close to the races living in the Canaries but still considered conspecific with the European races

We move on from this wonderful corner to go up in the hillsides. As normal, we had some good roadside birding, and Lesser Kestrels and Eurasian Sparrowhawk were noted while moving up. Once arrived to a typical habitat we had a second stop, successful again. Soon after we got out of the van a wonderful Tristam’s Warbler was moving really close while feeding in the Junipers. Another bird was singing up in the slope and provided good looks while showing on the top of a bush. Around the area we also had two Atlas Coal Tits (a potential split) and a wonderful Rock Bunting calling while doing its way in a barren slope. However, the suprise of the stop was to see 3+ Ring Ouzels (torquatus race) moving in the scrublands and on the ground while looking for berries.

Back to the lane, we kept doing our way up until a large flock of Red-billed Choughs came to us in a wonderful aerial spectacle. The birds were not only playing with the wind in the slopes, but also harrasing an Atlas Buzzard (still considered a race of Long-legged Buzzard, but who knows for how long). A fast stop by the road was required, and happily all the tour participants could connect with this amazing bird of prey, clearly smaller and short-winged than nominals Long-leggeds. But we were still luckier when a Barbary Falcon joined the show for a while, and offered nice views while flying quite lower than the Choughs themselves!

Tristam’s Warblers look for slopes rich in junipers to nest
In our way to Oukaimeden we had the chance to enjoy superb views on cirtensis Long-legged Buzzard (aka Atlas Buzzard)

Happy after such a wonderful road side stop, we kept our way to arrive to Oukaïmeden. Once in the area, we did a short walk in the plain and we fast had a flock of 6 Rock Sparrows that gave us nice views. Black Redstarts and Black Wheatears were around, and we were lucky enough to see White-throated Dipper in the stream and 1 Alpine Accentor that flew along right in front of us, but the main attractions of the place kept elusive for us.

We decided to do a lunch stop, and enjoy the good food up in the mountains. After lunch we went for a second shot in the plains and we were definately luckier, since a female African Crimson-winged Finch appeared sitting on a wire and, after a bit of walk, we all enjoyed excellent views on the bird! It was certainly strange to have a single individual here, contrasting with flocks that we normally find but never mind. We really took that!

A last stop was required before stating going down to Marrakech. In a small corner of the plain (a typical place for them to be) we found 12+ Atlas Horned Lark, a very distictive, resident race of Horned Larks, and again a good candidate for a future split.

Out of mountains, we still decided to go for a final stop before going back to our accommodation. The Southern part of Marrakech has lovely fields and a good array of birdlife living on them. Here we had a stop to and we were granted with a lovely flock of European Serins, Spanish Sparrows, Corn Buntings, Crested Larks, Zitting Cisticolas, European Stonechats plus the views on species such as Moussier’s Redstart and Woodchat Shrike. But the main character and the authentical reason of our stop was to look for Barbary Partridges, and we were lucky enough to find 3+ of them doing their way in the fields, and trying to disapear in the open terrain.

Atlas Horned Laks are endemic of the Atlas high plateaus and slopes, overwintering in the same mountains but at lower altitudes
This year we struggled to find this female African Crimson-winged Finch!
While searching for the high mountain species we had the chance to enjoy some obliging Red-billed Choughs

Day 2. Transfer day from Marrakech to the Agadir area. A transfer was more complicated due to the difficult traffic around Agadir. Our first stop was in Essaouira, where we enjoined some good birds South of the city. Here we had first views on Ruddy Shelducks but also Pied Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, 2 Green Sandpipers, Wood Sandpiper, 1 Ruff, 14 Eurasian Spoonbills, Greater Flamingoes, Common Redshanks, 3 Little Ringed Plovers and 1 Common Snipe. Some other species, although more distant, included 3 Audouin’s Gulls + 1 Mediterranean Gull and 3 Sandwich Terns roosting along with large numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls (probably coming from the Mogador Island colony) and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Our journey kept to the South, following the wonderful coastal route that, crossing slopes fittered with Argan trees, arrives to the Tamri Estuary. Here we had a walk and soon we had good views on Northern Bald Ibis flying above us. The walk goes along the coastal dunes, with many Lesser Black-backed Gulls moving up in down along the coast. A scan into a flock of gulls roosting in the beach produced to less than 40 Audouin’s Gulls and some nice-looking Kentish Plovers. But the main attraction was still to come when a Northern Bald Ibis just landed a few metres away from us, and started to look for food in the sand. Digging its bill in the dunes, the bird showed really suggessful and got warms and some small insects. After 20 minutes of wonderful sighting, joined by two pairs of Moussier’s Redstart, we did a last stop further South, in the Cape Tamri.

Northern Bald Ibis, with only three colonies in Morocco, is one of the most endangered birds in the region

This location proved in other issues to be excellent for seawatching, but this time all the birds were seen really far away, and the counts were not above 25 Northern Gannets moving North and some Sandwich Terns moving around. The stop was complemented with great views on tame Thekla Larks moving around the rocky outcrops and 2 Algerian Shrikes (the race of Great Grey Shrike living in Northern Morocco and along the Atlantic coast).

We started moving to our accommodation, with a last stop in mind, but our changes of this last birding stop vanished into a large traffic jump due to road works.

Day 3. Our day in the Souss-Massa National Park started with a pair of short walks to catch up with some specialties around. The weather was clearly changing, with a massive low pressure system coming from the Atlantic Ocean and threatening with strong rains and lower temperatures. Still, we managed a pair of successful stops in the morning.

Our first stop was to explore a small corner of the Massa River. In the past, this area showed a wonderful variety of birdlife, including several migratory birds. But this year the water level (like in many other corners along the Massa River) was really low, and the migratory birds almost absent. A short stroll rapidly produced good views on Cetti’s Warbler and African Chaffinches. Several Common Chiffchaffs were moving around, and a obliging pair of Moussier’s Redstart provided great views. In the distance, a Black-winged Kite was whovering above the farming around the river. After some scanning, we were able to locate a wonderful Black-crowned Tchagra moving in the lash vegetation, and with some patience we all enjoyed great and close views on it!

Black-winged Kite next to our accommodation!
This issue again provided excellent views on Black-crowned Tchagra, despite the weather
Little Owl in a fig tree was a rather unexpected sight

The clouds were already coming, and temperature was getting down (collapsing!), but we managed a second stop before the heavy rain arrived. In a small patch of reeds and tamarisks we found the first Western Olivaceous Warbler (aka Isabelline Warbler) of the trip moving in the vegetation and going on with what it sounded like a subsong. 3 Eurasian Spoonbills were feeding in a small pond along with 1 Common Sandpiper and 1 Little Ringed Plover. Some Little & Pallid Swifts flew above us, providing good looks while we moving away from the river to have a short exploration of the fields around. A flock of 35 Eurasian Siskins was quite a surprise so far South, but little more could be added out of 1 Meadow Pipit and Moussier’s Redstarts. It started to rain heavily so we decided to go back to our accommodation. In our way back, a Little Owl was a nice find!

The heavy rain tied us to ous hotel until mid-afternoon, when the rain stopped and we could go out. There were still some clouds, but had to move! Another potentially good corner in the river Massa was also rather quiet, but we still had 4 Plain Martins flying around, brief views on 1 Bluethroat, Maghreb Magpies, a distant Western Swamphen, 1 Purple Heron and a small flock of Pied Avocets feeding nearby the bridge. Beyond this point, the area become more bushy, with formidable formations of euphorbias. Here we did a second stop, and we were granted with 3 Western Black-eared Wheatears, European Bee-eaters, Sardinian Warblers, 2 Eurasian Hoopoes, 2 Cirl Buntings at close range and 1 Great Spotted Cuckoo! We were all quite satisfied with this, and we drove back to the hotel for an early dinner. After dinner, more birds!

A short walk from our accommodation, and a bit of luck, provided great views on 1 Red-necked Nightjar calling, flying and briefly stopping around us in a great sight that, for our clients, ranked among one of the 10 better birds of the trip!!!

This stunning and wet male Moussier’s Redstart was extremely tame with our group
Western Olivaceous Warblers nest along the River Massa
Female Cirl Bunting around our accommodation
Superb Spanish Sparrows were feeding at the hotel grounds

Day 4. Transfer day between Agadir and Ouarzazate. The morning was again really cold (only 10ºC!!) and with some rain. Despite the bad weather we did stop in the Massa River, and we had a good hearing on 3 Black-crowned Tchagras singing while a flock of Glossy Ibis was feeding around. A second morning stop in the Souss River estuary was way more productive. Here we got a really good selection of waders feeding in the mudflats along with several Eurasian Spoonbills, some Greater Flamingoes, Mediterranean Gulls and a Lesser Kestrel hunting dragonflies!

It was quite a surprise the good number of Black-tailed Godwits in the estuary feeding along with several Black-winged Stilts and Pied Avocets. A minimum of 48 Ruffs were also counted, and 27 Curlew Sandpipers. 3 Spotted Redshanks were also noted along with many Common Redshanks, Grey Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrels and some Wood Sandpipers. A careful scanning revealed also 1 Temminck’s Stint, 2 Red Knots, 4 Eurasian Curlews, 4 Bar-tailed Godwits and a flock of 7 Little Stints. Surprisingly we only counted 4 Common Ringed Plovers in the whole estuary!

Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruffs + Common & Spotted Redshanks feeding in Souss River
A lovely view of the Souss River

A short walk along the more vegetated areas produced some Yellow Wagtails and short views on a (white-spotted) Bluethroat.

After this pleasant stop we went on with our transfer along the Anti Atlas. The roads between Agadir & Ouarzazate goes along one of the best areas for birds of prey in Morocco. With the Tawny Eagle and Chanting Goshawks both gone for long, the area remains as an interesting hot-spot for birds of prey such as Black-winged Kite. Along the road, we counted up to 4 Black-winged Kites, but also Black Kites, our first Short-toed Snake Eagle and 1 Barbary Falcon.

House Bunting in a terrace

One of the best stops on this road birding provided excellent views on a Great Spotted Cuckoo singing from the top of an Argan Tree. Some tens of miles away from the cuckoo, another stop was mandatory when we found 4 obliging Cream-coloured Coursers and 2 Desert Larks just by the tarmac!

This was the 2nd Great Spotted Cuckoo of the tour. Just by the highway
This year Cream-coloured Coursers seem to be everywhere!

In the afternoon we were already close to Ouarzazate, when we crossed one of the many streams coming down from the Atlas. There, roosting in the reedbeds, there were several Little Egrets and 4 Black-crowneds Night Herons. A stop was, obviously, mandatory!

The vegetation along the stream was full of Sedge Warblers that were feeding along with 1 or 2 Eurasian Reed Warblers while the first Willow Warbler of the trip was moving in a tall grass right beyond. We were really enjoying the views on these little fellas just when 1 male Little Crake decided to walk out of the vegetation, showing himself in a superb afternoon light! The bird was there for 10 minutes, in what it was a lifer bird of more than the half of the group! Then somebody advaced about a bird of prey coming from the right, and we all had the time enjoy a superb Bonelli’s Eagle diving right beyonf the stream, tallons in the front of, probably trying to catch a prey!

Everybody was really excited, and the Little Crake was still in the out, but a Eurasian Wryneck just called in our back. Time to move to the small Almond plantation and try to find the Wryneck. We moved slowly in the fields with scatered large Almond trees, when a small bird just flew off from the grass and landed low in small bush: 1 Common Grasshoper Warbler! It took me 10 minutes to put everyone in the bird, but we did it!!!

Back to the Wryneck operation, we moved around the area and found a lovely European Turtle Dove sitting on a tree. A tour participant found a Woodchat Shrike in a large shrub and we all admired it but, by the time my bins came back to the tree where the Turtle Dove was, it was turned into the Wryneck that we had been looking for!! What a wonderful stop!!

And this is how a road birding day can turn out in a absolutely great birding day!

Male Little Crake in a small stream around Ouarzazate
Surprisingly, this was our only European Turtle Dove of the tour!

Day 5. Early morning start to explore the massive reservoir inmediatly South of Ouarzazate. Weather was still cloudy, and temperatures were far lower than expected. Still, we enjoyed another great day. Instead of heading directly to the reservoir, we drove a bit around the semi desert to try to find some specialties. There we had first views on Desert & White-crowned Black Wheatears but also a pair of Trumpeter Finches and 1 Spectacled Warbler. It was clear that it was some migration, since it was a flock after a flock of Greater Short-toed Larks moving North, and we got 17 Black Storks that seemed to be roosting in a distant plateau East of the reservoir.

Once in the lake, we had good views on both Maghreb & Thekla’s Larks. The shores were full with Ruddy Shelducks and the songs of migratory Sedge Warblers were all over. A distant Water Rail was also noted, while a large flock og 400+ White Storks were roosting in the reeds. On waders, it was low. We only had some Little Ringed Plovers, some Ruffs, Green Sandpipers, 2 Greenshanks and 3 Black-tailed Godwits.

Maghreb Lark (Galerida macrorrhyncha), a recent split from Crested Lark
One of the only 3 Alpine Swifts during the tour

A bit beyond we reached a view point over the reservoir and we soon had excellent but distant views over the many Marbled Teals around. We counted a minimum of 80 of them and, along with this really scarce duck, we enjoyed a good array of other ducks including Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers and Eurasian Teals, but also 1 female Eurasian Wigeon, 2 Tufted Ducks, 12 Common Pochards, 5 Garganeys and 2 Northern Pintails. In the lagoon we also got the only Great Crested Grebes of the trip while 2 Alpine Swifts flew over.

After some time scanning the lagoon we started to move. It was still cold and cloudy but it was evident that a good raptor migration was going on. Hundreds of distant Black Kites were cincling and moving North, 1 female Western Marsh Harrier was seen flying low and inmediatly after we got one of the surprises of the trip, a male Pallid Harrier that showed briefly while flying towards the Atlas! Unfotunately not everyone in the group got a proper view on this very scarce bird of prey!!

It was already late in the morning so we started moving East to arrive to our accommodation in Boulmane du Dades for an early lunch. The ambient here was even colder that it was in the morning, and we had lunch by the fire!

During the afternoon we had a first contact with the extensive steppe land inmediatly South of Boulmane. The light was poor and the temperature was only 6ºC, extremelly low for Morocco in this season. Still, it didn’t take long to have first views on Temminck’s Larks, and a proper stroll around produced a pair of Greater Hoopoe Larks, 1 Long-legged Buzzard, 1 Barbary Falcon a flock of 6 Cream-coloured Coursers and some Desert Wheatears.

Part of our group enjoying the plains!
Barbary Falcon in its scouting point
There were still few numbers of Desert Wheatears in Boulmane and nearby areas

Day 6. Full day enjoying the steppes and gorges around Boulmane. In the morning we had some stops in the plains, adding great views on Trumpeter Finches and Red-rumped Wheatears to our list. We were only 3ºC but the birding was still great, with several Temminck’s Larks around and migratory Greater Short-toed Larks feeding around. A short visit to proper fields around produced 8 Black-bellied Sansgrouses and, for our surprised, they were joined by 1 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse!

We were in a small lowland in the way to the Atlas, and a further exploration of the areas produced excellent views on Little Owls!

Our last stop of the morning was even better. A small corner in the plains that is normally a good place for Larks was having more than ever: 15+ Cream-coloured Coursers, 10+ Greater Hoopoe Larks, Mediterranean Short-toed Larks, Thekla’s Larks and Greater Short-toed Larks were all seen and enjoyed. A Tawny Pipit showed briefly and some bush around produced 2 Willow Warblers, 1 Tree Pipit, Linnets and 4 species of Wheatears (Northern, White-crowned Black, Red-rumped & Desert!).

Trumpeter Finch is, un many locations, the only one Finch around
Temminck’s Lark, always a treat
Little Owl in the plains South of Boulmane. Please note the light brown coloration

In the afternoon the sun finally appeared, and temperature rose. We basically spent the afternoon in a pretty gorge close to Boulmane. There, we enjoyed great views on a roosting Pharaon Eagle Owl, but also a pair of Lanner Falcons, Black Wheatear, Desert Larks, a flyby Red-rumped Swallow and stunning views on a Maghreb Wheatear, one of the most sought-after birds of the country!

We enjoyed great views on a pair of Lanner Falcons
Pharaon Eagle Owl inside its daytime hollow
Maghreb Wheatear, one of two endèmic Wheatears in the region
An old Kashba, the Southern Morocco fancy castles made on clay

Day 7. In the morning we had another walk to explore a different corner in the plains, hoping to connect with Thick-billed Lark. It was no way to find this species but we enjoyed good views on Black-bellied Sandgrouses feeding on the ground and a good set of other larks.

After our en-route lunch we spent some time in a well-known spot in the desert, where we looked for the scarce and unobtrusive Saharan Scrub Warbler. The walk produced Woodchat Shrike, Tawny Pipit, Thekla Lark, Spectacled Warbler and the first Bar-tailed Lark of the trip. After some time looking for the famous Scotocerca, we were about to quit from our day quesy when one of the tour participants advaced us about a bird moving low in the scrubs. It took us about 25 minutes to put everybody in the bird but eventually there they were: A handsome pair of Saharan Scrub Warbler!

Saharan Scrub Warbler lives in low density in desert Scrub lands and barren slopes
Black-bellied Sandgrouses blind perfectly with the stony plains
This year Greater Hoopoe Larks were really common around Boulmane du Dades

After this great sight we just drove to our accommodation down in the desert, with some road birding sights including Booted Eagle and Brown-necked Raven.

Day 8. Our day started in the desert by checking some great places for migratory song birds. Unfortunately, the extremely low temperatures of the last days was affecting the bird migration. Along the morning the number and variety of birds was extremely low. We still had good views on Western Subalpine Warblers, Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Common Redstarts, Eurasian Hoopoes, Willow Warblers and 3 Woodchat Shrikes. 1 Western Black-eared Wheatear was an unexpected sight, and we also enjoyed good views on Bar-tailed & Maghreb Larks.

But the bird of the day was the African Desert Warbler that we found nesting close to one of the main roads in the area, and that was providing really good looks!

Western Bonelli’s Warblers are a common view along the tour
African Desert Warbler in typical nesting site

Day 9. Early morning start to enjoy the birds of the desert. Our first stop was to visit a water hole in the dunes, and our efforts here were granted with great views on 80+ Crowned Sandgrouses and 40+ Spotted Sandgrouses that came down to drink water early in the morning. The images of these Sandgrouses drinking water is something that our clients will never forget!

A short drive for a coffee stop gave us access to one of the few Desert Sparrows left in the area, and we all again enjoyed really good views on a species that is becoming more and more scarce due to the concurrence of House Sparrows in the area. The morning ended with a last stop, this time to see 2 Egyptian Nightjars roosting in the dunes! Another amazing sight!!

During the afternoon, our clients had a free time to explore by their own the dunes and the bushland around the accommodation.

This year Crowned Sandgrouses were surprisingly common in Merzouga
Spotted Sandgrouses on their to the water hole
Egyptian Nightjar blinding in a wady
The impressive sand dunes around Merzouga
Once and again we got amazing views on Desert Sparrows

Day 10. Transfer day from the desert to Marrakech. But in the morning we still had time to explore the extensive palm groves near Merzouga. There we were lucky enough to find a gorgeous Fulvous Babbler! Other good birds in the area included Common Redstart and Maghreb Lark.

Fulvous Babbler, a typical bird of palm groves
Atlas Wheatear inhabits the Atlas high mountain grasslands

The roads in Morocco have improved a lot and only some hours after we were already in the Atlas alpine meadows, were we had another productive stop, adding Atlas Wheatear (a recent split from Northern Wheatear, a short-migratoy species that nests in the Atlas high plateaus and overwinters in the Sahel plains). Here, we also got 3 Booted Eagles migrating North and the only Water Pipit of the trip!

A pair of hours later we were arriving to Marrakech after crossing the Atlas, and a rather massive snowfall that was ending our 8th tour to Morocco, and the one with the most weird weather!!!

In 2023 we will come, same dates. Join for excellent birding and good fun!!

List of bird seen during the tour:

  • 1. Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara)
  • 2. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
  • 3. Gadwall (Anas strepera)
  • 4. Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)
  • 5. Pintail (Anas acuta)
  • 6. Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)
  • 7. Garganey (Spatula querquedula)
  • 8. Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris)
  • 9. Northern Shoverler (Spatula clypeata)
  • 10. Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
  • 11. Tutfed Duck (Aythya fuligula)
  • 12. Common Swift (Apus apus)
  • 13. Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)
  • 14. Little Swift (Apus affinis)
  • 15. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata)
  • 16. Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis)
  • 17. Crowned Sandgrouse (Pterocles coronata)
  • 18. Spotted Sandgrouse (Pterocles senegallus)
  • 19. Feral Dove (Columba livia)
  • 20. Common Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)
  • 21. Stock Dove (Columba oenas)
  • 22. Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
  • 23. Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis)
  • 24. European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)
  • 25. Western Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)
  • 26. Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
  • 27. Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)
  • 28. Little Crake (Zapornia parva)
  • 29. Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
  • 30. Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
  • 31. Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
  • 32. Eurasian Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)
  • 33. Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorior cursor)
  • 34. Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
  • 35. Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
  • 36. Pied Avocet (Revurvirostra avosetta)
  • 37. Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
  • 38. Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
  • 39. Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
  • 40. Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
  • 41. Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
  • 42. Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
  • 43. Eurasian Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
  • 44. Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)
  • 45. Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)
  • 46. Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
  • 47. Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
  • 48. Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
  • 49. Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
  • 50. Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
  • 51. Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
  • 52. Sanderling (Calidris alba)
  • 53. Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
  • 54. Temminck’s Stint (Calidris temminckii)
  • 55. Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
  • 56. Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
  • 57. Red Knot (Calidris canutus)
  • 58. Ruff (Calidris pugnax)
  • 59. Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
  • 60. Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)
  • 61. Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
  • 62. Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)
  • 63. Audouin’s Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii)
  • 64. Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
  • 65. Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)
  • 66. Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)
  • 67. White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)
  • 68. Black Stork (Ciconia nigra)
  • 69. Atlantic Gannet (Morus bassanus)
  • 70. Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
  • 71. Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
  • 72. Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)
  • 73. Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)
  • 74. Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
  • 75. Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
  • 76. Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)
  • 77. Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
  • 78. Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
  • 79. Great White Heron (Agrodiaetus albus)
  • 80. Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetos)
  • 81. Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata)
  • 82. Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata)
  • 83. Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
  • 84. Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
  • 85. Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)
  • 86. Long-legged Buzzard, aka Atlas Buzzard (Buteo rufinus cirtensis)
  • 87. Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
  • 88. Little Owl (Athene noctua)
  • 89. Pharaon Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus)
  • 90. Egyptian Nightjar (Caprimulgus aegiptius)
  • 91. Red-necked Nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis)
  • 92. Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
  • 93. Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
  • 94. European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
  • 95. Atlas Woodpecker (Picus vallantii)
  • 96. Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
  • 97. Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)
  • 98. Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
  • 99. Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanii)
  • 100. Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinoides)
  • 101. Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus)
  • 102. Black-crowned Tchagra (Tchagra senegalensis)
  • 103. Algerian Shrike (Lanius excubitor algeriensis)
  • 103b. Desert Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor elegans)
  • 104. Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)
  • 105. Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis)
  • 106. Common Raven (Corvus corax)
  • 107. Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
  • 108. Magherb Magpie (Pica mauretanica)
  • 109. Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
  • 110. Fulvous Babbler (Argya fulva)
  • 111. Greater Hoopoe-Lark (Alaemon alaudipes)
  • 112. Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
  • 113. Maghreb Lark (Galerida macrorrhyncha)
  • 114. Thekla’s Lark (Galerida theklae)
  • 115. Temminck’s Lark (Eremolauda temminckii)
  • 116. Atlas Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris atlas)
  • 117. Mediterranean Short-toed Lark (Alaudala rufescens)
  • 118. Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla)
  • 119. Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti)
  • 120. Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura)
  • 121. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
  • 122. Western House Martin (Delichon urbicum)
  • 123. Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)
  • 124. Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
  • 125. Plain Martin (Riparia paludicola)
  • 126. Eurasian Crag Martin (Ptrynoprogne rupestris)
  • 127. Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis)
  • 128. Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
  • 129. Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus troquilus)
  • 130. Western Bonelli’s Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli)
  • 131. Firecrest (Regulus ignacapilla)
  • 131. Western Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna opaca)
  • 133. Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
  • 134. Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenibaenus)
  • 135. Saharan Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca saharae)
  • 136. African Desert Warbler (Curruca deserti)
  • 137. Western Orphean Warbler (Curruca hortensis)
  • 138. Sardinian Warbler (Curruca melanocephala)
  • 139. Western Subalpine Warbler (Curruca iberiae)
  • 140. Tristam’s Warbler (Curruca deserticola)
  • 141. Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
  • 142. Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
  • 143. Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula)
  • 144. Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)
  • 145. Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)
  • 146. Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
  • 147. European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
  • 148. Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
  • 149. Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
  • 150. Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri)
  • 151. European Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)
  • 152. Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
  • 153. Atlas Wheatear (Oenanthe seebohmi)
  • 154. Desert Wheatear (Onenanthe deserti)
  • 155. Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe halophila)
  • 156. Western Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica)
  • 157. Red-rumped Wheatear (Oenanthe moesta)
  • 158. Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura)
  • 159. White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga)
  • 160. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
  • 161. Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispanoliensis)
  • 162. Common Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia)
  • 163. Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)
  • 164. Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)
  • 165. Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
  • 166. Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris)
  • 167. Great Tit (Parus major)
  • 168. African Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae)
  • 169. Atlas Coal Tit (Periparus ater atlas)
  • 170. Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla mauretanica)
  • 171. Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaeus)
  • 172. Gray Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
  • 173. White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
  • 174. Moroccan Wagtail (Motacilla subpersonata)
  • 175. Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)
  • 176. Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)
  • 177. Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
  • 178. Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
  • 179. Water Pipit (Anthus spinolleta)
  • 180. Eurasian Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
  • 181. Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)
  • 182. Eurasian Greenfinch (Chloris chloris)
  • 183. Linnet (Liniaria cannabina)
  • 184. African Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs africana)
  • 184b. Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
  • 185. European Serin (Serinus serinus)
  • 186. African Crimson-winged Finch (Rhodopechys alienus)
  • 187. Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)
  • 188. Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)
  • 189. House Bunting (Emberiza sahari)
  • 190. Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)

List of mammals seen during the tour:

  • 1. Barbary Ground Squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus)
  • 2. Fat Sand Rat (Psammomys obesus)
Female Desert Sparrow

Thanks for arriving until down here! And, remember, in 2023 we will be back to enjoy the Moroccan birdlife!

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.

P1140539

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.

P1140312

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!!!

IMG_0886

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).

P1140295

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!

IMG_0948

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.

P1140306

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.

IMG_1007

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.

P1140325 copy

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!!

P1140338 copy

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!

P1140348

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…

IMG_20170325_064537

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!

P1140822

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…

tmp_P1110650-1067284061

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.

Thick-billed Lark - Ramphocoris clotbei

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..

IMG_20170325_151902

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…

IMG_20170325_165553

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

P1140362

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.

P1140388

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.

P1140375

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…

P1140539

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!

P1140528

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!!

P1140544

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!!!

P1140493

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!

P1140589

 

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!!

P1140658

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…

P1140723 copy

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.

P1140708

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.

P1140703

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!!!

P1140742

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!

P1140861

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!!

P1140877 copy

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!

P1140761

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

P1140829 copy

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.

P1140749

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!

P1140919

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

P1140924

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?

 

 

 

Morocco: from Atlas to Sahara tour. 2016 issue

 

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

Number of participants: 5

Number of species: 189 + 4 races

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tmp_P1110354672025633

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

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

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

tmp_162996002.DsgjDv2O-800227594

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

tmp_P111039661063234

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

tmp_P1110398-886624818

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

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

tmp_162995895.zArcEkQ4379124863

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tmp_162990663.wCPk9nM7-1417787750

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

tmp_162990203.eytMTA9q-1674484015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tmp_P1110301658253305

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

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

 

tmp_163009098.5Wen19qi-1281162645

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

tmp_162991676.OWkvO9FT1193768910

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

tmp_163005170.R7pnM3YZ309794029

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

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

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

tmp_162999202.rOO7G09Y1866016626

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

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

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

tmp_P1110650-1067284061

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tmp_P11107851528891148

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

tmp_P1110893586568729

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

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

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

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

tmp_163002753.ImQjzJT1788667931

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

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

tmp_P1110953-606422891

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tmp_P1110970-596736897

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

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

tmp_P11109651961468438


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

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

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

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

Morocco; from Atlas to Sahara Tour, 2015 issue report

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

P1060123 copy

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.

P1050872

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.

IMG_3911

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.

IMG_3860

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.

P1050862

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!

IMG_3659

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!

IMG_4917

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!

Moussier's Redstart - Phoenicurus moussieri copy

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…

Rhodopechys sanguinea

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!!

P1050896

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.

milvus+Atlas

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!

IMG_4517

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!

IMG_4410

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!

bonagran

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.

camachuelo1

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!

beehmoii

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.

Thick-billed Lark - Ramphocoris clotbei

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.

P1050982

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.

deserti1

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.

P1060044

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.

P1060101

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.

P1060165

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!!

P1060209 copy

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!

Barbary Falcon

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!

cerceta-pardilla-2

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.

P1050835 copy

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.

IMG_4989

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 😉

The Very Best of Barcelona Birding Point 2013 Birding Trips

2013 has left and thus it is time to look forward and do a list of what was of interest this year. This is the very best of our 2013 birding trip! Do you recognise yours??

March

Over 200 species in our ten-days long tour through Morocco. 

Our March tour through Morocco listed over 200 species inlcuding most top specialities to be found in this Northern Africa country. We got great sights to highly endangered or poor known species such as Marsh Owl, Double-spurred Francolin, Dupont’s Lark, Houbara Bustard and Thick-billed Lark!

Untitled-1

Cream-coloured Couser (Cursorior cursor) is always a prime target to anyway visting Morocco

April

Massive birding morning in Llobregat Delta.

Do you know any place in the world where you can see Spotted Crake, Greater Bittern, Collared Pratincole, Little Bittern, Stone Curlew and Squacco Heron in 25 minutes? That place exists and its name is Llobregat Delta. Of course, this is not happenning every day but in 11th April, 2013 we had great views of all of them in 25 minutes and those were only few species among the over 95 we scored along our Wetlands & Wheatears 1-day Itinerary visiting Llobregat Delta and Garraf Natural Park!! That day list was filled up with gorgeous sights to Common Rock Thrush, Short-toed Eagle, Thekla Lark, Purple Heron, Black-eared Wheatear and many other. 

porzanacrake

Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) in Llobregat Delta

5 species of Owls in our nocturnal trip through the steppes.

Our noctunal trip in Los Monegros for owls and Nightjars did a massive feedback on 13th April when we saw five species of Owls: Barn Owl 3, Long-eared Owl +5, Little Owl 2, Eurasian Eagle Owl 2 and Scops Owl 3!!! Furthermore we encountered over 8 Red-necked Nightjars in our way, with incredible chances for photographers in the group. And still we missed Short-eared Owl that left the area in early April!!!

FMS130613-_7007960

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) photographiated in one of our nocturnal trip in Los Monegros

May

East Europe passage birds in Catalan coast.

In early May a small cyclone over the Mediterranean (an extremely rare weather feature in that sea) produce an “invasion” of East Europe species along Catalan coast. On 5th May, during a tour in Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park we saw Collared Flycatcher 3, Icterine Warbler 1 and Wood Warbler +7, a scarce species during spring migration season.

20090509011854

Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis) female

June

Rüppell’s Vulture in Pyrenees.

Rüppell’s Vulture 1 flying along with Griffon Vultures over Boumort cliffs. This is the incredible sight we did near La Pobla de Segur on 8th June, 2013. This species is every time less scarce in South Spain and it seems it keeps moving North! That day we saw five different species of vultures: Egyptian Vulture 4, Black Vulture 1, Lammegeier 2, Rüppell’s Vulture 1 and Griffon Vulture +200. The raptor feast was full that day with sights of Booted & Short-toed Eagles as well as Red & Black Kites… not so bad!!

IMG_3184

Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) flying over Sanetti Plateau, Ethiopia.

July

Black-winged Kite nesting in Lleida Steppes.

It seems Black-winged Kite has arrived to stay in Lleida Steppes. Along the last decade some pairs have been nesting through this area but always in small numbers. In 2013 3 pairs were nesting and raised a minimum of 3 chicks!! Let’s see if 2014 is confirming this a small population as a definitive new nesting species in Catalonia.

IMG_2122

Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) arriving to its nest in Lleida Steppes.

August

Stone Curlew rescue!

Normally we get out to see birds but, unfortunately, you have to stop the trip because a bird is in danger. That is what was happening on 25th August during a tour in Los Monegros. We found a Stone Curlew just 20 metres to us in the middle of the steppe. Obviously the bird was injured so we decided to rescue it and bring it to the Environment authorities.

The story has a double happy end. The (female) Stone Curlew was released to the wild some weeks later after recovering of a severe nutritiousness and, despite the time lost, we manage to find all targets that day, including Roller, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Spectacled Warbler, Lesser Kestrel, Cirl Bunting, Black Kite, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested Tit and, of course, Stone Curlew!

2s

Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) female rescued in Los Monegros. Despite the bad sensation this bird was released after recovered.

September

Waders feast in Ebro Delta.

Early September brought us huge combination of rarities and megas in Ebro Delta. Along many days some really scarce waders were all present in a small area of this huge wetland. On 8th September we enjoyed an unforgettable birding day listing Pectoral Sandpiper 1, Dotterel 2, Pacific Golden Plover 1, Buff-breasted Sandpiper 1, Marsh Sandpiper 1 and Temminck’s Sandpiper +50. Other really interesting birds included Eleonora’s Falcon 1 (light phorm), Collared Pratincole +100 and flocks of both Squacco & Night Heron facing South at sunset!!!

morinellus petit copy

Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) juvenile in Ebro Delta in September 2013.

October

Semipalmated Plover in Ebro Delta.

Back again in Ebro Delta on 19th October we listed a new mega. This time a juvenile Semipalmated Plover resting within a flock of Ringed Plovers resting in the marshy area known as La Tancada! This is one of the first records of this wader for Catalonia. Unfortunatelly no image of it was taken…

December

Greater Spotted Eagle winters in Catalonia.

Greater Spotted Eagles are summer visitors to East Europe and they fly back to Africa as soon as autumn seems to appear. As Eastern species they fly by Greece and Turkey in their ways up and down from their winter grounds. Although this is well known, some years ago some Greater Spotted Eagles started to appear during in winter along Spanish Mediterranean coast… After several reports of birds wintering around València and other Mediterranean provinces, this year it seems the time for Catalonia. From late November a 1st winter Greater Spotted Eagle has been reported in some Catalan wetlands. At the time of writing (2nd January) this bird is still present in Aiguamolls del Baix Empordà area, a small wetland placed in the heart of renamed Costa Brava. On 12th December we had the chance to show this bird to some of our costumers, that were really interested in getting a new and unexpected lifer. What is to be known is if this is the start of a new winter ground for Greater Spotted Eagles along Western Mediterranean coastline!

Moteada4

Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga) flying over Llobregat Delta in late November.

Thanks to our costumers to make us go further!!!

Do you want to experience it?

www.barcelonabirdingpoint.com