Into the desert

Zaida plains is the place for the Dupont’s Lark. This is the most reliable place for the species in the entire WP. The Dupont’s Lark has a spectacular song, and is supposedly hard to see. Zaida was freezing cold and windy, and we started out on the plains well before sunrise. We used our usual tactics for search. We split up, all three of us and search – then use Walki-Talkies to communicate. Just walking straight out on to a large plains area – which from a distance looks completely barren and search for larks is more than nice – it’s fantastic. We searched pretty much all day for the larks to no avail. We used both the Gosney guide as well as recent sightings on eBird. We gave up in the afternoon and continued south towards Merzouga. We’ll have to revisit the the Zaida plains when we come back to Morocco in April. Hmmmm. A few good species found on the plains though, Red-rumped Wheatear which was a lifer for all of us, as well as Lesser Short-toed Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Shore Lark and Temminck’s Lark.

Red-rumped Wheatear
Red-rumped Wheatear
Black-bellied Sandgrouse with Atlas Mountains
Black-bellied Sandgrouse with Atlas Mountains
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Temminck's Lark
Temminck’s Lark

Close to Merzouga we decided to camp in the desert. The idea of travelling with tent and camping gear rocks, it gives complete freedom and entirely removes the stress factor of finding a shabby hotel. Unless the climate is like Zaida, it’s really nice to sleep outdoors. The stars in the evening are a bonus. Woke up to find the car battery dead, decided to bird the morning hours before attacking the battery problem. Awesome birding around our camp site, which was carefully chosen as the most reliable place for Tristram’s Warbler according to the Gosney guide. And sure enough, they were there.

Tristram's Warbler
Tristram’s Warbler – our #300 tick!

Also plenty of White-crowned Wheatears, Trumpeter Finch, Fulvus Babbler and Desert Lark. The nearby Village was called Merzane.

Trumpeter Finch
Trumpeter Finch
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
Fulvous Babbler
Fulvous Babbler

Also the Mahgreb Lark was common, a recent split from Crested Lark. It’s paler, has less defined facial pattern and has a slightly longer bill.

Mahgreb Lark
Mahgreb Lark

Fixed the battery with help from mechanics in Erfoud and drove on towards a reliable place for Pharao Eagle-owl called Rissani Cliffs. The Owl was calmly roosting in the evening sun some 50 meters up on the cliff in a hollow cleft. Slept in Rissani.

Pharao Eagle-owl
Pharao Eagle-owl

Tuesday, Feb 7, the plan was to drive towards Mhamid on the Algerian border where a Pied Crow has been reliable the last few years. The weather here is hot during mid day, thus we are trying to arrange everything so that we can actively bird during the morning hours, drive during the day, and then bird the last two hours before sunset. We drove out of Rissani and just picked the first spot that looked good, spent some time there and then picked another one. The second one turned out to be good. Found The Saharan Scrub-warbler. This bird is not a full species according to IOC and we have said that we shouldn’t spend time on sub species, on the other hand it is split into a full species in the latest edition of Collins, and Lars Svensson is rarely wrong, thus we expect this to become an armchair tick in the not too distant future.

Saharan Scrub Warbler
Saharan Scrub Warbler

We found it a bit strange with the wadis, some are empty whereas others are teeming with birds although they look the same. On these plains, we split up as usual, and the wadi Erik picked turned out to be birdy, whereas the other two were empty. Difficult. Other good birds here were Bar-tailed Lark which was common, Desert Lark, Hoopoe Lark, Tristram’s Warbler Moussier’s Redstart.

Hoopoe Lark ssp alaudipes
Hoopoe Lark ssp alaudipes
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Bar-tailed Lark
Bar-tailed Lark

Once the day started to get hot, we drove towards Mhamid, long drive. A common bird in the desert is the Brown-necked Raven, it’s not easy to see the “brown neck” but this shot has it well shown.

Brown-necked Ravon
Brown-necked Raven

Just before we reached Mhamid, two Cream-coloured coursers flew over the road. Again, a dream-bird, one of those birds from the Collins guide we have drooled over but never seen (me and erik)

Cream-coloured courser
Cream-coloured courser

Spent the last hour before sunset searching for the crow. Tomorrow we’ll get the crow.

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