Twitching Iberia

Unplanned twitch trip to Portugal and Spain with a quick stop in Amsterdam. In order to get a really high year-tick number, we don’t only have to go bird all the different countries in WP, but we must also do some twitching. So when those rare and lost vagrants appear, we must pick at least some of them. We cannot go for all of them, that is just too much. For example. the other day A White-throated Bee-eater was reported at Maghreb Ornito found at the very same hotel where we stayed in Dakhla, Western Sahara just two weeks ago. We’ll leave that Bee-eater alone.

However, we decided to go for a couple of rare ones reported from the Iberian Peninsula. First things first though, quick stop in Amsterdam for the Baikal Teal. The original plan was to take a cab from the Shiphol airport to the Teal, instead someone got the bright idea to ask our FB group for a friendly Dutch driver, Martin Miske volunteered and drove us to the Teal. We had maybe 4 hours to search for the duck in small ditches. We never found it and our first actual dip was a fact. Boring. Anyways, thanks Martin, and when we meet again, we owe you a beer.

Landed in Lisbon at midnight, and decided to skip sleeping and drove through the night to northern Spain. In the sleepy village San Cibrao in Galicia, a Thayer’s Gull has been wintering for the last couple of years.  We arrived at dawn and started to search for the Gull. It’s non trivial to locate among the thousands of Yellow-legged Gulls in the area. After a couple of hours we started to despair, however we did find an Iceland Gull which is also a good bird.

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull

After lunch we decided to “return to the crime scene” which is always good tactics. Most sitings of the Thayer’s Gull have been at a fish farm west of San Cibrao. The farm attracts massive amounts of gulls – and then – dang. It’s there.

Thayer's Gull
Thayer’s Gull

It was clearly smaller than the Yellow-legged Gulls, and the legs are bright pink. Thank’s Canada.

Loong drive going all the way to the Algarve coast for an American Herring Gull and a Sora.

Mårten got to know Thijs Valkenburg when working in Portugal a few years ago, Thijs brother Joost Valkenburg grew up in the city where the Sora had been seen for the last couple of weeks and Joost stepped up to help with the Sora, and also show us his childhood local patch. Beautiful little city called Silves on the Arade River. When we’re two hours away from Silves, Joost text us and says that the Sora is still there. The Sora had been seen on the very same short stretch of reeds for several weeks, so it should be easy. We cannot find it though, it’s hiding. Instead we went for lunch and the American Herring Gull in Portimau. That bird – which actually didn’t look to well – was there.

American Herring Gull
American Herring Gull

It feels very good to have this species pocketed. When we visit the Azores later this year, we can then safely ignore all (I guess continuously ongoing) discussions there over gull characteristics. Gulling is hard. Fun, but sometimes it can be overwhelming.

Went back to Silves to search for the Sora. The tide was going up, and the reeds where the Sora had been seen were slowly getting under water. Finally, by pure skill and split vision, Erik sees the bird flying away. Landed on the other shore and we could get pics.

Sora
Sora

Phuwww. With 3 Yanks ready, we decided to go to Castro Verde which is a fantastic spot in southern Portugal. Vast plains with Bustards, Larks and in particular the endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle. I did a real bad choice of just stopping the car on the highway there (bird), and a police car came. Here are the tactics I recommend, just agree and repeat what they say.

Officer: Uhh, you cannot stop here.
Me: No, I know, I cannot stop here.
Officer: What were you thinking stopping here?
Me: Sorry, I wasn’t thinking at all.
Officer: It stupid to stop here, it’s dangerous.
Me: Yes, it’s stupid. We’re idiots.

At this point, officer will shake his head and just go away. It makes s small dent in your pride, but it’s worth it.

Thijs put us in contact with Bruno Herlander Martins who is a biologist at LPN. Bruno works with the protection of the Spanish Imperial Eagle and he told us about the various measures they take to aid the eagles. Ranging from fixing the branches on the eucalyptus trees which are too smooth to hold the nests, to befriending and educating the local farmers. Interesting work indeed.

We met with Bruno at dawn, and went searching for Bustards and Eagles. Before jumping into the car, Bruno asks – Do you guys need Long-eared Owl. Haha, Mårten has been bitching over that bird since we skipped a site in England. It’s one of those birds that are rare – but not sufficiently rare to make a directed effort to find. Bruno had a roosting tree in the village.

Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl

Bustards were easy to find, especially Greater. Also plenty of Calandra Larks on the plains. Eventually we also found the Eagle. Thanks Bruno !!

 

Spanish Imperial Eagle (mature male)
Spanish Imperial Eagle (mature male)
Little Bustard
Little Bustard

Ticked a few Category C species on the way back to Lisbon, we even grabbed a “future Cat C” – talk about future proofing the list.

Scaly-breasted Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Crested Myna
Crested Myna

We have a whole bunch of Cat-C remaining in Portugal, and we’ll have to spend some more time on those when we revisit in August.

 

Pale Martin

After careful consideration we have concluded that the Martin we saw in Kuwait, indeed must be Pale Martin (Riparia Diluta) and we tick it. Plenty of good pictures of the individual, included here are two of the best ones captured by Omar Alsaheen.

Pale Martin
Pale Martin
Pale Martin
Pale Martin

 

Good arguments provided by Wouter Faveyts

“Looks interesting indeed! I checked the Alula article from 2007 (Schweizer & Ayé) again, and it seems that the bird could really be a Pale (Sand) Martin (Riparia diluta). Greyish cast, lack of clear distinction between dark ear coverts and paler throat, pale head with dark eye and lores are all ticking the right boxes. Also diffuse breast band, although this feature seems more variable in comparison to Sand Martin.”

As well as by Alan Joseph Dalton

“I think this is a Pale Martin. Note the darker new inner primaries on your bird, which fit in well with 2nd gen moult for the species. There are quite a few records in Oman, where it’s probably easily overlooked, so a Kuwait record would not really be unexpected. Head pattern and upper chest look good.”

The Alula article from 2007 (Schweizer & Ayé) seems to correlate with the Kuwait bird we saw.

KORC have not yet decided on this matter.

Au revoir Morocco

I’m just using a french word in the title here, it doesn’t mean anything. Neither of us speak french, which is truly detrimental when travelling Morocco. Everyone speaks french here and not being able to, feels almost barbaric. We’ve managed with english and sign language.

In total, our Morocco trip must be considered a success, the species we had on our list we missed were Dupont’s Lark, Tawny Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Egyptian Nightjar. Some of these we’ll repair later. We’re returning here in April, migration species and the Small Buttonquail. We’ll try to do some repairing then.

These last days from Agadir to Marrakesh we had some great birding as usual. We started the morning in Agadir with just casual birding in Oued Sous, nothing spectacular there though. One of the palace guards came running whistling loud, waving. We just walked away, pretending ignorance. The wild-goose-chase project of  Sunday 19 was to search Sous Valley for Tawny Eagle and the probably extirpated Dark Chanting Goshawk. The last sighting of the Goshawk is more than 10 years old. Planting ourselves on a hill, we got our number 350 – Short-toed Eagle.

Short-toed Eagle
Short-toed Eagle

The Short-toed Eagles are migrating north, and later next day driving across the High Atlas, in a high altitude pass, we saw flocks of Short-toed Eagles going north. Migration has started, driving further we saw newly arrived flocks of Red-rumped Swallows, Common Swift and Sedge Warbler.

Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow

Camping the night in a dry river bed which is a known nesting site for Egyptian Nightjar. We had red recent reports of Egyptian Nightjars that have just arrived at Merzuga. We didn’t hear any though.

Sunday 19, the project of the day is to find the sub species Mahgreb Wheater. According to IOC it’s a Mourning Wheatear, but according to Lars Svensson and the Collins guide, it’s a full species. We followed the Gosney guide, driving slowly along a road known to host the Wheatear. It’s a species that has steep rocky slopes as it’s habitat. We searched such areas to no avail. Eventually Erik says – I think it’ll sit in a bush on flat ground – Mårten and I go – Yeahh .. sure. One minute later, Erik finds it on flat ground, in a small bush.

Maghreb Wheatear
Maghreb Wheatear (male)
Maghreb Wheatear (male)
Maghreb Wheatear (male)
Maghreb Wheatear (female)
Maghreb Wheatear (female)

With the Wheatear (which WILL be split) in the bag, we decided to cross the Atlas mountains before dark. The Mourning Wheatear female looks like the male, this subspecies has the female all different.

Slept at nice hotel at Ait Ourir.

Last real birding day in Morocco, High Atlas and high altitude species at the ski resort Oukaimeden which at least for birders is more famous for the African Crimson-winged Finch than it is for its slopes. We had read quite a few birding reports with groups failing to get all the way to the end of the road due to weather conditions. Not to worry, we got there and lot’s of high-altitude birds there, in particular the price bird.

African Crimson-winged Finch
African Crimson-winged Finch
African Crimson-winged Finch
African Crimson-winged Finch

This bird recently used to be the same as the similar looking Eurasian Crimson-winged Finch which we’ll tick in Turkey, but is now a split. This appears to happen quite often with species that are the same/similar, but have radically geographically distributions. Same thing with the Desert Warbler. Lot’s of other good birds at Oukaimeden.

Rock Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Rock Bunting
Red-billed Chough
Red-billed Chough
Alpine Chough
Alpine Chough
Alpine Accentor
Alpine Accentor

As well as the locally resident Horned Lark which is a possible future split

Atlas Horned Lark
Horned Lark

Now that we’re diverging into the mine field of sub species, why don’t we all go full dutch, i.e split everything. I give you the Atlas Chaffinch  and the Moroccan Pied Wagtail

Atlas Chaffinch
Atlas Chaffinch
Pied Wagtail (ssp subpersonata)
Pied Wagtail (ssp subpersonata)

Final remarks on this Morocco trip. Morocco is a very easy country to travel, people are friendly and helpful, and even though we don’t speak French, everything went smooth and easy.  Massive amount of police check points, especially in the south. However, the policemen are correct and friendly, it just takes time. We’d like give super special thanks to  Mohamed Amezian who has provided excellent help on a number of occasions when we were stumped. Thanks!! and hopefully we’ll hang some on our April return trip.

 

Towards Agadir

Thursday Feb 16 we allocated the entire day to search for Bonelli’s Eagle in the mountains south of Guelmim. We had been told about a cliff with nests by Miguel Perea. We went there and sure enough, the cliff had hosted raptors – but none were there. Massive amounts of Wheatears though, mostly Red-tailed and also Desert, Black and Northern.

We lunched below the cliff, spent time, waited and eventually gave up after a couple of hours. Went further on the small mountain road on chance and – dang!

Bonelli's Eagle
Bonelli’s Eagle

A rare bird, according to Collins Bird Guide, approximately 600 pairs exist in the entire region. This one is an adult.

Went north towards the famous NP Oued Massa which is famous for it’s population of the almost extinct Northern Bald Ibis. We sneak-camped at the entrance to the park which had reports of Red-necked Nightjar. Listening in the dark after what has become Mårtens boogie-bird. He has searched for it on numerous occasions to no avail.

The morning of Friday Feb 17 started out with some excellent general birding. The main target was the Black-crowned Tchagra, but we just – birded. Lot’s of common, but nice birds.

Spanish Sparrow (male)
Spanish Sparrow (male)
Spanish Sparrow (female)
Spanish Sparrow (female)
Sardinian Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
European Siskin
European Serin
Subalpine Warbler (ssp Iberiae or Inornata)
Subalpine Warbler (ssp Iberiae or Inornata)
Cirl Bunting (female)
Cirl Bunting (female)
Cirl Bunting (male)
Cirl Bunting (male)

Eventually we also found the Tchagra.

Black-crowned Tchagra
Black-crowned Tchagra

Despite it’s appearance, it has a beautiful – easiliy identified song. Two main targets remained in the area, we started with what we thought was the hardest and also most important, the Ibis. They’re not especially easy to find – they roam the area – which is large. We searched for hours on the “wellknown” spots. While doing so, we saw the goodlooking ssp algeriensis of Southern Grey Shrike. Very dark form.

Souther Grey Shrike (ssp algeriensis)
Southern Grey Shrike (ssp algeriensis)

Again, just spending time on the right spot payed off – a flock of 21 Ibises came flying in.

Northern Bald Ibis
Northern Bald Ibis
Northern Bald Ibis
Northern Bald Ibis

Next target was Brown-throated Martin. According to the Gosney guide, they were nesting close to a bridge, just outside of the NP. We spent some time on the bridge, but no swallow. What often happens when we wait – after a while, everybody just starts to bird. Once you do that, other birds appear. In this case, some common but nevertheless nice birds.

Yellow Wagtail (ssp Iberiae)
Yellow Wagtail (ssp Iberiae)
Common Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Common Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher

No Martins here, neither in a pool we also visited. We gave up, and went further north towards Agadir and Oued Sous. The Gosney guide suggests to look at a place close the entrance of the Royal Palace. The Martin was there alright. Again, a really good WP species.

Brown-throated Martin
Brown-throated Martin

Now, just the Red-necked Nightjar remained. Birded the river and the forest around while waiting for the dark. Barbary Partridges and Stone Curlews in the forest and lots of gulls on the river.

Little Gull
Little Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull

Gosney recommends the area close to the entrance of the Palace for the Nightjar. The king actually lives there, and thus the place is heavily guarded. No chance in hell to enter. Once dark fell, we silently went without lights along the fence, listening attentively in the dark. After an hour or so, Mårten and Erik heard the bird, I didn’t due to age and too many Rock’n Roll concerts. We went further in and finally I heard the bird too … phhhu. We were fantasising about what we should say if the guards saw us in the dark, with what appears to be high-tec gear. Stay back! We’re the idiot-margot-wallström-attack-team .. mmm maybe not.

Anyways – full goddamn cleanup in Sous Massa – feels just great.

 

Goodbye Western Sahara

This night we slept in El-AAiun the capital of Western Sahara. If a non-existing country can have a capital. For the politically inclined readers you can read up on that on the Wikipedia entry on Western Sahara. It sure seems to me as if the Moroccans did a major land-grab in the sixties. Anyways, we’re birders not activists so we went down to the river early in the morning. The river that flows through El-Aaiun seems to us to be one of the best spots in WP to find rarities. It just has to attract lost vagrants. Lots of shore birds, lots of reeds to hide in. Two new WP ticks there for us, Eurasian Reed Warbler and Glossy Ibis. Whoever has this as his/her local patch will one day strike gold.

Drove north and made a smoke stop at the site for the Kelp Gull close to Akhfennir and we found 4 Kelp Gulls, two adult and two what we believe are 2nd winter birds.

Kelp Gull 2nd-w
Kelp Gull 2nd-winter
Kelp Gull 2nd-winter
Kelp Gull 2nd-winter
Kelp Gull 2nd-winter
Kelp Gull 2nd-winter

Drove north back to the fields south-west of Gulemim where we earlier searched for the Thick-billed Lark. This time loaded with fresh coordinates from our dutch friends, Norbert Van De Grind and team. The fields were packed with hundreds of Short-toed Lark.

Short-toed Lark
Short-toed Lark

This looked promising, because a week ago there were none. Eventually we found the Lark.

 

Aouserd Road

There is paved road going from Dahkla to Aouserd which is a place of minimal significance in the desert. The road is one of those famous birding roads with plenty of wadis along the barren desert road. We were expecting more raptors along the road than what we have seen, a few Kestrels and Long-legged Buzzards.

Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard

Parts of this desert is shrub land, whereas others are – well just sand. We had a long list of Aouserd road specialities to tick off there and we got them all except the Thick-billed Lark which we can get later further north in Morocco.

We decided to make camp at the most famous wadi, called Oued Jenna. If you check that point in eBird, you’ll see that we’re not the first visitors. Awesome to camp under the stars when there is no light pollution whatsoever.

Camels in the dark around the camp
Camels in the dark around the camp

Once the dark settled, we heard the first Golden Nightjars playing. At least two, maybe more. This is a fairly new WP species and AFAWK Oued Jenna is the only place you can get them in WP. We made a recording of the sound at GOLDEN-NIGHTJAR-Oued-Jenna-2017-02-13.mp3

On the other hand, driving back, we passed yet another (unnamed) wadi that looked even better than Oued Jenna, under-birded is probably not an exaggeration. A dutch team from bancdarguin camped on the other side of the road, they shared some whiskey and good company – nice guys. We drove on the road for an hour trying to get a visual to no avail.

Woke at dawn – and it was mist.

Misty camp site in the morning
Misty camp site in the morning

Target birds in the wadi were Cricket Warbler and Sudan Golden Sparrow. The warblers were easy – albeit hard to photograph, whereas the Sudan Golden Sparrow was harder, and we only saw a few.

Cricket Warbler
Cricket Warbler
Sudan Golden Sparrow
Sudan Golden Sparrow

The wadi was also filled with Subalpine Warblers. Felt really good with breakfast after such a morning.

Walked east in the wadi after breakfast and found two Greater Spotted Cuckoos. Soon the heat made us weak and birding was slow. It’s winter there now, however in mid day it’s above 30 degrees.

In the afternoon we went searching for Dunn’s Lark. Some 15 km west of Oued Jenna we found two. Spectacular bird. Hard to find and perfectly adapted to the sand, making it almost invisible. Thank’s Norbert and team for the coordinates.

Dunn's Lark
Dunn’s Lark

Possible future split on this species too. Spent the remainder of afternoon searching for our lacking Aouserd species. Mårten and Erik found a wolf.

Possible African Golden Wolf
Possible African Golden Wolf

This appears to be something extraordinary, we really don’t have a clue here, but it appears as if Birding Frontiers has.

Worst possible dinner in Auserd and then slow driving back to camp in the dark looking for stuff on the road. Lots of mice, Jerboas, lizzards, hares, hedgehogs etc on the road in the night. But then we saw this awsome viper – horns and all.

Saharan Horned Viper
Saharan Horned Viper

What a beauty. Approaching the Oued Jenna, we had a brief glimpse of the Golden Nightjar crossing the road – thus no pics :-( What a day, birding doesn’t get much better.

Tuesday Feb 14, woke a dawn, no mist. Two Auserd species remain, and we start with what we believe is the hardest, but also the most important. The African Desert Warbler. The dutch guys we met earlier had seen it, and entered coordinates on observado.org. We went there and searched for maybe an hour until we found a pair – yellow eyes and all.

African Desert Warbler
African Desert Warbler

Desert birding is truly agreeable, it’s active, you have to search for the birds. You have to walk – which is something we all like.

Desert Birding
Desert Birding

Also, since it’s so barren, there are so few things – the thing you find you ponder upon – like these strange melons that grow. I ate some, and was disgusting. I wonder who eats this – and why.

Melon
Melon

Before giving up on Auserd, we decided to search a little bit more for the Thick-billed Lark. Saw mostly Cream-coloured Coursers and Thick-knees though :-)

Cream-coloured Courser
Cream-coloured Courser
Stone-curlew
Stone-curlew

Mmmmmmmm.

Now back to the north, sleeping at Hotel La Grand Gare at El-Aaiun – capital of West-Sahara.

 

 

Sea watching at Dahkla

Dahkla is a city in the south of the Western Sahara. Sea watching there turned out to be excellent. The city shores hosts a certain population of Royal Tern, so we had go there regardless. Anyways, we parked ourselves at the tip of the point, and started to scan the sea. Hundreds of Great Skuas and Gannets.

Great Skua
Great Skua
Northern Gannet
Northern Gannet

But best of all, plenty European Storm Petrels. At home this is an exceptionally rare bird, and having the privilege of studying the jizz of these small birds over and over again was a great learning experience. The European Storm Petrel is easy to id, more tricky were the birds we identified as Band-rumped Storm Petrel. Larger, generally blacker and completely different flight pattern. We saw these bird sufficiently well to  ensure they were not Leach’s Storm Petrel. Both species of Petrels were very tricky to photograph – thus no pics.

From desert to coast

The village of Mahmid in the south-east of Morocco hosts a Pied Crow. Apparently the bird has been there for the last couple of years. It’s usually seen close to “Hotel Kasbah Sahara Services” which is the place to stay at when visiting Mahmid. We spoke about the bird to the folks at the hotel, even offering 100 money to whoever finds the bird for us. This offer triggered some frenzied interest from the folks working there. Apparently they hadn’t realised that it was possible to capitalise on a “simple crow”. Now they have, and we recommend future searchers of the crow to either stand on a hill nearby, or even better, on the roof of the hotel.

pied-crow
Pied Crow

We started out at dawn searching for the crow, usual tactics with split up team and walkie-talkies. Bad tactics for this bird, better to just stand still together and wait for the crow, it’s mobile and flies by. Mårten found the bird, I went to Mårten fast by car and got it too. Erik was upheld by militaries checking him, freaking out. Eventually Erik got it too. Remember our rules, we all have to see/hear the bird.

Once we had the crow, we started out on a long drive towards Tissint where we were planning to search for Sandgrouses. There is a spot on the river, 8 km downstream from Tissint where Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse come to drink in the evening. The other Sandgrouse species drink in the morning. Once we had set our tent at the site, we started to wait for the incoming Lichtenstein’s. A car came with 3 happy Dutch birders, with Norbert Van De Grint. First thing they say once they’ve jumped out of the car – Eyy, are you the Swedes ???. We’re famous now. We all waited well into the dark for the Sandgrouses, finally Erik (as usual) finds them in the dark, poor views and we also heard them.

In the morning, we waited for the other Sandgrouses to come to drink. They came at 9.30 in large flocks. Both Spotted and Crowned. Nice.

crowned-sandgrouse
Crowned Sandgrouse
Spotted Sandgrouse
Spotted Sandgrouse

Once the Sandgrouses were bagged, we remade our plans due to weather forecasts and Golden Nighjar gossip. Plenty of snow in the Atlas mountains made us decide to go directly south, aiming for Dahkla in Western Sahara. Good birding en route with e.g Moussier’s Redstart.

Moussier's Redstart
Moussier’s Redstart

En route to Dahkla, we had the important stop of the Khnifiss National Parc where we camped, and searched all day for Kelp Gull. Eventually we got it through hard work. A really really good WP bird.

Kelp Gull
Kelp Gull

Sleepover at Tarfya which has a really nice pier, we spent some time there before sunset. Plenty of Skuas that we’ll check more thoroughly tomorrow morning.

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.

Bureaucracy and birds in Morocco

We’re birding again although our winter trip to Morocco sure didn’t start out well. Arrived at Rabat Airport and the customs officer confiscated all scopes and also my camera + 300/2.8 Canon lens. Our french suck (ashamed) so we couldn’t talk ourselves out of the problem. The Moroccan authorities are a wee bit worried over journalists entering the country, and apparently our gear looked sufficiently professional (Thanks Swarovski!!) to make them worried. We were told that we needed a permit from the Ministry of Communications to be allowed to photograph in the country. Furthermore Mårtens bag was lost en route, so we were pretty goddamn depressed when we left the airport on Jan 2.

All of next day was spent at the ministry, manoeuvring through the intricacies of north african bureaucracy.  Interesting experience. Eventually we managed to convince them that the scopes were ok, and we should be able to collect the scopes, and then later when the permit was finally signed by the absent director, we should be able to also pick up the camera. At the airport though, picking up Mårtens lost luggage and the scopes, we got the camera too. Dang. Good to go.

First target was Marsh Owl, at Merja Zerga. Difficult. First evening spent on the western shore, checking for flying owls. Nada. Next morning spent on eastern shore, several spots, looking for flying owls. Nada. We then resorted to calling Mohamed Amezian, local birder who is our goto guy here in Morocco who is running the excellent site Maghreb Ornitho. Mohamed arranged a date with a local (to the lake) guide who helped us to find the owl. It turned out that we had been really really close. The owls are hard to flush, pretty much as a Short-eared Owl. Finally we got it, not just one but four. A dream bird. The english name – Marsh Owl – is much less enticing than the swedish – “Kapuggla”

Marsh Owl
Marsh Owl
marsh-owl1
Marsh Owl

Also found a Little Owl at the site, this has been a boogey bird for me over the years. It’s not a rare bird, it’s just that I’ve never seen it before. I’ve been in the right habitat hundreds of times, and everybody says – ohh it’s easy, they usually just perch on poles in the fields, just keep your eyes open and you’ll see it – yeah right – I say not. Well, now I have seen it.

Little Owl
Little Owl

Pretty good birding in general at Merja Zerga National Park, lot’s of human activities around, but the marsh itself is apparently not possible to exploit – thus it remains. Plenty of common marsh species there.

White Stork
White Stork
Zitting Cisticola
Zitting Cisticola

Went quickly to Lac Sidi Bourghaba and was lucky like crazy there. Plenty of White-headed Ducks and also a few Red-knobbed Coot. It’s possible that the White-headed Duck is the prettiest of our WP ducks. Mmmmmm.

White-headed Duck
White-headed Duck
Red-knobbed Coot
Red-knobbed Coot

Drove into the night and had our first tent night at the so called Hidden parking lot which is inside a small forest with a population of Double-spurred Francolin. Awesome to camp with Tawny Owl (ssp Mauritanica) hooting before falling asleep. Also Stone Curlew calling in the dark. Woke at dusk, Erik screams – FRANCOLIN CALLING. We got fairly good views of the Francolins flying on stiff wings. No pics!!

Next target was Lac Aoua where the king has a residence. There we picked up the last duck. Marbled duck, and now we can almost tear out all the duck pages from the Collins guide.

 

Drove over the Middle Atlas mountains, plenty of snow and plenty of happy Moroccans playing in the snow. Sleepover at  shabby hotel in Zeida. Tomorrow we’ll be at it again.