Holland-cleanup

On our way to Israel, we decided to stop in Holland to get the lingering rarities as well as all the goddamn Cat-C species they have in Holland.

For the benefit of readers who are not up to speed on the categorisation of birds into categories A-E I’ll now diverge a bit on what that is. The list is different for each country. We have the following list:

  • Cat A. Regular birds that breed or appear naturally in a country.
  • Cat B. Birds seen in the country but not since 1949
  • Cat C. Introduced, but now with a self-sustaining population.
  • Cat D. Odd shit
  • Cat E. Cage birds

Many birders (and listers) do category A (and dream on, B) whereas e.g the WP listers to A-C. Since we’re doing a Big Year WP, we have to go through the Cat C species since that is what other WP lister do. At home, this is easy and a no brainer, Ring-necked Pheasant and Canadian Goose breed and have healthy populations. In the more southerly parts of WP it’s different though, there are quite a few introduced species and we have to tick them. Especially Dutch birders frown (todays understatement) upon this.

Anyways, two-day stop in Holland to get the Cat-C and the rarities. Our good friend Arjan Dwarshuis (world champion !!) offered to have us crashing at his place as well as tagging along. Arjan brought his friend Vincent van den Spek who made up the day-plan to go through all Cat-C as well as the good stuff. Busy day, starting out with Alexandrine Parakite in a park inside Amsterdam. Both Arjan and Vincent are brought up with the idea that Cat-C is dirty, whereas we are not. Being a Swedish birder, it feels quite natural to consider both Ring-necked Pheasant as well as Canada Goose parts of nature. I guess this changes if you live in a country where any released cage bird might change the birding scene. When Arjan did his now famous Big Year he ticked zero Cat-C species, we on the other hand are forced to.

Following Vincents plan, we just went through all the Cat-C birds, Arjan and Vincent complaining loudly when a bird was found, silently actually enjoying it, but nevertheless feeling dirty.  They both came around at the very end of the day though, when we searched an area with reeds and Arjan finally found the Vinous-throated Parrotbill. It was nice and we all shared the moment.

Vinous-throated Parrotbill
Vinous-throated Parrotbill

Most WP listers get this Chinese bird in northern Italy, and we believe that the population in Holland is not well know,

The full list of Cat-C for the day was: Alexandrine Paraket, Mandarin Duck, Black Swan, Vinous-throated Parrotbill and Bar-headed Goose. Earlier we had seen Egyptian Goose in Holland.

Almost Cat-C was a Snow Goose. This is tricky stuff, Snow Goose is bred in Holland and domesticated, and you can find it here and there. This unringed bird though, arrived together with Barnacle Geese this fall, thus possible to tick. Deemed to be the real thing according to Vincent.

Snow Goose
Snow Goose

Clearly not possible to determine just by looking at the bird.

Apart from the Cat-C birds we had two good birds to locate. The first one was Red-breasted Goose. It was reported a couple of days ago to be seen inside massive flocks of Barnacle Goose. We searched for maybe an hour, and eventually Arjan (yes – I’ll give it to him, world champ and all, he is good at finding the birds)  found it, two of them.

Red-breasted Goose
Red-breasted Goose

Next one was a recently reported Blythe’s pipit. We went to the site, searched for hours, freezing cold and eventually gave up. Decided to go to a forest known to host Middle-spotted Woodpecker instead. Also on Vincents itinerary. Played the call and it came immediately. Easy.

Middle-spotted Woodpecker
Middle-spotted Woodpecker

Now, after the easy woodpecker, the group was in a much better mood (after the non-existent pipit) and we had lunch and then made a new attempt at the Blyth’s pipit. When we arrived there it was already relocated by other birders at the site.

Blythe's pipit
Blythe’s pipit

Picture isn’t great, but we had great views of the pipit, and at least I love it when you see a bird that is hard to distinguish from other birds and it’s crystal clear that you see what you think you see. We heard the call too.

Having done a complete cleanup in Holland we had a whole day with nothing to do before embarking to Israel. Options were to (a) Get High in Amsterdam, (b) Do some regular birding without anything tickable (c) Go to Northern France (Calais) and find yet another Cat-C species, The Reeves’s Pheasant. We opted for (c). In the car on our way to France, Erik discovers by accident and random www surfing that the group of Reeves’s Pheasant close to Calais are not tickable. We believe quite a few WP listers have actually ticked these birds. France do have a tickable population of Reeves’s Pheasant on an Island outside Marseille, Iles d’Hyeres.  Mårten called Pierre-Andre’ Crochet to confirm and sadly so, the birds in Calais are bred for hunters and would not survive on their own. Halfway to France, turning the car around we started to appreciate our Dutch friends view on Cat-C – It is dirty. Once again with nothing to to, we had a long lunch in Breda, and decided to attempt to relocate the Baikal Teal close to Amsterdam that had now been gone for 11 day. This is the same Teal we were searching for with Marten Miske several weeks ago and – Dang!

Baikal Teal
Baikal Teal

So – thanks Arjan, Vincent and Holland. I’m sure we’ll return some time later during this year, when that mega arrives. Great birding country. Tomorrow we’ll be in Israel – another great birding country.

Sweden-forest

We have just surpassed 400 species with our latest forest trip to the north of Sweden. It felt good to go birding at home, although birding in the Swedish winter forest can be slow. It’s cold and snowy, and it is far between the birds.

We started out with a recently reported Stellar’s Eider on the coast of Medelpad just north of Sundsvall. Beautiful, cold sea.

Skeppshamn, north of Sundsvall.
Skeppshamn, north of Sundsvall.

After a cold walk out on the point, I had a short glimpse of a bird with clear wing bands and called out the bird. It disappeared and we searched for hours through the small flocks of Common Eider, quite a few of the females had good wing bands so we concluded that my initial observation was wrong. We came to the conclusion that the reporter had stringed the Common Eider I saw, and that was later confirmed by the original reporter.

Spirits still high, we put this setback down to our normal mode of operandi. This has now happened several times, we start out with a dip and then later strike gold.

Next day was allocated to normal forest birding inland from Sundsvall, and we quickly found a number of good forest birds.

Parrot Crossbill
Parrot Crossbill
Three-toed Woodpecker
Three-toed Woodpecker
Redpoll
Redpoll

This area of Sweden is the epicenter of fowls, thus just spending time in the right forest habitat should deliver Black Grouse and Capercaillie. The Hazel Grouse is usually tricker. The Capercaillie has now sailed up as the most-discussed-bird since we didn’t find a single one during our Norrland trip. Unbelievable. Almost none of the forest birds can be easily located, you have to just spend time in the forest. The Siberian Jay comes to feeders though.

Siberian Jay
Siberian Jay

The Pine Grossbeak is the opposite, you just have to be lucky.

In the afternoon we decided to drive further north towards a well known spot for Great-grey Owl close to Umeå, small village called Degernäs. Björn Melin (who tagged along on this trip to Norrland) eventually found the majestic Owl just before dark, much to the joy of the other birders there – also searching for the owl.

Great-grey Owl
Great-grey Owl
Great-grey Owl
Great-grey Owl

At Degernäs, we met a local birder who seemed to know his stuff. We told him that we were planning to visit a spot nearby for Grey-headed and Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers. Yeah, he said that’s good, and there is also the Woodpecker we cannot name there – just so you know. We immediately picked up on that and went into full Voldemort mode. The whereabouts of White-backed Woodpecker in Sweden is semi-secret. There are a few known spots, where birders visit, however there are most certainly quite a few secret spots. This turned up to be one of those, and sure enough the White-backed Woodpecker was there. Impossible to miss. In a manner it was a shame he told us about it since we’d already decided to go there. Had we just found a WB Woodpecker on chance – We would have screamed.

White-backed Woodpecker
White-backed Woodpecker

We ticked the Hazel Grouse the same morning, first we heard it playing it’s low-volume high-pitch sound. Later we got good views of two males feeding on seeds in the trees.

Hazel Grouse
Hazel Grouse

Dipper was also ticked in the area.

Dipper
Dipper

The remainder of the day was spent looking for fowls, mostly by driving slow on small forests roads. We saw, Elk, wolf tracks and Reindeers. The Reindeers are not wild, they are kept by the Sami.

Reindeer
Reindeer
Elk
Elk

Next day, we continued to search for fowl, eventually we found a flock of Black Grouse, no Capercaillie though.

Black Grouse
Black Grouse

Finally got good views of the (so far only heard) Grey-headed Woodpecker too.

Grey-headed Woodpecker
Grey-headed Woodpecker

Decided to give up on the fowl and go south, towards Uppland where I own a small cabin in Esarby which is a good area for both fowl, but in particular for Owls. The evening in northern Uppland produced an abundance of playing Tengmalm’s Owl. Next morning, well deserved we slept late  (partly due to the drinking session in the cabin) and went back to Stockholm.

Next birding day, we went south searching for some missing species reported in the Stockholm area.

Bewick's Swan
Bewick’s Swan
Rough-llegged Buzzard
Rough-legged Buzzard

Much of this day was allotted to the search of Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. During the day as a whole, we visited a large number of well knows spots for the species. The Lesser-spotted Woodpecker should be easy, but it’s still lacking on our list. The afternoon we went north towards Uppland (picking up a Glaucous Gull downtown Stockholm)

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull

 

and the evening was spent with good friend and awesome birder Johan Södercrantz who showed us the Ural Owl in northern Uppland. The Ural Owl was our #400 tick. Here we are, anxiously waiting for the Ural Owl to start displaying.

Waiting for the Ural Owl
Waiting for the Ural Owl

On the way back, Johan suggest a long-shot, a place he knew that had kept wintering Short-eared owls in the past. And, sure enough, in the dark with a powerful torchlight we found the owls. It’s the first time anyone of us ever saw this day-active owl in the dark.

 

 

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.