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.
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.
This looked promising, because a week ago there were none. Eventually we found the Lark.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Possible future split on this species too. Spent the remainder of afternoon searching for our lacking Aouserd species. Mårten and Erik found a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
Now back to the north, sleeping at Hotel La Grand Gare at El-Aaiun – capital of West-Sahara.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Also plenty of White-crowned Wheatears, Trumpeter Finch, Fulvus Babbler and Desert Lark. The nearby Village was called Merzane.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Spent the last hour before sunset searching for the crow. Tomorrow we’ll get the crow.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re birding again. We’ve now spent quite some extra time doing nothing at home. Both Mårten and Erik had some personal stuff to do, but now we’re in the air again. We have managed to tick off some tricky birds at home though.
The Siberian Accentor lingering in Lindesberg was important.
The Arctic Redpoll is not a particularly uncommon bird in Sweden during winter, but it’s far from trivial to find. Could have been missed with some bad luck
And yesterday, we had twitch tour to Skåne (Scania) to pick up the wintering American Black Duck that’s been there for several winters now.
Tundra Bean Goose yesterday is also a good bird.
And tomorrow we’re leaving for Morocco. We have been wavering back and forth on the tactics in Morocco. We want to go to Mauretania, initially we though we should do that on a separate trip. Then we found out it’s possible to actually acquire Visas in Rabat, making it possible to drive across the border from Western Sahara to Mauretania. We’ve decided to skip Mauretania on this trip, and do that later on our return trip to Morocco. It’s possible to fly there and acquire a visa at the airport. It would be too much boring driving to do all of Morroco/West Sahara and then also Mauretania in 3 weeks.
As a WP lister though, it feels as if Mauretania is very important, flipping through the Birds of Africa south of Sahara book shows quite a number of African species that ought to be possible on the WP southern most border. One can always drool over the possibility to find a new species for the region. Dream on.
On a different topic, yesterday we got to see a flock of Grey Partridges.
When we ‘re spending time together, in the car or just hanging out, we often speculate over different species. Where/when will see this or that. Grey Partridge is such a species, It’s not especially common anywhere included in our itenerary, it would have been possible to miss. On the other hand, the bird is not sufficiently rare to deserve a directed effort. Spending a few days in Skåne is by no means a sure way of seeing the Grey Partridge. Anyways, yesterday a Common Buzzard scared a small flock that took to it’s wings. Nice. It wouldn’t surprise me that when this year is over, we’re lacking something that is pretty common, like maybe Spotted Nutcracker or Three-toed Woodpecker and there is no time left to repair the damage.
Back home for a couple of days until we head off for Morocco. There are a few rare birds around in Sweden. We went straight for the only (AFAWK) remaining Siberian Accentor. An individual that has been seen regularly in a garden in Lindesberg. The bird disappeared during the bad weather a week ago, but was seen again yesterday by the owner of the house with the garden. (Not a birder) We went there this morning an Mårten found the skulking bird after an hour or so.
In southern Sweden there is also Gyrfalcon and a Black Duck, we might pick those off during our stay home.
It turned out to be the right move to go for a twitching tour in the UK. We were – with a lot of help from UK birders – able to locate all the rare UK visitors that we set out to tick, and then some.
All in all, 14 rare ones in the UK, with Bonapartes’s Gull, Pacific Loon and the Dusky Thrush at the top. Adding some long distance shots of some of the gems.
We were pretty close to the Lady Amherst’s Pheasant site, but we decided to not even attempt the bird. Apparently one male might still exists inside a fenced area, and it’s also supposedly really hard to get to see. Poor bird.
The thrush in Derbyshire has been around for quite some time. When we arrived at the village, there were some depressed birders there that hadn’t seen the bird during the entire day. Not good. Eventually we found it though, among all the Redwing Thrushes. Good thing we had the picture, the local birders didn’t really trust us.
Also – we have had a few questions on weather the Lesser Scaup we ticked wasn’t actually a Greater Scaup. We feel confident it’s a Lesser. I include here an additional picture from the lake which better shows the steeper forehead.
We have also noticed that there is smudge on the right side of our bird, which also shows well on “good” pictures from the lake of the Lesser Scaup there. Hence – the tick stands.
Furthermore, and I don’t think we have officially mentioned this earlier. We’re not following the Netfugl list as we originally stated. At the time, we though that was a good idea, but Björn Andersson from the iGoTerra team convinced us that the IOC is the proper list for us to follow. Quite a few UK birders wondered why we didn’t go for the Hudsonian Whimbrel that we just drove by. That bird is not on the IOC list, it might end up there, but even that seems unlikely, hence we skipped the bird. Same thing with Red Grouse.
Since we’re able to tick sub species in the iGoTerra app (and we do) it’ll be easy to translate our IOC based list to a Netfugl one if we should desire. I’m sure someone will do that. News today was that BOU adapts to the IOC list – so that is indeed good news. The mess with different countries running their own lists is unfortunate.
Yesterday was a bit of a disappointment, the Stonechat was rejected, and we couldn’t find the Lesser Yellowlegs at Lytchett Fields. Luckily we decided to spend the night in Poole and make a second attempt at connecting with Yellowlegs. After a few seconds of confusion with a Spotted Redshank, another wader flew into view and we had the Yellowlegs.
The Green-winged Teal was still there.
Went straight for the Bonaparte’s gull which was reported from “Johns Hide” at a marvellous area called Dawlish Warren close to Exeter. American Widgeon was twitched en route. Spent maybe an hour there until we found the bird among all the Black-headed Gulls. Easily spotted in flight with almost white under wings.
This is a really good WP bird, one of the heavy targets for our UK twitch. Moved on towards a Lesser Scaup further west into Cornwall.
At this time we decided to call it a day and go look for a hotel in Penzance, however en route we decided to give a reported 2cy Ringed-billed Gull a chance at River Gannel and miraculosly we found that one too at sunset. What a spectacular twitch, six rare Yanks in the same day.
We’d like to thank Chris Batty who has sent us these well organised lists with tickable birds with exact geo coordinates making it possible for us to just move from one bird to another.