Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Morocco - February 2010

Red-knobbed Coot - Lac de Sidi Bourhaba

Red-knobbed Coot

Red knobbed Coot

Red-knobbed Coot

House Bunting, Marrakech

African Chaffinch, Nr. Sidi Bettache

17th-28th February 2010

Eleven of us met up with our leader for the tour, Peter Landsdown at Gatwick airport. After a good flight we arrived at Marrakech airport and boarded the Mini bus which was to transport us around Morocco. We headed north towards Casablanca stopping on route to check out cultivated fields when I say stopping, we casually pulled on to the central reservation of a Motorway. We scanned the adjacent fields to look for Calandra Lark which we duly found as well as migrating Swifts and Swallows. Visible migration would be a continuing feature of our trip. It was good to watch the passage of Swallows, Swifts, Pallid, Common and Little. Another surprise was Little ringed Plover on rough ground at a filling station. Other birds seen on route to our first Hotel at Tamara plage were : Southern grey Shrike, Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Black Wheatear, Little Owl, Marsh Harrier, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, White Wagtail, Magpie, Long legged Buzzard and House Bunting.
Day 2 began with rain and overcast skies. We arrived at an upland area of Oak woodland which produced several familiar birds, Song Thrush, Robin, Woodpigeon, Blackcap and Chaffinch plus some distinctive forms such as African Chaffinch and African Blue tit along with Barbary Partridge and the big prize Double spurred Francolin. We moved on to a long lake; Lac de sidi Bourhaba where we searched for Mediterranean wildfowl in particular. Birds seen here were, Red-knobbed Coot, Marbled Teal, Ferruginous Duck, Pochard, Red crested Pochard, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck, White headed Duck, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Coot and Fan-tailed warbler. The sun showed itself for the first time as we enjoyed a lunch of Bread, Sardines, cheese and Yoghurt (a diet we would come to know and love) by the side of the lake. During the afternoon we drove to a site near Merja Zerga for another star bird, Marsh Owl. Getting to the site involved a drive along the first of many rough tracks and then a hike. It seemed quite straightfoward until we realised that many of the fields we had to cross were flooded. We all got our feet wet, as we walked along a swollen river bank we collected our first irritating kids! We did manage to see a few birds though: Bar tailed Godwit, Grey plover, Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Lapwing, Turnstone, Yellow wagtail and a single Caspian Tern. Anticipation grew as we reached the Owl site and met the Guardians of the marsh who would 'find' the Owls for us. Over an hour later with the light fading fast and no sign of any owls our spirits sank. We were just leaving as a Marsh Owl got up from the nearest reeds and landed on the path in front of us. A second Owl flew virtually overhead. Talk about cutting it fine. We drove back to our hotel in Moulay Boussham for an evening meal of mutton with prunes.
Day 3. After breakfast we started the day scanning the estuary from the hotel. We had distant views of Sanderling, Sandwich tern and Curlew and Audouin's gull.Our plans for the following day had to be adjusted as the heavy rains and flooding had blocked our route to the main site for Plain Martin. We headed towards Midelt and the wooded uplands close to a Royal Palace in the Middle Atlas. The weather changed from rain to sleet, to hail, to snow and back to rain again. We did managed to find several species on the lake and around the Palace grounds including: Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Coal tit, Jackdaw, Short toed Treecreeper, Tree pipit, Water pipit, Meadow pipit, Firecrest, Black winged Stilt, Green Sandpiper, Shore Lark, Black necked Grebe, and Ferruginous Duck. We finally located the main target bird, Levaillant's Woodpecker and had prolonged views as it fed on the ground and in the trees. Despite the poor weather in the North of Morocco we had seen all the major target species. The final drive to the hotel proved interesting as the snow and mist made conditions difficult. Our driver saw this as a challenge driving as fast as at any time in the previous 2 days. Several stops were made to relieve the weight in the bus from the 'masonry' which had been accumulated. In near blizzard conditions we saw our only Ruddy Shelduck of the trip.

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