This was a bit of a flying visit to get make some contacts and get a few photos. Once again Morocco proved a welcoming and entertaining destination.
Full list here
Click on the pictures for larger versions and the links for HD video clips. use the back button on your browser to return here.
Saturday, 12th January 2013
The trip started at an ungodly 3am to drive to Gatwick for a 07:35 flight to Marrakech. You can fly into Agadir but prices and times of flights to Marrakech more appealing for this visit.
The flight landed on time and Thrifty provided the booked hire car without delay. I'd booked the smallest class but no matter what I book I always seem to be offered a Dacia Logan and this was no different. I was on the road by noon and with the new motorway now complete you can be in the Agadir area in about two and a half hours from the airport.
My plans for the afternoon though were to leave the toll road at Argana and drive through the western High Atlas to Tamri taking in the cascades at Immouzer on the way.
I left the House Buntings and Spotless Starlings of Menara airport and headed into the hectic traffic of Marrakech. House Sparrows, Moroccan Magpies, Collared Doves and a couple of Greenfinches the only birds until the town dump where huge numbers of White Storks and Cattle Egrets could be seen. Soon I was speeding through the desert and up into the mountains on the new toll road accompanied only by the occasional White Wagtail, Crested Lark, Great Grey Shrike and Common Kestrel.
Things picked up a bit as soon as I got off the main road near Argana. The toll station provided brilliant views of Moroccan Magpies and House Bunting.
Moroccan Magpie Pica pica mauritanica
Crested Larks and Stonechats were among the scattered argan trees in the foothills as I stopped to pick up an old fella with a heavy load and take him up the steep hill to the next village. He spoke only Berber I think, as my attempts at conversation in French, English or (pigeon) Arabic were not understood. You could tell he was very grateful though and I was rewarded shortly afterwards by great views of a Barbary Ground Squirrel, a couple of Ultramarine Tits (to be the only ones of the trip) and masses of Painted Ladies feeding on flowering lavender.
Barbary Ground Squirrel Atlantoxerus getulus, ahem, a male I think :)
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui
This route passes through a beautiful landscape of Argan trees, Dwarf Fan Palm, Juniper and Aleppo Pine with many Almond trees, already flowering even in January. The ground squirrels are quite easy to spot sitting on the many short, low, whitewashed walls above culverts under the road. They run off as cars approach but don't go far and a little searching can reveal them nearby.
Looking east from Agadir Ida Ou Srar to Barrage Abdelmoumen
On then to Immouzer, famed for it dramatic waterfalls but, as expected, there was no water today. The best time to visit is in the spring after snow fall in the mountains and you can see from the photo where the water flows dramatically over the cliffs here. Here, as elsewhere in the mountains there were scattered Clouded Yellows about.
Birdlife was confined to some very vocal excelsus Great Tits, flocks of Woodpigeon, White Wagtail, Chaffinches (of indeterminate race), Sardinian Warbler and Common Bulbul with Thekla Larks along the road side beyond.
20km further west, just past Askens, I encountered a large flock of Serins. It's always worth stopping when you find good numbers of common birds and in this case it netted a stonking male Moussier's Redstart, a singing Black Wheatear and brilliant views of at least 6 Barbary Ground Squirrels.
Moussier's Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri
Barbary Ground Squirrels Atlantoxerus getulus and Atlas Day Gecko Quedenfeldtia trachyblepharus in HD
Watch for the Atlas Day Gecko that pops up in the top right of the screen at 00:52 and the squirrel that catches an insect in the air seconds later. In the background is the faint song of Serins, Moussier's Redstart and Black Wheatear.
Time was now pressing rather so I made straight for the coast, adding only Thekla Lark on the way. In the end it was nearing sunset as I pulled up at the Tamri Estuary and I saw little except a single Little Egret, a few Coot, Stonechat, Chiffchaff and a good bet for Moustached Warbler. The sunset over the mighty atlantic breakers was magnificent though with Gannets wheeling over them for good measure as I headed for my hotel on the outskirts of Agadir.
You know you are in Morocco when even the transport cafe next to a motel serves excellent mint tea and tagine.
Sunday, 13th January 2013
An early start to get to the Massa river mouth by dawn, about an hours drive from the Agadir ringroad to Sidi Rabat. A patchy fog threatened to eat into observation time so I stopped on the approach to Sidi Rabat where visibility was good and there were large flocks of Corn Buntings and Linnets, with many Crested/Thekla Larks and a couple of Northern Wheatears.
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra
Thekla Lark feeding in HD
So it was a little after sunrise when I rode into Sidi Rabat, a village with plenty of decent birds before you get anywhere near the Massa reserve. A male Spanish Sparrow was one of the first birds I saw, but there were more House Sparrows, plus Common Bulbul, House Bunting, Moussier's Redstart, Spotless Starling, Feral Pigeon, Collared Dove, Serin, Goldfinch, Blackbird, several Barn Swallows and a Black Redstart. Gulls, Gannets and the odd tern were over the sea.
I'd just got chatting to some locals on the seaward side of the village when a flock of 24 Bald Ibis came into view heading for us. Just had time to whip the camera out and get a short video as they passed over to the north:
Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita in flight HD
An excellent start then, and it was to get a whole lot better. I hitched up with Lahcen, a superb SEO-trained local guide based at the Auberge La Dune and picked up a French guy, Courentin, who he was guiding that day. Together we set off on a search of the deserts to the north, first checking out the rather confiding Little Owls in the village:
Little Owl Athene noctua
Little Owl Athene noctua in HD
And some Bulbuls and Moroccan Magpies.
Common Bulbuls Pycnonotus barbatus
Moroccan Magpie Pica pica mauritanica in HD
Crested Larks and Linnets were the most common species in the desert but we also encountered singles of Hoopoe, Blue Rock Thrush and Great Grey Shrike:
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor in HD
At the pretty fishing village of Tifnit we had distant views of a party of Scimitar-horned Oryx. This species is now considered extinct in the wild but a small population remain in an enclosed part of the Sous-Massa National Park. Similar semi-captive populations are kept in Senegal and Tunisia to support future reintroduction attempts.
Scimitar-horned Oryx Oryx dammah
A bit closer was a common but spectacular insect.
Egyptian Grasshopper Anacridium aegyptum
But we were still frustrated in our hunt for the ibis, forcing Lahcen to exclaim in 'robust' terms about uncooperative birds and then seconds later he spotted a distant flock in the air. We watched roughly where they landed and approached cautiously to find a flock of over 90 birds preening in the breeze on the top of a cliff. We remained in the car behind a rise to avoid disturbing the birds and were treated to some amazing views of getting on for half the world's population of these bizarre birds!
Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita
Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita preening in HD
Well, we couldn't have asked for much better, so, with a fly past Barbary Falcon also under the belt, we headed back to the Auberge La Dune for an amazing lunch of freshly caught local fish. Called Marbré in french, the English name is Sand Steenbras and simply grilled was utterly delicious. Taken in the sun with good company on the hotel's terrace overlooking the Atlantic with Common Bulbul and Moussier's Redstart singing in the garden and a party of 9 Cranes passing overhead, this meal really was a highlight of the trip.
Plans for the afternoon were made and I decided to continue driving Lahcen and Courentin as we explored the Massa river valley. Soon we had picked up a German couple also staying at the hotel who wanted to go up to Massa village and they joined us for the tour of the wetlands upstream from the reserve.
The river and lagoons along here quickly produced an Osprey fishing, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler, Common Bulbul, Little Grebe, many Swallows and a Snipe. The terrapins here are Spanish Pond Turtles but my eye was drawn to the insects and the many Clouded Yellows about, include a pale helice variety, plus Epaulet Skimmer and these:
Violet Dropwing Trithemis annulata
Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus
Better for birds were the lagoons opposite the pretty mosque of Aït Lyass. Here were plenty of Moroccan Cormorants, Coot, Tufted Duck, Grey Herons, Swallows and several Brown-throated Martins. Flight shots with the SX50 were a bit of a challenge but give you the idea.
Moroccan Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo maroccanus
Brown-throated Martin Riparia paludicola
The surrounding land was home to House Sparrows, Stonechats, Rock Sparrow and plenty of Laughing Doves. More of the same were at the bridge further upstream and we headed into Massa town where Martin & Inga bought me a sensational danish as thanks for driving. Nice!
Aït Lyass Mosque
Brian, Courentin, Lahcen, Martin & Inga
Back at the Auberge La Dune it was time for the multi-national team to disperse and Courentin and I took a walk down to the Massa river mouth and the reserve in the fading light. Perhaps the same Osprey as we had seen earlier was here feeding on a fish. It was clearly colour ringed but the ring was very difficult to read. It seems likely it was ringed in Scotland.
Osprey feeding on fish in HD
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Many Sandwich Terns, gulls, Cormorants, Grey Herons and a few waders were on the sand bar along with a single Caspian Tern. Along the river were Great White Egrets, a Common Sandpiper and the same 9 Common Cranes seen flying over earlier, two of them juveniles. A party of Curlews provided a heart-stopping moment as I noticed one was much smaller than the others. Thoughts of the probably extinct Slender-billed Curlew flashed briefly though my mind before I remembered that Whimbrel also winter here.
Many Chiffchaff, Goldfinch, Serin and Linnet were in the scrub with a couple of Moussier's Redstarts and fly-over Meadow Pipits but a Wryneck was more of a surprise. A Sparrowhawk making a pass through the roosting passerines was one of the last birds of the day as I made my way back in the dark admiring the sliver of crescent moon over the fading sunset.
Moussier's Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri, female
Monday, 14th January 2013
Another early start to get back to the Massa river mouth for dawn. A quick chat with women going to work by the mosque in Sidi Rabat then down to the reserve entrance for tea and bread with the warden on duty. Still maintain Berbers are the most hospitable people on the planet.
On the walk to the reserve the 9 Cranes flew north and I flushed 2 Barbary Partridges from the track. The Caspian Tern was still there but there were far fewer gulls and terns generally. The better light allowed Black-headed, Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed and Audouin's Gulls to be identified. The waders were also identifiable this morning: Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and Sanderling. Great White and Cattle Egrets flew in to join the Cormorants and Grey Herons.
Serins, Goldfinches and Linnets were everywhere and Crested Larks sang nearby. Swallows overhead were joined by a couple of House Martins and Swift species. The Swifts looked like Commons from what I could tell but Plain Swift does get reported here in the winter and the views were unfortunately not good enough to separate Common, Pallid and Plain. Plus I was rather distracted by the fact that Black-crowned Tchagras had started singing nearby.
The warden and I tracked down two or three birds and these gave very good views at times. A real African bird, this is the only member of the bush-shrike family in the Western Palearctic. They sang from about 08:30 and by 10:00 they become largely silent and secretive and very hard to see.
Black-crowned Tchagra singing in HD
Black-crowned Tchagra Tchagra senegala
With another class bird in the can it was time for me to start the long journey home, starting with the walk back up to Sidi Rabat past more Little Owls and Moussier's Redstarts.
Little Owls Athene noctua
Male Moussier's Redstart feeding in HD
Before getting back to the main road I made one more stop to film a Barbary Falcon preening on a power pylon.
Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides
Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides preening in HD
The drive back to the airport was an uneventful four hours with similar birdlife to the outward journey. And the traditional Marrakech farewell from the Menara airport House Buntings singing away wound up this highly successful trip.