Thursday, January 24, 2013

Brent Goose

Found the yesterday by Charlie Kitchin this bird was clinging to a tiny ice-free patch of water with a Shelduck and a couple of Mute Swans and Gadwall.

Distant HD video of Dark-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla bernicla

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Garden Fieldfare

Loads of people reporting winter thrushes in gardens during the hard weather.

Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
Canon Powershot SX50 HS

A bit of HD video of one feeding

West Morocco Species List

just 74 bird species seen on this trip but the aim was quality not quantity. It was still a surprise not to encounter more raptors (no buzzards at all) and wetland species.

Full report here

Little Grebe, a few along Oued Massa
Northern Gannet, small numbers along coast
Great Cormorant, common with many maroccanus
Cattle Egret, common everywhere
Little Egret, one at Tamri
Great White Egret, a few at Oued Massa mouth
Grey Heron, common at Oued Massa
White Stork, hundreds at Marrakech dump
Northern Bald Ibis, 24 in flight over Sidi Rabat at dawn and 90+ at day roost to north
Mallard, Oued Massa
Tufted Duck, Oued Massa
Sparrowhawk, singles over motorway and at Oued Massa mouth
Osprey, colour-ringed individual Oued Massa
Common Kestrel, fairly common
Barbary Falcon, singles in south of Sous-Massa NP
Barbary Partridge, 2 flushed at dawn between Sidi Rabat and Oued Massa
Moorhen, small numbers Oued Massa
Coot, several oued Massa
Crane, 9 including 2 juveniles at Oued Massa and in flight nearby
Oystercatcher, 1 at Oued Massa mouth
Ringed Plover, several at Oued Massa mouth
Kentish Plover, 1 at Oued Massa mouth
Sanderling, several at Oued Massa mouth
Dunlin, several at Oued Massa mouth
Snipe, 1 along Oued Massa
Whimbrel, 1 with Curlew at Oued Massa mouth
Curlew, 6 at Oued Massa mouth
Common Sandpiper, 1 or 2 at Oued Massa mouth
Black-headed Gull, common at Oued Massa mouth
Audouin's Gull, a few at Oued Massa mouth
Lesser Black-backed Gull, a few at Oued Massa mouth
Yellow-legged Gull, common at Oued Massa mouth
Caspian Tern, 1 at Oued Massa mouth
Sandwich Tern, common at Oued Massa mouth and offshore
Feral Pigeon, small numbers in towns
Woodpigeon, small flocks at Immouzer and Oued Massa
Collared Dove, common
Laughing Dove, fairly numerous along Oued Massa
Little Owl, common around Sidi Rabat
Hoopoe, 1 in Sous-Massa NP north of Sidi Rabat
Wryneck, 1 near Oued Massa mouth
Crested Lark, common
Thekla Lark, a few in mountains west of Immouzer
Brown-throated Sand Martin, c.10 along Oued Massa
Swallow, small numbers in the Oued Massa area
House Martin, one or two with a mixed flock at Oued Massa mouth
Meadow Pipit, heard flying over at Oued Massa mouth
White Wagtail, common - no subpersonata identified
Common Bulbul, common
Black Redstart, 1 at Sidi Rabat
Moussier's Redstart, good numbers encountered throughout
Stonechat, several scattered widely
Wheatear, one or two in the deserts in south of Sous-Massa NP
Blue Rock Thrush, 1 south of Tifnit
Blackbird, Sidi Rabat
Sardinian Warbler, Oued Massa area
Chiffchaff, common along Oued Massa
Ultramarine Tit, east of Immouzer
Great Tit, several in Immouzer
Black-crowned Tchagra, several singing and showing near Oued Massa mouth
Great Grey Shrike, elegans types inland and around Marrakech suburbs, algeriensis in Sous-Massa NP
Jay, west of Immouzer
Magpie, mauritanica locally common throughout
Spotless Starling, locally common
House Sparrow, common
Spanish Sparrow, 1 in Sidi Rabat
Rock Sparrow, 2 along Oued Massa
Chaffinch, several in mountains - no racial determination
Serin, common throughout
Greenfinch, encountered in Marrakech suburbs and near Tifnit
Goldfinch, fairly common
Linnet, locally numerous
House Bunting, several encountered around habitation, 3 in Menara airport hall
Corn Bunting, large flock in south Sous-Massa NP

Other widlife:
Barbary Ground Squirrel Atlantoxerus getulus, scattered through the mountains, in small groups in places
Atlas Day Gecko Quedenfeldtia trachyblepharus, 1 west of Immouzer
Spanish Pond Turtle Mauremys leprosa, common on Massa river
Violet Dropwing Trithemis annulata, Oued Massa
Epaulet Skimmer Orthetrum chrysostigma, 1 at Oued Massa
Egyptian Grasshopper Anacridium aegyptum, deserts near Tifnit
Acrida ungarica, Oued Massa

Western High Atlas and Sous Massa

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:

Acrida ungarica

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.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Squirrel Appreciation Day

No, there really is a National Squirrel Appreciation Day in the US, and it is today. So an excuse to show this video taken last weekend in the western High Atlas mountains of Morocco. Look out for the Atlas Day Gecko that pops up in the top right of the screen at 00:52 and the insect one of the squirrels catches seconds later. In the background is the faint song of Serins, Moussier's Redstart and Black Wheatear.

Barbary Ground Squirrel Atlantoxerus getulus and Atlas Day Gecko Quedenfeldtia trachyblepharus in HD

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Waxwing in HD

Nice outing for the SX50 today. Although the light was starting to go by lunchtime the Waxwing flock at Ferry Meadows were performing very well.

Click here for the video

Waxwing portraits

A sequence of photos from today's session at Ferry Meadows. Don't forget to click the photos for the full impact.

Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus

Canon Powershot SX50 HS


Time for another teaser. This bird is a target for any traveller to the Sous Massa National Park in Morocco. Pretty much the only place to see the species in the Western Palearctic (north of the Sahara).

The full report on this trip is coming soon.

Black-crowned Tchagra Tchagra senegalus
Canon Powershot SX50 HS

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Blushing Bracket

Photographed this a week or so ago in Elton but only just got confirmation of the id. Three brackets growing high on cherry. First fungus on the list.

Also added another mammal seen at 3am while driving out of the village on the way to Gatwick last Saturday.

101 Reeves's Muntjac Muntiacus reevesi
102 Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa