Dave & Gilly's Moroccan Adventure, 13-30 May 2013

 As I had dropped Dave an unsubtle hint about a note on their annual trip down in to Morocco, Dave bit the bullet and has come up with below, bless his little cotton socks. Just in case you wonder about the lower than normal photographic standard, the auto-focus on his lens packed up, but owt is better is better than nowt (as they say in dark satanic mill country). Thanks, Dave!

Gilly and I embarked on our now annual trip to Morocco by taking the Balearia ferry from Algerciras to Tanger Med port which is about 60km east of the town and old port which takes ferries from Tarifa.

Common Bulbul
After sorting out our entry forms on the boat we did a bit of birding as we came into the harbour. We spotted Cory's Shearwater and Gannet to get our list off the ground. Apart from birdwatching we were also delivering 17 binbags full of clothing to our adopted "suburb" of Imlil, a trekking village up in the High Atlas Mountains. Moroccan Customs asked us to unload. Having extracted about half of the cargo the supervisor came over and asked, "Have you any guns?" (If I had, did he think I'd admit it?) " Have you a motorbike?" Seriously? As we had neither he let us through.

     We made our way to Larache where, just prior to the town is the Oued Loukkos Marsh. A passable road leads you beside the tidal river and then through wetlands and reedbeds. The highlights here were flocks of Red-knobbed Coots, 15-20 Spoonbills, numerous Squacco Herons, Red-crested Pochards, Purple Herons, Collared Pratincoles, Stone Curlews, Marbled Ducks and large numbers of Marsh Harriers. We also picked up Nightingale and Golden Oriole. A bonus was a Montagu's Harrier. We then made our way into town where, in the circular main square, we had Little Swifts above us. We stayed in a cheapo hotel where I had been before. €20 for the night. I don't know what they charged the couple in the room next to us who only stayed an hour!

Eleonora's Falcon
     The next day we had the long drive down to El Jadida, passing Casablanca and Rabat. On the way we made a brief stop at Moully Bousselham, just north of the Merdja Zerga where the probably extinct Slender-billed Curlews were prone to overwinter. Here we added Oystercatcher, Turtle Dove and a very obliging one-eyed Little Owl to the list. Arriving at our destination in good time, we headed further south to a salina area. Here we addded Little Tern, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew Sandpiper before returning to the hotel.

       Todays destination was Agadir. On the way down we stopped at Essaouira estuary where Eleanora's Falcons were constantly overhead. The other birds of note here are Brown-necked Martins at their nest site. We stopped in the Tamri area but failed to see the resident Bald Ibises.

Cream-coloured Courser
     We had an early start to meet Lahcen, our guide for the day around the Sous Massa bird reserve. I'd failed to see Black-crowned Tchagra last time, but Lahcen got a pair of them within half an hour. In the shrubs we had Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Moussier's Redstart and numerous Olivaceous Warblers. A Wood Warbler was a great bonus as was a Black Tern. We then went to search for Cream-coloured Coursers. We first got some Stone Curlews but soon had what we were looking for. It was at this point my lens's autofocus gave up the ghost, a big dampener on the holiday. Also seen with our guide were Little Bittern, Palm Dove, Cirl Bunting and Western Orphean Warbler. Gilly hadn't seen Mongoose, so Lahcen bought some sardines and placed them on a riverbank close to lots of shrubs. We made our way to the opposite bank and waited. Sure enough after about half an hour a mongoose appeared. As arranged he took us back to his house where his italian wife had prepared a fish tagine followed by spaghetti bolognaise.

Palm Dove
      Not wanting to haul all the clothes into the Sahara and back again, we cut across country heading up the Atlas Mountains to Imlil. Not done this route before. Road very narrow in places and I won't be doing it in winter! On route to the village we saw Woodlark, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear, Grey Wagtail and Rock Bunting. The truck was unloaded to its and our relief. Our contact and host offered us lunch so we opted for a cheese omelette. When it arrived it had cut up cheese triangles in it! Eatable but I'll go for a plain omelette next time. In the woods surrounding the village we had North African subspecies of Chaffinch and Blue Tit as well as flocks of Red-billed Chough above us and Levaillant's Green Woodpecker in the walnut trees. We headed for Marrakech for a couple of nights.
Alpine/Yellow-billed Chough
     We woke up to grey skies and rain....not what was expected. We were going up to the Oukaimeden Ski Resort some 65km up in the Atlas Mountains. We drove through the clouds and just as we reached the resort we climbed into blue skies and sunshine. There was very little snow so the Horned Larks and Crimson-winged Finches were nowhere to be seen, but we did see Mistle ThrushBlack Redstart, Rock Sparrow, Alpine Chough and Seebohm's Wheatear.

     It was off towards the Sahara today. Drove over the High Atlas Mountains, seeing our first Griffon Vulture in Morocco, plus an obliging Woodchat Shrike as we had a cafe au lait. As we got down onto the plain the otherside we started to see the desert birds. The very common White-crowned Wheatear, the rare Mourning Wheatear and Trumpeter Finches. We also saw our first Desert Lark of the trip. We reached our destination of Ouarzazate. Slightly beyond it is a large barrage, reservoir, where hundreds of Ruddy Shelducks were in residence. Also saw Avocets and Sanderlings and our first Rufus Bushchat.

Long-legged Buzzard
     Travelling further into desert conditions we stopped at the infamous rubbish tip just outside Boumalne. Gilly almost immediately got her first Thick-billed Lark amongst the detritus. We also had Red-rumped Wheatear, Long-legged Buzzard, Desert Wheatear, and Temminck's Horned Lark. We carried on towards Efoud picking up sightings of Bar-tailed Lark and Hoopoe Lark. As we pulled in to the Riad hotel Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were flying above us.

      We were up early the next day. We were picked up by our two guides and another man who hopefully knew where Houbara Bustards were. He was an out of work Houbara Bustard security guard employed by the Saudi's to protect their illegal supply so they can ship the birds back to their country for falcon prey. As they only paid him from September to April he was supplementing his wages with a bit of freelancing. All I'm allowed to say is we travelled north from Efoud for some kilometres, then took a track to the left which eventually petered out into rough ground and with low lying shrubs and grasses. After about an hours searching Gilly eventually spotted one. In the end we saw 3-4, one flying. Our 5 year search was over! 
We dropped off our guard and went south towards the big dunes. We added Brown-necked Raven and Desert Sparrow before making for the Merzuga lake where we saw more Ruddy Shelducks and Greater Flamingos. In the evening we went to a great little spot just outside town, pointed out to us by one of the guides where we would've had superb photos of Rufous Bushchats and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters had the lens been fu....nctional (Grrrrrrgh!)     

find the Pharoah Eagle Owl!
Moussier's Redstart
    We were out with another guide called Lahcen in the Rissani area the next day. He took us to the Pharaoh Eagle Owl site and soon found the bird in a hole high up on the cliff face. Next it was to the Lanner Falcon site where we saw both an adult and juvenile flying. He then took us to a sandgrouse area. We  observed a small group of Spotted Sandgrouse, a first for both of us. We then spent ages trying to find Fulvous Babblers but failed. You can't win them all!

     The next day we failed to anything new to the list. Going back towards the mountains we scraped a Stock Dove and a pair of Barbary Partridges. Back at Imlil I was determined to add to my woodland bird list so drove into the pine forest above the village. With the help of my phone I managed to attract Short-toed Treecreeper and Coal Tit. Later we logged Crossbill, Short-toed Eagle and Great Spotted Woodpecker as well.

     The next few days were spent travelling back to Marrakech and then Casablanca. On the penultimate day we stopped off at the Larache marsh. It turned up trumps again with sightings of Great Reed Warbler, Glossy Ibis and Purple Swamphen.  

149 species for the trip. Good birding and mostly good friendly people.

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