Sunday 2 June 2013

Birding in Morocco - part three

We surfaced at the slightly later time of 7am the next morning. We enjoyed an excellent breakfast and discussed our plans for the day ahead. One thing was for sure, yesterday would be a hard act to follow. We started the day's birding by checking the Tamarisks surrounding the Auberge. We had several more Western Olivaceous Warblers, I had a Southern Grey Shrike which was upsetting the House Sparrows considerably, another Rufous Bush Robin (not as showy this time) and a single  Melodious Warbler. Other than that things were a little quiet and quite windy so we decided to move on. We returned via the very dry and bumpy desert piste that ran for 14 kilometers to the main road. The surrounding area looked dry and bird-less but even in the odd stunned Tamarisk we found single Spotted Flycatchers and more Melodious Warblers, presumably late migrants. We also had a small group of three very ragged Brown-necked Ravens, not the prettiest birds but a tick nonetheless.
We stopped alongside a long stretch of dry vegetation and decided to check it for Desert Warbler. I left my gear in the car because the wind was blowing up a lot of very fine sand, I'm sure my camera would have loved that! We didn't see any Desert Warblers but did find a couple of Desert Larks and a single Hoopoe Lark so I was well happy with those two additions to the list.
From there we headed back through the town of Rissani, much easier to negotiate now that the rush hour was over. We stopped at the football stadium just before the bridge and began to check the row of large Tamarisks for Saharan Olivaceous Warblers (reiseri). Almost straight away we had at least one male singing, in addition to a pair going in and out of a nest.

Saharan Olivaceous Warbler, Rissani, Morocco - 25th May 2013
We spent about thirty minutes watching these birds and trying for photos (which was difficult), present in the same area were several Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. As we climbed in the car to leave we spotted this very smart 'Morrocan' White Wagtail, this time it was much closer than the one Nick picked up the day before and we both got some respectable shots from the car.

'Morrocan' White Wagtail (subpersonata), Rissani, Morocco - 25th May 2013
As we tried to leave a pair of very handsome White-crowned Wheatears appeared on the wall of the football stadium. With both of us still in the car we were able to secure some more decent shots especially of the female as she gathered various 'bits' of stone and grassy material, presumably for a nest.

Female White-crowned Black Wheatear, Rissani, Morocco - 25th May 2103
It was another 'difficult to leave' spot, like many places in Morrocco, but we had a rendevous with a 'Pharoah' Eagle Owl and needed to be on our way.
Using the Gosney guide once more we arrived at the appointed place for the Eagle Owl. The map in the book shows it to be about a 2km walk from the road to the spot. In the midday heat with 10kg of gear it felt more like 3 or 4kms. Although there were plenty of faeces streaked ledges on the cliff face we couldn't find the Owl at all. We gave up and started to hike back. Within about 500 meters of the road we met with a local on a moped call Lahcen Ouacha. He offered to show us Eagle Owl, Lanner and Spotted Sandgrouse all within an hour. At first we were a little suspicious but Nick negotiated a good rate (100 Dirhams per bird with a 'no bird-no fee' caveat). We walked back to the car and followed him on his moped towards the Eagle Owl spot.

Lahcen Ouacha leads the way
We walked the last few hundred meters to the spot (turns out we weren't too far ourselves, another two or three hundred yards further along the cliff and we may have found it) and had scope views of 'Pharoah' Eagle Owl.

Roost spot for 'Pharoah' Eagle Owl
The bird was pretty well hidden, visible quite well with a scope but no good for photos. I'll crop the above shot so you can at least see the outline of the bird.

'Pharoah' Eagle Owl - just!
True to his word Lahcen delivered with scope views of a pristine Lanner Falcon followed by a short track across the desert where we watched a group of about ten Spotted Sandgrouse. I managed to approach one of the birds but the heat haze put paid to any decent shots.

Spotted Sandgrouse - near Rissani, Morocco - 25th May 2013

We paid Lahcen his fee and were on our way. Incidentally, if you are planning on visiting the area Lahcen's contact details are / +212 671146336. He comes highly recommended as a guide.

Celebrating Lanner with Lahcen Ouacha
By now it was late afternoon. We were planning to stay that night in Ifrane so we could be within an hour of Fes for a very early flight the next morning. We needed to get going. We made good time to Ifrane going back over the mountain passes we had taken the day before, stopping only to watch a flyover Long-legged Buzzard. However we were still missing several of our target species. For me I really wanted to see Seebohm's Wheatear, so once the habitat began to look good it was 'eyes-peeled' time from the car. We passed a vegetation covered lake which had good numbers of Coot, one of them looked good for Red-knobbed Coot (based on a quick glance from a traveling car). We pulled in further up and got out. I was badly in need of a toilet break, so as Nick headed back to check the Coots I answered the call of nature. I was mid way through that call when a female Seebohm's Wheatear popped up on a rock right in front of me. Applying impressive sphincter control, I stopped 'mid-leak', picked up my camera and took a few shots. I'm not sure what people in passing cars thought of the scene though!

Female Seebohm's Wheatear
I could hear a male singing somewhere nearby and as the light faded I managed a shot of this fine male bird whilst it sang from a flat rock further up the path.

Male Seebohm's Wheatear
For me this was definitely one of the finest birds we'd seen all trip and while for the moment, it is still a version of Northern Wheatear I think it must become a separate species at some time in the near future.
I left the Wheatears for a moment and walked back along the road towards Nick so I could see the Red-knobbed Coots. Although I had seen the species in 2007 and 2011 at S'Albufera in Mallorca, they are introduced there. Here they are the real McCoy, so important for me to see them.

Red-knobbed Coot
Before we left, we watched a few singing Corn Buntings and Linnets in the same area. The light was almost gone, we returned to the car and drove the last hour to Ifrane where we overnighted at the La Chamonix Hotel. We had about four hours sleep before rising at 3.30am and hitting to road back to Fes for our 7am flight back to Stansted.

So, I hoped you've enjoyed this account of our short trip to Morocco. What a country for birding. Good infrastructure, good light, great birds and friendly people. We didn't see Dupont's Lark or Levaillant's Green Woodpecker but, if I needed one, there are now at least two reasons to return.


  1. Good stuff Graham, sounds like you had a ball and its a great spot for birding.
    Love the Moussiers and male Seebohms shots.
    You had way better views of the Pharoah Eagle Owl than I did in Dubai! Just a dark silhouette against the sky for me.

  2. Good stuff Graham!!! I can see that you missed some desert birds on your trip which are very easy to find, birds like; African Desert warbler, Desert sparrow, Fulvous babbler,...
    Brahim from Rissani Morocco
    Birds & Birding Tours in Morocco

  3. Thanks Brahim, next time for Desert Warbler!

  4. Your'e welcome Graham, hope to meet you next time, show you all desert birds and birds you missed in Morocco!

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  6. Muchos gracias Graham un saludo
    Lahcen Ouacha