Friday 31 May 2013

Birding in Morocco - part one

Myself and Nick Watmough embarked on a short trip to Morocco last weekend. In 64 hours we covered 1,100 kilometers. Nick has drawn up an exciting itinerary using trip reports from Josh Jones and Richard Bonser and the excellent David Gosney guide 'Finding birds in Morocco: the deserts'. Our trip took us from the forests of the Middle Atlas mountains to dry wadis and desert pistes on the edge of the Sahara.

Here's how we got on!

Thursday 23rd May 2013

Nick picked me up at 7am on a wet and chilly Thursday morning in Norwich. En route to Stansted we made a quick detour to check out the Wood Warbler at East Wretham which was still showing well. Following a very thorough check of our camera gear at airport security (swabbed and all!), we boarded our Ryanair flight to Fes and were finally on our way.
After the cool dampness of Norfolk, the bright sunshine and warmth of Fes was a welcome change. First birds on disembarking from the aircraft were Spotless Starlings - a tick for me!

Fes airport, Morocco - 23rd May 2013
Without too much hassle we picked up the rental car. A Skoda Fabia that both looked and smelt like it had seen better days. But at least it had AC.
We took an unplanned detour around Fes before a helpful local directed us towards Ifrane, not before I had to cross his palm with silver though!
We were headed for the woodlands between Ifrane and Azrou to see Atlas Flycatcher. En route we spotted many Cattle Egrets in the fields and along the roadsides as well as nice views of some European Rollers perched on the telegraph wires.

European Roller, Morocco - 23rd May 2103
Within an hour we reached the ski resort town of Ifrane. We became a little lost here but a kind Gendarme set us on the right track to Azrou. Thank God for our ropey French! At the 'Marrakesh 411km' marker we pulled in and began checking the woods for Atlas Flycatchers. It wasn't that difficult and even as we pulled our gear from the boot we could see and hear some male birds. There were at least three males and several females within the first one hundred meters of woodland. But getting a picture was tricky. The birds showed very well but spent much of their time high in the oaks chasing females or other males. One male would find a perch and sing for a couple of seconds before another male would chase him away, great fun to watch but no fun to photograph. Fantastic birds though and we were both very pleased to connect with the species. The record shots below were the best I could manage.

Male Atlas Flycatcher - Ifrane/Azrou road - Morocco - 23rd May 2013

Female Atlas Flycatcher - Ifrane/Azrou road - Morocco - 23rd May 2013
Present also in the woods were several Hawfinch, ultramarinus Blue Tits (stunning birds), 'African' Chaffinch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Spotted Flycatcher. We dipped on Levaillant's Green Woodpecker although I did have a brief sighting a darkish large 'pecker but that was it.

Nick watches the Atlas Flys

As the sun dropped we decided the best bet was to continue on towards Zeida where we were planning to overnight. We passed through a small village where several White Storks were nesting on the rooftops. We stopped for a look and noticed this nice pale phase Booted Eagle perched in a tree top. It took flight just as I tried to take a shot.

Pale phase Booted Eagle
As we left the woodlands of the Middle Atlas, the roads opened out onto some beautiful mountain plateaus. The scenery looked very impressive as we drove south-east, the setting sun behind us reflecting on the red hills.

A full moon as we head towards Zeida
We had one more avian encounter before the day was out. Nick spotted a dark shape perched on a telegraph wire as we drove into some small village along the way. He slowed down beside it and we could see the silhouette of a Tawny Owl. Before we had a chance to put the bins on it, the bird flew off into the night. It would have been good to see if it was barred rather than streaked. Also, although the light was poor it did look quite dark, so was possibly of the race 'mauritanica' or Magreb Tawny Owl.
Sometime between 9.30pm and 10pm we finally reached our destination for the night. The Ksar Timnay Hotel was good value and comfortable. We enjoyed a meal of Moroccan salad, Tagine and some cold beers before setting our alarms for 5.15am and hitting the hay.

Bed for the night - my room at the Ksar Timnay Hotel outside Zeida.

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