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Jan 15th - 28th. - Sri Lanka. £1750

Feb 12th -27th - Costa Rica - full

Mar 20th - 30th Morocco - 10 nights. - £1190

April 5th - 12th - Andalucia migration tour. - £750 - 2 places

April 16th - 24th - Coto Donana & Extremadura - £950 - 2 places

April 29th - 6th May. - Lesvos - £875

May 8th - 15th - Portugal - full


May 13th - 21st Bulgaria - £850

May 23rd - 30th - Andalucia birds and butterflies - £750

May 31st - June 8th. - Extremadura and Sierra de Gredos - £950

June 12th - 20th - Pyrenees and Picos de Europa - £1050


FLIGHTS NOT INCLUDED IN THESE PRICES



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Red-throated Bee-eater

Red-throated Bee-eater
join us for a fantastic tour of The Gambia this November

Monday, March 31, 2014

GAUCIN - MONDAY 31ST MARCH 2014

BIRDS FROM MY TERRACE

Our guests left early this morning and we spent the day getting ready for our next guests who arrive on Wednesday.

During a couple of short breaks I saw several Booted Eagles drifting over very high up, a Black Kite much lower and a dozen or so Griffon Vultures.

From my top terrace I caught sight of a Blue Rock Thrush on our neighbour's roof so I quickly took a few shots of it.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

SUNDAY 30TH MARCH 2014 - DAY TOUR

GAUCIN 'CHESTNUT WOODS' - RIO GUADIARO (ESTACION DE CORTÉS) - LLANOS DE LIBAR (MONTEJAQUE)

This was the second day that I took out Will & Kalpana, our American guests. It was raining when we got up but by the time we had eaten breakfast it had cleared a little.

Our first stop was at the Chestnut Woods just a couple of clicks along the road to Ronda from Gaucin, the trees being the only deciduous species in the forest looked barren and devoid of life. A Great spotted Woodpecker drummed nearby and flew across our view a little later. Other than seeing a Chaffinch, a Blue Tit, a few Griffon Vultures and a single Sparrowhawk (me only) we didn't see much else.
Kalpana &;Will at lunch today


We made a quick stop at a well used track just before Estacion Cortés where we found lots of Blackcap, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, a Mistle Thrush and a Firecest.

At the river Guadiaro the sun came out and warmed us up somewhat, we walked the track than runs parallel to the river and noted several interesting species. The Rock Sparrow colony were nesting in the usual place and a few Corn Bunting were singing from various bushes. The local Red-rumped Swallows had returned after their winter break in Africa whilst the hardy Stonechats had survived another Spanish winter. Along the river a Cetti's Warbler sang and a Common Sandpiper fed in the muddy bank. A bunch of White Wagtails held court on the small weir wall and Serins and Goldfinches ate seeds in the grass verges.

two views of Rock Bunting - the bottom pictures shows a leucistic male


Above us we saw many Griffon Vultures, a few Short-toed Eagles and Booted Eagles circled over us too. Then we saw a huge 'kettle' of Black Kites with at least a hundred birds in it, very nice.

We ate lunch under an oak tree after seeing a Short-toed Tree-creeper, a Woodchat Shrike and a Sardinian Warbler. Suddenly a large flock of hirundines came down to the river, we saw Barn and Red-dumped Swallows, House and Crag Martins and a couple of Pallid Swifts with a single Alpine Swift. More Black Kites flew over (50+) before we moved off and a Grey Wagtail sat on the bridge next to us.

Next we drove into the beautiful Llanos de Libar valley behind Montejaque, it was still bright but chilly and large dark clouds loomed in the distance. We had a small list of target species and soon we were ticking them off. Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting and Red-billed Chough we all seen well. I then found a summer plumage Water Pipit but the bird disappeared before I got it into the scope for the others to see it, shame.
part of the LLANOS de Libar

As we returned to the bus we searched the mountainside for the 'local' Bonelli's Eagles and to our great delight both of them gave us a great show. It looked as though a pair of Griffon Vultures had taken over their nest and they were not happy about this, it will be interesting to see if they managed to oust the vultures before my next visit, watch this space.
Asphodels


A short stop on the way home at the chestnut woods produced nothing, so we called it a day and ended our birding at 6pm. Despite what seemed like a lack of birds we managed to notch up 50 species
Bonelli's Eagle record shot
 
 

 
 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

SATURDAY 29TH MARCH 2014 - DAY TOUR

JIMENA DE LA FRONTERA - TARIFA (LOS LANCES BEACH) - LA JANDA - BENALUP TO VEJER DE LA FRONTERA - MIRADOR DE ESTRECHO - SIERA CRESTELLINA

A full-on busy day today with a larger group of day-tour clients, I had the four from yesterday, John, Jan, Nick and James plus another two from America, Kalpana and Will.

It was raining in Gaucin as we loaded into the bus at 8am, we had decided to head off to the coast because the forecast was much better there. We stopped on the way down the Guadiaro Valley to look at a Little Owl on the wires and again just outside Jimena to scan the open fields below the village. We quickly listed Lesser Kestrel, Griffon Vulture, Common Stonechats, Serine, Sardinian Warbler and Barn Swallow before finding an extremely good bird for the list, a GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO, what a lovely find, the bird showed very well on a fence line but it was quite distant.

nearly all of the group at Mirador El Estrecho


We set off for the coast noting many White Storks, Common Raven and Booted Eagles along the way. At Los Lances the sky was bright with patches of blue and there was hardly any wind, just great for birding. We walked from the main road to the hide at Los Lances beach and stopped to watch Corn Bunting, Crested Larks, Common Stonechats, Goldfinches, Linnets and Spotless Starlings, all new for our American friends.

At the hide we stood on the boardwalk to scan the beach where we located many Sanderling, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover and a few Dunlin. The gull flock was small and very jumpy as a few dog walkers were on the beach. But we managed to see Audouin's, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls as well as a single Caspian Tern in full summer garb. On the grass behind the beach we found a flock of Short-toed Larks, some Meadow Pipits, Cattle Egrets and a single Eurasian Hoopoe.

We drove round to the pines woods next to the beach where we sat down at the picnic tables to eat our picnic lunch, during lunch we found a Short-toed Tree-creeper and another Hoopoe. On the way back to the bus we saw a Zitting Cisticola, a few more Booted Eagles and Griffon Vultures.


Morocco seen from the Mirador - only 9 miles away


La JANDA was brilliant as usual with lots of birds, we had lovely sunshine and a cool breeze. A Woodchat Shrike was first to be found then Marsh Harrier, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper and Common Moorhen were added. Further along the central track we stopped to look at Eurasian SPOONBILL, White Storks, Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Stilts, Greenshanks, Redshank, Northern Lapsing, Northern Shoveller, a very showy Hen Harrier and our first Short-toed Eagle.

Black-winged Stilt
On the track to Benalup we bumped into many Red-legged Partridges, Common Pheasants and two Egyptian Vultures circled above us. A large flock of Jackdaws mobbed a Black Kite and a couple of Booted Eagles joined in fray near the 'smelly' farm.

At Vejer the obliging Bald Ibis colony was very active, lots of birds were coming back with nesting material and some were even sitting on eggs, looks likely to be another good year for them, however, they are still very ugly!!

We stopped at the Mirador de Estrecho to look across to Morocco, the air was absolutely clear with great light in the afternoon sun. On the way home we saw two Common Cuckoos, one on a fence post and the other in flight in front of the bus.

Bald Ibis at the nest near Vejer

Crestellina is the site for my local pair of Bonelli's Eagles, they were not near the nest but one drifted around very high above us, we also saw a Blue Rock Thrush, this was the 100th bird of the weekend for my UK visitors, so they went home happy!

We got back to the village at 6:30pm and I said goodbye to Jan, John, Nick and James, whilst Kalpana and Will are staying with us for another two nights. It was another great day out with 71 species on the list.76
 

 

Friday, March 28, 2014

FRIDAY 28TH MARCH 2014 - DAY TOUR - SPAIN

GAUCIN - RIO GENAL - RIO GUADIARO VALLEY TO SECADERA - ENRIQUE WOODS - PALMONES

At long last I'm back on the birding trail and back in Spain. Notice I didn't say Sunny Spain?  That is because it rained for most of the day and it was pretty cold too.

Nick and James have been out birding with me a couple times in the past, today they brought their parents with them (James' grand parents), John and Jan.

umbrellas at the ready! Jan, John, James and Nick


It was raining as we met up at 8am outside my house, not heavy rain but the very wet kind. So after a short drive we all had raincoats on as we slowly emerged from the bus at our first stop, the Rio Genial.

We found a few species by the riverside, Robin, Blackcap & Greenfinch. Then a short walk along the track produced Grey Wagtail, Cetti's Warbler (heard) and Chaffinch. In the open meadows we located several White Wagtails, a few Little Ringed Plovers and Goldfinches. Back at the river a Common Sandpiper flew off out of sight and little James pulled out the best bird when he located two Hawfinches sitting in the canopy, nice one James.

Back in the bus we drove up passed Sierra Crestellina which wasn't even visible in the low cloud and driving rain. So we pressed on into the Genal Valley where the rain eased off and it got a little brighter. We made several stops along the track to watch from the bus, Corn Bunting were abundant, as were Common Stonechats, Goldfinches, Northern Wheatears and Serin.

Our second stop at the riverside was also quite productive as we found both Thekla and Crested Larks, Cirl Bunting, Sardinian Warbler and lots of Barn Swallows, House Martins and Common Swifts. A Woodchat Shrike was nice to see as well as several Little Egrets and a few more Little Ringed Plovers.

Greenshank at Palmones

Deeper into the valley we watched a lot more Serins, a few flocks of Spotless Starlings and a ploughed field held Yellow Wagtails (both  flava & Iberiae), Meadow Pipits, Corn Bunting and Northern Wheatears. We also noted Collared Doves and a Common Kestrel as we drove out of the valley at Secadera.

A short stop in the woods at San Enrique lasted about an hour because we decided to eat lunch in the bus and as it was John's birthday a bottle of wine was cracked open too. The woods gave us Blue Tit, Cetti's Warbler, Blackcap and at the river we found a Purple Heron, nice. Along the track just outside of the woods we stopped because I saw a Wryneck on the hedgerow but before anyone else saw it the bird flew off. Extensive searching failed to relocate it, shame.

At Palmones the weather cleared up and the rain stopped, hooray! The next couple of hours were excellent for birding, we added about 20 species to the day list and saw some raptor migration too. On the salt marshes we found Eurasian Spoonbill (3),  Greater Flamingo (22), Slender-billed Gull (3), Mediterranean Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Sandwich Tern, Osprey, Marsh Harrier and about a dozen species of waders. A good number of White Storks were in the area and lots of Booted Eagles passed over us, we also saw our second Purple Heron of the day.

record shot of Slender-billed Gull



On the way back up to Gaucin we stopped near Jimena to look at a colony of Lesser Kestrel, about 7 or 8 were flying near the nest site, whilst there we also had great views of Red-rumped Swallows and a few Sand Martins, they were hawking over a field of crops, then we found a mixed flock of hirundines sitting on telephone wires, it was great to see Barn and Red-rumpled Swallows sitting together as well as House and Sand Martins.

Well after that little bit of excitement we ended the trip, we drove back up Gaucin where it was still raining. We all agreed that we had a good day despite the weather.

..7
rusty-headed Greater Flamingo - but how many other species are shown?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

MOROCCO - DAY 10. - MARCH 15TH 2014

TRANSFER FROM ESSAOUIRA TO MARRAKECH AIRPORT

Another early morning start saw us at the breakfast table at 6am and on the road by 6:30am it was just beginning to get light. The journey to Marrakech takes 3 hours and we had a clear sky all the way with a beautiful sunrise too. The birding highlights consisted of two stops, one was to look for Calandra Lark, which some of the group saw and another was to look at a Falcon on a pylon. My thoughts were that it was Barbary Falcon, small compact and neat with very light undersides and blue grey back, but we couldn't see the head very well and no-one got a good view of the head when it flew off, most of the group thought it was a Lanner Falcon.

We arrived at the airport at 9:15am in good time for the flight which left on time.

The tour was over, we had recorded 176 species which includes 3 species only heard and not seen, migration was a little disappointing with only short bursts of raptor migration and very few areas where lots of passerines were found.

However nearly all of the specialities of Morocco were seen well and the group went home with many nice memories of another superb trip in a fantastic country.

MOROCCO - DAY 9 - MARCH 14TH 2014

OUED SOUS – CAPE RHIR – TAMRI – OUED KSOB ESSAOUIRA

 
Our last full day began with a bang! We had perfect weather conditions, no wind with a lovely clear sky. We also managed to avoid the security around the Palace by getting up early, this allowed us to walk all the way down the Oued Sous to the beach. We also managed to view the secluded pools on heath very near to the Palace walls which were very productive.

GREATER FLAMINGO
 

Our morning began near the golf course where the Hassan Golf Tournament was being held, this required unbelievable security measures but not at 6:30am. On the upper section of this part of the Oued Sous we found an Osprey,  a flock of Oystercatcher, Curlew, Common Sandpipers and a few species of the common gulls.

EURASIAN SPOONBILL
]
We finally got to an area where we could views the pools on the heath, they were crammed with birds! A flock of Marbled Duck was a superb find and the most wanted species by the group but we also found several new waders species for the trip list. Common Snipe, Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Redshank, Greenshank & Spotted Redshank and a few Yellow Wagtails and Northern Shovelled were all seen in or around the pool.


We beat a hasty retreat as aboard was eyeing us up but we managed to get back onto the beach without being thrown off the area. In the estuary we saw Slender-billed Gulls, Audouin’s Gulls along with common three species.
PIED AVOCETS
Back in the car park we jumped onto the bus and set off northwards through Agadir to visit Cape Rhir, along the way we made a couple of stops to view roosting gull flocks but never saw anything new.

Cape Rhir was superb, surrounded by dry heath we never saw many species out to sea but the colours, the sunshine and the habitats around us made it a lovely stop. Meant Northern Gannet qere passing and we did see one Great Skua but not much else.
 
 
At Tamri we walked along the shoreline to the huge brackish lagoon where we hoped to see  Morocco’s most famous bird the Bald Ibis. We found Little Plover, Ruddy Shelduck, Grey Heron, Sedges, Subalpine, Sardinian Warbler and Common Whitethroat. Then the mythical Bald Ibis appeared, five of them drifted over the far hill and circled on the thermal for a while, they never gained much height and they eventually drifted over the hillside.

Another few kilometres further north found us at the breeding site of the Bald Ibis, we couldn't approach the colony which is situated on a cliff overlooking the sea but we did see another Ibis flying to the cliff carrying nesting material. The sloping hull aide also held many species, we found 3 Eurasian Hoopoe, Great Grey Shrike, Tawny Pipit, Short-toed Lark, Black-eared Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike and plenty of Linnets.

Our last venue of this final day was the Oueb Ksob which runs into the sea on Southern edge of Essaouira. We got off the bus at a bridge some 3km inland from the beach, our target species was the Plain Martin which appeared almost straight away. We saw up 50 of these cute little birds and a
large number perched out in the sun ideal for the cameras.



Plain Martin - aka Brown-throated Martin

Our walk took us 3km to the beach, we walked along the river bed which wasn't quite dry and where large pools had developed, a good number of waders were seen and many passerines came down to drink.

We saw a dozen or so of Green Sandpipers, fewer numbers of Greenshanks, Common Sandpiper and both Little-ringed and Greater Ringed Plover. A Kingfisher was nice, also Cirl Bunting, the Serins and Greenfinches looked outrageously bright in the afternoon sunshine and even Song Thrushes and Blackcap looked more colourful.

The walk ended at the beach where the large river mouth held flocks of Greater Flamingo, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Spoonbills and a large gull roost.

The light began to fade and a beautiful orange sky developed over the sea as we witnessed an African sunset.


 
The birding was over, we made our way to the bus and drove into town to find our hotel which was absolutely fantastic, a real gem found in the side streets of the old wall town.
Tomorrow we drive to Marrakech to catch an early flight so we don't anticipate any further birding.
 
 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

MOROCCO - DAY 8 - MARCH 13TH 2014

SOUSS MASSA NATIONAL PARK ALL DAY

We had a fabulous day in the Souss Massa National Park, the weather was just perfect with overcast conditions until lunchtime when the sun burnt the cloud off, There was a nice cooling breeze all day.

Souss Massa is one of my favourite places in Morocco you are always guaranteed a good range of species and some lovely scenery. We arrived at about 8am after driving from AGADIR and stopping to watch Little Owls along the way.

The walk began outside the reserve on a track that was placed some way above the river and the meadows that surround it. We started listing with a Moussier's Redstart, a male posed well for the cameras.








 
MOUSSIER'S REDSTART

Birds came thick and fast, we saw our first Stonechat of the trip, then a pair of House Buntings showed well. The hedgerows were full of warblers and another new sighting was a Reed Warbler, we also saw Zitting Cisticola  lots of Chiffchaff and several Blackcap.

Back on the walk we stopped to look for a Wryneck that was calling, it eventually showed well across the river as did another sought after species the Black-crowned Tchagra. A little further on we found Olivaceous Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Kingfisher, Laughing Dove, more Stonechats and another pair of Moussier's Redstart.

CIRL BUNTING
The Cirl Bunting is always nice to see, we had good views of them as well as House Bunting. As qe entered the reserve the farming reduced and scrubland appeared.

8
LITTLE OWL - SUB-SPECIES

The bird numbers thinned out, we did see a couple of harriers fly over, one each of Montague's and Marsh. Los of Serins and Linnets buzzed around us but generally it was quiet.
 

SERIN

SERIN
Birds on the water were few and far between, a bunch of Common Coots were joined by a single Northern Pintail and few Great Cormorants flew or perched on logs.
LOOKING RIVER TO SOUSS MASSA VILLAGE
At the mouth of the river a huge sand-bar covers the exit to the sea and on it sat hundred sod gulls and terms and few waders. We listed four of the gulls seen yesterday and only Sandwich Tern. Waders included a flock of four Avocets, Sanderling, Kentish Plover and Eurasian Curlew.
SPANISH SPARROW
It was now very warm but the sea breeze kept us cool as we watched Balearic Shearwaters, Arctic Skua and Northern Gannet out at sea.

 
BLACK CROWNED TCHAGRA
We ate lunch on a terrace of a hotel overlooking the sea where we added Great Skuas to our list.
YELLOW WAGTAIL - iberiae
The rest of the afternoon was spent looking in the cultivated fields and open farmland areas near the river a little further inland. We were hoping for Plain Martin but never saw one. A huge bonus was the finding of a Black-winged Kite. This bird was roosting so we kept very quiet and got some decent pictures of, lovely.
watching the Black-winged Kite
 
We set off home a little early because everyone was very tired after our epic walk this morning, our list was now approaching 170, very good for just 8 days in the field.


HOUSE BUNTING

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MOROCCO - DAY 7 - MARCH 12th 2014

TRANSFER FROM TALIOUINE TO AGADIR WITH STOPS AT AOULOUEZ GORGE -SOUS VALLEY ARGANA FOREST - OUED SOUS NATIONAL PARK.

WEATHER:  lovely sunshine all day, windy late afternoon.

We started our day's birding at 6:45am by walking in the cultivated area behind the Auberge where we  were staying. It was alive with birds, we added a few mew species to the list, the first of which was Woodchat Shrike. Lots of finches were singing, we saw both of the African sub-species of Greenfinch and Goldfinch as well as African Chaffinch.

Woodchat Shrike

The area where we walked consisted of small fields of Alfalfa and lots of olive and almond trees, with ditches and streams of water. There were also some areas of open scrub which held, Cirl & Corn Bunting, Sardinian Warbler, more shrikes and Spanish Sparrows, a Hoopoe was a nice bonus.

Aoulouez Gorge

After breakfast we drove some 30 kilometres towards AGADIR and stopped at a bridge over the river Sous and although the water level was quite low there were a lot of species there. A couple of Black Storks joined a throng of Little  & Cattle Egrets, there was also Grey Heron, Yellow, Grey, White and Moroccan Wagtails. A Common Kingfisher dashed by and was seen by a few of the group and a Common Cuckoo sat on a power line showing extremely well for all of us.



We walked into the Aoulouez Gorge and found more species; Meadow Pipit, House Bunting, Blackcap, Common Bulbul, Green Sandpiper, Peregrine Falcon, Common Kestrel and we also started noticing a small raptor passage overhead. A few Booted Eagles drifted over as did a another Black Stork, the two other Black Storks flew up to join it.


Common Cuckoo
Further into the gorge a small section of farmland held more birds, we found several Series , Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and we heard a Common Nightingale, but our best find was a small colony of roosting Black-crowned Night Herons.

Back on the bus we drove for another hour before stopping next to a large expanse of open scrub and farmland. We search for Black-winged Kite without success but we did find Bonelli's Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Great-grey Shrike, Crested and Thekla Larks, Barbary Partridge and a few other species.

Further into the journey we stopped for lunch and then made a short stop at Touradant to look for Pallid Swifts, we never saw any swifts but we did see our first Spotless Starlings.
House Bunting

We finally arrived at AGADIR where we drove straight to the Owed Sous estuary, by now the wind had pocked and the temperature had dropped. However there were  ally of birds to see. We found six species of gulls including Slender-billed and Audouin's Gulls, lots of waders and a nice  flock of Greater Flamingos. Further down the estuary we saw Sandwich and Gull-billed Terns and another Peregrine Falcon. But our sightings were well down on previous visits because access was restricted to most of the area die to a Royal Golfing Tournament next to the King's Palace, the whole area was crawling with security guards who didn't like scopes, cameras and bins.



Lastly we drove round ro an area of open heath where found our last bird of the day, Stone Curlew, two birds were seen. It was now after 6pm and it was getting dark, so we hopped onto the bus and drove to our hotel just 5 minutes away.
 

 

 

 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

MOROCCO - DAY 6 - MARCH 11TH 2014

TRANFER FROM THE DESERT REGION TO TALIOUINE IN THE SOUS VALLEY.

The day started nicely with little cloud but it was very chilly, as the day wore on it clouded over and we drove through rain and some snow, the temperature dropped to 5C by the time we reached our destination.

It was a day of very little birding, we set off from Merzouga at 8am and made a short stop for birding in Rossini. We were hoping to catch up with the sub-species of Olivaceous Warbler that is only found in this desert region of Morocco, called appropriately, the Saharan Olivaceous Warbler. But none showed up, we did find our first Little Owl and we saw several Subalpine Warblers, a Chiffchaff, a couple of Serin and several other species.

From Rossini we drove out onto the Alnif road and for the next couple of hours we only stopped to look at passing raptors, sightings included Common Raven, Long-legged Buzzard, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier and a single Montagu's Harrier.

a 'first' for Wingspan - a group of all men!

We ate lunch sitting out in the sunshine at Agdz before driving off for our second birding excursion. Wearied in an area of dry woodland with scattered Acacias, a few Palms and a few Almond trees.
Our sighting including a couple of very nice warblers which were new for our list. First a amle Western Orphean Warbler was found which was quickly followed by a sighting of Western Olivaceous Warbler. After a little more searching we returned to the bus and on the way back we found our second Isabelline  Wheatear of the trip, how fantastic, a very rare and unusual sighting for Morocco, now seen twice.
scenery en-route

More excitement followed about 2 hours later when drove through the town of Tazenakt, it had been raining extremely heavily and it looked like we had just missed it. Large puddles were everywhere and flash flooding could be seen in the fields. We came across about 100 Black Kites sitting by the side of the road and another 50 or so were feeding on a carcass in the fields, it was a great sight and was probably due to the heavy rain, the birds had been grounded. A short distance further on we saw an Osprey on a telegraph pole by the side of the road, again this bird was probably brought down by the weather.
Isabelline Wheatears - our second of the trip

For the last 50 kilometres we passed through some high passes that had wring of snow and the rain continued all the way to Taliouine. We arrived just as it was getting dark, we had enough time for a shower before eating another lovely evening meal.

 

 

 

Monday, March 10, 2014

MOROCCO - DAY 5 - MARCH 10TH 2014

ERG CHEBBI SAND DUNE SYSTEM  and AREAS AROUND RISSANI

The weather was fantastic today, clear blue sky, a lovely breeze and about 22C.

We were all up and out at 6:30am walking the grounds and gardens of our new hotel. The hotel backs onto the huge dune system in a small town called Merzouga, we are now in the far south-eastern region of Morocco. Plenty of Subalpine Warblers were seen as well as a few Eurasian Chiffchaff in tamarisk and the sun rise was very beautiful.
WALKING THE WADI

 


After a really lovely breakfast we set off for the Cafe Yasmina which is found at the far eastern edge of the dunes, but first we stopped to search for a few birds. We stopped at the side of a huge expanse dry vegetation in a wadi, we spread out and began to walk. We hadn't walked far when we found an African Desert Warbler, what a little stunner, it showed really well for all of us. Our walk continued through the wadi and we listed another new bird almost straight away when a Bar-tailed Desert Lark appeared in front of us. We also listed: Hoopoe Lark, two of them were seen singing from low perches, Trumpeter Finch, Black-eared, Desert and White-crowned Wheatears were also seen.

We got back onto the bus and continued our journey, at s we approached Café Yasmina we saw several Brown-necked Ravens on the open sandy areas and another Great-grey Shrike.

Bar-tailed Lark
It was a mixed bag of results at Café Yasmina as the seasonal lake usually found there up until late March had completely dried up and to make things worse the ringing group that usually spend some time there in March had not arrived. As a consequence very birds were seen, including one of our target birds the Desert Sparrow. We all walked across the dried out pool area to check the tamarisk bushes for warblers and as we did so we had a tremendous stroke of luck when one of the group tripped up and inadvertently 'kicked' up an Egyptian Nightjar, how cool was that? The bird flew a short distance but was quickly relocated and we all had superb views.

Egyptian Nightjar
From Yasmina we hired a couple of large 4*4 trucks to tale us into the desert to look for Desert Sparrow, the drivers took us straight to a couple of breeding pairs. Then a second stroke of luck happened when a very pale Martin flew over us several times, we got good pictures of it and from them we identified it as a Rock Martin, this was incredible and such a great find.

On the way back we found a small flock of Thick-billed Larks, also some more Bar-tailed Larks and several other species.

Great-grey Shrike - subspecies elegans
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the hills and rocky gorges around Rissani, it was there that we found Pharaoh Eagle Owl and later a couple of small flocks of Spotted Sandgrouse, we also saw other sandgrouse in flight but we never saw them well enough to confirm their ID.

Pharaoh Eagle Owl roosting

We drove back in the dark and arrived at the hotel at 7:15pm, it had been another long day but our new sightings were well worth getting a little tired for.
 
 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

MOROCCO - DAY 4 - MARCH 9TH 2014

TRANSFER DAY - BOUMALNE DADES TO MERZOUGA WITH STOPS NEAR GOULMINA AND RISSANI

The nice weather broke today as we were faced with heavy cloud, light rain and a very cold wind, it was just 3C as we boarded the bus after another delicious and filling breakfast. I cannot praise the Hotel enough, the rooms are lovely, the food great and the staff are so nice and friendly.

We left around 6:45am and drove to the new Tagdilt track first, we walked for quite a while in the very cold and wet conditions hoping to see sandgrouse but failed, I am not surprised considering the weather. A little further we visited the small farm holding which is a bit of an oasis, again we were hoping for migrants as we did yesterday. We thought the weather may have dropped some new birds in but not a lot extra was found. A Spanish Sparrow was a nice find but we also saw Black Redstart,
Common Chiffchaff, Meadow Pipit, Common Bubul, Thekla Lark, Long-legged Buzzard, Serine and several other common birds.

THEKLA LARK

Now we set off for the desert region on the Southeast of the country, but we had two quick stops in succession after only a few kilometres. The first was to look for Pharaoh Eagle Owl which failed to show in the rain and second was look for Lanner Falcon at its' neat but that bird also failed to turn up, how annoying! Just minutes later a superb consolation prize after missing the owl was the sighting of a Magreb Wheatears, two of us saw it from the bus and after some searching a couple more the group found the bird, however it quickly disappeared before the rest of the group got to see it.


We then drove for a couple of hours before shopping for a lunch at a roadside restaurant, it was only 11:45am but we had heathen our breakfast at 6am. Within an hour we were on the road again noting Common Raven, Long-legged Buzzard, Great-grey Shrike, Common Kestrel and several larks along the way.
TRISTRAM'S WARBLER
After an hour we stopped once more just passed Goulmima where we set off on foot into a large wade, a Great Grey Shrike was the first bird to be seen followed by a Desert Wheatears and we found a Common Chiffchaff and our prized target species the Scrub Warbler. After showing for a short while the bird disappeared, it gave us the run around for a while. In the meantime a group of Fulvous Babblers grabbed our attention. Then we relocated the Scrub Warbler and ended up with some smashing views.

So off we went again towards Erfoud and the desert region, we only got to about 15km. Southeast of Goulmima when we stopped at a bridge over the Oued Gheris, a Moroccan Wagtail (a sub-species of White Wagtail - subpersonata ) was found very close to the road and after a 30 minute search we came up with; Little-ringed Plover, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Moorhen, Great Cormorant, Little Egret and a few passerines. One excellent little excursion found us watching; Spectacled Warbler, Subalpine Warbler and Tristan's Warbler all in the same bush, fantastic.
walking the wadi

Two more stops were made before we reaches our destination, the first was almost in the centre of Erfoud when a Booted Eagle came down the road towards us. This pale morph individual was very low and decided to circle right above us. The last stop was in Rossini to look for the strange sub-species of the Crested Lark called the Long-billed Crested Lark. As we got off the bus one these Larks flew towards us and landed within 10 metres of us on a dirt mound, click, click! Thank you very much. Whilst there we scanned around and found a Black-eared Wheatears, a Tawny Pipit and a few Linnets.

This is not a photographic tour, is it?
LONG-BILLED CRESTED LARK
Well that ended the day's birding, we had a slow start but finished with a flurry. We arrived at our hotel just as the sun went down, with adequate time, enough for a shower and a short relaxation period before going to dinner. The hotel had a terrific Moroccan feel to it and a lovely peaceful ambience, dinner was the best we had eaten so far