Finally, a post I prepared months ago.. These are the last photos I’ll post from the desert regions of Morocco (- before I’ll hopefully find time to edit some images from South America.) All of them are from south of the High and Anti Atlas Mountains, most from Tagdilt track, Dades gorge and the Guelmim area.
I processed some more photos of my recent trip to Morocco with A. & M. Tiefenbach, before they pass out of mind. In the upcoming posts, I’ll focus on the desert regions we visited in February. These were the Tafilalt along river Ziz in the east, the bare plateau south of the High Atlas Mountains and the Guelmim-Es Semara region in the south of the country.
Rising in the Middle Atlas and flowing to the south, the river Ziz leaves the High Atlas north of Errachidia, nourishing the largest oasis of Morocco, the Tafilalt region. This area in the east of the country is particularily interesting for birdwatchers, hosting some of Morocco’s most sought-after species such as Barbary Falcon, several species of sandgrouse, Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Egyptian Nightjar, Maghreb Wheatear, Scrub Warbler, Desert Warbler, Fulvous Babbler and Desert Sparrow – just to name a few.
A description of the location of the recently rediscovered Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses in the Central Nile Valley, posted on EgyBirdGroup and WestPalBirds.
Some pictures of our two-day stay in Oukaïmeden, Morocco (3200 m) from 13. two 14. February 2012. The site, located near Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak of the Atlas, hosts a skiing resort and is, among birdwatchers, best known for its population of African Crimson-winged Finch (Rhodopechys sanguineus alienus), which can easily be seen here in winter. This subspecies is endemic to Northwestern Africa, was recently proposed as full species1 and is already treated as such by some authorities2.
We found plenty of this charismatic finch around the parking lots of the skiing resort. In the early morning of 14.2., around 200 ind. fed in the lower parts of the village, inbetween hundreds of Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs.
Other sightings included max. 20 Rock Sparrow, 2 Rock Bunting, 2 Dipper, 4 Alpine Accentor and 50-100 Shorelarks on 13.2., scattered around the whole resort in thick fog. The rather surprising finds on ca. 3000 m were a Lanner Falcon, a Long-legged Buzzard, a Green Sandpiper, a Common Snipe and one pair of Levaillant’s Woodpecker.
Edit: Much better photos by J. Geburzi from today, added to the gallery below.
While working in Egypt with german colleagues, we (M. Boetzel, J. Geburzi, M. Trobitz, C. Weinrich, M. Werner, T. Zegula and me) made an exciting find in Minya Governorate, Egypt.
When searching for Crowned Sandgrouse (Pterocles coronatus) on March 18, which has previously been seen in the area by M. Trobitz, we had a flyby-observation of four small, dark-bellied sandgrouse with elongated tail, which we couldn’t readily identify. When consulting literature back at home, it became clear that all features seen (long tail, sandy-brown wing with black primaries and secondaries, white trailing edge, no obvious contrast between dark underwing and dark belly, short, guttural calls ‘kwritt-kwritt-kwritt’) clearly pointed towards Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus), a species thought to be extinct in Egypt and rarely recorded within the western palearctic. A quick research revealed that these birds should belong to the egyptian subspecies Pterocles exustus floweri (Nicoll 1921), which is listed as “extinct” by some sources 1 2. In the 20th century, the subspecies appeared to be “fairly numerous in Upper Egypt and the Faiyum” 3, the species was last recorded in Egypt in 1979 (I. Moldovan in litt.).
We unsuccessfully tried to relocate the birds the same evening and in the following days. Due to work, we only had time to search in late afternoon/evening. It took some days until we could go back to the spot in early afternoon, the time of day when we first saw the birds in question.
On March 21, we finally found ca. 25 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse near the spot where we first saw the flying four. We got perfect views of some birds flying over our heads, sometimes as close as 30 m. If you haven’t experienced it yet: It’s a terrible feeling to find a major rarity, not being able to take proper photos. My whole photography equipment is still confiscated at Cairo airport, which is why I had to work with my Canon S90 compact camera. Have you ever tried to photograph elusive sandgrouse in flight, with a focal length of 105 mm, a terribly slow autofocus and a shutter lag of 0.5 s? I had to – it’s a nightmare. Under this circumstances, I’m quite happy with the few record shots, showing most of the important features. Additional field marks noted in the individuals seen at closer range (males?) were a fine, black band on the breast, white trailing-edge to black primaries, dark brown underwings, not contrasting to dark brown belly but contrasting to buffy-yellowish undertail, breast and head.
The birds, mostly flying in small groups of up to seven individuals (max. ca. 25 in one flock), frequented cultivated and abandoned sandy fields in a varied, cultivated landscape with stony hills, sandy plains, water holes, areas with sand dunes, fields and gardens.
When crossing the Middle Atlas in Morocco, we had some fabulous hours, watching and photographing a troop of about 30 Barbary Macaques (Macaca sylvanus) in the cedar forest “Cèdre Gouraud” near Azrou. The animals were extremely confiding, being fed by local people and tourists stopping en route.
Barbary Macaque, the only Macaque living outside Asia, is restricted to some declining populations in Morocco and Algeria and is listed as “Endangered” by the IUCN 1. The Middle Atlas holds the largest and most important population 2 and a growing population of unknown origin inhabits the Rock of Gibraltar 3.
It was a joy to watch these peculiar animals in their natural environment and to observe their interactions. Still, the monkeys are allegedly being caught and sold as pets. At Jamaa el Fna, the huge central market place in Marrakech, we saw several young, chained Barbary Macaques which were shown to tourists for money.
The gallery got quite big, I know.. I just wasn’t able to throw out more pictures of the selection.
The Middle Atlas is the northernmost of the three Atlas Mountains chains, stretching over 350 km in the northwest of Morocco 1. We crossed the range on our way from Fez to Zeida, stopping in the mountain village Azrou, in the heart of the Middle Atlas mountains. Primarily adjusted for mild temperatures – which we largely failed to witness on this trip – we were quite astonished to find a North African winter wonderland of the finest sort: vast, beautiful, wild landscape, covered in snow. If we hadn’t come to find some birds, I bet we would have gotten stuck in this fascinating place for a longer time.
In the Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) forest “Cèdre Gouraud”, we were looking for Levaillant’s Woodpecker (Picus vaillantii), a recently split species, closely related to European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) and endemic to the Maghreb countries Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia 2.
A nice bonus on this route was a stop at a local troop of around 30 Barbary Macaques (Macaca sylvanus) – photos to come soon.
Watching Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) is a must for any birdwatcher visiting Morocco. Only two small populations of this species, listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN 1, remain in the wild. Little more than 100 breeding pairs live in western Morocco 2 and only a handful of birds have been rediscovered in Syria 3 in 2002.
To protect the breeding birds, the exact locations of the colonies in Morocco are kept secret to the public. However, birds can be watched well at feeding sites in the Souss-Massa National Park or at the mouth of river Tamri, north of Agadir.
I visited the latter on my recent trip to Morocco with A. & M. Tiefenbach. We found the birds straightaway, about 40 adults and immatures, resting at the shore of the small estuary, formed by the river flowing into the sea. For the well-being of the birds, we didn’t approach, but waited for them to approach us, flying up to the sandy slopes in the afternoon, where they regularely feed and from where we were watching. We spent a half day there, watching and photographing the rarest bird we had ever seen – not an easy task! Although the birds seemed familiar with people watching them, it was hard to follow the restless flocks, constantly walking through the bush-covered sand-dunes, rarely giving good, direct views. The ibises fed on insects like large bugs, which they were tearing out of the sand. More on the conservation of Bald Ibis in Morocco: http://northernbaldibis.blogspot.com
Absorbed in these precious observations, we started to think about where to sleep only when it was already dark – and decided to set up our tent near the village of Tamri. Not be best decision, as it turned out that two guys tried to get into our car for hours, while we were sleeping just beside it. We finally woke up (and chased them away) by their noises and touches, when they apparently tried to find the key of the car inside our tent. Creepy…
After a fabulous three-week trip to Morocco with A. & M. Tiefenbach, which produced sightings of most of the target species and some western palearctic rarities such as Cape (Kelp) Gull Larus dominicanus vetula, I spent five relaxing, frisbee-playing days back home in Graz. Now I’m in the West Nile Valley/Egypt for the upcoming four weeks, monitoring bird migration in the western desert.
The warm welcome on my first visit to the land of pyramids & pharaohs included the confiscation of my whole optical and photography equipment on arrival at the airport of Cairo. Birders, be warned! Officials of the customs authority highhandedly decided that the usual binoculars, scopes, cameras and lenses (all!) were night vision equipment and could therefor, in times of revolution, not be brought to the country. All efforts, also by the management floor of the New & Renewable Energy Authority (thanks at this point!), who commissioned the project I’m working for, failed and the equipment will most likely stay with the dear customs authority for my whole time in Egypt (I hope at least this goes well and the box will still be there when I go home). So, sadly no new bird photos. My heart is bleeding when I see Pied Kingfishers hovering above river Nile on eye-level in sweet morning light..
At least I can use the time and start uploading pictures from Morocco. You can find the highlight observations of the Morocco trip on go-south.org (entry from 22 February 2012) as long as I’m working on the trip report.