Friday, 29 April 2011

Late News - Wetlands Day Trip

Well my first day back from Morocco and as I settled in to sort out the 500+ pictures from the trip the phone rang with a day trip booking for the following day (Wednesday 20th). Trevor Steven's; who is on holiday from the Oxford area was our client for the day, I hoped that with the information I had been given over the phone, I would be able to get him a few lifers. The day trip request was for our wetland option but rather than a full day, Trevor preferred half a day around the wetlands with an evening outing to try and see Eagle Owls, no problem!

Night Heron - Vistabella Road

I collected Trevor at 7. 45 the following morning and headed over to the south side of El Hondo to explore some of the various canals and pools found here. It wasn't long before the lifers started, the best of which at our first stop was the Night Heron pictured above. Here we also recorded a number of other good species including Sardinian Warbler, Moustached Warbler (singing), Great Reed Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Cattle Egret, Purple Heron, Red-rumped Swallow and vast numbers of Pallid Swift.

Great Reed Warbler - El Hondo

Our next stop was one of the large pools situated on the south side of El Hondo where we added a number of good species; including, White-headed Duck (38, see below), Red-crested Pochard (22), Purple Swamphen (calling), Garganey and superb views of Whiskered Tern. A brief stop en route to the visitor centre rewarded us with breathtaking views of Nightingale as well as numerous male Montagu's Harrier displaying to a single female close over the reed-beds.

The visitors centre added more species such as Collared Pratincole and Hoopoe as well as giving Trevor the chance to get very close views of Great Reed Warbler (see above), which by his own admission, he fell in love with! More White-headed Duck showed well for us and a Hobby was also a welcome bonus. Bee-eaters on the way home shot straight into Trevor's top 5 and I dropped him off with over 15 new species! The following account of our evening trip is by Tracy Powell.

Tonight, 20th April 2011 Ashley took me and another visitor Trevor (from Oxfordshire who is holidaying here) to look for the Eagle Owl. The weather was very windy and I didn’t hold out much hope of seeing it. Having already made several trips to try and see these birds and not been successful I had decided this was my nemesis species. We arrived at the sight around 8.30pm and scanned the sides of the cliff looking for the Owl. After about 20mins and no sighting, the wind was getting stronger and we decided to move a little further along the road to try and get some shelter. The reasoning being that at least then Ashley would be able to hear the Owl calling if it was present. After a short wait of only about 10 minutes – Ashley had found the bird - success !! The magnificent bird flew across the cliff side and circled right above our heads, settling on a ledge in full view. It was brilliant - one of the best birding sights I have ever seen. Ashley gave us the benefit of his knowledge, advising us of the birds’ statistics and general information on this species and their nesting habits, as we watched her for a good 20 minutes. It was so worth the wait. Even as an occasional birder, I was fascinated at the sight of this impressive bird and could feel myself being drawn in to the net of the “bird watching bug”. Tomorrow I will be out looking for more great birds – I think I have decided that the raptors are my favourites. Thank you Ashley, for your patience and perseverance so that I could see this fantastic bird.

White-headed Duck - Vistabella Road

Thursday 28th - Santa Pola and El Pinet

A quick visit to Santa Pola didnt produce anything out of the ordinary except for the vast number of Curlew Sandpiper (750+, see below) which have seemingly arrived over night! Other noteworthy observations here included Northern Wheatear (4) Grey Plover (3) and a single Temminck's Stint.

Kentish Plover - Santa Pola

Curlew Sandpiper - Santa Pola

Again El Pinet held it usual assortment of excellent breeding species - Little Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Mediterranean Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Audouins Gull, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt and Collared Pratincole. There were also more Curlew Sandpiper here (40+) but not the Lesser-crested Tern I keep convincing myself will be there one of these days!!

Black-winged Stilt - El Pinet

Common Tern - El Pinet

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Morocco - Part 3

Above 2 images - White-crowned Wheatear

Day 4 and we moved towards more new species as we headed in the direction of Tata with the aim of birding at a few location en route. Shortly after seeing our first White-crowned Wheatear at the roadside (see above), we stumbled across a superb dry riverbed. We birded the riverbed for 2 hours and recorded Desert Wheatear (1, see below), Olivaceous Warbler (4), Orphean Warbler (1, see below), Spotted Flycatcher (1), Bonelli's Warbler (1), Melodious Warbler (2), Redstart (2), Rufous Bush Chat (1) and Fulvous Babbler (14, see below). Click on any of the images to see an enlarged version.

Desert Wheatear

Fulvous Babbler

Orphean Warbler

We next stopped a further 90km towards Tata at an area that looked good for Larks, our decision was a good one and we were soon finding excellent birds. In total we managed to record - Hoopoe Lark (1), Desert Lark (4, see below), Bar-tailed Lark (6, see below), Short-toed Lark (8) and the best of all was an unexpected Brown-necked Raven !(see below).

Above 2 images - Bar-tailed Lark

Above 3 images - Desert Lark

Above 2 images - Brown-necked Raven

Having found all of the target species en route to Tata we dropped the bags off and freshened up at the hotel before going back out at dusk in search of Sandgrouse. Unfortunately we didn't find any, however we did stumble across a pair of Egyptian Nightjar!!! We first were attracted to their presence when the male began singing, after a short wait we managed to get good views in the torch light!

The following morning we set off into the field before sunrise, again in search of Sandgrouse. Today our look was in and during the first 2 hours of daylight we enjoyed views of both Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse as well as a single Cream coloured Courser. Having cleaned up on our desert target species we enjoyed the scenic route back to Agadir stopping at a Little Swift colony on the way. The Little Swift were superb and we enjoyed them for at least 2 hours before heading to the hotel, see below for the pictures.

Above 3 images - Little Swift

Our final day in Morocco was spent birding at a lesuirley pace as we had managed to connect with everything we had hoped to see. Before leaving Agadir we checked the Oued Massa again, adding Marbled Duck to the trip list. We slowly worked our way to the airport birding a number of places a long the way, the most interesting sighting being an albino Black-tailed Godwit!! A superb trip was had by all and a full trip report along with details of next years tour can be found on the website - click here

Friday, 22 April 2011

Morocco - Part 2

mauritanica Magpie

Our 2nd full day in Morocco started in Agadir, arising at first light we headed down to the Oued Souss National Park, although we recorded many species the area was disappointingly quiet (compared with our expectations). Birds of note here included - mauritanica Magpie (numerous, see above), Common Bulbul (20+), Turtle Dove (8), Laughing Dove (12, see below) Greater-spotted Woodpecker (1), Whiskered Tern (16), Sandwich Tern (30+), Gull-billed Tern (18), Caspian Tern (2), Curlew Sandpiper (8) and lots of Grey Plover.

Plain Martin

Laughing Dove

Next we birded along the Oued Massa, the birding here was superb and as well as many breeding species being present, numerous Pied Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Bonelli Warbler made it clear the birds were still moving through. We spent about 3 hours birding from various locations along the river and recorded the following of note - Western Olivacous Warbler (20+), Woodchat Shrike (8), Moussier's Redstart (numerous), Laughing Dove (20+), Kingfisher (1), Spoonbill (1), Green Sandpiper (2), Common Sandpiper (3), Plain Martin (10+, see above), Yellow Wagtail (numerous), Moroccan Cormorant (4), Little Bittern (1), Stonechat (2), Whinchat (1) and our main target Black-crowned Tchagra (2, see below).

Above 3 images - Black-crowned Tchagra

After finishing birding along the Oued Massa we headed down to Goulimime, our first stop here was at a police check point at the start of the city, but what a stop it was. After the police had realised we were harmless birders (thanks to the paperwork we had compiled prior to our visit) we noticed some larks near the car which transpired to be 3 Thick-billed and a Hoopoe Lark!!

After checking into the hotel we headed south of the city and began birding the various waddies and scrubland which can be found either side of the road. We drove no further than 30km and during 4 hours birding recorded the following noteworthy species - Willow Warbler (60+!!), Bonelli's Warbler (6), Swallow (4000 - 5000 going North), Spectecled Warbler (3), Thick-billed Lark (4, see below), Stone Curlew (2), Red-rumped Wheatear (3, see below), Temminck's Lark (2) and Scrub Warbler (4, see below).

Scrub Warbler

Above 2 images - Red-rumped Wheatear

Short-toed Eagle

Above 3 images - Thick-billed Lark

The following day we headed further south with the aim of reaching Khniffiss lagoon. En route we took a long dirt track into the desert and eventually found an oasis. Here we had a superb few hours birding recording - Black-bellied Sandgrouse (50+, see below), Short-toed Lark (20+), Common Bulbul (numerous), Red-rumped Wheatear (5 pairs), Maghreb Wheatear (2), Desert Wheatear (2), Woodchat Shrike (4, see below), Montagu's Harrier (1), Long-legged Buzzard (1), Short-toed Eagle (1, see above), Trumpeter Finch (20+, see below), Pied Flycatcher (5), Nightingale (2), Rufous Bush Chat (2), Bonelli's Warbler (1), Subalpine Warbler (1), Spectacled Warbler (2), Willow Warbler (30+), Green Sandpiper (1) and numerous Yellow Wagtail.

Khniffiss was well worth the visit - hundreds of Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and mixed wader flocks littered the margins of small islands. Our main quarry was soon located - Kelp Gull. Although we only managed to see one of these well as it flew and fought with Greater Black-backed Gulls, we suspected that a second slightly obscured bird which remained pinned to the floor throughout the duration of our visit, was also of this species.

A mixed group of terns produced 3 Caspian Terns and 4 Lesser-creseted Terns and the visible migration here was outstanding with small flocks of Swallow and Bee-eater continually moving through. On the way back to Goulimime we stopped at a large flood pool and found 9 Ruddy Shelduck with a large group of roosting Avocet, whilst watching these a Barbary Falcon came through and stuck at a Common Sandpiper and an adult Bonelli's Eagle over head was also brilliant to watch. We stayed the night in Goulimime with the intention of heading towards Tata the following day.

Above image - Woodchat Shrike

Trumpeter Finch

Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Morocco - Part 1

Moussier's Redstart - click image to enlarge

This is part 1 of what will probably be three posts to showcase some of the photograph's and give an overview of sightings from this years Morocco tour. A full, more detailed trip report and details of next years tour dates will be available on the website in the next few days, click here.

Rock Sparrow - click image to enlarge

Having arrived at Marrakech airport at 15.00 we picked up the car and headed towards Oukaimeden situated in the high Atlas mountains; not before having a good look at the many House Bunting and a Lesser Kestrel in the airport car park! The road into the mountains is beautiful with lots of good pull in spots to take in the scenery, we stopped for a few minutes in one such spot and had great views of 5 Rock Bunting (see below), 3 Moussier's Redstart (see above) and at least 5 Black Wheatear.

We arrived at Oukaimeden with a couple of hours daylight remaining and despite a torrential downpour we eventually got great views of many species including - Rock Sparrow (30+, see above), Crimson-winged Finch (120+, see below), Seebohm's Wheatear (1 male) and lots of African Chaffinch amongst other species. What a superb start to the tour, the Crimson-winged Finch were truly amazing and to see such a large group mixed with Rock Sparrow is really something that must be seen rather than described.

Rock Bunting - click image to enlarge

Above 2 images - Crimson-winged Finch - click image to enlarge

The next morning we started early and walking through the lodge front doors we were greated to the site of 100+ Alpine Chough and 40+ Red-billed Chough feeding on the road and grass that surrounded our accomodation, what an amazing place!! We headed down to take another look at the large Finch/Sparrow flock and took advantage of the good light to get some better pictures. As well as seeing all of the species from yesterday again, we also found 3 Atlas Horned Lark (see below). Also see the bottom of the post for a video of the Crimson-winged Finch.

Next stop was Tamri with the aim of staying the night in Agadir. Birding along the road back down the Atlas mountains en-route was really productive and we recorded more of the species we had seen on the way up with additions in the form of - Blue Rock Thrush (3), Tristram's Warbler (1), Common Bulbul (20+), Levaillant's Green Woodpecker (2) and a superb Lanner Falcon.

Alpine Chough - click image to enlarge

Above 2 images - Atlas Horned Lark - click image to enlarge

When we arrived at Tamri the search was on and it took some time but eventually we found our quarry - Northern Bald Ibis!! We recorded 22 of these prehistoric looking birds in total and I managed a few pictures, see below. It was great to see such an internationally threatend species, but also opened my eyes to the vulnerability of the habitat this species so desperatley rely upon. Other new species recorded in the area included - Laughing Dove (7), Cirl Bunting and Black-eared Wheatear. We spent the night in Agadir and looked forward to heading South the following morning.

Above 2 images - Northern Bald Ibis - Click image to enlarge.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Ringing at El Hondo

Today we met Ray Marsh and Ignacio Peiro for are usual ringing trip to El Hondo. This summer myself and Ray will be joining Ignacio as frequently as possible to help with the monitoring and ringing at his constant effort site. Today we caught - Reed Warbler (7), Moustached Warbler (2), Willow Warbler (2), Chiffchaff (1), Sardinian Warbler (2) and 3 Blackbirds.

Although we didn't catch the much hoped for Savi's Warblers, we did hear at least one bird singing and I have included a picture from Ignacio's visit last week, he caught 3! We also recorded a few other good bits throughout the morning including - Osprey (1), Booted Eagle (1), Ruff (54), Spotted Crake (1 singing before sunrise), Wood Sandpiper (5) and numerous Cuckoo's.

Reed Warbler - El Hondo

Above 2 Images - Moustached Warbler - El Hondo

Sardinian Warbler - El Hondo

Willow Warbler - El Hondo

Savi's Warbler - El Hondo. Photograph by Ignacio Peiro

Cuckoo - El Hondo

Booted Eagle - El Hondo

A few hours this evening at a local site in search of Nightjars did not produce any, however we did recorded a very vocal and showy Eagle Owl, 5 Little Owl, 3 Night Heron and a single Squacco Heron. My Dad and I will be leaving for a 7 day birding trip in Morocco tomorrow, so although posts will be thin on the ground next week, there should be some good pictures and stories posted when we get back!