Thursday, 7 August 2008

....the Marrakesh Express. April 16th 2008

From the 16th - 23rd April 2008 myself, Rob Lee, Nigel Packer and Ben Murphy took a trip to Morocco in search of some of the countries specialities, most notably those of the Atlas Mountains and of the Deserts in the south eastern region.
We flew into Marrakesh from Luton via Ryan Air for £89 including taxes. The flight was a morning one, departing at 0600, allowing a good few hours birding at the other end on the first day. Because Morocco has a closed currency, the first job on landing was to change some money, along with locating our hire car.
Pretty soon we find ourselves heading out of Marrakesh, the wrong way! we return to our starting point and eventually get our bearings and start heading south east. Within the city suburbs we manage to clock our first birds, Black Redstart, Red-rumped Swallow, Woodchat, White Stork, Crested Lark and the Moroccan form of Blackbird (Morocco has alot of its own forms of familiar birds!) Keen to get on, we pay little attention to our hire cars apparent slugishness and push towards the mountains. As we start to climb and pass through ever more traditional looking villages we find a suitable place to pull, at a scrub sloped valley, to have our first scan. Nightingales are in full voice along with bubbling Common Bulbuls, Goldfinches, Serins, African Chaffinch and Subalpine Warbler. here we also meet our only tortoise of the trip and help him off the road.

African Chaffinch

As we climb higher, the car appears to be getting slower!
The habitat changes from mediterranean style scrub to cooler, scattered coniferous wood with rocky outcrops and boulders. The birds change too as we see our first Rock Buntings, Olivaceous Warbler, Rock Doves (real ones!) and African Blue Tits. We round the corner to see my first new bird, a Black Wheatear, and one that we struggled to see (or rather, not see!) last year in Spain. Pretty soon my second new bird is in the bag, after seeing half a dozen or so Red-billed Chough, a wheeling mass of two hundred birds are noted to be Alpine Chough, the yellow billed cousin of the former.
We now also start to see the first roadside sellers, some of which start running towards us every time we stop. Soon they realise that Ben puts up the least resistance to their many wares and he soon has many Moroccan 'friends'!!

As we reach the alpine like village of Oukamedian more sellers appear, crowding around the car trying the hard sell, we try to politely decline and they seem to find it amusing when I say" hmm very nice. You keep it!" We immediately head to the Ski lifts and start wandering up the track (still followed by sellers!) Its cool up here, with the temperature realised by a few snow fields still present. Birds are rather thin on the ground with 'Atlas' Horned lark, Black Redstart, a pair of Little Owls of the race glaux, lots of 'Seebohm's' Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush followed by a smart pair of Rock Thrush, and another major target, Moussier's Redstart (gorgeous!) Somewhat aggreived at not seeing a certain finch species, we reluctantly left the mountain side to secure accommodation in the village and grab a beer! After sorting our digs (the modest Chez Ju Ju was our choice!) we decided to venture further upward, at which point it dawned on us that if we stick with this car we could be in serious trouble later on! Great views across the mountain range were secured however, along with an Alpine Accentor, Long-legged Buzzard and on the short descent, 52 Rock Sparrow going to roost along with a couple of Rock Bunting. With the sun all but disappeared behind the mountains we used the last of the day light to have another look around by the ski lifts where, feeding quietly up on the scree below the cables 10 fantastic Crimson-winged Finch were watched before flying off to roost! Oukamedian was well and truely done!

Rock Thrush

Seebohm's Wheatear

Little Owls

Atlas Horned Lark

Moussier's Redstart

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