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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Morocco, Pt.2 - 17th and 18th October, 2012

We'd already enjoyed two days of Moroccan sunshine and some super birds, a little hampered by having to drive with the windows open as we didn't have the air-con we had specified for the car. This resulted in our driver and myself having continually streaming noses, and sneezing because of the draught and dust. Strangely, my wife was not so badly effected.

Wednesday 17th October

Hoping for a lie-in after our previous two early starts, I found myself awake early, and so went for a walk before breakfast. The smallholdings were my destination but, as sunrise was just after 06:00 and I said I'd be back for breakfast at 07:00, the light was not good, and the day started off cloudy.

On the smallholdings I found several birds. I pretty much ignored the Crested Larks and Yellow Wagtails because of the light, and went off in search of something different. I wasn't having any luck, until it got to the time to be setting back. Then I spotted a Stonechat in a bush!

Stonechat (male) - Douar Talmasla
Heading back towards base, I spotted three small birds flitting about in a small plot of sweetcorn - presumably picking off insects. I spent a while trying to photograph these, but they were constantly on the move and it was difficult in the poor light. I never worked out what they were, but assume that they were some type of small warbler. Any ideas please?

unidentified - Douar Talmasla smallholdings
As I left the smallholdings, a Bulbul was calling loudly from a low tree. This was the first of many images that I would take of these characterful birds over the next few days.

Common Bulbul - Douar Talmasla
Our driver picked us up at 08:00 as we had quite a long day in prospect. However, we did make a stop on the north side of the Ouarzazate Reservoir, leaving the road and approaching on a rough sandy track with large potholes. Unfortunately we had to stop long before we got to the water as the track got worse.

Beside the car was a rather putrid-looking stream, which did not seem to put the birds off. A Crested Lark was showing off its camouflage to perfection.

Crested Lark - by Ouarzazate Reservoir
Also in the stream was a Black-winged Stilt. 

Black-winged Stilt - by Ouarzazate Reservoir
The odd Ruddy Shelduck flew over - these were quite nervous birds, unlike the Stilt.

Ruddy Shelduck - by Ouarzazate Reservoir
By now, I was concentrating on the stilt, as my time was limited (we had a long and full programme for the day). 

Black-winged Stilt - by Ouarzazate Reservoir
The stilt flew off and joined its mate, nearer to the reservoir, and I banged off a few shots as it landed in the distance. Although these only show the birds in silhouette, and at a great distance, I'm rather pleased with the sequence as it seems to depict an elegance of movement, and a bond between the two birds so, at the risk of overdoing it with the stilts:-

Black-winged Stilt - by Ouarzazate Reservoir
There was also a wader in the stream, which I believe may have been a Wood Sandpiper. Any input here would be much appreciated also - sorry, only record shots.

possible Wood Sandpiper - by Ouarzazate Reservoir
I never actually got to the reservoir on this side, as time ran out on me. However, I did manage to grab a few shots of a Kestrel in a tree beside the track as we departed.

Common Kestrel (female) - Ouarzazate
The rest of the day was spent doing tourist things. First we had a long drive to Tinerhir. This is the 'gateway' to the amazing Todra Gorge. The palmerie at Tinerhir is great for birds (so I'm told!), but we had no time for such things.

view of Tinerhir and the palmerie
We walked through the spectacular gorge, emerging at the western end. Soon after this the road ends, but the track that continues (said to be only passable with 4-wheel drive vehicle) can offer some of the best birding in Morocco. However, we could only look on longingly at the wonderful scenery.

view beyond the western end of Todra Gorge
We saw little in the way of birds - Grey Wagtail, Rock Dove, and House Bunting (although no houses nearby).  Just to get back to the bird theme :-

House Bunting - western end of Todra Gorge
We then walked back through the gorge, and stopped for a very good lunch.

After lunch it was back to the car, and back the way we came, down the N10 to Boumalne du Dadès, stopping to photograph some camels wandering free - many camels that you see are dressed up to the nines in order to extract money from the tourists.

Camel (Dromedary) - beside N10
Turning north in Boumalne du Dadès, we headed along the Dadès valley. The scenery soon became amazing! We stopped to try and photograph a Black Wheatear - this one a rather brown female - but the results were less than satisfying.

Black Wheatear (female) - Dadès Valley
It was about now that I realised a fact of life in Morocco. If you expect roads to run through river valleys - they don't! Water, and the land around water, are far too valuable for cultivation and so not taken up with roads. The roads tend to run at the edge of fertile areas. However, there are places where there are very narrow gorges, where there is no choice but to run the road through the gorge. The Todra Gorge is short (600 metres), but very dramatic with vertical sides rising to up to 160 metres high and a minimum width of  only 10 metres!! The Dadès Gorge is much longer (perhaps 10 miles/16 km), and the road only runs in the bottom of the gorge for a shorter distance than that of the Todra Gorge, but the scenery of the Dadès totally outstrips that of the Todra.

rock formations in the Dadès Valley

road through the Dadès Gorge

Dadès Gorge
It was getting dark by the time that we got back to Dar Daif.

Thursday 18th October

We had an earlyish start this day, as we were to leave the Ouarzazate area for the second half of our holiday in Morocco. I had another brief walk before breakfast and found that Laughing Dove were not confined to the Draa Valley!

Laughing Dove - Douar Talmasla
 Our destination was Marrakech, but we took the scenic route on a road that, until last year, had only been passable with a 4x4 vehicle. The direct route can be done in under four hours, but we allowed ourselves ten hours for this diversionary journey - and pretty much used up all ten!

Our first stop was on the outskirts of Ouarzazte, so that  our driver could check our tyres - it was still going to be a rough road! As we stopped, I noticed a Black Wheatear on a wall, and managed some images. On examining these, I'm a little concerned as I will describe below.

Black Wheatear - outskirts of Ouarzazate
My concern over the Black Wheatear was due to the description in the Collins Bird Guide. The Black Wheatear is described as a big and hefty bird when compared to its White-crowned cousin, with the black on the underside extending behind the legs. Elsewhere I've seen the bird described as drab black, rather than the glossy black of the slimmer White-crowned Wheatear, and never with any white on the crown. This bird seemed slim, glossy black, black not extending beyond the legs, and a definite white spot showing on the back of the crown in the second image. There's no denying the tail pattern of the Black Wheatear, however. It started me wondering if Black and White-crowned were known to hybridise?

Tyres checked, we continued to a viewpoint above the spectacular ksar (fortified city) of Aït Benhaddou, stopped for a mint tea, and set off agaion, suitably refreshed.

Our next stop, just beyond Tamdaght, was for another Black Wheatear. This one was again slim, but the black extended behind the legs, and the black was relatively drab.

Black Wheatear - Tamdaght to Telouèt road
A different-looking bird on a wire had us stopping again. This turned out to be my first Blue Rock Thrush and, although it stayed distant, I managed some images although, at this range, the bird did not look very blue! 

Blue Rock Thrush - Tamdaght to Telouèt road
A later stop for birds (which were unidentified and gone before we could leave the car) had us looking at a Barbary Ground Squirrel, spotted by my wife - a quite attractive looking creature (the squirrel, not my wife!).

Barbary Ground Squirrel - Tamdaght to Telouèt road
I little before Telouèt I could not resist a final (I promise!) shot of a Crested Lark (or was it a Thekla Lark?) as it posed rather nicely.

Crested Lark - Tamdaght to Telouèt road
We had a lunch break at the splendid-looking Auberge Restaurant Telouèt, just beyond the village of Telouèt - very enjoyable, and full of character inside also!
Auberge Restaurant Telouèt
After lunch, when still in sight of civilisation, we stopped for some birds in a bush. I really don't know what these were - any suggestions please?

unidentified - beyond Telouèt
It was about now, that I started reflecting on our travels and was regretting that we were on our way to the city and had not seen that iconic Morocco bird - the Moussier's Redstart . Suddenly Bingo! - there was a fine male on the hillside, but it was departing as we stopped. I managed a distant shot of it in a bush before it disappeared from sight, not to be seen again.

Moussier's Redstart (male) - Telouèt to Tizi-n-Tichka road
As second prize I saw another bird nearby. This turned out to be the somewhat less spectacular female of the species - but it was a bit more photographable!

Moussier's Redstart (female) - Telouèt to Tizi-n-Tichka road
Feeling quite eleated by this latest find, we approached the junction of this by-road with the main N9 to Marrakech. Literally only a few metres before we reached the junction we saw another Black Wheatear beside the road. Now this really was chunky and drab black, and his partner was even more drab. These birds much more closely fitted the Collins description.

Black Wheatear - near Tizi-n-Tichka pass
We enjoyed the spectacular run through the High Atlas, taken at a more leisurely pace than on our outward journey, only stopping for refreshements and to view more Red-billed Chough. We approached Marrakech in a dust storm, but as we entered the city a group of White Stork flew low over the car. Wow!!

It started to rain as we arrived at our destination, which was the superb Dar Vedra, and we got thoroughly soaked that night when we went out to sample the spectacle that is Place Jemaa el-Fna after dark. 

More birds and other creatures will feature in the third (and final) part of my account of our travels in Morocco. Thank you for dropping by.


  1. Can't wait for part three, great post Richard. I would say from the looks of the wader in the stream with the Stilts it does look like a Wood Sandpiper, the Warbler in the corn crop, if it was in the UK I would say Reed Warbler, but not certain on that one.

    1. Thank you Douglas. Wood Sandpiper is frequently seen at this place, so seems quite likely. I'd also wondered about Reed Warbler for the birds in the corn crop, and it seems that passage RWs are a possibility - but the birds did strike me as being rather small.

  2. Another excellent post Richard and some stunning pics, Moussier's Redstart is a real beauty. I love more tests too always a learning curve :-) That small streaky bird looks a bit like a young Linnet but that might be too obvious, I can't think of anything else off-hand. Really looking forward to more of the same.

    1. Thank you Alan. I guess juvenile Linnet is the most likely candidate for the small streaky bird, but I was worried that the southern side of the Atlas Mountains might not be appropriate.

  3. Gods, these are exciting images. Incredible work....and wonderful birds that I may never see. I love the Redstart(Moroccon style), Laughing Dove, et al. Looks like an amazing journey. Look forward to the next:)

    1. Thank you Chris. Don't be jealous of me seeing these birds - you have such an amazing variety of wildlife in your own neck of the woods!

  4. Hi Richard another great collection,i think the small Warbler is a Reed Warbler,but the tail seems to be on the short side.
    As you say,L.B.J,are not easy.
    Look forward to seeing part three.

    1. Thank you John. Concensus of opinion seems to be coming down on the side of Reed Warbler. Part three is almost ready now!

  5. I absolutely loved this post, I managed to identify quite a lot of the birds, but some caught me out. From Findlay

    1. Thank you Findlay - and well done!! It took me a long while to work out what some of these were, and then there were some that I'll probably never know what species they were.


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