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Saturday, 3 November 2012

Morocco, Pt.3 - 19th to 21st October, 2012

This is my third and final post in my account of our holiday in Morocco. Having had three nights based just outside Ouarzazate, which nestles between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert, we were spending three nights at Dar Vedra, a superb riad inside the medina of Marrakech.

Friday 19th October

We'd sampled the hustle and bustle of this amazing city (albeit, in the rain) the night before, and now the rain had gone and the sun was trying to break through. It was, however, deemed to be too cold to have breakfast in the roof garden, so we ate downstairs.

A visit to the roof garden upstairs made us feel at home with House Sparrows in attendance - I never thought that I'd start a post with an image of a House Sparrow!

House Sparrow (male) - Dar Vedra, Marrakech
After breakfast we went to explore Marrakech's famous souks. We resisted all offers to guide us "but mister, it's a labyrinth!"), and it was great fun with a few purchases being made. Fortunately the sun was now shining and this helped save us from getting lost - we'd entered from the north-west and knew that we wanted to head roughly south.

My wife was suffering a little with a gippy tummy, probably from the meal the night before, but Imodium was keeping it under control, so after a light lunch on the Place Jemaa el-Fna we returned to Dar Vedra for a mint tea and relax on the roof garden. Here we made a reacquaintance with some old friends - the House Buntings and the Bulbuls. It was at about this time that I realised that I had a problem with my camera. It was emitting a low whistle, was very hesitant to function when I tried to take a photo, gave very variable results when I did manage to get the shutter to function, and didn't shut down for a long while after switching it off. Possibly most worrying was that if I switched it off and then took out the memory card the whole ensemble juddered for about five seconds! I'd not taken a spare camera and lens - I nearly did, but I'd used up my hand baggage allowance for the main camera, and came to the conclusion that if I packed a spare camera and lens in my hold baggage that might be the last I ever saw of it! So all the images that follow are with me limping along in difficult circumstances!

House Bunting (female) - Dar Vedra, Marrakech
Near Ouarzazate the Bulbuls had favoured the trees, but here the television aerials were their favoured perches. The call of the Bulbul is loud, but not unpleasant. However the song is quite musical and often accompanied by a wing-raising display as shown in the second image below.


Common Bulbul - Dar Vedra, Marrakech
Suitably rested we made our way on foot to the Jardins Majorelle. These gardens, restored by Yves St. Laurent, had been recommended to us. Having paid the princely sum of 100 Dhiram (about £7.50) to get in, we found the gardens to be very densely packed with trees, bamboo, etc. so that everything was in deep shadow - wonderful if you want to stay cool, but not so good if you want to photograph the birds! We only saw Bulbul, Collared Dove and Blackbird. I know it's another Bulbul, but it is in a rather more natural looking situation.

Common Bulbul - Jardins Majorelle, Marrakech
That night we walked back to Place Jemaa el-Fna for dinner in the square.

Saturday 20th October

We'd originally planned to take a day trip to the coast at Essaouira this day, but my wife's upset stomach and a three hour coach ride in each direction were not compatible, so we stayed locally. I was glad of the decision as I too was suffering and on the Imodium by now!

This morning, breakfast was in the roof garden, and the House Buntings were taking full advantage of this - not the most hygienic of situations, but charming to watch!

House Bunting (male) - Dar Vedra, Marrakech
We relaxed at Dar Vedra until we were confident that we'd be OK to venture away from the loos. Not feeling like tangling with the crowds in the medina, we set off for the Jardin du Harti, stopping for a loo check and a mint tea at the Café de la Poste (quite up-market). The gardens were very pleasant and of a much more open nature, with plenty of benches for my wife to sit on whilst I went off looking for birds.

I soon had a glimpse of what looked like a Sardinian Warbler, but I failed to track it down for a better look. The first sensible sightings I had were of Bulbul. Again I found one doing its song and wing display routine.

Common Bulbul - Jardin du Harti, Marrakech
Next I found myself chasing a small bird which I didn't recognise at first in this environment.

do you know what it is yet?
Yes, it was a Pied Flycatcher - either a female, or a male in winter plumage. I spent some time trying for better images with my broken camera.


Pied Flycatcher - Jardin du Harti, Marrakech
A dragonfly (unidentified - help would be much appreciated) settled on a path in the gardens, but I couldn't get my camera to focus on it properly - this was the best of about 50 shots!

unidentified dragonfly - Jardin du Harti, Marrakech
Deciding it was time for a late lunch at the nearby 'Scottish Restaurant' (we felt that it was safest on poorly stomachs) we started heading for the gate - it was then that I managed an image (just!) of Sardinian Warbler.

Sardinian Warbler - Jardin du Harti, Marrakech

























After lunch we took a gentle stroll back to Dar Vedra to relax on the roof terrace, and watch the House Buntings, whilst enjoying a cold beer - the first we'd found since arriving in Morocco!

House Bunting - Dar Vedra
That night (our last in Morocco) we wanted to eat on a balcony overlooking Place Jemaa el-Fna, so chose the Chez Chegrouni. It was a good choice! The spectacle below us was wonderful!

view from Chez Chegrouni
Sunday 21st October

With our flight not until 21:05 Dar Vedra kindly let us keep our room until it was time to leave for the airport. We needed to have a gentle day as we had worked out that we were unlikely to get away from London Gatwick before about 02:00 in the morning, which meant home at around 05:00!

During a relaxed breakfast the House Buntings and Bulbuls were putting on a show, and I couldn't resist another shot of a Bulbul wing display!

Common Bulbul - Dar Vedra
We took another walk to the Jardin du Harti, and were rewarded with some different things to see. First was an unidentified warbler - I can't help thinking that that tail must be a clue - any suggestions?

unidentified warbler - Jardin du Harti, Marrakech
Next was a small cricket (again unidentified) - I say small because it was minute compared to the one at about 4 inches (10 cm) long that we'd seen during dinner in Dar Daif (near Ouarzazate). I didn't notice the metallic gold glint along the back until I looked at my images.

Cricket spp. - Jardin du Harti, Marrakech
Keeping with the bug theme, there were a few of these exquisite small butterflies around which I subsequently identified as Common Zebra Blue. They had a purple colouration in the right light, and small 'tails'.

Common Zebra Blue - Jardin du Harti, Marrakech
The Pied Flycatcher was still around and gave me some images that I'm quite pleased with.


Pied Flycatcher - Jardin du Harti, Marrakech
For the sake of our stomachs we returned to the 'Scottish Restaurant' for lunch, and afterwards took a horse-drawn carriage to another gardens - the Arset Moulay Abdessalam. Since being dropped off at Dar Vedra on the Thursday we'd gone everywhere on foot. This carriage ride, for which we negotiated a price of 50 Dhiram (less than £4), was the only time we used any other form of transport, other than the car to the airport at the end.

Arset Moulay Abdessalam proved to be totally different again to the previous gardens visited. Broadly speaking it consisted of large rectangles of grass, with a selection of trees planted in them (many of them fruit bearing), surrounded by low walls (at a convenient height to sit on). There were quite a few birds around, but mainly too far away to photograph, or even identify. However, I did spot a male Blackcap looking strange in a pomegranate tree (record shot only), and another unidentified warbler, also in a pomegranate tree.

Blackcap (male) - Arset Moulay Abdessalam, Marrakech

unidentified warbler - Arset Moulay Abdessalam, Marrakech
At the risk of inciting you to cries of horror, here's my last image from the holiday - yes, it's another Bulbul. Whilst we'd seen some great birds on the holiday, it's the Bulbuls and the Buntings (our regular companions) that I miss.

Common Bulbul - Arset Moulay Abdessalam, Marrakech
As predicted, we arrived home at 05:00 precisely on the Monday morning, my driving being fuelled by Red Bull!

Both the places we stayed at were fantastic, both as destinations and as establishments to stay in. Our driver, Youssef, was extremely accommodating to our birding requests (I believe that all drivers in Morocco are named Youssef!!), and we were only let down by the car hire firm. Our thanks to all these for a great holiday.

Our holiday was tailor-made for us by Naturally Morocco, and their service was superb, including an absolutely no-quibble refund of our car hire on our return, because of the smaller car supplied and with no air-con. I thoroughly recommend them to anyone wanting to visit Morocco, not wanting a standard package tour, but also not wanting to have a full-on birding tour. Thank you Naturally Morocco. We hope to be booking again with you in the not-too-distant future.

It looks as if we are both now over the tummy problems, brought on by us stupidly buying a box of pastries on the street in Marrakech and bringing them home to eat here in UK!

Amazingly, although Sigma quoted two to three weeks for the repair of the lens, it was returned repaired in just three days! apparently the problems were all caused by a faulty image stabilising unit, which they replaced. Well done Sigma - to say I'm impressed is an understatement!

12 comments:

  1. Glad Sigma repaired the lens so quickly, do you think the dusty enviroment played a part.

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    1. No Douglas. I think that it had just suffered one too many knocks in its short, but hard, life! It seems to have come back better than it ever was - but time will tell!

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  2. Glad you had a great holiday. There is something comforting about having birds that are common and are happy to associate themselves with us like the House Sparrows and the Robin, they become like old friends. I like the Bulbul and the House Bunting. The House Sparrows remind me of my Grandparents, there was always House Sparrows around. My Grandparents lived in a Council house where the Sparrows nested under the eaves, they lived in this house for over 50 years. We have a flock of Sparrows here where I live and have been with us since we moved here 15 years ago. Your pictures are great considering your camera was not 100%:-)

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    1. THank you Linda. Nice to hear about the House Sparrows. We are also blessed with a good population of House Sparrows visitng our garden - sometimes 20 or more at a time.

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  3. Superb images Richard,your shots are so sharp,with brilliant detail.
    Your photography is tip top,loved your coverage of Morocco,great trip reports.
    John.

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  4. Wow! You brought back superb images from your trip!
    Ouarzazate! I've been there 35 years ago! It must have changed... a bit!
    Nice series of birds, the Bulbul must be quite common throughout Africa since we had them in the garden in south Africa!
    I hope they don't put up tortured snakes for show in Marrakech as much they use to...
    Wonderful travelling back in time thanks to your great reportage!
    Cheers Richard!

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    1. Thanks Noushka. I guess Ouarzazate has changed a lot since you were there - it had changed a fair bit since my last visit in 2002.

      I'm sorry to say that there are still a lot of cobras on show in the main square - also monkeys - I rather like snakes and monkeys, but I avoided them in Marrakech as I'm not going to encourage the cruelty that they are subjected to.

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  5. This is a very nice blog.
    Thank you for this little virtual journey ...

    Zitouna Batata (facebook)

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  6. Excellent conclusion to your trip Richard, well done on getting anything with a dodgy lens.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Alan. I'm relieved that the lens was repaired so quickly - and without breaking the bank!

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