24 March 2016 – Highlights of southern Morocco tour for Limosa in March 2016

At Oukaimeden in the High Atlas, at least 70 African Crimson-winged Finches Rhodopechys alienus came to eat nuts at the car park of the skilift on 13 March, despite the close presence of possibly 10 000s(!) spectators for the Moroccan skiing championships. A few handfuls of Atlas Horned Larks Eremophila atlas and Rock Sparrows Petronia petronia were here as well. Below Oukaimeden, four Dippers Cinclus cinclus minor were performing an unusually active display flight. The next day, along the Tizi-n-Tichka road, we watched in a quieter setting birds like Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara, Northern Goshawks Accipiter gentilis, Levaillant’s Woodpecker Picus levaillantii, Tristram’s Warblers Sylvia deserticola, Atlas Crossbills Loxia curvirostra poliogyna and Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes buvryi. Winterers up here included Song Thrush Turdus philomelos, Water Pipits Anthus spinoletta, European Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs coelebs and Eurasian Siskins Spinus spinus.

Around Merzouga on 17 March, with the help of Lahcen Ouacha and others, we found desert specialities like a nesting pair of Desert Sparrows Passer simplex, nesting Desert Warblers Sylvia deserti and an amazingly well-camouflaged Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius. Near Rissani on 16 and 17 March, we enjoyed a roosting Pharaoh Eagle-Owl Bubo ascalaphus, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters Merops superciliosus (probably just arrived), a foraging flock of nine Spotted Sandgrouse Pterocles senegallus and Fulvous Babblers Turdoides fulvus. A Barbary Falcon F pelegrinoides hunted for a couple of hours above our Merzouga hotel.

The best birds seen between Tinerhir, Boumalne Dades and Ouarzazate were six Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata (foraging along Ikniouen road), some migrant flocks of Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, a Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta saharae, three singing Saharan Olivaceous Warblers Iduna pallida reiseri at Ouarzazate (early), various wheatears including the most difficult species to find, Western Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe halophila, of which we had two males and a female west of Ouarzazate. The best of nine lark species for us was Thick-billed Lark Ramphocorys clotbey, of which we found 10 birds at six sites on three days.

A lot of waterfowl and waders were attracted to rather high water levels at the Ouarzazate barrage, such as many Ruddy Shelducks Tadorna ferruginea, more than 100 Marbled Ducks Marmaronetta angustirostris, 60 Eurasian Flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus, more than 300 White Storks Ciconia ciconia, a handful of Gull-billed Terns Geolochelidon nilotica, quite a few migratory Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus and 100s of migrating Black Kites Milvus migrans. A nice variety of waders included flocks of 60 Pied Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta, more than 100 Kentish Plovers Charadrius alexandrinus and 27 Collared Pratincoles Glareola pratincola. On the shores, a few White-spotted Bluethroats Luscinia svecica and Moroccan Wagtails Motacilla subpersonata, and many Blue-headed Wagtails M flava and White-throated Wagtails M cinereocapilla were seen, with two Desert Little Owls Athene noctua and a flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters as well.

In the Oued Souss valley on 20 and 21 March, we watched some 80 Northern Bald Ibises Geronticus eremita near Tamri, quite a lot of singing Black-crowned Tchagras Tchagra senegalus especially at Oued Massa, and a Desert Little Owl bathing in the rain. At the mouth of Oued Souss, a variety of waders and gulls included a high 300 Greater Flamingos (on 20 March, not on 21 March), 10s of first-winter Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus and two Slender-billed Gulls Chroicocephalus genei. At sea at 10 km north of Tamri, a flock of six Razorbills Alca torda was foraging, and at the Tamri mouth two or four other ones were swimming and flying past on 20 March; here, we also found the remains of a Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus.

Arnoud B van den Berg

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