8 April 2019 – Records in SE Morocco

From 28 March to 3 April, a one-week birding trip in SE Morocco for Limosa Holidays brought me from Marrakech via the High Atlas and Boumalne Dadès to Merzouga and back again. In the Merzouga area, my friend Lahcen Ouacha joined us. The entire week was cold, clouded and sometimes rainy. Some of the most memorable sightings in the Toubkal area of the High Atlas were six vocal Levaillant’s Woodpeckers (Picus levaillanti) together, a northern Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus torquatus), six male Seebohm’s Wheatears (Oenanthe seebohmi) above the ski piste, several singing White-throated Dippers (Cinclus cinclus minor), a singing Tristram’s Warbler (Sylvia deserticola) and a few Moroccan Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra poliogyna). South of the Atlas range, at Amerzgane on the way to Ouarzazate, we had a male Maghreb Wheatear (O halophila) and three Seebohm’s Wheatears. In the Boumalne Dadès area, we came across nests of Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus) (with chicks) and a Pharaoh Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus), and watched the usual specialties such as (three) Thick-billed Larks (Ramphocoris clotbey). On 31 March, on the way to Merzouga in wadis north of Goulmima, we found species like Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta saharae), Fulvous Babbler (Argya fulva), Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) and Thick-billed Lark. On 1 April, in the deserts around Erg Chebbi and Rissani, an adult Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius), 10 Crowned (Pterocles coronatus) and more than 100 Spotted Sandgrouse (P senegallus), a roosting Egyptian Nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius), two Thick-billed Larks, a pair of Desert Warblers (S deserti), more Fulvous Babbers, several Saharan Olivaceous Warblers (Iduna pallida reiseri) and a site with c 20 nesting Desert Sparrows (Passer simplex) were among the highlights. On 2 April, we visited the Yasmina ringing station and tried to census waterbirds of Dayet Srij, the lake at Merzouga. A nice variety of birds on the lake included, for instance, more than 200 Ruddy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea), at least 180 Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris), 12 (male) Ferruginous Ducks (Aythya nyroca), 10 Common Pochards (A ferina), 2 male Garganeys (Anas querquedula), c 50 Common Teal (A crecca), 15 Pintail (A acuta), more than 2000 Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus), six displaying pairs of Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus), 50 (pairing) Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica), c 50 Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta), c 50 Little Stints (Calidris minuta) and, remarkably, the third-ever Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) this far inland. At the end of the day, the best surprise was an African Dunn’s Lark (Eremalauda dunni) found by Lahcen south-west of the lake. This species is very rare away from Oued Ad-Deheb, Western Sahara, with a first (and only) breeding record at Merzouga in April-May 2010 (but I am not aware of well-documented records since). In the week preceding our stay, three were found at c 20 km north from our finding place by Cristian Jensen et al on 26 March, and one 3 km to the north by Marc Illa on 30 March, indicating that there has been a kind of influx this spring (Arnoud B van den Berg)

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