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MOROCCO 2006

A busman's holiday; a chance to do some photography without the responsibilities of leadership. That was the plan. So, I joined nine other birders on the Birdfinders tour of Morocco led by Peter Lansdown, a friend and colleague. Three of the participants had been on other tours with me and it was nice to see familiar faces. A bad smash, closing the M4, meant that I arrived at the departure gate with three minutes to spare!

The weather was, as is usual in Morocco, sunny but cold, the temperature being lowered further by a strong northerly wind keeping early migrants in short supply. However, we were to reach the second highest total ever by a Birdfinders group.

The trip started well with excellent views of Double-spurred Francolin, more often heard than seen. This was quickly followed by superb views of four Marsh Owls at Moulay Bouselham.

Much travel is needed to cover all the habitats necessary to see the NW African specialities, from the coastal strip to the desert and High Atlas. In the desert, walking is necessary to locate those species that are difficult to find. The target bird (lifer) for me here was Desert Sparrow, as I had missed it on a previous trip. This bird obliged us all but, alas for me, not at a photographable distance.

Numerous wintering Palaearctic ducks were still present on the inland lakes, along with one of our target species, Red-knobbed Coot. Flocks of Red-crested Pochard in flight were spectacular.

Higher still, 'African' Chaffinches with the Barbary Apes above the snow line were also an unforgettable sight, as were the Ruddy Shelducks on still partially frozen lakes. The cedar forests around Ifrane provided our Levaillant's Woodpecker, with a supporting cast of Red Crossbill, Hawfinch, our first Alpine Swifts of the tour and many more familiar 'garden' birds.

The almost barren interior revealed Bar-tailed Desert, Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed and Temminck's Larks and Greater Hoopoe-lark, the latter in display flight, plus Trumpeter Finch, the endemic African Desert Warbler and Desert, Black, White-crowned Black, Red-rumped and Mourning Wheatears.

Surprisingly, the temperature rose a little in the High Atlas, where mixed flocks of Alpine and Red-billed Choughs circled around. For many, the sight of numerous Horned Larks close to our feet was almost put to one side as up to six Crimson-winged Finches and a solitary close Alpine Accentor entertained us.

Dropping back down to the coast, and with the wind abating, many 'kettles' of White Storks and Black Kites appeared. Migrants like Western Olivaceous and Western Orphean Warbler were new to some. Highlights from the coastal oueds were the endangered Northern Bald Ibis, the endemic Moussier's Redstart, five Plain Martins and many Glossy Ibis, with a few remaining Greater Flamingos.

It is impossible to list all the birds that obliged us; attached are some that yielded themselves to the camera. Did I succeed in my objective? Pretty much; some birds 'gave themselves up' and, as in all trips, some eluded me.

I have to thank Peter Lansdown for his companionship and expert leadership; if you want to see the birds of Morocco there is no finer, more experienced leader.

Peter Basterfield

Northern Bald Ibis

Northern Bald Ibis