Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris
Morocco was probably among the best countries to have been able to observe this species with the last acceptable records being submitted in February 1998. Unconfirmed reports, subsequent to 1998, refer to the area Merja Zerga and whilst probable, these records have not been officially accepted. During the later part of 2008 Birdlife International, and other notable organisations, launched an appeal for all birdwatchers to search for Slender-billed Curlews. It seems to us to be very appropriate that we lead our launch of Moroccan Birds with the main feature focusing on this incredibly rare bird.
Morocco a personal view..
I have been to and written about Morocco so many times and yet it never fails to leave me with impressions of wonder, not least of vast empty tranquil spaces where it is possible to be completely immersed in nature.
Such a grand landscape is presented with perspectives beyond words, from the towering High Atlas Mountains to endless rolling dunes of the Sahara, from Palm lined valleys to multi-coloured striated flat topped mountains; it is a place of unimaginable beauty. The country also has an added attraction and great bonus for me acting as it does as a bridge between the more southerly regions of Africa and Europe for migratory birds. Little wonder I am constantly drawn by the calling of this exotic place and also its people.
One Bird at a Time - The Sahara
Our most recent tour to Morocco’s Deep South was something different and special. Quite apart from the wildlife, we also concentrated on the Spanish Nature initiative of helping children understand their nature and also visiting a women’s cooperative to handout our goodies! We have been working in association with the Audubon Society and the Andalucia Bird Society to develop an education programme that focuses on birds, we have called it ‘A Bird a Week’, it is placed-based learning that encourages children to gain knowledge of the local environment, thus empowering them to take an active role and interest in protecting it. We were able to produce, distribute and explain our new field guide to various schools and their teachers, a total of over 2,000 field guides were given to these educational establishments! Of course we managed some birding too, with several species successfully targeted including Desert Sparrow and both Lanner and Barbary Falcon, to name just a few.
Winter Birding in Morocco
Bird watching in Morocco. A winter’s birding tour in Morocco with the Andalucia Bird Society, the society’s first overseas tour! With 15 members, we toured the marshland habitats of the northwestern Atlantic coast of Morocco and sampled not only the varied birdlife of Morocco, but also to some extent gave ourselves a taste of this wonderful country. We were based in Asilah and made excursions to the Oued Tahadart flood plains, the lower Loukos marshes near Larache and ventured south to Moulay Bousselham and the large marsh and lagoon of Merja Zerga. The society were also on a mission to spread the word for the necessity of locals to keep a watch for Slender-billed Curlew and to this end the society donated a telescope to the local guide and guardian at the marshland of Merja Zerga. In all around 111 species were seen during the trip. It was an enormously successful and enjoyable tour.
Bird of the Moment: Cream-coloured Courser
Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor
When our travels take us to Morocco, the Cream-coloured Courser seems to thrill our friends and is also one of our favourite birds, ranking right up there with Hoopoe Lark Alaemon alaudipes and a few other species which rarely if ever appear in Europe. Polytypic, the Cream-coloured Courser is the only west Palearctic representative of this distinctive genus and is well adapted to desert type habitats. As its scientific name suggests, the bird’s behaviour is one of frequent running and this helps us spot this otherwise elusive bird whose sandy coloured plumage blends perfectly with its favoured desert surroundings.
At all times of the year this species can be found across low, mainly continental latitudes in arid, very warm, mostly lowland desert fringes, semi-desert, and areas marginally cultivated, probably only temporarily visiting inner deserts. The Saharan race, nominate cursor, makes extensive movements which appear to include seasonal migrations. Bannerman 1962; Heim de Balsac and Mayaud 1962; Smith 1965, observed that it was evidently scarce to absent in the northern Sahara in winter, though present then in coastal plains of Morocco. Our own observations contradict this view; we have found good numbers in the winter, especially near to M’hamid and also close to Zagora.
So whatever time of year you wish to visit Morocco and particularly the Saharan region, be sure to keep a sharp lookout for this most striking of desert birds.
Wheatears of the Genus Oenanthe, are well represented in Morocco and this handsome family is a major attraction for many birders visiting from Northern Europe and North America. Males, with the exception of Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina, are striking birds and their showy behaviour always presents an instant appeal to visiting birders.
Without doubt the most sought after species is the sometimes elusive Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens halophila and Spanish Nature tours have discovered a number of well populated sites for this species, unsurprising given the experience of Peter Jones with this family. Both Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe and the rather distinctive form O.o. leucorhoa are migrants and the former also winters in Morocco. Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura inhabit the more mountainous regions and rocky coastal outcrops, whilst White-crowned Black Wheatears Oenanthe leucopyga are very common in desert areas, particularly noticeable around human habitation. As the name implies Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti homochroa prefer open and arid areas, although it can be found in low scrub covered stone desert with some tree cover, where it is usually accompanied by Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica.
Red-rumped Wheatear Oenanthe moesta moesta, a handsome and rather large sized member of the family, is most commonly found in stone desert with scrub, preferring Euphorbia sp. in the northern parts of its range. Although very local, the Red-rumped Wheatear is more common and has a density far higher than accounted for by Cramp (1988).
Spanish Nature tours to the south of the High Atlas mountains and into the Sahara regions has yet to fail to produce a sighting of Isabelline Wheatear and given the normal, or supposed, range of this species, then it is always a big find for the tours. To end our impressive list of Wheatears on a controversial note, we classify Seebohm’s Wheatear Oenanthe Seebohmi as a separate species and hopefully Peter Jones will be writing a paper on this subject sometime in the future, watch this site for details.
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A brief introduction
Working in various countries we pay particular attention to details such as using local companies, local guides and wherever possible local produce. In Morocco we are introducing an educational programme to local schools focusing on nature and we are also helping cooperatives whose aim is to improve the quality of life for marginalized women and children.