Sunday 10 March 2013

Morocco - continuing east

We awoke early next morning to a fabulous breakfast served at a most unfriendly time. In fact everywhere we went people were only too happy to go out of their way to give us breakfast or dinner as early or late as we wanted it. In common with every other birding trip I've been on, we ate junk throughout the day, so lunch never featured. We did eat an enormous number of oranges though - local produce, they are enormous, juicy, tasty and stupidly cheap - in fact combined with the fact that Morocco is mostly a dry country, this was probably one of the healthiest trips I've been on. But back to the birds.

We drove a short way east to the town of Ouzarzate, as on the eastern side there is a sizeable lake. Before we even got there we started seeing birds, there were ticks everywhere. What was supposed to be a short stop before we carried on to Boumalme and Tagdilt turned out to take up most of the morning, and this was no bad thing. A large group of Trumpeter Finches, a pair of Little Owls, Crested Larks, Ruddy Shelducks, hundreds of Black Kites, a Blue Rock Thrush, Spectacled Warblers, and or course a pair of White-crowned Black Wheatears; this place had the lot - and all showing brilliantly. Bradders had obviously been to Morocco before, and so this wasn't a surprise to him. The rest of us however were mesmerised, and it wasn't long before we had some synchronised shutter RnB going on.

A look closer to the lake produced Temminck's Stint, LRP, loads of White Storks, and a few Pipits and Wagtails, however by then the light had turned relatively harsh, and so with reluctance we carried on. The rest of the day is a bit of a blur, but we stopped near a place called Tinehir where we found a Black Wheatear, and also had a couple of hours on Tagdilt Track (a birders favourite, everyone stops here), where we picked up Red-rumped Wheatear, Hoopoe Lark, and best of all, Cream-coloured Courser - not that this was a tick of course ;-)

The sad thing about Morocco - well one of the sad things, there are probably others - is the curse of the plastic bag. Anything you buy comes in a plastic bag, and Morocco seems not to have landfill sites or incinerators. Instead most towns have an open rubbish dump on the outskirts, and waste is simply piled there. The wind then blows the plastic bags across the surrounding landscape, where they catch on low bushes and desert plants, there to stay for all eternity, or whatever the half-life of a plastic bag is. This can cover many square kilometers, and to say it's an eyesore is a huge understatement. It's almost unbelievable that the desert can be so polluted, so ruined, but that's the way it operates out there and few people appear to care. Packs of wild dogs roam around the tips - people even dump dead cows and goats out there, and the stench can be pretty nasty. The birds however don't seem to care, and indeed we probably saw more birds in amongst the rubbish that out in the further reaches of Tagdilt.

Black Wheatear - note tail band
Vaguely reminscent of last year....

Once more we were forced to press on, this time towards Erfoud and Merzouga - we were headed for the Erg Chebbi, a proper dune system of the sort you might expect Sand Crawlers and Jawas in. Passing various birds on the way (there was a lot of birding from the car) we made a final stop just before Erfoud, marked by a large rocky outcrop that we felt looked productive. Indeed it was, and a short walk out into the desert netted yet more White-crowned Black Wheatears, and two more new birds, Desert Lark and Bar-tailed Desert Lark. Carrying on through Rissani, we measured out the clicks on the odometer until the track out the various Auberges that line the Erg Chebbi, and got it spot on. A rather bumpy ride in the dark, but BBT hit Yasmina dead on, and we received another warm welcome, accompanied by mint tea, salad to die for, and the obligatory tagine. Bradders assured us that the following day would be rather special...

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