Wednesday 13 March 2013

Morocco - in the desert

Bradders was right. As i stepped out into the half-light the following morning, I realised where all the km the preceding days had got us. We were properly in the desert. He had had the same experience three years ago, arriving in the dark, unknowing. Of all the places he had talked about, this was the one that had stuck in my mind – Auberge Yasmina. Mentioned by countless birding trips, namely as a reliable spot for Desert Sparrow, here is vista that greeted me from the terrace. I’ve entitled it “My Breakfast View”.

Sensational doesn’t even begin to describe it. This is but a three hour flight from Gatwick (followed by a hefty drive). Photos don’t – can’t – do it justice. We birded the dried-up lagoon next to the hotel for a while, Tristram’s Warbler, a few Chiffies, and our first fly-over Brown-necked Ravens. Then it was time for the Desert Sparrows. There were none in the hotel nest boxes, but prior research had determined that people had been seeing them on Camel trips out into the Erg Chebbi dune system. The logical answer therefore was not to hire a Camel, but instead to follow the trail of Camel dung (they shit constantly by the looks of things) out into the desert. Romantic although this undoubtedly was, we also had GPS coordinates......

I’ve talked about this particular part of our trip here, where you can find an extensive collection of photos, but it deserves another mention here. We struggled up and down the dunes, following a series of ridgelines vaguely SSE. It was a bit like Ben Nevis, just as you think it is going to end and the summit is just over the brow, so it was with the Berber settlement we were looking for. As we crested yet another dune after a huge slog on soft sand, expecting the welcome view of palms and tents, all we got was the next dune. After about an hour, by which time I could barely walk, we arrived at the mythical encampment. There were the tents, and there were the palms. And from within the palms came the squeaks of sparrows. Passer simplex – not simple, but we had done it. A happy hour followed, not in the free alcohol sense, though that would have been very welcome, but in the admiration sense. A sense of achievement. A sense of satisfaction. A sense of massive shutter wastage as we filled memory cards up. Unfortunately no Camels or Landrovers turned up for the return journey. This was like Blakeney, albeit slightly more uplifting. As you will have guessed, I made it, but only just, and luckily or blog-readers breakfast at Yasmina is highly restoratitive, and an hour or so later I was able to resume my quest to photograph all of Morocco’s birds at point blank range.

At this point I am going to skip over THE TREE. It is deserving of a special post all of it’s own. Anyhow, after breakfast (more like brunch) we sought out and found THE TREE, which was important as you will see, and then post THE TREE drove west across the desert to what is known as the 9km Wadi. Or that’s what I know it as anyway. It’s basically a Wadi - an area of desert vegetation that was once, and could be again (see a future post!), a stream bed, that is approximately 9km from Yasmina on the track back to the main Rissani-Merzouga road. We didn’t hit this at the ideal time of day, but it was alive with birds, and we immediately made plans to return the following morning when the light would be on our side, as opposed to blazing above our heads. It’s fairly narrow, and so we walked it in a line to see what was in it. Loads was the answer: Desert Wheatear, Desert Sparrow, Bar-tailed Desert Lark, Great Grey Shrike ssp elegans, Hoopoe Lark, Tristram’s Warbler.

We then dipped Pharaoh Eagleowl at a site near Rissani, as well as Fulvous Babbler, but I did take a lot of photos of Jawas. Being the idiot that I am, I assumed that the Jawas in Star Wars were a creation entirely of George Lucas. OK, so the blazing eyes and short stature might come straight out of the Tatooine, but the actual costumes are simply Jellaba,or Djellaba, the standard traditional dress in the Maghreb region. Dark brown is a fairly common colour, but stripes seem particularly popular this season. Bicycles have taken over from Sandcrawlers for the most part, but I was basically delighted to see characters from my favourite films all over the place. Like I say, I’m an idiot.

We finished the day at another Wadi a few kilometres away from the one we had tried at lunchtime. The difference was marked, very few birds indeed. A pair of Desert Warblers gave themselves up, but other than that it was completely dead. Apart from the Donkey that somebody had parked there, which was very much alive - bursting with vitality some might say...


  1. Your pics just get better though I'm disappointed you chose not to use the donkey shot as a header with the strapline 'latterly about being well hung'

  2. This article reminds me of my desert trip in Morocco. Thank you so much for sharing it :)