Saturday 16 March 2013

Morocco - Oukaimeden

Ouikameden is a ski resort in the High Atlas, only an hour an half from Marrakech. Every single birding trip to Morocco goes there, and with good reason - it's a reliable site for Crimson-winged Finch, a properly rare bird in the Western Pal. In fact it's a reliable site for quite a few birds, and I came away with not just one tick but three - the other two were Alpine Accentor and Alpine Chough. All quite alpine really, but there you go - I've never birded in real mountains before.

It's not a big place, and when we were there all the birds we wanted were concentrated in the middle of "town", which sits in a bowl-like plateau at around 2600m, with ski-lifts taking you higher if you are so inclined (and have a pair of skis - don't worry if you don't, as people will fight each other to hire them to you). There were more people on the make here than at any other place we went to, and it was rather a shock having mostly birded completely alone and undisturbed. Lots of jewellery and rock sellers, a man wanting me to ride his miserable-looking donkey, and people who wanted money for just being there and doing nothing. At one point I considered giving one guy money in order to get him to go away, but felt that knowing I had money he might have just stuck around for more and become even more irritating. The Shorelarks were the most tricky, as they favoured the car park, where gangs of car-minders chased drivers up and down vying for the right to "watch" their vehicles in exchange for cold hard cash. Nice. I just about managed what I wanted despite this, but was happy to leave.

This photo is especially for Mick......

We spent a happy four hours up here, in conditions ranging from lovely sunshine and blue sky, to wind-whipped snow - I guess like any mountains the weather can change extremely quickly and without a lot of warning. Not a lot else to tell really - there were at least a dozen Crimson-winged Finch, at least a dozen Atlas Shorelark, hundreds of Alpine and regular Chough, a flock of Rock Sparrow, another Levaillant's Woodpecker, Alpine Accentors and Black Wheatears. We found a lost Short-toed Lark, and saw Swallows migrating through.

Levaillant't Green Woodpecker at Oukaimeden

In fact this latter was perhaps the most meaningful of all - really hitting home the journeys that migrating birds undertake. We saw Swallows every day in the desert, but of course the Atlas are in the way, and these are real mountains. We also saw Little Ringed Plovers pitched down in a temporary pool in the desert during the heavy rain, and a Green Sandpiper. They were all en-route, and could conceivably be on your patch soon. What I can tell is they're not on my patch. Nothing that has ever been anywhere near Africa is, and especially not Wheatears, which I was looking for this morning whilst getting a face full of rain. Which is why I'm back home writing this up - this represents the final installment of Morocco. We left Oukaimeden at around 4pm, spent an hour with the Moussier's Redstart, and then went back to Morocco to catch our flight. Superb trip, cheap and bird-filled, and as I hope you agree, full of amazing photographic opportunities. I will definitely be going back - perhaps just even for a weekend at Oukaimeden - there are more than enough birds to fill two days.

To finish up with, here are a couple of galleries on my other website.
Atlas Shorelark
Crimson-winged Finch

And the "trip report", such that it is, can be viewed on this page

African Chaffinch (male)

1 comment:

  1. All spectacular birds, but wow! That green woodpecker really takes the cake. (I have a soft spot for green birds AND woodpeckers.) Well, actually, I guess the shorelark took the cake, but you know what I mean.