Friday 8 March 2013

Over the Mountains and into the Desert

I have just finished cleaning the sand out of my ears. One of the things about deserts is that they contain a lot of sand. If you venture out into it, you will come back with sand in everything. Not everything, or at least not on a birding trip, but you know what I mean. I seem to have imported a fair amount. Quite a lot came out of my hair for instance; although I remained clean and (mostly) fragrant, Moroccan water pressure isn’t always all that, and the final night was more dribble than flood, with the additional turn-off of being cold. I turned it off, decided to live with the sand, and went to bed, so this came back with me. There was also some in my suitcase, and some in my shoes. Yet more in various crevices and creases of my clothes, and a fine film of dust on most optical equipment. I’ve showered my bins, but I’m not sure quite what to do on the lenses yet – they don’t shower quite so effectively. They would come out very clean and shiny, but potentially less useful for taking photos with. Actually the big one is shower-proof, but I’m not sure Canon was thinking Grohe.
A lot of Morocco looks like this
So, with my hair now feeling more like mine, as opposed to some kind of chimney sweep brush towards the end of my five nights in Morocco, and my ears largely free of desert geology, I’m back to my usual humdrum life, which is getting up, going to work, and coming home again, just like the millions of other people in this country. How many of them though can say that two days ago they were in the Atlas Mountains, and two days before that in the Sahara Desert? Not many I'd wager, but it was such an easy trip, and cheap cheap cheap - generally dinner, bed and breakfast set you back about £25. Easyjet flights were bargainiferous, the only really big expense was for a massive 4x4 so that we could cane it across the desert in our neverending quest for Moroccans looking to sell us bits of rock.

Tour Leader

Myself, Richard and Mick were lucky enough to be travelling with Bradders Birding Tours (BBT), an east-London based guiding service, so the list of destinations was long and varied. I'll leave the proper trip report, replete with GPS coordinates for every single bird we saw, to him, but suffice it to say that it was everything we hoped it would be. A deeply painful early start saw us out of Marrakech airport just after lunch in our shiny Pajero, and we were up and over the Atlas Mountains by mid-afternoon, and thus enjoying our first spot of desert birding before dinner. On the way we had come across gazillions of birds - Black-winged Kite over a rubbish dump at Ait Ourir probably the best of them, but also a very smart male Moussier's Redstart at the same location. Hundreds of Cattle Egrets and Black Kites, heaps of White Storks, and my first Common Bulbuls. No time to do either of these photographic justice, or indeed any others as we needed to get over the mountains in good time, but the trip list was probably well over 30 by the time we even reached the pass. I was in Africa for the first time.

A short word on photos: I am well aware that I have a semi-uncontrollable urge to overly-illustrate blog posts. I like to use the word lavish; others might use the word overkill. As such I have decided to excercise extreme levels of restraint and moderation. As trips go, this was pretty heavy photographically, and I could very easily bore possibly even myself with image after image. I have however promised myself that I can go massively overboard on my other website,, where, if you have not discovered it already, there is yet another blog. This one I devote to nerdy camera stuff, and more bird photos than are strictly necessary, for instance of lovely White-crowned Black Wheatears.

So, desert birding. One word. Amazing. We had about an hour and a half of light left as we came down off the mountains, stopping at a place called Amerzgane where BBT had previously scored all sorts of tasty morsels. I have no idea whether we saw any of them, but we did pick up our first White-crowned Black Wheatears (see link above, as well as my previous post = massive restraint) as well as a Thekla Lark and a few other bits and pieces. This was simply a random stop in what appeared to be a stony and birdless landscape, but once you're actually on the ground and actively looking for stuff, there's a lot more life there than you might think. All too soon the light faded, and so we sought accomodation for the night at a place called Ait Benhaddou. Mission accomplised though - we were through the pass and into the desert - tomorrow we could be up and birding immediately.

Thekla tick

1 comment:

  1. I'm disappointed with the lack of Northern Wheatear pictures - surely you took some...