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Tuesday 26 February 2019

Western Sahara & Morocco (Birds) - February 16th-23rd

Last spring whilst on Mt Caburn photographing Burnt Orchids, Ewan Urquhart phoned me regarding a trip being put together for the Western Sahara, being organised by Steve Babbs. The main idea for visiting was to hopefully connect with the many exciting night mammals that occur along the Aousserd Road leading eventually into Mauritania, but covering almost the whole width of the Western Sahara. Such mammals include the Sand Cat, Fennec Fox and Ruppell's Fox, along with many other highlights, with the Western Sahara being the most accessible region to see these special animals.

Knowing about the exciting birds that one could encounter along this road meant that it took me only a few seconds to commit to this trip. Sadly Ewan was unable to make the trip and so it was myself, Steve Babbs, John Dixon and Jake Everitt.

We flew with Ryanir from Stanstead to Agadir arriving on the evening of the 16th February. Our hire car was a jeep and was surprisingly comfortable, and just as well as after landing we had a 16 hour drive down to Dakhla, our base for most of the week. Many checkpoints held us up on the way down, but my limited French seemed to help, but the same can't be said for Steve who had a classic Del boy moment when he asked what 'Orange' was in French at a supermarket one morning. The ridicule lasted all trip!

Due to the nocturnal element of the trip the entire mornings were spent sleeping, followed by a Tacos lunch (the only likely choice around), then stocking up on supplies (normally dangerously hard French bread and warm cheese) before finally getting on the 200km Aousserd road at around 4pm allowing three hours of birding before the night vigils of spotlighting.

This routine only lasted four nights as we couldn't be bothered to spotlight anymore, and with a 16 hour drive back to Agadir it was a sensible decision to spend the remaining two nights tracking back north, and what an excellent decision this was, as we came across some memorable migratory encounters and some class birds around Oued Massa.

This blog post concentrates on the birds seen during the trip including a few photos below along with a 'highlights' checklist. The mammals will be on the next blog post.

The 'famous' Aousserd Road.
Ignoring the Canary Islands, the red marks
to the south indicate the Aousserd Road,
with Agadir in the north.

Moon rise over the Western Sahara.
This sight greeted us most nights as we started
our gruelling spotlighting sessions.
  1. Ruddy Shelduck - small numbers just north of Laayoune.
  2. Marbled Duck - ca. 30 along river just north of Laayoune.
  3. NORTHERN BALD IBIS - ca. 80 on beach at Oued Massa.
  4. Eurasian Spoonbill - two spectacular migrating flocks were seen coasting north.
  5. White Stork - two circling along road north of Laayoune.
  6. Greater Flamingo - many encounters on Oueds.
  7. Eurasian Griffon Vulture - one bird migrating north 130km north of Laayoune.
  8. Western Marsh Harrier - many seen migrating north.
  9. Long-legged Buzzard - ca. 10 along the Aousserd Road.
  10. Lesser Kestrel - a couple seen around Oued Massa.
  11. Lanner Falcon - three birds near the town of Aousserd.
  12. Barbary Falcon - two near the town of Aousserd.
  13. Barbary Partridge - one flushed at Oued Massa.
  14. Quail - one singing at Oued Massa.
  15. Cream-coloured Courser - frequently encountered along the Aousserd Road.
  16. Pomarine Skua - one immature bird flew north on way south to Dakhla.
  17. Audouin's Gull - sporadic sightings along the coast only.
  18. Slender-billed Gull - small numbers around Dakhla.
  19. Caspian Tern - small numbers around Dakhla.
  20. 'African' Royal Tern - three birds off Dakhla.
  21. Barn Owl - one along the Aousserd Road.
  22. PHAROAH EAGLE OWL - one lucky encounter near Oued Jenna, Aousserd Road.
  23. Pallid Swift - many around Laayoune and Oued Massa.
  24. Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark - only a pair seen in flight along the Aousserd Road.
  25. BAR-TAILED LARK - many along the Aousserd Road.
  26. GREATER HOOPOE LARK - relatively common along the Aousserd Road.
  27. Thekla Lark - very common.
  28. TEMMINCK'S LARK - five birds found along the Aousserd Road.
  29. DUNN'S LARK - only three birds found along the Aousserd Road.
  30. Great Spotted Cuckoo - a first-summer at Oued Massa.
  31. AFRICAN DESERT WARBLER - one seen carrying food at a known site along the Aousserd Road.
  32. CRICKET WARBLER - common in Oued Jenna and surrounding dry river valleys.
  33. Subalpine Warbler - found plenty at Oued Massa.
  34. Zitting Cisticola - common around Oued Massa.
  35. Spectacled Warbler - a single seen south of Oued Massa.
  36. MOUSSIER'S REDSTART - common around Oued Massa.
  37. Black Wheatear - common in flat rocky areas.
  38. Red-rumped Wheatear - a few pairs encountered along the Aousserd Road.
  39. WHITE-CROWNED BLACK WHEATEAR - a single bird seen at Aousserd.
  40. Desert Wheatear - two males seen along the Aousserd Road.
  41. FULVOUS BABBLER - common around Oued Jenna.
  42. MAGHREB MAGPIE - common around Agadir.
  43. Brown-necked Raven - seen daily along the Aousserd Road.
  44. HOUSE BUNTING - a few pairs around Oued Massa.
On top of all the highlights, we were treated to some fine migration whilst tracking back northwards back to Agadir. A couple of coastal spots produced two mammoth flocks of Spoonbill (120 & 350), a flock of Greater Flamingos, 'iberiae' Yellow Wagtails, streams of Barn Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows and also many Marsh Harriers and Kestrels. Photos below are in date order.

Temminck's Lark

Thekla Lark
Showing the upturned lower mandible nicely.

Dunn's Lark
Dunn's Lark habitat

Dunn's Lark in flight showing the brown
central tail feathers protruding to the tip.

Greater Hoopoe Lark
Despite many birds seen, they sadly eluded
the camera.

Desert Wheatear

Red-rumped Wheatear

Cricket Warbler
Only encountered where acacias were occurred.

Southern Grey Shrike

Fulvous Babbler
Only encountered along dried out water courses
where obvious vegetation occurred.
Oued Jenna

Cream-coloured Coursers

Eurasian Spoonbills

Greater Flamingos

Eurasian Griffon Vulture

House Bunting at Oued Massa

Moussier's Redstart at Oued Massa
Surprisingly numerous around the Oued.

Maghreb Magpie
Common around the Agadir area.

Northern Bald Ibis at Oued Massa
Oued Massa