15 Feb 2014

15 Feb 14 - The Final Moroccan Post

It was an early start to be back at the Tafingoult site for dawn, as Cuvier's Gazelle are probably coming closer to the village to feed when it's dark & quiet. However, a careful scan of the slopes above the village failed to locate any that had fed there overnight. Therefore, we headed up to the top of the hillside to spend a few hours checking the extensive hillsides to the North. We had no joy with the shy Cuvier's Gazelle which had thousands of small trees in the miles of hillsides to shelter underneath from the sun. But it was a good morning as we managed to catch up with some good views of Tristram's Warbler: which we had missed further South.
Richard checking the rocks hillside above Tafingoult
This is only part of the extensive hills to the North of Tafingoult
Looking South over the village
Tristram's Warbler: The maroccana subspecies occurs in Morocco & Western Algeria
Tristram's Warbler
Black Redstart: Female of the gibraltariensis subspecies which occurs across most of Western Europe (except for the Iberian Peninsula where it is replaced by aterrimus)
Great Grey Shrike: This is the algeriensis subspecies of Northern Morocco, Algeria & Tunisia (which doesn't have the distinctive wing pattern of the elegans subspecies seen earlier in the Western Sahara: where the white primary coverts patch extends to the tertials)
Great Grey Shrike 
Chaffinch: Male of the distinctive africana subspecies is found from Morocco to North West Tunisia
Spur-thighed Tortoise: This is the Southern Moroccan subspecies
By late morning we were heading back to the hotel to check out. There was time for a leisurely lunch in Taroudant before we had to head back to Agadir airport for the late afternoon flight to Gatwick. Late turned out to be the key word as the Easyjet plane was nearly 3 hours late in arriving, apparently down to the bad storm that had passed through Europe in the previous 24 hours.
This street cafe provided some decent pizza & coffee
There were a number of horse driven carriages taking the tourists around Taroudant
The cafe was a good place to photograph some of the locals
Cattle Egrets roosting over the kazbah
White Stork: The final species for the trip list
The Western Saharan & Moroccan trip proved to be a successful trip with the key World tick, Cricket Longtail, easily seen. Additionally, we saw 4 Sudan Golden Sparrows which were a bonus World tick: two of which we found. I had 3 additional Western Palearctic ticks: Royal Tern, Black-crowned Finchlark & Brown-throated Sand Martin. Spotlighting produced views of Pharoah Eagle Owl, Ruppell's Fox, Fennec Fox & Saharan Striped Polecat: my favourite mammal for the trip. I managed to photograph 66 species on the trip out of a trip list of about 115 species. Finally, it was great to get to the Western Sahara, which is an interesting & fairly rarely explored part of the Western Palearctic, with a couple of good travelling companions.

14 Feb 2014

14 Feb 14 - Hello Martin

After a night in the nearby town of Tiznit, we were back at Oued Massa. It had been a late night arrival at the hotel as we had a puncture just as we started spotlighting around Oued Massa. After changing the wheel, we found the spare was also flat. Fortunately, a couple of locals arrived soon afterwards & offered to help us find a tyre repair man for both tyres. The punctured tyre was a write off & it had punctured due to no tread left on the tyre. The spare was flat due to a knackered valve. We ended up getting a replacement value & a second hand tyre. As we were leaving Oued Massa at lunch time, we had another puncture (in a diffferent tyre), resulting in another new tyre being needed as the tread on the tyre was down to the inner metal in part of the tyre. The second hand tyre was also changed (although it didn't need to be) due to the adamant insistence of one of the carload. Checking the remaining 2 tyres also showed a noticeable bulge on yet another of the remaining 2 tyres, but we didn't have the spare cash or inclination to replace that one as well. This was all explained to the car hire company agent who couldn't care less about the state of the car he had provided, even when the photo (below) of one of the tyres was shown to him. He also didn't care about the state of the bulging tyre & I'm pretty certain he would have sent the car out on its next hire with this tyre. Given my French was poor, he decided he suddenly couldn't speak a word of English to avoid having to provide a part refund for the 2 new tyres & the faulty value. Given the state of the tyres & the high mileage on the car (about 130,000 kms), I would not recommend anybody considers using the shoddy car hire company laargoubcar in the future. Clearly, they do not check their cars as the wear on the photographed tyre shows the tracking was out, with further confirmation coming from the bulging tyre & the faulty spare. I certainly do not agree with Richard's statements in his report, that this company provided a good car (as it was clearly in a poor state of repair with a high mileage). I also disagree that it was good value for money, as Richard ignored the additional £110 we incurred in tyre costs, in addition to the car hire of £300. Laargoubcar showed a total indifference to safety of the car & the condition of their cars in my opinion. I would advise other birders to find a proper car hire company & to thoroughly check out the car before accepting it.
The second punctured tyre: Showing the wear from bad tracking
Anyway, back to the birds at Oued Massa. Instead of birding along the main track to the North of the estuary as we had tried the previous afternoon, we tried a few spots a couple of miles inland on the Southern side of the river. The main target species for me was Brown-throated Sand Martin which is an Oued Massa speciality & one I had managed to miss on the first trip. Therefore, it was another potential Western Palearctic tick for me. After an hour of birding, I finally picked up one feeding with the other Hirundines & Swifts over the river.
The river valley: The river is surrounded by lots of small, interesting fields
The river in the early morning: With a Marbled Duck
Brown-throated Sand Martin: This is also known as Plain Martin
Brown-throated Sand Martin: This is the Western Morocco mauritanica subspecies
There was a good selection of other species over the river & in the surrounding fields.
Dabchick: Adult in full breeding plumage. This is the nominate ruficollis subspecies which is the same one I see back in Dorset
Marbled Teal: This has a wide range from the Canaries to South West China
Laughing Dove: Also known as Palm Dove. This is the phoenicophila subspecies which is found in Southern Morocco to Tunisia
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Great Spotted Cuckoo: Frustratingly this excellent Cuckoo disappeared out of sight without landing
Pallid Swift: This is the brehmorum subspecies which occurs from Madeira, the Canaries, coastal North Africa & Southern Europe to Turkey 
Little Swift: This is the galilejensis subspecies which occurs from Morocco to Pakistan
Little Swift
Crested Lark: This is the riggenbachi subspecies which is one of about 22 subspecies in the Western Palearctic
Yellow Wagtail: One of the blue headed group of Yellow Wagtail, but I wasn't able to get identify the subspecies
Common Bulbul
Zitting Cisticola: This is the cisticola subspecies which occurs from coastal West France, the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Islands & North West Africa
Stonechat: A really approachable male
Stonechat: Male with a partial ring number of 995
House Bunting: Sitting on the roof of one of the village houses overlooking the floodplain
Spanish Terrapin
In case you don't know the guys I was travelling with.
Richard Webb
John Wright
After about 3 hours in the floodplain, we headed back to the South side of the valley to a group of stoney fields on the approach road to Oued Massa to look for Barbary Ground Squirrels. After a bit of searching, John found them skulking in a small walled field.
The fields were very stoney
This field had about 8 Stone-curlews in it
Barbary Partridge: This is the spatzi subspecies which is one of three Moroccan subspecies
Collared Dove
Little Owl: This is the saharae subspecies
Sardinian Warbler: Male of the melanocephala subspecies
Maghreb Magpie: This is the mauretanica subspecies of Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria & Tunisia which has a blue wattle behind its eye
Barbary Ground Squirrel
We left the Oued Massa area about lunchtime for the walled city of Taroudant. Here we splashed out for a more expensive hotel, the Palais Salam, with an impressive entrance gate in the city walls as it was our last night. Although clearly the nicest looking & the most expensive hotel we stayed at in Morocco, the hotel's restaurant was shocking. After 90 minutes from ordering our food, we still hadn't received more than the drinks & John's soup (Richard & I hadn't even ordered a starter). The food finally came after a complaint to the hotel's reception about the bad service & a lot of shouting in the kitchen.
The Palais Salam hotel
The hotel entrance is set in the imposing city walls 
The Palais Salam hotel looked good: But the restaurant service was abysmal
The Palais Salam hotel was set in well established gardens
Terrapin sp: This non native Terrapin was in one of the ornamental ponds
Having checked into the hotel in the early afternoon, we were soon heading off to the last birding site of Tafingoult: a small village on a rocky hillside about an hours drive to the West of Taroudant. This is a site for the shy Cuvier's Gazelle, which are sometimes seen on the hillside above the village. We failed to see any after several hours of searching.
Moonrise above Tafingoult: We hung around till after dark for a bit of spotlighting, but only succeeded in seeing some Foxes on the way back to the main road