A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Morocco Birding Trip Report - Day 5 (Thursday 28th February 2019)

Arising early the next morning armed with the correct gen for exactly where we needed to go to access the Souss Massa National Park, we headed south once more, making good time and arriving shortly after dawn. This time locating the car park with ease and feeling happier that our possessions were safely stored in the hotel instead of waiting temptingly in the boot, we set off down the track heading above the winding river below. 

Almost immediately we locked on to an exquisite male Moussier’s Redstart feeding just outside the car park, a particularly tolerant individual that came to within a few feet of where we were crouching behind the low-lying shrubs. It seems different birds definitely have different tolerance levels and vary in approachability – this one was most certainly the most photogenic we encountered, completely unperturbed by our presence and a dream to watch.
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - my star bird of the trip!
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
With Alex having to tear me away, we started our search for the Tchagras, a Wryneck perching at the top of one of the trees looking a little out of place, being more used to seeing them in an autumnal Hawthorn bush on the east coast than in the spring, while a number of Linnets, Goldfinches and Greenfinches chattered in the shrubs below.
Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
The sandy track and patch of ground the Tchagras favoured
Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
The view of the river below
Finally, around halfway along the track we heard what we were searching for, the bizarre fluty sound of a Black-crowned Tchagra emanating from the low down trees. After a fair bit of patience and waiting, we eventually caught sight of what is a rare bird in the Western Pal, as one fine Tchagra peered back at us through the branches. 
Black-crowned Tchagra - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Black-crowned Tchagra - peeking from bush
Black-crowned Tchagra - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Black-crowned Tchagra - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Exploring the track a little further revealed another two birds, each elusive but with one individual allowing prolonged views as it foraged on the ground before flitting from shrub to shrub, eventually posing long enough for some non-blurred photos.
Black-crowned Tchagra - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
We eventually got views on the ground
Black-crowned Tchagra - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Black-crowned Tchagra - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Black-crowned Tchagra - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Before showing well on an open branch
Black-crowned Tchagra - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Black-crowned Tchagra - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moroccan Skipper - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moroccan Skippers enjoyed the sandy ground at Souss Massa
Moroccan Skipper - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Having already achieved views of the Northern Bald Ibis at Sidi Wassay, we didn’t make the treck down to the breeding colony at the distant estuary, instead heading back to the car park and relishing more time with the showy Moussier’s Redstart as Alex enjoyed a spot of lunch in the shade. 
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - the most confiding individual we came across
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
I could have willingly stayed all day with this bird, but after some persuasion from Alex I tore myself away to have another crack at the Brown-throated Martins at Oued Massa, to try and improve on our photos from the previous day. 
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Souss Massa National Park - Morocco
The entrance to the reserve and the Moussier's Redstart's favoured territory
Souss Massa National Park - Morocco
The famous Souss Massa - a Ramsar site and thus protected
The road back out of the National Park was particularly rich in birds, the lush green fields more than likely providing a plethora of insect food, and we quickly notched up another three Moussier’s Redstarts, several pairs of Stonechat and a small flock of Common Bulbuls and Spanish Sparrows in the long grass. Our first Blue Rock Thrush foraged quietly on the side of one of the exposed cliffs, while a pale marked Subalpine Warbler briefly had us questioning Tristram’s.
Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
We enjoyed watching this Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise ambling through the farmland fields next to the track out of Souss Massa.
Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise - Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
The view of the Oued Massa from the track out of Souss Massa National Park
Desert Little Owl - Souss Massa, Morocco
Desert Little Owl
Another Desert Little Owl showed well on one of the nearby square stone buildings, and arriving back at Oued Massa it wasn’t long before we’d relocated the hirundine flock, once more powering over the bridge and darting through the sky at speed. 
Oued Massa, Morocco
Oued Massa
Once again, a handful of Brown-throated Martins were amongst them, and we achieved a few more shots of these subtle little birds as they weaved and dodged above us. 
Brown-throated Martin - Oued Massa, Morocco
Brown-throated Martin - the diffuse brown on the throat and chest is subtle but clear when knowing what to look for, with no obvious band or line
Brown-throated Martin - Oued Massa, Morocco
Brown-throated Martin - Oued Massa, Morocco
Brown-throated Martin - Oued Massa, Morocco
Sand Martin - Oued Massa, Morocco
Sand Martin for comparison - the bold chest band is obvious
Oued Massa, Morocco
The famous Brown-throated Martin bridge
Zitting Cisticolas and Sardinian Warblers serenaded us as we stood, while a showy Great Spotted Cuckoo put on a bit of a display down one of the side tracks – another location that was once again rich in avian life. A Crested Lark also showed incredibly well at the side of the road allowing for some close up photos and after a lot of deliberation with Alex's friend Stephen, we decided on Crested on the ID as opposed to Thekla due to the bill structure, breast markings and eye patterns.
Great Spotted Cuckoo - Oued Massa, Morocco
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Great Spotted Cuckoo - Oued Massa, Morocco
Crested Lark - Oued Massa, Morocco
Crested Lark
It became increasingly striking just how barren and depressing our UK farmland sites have become, the traditional way of life and absence of intensive farming and pesticides in Morocco really hitting home what we have lost back in Britain, birdsong bursting from every corner and every grassy field teeming with life.

A pair of Cirl Buntings in the crops were my first of the trip after failing to connect with an individual found by Alex back at Aurocher, while a family party of Desert Little Owls kept watch and provided great views as they blinked unfazed at us on the small branches.
Desert Little Owl - Oued Massa, Morocco
Desert Little Owl
The ‘wet-my-lips’ call of a Quail buried deep in the crops remained heard only as it blasted through the grass, while Hoopoes flitted from perch to post, occasionally dust bathing in the midday sun.

With the afternoon still to spare after mopping up on the Tchagras, we headed back up to Sidi Wassay in an effort to try and get some photos of the Northern Bald Ibis – in our excitement the day before neither of us thought to get a record shot, a bit of a faux pas considering they are one of the rarest birds in Morocco!

The now obligatory stop at the side of the road to take more photos of another showy Moussier’s Redstart (I will never tire of them) also resulted in a scattering of Great Grey Shrikes and Northern Wheatears on the fence line, the latter being some of the first to return – careful checks revealed no Seebohm's amongst them, although it was still far too early.
Moussier's Redstart - Sidi Wassay, Morocco
Moussier's Redstart - another showy bird!
Moussier's Redstart - Sidi Wassay, Morocco
Western Subalpine Warbler - Sidi Wassay, Morocco
A male Western Subalpine Warbler also showed well on one of the many fences
Western Subalpine Warbler - Sidi Wassay, Morocco
Remarkably, stopping the car next to one of the few tall buildings in the deserted village, we were amazed to set eyes on two Northern Bald Ibis roosting on the low rooftop in front of us, providing incredible views and putting on a real show as they gently preened. 
Northern Bald Ibis - Sidi Wassay, Morocco
Northern Bald Ibis
Northern Bald Ibis - Sidi Wassay, Morocco
Northern Bald Ibis - Sidi Wassay, Morocco
Northern Bald Ibis - Sidi Wassay, Morocco
Much better than our initial sighting the previous day, it was a relief to be able to get some photos (we couldn’t really leave Agadir without getting any pictures of these charismatic birds!) and after a good 20 minutes watching we left the birds in peace - slightly surreal to be seeing them in human settlement as opposed to their normal rugged clifftop haunts.
Northern Bald Ibis - Sidi Wassay, Morocco
Sidi Wassay, Morocco
Sidi Wassay - not the habitat you'd expect for Northern Bald Ibis!
Checking out the small track next to Oued Massa one final time before dark, we picked up a few more Brown-throated Martins before the darkness set in, a Subalpine Warbler flitting between the rushes before roost a nice finish to the day. With our targets for this area now well and truly in the bag we retreated back to the hotel happy, ready to tuck in to a dish of traditional lamb tagine before planning our route for tomorrow.  
Oued Massa - Morocco