Thursday, 15 February 2018

Morocco 10th - 16th February - Oualida

After a very relaxing time at Kasbah Tamadot we were somewhat reluctant to leave and head for the coast but leave we must. The drive from Asni to Oualidia took around five hours including a 30 minute stop for a camel ride for Tobias. The route passed through a flat landscape dominated by cereal production and the birdlife seemed relatively sparse but for good numbers of Crested Lark and the occasional White Stork, Spanish Sparrow, Marsh Harrier and Calandra Lark. We passed, distantly, the Ramsar site of Sebkha Zima just outside of the town of Chemaia, and in the distance from a moving car I could see many Greater Flamingo and other waterbirds but there was no time to stop - in hindsight I wish I had noted that this site was en-route and generated time to stop. As we drove north from Safi the landscape changed dramatically and we were driving through  beautiful countryside with rugged cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and flower rich limestone pavement over rolling hills to our right.

On arrival at the hotel La Sultana Oualidia we had a tour of the hotel and its facilities and then chilled in our room for a while. The view from the conservatory attached to our room was fantastic extending over fields, scrub and a lagoon and I quickly clocked up Audouin's Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Golden Plover, Osprey, Sardinian Warbler, Spoonbill, Serin and House Bunting. We then headed to the hotel's private beach and sat with a champagne or two watching over the lagoon where there were many waders including Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Whimbrel, Curlew and along the coastline we recorded at least 75 Audouin's Gull flying north along with many Yellow-legged Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

The following morning I was up at 07:00 and ready for my boat across the lagoon to the sandspit, dunes and coastline opposite the hotel. My main aim was to see and photograph Audouin's Gull. I have never photographed this species and only seen the species previously in Morocco (a single 1st winter bird) and on Corsica (two flyby birds). The boat crossing lasted only five minutes and I added Mediterranean Gull to the trip list. Wandering across the sand the tide was very low and it took a while before I saw any gulls but then I came across a flock of several hundred Lesser Black-backed Gull and amongst them around 15 Audouin's Gull, the sand was extremely soft and I frequently sank up to my ankles but I eventually got to within a reasonable distance of the birds and got my first shots. An adult Slender-billed Gull flew past and I rattled off a few shots of this as it passed close by. Latterly, on study of my photograph's, I found that this bird was ringed. After the sun came up and the gulls disappeared into poor light I headed over the dunes to the coast getting decent views of Great Grey Shrike, Sardinian Warbler and Spotless Starling. Waiting on the cliff top there was a steady stream of gulls over the very rough seas and I photographed Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull and Audouin's Gull as they skimmed over the wave surface. Out to sea I saw several adult Gannet, a pale phase Arctic Skua and a Great Skua. I then headed back to the sand bars to see what the gulls were up to, there were no around 50 Audouin's Gull and as I arrived around 15 of them took flight and headed north passing close by and giving great views. I returned to the hotel for around 09:30 and after breakfast and a swim Sarah, Tobias and I headed back out to the sandbar. As we landed there were 12 Audouin's Gull on the beach and I got good views albeit in fairly poor light. Latterly, on study of my photograph's, I found that one of the birds was ringed. We saw little else but for a few Kentish Plover, Sanderling and a fly-by Greater Flamingo.

I spent the rest of my time at the hotel relaxing, swimming and birding from the conservatory of our room or from the veranda overlooking the lagoon with a glass of wine in hand - very relaxing. We headed home on 16th February after a great holiday of relaxing and family time with a bit of birding and some great birds thrown in.

Audouin's Gull were fairly abundant around the sandbars opposite the hotel. Interestingly all the birds that I saw were adult and I didn't record any immature birds with the exception of the 3rd winter bird in the fifth image down. The dark primary coverts age this bird. In the final image, the perched bird can be seen to be ringed (white P596). I tracked down this bird and found that the bird was ringed as a pullus on 28th June 2012 at Ilha da Barreta, Faro, Portugal (36°5810N, 007°5332W) by the Portuguese Bird Ringing Centre. This was the first sighting of this individual since it was ringed.

I only saw a couple of adult Slender-billed Gull on my morning of proper birding but this adult showed reasonably well albeit in rather dodgy light - its pinkish underparts still evident. I find the long neck and the hawking nature of its foraging flight fairly distinctive. This bird was patrolling the channels between the sandbars and plunge diving after its prey. After reviewing my images I noticed that this bird was wearing a white ring with black code 62M and while I have not yet received details of this bird I have found that it was ringed at Donana in south-west Spain.

Lesser Black-backed Gull was by far the most numerous gull species with many hundreds present. The subspecies here is graellsii as we see in the UK.

1st winter

1st winter

2nd winter

Adult winter

Adult winter almost into summer plumage

From left to right, 1st winter, adult, adult, adult, 1st winter, 2nd winter

Lesser Black-backed Gulls with Yellow-legged Gull to right

Lesser black-backed Gull (upper two birds) with Yellow-legged Gull (lower two birds)

Lesser black-backed Gull (upper two birds) with Yellow-legged Gull (lower two birds)

This adult Yellow-legged Gull did a couple of close passes to my cliff top location, these birds are almost as dark in tone as Lesser Black-backed Gull.

I saw a single adult and a single 1st winter Mediteranean Gull at the site fairly close to the hotel.

A typically gawky Greater Flamingo as it flew north along the coastline.

A flock of 20 Oystercatcher flew north well offshore,

There were a good number of waders around the lagoons including (in sequence below) Grey Plover, Ringed Plover (three images), Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Ringed Plover, Sanderling and, finally, Curlew.

During this short trip I didn't record any White Wagtail of the endemic subspecies subpersonata (Moroccan Wagtail),  only the migrant nominate alba subspecies (White Wagtail) such as the bird shown below.

In Morocco the subspecies of Great Grey Shrike that breeds is the rather dark algeriensis. This is a common bird in the lowland areas even within intensively farmed areas outside of Marrakech. 

All of the Starling that I had any kind of a view of were Spotless Starling and I did not identify a definite Common Starling.

House Bunting are perhaps one of the least exciting of the Buntings, they are closely associated with human habitations and were common in the centre of Marrakech.

This is the view from the conservatory attached to our room at our hotel La Sultana Oualidia.

The coast beyond the haven of the lagoon was dominated by the monstrous waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

Yellow Broomrape Cistanche phelypaea is found mainly in Spain, Portugal and Morocco and was common in the dunes opposite our hotel.

We enjoyed the views from the hotel veranda where the sunsets were spectacular.

Links to Other Days of the Trip (Click to View)
Kasbah Tamadot - 10th - 14th February
Oukaimeden - 13th February