Our tour group had fallen in love with the blue buildings and dramatic backdrop of the town of Chefchaouen. But today it was time to follow the birds north and return to Europe. From our location high in the Rif mountains, we followed the route of the Oued Lauou river all the way down from near its source to the bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, watching the ecology and vegetation change as we went.
As we drove through the rugged countryside we could see numerous short-toed eagles and black kites following the same route as us and it was exciting to consider who would be the first to cross the Straits!
Frequent birding stops en route gave us more superb views of blue rock thrush foraging on farmland. We got up close to a young male and got to appreciate the delicate scalloped patterning on his plumage, which is usually ignored because of the distracting vibrant blue colouration of more adult birds.
Further on as the river furrowed its way through another precipitous gorge, we watched a thrilling battle between a Bonelli’s Eagle and two Ravens. It appeared at first that the ravens were mobbing the eagle, but it’s also a possibility that this powerful and stocky predator had decided to try its luck making one of the ravens a prey item!
As the land levelled out and the river became wider, we stopped at a wide gravelly meander, which local folk were visiting to do their laundry and water their livestock. Against a background of crested larks and zitting cisticolas, we enjoyed overhead peregrines and sparrowhawks, a perched short-toed eagle and the best views yet of Atlas Long-legged Buzzard, this time low over us in excellent light and in its most rufous morph.
We could hear Stone-curlews calling, and just as we were about to leave we finally spotted a bird on nest amongst the stones, barely visible except for its yellow eye.
Carrying on downstream the river opened up into expanses of marshy land, on which we could see large flocks of egrets and glossy ibis and even a Black-winged Kite from the bus. We reached the coast at lunchtime, and enjoyed taking our picnic from an improvised table in the form of an upturned fishing boat on the shore.
Although a bit of a wait is always involved at the border crossing back into Ceuta, this is never boring and always gives a fantastic opportunity to swap birdwatching for people-watching for an hour or so, for those that are open minded enough to observe! The crossing itself went smoothly and after taking refreshments at the port we were soon aboard the ferry and on our way back to Huerta Grande, where dinner awaited.
Do you need a bit of Lauou factor in your life? Have a look at our Birding Two Continents tour, which still has places available for this September, or if you fancy even more Morocco then maybe our Choc & Pode Tour in June is right down your stream…