The House Buntings flitting around our feet were helping to build our excitement as we eagerly awaited wildlife photographer Tony Mills at Marrakech airport.
For the next week we’d be taking Tony – a glutton for punishment now on his third trip with us – on a whirlwind tour of north-western Morocco, Inshallah, studded with star species for him to photograph.
We spotted our friend’s characteristic saunter and multitude of photographic equipment immediately and after customary hugs, whisked him away out of the heat of Marrakech to the decidedly more chilled-out coastal town of Essaouira. Here, amongst other fabulous local wildlife, we hoped to bring him up close and personal with the gorgeous Eleonora’s Falcon.
Rebuilt during the days of the French Protectorate in the 1800s, Essaouira is a sleepy, arty town where Moroccan medina charm meets Brittany coastal resort.
After a scenic drive there across vast cinnamon-coloured plains, we checked into Palazzo Desdemona – a tastefully renovated riad on the edge of the old town, its modern decor adding a sophisticated twist on the traditional.
That afternoon, among the fresh catches and lively bartering of the thriving fish market, we were able to get superb close views of Yellow-legged Gulls of all age classes, screaming excitedly and fighting over bits of discarded fish. Also hanging around this gritty, bustling place were Little Terns, handsome summer-plumage Ruddy Turnstones, Little Egrets, and Grey and Common Ringed Plovers.
And, like fans at a stadium gig, we also had our first distant views of the star of the show for this leg of the trip – Eleanora’s Falcons, 1300 of which breed on the Île de Mogador just offshore.
Dinner was delicious traditional soups and tagines and epic slabs of chocolate cake in one of our favourite boutique restaurants in the old town, ‘Chaabi Chic’. What can we say, here at Inglorious Bustards we’re suckers for a clever name (!) and we think this one sums up the town perfectly!
Our next day’s birding was focused around a dramatic canyon a few kilometres inland from Essaouira. When they’re not hunting and brutally butchering migrant passerines, this riverine habitat is where the local eleonorae glitterati like to hang out by the pool and have a drink.
Sure enough we almost immediately had fantastic views of this dreamy ‘A’-list Falcon right over our heads, and we were graced by the presence of several individuals of both colour morphs throughout the morning.
And to top it off the supporting cast featured many other avian mega-stars, including Moussier’s Redstart, Barbary Partridge, Rock Bunting, Common Bulbul, Masked Wagtail and African Chaffinch.
The city of Essaouira comes to an abrupt halt at its eastern edge with a four-mile long stretch of Victorian-style park railings. On one side, a residential area peppered with corner shops, carts full of melons, boisterous children and mechanics’ workshops. On the other a vast forest in the sand, peppered with tamarisks, olive trees and amber-coloured pools, where we spent our afternoon birding. Here we rubbed shoulders with Gull-billed Tern, Black-winged Stilt, Night Heron, Little Ringed and Kentish Plover, Brown-throated Martin and Ferruginous Duck to name but a few.
We celebrated with a well-earned Casablanca beer and a touch of sandy exfoliation at the breezy the seafront of the aptly nicknamed ‘Windy City’.
But although Tony was really pleased with the superb views of Eleonora’s Falcon in flight, us Inglorious Bustards are perfectionists when it comes to birding in Morocco, and we wanted to get him some even better shots.
Returned the following morning at 6.30am, our persistence was rewarded with the magical sight of ten or more of these exceptionally elegant falcons bedecking a tree like chocolatey decorations, and taking it in turns to bathe in the river.
It doesn’t get much up close and personal than that! We observed and happily papped away at these avian ‘A’ listers enjoying their baths. We retreated before a restraining order could be issued, and set off on our next step along Morocco’s Hollywood Boulevard of birding…
Would you go weak at the knees for a dreamy Falcon?! Our unique ‘Choc & Pode’ tour, featuring Eleonora’s Falcon and much more is running again in 2018. Come join us!
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