Birding in north-western Morocco has been bringing us a wealth of avian ‘A’-listers, and now we were headed for the beautiful little gem of Oualidia in search of the ultimate reclusive star bird, the Andalusian Hemipode.
Thought extinct, the small population that breeds here was rediscovered in the 2000s. On the neighbouring farmland, in 2007, a living Andalusian Hemipode was photographed for the first time in the Western Palearctic.
We’d brought our good friend, wildlife photographer and artist Tony Mills, within close reach of such glamorous species as Eleonora’s Falcon and Cream-coloured Courser and now we were up for this final star-stalking challenge.
Here at Inglorious Bustards we take the welfare and future of the wildlife we love extremely seriously, so it goes without saying we would only see this species if it could be done without causing them undue disturbance in the breeding season.
So our strategy was to focus our attention on the ‘Pode’s breeding grounds in the area’s pumpkin fields, keeping a watchful eye and listening out for the characteristic ‘Moooooo! at dawn and dusk, but taking time to enjoy all the stunning wildlife the area has to offer.
The pretty little resort of Oualidia spreads around a languid crescent-shaped lagoon fringed with golden sands and protected from the Atlantic surf by a rocky breakwater.
Rolling fields stretch right down to the coast to meet marshes, reedbeds, saltpans, sandy beaches and rocky outcrops, so there’s lots to explore.
We had a wondrous boat trip out onto the lagoon, with local skipper Hassan, taking in a wealth of gulls waders and terns, including Audouin’s Gulls, Little Terns, Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone.
Hassan is also a formidable chef, and, mooring up on a sandbank, he cooked us up a delicious BBQ lunch of fresh local sardines and Moroccan salad, while we enjoyed watching fishing Little Terns and maroccanus Great Cormorants.
Well fed, we drifted back towards the town’s beach, and literally as we passed the royal palace, what should be waiting to greet us but a splendid Royal Tern, looking every bit the aristocrat?! These regal visitors to the area breed in West Africa and only turn up occasionally so we felt very privileged!
Between ‘Pode patrols we also visited the salt pans, rich in waders. Black-winged Stilts promenaded their chicks among Kentish Plovers, and Dunlin and Sanderling were all glammed up in summer plumage.
The fields around the beach brought enviable pickings for any photographer, enabling us to get within feet of gleaming Audouin’s Gulls and dapper Collared Pratincoles.
And as for the reclusive star? Excitingly, among a handful of Common Quails we encountered in the pumpkin fields, we had glimpses of Small Buttonquail, the pale underwing, contrasted wing coverts and strange, jerky flight giving the identity away. And the pic? In the words of Sean O’Connell, rugged wildlife photographer in the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it…” ‘Nuff said.
Would you enjoy searching for a reclusive avian stars? Our unique ‘Choc & Pode’ tour, featuring Eleonora’s Falcon, Cream-coloured Courser, Andalusian Hemipode and much more is running again in 2018. Come join us!
And don’t forget to check out Tony’s wonderful artwork here.