A Moroccan mini-adventure!

Just a short ferry trip away from Tarifa, Northern Morocco offers superb birding opportunities, putting a trip to North Africa´s teeming wetlands, ancient forests and towering mountains within easy reach of a Spanish wildlife holiday.

This we were keen to demonstrate to our good friends Iain and Janet so, as the sun rose on our ferry, speeding across the narrow stretch of water that separates Europe and Africa, we stood up on deck and watched Tangiers looming rapidly towards us!

 

The team!
Sunrise over The Straits

 

Pretty much the first bird of the trip was a House Bunting, singing merrily away from a harbour front window, letting us know we had definitely arrived in Africa!

A short drive through expansive Moroccan countryside and we were soon sharing a mint tea with Hassan, our local guide during our boat trip out onto the famous Merja Zerga lagoon.

Out on the lagoon, it was gull paradise! Among the many Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, there were numerous smart-looking Audouin´s and Slender-Billed Gulls, as well as a couple of Mediterranean Gulls and a lone second-year Common Gull, an unusual bird for the area.

We had hit the tide perfectly, high enough to explore the whole lagoon but low enough that there was plenty of exposed mud, hooching with waders! Birding from a sandbank in the middle of the lagoon, we could see huge flocks of thousands of them swirling over the flats including Common, Grey and Kentish Plovers, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Redshank, and Greenshank, while on the mud we could see Eurasian Curlews,

Eurasian Spoonbills, Greater Flamingos, a handful of Red Knot, and a handsome Western Osprey perched up on a wooden pole.

 

The town of Moulay Boussalem

 

 

Birding the superb mudflats of the Merja Zerga

 

After a picnic lunch, Hassan took us to a site where local graziers had been seeing Moroccan Marsh Owl activity. He told us other recent visiting birders hadn’t managed to see the bird, but after a while of searching and waiting, there they were! Not one, but two gorgeous individuals emerged from a field of short grass and flew overhead, giving us superb views of their beautifully-patterned primary feathers. One then settled on top of a pile of grass cuttings and sat looking into our very souls for what seemed like an age!

 

Never get into a staring contest with a Moroccan Marsh Owl!

 

Elated, we returned to our hotel in Larache, encountered a group of thirty migrating Black Kites on the journey. After a bit of time to relax and explore, we headed out to celebrate our fabulous day at our favourite restaurant, specialising in fresh locally-caught seafood.

Next morning, we headed to nearby Loukkos wetlands, today shrouded rather atmospherically in mist. As it lifted it revealed a wealth of avian life – an enormous gull roost, containing yesterday’s Common Gull suddenly dispersed, leaving behind many Glossy Ibis, Black-Winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, Common Snipe and Red-crested Pochard, among the Eurasian Spoonbills and Greater Flamingos.

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Loukkos wetlands

Thirty Black Kites suddenly erupted out of their roost in nearby trees, and we wondered if they were the same birds we had seen yesterday, following us on our journey.

Soon it was time to travel on, up through the mystical Cork Oak forests of Bouhachem. Here we hoped to find one of our main target birds. Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker was to be a lifer for Janet – no pressure then!

We spent some time searching the sunlit glades where Eurasian Nuthatches, Short-toed Treecreepers, Firecrests and African Blue Tits and Chaffinches foraged. And sure enough, not long after a distant call was heard, a flutter of wings announced the arrival of our woodpecker, which proceeded to perch on a tree trunk and eyeball Janet, as if to say “tickable enough for ya?!”

 

Birding Bouhachem

 

Then our whirlwind adventure took us up into the mountain town of Chefchouen. After seeking out a beer to celebrate our woodpecker, we enjoyed working up our appetite for tagine by wandering the town’s famous blue streets.

 

Celebrating our Levaillant´s Green Woodpecker!
Chefchouen

 

A morning jaunt up into the craggy landscape of the Talassamtane National Park brought us mountain birds galore! A strong supporting cast of Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrushes and Rock Buntings got our attention in time for an appearance by the stunning star, a gorgeous male Moussier’s Redstart! Fit!

But by mid-afternoon we were already on our way back to Spain, enjoying dozens of Cory’s Shearwaters, an Arctic Skua and a surprise appearance by a Sperm Whale on the short trip!

Sitting outside a bar in Tarifa that evening, sipping a cold beer while we reflected on our mini-adventure, we looked up to see a stream of thirty Black Kites, in off the sea from Africa, streaming over our heads. We´d love to think these were the same birds again, engaged in their own mini-adventure between two continents!

Join us this Autumn! There’s still a limited number of places on our Birding Two Continents mega-adventure in October!  Contact us for more info or download our free brochure here!

Four magic Pyrenean moments that´ll knock your woolly socks off!

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The Pyrenees in winter…stunning!  © Inglorious Bustards

The Pyrenees area in winter is beautiful, exciting, adventurous and fun!  It’s a challenging place to survive for wildlife, and the harsh conditions bring some star avian species within easy reach for the intrepid birder, allowing to see them how you’ve never seen them before!

This is an area all about the specialists, and spending quality time with star species that you probably won’t see elsewhere.  An area where Black Woodpecker, Citril Finch, White-winged Snowfinch, White-backed Woodpecker and Western Capercaillie are all possible.

Couple this with a visit to Aragòn’s sweeping steppe landscape near Gallocanta, winter home to Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Dupont’s Lark and thousands of Common Cranes, and you’ve certainly got yourself a trip to remember!

So there are many reasons to join us on the Spanish peaks and plains next winter! Here are just four of them!

1. Lammergeiers!

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Lammergeier © Inglorious Bustards

After a hot coffee and some freshly baked pastries, spirits were high as our intrepid recce team donned gloves hats and scarves and set off up the Serra del Cadi for our first day´s mountain birding.

Hawfinches and Rock Buntings were feeding in the streets of the frozen villages.  As we headed up from the valley floor, we passed through hushed frozen forests and streams and waterfalls caught in ice.  We picked our way carefully up the frosty roads, feeling a little bit lame every time a local raced past us at speed, but preferring not to take a short cut back to the valley bottom!

A stop outside a mountain refuge hut brought us to conifers full of Common Crossbills and Crested Tits.  As the road climbed higher up the mountainside, the forested slopes gave way to a rocky moonscape, where flocks of wild Chamois grazed.  Taking a walk, it wasn’t long before we heard the characteristic call of a Rock Ptarmigan, which we later got a glimpse of.

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Rock Ptarmigan © Inglorious Bustards

The morning air was starting to warm, and as it did, it filled with Griffon Vultures leaving their roosts.  Then suddenly, below us, there it was – our first Lammergeier!!  What a stunner!  This adult was flying along the valley below us – a rare view indeed!  It was soon joined by another adult and a juvenile bird, as well as a Golden Eagle!  A lifer for some in the group, this impressive eagle was pretty much blanked in favour of our circling Bone-breakers!  We must have spent a good hour admiring these magnificent scavengers, of which we counted a total of at least four in the area, being drawn in by a carcass just over the hill from where we stood.

On the way down we encountered a flock of thirteen Alpine Accentors – what a bonus!  We took an exploratory detour up a track and found ourselves surrounded by a massive tit flock, mostly Coal Tits but also Crested, Long-tailed and Great Tits, with a handful of Goldcrests and Firecrests chucked in for good measure – a magical end to a superb day’s birding!

2. Wallcreepers!

Our search for this much-coveted, flashy little gem of a bird took us to some of the most beautiful places in Spain, as we wandered through haw-frost covered forests to search the walls of dramatic gorges like Mont Rebei, encountering Hawfinches, Black Redstarts, Golden Eagles, Blue Rock Thrush, Northern Ravens and Red-billed Chough as we went.

But in the end it was in the streets of an unprepossessing Pyrenean village that we found our prize!

 

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Wallcreeper © Inglorious Bustards

The afternoon sun was by now warming the golden walls of the sandstone church.  We scanned for a moment and there it was, sat under the eaves just metres above our heads!This incredibly confiding little bird hung out with us for a while, before disappearing under the church roof.  On a hunch we checked a neighbouring street and sure enough it had emerged!

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This cheeky little chappie showed off for us, flitting in and out of people’s houses and dragging helpless Hummingbird Hawk-moths out of crevices in the walls!  It even flitted right through the midst of the group to retrieve one that it had dropped!

We watched its antics and snapped away until our memory cards were pretty much full, by which point it had flown back to the church.  As luck would have it there was a café opposite, so we were able to have a beer with our stunning little

Wallcreeper before heading off back to our comfortable apartment to really celebrate!

 3. Things beginning with ´Alpine´!

A heavy snowfall overnight was starting to abate by mid-morning, so after a relaxed start we explored some woodlands near Jaca, enjoying Crested Tits feeding round our feet and calling Red-billed Chough overhead.  After a warming second breakfast back in town, we headed up the high slopes to a ski station at Astùn, where the clouds were lifting to reveal gorgeous blue skies and pristine white slopes.  Birds gravitate to these man-made oases in the snow, and we enjoyed the novelty of seeing Great Tits and Blackbirds at 2000m! Wandering round the complex, it wasn´t long before we found an Alpine Accentor!  Another ridiculously friendly bird, it perched on railings and walls just feet away allowing us all to get some great photos.

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Alpine Accentor © Inglorious Bustards

 

Carrying on out of the village we stopped just at the French border, where suddenly the characteristic call of Alpine Choughs filled the air!  At first we could only see three, but soon we spotted a nearby area where dozens were swirling overhead and feeding near a meltwater stream.  We got superb views of this hard-to-see high altitude corvid!

Just below the snowline as we headed home, we stopped at an area of riverside pastureland.  We hit the raptor jackpot, and for a while it was hard to look!  Within minutes we had seen Lammergeiers, Bonelli’s Eagle, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Common Kestrel, and Griffon Vultures, all making use of the late afternoon thermals, along with a great spinning ‘chough-nado’ of Red-billed Chough, more than the team had ever seen together!

4. The sounds of the plains!

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Common Cranes © Inglorious Bustards

For lovers of birdsong (and who isn’t?!) there’s something incredibly special about the otherworldly steppe habitat of the Aragonese plains.  At dawn, as the sun rises over the sweeping, empty landscape, the air fills with the bugling of thousands of Common Cranes, the bubbles of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, and a cacophony of larksong including Skylarks, Lesser Short-toed, Calandra, Thekla and Crested – and in the right spot, with luck, the eerie song of the elusive Dupont’s Lark.  We had an early start on the last day of our trip, with many miles to cover to reach our home in the Straits, but we couldn’t have wished for a better start to the day!

Does this snowy adventure send excited shivers down your spine?! We’ve out together a new tour to show you this magical place, with dates available next winter.  Check it out here…

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The team!