Pallid Harrier at Snettisham RSPB, Norfolk – 28th Nov

Over the last 12 days a juvenile Pallid Harrier has been observed on salt marsh at the southern end of the RSPB’s Snettisham reserve on the Norfolk coast of The Wash. Once a rare vagrant to Britain but now more regular, this raptor got onto my life list in Cyprus in April 2012. That was based on seeing a Harrier in the spot where I had been told to look, so the species has been amongst those about which all doubt needs to be removed. Today’s objective was to do that.

Snettisham RSPB is a wild and windy place famed for its mass high-tide wader and Pink-footed Goose roosts. Pre-visit research found there will not be a daylight high tide until February, and today also lay within the period either side of a full moon in which the geese are less likely to provide a dawn or dusk “spectacular”. So there seemed no point in getting on site too early, especially as the Harrier was being seen most often in the early afternoon.

In the event I arrived just before midday. Judging by the car park’s fullness as I donned an extra layer of warm winter clothing, the star visitor had attracted a large weekend audience. The trail out to the observation point is just over a mile’s walk and those coming back the other way were all wearing as many layers as myself. One birder walking ahead of me was stopping everyone he met and then he pulled in alongside me. Rain was forecast for the afternoon apparently and the Harrier had been showing well yesterday. I was interested only in the here and now, so hurried on to join the assembled group watching the southern marsh.

I walked along the line doing an inanity check and set up beside three birders whose conversation was agreeable. Soon a ring-tailed Harrier was spotted on a distant post, then this bird flew to one side and back before going to ground. My chosen companions were confident it was the Pallid Harrier. Around 20 minutes later the bird came up again, interacting with a Marsh Harrier for comparison. It’s smaller size and much slimmer build, similar to Montagu’s Harrier, were now clear to see.

Andy, who had been keeping in touch, texted me the plumage diagnostics at this point but the bird had been too far away to make them out. So assuming those around me were competent I ticked Pallid Harrier for my British list. But at home as abroad all doubt still needs to be removed, and I left thinking if the bird sticks around I’ll try to make a return visit in clearer weather conditions. The following pictures, posted on RBA today, were taken in the morning according to the photographer’s own blog (see here).

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Pallid Harrier (juv) at Snettisham © Robin Stokes

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At 2pm I took a sandwich break in the shelter of the southernmost hide, during which a further sighting was posted on RBA. Good old sod’s law! Most of the birders then dispersed and so I began the return walk. Looking out over the vastness of The Wash, a lot of Shelduck were active on the mud flats. There were also large concentrations of Wigeon mixed with Pintail, many gulls and a huge flock of Golden Plover. Everything was in a very murky light though, but I could imagine the spectacle as the incoming tide pushes all the birds close to the shore here. And that is something that one day I will hope to witness. On my reaching the car park as dusk set in, skeins of gently murmuring Pink-footed Geese were flying overhead to their roost sites, making a pleasing and fitting end to this day.

Addendum

I was able to return four days later on 2nd Dec after a work project in Suffolk finished a day earlier than expected. Though the temperature was milder the wind was still just as strong as I walked out to the southern marsh. Large flocks of Golden Plover, standing in line again on the mud flats, took to the air in spectacular “murmurations”. And aerial swirls of other waders could be seen from time to time further out.

At the southern marsh I took up the same position where everyone had been on Saturday, but other birders kept to higher ground behind me. Several Harriers were active out over the salt marsh but everything was as distant as on my previous visit or even more so. The closest bird was a dark and obviously broad-winged Marsh Harrier complete with yellow head, and none of the others had the slim profile of Saturday’s probable Pallid. I stayed here for around 90 minutes, at one point going over to join the group but they appeared not to have PI’d the Pallid Harrier either.

Then an Oxon text alert came in about a Great Northern Diver at Farmoor Reservoir, which unsettled me. Though there was no chance of getting home before dusk, I started to become bored by myself and at 2pm wandered over to join another group at the wader watch point. They were a very knowledgeable bunch and one of them picked out a ring-tailed Harrier flying inland from the salt marsh. I watched as the bird passed close to where I had been standing before perching in the top of a bush. Sod’s law had struck again as this was indeed identified by my companions as the Pallid Harrier.

Though views were good from that distance I naturally regretted having moved when I did. The bird next flew right over the people who had been behind me earlier, before going down in some long grass. My group then walked over to the others and everyone waited for the Pallid Harrier to come up again. When that happened I picked it up moving along a line of Pines that had been mentioned on RBA. The narrow-winged profile was plain to see and being with 12 other birders who agreed on the ID all doubt was now removed. These two visits to Snettisham had given me a complete education in Harrier identification as well as a British tick.

Maroc dragonflies – 1st to 7th November

During my trip to Morocco’s Atlantic coast last week, in addition to the 16 bird lifers recorded I was pleased to find some new dragonflies. The weather was sunny throughout my stay and these insects were encountered in several locations, flying in good numbers at some. Four common African dragons: Orange-winged Dropwing, Red-veined Dropwing, Ringed Cascader and Banded Groundling were all added to my life list.

On Thursday 5th November I drove a popular tourist route through the western end of the Atlas Mountains, north of Agadir that is known as Paradise Valley. This runs from the small coastal town of Tamrhakh on the N1 for 50 km to a village Imouzzer Ida Outanane. At route’s end an information board says Imouzzer nestles at the foot of the western High Atlas, but it had seemed a long way up to me, not to mention higher and higher. Part way along this ascent the road enters a steep sided gorge in which it has been washed away then patched up in places. And that was where I lost interest in birding for the day.

Paradise Valley

Paradise Valley

Investigating three different locations I got quickly into southern Portugal upland watercourse mode. At my first stop the most numerous dragonfly was Orange-winged Dropwing (pictured below), a species that I had expected to come across on this trip. These typically perch on waterside rocks or gravel to absorb sunlight, and here they were mixed with slender blue Epaulet Skimmer, one of the most common dragonflies of tropical Africa. The latter’s range extends to southern Iberia and I was familiar with them from Portugal in May 2014.

Orange-winged Dropwing

Orange-winged Dropwing

Epaulet Skimmer

Epaulet Skimmer

At the next stop the Orange-wings were competing for space with a much slimmer red Dropwing with black edges to its abdomen. These were Red-veined Dropwing, another of the most numerous African dragonflies.  I also saw the last named the following day at the wadi upstream from the N1 Massa bridge, where the pictures below were taken.

red-veined dropwing.1506 massa valley

Red-veined Dropwing (male)

red-veined dropwing.1511 fem massa valley

Red-veined Dropwing (female)

Though November lies outside the European flight period stated in Dijkstra and Lewington, the medium-sized species in the picture below is a male Ringed Cascader. I watched two of these for some time at my third Paradise Valley stop. According to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species web site (see here), this is a vagrant species in Morocco where there are several recorded breeding sites from which individuals disperse widely. The fast-flying males patrol endlessly and rarely perch. A common dragonfly in tropical Africa, it favours swift-flowing permanent water-courses with rapids and waterfalls. So the habitat here is exactly right.

Mystery dragonfly

Ringed Cascader (male)

My thanks to KD Dijkstra (see here) for confirming that ID. At the Massa bridge wadi I finally caught up with Violet Dropwing, that I also knew well from Portugal. The yellow dragonfly (pictured below), seen near the royal palace south of Agadir is the female of that species.

Violet Dropwing (male)

Violet Dropwing (female)

Violet Dropwing (female)

Banded Groundling, another abundant tropical African species that extends to southern Iberia, was encountered on both my visits to the Souss-Massa national park. These are found typically on rough ground close to grazing animals.

Banded Groundling

Banded Groundling

Lastly, Lesser Emperor were seen at several locations but as is the wont of all Emperors they were not on any day inclined to stop and pose. And at Agadir’s kasbah a bold yellow and black banded number flew past. Female Ringed Cascader or a Goldenring species perhaps … I shall never know.

Moroccan Sahara south of Guelmin – 9th Nov

For my final day in Morocco I ventured a little further afield to experience the semi-desert around 240 km south of Agadir. I met my guide Rachid in the Souss-Massa at Arhbalou shortly after 8:30am and we set off further along the N1. First we drove through the old walled city of Tikrit then through the upland of the Anti-Atlas. As the road ascended the slopes of the latter this (below) was the view northward.

Landscape south of Tikrit

Landscape south of Tikrit

Anti-Atlas landscape

Anti-Atlas landscape

I found the anti-Atlas scenery (above) very pleasing. Its character of rounded hills reminded me of southern Portugal, but the tones here were more golden. And instead of Holm and Cork Oak the trees were mostly Argan, thorny with gnarled trunks and growing up to 10 metres in height. This endemic is mixed in places with tracts of Eucalyptus, introduced by the former French colonists to add life to the desert. South of this upland the flatter land became more arid, then we passed through the military town of Guelmin (or Goulimine). Now it was time to search for some desert birds.

Rachid at work finding desert birds

Rachid’s ability to pick out birds in the stony desert landscape was impressive. First he spotted another Black Wheatear, then the first of today’s several Red-rumped Wheatear (lifer), and two raptors Bonelli’s and Booted Eagle. But I evened things up at one stop by self-finding a female Tristram’s Warbler, an extra lifer for the trip. The last named was buzzing about low in some scrub and the pale blue head alerted me to the local equivalent of Dartford Warbler.

Red-rumped Wheatear

Red-rumped Wheatear

red-rumped wheatear_01.1508 guelmin sahara

red-rumped wheatear_01.1502 guelmin sahara

Red-rumped, Morocco’s commonest desert Wheatear at once became my favourite of the genus. I am fond of all Wheatears and have seen quite a few different species abroad now, but the subtle tones of this one seemed particularly attractive. Separating Crested and Thekla Lark in the field was explained to me again today and now I have pictures to refer to. I hope I have got this right: the easiest diagnostic is the Thekla’s smaller, darker bill.

Thekla Lark today

Thekla Lark today

Crested Lark at Agadir

Crested Lark at Agadir

Where river valleys crossed the landscape there were wadis in places, and in one we observed a Great White Egret and a Purple Heron competing languidly for the same space. Lastly we encountered a soaring Long-legged Buzzard, an important lifer because it is missing from my Cyprus list, and that brought the total new birds for this trip to 16. The only inland birds on my wish list to have got away were hence Barbary Falcon as in Fuerteventura, and Tawny Eagle.

Just after 3pm we began the return journey, and wishing to avoid the HGV traffic on the N1 Rachid opted for another route through the Anti-Atlas via the coastal town of Sidi Ifni. Though a longer way around, the scenery along this route was even more pleasing than in the morning. Today aptly demonstrated how laborious it is to cover even one region of Morocco from a single centre, because we were on the road for more than seven hours for around three hours birding. Sensing my unease at having to drive back to Agadir in the dark, Rachid got out near Massa to take a taxi home, and I completed my journey without mishap.

A grand day out in the desert, Grommit!

A grand day out in the desert, Grommit!

36 more Bald Ibis self-found at Cape Rhir – 8th Nov

Cape Rhir, just south of Tamri on the N1 coast road, is described as the best sea watching site in Atlantic Morocco. Cory’s Shearwater is said to be abundant past there on good days in November, so never having seen one I added the species to my trip wish list. But I have not sea watched previously at all so this was a kind of bonus bird if time allowed.

With only three raptors and Cory’s still to see I decided to give the last named a go today. The coast north of Agadir is characterised by small towns and unspoilt beaches and so is a popular day out from the city. It was only on the way back that I noticed all the hoardings announcing land earmarked for hotel and golf course development. Temperatures today reached 33 deg C and so the birdier places that I had noted last Monday had filled up with people instead.

I couldn’t be sure whether I picked out Cory’s or not, having no experience of Shearwaters to refer back to, but there were a lot of Northern Gannet out to sea and a flock of Common Scoter. I moved on to a lay by overlooking the Oued Tinkert estuary at Tamri and was immediately accosted by hustlers offering to locate Bald Ibis for money. One who was too pushy for my liking insisted on pointing out an Ibis perched on a roof on the far side of the estuary. I thanked him and said I had not asked him to do so, adding that I had already seen Ibis at 50 metres. No was taken for an answer.

I was actually more interested in trying to locate Slender-billed amongst the Gulls, without success though there were a lot of Audouin’s my favourite gull. It looked as if the playing public had seen off everything else and so I returned to the spot where I had been sea watching. It was now approaching 3pm and there seemed to be much less going on out at sea. Then in flew a flock of large black birds, landing just behind the beach where local fishermen were working. “Surely not,” I thought but a look through my scope confirmed that Tamri’s famous Bald Ibis colony had just found me.

Well what does one do if 36 or so of Morocco’s most sought bird drop in unexpectedly like that? It would be rude not to say hello. A rough track ran down from where I was parked to the area the Ibis were grazing. “Well why not?” I thought, “There’s no-one to tell me off here.” I drove slowly towards the birds and stopped a safe distance short of them, hoping they would walk towards me as at the Souss-Massa park.

And did they? Oh boy they did! Before too long I was sitting in my mobile hide surrounded on three sides by iridescent, pink-faced and primitive looking Bald Ibis. These birds really are like grazing animals, moving around quite quickly while probing the whole time for whatever they eat. If it had been highly satisfying to observe them so closely at Souss-Massa, this was off the top of the scale and the self-found sightings are always the best. I couldn’t resist a text to both Ewan and Andy, and old ear basher replied that now I can call myself a birder.

The following are amongst my better photographs

Grazing Bald Ibis

Grazing Bald Ibis

bald ibis_01.1520 cape rhir

“3 dirham on the price of a loaf, dear” …. “No!”

“Not such a good lizard year” …. “Can anyone see one”

“Chelsea lost again then” …. “Can’t be long for Jose now”

“33 degrees today” …. “Think we’re in for a hot winter”

Or whatever it is that Bald Ibis talk about

Though they seemed unconcerned by my vehicle for some time, eventually the Ibis began to become more skittish so I decided to leave them in peace. As I departed the site they were grazing close by the opposite side of the N1 where they had relocated. Here was one of the world’s rarest birds on public view, a bird tour leader’s dream scenario, but how many people in the cars speeding by even noticed the Ibis were there I wouldn’t like to say.

Souss Massa National Park, Morocco – 4, 6 & 7th Nov

There can be no doubt that this designated protection area is the outstanding birding location on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. 70 km from north to south and up to 15 km in width, it covers 33,800 ha of land and contains 23 villages. In a word it is huge and I was advised strongly by Ewan to engage an official guide, of which seven work on any day. The mouth of the Oued Massa, the park’s second major watercourse, is reached along a minor road from the N1 signposted Sidi Rabat. After turning right at a village Arhbalou a rough road leads down into the Massa valley and a nature reserve area.

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On Wednesday morning I was greeted there by a guide, English-speaking Rachid Baitar. He asked me which birds I wanted to see then recommended going for the Bald Ibis first since they can take some time to find. But all the guides have a good idea of where these most sought birds might be on any day in a higher area between the Massa valley and the coast. Rachid also took over all the driving duties leaving me free to relax in the passenger seat with my binoculars and camera scanning for birds myself and getting onto my guide’s sightings.

The car hire proprietor in Agadir had said I didn’t need a 4×4 to go off road here and Rachid clearly agreed, taking the Dacia along rough tracks that I wouldn’t have dared to attempt into all manner of off-piste places. It soon became clear that it would be extremely difficult to bird this vast expanse of habitat successfully without a guide. We tried several known Ibis locations without success but in the process saw Moussier’s Redstart, Laughing Dove, Southern Grey Shrike, three separate Little Owl and a group of several Stone Curlew.

Little Owl

Little Owl

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew

The national park owes its designation in part to the need to protect the Ibis, around which there is constant security against poaching. Eventually Rachid punched the air upon locating a group of more than 30 Bald Ibis grazing near a cliff top to one side of the road. My guide then left to buy cigarettes in the nearby village, warning me to approach very gradually and not get too close. There was no need because these birds soon began to walk towards me, grazing all the while and crossing within 50 metres. When Rachid returned at the same time as one of the security men we all three stood and delighted at being in such close proximity to these rare treasures. This (pictured below) is what is known as a result.

Bald Ibis

Bald Ibis

Take that one to heart!

Take that one to heart!

Who's a pretty boy then?

Who’s a pretty boy then?

We now turned our attention to finding Marbled Duck and Black-crowned Tchagara, searching several locations along the Oued Massa that here forms the most northerly wadi (oasis) of Morocco’s Sahara region. Driving around it really struck me how though this is a conservation area of huge biological importance, life in its villages and particularly small scale agriculture goes on as it always has done and in harmony with nature.

Life locally goes on as normal

Life locally goes on as normal

In one village Brown-throated Martin were active, a winter breeding hirundine found only in Morocco in this part of the world. And that was the 10th lifer for this trip. The Marbled Duck were as Rachid put it taking a holiday but we did find a pair of Ferruginous Duck, a rarity for Morocco; and most surprisingly of all a lone Barnacle Goose. The wardens didn’t seem to have an idea of plasticity, so I took their word this was only the second ever sighting in the park. Glossy Ibis were present in good numbers and artistic arrangements.

Glossy Ibis grand central

Glossy Ibis grand central

More Glossy Ibis

More Glossy Ibis

What's a nice goose like you doing in a place like this?

What’s a nice goose like you doing in a place like this?

The conclusion grew in me today that birding alone in Morocco would be difficult, due to the lack of a developed nature reserve or hiking infrastructure, and the largeness of the sites I have visited. There is always the question of just where to start looking and getting into seemingly birdy places invariably means going where the presence of a foreigner arouses curiosity. Far better to be with a Moroccan with a smart phone who knows what’s up every farm track and is acquanted with the locals. So I decided against any day trips further afield for fear of getting hot and bothered going a long way and not seeing very much.

This loss of confidence grew when returning to Agadir on Wednesday I became completely lost in the manic rush hour traffic and took a long time to find my hotel. I commented that driving during the day here was fun in its way, but now it was just plain scary. How I have yet to see or be involved in a road traffic accident I do not know. It was only today at the third attempt that I worked out the right way back to Agadir’s tourist district and I am also finding the heat here quite exhausting by late afternoon.

N1 bridge over the Oued Massa

N1 bridge over the Oued Massa

Yesterday (Friday) I visited a site furher south where the N1 crosses the Oued Massa (pictured above). The bridge here is currently a construction site but parking was possible on land to the east of the road. This overlooks a small dam behind which lies a rather birdy wadi. There were lots of Laughing Dove here, very beautiful doves that I am pleased to have caught up with on this trip. Also more Brown-throated Martin, as well as Barn Swallow, Spanish Sparrow and assorted small passerines. I also came across new dragonfly species, and saw a Plain Tiger butterfly flop over a wall and out of sight. And just who is this handsome boy or girl (pictured below), the biggest spider I’ve ever seen.

Pretty serious spiders out here!

Pretty serious spiders out here!

Then I heard a Black-crowned Tchagara calling, that I recognised from Rachid mimicking one. I traced it to some palm trees but then a boy came walking along and when the bird called again it was from nearer his village. The boy then seemed to be just behind me wherever I went, further demonstrating it is difficult to be alone in the wild for long in this country.

This morning (Saturday) I met Rachid again to resume our search for the birds missed first time around. The truth of my conviction that birding here is difficult alone was proven by ticking three more lifers off the trip wish list. At our first stop, while searching for Marbled Duck I picked up a Falcon that was clearly not a Kestrel. Rachid confirmed it was a Lanner. Then he grasped my arm and pointed to a nearby palm tree in which was perched a rather dashing Black-crowned Tchagara, a north-west African resident.

Black-crowned Tchagara

Black-crowned Tchagara

It now remained to find Marbled Duck. We revisited likely sites from Wednesday eventually finding four, and that was the 13th trip lifer. The Fudge Duck were still present and two more Black-crowned Tchagara put in an appearance while we were watching the wildfowl. Mission having been accomplished I opted for an afternoon of rest back at the hotel, but not before engaging Rachid again to take me to the nearest area of desert on my last day, Monday.

Marbled Ducks

Marbled Ducks

Fudge Duck

Fudge Duck

... and another Tchagara

… and another Tchagara

Rachid Baitar grew up in the village in which the Souss Massa National Park centre is located. He also organises and leads bird tours in other areas of Morocco. I get on well with him, am struck by his love of wildlife and concern for conservation, and find him an excellent guide. His contact details are – Tel: +212 671 184 137. Email: rachirard09@hotmail.fr

Royal and Lesser Crested Terns and more at Souss estuary, Agadir – 3rd Nov

This has been another successful day with four more lifers gained, taking the trip total to nine out of a potential 18 or so in the Atlantic coast region. I was a little concerned for my state of health yesterday evening but a huge night’s sleep has seen off my sense of exhaustion, and anti-inflammatory cream bought from a local pharmacy has kept my jarred shoulder in order.

The mouth of the Oued Souss lies just to the south of Agadir and my dated trip reference suggested it is hard by the royal summer palace here. So I took the first right turn past the palace that led to what looked like the king’s tradesman’s entrance. Thinking better of parking there I took another option and ended up in a run down housing district. Quite a juxtaposition that! There was no sign of an access track to the estuary so I went back to the palace car park where something serious was clearly going on .

Despite a significant security presence nobody challenged me when I parked, so conscious of carrying a lot of optics close to a heavily guarded secure compound I walked off into a dune area between there and a golf course. While searching for a way down to the estuary a first Moussier’s Redstart for the trip popped out of a hedge in front of me. This iconic Moroccan passerine was encountered in several more locations over the ensuing days.

Moussier's Redstart

Moussier’s Redstart

Eventually I reached the estuary and an empty parking area at the end of what was clearly the access road I should have come in by. Scanning around there were numbers of large water birds – Greater Flamingo, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Cormorant and Spoonbill – and an array of common waders that I didn’t study too closely. Then an English speaking camel walker appeared. On discovering I was English he said “lovely jubbly” as other Moroccans have this week, then he asked me to show his customers the birds. I pointed out the Flamingos assuming they would be a popular choice, then wandered off along a way marked trail.

The trouble was all the bird life was into the sun, but the highlight came with a fly past by a Royal Tern, first one way then the other. This large, orange-billed Tern is primarily a north American species but also breeds in Africa from Mauritania down to Guinea (per Collins). Wanderers further north are said to be a scarcity in Morocco so this felt like a good sighting.

Laughing Dove

Laughing Dove

On the return walk through the dunes I disturbed both Barbary Patridge and Laughing Dove, the latter being a lifer missed in Fuerteventura and the former one from that trip about which all doubt needed to be removed. This is the only Partridge in Morocco so I ticked it on that basis. I also PI’d some highly attractive African Blue Tit here, a species experienced only as a fly past in Fuerteventura. So that was a few loose ends tied up from this year’s other trip.

Back at the car park security finally caught up with me. The police inspected every image on my camera that fortunately they didn’t confiscate. Shouldn’t happen to a birder after all, and I have to say they were very decent about things. I left with a warning and went to find the right access road further south along the N1 that was signposted Embouchure du Souss. Then I returned to my hotel for lunch.

Blue-cheeked Moroccan Magpie

Blue-cheeked Moroccan Magpie

Driving the main N1 thoroughfare in Agadir is a fun experience in a dodgem circuit sort of way. Cars all jostle for position with each other and every kind of dated motor bike imaginable. Hesitation merely creates space for others to zip through on either side but no-one seems to hit one another. And as soon as traffic lights change, that can be difficult to spot if other vehicles haven’t stopped already, those a few cars back all start hooting. I was a little disappointed that donkey carts and camels weren’t also in the mix.

I returned to the Souss estuary just before dusk hoping to scope the far shore in a better light. But the sun was now very low in the sky making scanning quite difficult. The parking area had also filled up with Moroccan general public doing all sorts of unbirdy things. But I walked a short distance and sifted through what gulls and other birds I could. And there amongst the loafing Sandwich Terns was a similar sized and orange-billed Lesser Crested Tern. This is a Libyan breeder that winters on the north-west African coast (also per Collins). I suddenly felt an immense sense of satisfaction at having gained both the Tern trip targets at this location today. I was also relieved as it didn’t strike me as an especially good site to revisit.

Distant Lesser Crested Tern

Distant Lesser Crested Tern

While de-tooling back at my car a greeting rang out: “Hey England, how are you?” The camel train was returning as flocks of Cattle Egret flew in to roost overhead. “Lovely jubbly!” I replied.

Bald Ibis nailed at Tamri, though distantly – 2nd Nov

Bald Ibis is described as one of the world’s rarest birds and for that reason is also one of the most sought after species in Morocco, a must see. There are two locations for it on either side of Agadir. The first is the Souss-Massa national park to the south where they range over a wide area that is best accessed in a 4×4. The second is 60 km to the north around a small town Tamri at the western edge of the Atlas mountains on the N1 coast road. I had decided before coming here that the latter would probably be the easier option.

I have tried my best to find a Suzuki Jimny or similar vehicle for this trip, but have ended up with a rather battered and unvaleted Moroccan Dacia saloon. I prefer to deal with small local hire companies recommended by the hotel since they usually include all insurances in the day rate, are not too fussy about where I take the car, and do not require large returnable excesses up front. Today’s deal was typical at about £28 a day and took most of the morning to conclude, as things do in Morocco. But no matter since my guide book says Bald Ibis are best looked for at Tamri around the middle of the day.

Oued Tinkert estuary at Tamri

Oued Tinkert estuary at Tamri

My first experience of driving in Morocco seemed longer than the stated 60 km. Just before Tamri the road turns sharply inland along the Oued Tinkert estuary. On arriving in the town just after 1pm a souk (market) was in progress, so I saw some authentic Moroccan sights. But the question as so often abroad was where to start looking for the Ibis. I headed back to the river mouth on the coast that is said to be a reliable spot for them. Then on setting out off piste on foot a mishap befell me. Crossing some wet sandy soil I completely lost my footing and was unable to correct it, landing flat on my backside in the mud and jarring my right shoulder nastily attempting to break my fall. Returning across the same unavoidable ground and trying to be more careful, exactly the same thing happened again. The Dacia was about to become a little more unvaleted than previously.

This was only my second accident in four years of solo adventuring in wild places, but being already exhausted from my exertions on day one I felt quite shook up. I decided to stay with the car and scan over the estuary from the roadside, finding loitering groups of Audouin’s Gull and Sandwich Tern, and an Osprey. Eventually I was approached by a young Moroccan from a nearby village who said he knew where to find the Ibis. I had been led to expect this and so engaged him as a guide.

As we spoke my new companion pointed out a Bald Ibis flying in off the sea towards the area where he said we should look. We then drove around to the far side of the estuary and into an area of sand and scrub sloping down towards the beach. My guide found more groups of birds flying offshore saying they were Ibis though I couldn’t be sure he was always right. But eventually there was a second nailed-on sighting, also flying in off the sea. Now I could return home without fearing an ear bashing from Ewan for dipping this Moroccan must see, and the Souss-Massa was still to come.

Tamri and my local guide

Tamri, the Dacia and my local guide