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!

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