Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Morocco, South of Guelmin, ''the Gateway to the Desert'', 2nd and 3rd February, 2014

PART 1, of a 5 Day Trip to Morocco,

1st February to 6th February, 2014

Research for this trip, the organising of 4 x 4, the desert hotel for base, most of the driving, big thanks to Jono,  Mick, for additional research and planning, a bit of driving and some questionable navigation assistance !
I am tagging along in the back seat, hoping to take a few photographs !

Jono's fluent French helped to get us through all translation problems !
Most useful when caught by the ''Moroccan Highway patrol  speed traps'' !
Complete with 'stingers' and radar camera !
Many ''speed traps'' !
We got captured THREE times ! (Jono was driving on all three occasions ? )

for full trip report and a super write up

We plan to spend two days based 17 km East of Guelmin
On two days, we will travel south from Guelmin on the N1 towards Tan Tan to the 22km and the 100 km markers specified in the Gosney Guide

Target : to see and photograph desert birds, !
Larks, Wheatear and hopefully for me a Cream-coloured Courser !

To then return north to just 50 km south of Agadir, to visit the Oued Massa Reserve area,
hopefully to find Bald Ibis (Jono's big wish to see).
My big wish here, is to see Black-crowned Tchagra,

We intend to spend 1 day around the Oued Massa area, then travel back further north of Agadir.
To a fish processing factory on the coast next to the fishing port of Anza ! Here we want to look at Gulls !

Then Day 5 return to Marrakesh for the return to London. That's the general plan !

Saturday, 1st February, 2014

04.00 hours, Jono, Mick and myself meet up at Dartford, a drive to Gatwick, car parked and boarded separate flights, Jono, BA, Mick and myself, Easyjet, the c07.00 flights to Marrakesh, Morocco.

Jono has arrived Morocco 30 minutes before us and has the 4 X 4 ready and is waiting !

We headed south on the main motorway to Agadir, continuing further south on the N1, crossing the Anti Atlas mountains with the intention of making it to Guelmin before dark !  Total distance 450 km.
4 brief stop offs :  1. buy water, 2. buy oranges and bananas, 3. speeding in the Anti Alas mountain area ! and a further half hour stop to watch 4 Moussier's Redstart,
I took photo's, none decent ! (all in the bin !)

We arrived, Guelmin, ''the gateway to the desert'' at dusk, we continued east on the N12 towards Assa, 17 km we find a sign for the hotel, now we are in total darkness, following some big white arrows daubed on the sides of buildings, Jono negotiated with some dodgy driving manoeuvres for us to arrive at the hotel, Chambres d'Hotes Nomades, base for the next two nights !

Sunday, 2nd February.

We are out later than hoped for, at Guelmin, we head out south on the N1 to the Guelmin 22 km marker, as per Gosney guide. Here we turned off road, facing west, the sun behind us, into the desert for about 200 metres, just to get away from the road,  parking the 4x4 then its out on foot, I went due west, not far, keeping the car in sight ! Mick, always on a marathon has headed out left of me, Jono headed out to my right ! Fanning out to give best coverage, we have walkie talkies for communication.

Immediately I found Thekla Lark and Red-rumped Wheatear

Thekla Lark

Red-rumped Wheatear, male

Red-rumped Wheatear, female

I had spent about an hour photographing when 'over the walkie talkie' Mick calls that he has found a

***Thick-billed Lark***

***Temminck's Lark***

It is only 10.30 hours, we have exhausted this area, into the 4 x4, and head out, approx NW across the desert. We know that we will eventually join a road at some point that runs out of nearer Guelmin towards the Atlantic coast line, some c20 km

stopping for a cracking Great Grey Shrike !

Great Grey Shrike

another stop, once again, we fan out

Jono heading out to my left !

Mick, off on another mission, heading out to my right !

Also seeing, (no photo's)

Desert Wheatear, (several, but never close for me !)
Hoopoe Lark, 2, (distant and brief view)
Desert Lark,
Trumpeter Finch, small flocks, very mobile
Common Buzzard


22 km south of Goulmin on N1, c15 km NW
Mick and Jono

we came to the road, turned west, followed the road c5 km to the Atlantic coast !

Little Owl

towards the coast, the light is getting very poor, coastal cloud and gloom

arriving, ''Chatea El Abiel'' the Atlantic swell was pounding in,
down on the estuary

Slender-billed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Caspian Tern
Kentish Plover, 6+

We do not linger long, photo opportunity NILL, move on, back inland towards Guelmin.

The light is super poor,

***Black Wheatear***

driving further inland back towards Guelmin, the day is nearly over, we see

Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Little-ringed Plover
Long-legged Buzzard

arriving back towards Guelmin c 18.00 hours,
first shop, stock up on 10 of bread,  lots of bananas and oranges

Back at hotel, very little water comes out of the tap ! and its cold water !
Evening meal tonight is '''CAMEL tureen'''   ! ! !
I have three bits of sliced potato from the top and three bits of giant carrot ! Suffice for me !
The boys done the whole tureen, with Jono cleaning the gravy up !


Day 3, Monday, 3rd February, 2014

We are up before dawn,
we leave Guelmin on the N1 heading south towards the 100 km rock, Gosney guide

Again off road heading west, about 5 km, park 4 x 4, fan out into the desert.
Today, the light is difficult !

All 800 ISO today with rapid changing light, AV only solution !

I am about 3/4 km due west of the car, Jono is somewhere far to my left and Mick is far out to my right !

Red-rumped Wheatear

I spent some time with this pair of Red-rumped Wheatear.
I looked up to get my bearings,
Where am I   ? ?

I scanned the horizon starting north, turning west going south,
A herd of goat passing across the desert about 1 km north.
The goat herders dogs was barking in the distance,
No sign of Jono or Mick !
The barking dogs seem much closer than the goat herd, in fact they are only about half a kilometre away, they also have ''fanned out'' and are coming to have a look at me !
one is approaching from 30 degrees left, one 30 degrees right and one straight towards me, now probably 300 metres away ! The barking is the dogs communicating !  the approach they were using is skilled ?

More important, I see a bird on a bush, some 50 metres away, long tail, curved bill, I can't think, I know I just got to get closer for a record shot !

I edge forward as carefully as possible, the bird is looking 'over shoulder' at the barking dog now some 200 metres away, this allows me to get forward rapid to enable one burst with the shutter, the bird heard the shutter, then one straight look at me, another shutter burst and the bird disappeared ! !

***Fulvious Babler ***

Superb ! !

I took 3 quick landscape views,

First looking to my right !

another looking forward !

and another to my right

Who cares ! It's superb out here !
I relaxed, the dogs relaxed, they had seen what they wanted to see, me !     Curiosity !
They disappeared back to look after the goats !

I called in on the 'walkie talkie' !
Mick's reply, ''6/7 km north west of car'',
Jono reply '' 2/3 km from car'',
I know I am nearer Mick !
Jono has keys for car, returns to car, then comes to find us !

I pass the next half hour first with another Temminck's Lark

Then a passing small flock of passing Bar-tailed Larks !
very rapid little birds, never still for a split second !

Looking up from the Bar-tailed Lark,

Is it a pile of rocks ?    No, it's Mick getting low on Temmincks !

We see Jono in the 4 x 4 aproaching distant, ''walkie talkie'' and he is picking us up !

Now in 4 x 4 we travel further into desert !

Black-bellied Sandgrouse, 13
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, 1

Black-bellied Sandgrouse, (12 only B-b in this image)

another Thekla Lark

the morning session is over !

the light is getting a bit harsh and it's time to be moving on out of the desert .
We want to travel north towards Agadir
for an afternoon photo session at the Ouede Massa, 100 km north ?

Jono heads for the road, crossing a flat plain, Jono is driving fast, he has got quite comfortable with his desert driving skills and loving it !

Mick calls             ''STOP''          ''Cream-coloured Courser'',
Just how Mick picked up this C-c C is astounding ! !

it takes me time to get on it !

now we see there is 2 Cream-coloured Courser, the birds are very mobile !

Jono, with a careful approach, positioned the 4 x 4 allowing a couple of photo opportunities !

***Cream-coloured Courser***

Back on the road, the N1, we head north towards Guelmin,

One last stop at Oued Boukila, still 10k south of  Guelmin.
Here to check out for possible Scrub Warbler (Gosney guide).
Mick heard and found one, Jono got a look at it (a new tick on his WP list ? )
Not a chance in hell of a photo ! I did not try very hard !

Ruddy Shellduck, 1, by the water treatment area

c13.30 hours, we headed north for the Oued Massa.