18 March 2013

Combing the bald patch: 18 March

The main target today was the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita. Formally widespread across much of Southern and Central Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East (even appearing in Egyptian hieroglyphics), Northern Bald Ibis underwent a calamitous decline over the last 400 to 500 years, until just two disjunct populations remained, a migratory population in the east in Turkey, and another, resident population, in coastal Morocco. Good numbers remained in Turkey up until the mid 1900s, but were declared extinct in 1992 leaving just the Moroccan population, until 2002 when a tiny number were rediscovered in Syria. Today the total global population consists of around 500 wild birds in Morocco, about 10 in Syria, 100 reintroduced birds in Turkey and a small number also reintroduced in Spain.

In Morocco, the area to see these birds is the Souss-Massa National Park (created in 1991 and protecting 95% of the world's remaining Northern Bald Ibis), and the cliff tops at nearby Tamri. Urbanisation, disturbance and changes in farming practices are the main threats faced by the Moroccan ibises nowadays, but the park has successfully blocked building on their breeding and feeding areas. This, together with local wardens employed by SEO/BirdLife monitoring and raising local awareness of the bird's plight, has led to a slow increase in the Moroccan population (Wise Birding are donating 3% of the cost of this tour to SEO/BirdLife). The difference in breeding success inside and outside the park couldn't be more stark. Breeding in Souss-Massa last year was similar to the previous year, with 34 pairs (two less than 2011) hatching 95 chicks (one less than 2011), although at Tamri, which is unprotected, no eggs hatched in 2012.

After drawing a blank at Souss-Massa, we eventually found 23+ ibises (including a few immatures) feeding at close range on the hillside north of Tamri Estuary.

Northern Bald Ibis, Tamri - not a looker

Northern Bald Ibis, Tamri

1 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Common Sandpiper, 2+ 'Moroccan' Wagtail were noted on Tamri Estuary and a few Audouin's Gull (including a ringed bird) and Yellow-legged Gull were amongst a large number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the beach. Offshore many Northern Gannets were moving north, and overhead several Red-rumped Swallow were noted.

'Moroccan' Wagtail Motacilla alba subpersonata

Souss-Massa this morning was still productive with 2 Black-crowned Tchagra, 2f and 1f Moussier's Redstart (including a nesting pair), 2 Barbary Dove, 1 Great White Egret (scarce in Morocco), 2 Barbary Partridge, 1 Caspian Tern, 1m Montagu's Harrier, 1 Wryneck, 1 Alpine Swift, 1 Common Swift, 7 Audouin's Gull, c100 Sandwich Tern, 1 Spoonbill, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Little Owl, 1f Blue Rock Thrush and several Linnet were amongst the large number of species seen.

Male Moussier's Redstart, Souss-Massa - a looker

Little Owl, Souss-Massa

Common Bulbul, Souss-Massa

A quick stop further up the Souss-Massa produced the hoped for Brown-throated Martin, along with 1 Sedge Warbler, 1m Stonechat, 2 'White-breasted' Cormorants, 1 Common Sandpiper and a Yellow Wagtail.

The white breasted NW African race of Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo maroccanus

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