10 March 2013

The High Atlas Mountains: 10 March

Much of the Moroccan landscape is dominated by the Atlas Mountains that trend west-south-west/east-north-east right across the country as well as into northern Algeria and Tunisia, separating the Atlantic and Mediterranean climate regions from the dry heat of the Sahara in the south. Comprised of three separate ranges, the most dramatic, the High Atlas, reaches over 4,000 m in places and is home to a number of high altitude specialities. Today we drove south from Marrakesh along the Ourika Valley up to the ski resort of Oukaimeden, situated at 2,600 m.

Highlights at Oukaimeden included 30+ 'African' Crimson-winged Finch, 40+ 'Atlas' Horned Lark, several Rock Sparrow, large numbers of Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs, 1 Black Wheatear, 1-2 Long-legged Buzzard, 3 Mistle Thrush (of the very distinctive Moroccan race deisleri), and two surprises in the form of a superb full summer plumage male Brambling and 2+m European Chaffinch feeding around the ski lifts. Also noted were 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 Crag Martin, 2 Dipper, 1f flava Yellow Wagtail, 1 Common Kestrel, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Goldfinch (Moroccan subspecies pava) and 2 Common Raven.

'African' Crimson-winged Finch Rhodopechys sanguineus alienus. These birds
move to lower altitudes for the winter, when they can be found around the ski
lifts at Oukaimeden, returning to higher atlitudes to breed.

'African' Crimson-winged Finch Rhodopechys sanguineus alienus

'African' Crimson-winged Finch Rhodopechys sanguineus alienus. Note the
chin.

'Atlas' Horned Lark. This subspecies, E. a. atlas, is endemic to the Atlas
Mountains - note the plain rufous nape.

Small numbers of the nominate subspecies of Chaffinch, F. c. coelebs, winter
in the High Atlas

Oukaimeden lies within the Toubkal National Park

Oukaimeden

Various roadside stops in the Ourika Valley produced excellent views of 3 Levaillant's Green Woodpecker, 2 mauritanus Great Spotted Woodpecker, 4-5 African Blue Tit, 2 Great Tit, 1 'Atlas' Coal Tit, 1-2 Song Thrush, 2 'Moroccan' Blackbird (T. merula mauritanicus), several Common Bulbul, 2 more Grey Wagtail, 1 Black Wheatear, 1m Blackcap, plenty of 'African' Chaffinch, 1 Hawfinch, 2 Greenfinch, 10 Goldfinch, lots of Serin, 1 Common Raven, 1 Rock Bunting, 1f Cirl Bunting, and several House Bunting. Also noted a male Moussier's Redstart from the car.

House Bunting

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