20 March 2013

The owl and the francolin: 20 March

Started the day birding around the hunting lodge at Sidi Yahya Zaer, the only remaining outpost in the Western Palearctic for Double-spurred Francolin. After waiting a while a bird started calling from an unviewable area of scrub, but just then we were approached by a local claiming to be a 'forest guardian', who could show us the birds. Well, the locals hadn't let us down so far on this trip as far as showing us birds goes, so we all pile into our hire, ahem, Renault Kangoo (you might mock but those sliding doors are bloody awesome for birding), and start off up some unmarked dirt track. Faith in our guardian plummeted after he strung 2 Barbary Partridge for francolins, but minutes later we found this fella running up and down the track.

Double-spurred Francolin in it's natural pen, er sorry I mean habitat, at Sidi Yahya Zaer

Double-spurred Francolin with the chain-wire fence cropped out to allow easier ticking. Phew!

Interestingly, and more than a little concerning for our up until now unblemished conscious, even though the bird could have easily evaded our attention by escaping across the road into cover, instead it was intent on trying to get into a fenced off area on the other side of the road, i.e. back into it's pen! We pondered it's origin, we slapped it on the list, we said goodbye to our new Moroccan friend, we drove on - not necessarily in that order (for Darryl's much better account see here). 2 Green Sandpiper and 1 Booted Eagle were also noted here.

A stop en route northwards at Lake Sidi Boughaba National Park, a freshwater lake, produced a good suite of wetland birds including 13+ (4m, 9+f) White-headed Duck, 7 (inc. 3 juv) Red-knobbed Coot, 2m Ferruginous Duck, 1 Great White Egret, 2 Purple Gallinule, 4 'Moroccan' Wagtail Motacilla alba subpersonata, 9 Greater Flamingo, several Great Crested Grebe, 3 Little Grebe, several Red-crested Pochard and Common Pochard. Overhead, 13+ White Storks, 1 Booted Eagle, several Marsh Harriers and Black Kites were noted. Several Spanish Terrapins Mauremys leprosa were also noted.

Red-knobbed Coot

A few hours from late afternoon to dusk at Merdja Zerga on Morocco's north-west coast eventually produced good, if rather distant, views of our second main target of the day - a Marsh Owl. While waiting for the owls to appear we were joined by several locals offering to running into the marsh and flush the birds, however, we made it clear that we did not want them to do this (if you visit this site please discourage them from disturbing the owls). Also noted here were 1-2 Mediterranean Gull, 1000+ Avocet, 100+ Black-tailed Godwit, many Grey Plover, 1 Whimbrel, a few Collared Pratincole, 1 Squacco Heron, 5 Ferruginous Duck, 2 Shelduck, 2 Caspian Tern, 2+m Marsh Harrier, 1 Little Owl, 2+ Redshank, 15 Little Egret, Reed Bunting (H), 1 Hoopoe and a surprise summer plumage male Brambling.

Adult summer Brambling at Merdja Zerga

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