Thursday 15th September 2016
SOUTHERN SPAIN & MOROCCO - MARSH OWLS & MIGRATION
Thursday 15th - Tuesday 20th September 2016
The group met bright and early at Gatwick and once checked in, we partook in breakfast before boarding the flight to Malaga. Due to congestion on the runway, we took off slightly later than planned but luckily made up time.
Just as we were coming in to land at a very sunny Malaga, the pilot suddenly pulled up and had to circle around again. This was due to the aircraft in front of us hitting a bird and the resulting debris had to be cleared before we could land!
After getting our luggage we met up with local guide and good friend Josele and whilst everyone was sorting out optics etc, Josele and Steve headed off to get the minibuses.
We were soon on our way and heading westwards past the resorts of Torremolinos and Marbella. Stopping off for a comfort break close to the town of Algericas gave us the opportunity to see our first raptors with two SHORT-TOED EAGLES and two GRIFFON VULTURES drifting over. The remainder of the journey produced a few KESTRELS plus a male MARSH HARRIER.
We then headed to the marshes at Barbate and pulling off the road were immediately confronted with a flock of BALD IBIS! These birds had been introduced to the area and most birds were ringed although we did find a couple of birds without rings so they were tickable.
It was great to see them as they fed on the ground before being disturbed and then they gave us all great flight views. Five birds landed in front of us and fed unconcerned close to the van, a good start to the tour!
The next couple of hours were spent scanning the wetlands which held quite a few gulls and waders including a lovely flock of AUDOUIN'S GULLS including some immature birds. Waders included BLACK-WINGED STILT, KENTISH & RINGED PLOVERS, SANDERLING, DUNLIN, REDSHANK, GREENSHANK, GREY PLOVER and COMMON SANDPIPER whilst other goodies included OSPREY, GREATER FLAMINGO, SPOONBILL plus LITTLE and CATTLE EGRETS.
Bordering the water were some nice clumps of tamarisks which on closer inspection, held quite a few migrants including several IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF which gave good views plus SARDINIAN WARBLER, COMMON REDSTART, GARDEN WARBLER, TURTLE DOVE and SPOTTED FLYCATCHER.
The dry land held small numbers of CRESTED LARKS plus a small flock of CALANDRA LARKS flew through which was good to see. Our return journey produced a couple of WHINCHATS on fence lines.
We arrived at our hotel at around 7.00pm and after checking in, had some time to relax and unpack before meeting to complete the bird list with a cold beer. Then we enjoyed a lovely meal with salad to start followed by a kind of swordfish with a lovely apple pudding for desert.
After a long day, it was great to get to bed for some well-deserved rest.
Friday 16th September 2016
We met for breakfast at 7.30am where we tucked into a great selection of food, setting us up for the day. Whilst eating, a pair of LITTLE OWLS were seen across the road.
The morning was spent at La Janda which was alive with birds as soon as we left the main road. STONECHATS and FAN-TAILED WARBLERS were incredibly numerous along with HOUSE SPARROWS, SERINS and CORN BUNTINGS.
As we drove along the track, a SPECTACLED WARBLER was seen flitting along the road and skulking in the bushes but remained quite elusive as it kept low down. WHITE STORKS stood around in fields and several TURTLE DOVES were noted.
Reaching a large area of rice paddies, we saw our first flocks of GLOSSY IBIS flying over and a few individuals posed nicely for photographs. CATTLE EGRETS were incredibly numerous with around 500 birds feeding on a newly harvested field.
Waders were in evidence too with a few GREEN SANDPIPERS in the ditches but a more open area of rice paddy held LITTLE RINGED & RINGED PLOVERS, LITTLE STINT, DUNLIN, COMMON SANDPIPER, RUFF and WOOD SANDPIPER plus a few BLACK-WINGED STILTS.
The lovely warm weather meant that raptors were around hunting and during our time here we enjoyed good views of a GRIFFON VULTURE on the ground plus SPARROWHAWK, MARSH HARRIERS and a couple of juvenile MONTAGU'S HARRIERS which gracefully quartered the fields. The best of the bunch were two BLACK-WINGED KITES that flew over the fields.
Papyrus-lined ditches held CETTI'S WARBLERS plus both HOUSE & SPANISH SPARROWS and a surprise was a singing MELODIOUS WARBLER that was heard only. A few IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFFS flitted around in a bush and gave reasonable views before flying off.
Scanning the skies reaped dividends when amongst the PALLID & COMMON SWIFTS, a WHITE-RUMPED SWIFT appeared briefly and two lucky members of the group got good views as it powered northwards. We all however, managed good views of a flock of ALPINE SWIFTS that wheeled around above our heads offering good photographic opportunities.
We tried to find Red-necked Nightjar at a daytime roost but unfortunately, a warden turned up and moved us on.
It was then off for lunch which was the most amazing tapas ever! We tucked into many different dishes which were fantastic and certainly filled us up for the afternoon birding session!
We headed back across La Janda and came across a kettle of raptors that included mostly GRIFFON VULTURES and a dark-phase BOOTED EAGLE was nice to see. After traversing the bumpy tracks where a couple of MONTAGU'S HARRIERS were seen we drove down towards Tarifa and visited a raptor watch point in the hills.
It was pretty quiet although several pale-phase BOOTED EAGLES kept us entertained, as did a flock of 54 BEE-EATERS that flew high overhead straight out towards Morocco!
It wasn't just birds though with LONG-TAILED BLUE BUTTERFLY plus MOORISH GECKO seen.
With time getting on, we headed back to the hotel for a shower before meeting in the outside bar where we watched the sunset. The sky was alight with red which was truly amazing!
Our evening meal was once again delicious with vegetable soup to start followed by steak and chips and ice cream and chocolate to finish.
We headed off after what had been a good day and looked forward to moving over to Morocco the following day.
Saturday 17th September 2016
Meeting once again for an early breakfast gave us the opportunity to get to some birding sites before people were up and about. After loading up the vans with our luggage, we drove south to an area of sandy coastal margin that overlooked a large area of mudflats.
There were plenty of waders spread out over the whole area most of which were SANDERLING plus RINGED & KENTISH PLOVERS, BAR-TAILED GODWITS, GREENSHANK, WHIMBREL, OYSTERCATCHER, COMMON SANDPIPER and DUNLIN.
With the light behind us, it was great to be able to pick out quite a few CORY'S SHEARWATERS shearing close to the shore and a scan of the roosting gulls yielded a few AUDOUIN'S and YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS.
A MONARCH BUTTERFLY gave super views as it perched on a thistle before flying in the blustery conditions and with a few raptors appearing over the hills that included BLACK KITE and SHORT-TOED EAGLE, we opted to head up to the nearby raptor watch points. As we wandered back to the vans we had good views of a perched BEE-EATER plus three brief TAWNY PIPITS that landed on the beach.
When we arrived, there were quite a few birders looking and it didn't take us long to pick out our first BOOTED EAGLES of both pale and dark morphs. With the winds still a brisk easterly, there wasn't a huge passage but the best we had seen so far and just as we were about to go, a couple of EGYPTIAN VULTURES flew through.
We had to leave as we had a ferry to catch over to Tangier in Morocco and we didn't want to be late!
After parking, we checked in and started filling out landing cards for the Moroccan police on the boat, then we made our way to join the growing queue on the upper deck.
Once through and passports stamped, we headed up the viewing area on the back of the boat, noting quite a few LESSER BLACK-BACKED & YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS milling around Tarifa Harbour.
About ten minutes out we picked up three BALEARIC SHEARWATERS moving east into the wind plus the surprise of a juvenile HONEY BUZZARD powering its way out over the sea towards Morocco, despite unfavourable winds for it - the amazement of migration!
We arrived at Tangier port, moved quickly through security and met up with our driver Isham who took us south towards our base in Larache. Just outside the town we took a walk through a Cork Oak woodland where we soon found one of our main targets, AFRICAN BLUE TIT. At least ten of these distinctive birds flitted through the trees but were much harder to photograph than the birds we are used to a home!
A SPUR-THIGHED TORTOISE tried its best to hide from us in the leaf litter which was alive with a moth that was a type of carpet and as we walked through, they came up in clouds at our feet. A LITTLE OWL was a good find as were three STONE CURLEW that ran through the scrub before flying off. Amongst the feeding sheep were some quite confiding CATTLE EGRETS that gave good views.
It was then into Larache to check in and have a shower before heading our again. This time we drove south to the fantastic wetland of Merja Zerga. After stopping to pick up Hassan, another local guide, we drove through a large area of agricultural land where Strawberries, Peanuts, Avocado's and more were grown.
Turning onto a dirt track we drove a little way and then it was on foot down to the marshes. A few BLUE-HEADED WAGTAILS were seen with the sheep plus the ever present CATTLE EGRETS.
We reached an area of sedges and in front of us, several locals with a dog were coming towards us. The dog went into the sedges and amazingly, out came 16 MARSH OWLS! Over the next ten minutes we had the most incredible views which included birds on the ground in front of us - a simply magical experience and one which we will never forget!
Leaving them in peace, we strolled back and found a SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE of the African race algeriensis which showed well on top of a bramble.
We returned to the van and drove back to Larache where we dropped off our gear before heading out for a meal in the bustling town. The food was great and even the lack of alcohol didn't seem to worry the majority of the group who were all in great spirits after a fantastic first afternoon in Morocco!
Sunday 18th September 2016
We met at 7.00am for a walk into the town to look for Little Swifts and a short while later were watching at least four birds wheeling around in the sky above us. A closer look at the buildings produced evidence of a large nest with several birds inside. They were so quick as they flew from the nest that if you blinked you missed them!
It was then back for breakfast in a nearby restaurant which went down very well and would keep us sustained for a few hours. Afterwards we headed back south to the town of Moulay Bousselham and a look over the Merja Zerga lagoon.
A HOOPOE flew past and below on the sand bar we found MEDITERREAN GULL and GREEN SANDPIPER before we headed down to the harbour for our boat trip.
We split into two groups and headed south along one of the many channels which were alive with good numbers of LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS and a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS thrown in for good measure.
One of our main targets were SLENDER-BILLED GULL and on the water in front of us were a mixed group of adults and first winter birds which allowed reasonably close approach. Several of the birds had rings on their legs and were probably rung in the Coto Donana area of southwest Spain.
The exposed mudflats held thousands of waders and new for the tour included TURNSTONE, CURLEW SANDPIPER, CURLEW amongst DUNLIN, SANDERLING, KNOT, GREENSHANK, KENTISH & RINGED PLOVERS, WHIMBREL, OYSTERCATCHER plus many more.
An OSPREY was seen perched on a distant post and a few MARSH HARRIERS quartered the saltmarsh. A KINGFISHER was seen at close range and plenty of photographs were taken as it perched on the mudflats.
Being on the boat allowed us to get reasonably close to the birds which seem unconcerned at our presence. A real highlight was an adult winter LESSER CRESTED TERN perched on the mud and for a few minutes, we had good views before it flew off south.
Delighted with this, we carried onwards and checked out suitable areas which produced some good birding with up to four CASPIAN TERNS amongst roosting gulls and further down there was a winter plumaged LITTLE TERN.
After a good few hours it was with reluctance that we had to turn back, but everyone had enjoyed a super morning and as we came into the small fishing area we spotted two COMMON BULBULS on the hillside.
It was then off to lunch in the town which was very welcome before we headed to a terrace overlooking the lagoon. The views were tremendous as we relaxed in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
Afterwards we drove back towards Larache and took a track into the wilderness which eventually led us to a small lagoon. The shallows held good numbers of BLACK-WINGED STILTS plus AVOCETS, RINGED & LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS, CURLEW SANDPIPER, WOOD SANDPIPER, RUFF, SNIPE, LAPWING, DUNLIN and KNOT amongst others. The real highlight here were at least three RED-KNOBBED COOTS that were elusive but we all managed reasonable view through the scopes.
GREY HERON, LITTLE & CATTLE EGRETS plus a single SPOONBILL roosted whilst around the margins were good numbers of SPANISH WAGTAILS including some cracking males.
We relocated to another part the lagoon but apart from GADWALL and a LITTLE TERN there was nothing new to see.
The walk back through a small village was interesting and a pleasant surprise were several HOUSE BUNTINGS feeding with HOUSE SPARROWS on the ground. Unfortunately most of the group had reached the van, but luckily just by it was a singing male HOUSE BUNTING so no one missed out in the end!
As we traversed the bumpy track, a stunning BLACK-WINGED KITE perched on top of a pylon close to the road which gave brilliant views.
It was then back to the hotel for around one hour in which time we could have a refreshing shower before heading out to an area of marshes and river nearby.
The marshes were as dry as a bone but the river was much more productive and as the sun dropped in the sky, we enjoyed the spectacle of hundreds of CATTLE EGRETS coming in to roost.
A CASPIAN TERN gave good views as it fed in front of us and in the Tamarisks bordering the river we watched quite a few NIGHT HERON plus GREY HERON. KINGFISHERS and COMMON SANDPIPERS were in abundance as well as MARSH HARRIERS.
With time running out we drove back and ventured out for our evening meal in the town, which was once again delicious and we headed off to bed after yet again another super day!
Monday 19th September 2016
We met for an early breakfast in the nearby restaurant and soon after, loaded up the bus and headed back down to the marshes that we had visited the previous evening.
The first birds we saw were BROWN-THROATED MARTINS and two birds obligingly perched on top of two fence posts, giving us the best ever views of this species during our tours in Morocco! Eventually, we saw up to six birds and to see them flying over us was superb!
A GREAT GREY SHRIKE flew past before perching up and in the distance we picked up several flocks of GLOSSY IBIS and MARSH HARRIERS. Again it wasn't just birds with three species of Odonata present including RED-VEINED DARTER, LONG SKIMMER and LESSER EMPEROR DRAGONFLY.
The only other birds of note were brief CETTI'S, GARDEN and SUBALPINE WARBLERS before it was time to head off back north to Tangier in time for our ferry back to Spain.
We arrived on time but unfortunately our ferry was delayed by 45 minutes but eventually we were soon under-way. Several hardy members of the group stood outside and managed to see HONEY BUZZARD, BALEARIC & CORY'S SHEARWATER and four brief COMMON DOLPHINS.
After docking, we headed up to a watch point in the hills where there was evidence of raptor migration with a nice party of BLACK STORKS and GRIFFON VULTURES which were circling around plus HONEY BUZZARDS, SPARROWHAWKS and BOOTED EAGLES.
With things going a little quiet, we moved to another site where a steady passage of raptors including our first HOBBY moved through. Most of the birds were HONEY BUZZARDS and it was good to note the wide variety of plumages in the juveniles.
Both pale and dark morph BOOTED EAGLES were seen together in flight and this allowed good comparisons between them.
After an early start we drove towards our hotel and stopped off at a roadside stall that sold the most delicious Melon which quenched our thirst.
We arrived at the hotel in good time and spent a while relaxing before we met for a pre-dinner drink in the outside bar.
Our last evening meal of the tour was a lovely fish soup followed by swordfish and fruit salad to finish.
Tuesday 20th September 2016
Due to our late evening flight back to the UK, we had a more relaxed breakfast before saying our goodbyes to the hotel and heading south to a migrant hotspot on the coast.
As we loaded up the vans a quick look at the sea produced a steady stream of CORY'S SHEARWATERS passing by close inshore. We arrived at the viewpoint and took a slow walk up to the lighthouse. A few SARDINIAN WARBLERS were heard and seen including a reasonably showy male. A couple of PIED FLYCATCHERS flitted from tree to tree before vanishing. On rocks near the top of the slope we found a male BLUE ROCK THRUSH which showed well in the scope.
Up at the lighthouse we spotted an OSPREY migrating down the coast and a scan produced more CORY'S SHEARWATERS plus two GREAT SKUA and two BALEARIC SHEARWATER.
With the wind swinging round to the west and with brightening conditions in the east we headed up to the raptor watch points to give it one last shot.
We timed it to perfection with good numbers of BOOTED & SHORT-TOED EAGLES plus BLACK KITES, SPARROWHAWKS, HONEY BUZZARDS, nine BLACK STORKS and over 250 WHITE STORKS in one large flock.
The bird of the morning went to a cracking juvenile SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE that drifted by and on the review of photographs taken it had been ringed! SWALLOWS passed through along with a few PALLID SWIFTS and BEE-EATERS thrown in for good measure.
With reluctance, we had to leave and head towards the airport after stopping for lunch along the way. Late afternoon, we arrived in Malaga and spent the last hour of the tour at the Guadalahorce reserve.
It was pretty hot when we arrived and this encouraged lots of dragonflies with EMPEROR and BANDED GROUNDLING DRAGONFLIES plus the usual RED-VEINED DARTERS showing on the hot ground.
The first reed-fringed pool held LITTLE GREBES, COOT and MALLARD plus a flyby PINTAIL which was a good bird to see, whilst the second was much more productive with many KINGFISHERS, SHOVELER, TEAL, GADWALL and our main target, three WHITE-HEADED DUCKS!
During our short time here we enjoyed reasonable views but once again, time just slipped away. The walk back produced around six MONK PARAKEETS which flew around calling.
It was then back to the vans and the short hop to Malaga Airport where we unloaded and said our goodbyes to Josele, before going into the terminal building to sort out our gear.
We checked in earlier than planned and this meant plenty of time to relax airside. The plane departed around 15 minutes later than planned but we arrived at Gatwick on time.
Passport control and baggage reclaim was extremely quick and we all said our farewells after what had been a very successful tour with lots of fantastic birding moments plus lots of laughs, fantastic weather and food!