Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Morocco--Day 13: Oukaimeden, Tizi n Test Pass, and Taroudant

We were up at first light to make sure that we did not miss out on the morning flight of the alpine and red-billed choughs.  We also wanted to make sure that Linda and Gretchen had a chance to see the Seebohm's wheatear which they did.  While waiting for the choughs to arrive, we walked up the hillside scanning the meadow below the summer herders' quarters, and found several different birds.

First up was a hungry mistle thrush, and nearby was a Levaillant's woodpecker acting very much like our flickers (all photos in today's post were taken by Laura unless indicated otherwise.  Click on any photo to enlarge).

Then we had a group of rock sparrows that I decided were the most visually boring bird of the trip.

We also got some nice looks at rock buntings which are very similar looking to house buntings.  Just below the rock bunting is the Atlas form of chaffinch.

Less than an hour had passed when we began to hear the call of the choughs as they flew down from their night roosts up on the mountainside.

As you can see, they are both all black birds, but different in size and bill color.  The alpine has the yellow, smaller bill, and is not as big overall with a somewhat more compact wing shape.

With the chough spectacle in the books, we went in for a late breakfast for us (7:30).  Then we got in the van and drove up to the radar site above the town to search for alpine accentors.  They were not visible at first, and then we spotted them very far down the cliff.  Fortunately we were patient and after about 20 minutes 4 of them flew up to where we were standing.

We also got very good views of a blue rock thrush while waiting for the accentors to cooperate.

Just as we were starting back down we also got our best look so far of a crimson-winged finch.


It was such a beautiful morning, and we had successfully found all the target birds at Oukaimeden, so we needed a celebratory photo of the group (left to right: Martin, Bill, Marty, Laura, me, Linda, Dan, Doreene, and Gretchen--photo taken by Adrian), as well as of our outstanding leaders and driver (Martin, Adrian and Mustafa).

We returned to Chez JuJu just long enough to gather up our gear which was still enough time for the local fossil dealers to make one more run at us.  Martin proved to be a very hard bargainer plus it was a very "hungry" group of guys.  It resulted in some very inexpensive acquisitions.

Next up was a short stop just 5 minutes down the road where we quickly picked up a dipper which we all agreed was more dapper than ours back in the States.

We finally pulled ourselves away from the dipper because we had several hours of difficult highway to drive in order to reach our evening's destination--Taroudant.  Near the bottom of the road back down towards Marrakech, Marty stopped and took photos of some very interesting sculptures.

Once we had descended from Oukaimeden, we were driving on the plain very briefly before we began what has been called one of the most frightening highways in the world--a 4 hour fingernail biter that takes you up over the Tizi n Test pass through the High Atlas Mountains (my photo).

On the way up we saw an area where they have begun to reintroduce the barbary sheep which are similar to our big horn sheep.  We stopped at one point because Martin had seen a large black bird dive over the side of the road.  Our hope was that it was a ring ouzel which winters in the High Atlas before returning to Europe in the spring.  We worked hard for about 20 minutes locating a few of them across the ravine which meant no great photos, but a prized trip bird nevertheless.

At the pass we stopped for some mint tea, and took in the view of our highway down the mountain.  We also kept looking for barbary partridge--an endemic bird of the Mahgreb that so far had eluded us.  With only a few days left in our trip, we were beginning to get a bit nervous about missing it.

On the south side of the mountains we drove through several places where the road was being improved.  At one point we were guided underneath the bucket of a large earth mover.  It was hard to believe that we drove for well over an hour on what seemed like a one lane road full of hairpin turns without having a head-on collision.  It felt very good to reach the lowlands and the Souss River valley.

We were pretty whipped when we finally arrived in Taroudant.  As we drove the short distance through town, we got to see the locals strolling through the streets socializing much as I have seen late in the day in the towns of Italy.  We arrived at la Maison Anglais to refreshments of mint tea and cakes.  Dinner was served soon after our arrival.  Everything arrived at the table at the same time--beet, carrot, and tomato salads; a baked cauliflower dish; a tagine of lamb and prunes; saffron rice; and bread.  Cut up fruit was the dessert.  All was excellent.  We had purchased beer a few days earlier to have while we stayed in Taroudant.  It was cold and hit the spot.

Our evening bird list review was held as usual.  5 new birds were added to the trip list.  Tomorrow we were going to see what the Souss River Valley had to offer us.  Stay tuned!

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