Sunday, April 20, 2014

Morocco--Day 7: Erg Chebbi and the Edge of the Sahara

We were in our two 4 wheel drive Toyotas at 5:20 AM for the 20 minute ride to Erg Chebbi--a large sand dune formation.  My son Caleb had visited this place with a high school friend back in 2000 prior to starting college.  I did not know until we got into the vehicles that was where we were headed.  It was still dark when we climbed onto our camels which we road out to the start of the dunes.  There were 5 camels in each of 2 lines that were led by a Moroccan.  As we approached the edge of the dunes it became lighter, and we could see that this had become quite the tourist event (all the photos in today's post are mine unless indicated otherwise.  Click on any photo to enlarge).

We disembarked and walked a short way up to a dune ridge where we could sit down to watch the sun come up.

And because it was 1 day past the full moon, we could look behind us to see it as well.

I would estimate that there were 50-75 tourists and their camels, and at least 1/2 that many local Moroccans.

After the sunrise viewing was finished, we all got to do some dune sledding.  We also had a chance to be shown some of the polished fossils for which the area is also known.


We remounted our sturdy beasts of burden and worked our way back to our vehicles (photo above taken by Laura).  Marty decided since his camel saddle was very uncomfortable that he would just try riding it backwards (photo taken by Adrian).

Next up was a short drive to a spot where a herder had staked out an egyptian nightjar.   While our drivers/guides--2 brothers, Mohammed (in blue) and Lahcen (in black and white)--talked with the herder, our group spread out to see the nightjar.


As always, our photography happy members were part of the spectacle of watching this incredibly well camouflaged bird (photo taken by Laura).

After fully taking in the nightjar, it was time to return to the Desert Inn to have some breakfast.  Along the way we ran into a spectacled warbler (above), and then a desert warbler (photos taken by Laura).

Breakfast was al fresco and included fresh oj; Moroccan crepes; yellow pound cake; bread, butter and jam; tea and coffee; and a not very good omelet.  We were back out birding by 11 AM, and ran across a nomad who told Lahcen that there were 2 pharoah eagle owls in a tree.  One flushed and flew off but the second stayed allowing our photogs to snap 100's of photos.

Laura got a nice photo showing the very light coloring of this particular owl which you can see much better than the distant shot in yesterday's post of a pharoah eagle owl. 

Next up was a group of crowned sandgrouse (photo taken by Laura) which look very similar to the spotted sandgrouse but the males have a black vertical line on their faces.

We stopped to have lunch at Lahcen and Mohammed's tent home.  While there we got good looks at a desert sparrow (photo taken by Laura).


The rest of the afternoon we spent cruising the desert which proved to be very productive as we turned up a short eared owl--not a species that you would expect to find here. Many hoopoe larks were also about (both photos taken by Laura).

We stopped at a small palmerie to look for fulvous babblers but came up short.  On our way out, a young girl had set up her wares for us to look over.  She proved to be a very tough negotiator, but a few items were purchased by the group (photo taken by Laura).

Back out into the desert scrub brought us to another pharoah eagle owl, followed by 3 cream coloured coursers of which Laura got a good shot of each species.

It was getting late by now, so we started the slow drive home, and came upon a booted eagle (photo taken by Laura).

After being up since 5 AM, we were glad to be back at the Desert Inn for dinner which was soup, bread and butter, excellent chicken with fried potatoes, and another round of lemon meringue tart.  11 new birds were added to the trip list, and for many it was the best day of birding so far.  After such a good day, we were stoked to go another round in the desert tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

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