Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Morocco--Days 8 and 9: Sahara Redux

Before breakfast we checked out the area around the Desert Inn to see what was about.  We found a moussier's redstart that might have been the same one from late the day before (all photos in today's post are Laura's unless indicated otherwise.  Click on any photo to enlarge).  This is one of the species that is endemic to the Mahgreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and western Libya).   Somewhat surprisingly, we had 8 black-crowned night herons laboring to fly north against the wind.

Breakfast was almost a replay of yesterday, but the manager of the Desert Inn allowed Marty and Adrian into the kitchen to make us some scrambled eggs.  Cooked eggs at breakfast is not a usual dish in Morocco, but when tourists ask for them, they come out as omelets because of the French influence.  The problem is that since most places don't normally make eggs for breakfast, the omelets we had so far on the trip were at best mediocre.  In fact when we asked for an omelet in Midelt, it came out as one giant omelet that was undercooked on top and burnt on the bottom.  Marty is a master egg cooker, so we were quite pleased to have scrambled eggs Moroccan style with a dash of cumin.

The one species of bird that was in the garden at the Desert Inn the whole time we were there was the subalpine warbler.

After breakfast we drove in our Toyotas to a palmerie near Merzouga to look for fulvous babblers.  On the way Laura snapped what appears to be a scarecrow.

The palmerie was full of palms, and crops below the palms that are irrigated.  There were lots of European collared doves, and a couple of laughing doves that we did not get good photos of.  After an hour of wandering around, we did not find any babblers, but we did find a Mauritanian toad (my photo).

Since the bird life was not all the exciting at the palmerie, we drove over to a casbah where when it rains in the spring a very large body of water appears next to it.  Morocco has been very dry for 3 years now, so no seasonal lake for us this year.  We did see many times during the trip the flowering plant just below (my photo).  We also found some greater short-toed larks as we drove along.


Instead of another round of our daily picnic lunch victuals, we were able to return to the Desert Inn to have a hot meal.  The starter course was a warm dish of tomatoes and eggplant that had a very nice seasoning on it.  Then they brought out a tagine of kefta (meatballs), green olives and eggs (my photo).  What a nice change of pace for us.  We were so satisfied that a nap was next up.

After our siesta, we decided to take a walk in the wadi that was adjacent to the Inn.  It was a warm, but not too hot afternoon.  Astonishingly, over about 2 hours of cruising thru the dry wash, we turned up 3 Egyptian nightjars.   We also saw several of the desert race of the grey shrike.

We got back to our lodging about 6 PM where we had the good fortune of finding a western Bonelli's warbler who was quite cooperative.

Dinner was quite good again with the starter being a mini bisteeya for each of us.  This led to a lengthy discussion about the correct word for this dish.  Adrian said it was pastilla, which seemed like it would be a Spanish word.  I said that in my Moroccan cookbook it was spelled bisteeya.  After coming home, I googled the word bisteeya to find it is a variation as is pastilla all used in the Berber language for the dish.  The main dish was our second cous cous tagine of the trip.  The cous cous was far better than our first one in Kenitra, but the vegies were of course cooked to mush.


After dinner everyone but Marty and me went to look for night creatures.  Within the first hour they saw several animals including a lesser Egyptian jerboa, a lesser Egyptian gerbil (above), a fennec fox, a hare, and a desert hedgehog (below).   Things slowed down after that, and everyone was back at the Inn before midnight.

The next morning at breakfast Marty and I got a full update on the previous evening's critters while we all enjoyed a redux of scrambled eggs from Marty and Adrian.  But before breakfast we turned up a wryneck which is an ant eating woodpecker.

A chiff chaff was also flitting about the garden, as were several bulbuls which is a bird we saw every day of our trip.

After breakfast we headed out to search a different place in hopes of finding fulvous babblers.  We arrived about 30 minutes later, and were told they had just flown off.  We spent the better part of the next 2 hours wandering the area in hopes that they might return.  It gave us a chance to inspect a hand dug well (my photo).

Martin and Laura found a warbler that at first we could not ID.  It disappeared before anyone could get a photo of it.  We kept walking around looking for babblers, but Laura stayed at the warbler spot.  When it returned we headed back to the tree, and hunkered down to get some photos.  Eventually we were successful.  Between the pics and the bird's mannerisms, we concluded it was a Saharan eastern olivaceous warbler--a resident subspecies endemic to the Mahgreb.

We returned tot he Desert Inn for lunch again which was almost identical to yesterday's.  After lunch we continued our hunt for babblers which proved to still be unsuccessful.  While wandering around the desert, we did encounter a mini sand storm.  We also kept seeing some of the rally vehicles that were part of a women's desert rally happening in the general area.

We did not have anywhere near the good fortune of 2 days earlier, but we did find some more cream coloured coursers, and several different wheatears including a desert.

We returned near dusk for our last evening at the Desert Inn, which is also called Derkaoua in Moroccan.  We had a superb soup of pureed squash followed by a chicken tagine with overcooked vegies.  And for the 4th night, we enjoyed the lemon meringue tart which is made on the premises. After 2 more days on the edge of the Sahara, we had only added a total of 4 new trip birds which reinforced how great day 7 had been.  Tomorrow we begin driving west with our next night's destination being Boumalne.  Stay tuned!

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