Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Morocco--Final Day of Birding: Massa and Massa Estuary

Since it was our last day of birding, we were on the road at 6:30 AM to make the hour drive to Massa where we hoped to pick up brown throated martin, which is similar visually to our northern rough-winged swallow.  When we arrived at the key spot we found some construction work underway, but we were able to walk down the river bed.  Very soon after we reached a promising bank that had a few nest holes in it we saw 3 martins flying up river towards us.  Unfortunately, while we got a pretty good view of them, they quickly flew right on by us.  We waited a bit in hopes that they would return, but they did not so we ended up with no photos.

With the brown throated martin now on our trip list, we still had 1 bird that had eluded us--black-bellied sandgrouse .  We drove a short distance to a site that had been good for them in the past.  As we approached Mustafa saw 2 flying not too far off.  We got out to begin working towards where we had seen them land.  In our desire to not miss them, we did not stop to all look at a tawny pipit that Martin found just as we got out of the van.  It ended up being on our trip list but seen by almost none of us.

We kept moving slowly towards where we had last seen the 2 sandgrouse, and happily many more began to arrive.  Once we got close enough to the spot we understood the attraction--there was a small seep and they were coming in to drink.  It is amazing how this fairly large bird blends in so well with the ground around it (all photos in today's post were taken by Laura except for 1.  Click on any photo to enlarge).  We were able to spend a good period of time watching the flock of black-bellied sandgrouse before they had drunk enough and took off.

It began to rain as we got back into the van to move onto a new area further down the river.  Unfortunately, the rain which was really the first we had experienced during the trip, kept up enough to make birding somewhat difficult.  We found a zitting cisticola, and did turn up a few warblers at one spot including Cetti's, western olivaceous, Orphean and Sardinian (just below).

There were women bringing back some plant they had harvested before the rain began (my photo).

We proceeded a bit further along to some fields where we heard a black-crowned tchagra calling.  We got out to try to track it down.  It kept moving away from us, but we did find a few other birds that were a bit rain soaked.

First up was a stonechat, and then a cirl bunting.

 Next we found a damp European goldfinch.


A common sandpiper popped up on a small mound.  In the river we had good looks at a Moroccan cormorant.

It was getting to be lunch time, so we went to a new spot to eat.  The rain stopped, and the sun even came out which let us bird while lunch was being fixed.  The first bird seen was a black crowned tchagra which made up for the one we missed earlier in the day.  We all finally got good looks at it which we had not been able to do several days previously when we had a fly by glimpse of one. While enjoying the tchagra, we also got a very distant view of a wryneck--also a bird that some had missed earlier in our trip.

The sun did not stay out, so after we gladly said goodbye to the last lunch of the tour, we decided to drive around to the beach where the Massa river estuary was located.  Along the way we spotted our 7th little owl of the trip,

By the time we reached the beach the sun was fully out again.  We immediately saw a few sanderlings feeding along the beach wave line. We walked down to the estuary, seeing a few more birds as we went including a crested lark.  At the estuary we were intercepted by a "ranger" for the preserve who told us we could not walk any further out towards the water.  As a result, we walked out to the edge of the beach where we found some birds roosting including 15 red knots.

Laura had not initially come out with us, but she followed a bit later, and got a record shot of us walking back.  A peregrine falcon came up the beach with us.

Even though the rain had hindered our birding for a bit, the day ended on a high note as we walked back to the van enjoying the bright sun.  We returned to La Pergola in time to freshen up before gathering for our last dinner.  Marty, Bill and I cracked open a bottle of Glenfiddich scotch to celebrate the success of our trip before going to eat.  The salad trolley kicked things off again followed by lamb brochettes with frites and other cooked vegies.  Chocolate cake topped off the meal.

We did our last bird list review which included some photos Martin had put on his computer.  It made for a very nice wrap up.  The final count for the trip was 226 species or sub-species which might have been a new trip record, but Adrian did not know for sure.  More importantly, we saw all the key endemic species, and only missed 2 birds that normally are found--lanner falcon which we might actually have seen one morning near Boumalne, but the bird flew off too quickly to identify it; and lesser short-toed lark.  My personal list was 222 birds seen and/or heard of which 124 were life birds for me.  Martin joined me and Marty for a nightcap which finished off the scotch.

The next morning we said our farewells to Mustafa, and boarded our plane to Casablanca where we all caught our Royal Air Maroc flight back to New York City.  Everyone seemed to have had a great trip, and I was very happy to have been able to visit Morocco one more time.  The birding had been excellent; the country and culture most interesting and enjoyable; and Adrian, Martin and Mustafa had been fine leaders.  I would highly recommend this trip to any birder.

I am off later today to Ohio where I will see Laura, Dan and Doreene again as we take in the spring migration at Magee Marsh and surrounding hotspots.  Stay tuned!

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