Morocco 2. the coastal areas

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Morocco 2. the coastal areas
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Fri, 8 Dec 2006 09:14:11 +0100

                             THE MOROCCO TRIP. 2. THE COASTAL AREAS

The rivers of western Morocco get their water from the mountains, in our case 
the middle Atlas, but lose most of it for most of the year before they reach 
the sea, so that most of  the 'oueds' one crosses on the coastal roads are 
largely or totally dry. near the coast, however, extensive shallow lagoons have 
been formed, in most cases normally closed off from regular tidal influences by 
sandbars across the mouth. Probably these are breached now and then by winter 
storms, as the water seems to be slightly brackish and there is some saltmarsh 
vegetation along the outer reaches. The lagoons are also quite rpoductive, and 
one sees lots of small fish in the shallows. No wonder then, that these oueds, 
close to Agadir the Oued Sous, and some 50km further south the larger Oued 
Massa, are full of birds.

We arrived the first morning at Oued Sous. The day before there had been a 
severe storm, and lots of rain had fallen all over the area, and the water 
level was therefore much highre than during later visits. Clearly we had 
arrived at a propitious moment, for the shallow and mudde lagoon was chockfull 
of birds. Elegant Stilts and nervous Redshanks dominated the first impression, 
although stately and 'etiolated' Flamingoes also were hard to overlook, and 
there seemed to be a Grey Heron at every corner. Closer looks showed more: 
Little Egrets here and there, a few Red Knots accompanied by some stately 
Black-tailed Godwit, some active Kentish Plovers, perky Little Stints, and an 
as always dejected looking Grey Plover; and a Greenshank, betraying itself by 
its characteristic call. And loads and loads of Black-headed Gulls in winter 
plumage, with here and there a few Mediteranean Gulls with their stronger bills 
and tubbier bodies. Later also larger gulls flew in: Yellow-legged and Lesser 
Black-backed Gulls, yielding nice identification puzzles for the immature 
birds. A Marsh Harrier flew overhead, and the first of many Ospreys sat and 
loafed on a row of sticks, together with some cormorants. Among these latter 
both the well-known inland sinensis form of Continental Europe as well as the 
white -headed Moroccon form, possibly to be split as a valid species soon, were 
present; in fact those two forms would occur in mixed assemblages all week.

In the trees---lots of exotic eucalypts here, as so many places also in 
Morocco--- we had the chance to get acquainted with the Moroccan Magpies with 
their conspicuous blue-circled eyes (another potential split9 as well as with 
the oily-looking Spotless Starlings. Here and there the bushes were yellow with 
Serins, sunning themselves in dense flocks, while Greenfinches, Goldfinches, 
Common Bulbuls and House Sparrows also were common, and the stark S. Great 
Shrikes occupied tree tops here and there. Further out to the mouth of the 
river some other species came to the fore: Oystercatchers, Common Shelducks, 
Bar-tailed Godwits, and even a few Avocets.

Both this Oued Sous and the large Oued Massa further south are now protected 
areas. The Oued Masa lagoon sports lots of coots and ducks of all sorts, as 
well as floxcks of Little Grebes. There are maybe five coots for every duck, 
and among the ducks the Pochards are absolutely predominant, but patient 
scanning will soon show some other species; Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, 
Tufted Duck, Moorhen, and some more popular, as less common,  species, such as 
the well-named Marbled Ducks, Rusty Shelducks, Red-crested Pochards and a 
single Ferruginous Duck, to my personal great pleasure, as this was a species 
aI had not seen in many years for some reason. Flashes of colour resolved into 
Common Kingfishers. Marsh Harriers and  Ospreys here too, and also now and then 
flocks of swallows overhead, consisting of mainly Barn Swallows and Crag 
Martins, but also with a few Red-rumped Swallows, and even a little Swift one 
day. And a very special swallow, although it maybe looks a little dingy: the 
Brown-throated River Martin Riparia paludicola, one of those species that nest 
in small populations in Morocco, and nowhere else north of the Sahara desert. 
They are winter nesters, and we saw a few frequent holes in the sandy cliff 

The dense bushes here hold another bird in the same category; the large, but 
skulking Black-crowned Tchagra, Tchagra senegalus, a beautiful bird with a 
wonderful voice, one of those 'more often heard than seen'! we aw one very well 
indeed , though, at Oued Massa, when it decided to pose for a while on a bare 
branch. (I thought originally both these birds were life birds, but it turns 
out I have seen both before in Kenya 25 years ago). Still better skulkers are 
the Cetti's Warblers of the reed fringes, and we never saw one properly this 
time.  A large flock of some 50 Glossy Ibises flew over, and there were also a 
few dirty-looking Spoonbills present.

We later scanned several beaches that had large flocks of roosting gulls, and 
it turned out that there were hundreds of the quietly beautiful Audouin's Gulls 
among them; they must have their major winter quarters here, as this is till a 
quite rare species, although there have been substantial increases in later 
years. there were also some Slender-billed Gulls, but maybe fewer than I had 
thought. And virtually all the terns this time turned out to be Sandwich Terns, 
although a single Little Tern was present at Oued Massa all week. Once or twice 
I saw Arctic Skuas chase the sandwich terns, and the group that went on a 
pelagic trip one day also sa w a Great Skua, as well as a Common Tern. Northern 
Gannets were common offshore, and could also be seen from the shore.

Near Massa part of the valley is used for intensive and irrigated agriculture. 
A large pond in this area held a lone Squacco Heron, as well as a Kingfisher, 
and many terrapins, while in the field themselves Pied and Yellow Wagtails were 
quite common, as were Collared doves and a few Laughing Doves, the latter a 
newcomer to the area.

North of Agadir the coastal hills were often uncultivated sandy and stony 
fields, full of dead helicid land snails (the living ones clang to the 
scattered bushes) and large slow black beetles. Here we found the specialty of 
this region, the prehistoric-looking Bald Ibis . The loose flocks of these 
birds, their iridescent sides glittering in many colours in the sunshine and 
their wild crests often standing out to all sides, made a great impression, 
especially when several birds spread their wings in what clearly was a sunning 
position. The first day we saw more than 200 ibises on these fields (rests of 
their nests were on the coastal cliffs nearby), which must be more than half of 
the entire world's population of this rare species. One feels very privileged 
to be allowed to watch these birds at leisure and from close-up.

                                                                   Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                  9037 Tromsø, 

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