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To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: (no subject)
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 10 Dec 2006 11:52:37 +0100

On two days we drove loop tours through the hills in the Anti-Atlas, the second 
day climbing to a pass at c 1700m high, where a large flock of Choughs was 
spread out over the hillside. These mountains are sparsely  vegetated with 
scattered trees and bushes, but there is little undergrowth many places. In the 
usually dry riverbeds often palms are growing, while whole hillsides are 
covered by large cushions of a cactus -like growth, which I suspect to be some 
kind of Euphorbia-relative. (they also grow in the semi-desert).

There are many birds around here; we stopped at a road-side stall selling 
impressive-looking fossils, a.o. large ammonites, and ceramics, because we saw 
movement among the pottery. It turned out to be the very aptly named House 
Bunting, often a very tame bird around houses. Once we had stopped we 
discovered that there were Chaffinches everywhere here, the green-backed 
N.African Chaffinch, a prospective split, like several of these quite special 
N.African subspecies,  that both looks and sounds somewhat different from their 
European relatives. The same goes for the N.African Blue Tit Parus 
ultramarinus, already 'split by the Dutch' ( a sentence we would hear time and 
again this week, as the Dutch Birding Association is in the forefront in using 
the Phylogenetic Species Definition, in conjunction with molecular studies, to 
split off well-defined subspecies as 'good species', still a quite subjective 
business in the eyes of this former Dutchman); this is much 'bluer blue' than 
the European Blue Tit. The bird everybody wants to see here, and which 
obligingly pops up after a while, is Tristram's Warbler, one of these slender, 
long-tailed Mediterranean Sylvia warblers, and a N.African endemic.. It is a 
beautiful , sprighty little bird in strong pastel colours, and as usual, our 
leaders do not rest un til everybody has seen it well.

 That turns out to be more difficult in the case of another endemic, the 
Barbary Partridge, as these birds, which are heavily hunted, are quite 
flightly, and this first day we only see them whir away in flight; later we'll 
have the chance to study them better. Black Wheatears are regular on these 
rocky hills, and are interesting birds to watch; they look exotic, but behave 
just like all other wheatears. There are also more common birds here: 
Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Common Bulbuls, Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers, 
even European Robins and Blackbirds. The tourist office has given this valley 
the grandiose name Vallée du Paradis (Paradise Valley), and for birders that is 
not too far off the mark

This was not our first stop. Earlier, and somewhat lower down, we had stopped 
at a place known to hold Cirl Buntings, and these birds indeed had miraculously 
materialized at once (One almost would think they were hired in for the 
occasion) and let themselves be admired at will. (The Rock Buntings that also 
occur in these hills, escaped us completely, on the other hand). When we on a 
later occasion stopped again at a spot close by, we had the great good fortune 
to witness the song flight of a Black-crowned Tchagra, a surprisingly large, 
but usually notoriously skulking bird. It has a songflight a little like a 
Turtle Dove, accompanied by a beautiful whistled song, and the sight was for me 
one of the absolute highlights of the trip. This Tchagra belongs to an African 
genus that otherwise only occurs south of the Sahara.

Raptors there were quite few also here. Besides the common Kestrels and 
Long-legged Buzzards, we saw a single Goshawk, a few Sparrohawks , and a few 
times pairs of distant Bonelli's Eagles (A Barbary Falcon escaped before we 
could watch it properly)

In one of the loops we passed a high-lying plain, looking like a desert almost, 
near Izerbi. here there were different birds. We stopped for an all-black 
wheatear with a different-looking tail, a young White-crowned Black Wheatear, a 
desert bird, while the Black Wheatear is a mountain bird. As usual, once 
stopped , we saw more birds. A few different-looking , sandy larks among the 
everywhere common Thekla Larks turn out to be our first Desert Larks, and 
somewhat later three Hoopoe Larks explode out of the roadside before us and fly 
far into the flat stony fields (Quite a number of these fields are in fact 
ploughed; this is done in expectation of strong rains, which occur very 
infrequently, and the fields may lie waiting for years; when therains finally 
come, the ready fields are at once sown in.) We pursue them, but never find 
them again; instead we coime across a large flock of Black-bellied Sandgrouse. 
There is always a lot to see in Morocco!!
                                                   Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                   9037 Tromsø, Norway

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