Morocco – Migration from the other shore

Right after we picked up our first guests, Kitty and Marshal, in Malaga, we headed to the Strait of Gibraltar, where we would be able to see one of the greatest Nature shows, the migration of hundreds of thousands of raptors and other gliders that cross the 15km that separate Europe from Africa.

During the Malaga-Tarifa trip we could observe some individuals of Honey Buzzard, Montagu’s Harrier and Booted Eagle, in active migration.  We made a stop in Algarrobo, one of the best places to observe the migration in the Straight, where we added a few gliders to our list: Black Stork, Griffon’s Vulture, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Eurasian Sparrohawk, Eurasian Marsh-harrier, and a beautiful Rupell’s Vulture.  Also as impressive was the migration of smaller bird species, such as the European Bee-eater, Pallid, Common and Alpine Swifts, and several species of Swallows.

We could enjoy all this as well as the spectacular sights that are seen from the Strait.

The following morning we went very early to the Los Lances beach, a “must” for the ornithologists that visit the area.  Species to mention were: Audoin’s Gull, Common and Sandwich Tern, Northern Gannet, Common Flamingo, several species of shorebirds and some passerines migrating such as Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, or Red-rumped Swallows.

The rest of the morning was spent in migration observatories where we could see greater numbers of Black Kites, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Black Storks, Egyptian Vultures, Griffon Vultures, and a few Rupell’s Vultures.

Our next destination was the La Janda’s Lagoon, an old lagoon that was dried out in the mid 1900’s, but that still conserves an interesting bird fauna.  During this visit we saw Booted Eagles, Lesser Kestrels, Black-winged Kite, huge flocks of White Storks, Glossy Ibis, and a great variety of passerines like the Common Redstart, Whichat and Sardinian Warbler.

The next day, after a hearty breakfast, we followed the lead of the birds we had observed the day before, and headed to Morocco. During the ferry ride across the strait, we were able to see a few Cory’s Shearwaters and Northern Gannets and even an Eurasian Marsh Harrier crossing.

On our first day on the African continent, we explored the area around what would be our base for the next two nights – the coastal city of Asilah. Here, we were able to enjoy watching some of those species typical of the region such as:  Long-legged BuzzardLanner FalconBlack-winged KiteBarbary PartridgeGarden Bulbul or African Blue Tit. The first night we made sure we rested well, because the next day promised to be full of excitement. After all, a visit to Morocco’s two most important wetlands is an unforgettable experience – even for the most jaded traveler.

In the morning, we headed to the salt marshes along the Loukkos River, close to Larache. Despite the strong human presence nearby, this area still maintains a rich community of avifauna and some well conserved wetlands. Here, species occur in such large numbers that would be unthinkable to find anywhere else.

We saw hundreds of Marbled Teal and Ferruginous DuckRed-crested PochardLittle CrakeGreater FlamingoEurasian SpoonbillGlossy IbisSquacco HeronBlack-crowned Night HeronOsprey, thousands of different species of shorebirds, Little TernCaspian TernEuropean Turtle-DoveCommon Kingfisher and many species of passerines such as the Moustached Warbler, which still maintains a healthy population here.

In the afternoon we visited the mythical Merja Zerga Lagoon, practically the last stronghold for the Marsh Owl in the Paleoarctic. Here, we met up with our friend Khalil, who would be our guide this afternoon and the following morning.  We first made a stop at the beach, where we saw a Lesser Crested Tern. After that, we headed to the southern end of the lagoon where, with very little effort, we managed to see 12 Marsh Owls!!!

The following morning we met up once again with Khalil and took a boat tour of the lake. It was an unforgettable experience. We saw thousands of shorebirds and counted more than 20 species. We also saw some birds that would be a treat for any birder such as: Greater FlamingoGreat EgretOspreyPeregrineSlender-billed GullAudouin’s GullMediterranean GullCaspian TernLittle Tern or Black Tern.

After lunch, we said goodbye to Khalil and headed to our next destination – the Sidi Bourghaba wetland. This lagoon is just south of  Kenitra and is one of the best conserved wetlands in all of Morocco. Here, there is an observatory and an interesting musuem. This site is special for many reasons, among which it is one of the few places in the Palearctic where we could see the Red-knobbed CootFerruginous Duck, Marbled Teal and White-headed Duck all with only one look through our binoculars. This, of course, put a smile on everyone’s face.

This is also a good place to observe Eleanor’s Falcons on the hunt! Watching their aerobatic flights after dragonflies made us feel like kids again. Other important species found here include: Great Cormorant “maroccanus”Lanner FalconLong-legged BuzzardBlack-winged KiteEurasian HobbyPurple Swamphen and many forest passerines such as African Blue TitGreat titSpotted Flycatcher or European Serin.

After a restful night in Morocco’s capitol, Rabat, we made our way to the country’s interior to visit a well-conserved area where remnants of what was once the largest cork tree forest still remain intact. This is the only place in the Paleoarctic to see one of any birder’s most sought after species, the Double-spurred Francolin. Though this is not an easy bird to find during this time of year – spring is much easier, when its characteristic call helps to reveal its location usually deep within the vegetation – we were lucky enough to see a small flock flush up when we passed by. We heard several Black-crowned Tchagras calling. Other species we saw in the area were: Black-winged Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Barbary Partridge, African Blue Tit, Stock Pigeon and the north africa subspecies Eurasian Magpie.

African Blue Tit

After an exciting morning, we headed to Chefchaouen, a quaint mountain village that we reached after several hours of driving past some truly beautiful landscape. On a short excursion before breakfast we were able to add several new species of passerines to our list such as the White-throated Dipper, Grey Wagtail or the Eurasian Wren.

The Village of Chefchaouen seen from our fabulous hotel

This was our last day on Moroccon soil and we wanted to end the trip with a bang! So, we headed north, toward the Moroccan coast along the Strait. There, we watched the awe inspiring migration of raptors – we saw many species soaring low above the horizon, heading toward Spain. We saw hundreds of Booted Eagles, Short-toed Eagles and Black Storks.

We concluded our trip with a visit to some key observation points, from which we watched raptor migration at its height. Finally on our way back to Málaga we made a stop at the mouth of the Guadalhorce, a site of great interest for any ornithologist, situated just outside of this large city. Here, we were able to add more species to our list, such as the Little Bittern and the Eurasian Hoopoe.

This was a wonderful experience! We visited two countries, enjoyed two very different cultures, and saw 160 species of birds. I hope you will join us on one of our trips very soon!

Little Owl