Wednesday 11 October 2017

Marrakech - birding hotspot!!!

Work trip for 5 nights to Marrakech.
It was always going to be a doddle as i only had one hotel to see so decided to take Jen with me and make the most of it.

Our hotel was the very luxurious Royal Palm.
An unearthly 6am flight with Ryanair meant we were at the hotel by 10.30.
They kindly had out suite ready and it was great to get there with the whole day ahead.
Opening our balcony doors and immediately surprised at how lush the grounds were and the adjacent golf course.

I had brought my camera but only stuck my binos in at the last minute as i had not expected to see many birds.
Initial glance off the balcony gave loads of Starlings, House Sparrows, Collared Dove, Swallow, House Martins and Common Bulbul (photo) so already had a thought that I may have underestimated the bird life.

Still, I had to get to work for a few hours which I preferred so I could have the rest of the few days to ourselves. I left Jen to unpack.

Two hours later and the 3am start was catching up with us so we just lazed by the pool for a couple of hours.
Back in the room and I decided to get the binos out and have a coffee on the balcony.
Same birds as before but a few additions.
First was a solitary Great Tit and funnily this was the only time I saw this!
In the distant palms I caught sight of a bird and found a Turtle Dove. Long way off so record shot below only.

More Common Bulbul were eating the dates and a quick glance gave Spotted Flycatcher which had been on a very near tree without me noticing until I turned and scared it off not to be seen again!

The golf course had a large number of Egret which I saw over the course of my visit - Little, Great and Cattle. In addition, Yellow Wagtail and solitary but quick Richards Pipit - great bird but too far off for a photo.

I had just sat down on the chair on the balcony to chat to Jen when she nudged me to say there was a pretty sparrow type bird only a few feet behind me.
Although, as I turned, it flew, patience was rewarded when it flew back to the ledge. Lifer for me in House Bunting.

Over the next few days they were seen regularly but I was well chuffed!

Final bird of the day was a Stonechat which used the Olive Trees as perches for most of my trip.

I decided to get up early next morning and have an hour around the grounds and golf course before breakfast. Great plan except that it did not get really light enough until 7.45 by which time we were getting ready for breakfast.

Our days alternated between catching the free shuttle into Marrakech and chilling out on resort.

However, I had an hour late afternoon for the next 3 days and managed to add some super birds to my list.

The dead olive trees acted as perfect perches for both Spotted Flycatcher and Woodchat Shrike and both were seen regularly.

Higher in the trees, Great Grey Shrike was also seen daily.

However, the last afternoon when just relaxing on the balcony, I noticed a bird fly across and land just out of vision. I thought it was a Wryneck but could not be sure. Quickly putting on sandals, I made my way to the dead olives just to the left of our room. Low and behold, instinct was right and for just a minute I had great views.

Returning to the balcony, I had been there no more than a few seconds when a Little Owl landed close by and stayed long enough for photos and to show Jen. As a non birder even she was enthusiastic!

Other raptors were limited to Kestrel and a fleeting Peregrine.

Warblers were the biggest bugbear - as they often are!

The scrubby busges between hotel and golf course were alive with them. I managed to identify Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Cettis Warbler and , what I think is my first, Melodious Warbler - photo does not help and only one I got of any warbler in these bushes! I am certain there were others!!!

However, my other definite lifer appeared twice. First time was a quick fly past and the bird dived in bushes never to be seen again! Striking though as it had a black head (not just cap) and white underparts. I thought Sardinian Warbler

Thankfully, a day later it flew very briefly into a tree and just had enough time to get an out of focus record shot. Orphean Warbler (Western I think) and my final lifer of the trip

Overall, a total of 54 species and a great trip for a non birding location!

Friday 18 December 2015

Holiday to Musandam, Oman

Jenny and I flew out to Dubai with an onward two hour journey to a remote area of Oman - the Musandam Peninsula.

It is unusual in that it has no borders with Oman itself and is actually joined only to the UAE.

Our flight arrived at 07.30 (though it was 03.30 in our bodies!) so we half dozed on our journey.

Nevertheless, Hoopoe, House Crow and Red Wattled Lapwing were seen on the journey.

Our home for the next 7 days was Zighy Bay which is isolated on a beach below the Hajar Mountains.

I had spent a few hours literally here on an educational visit and knew that I should get a few birds that are a bit different here from the normal fayre in the UAE.

However, it was a chill out holiday so my birding was restricted to an hour or so first thing or last thing each day.

There are four common birds which were seen everywhere - White Spectacled Bulbul, White Eared Bulbul, Laughing Dove and Mynah.

Strangely, Rock Dove, Collared Dove and House Sparrow were seen much less frequently!

Our accommodation was a small villa with a few palms and trees around.

Chiffchaff visited regularly but was not see outside our garden!

The hotel grounds themselves produced a few additions.

Purple Sunbirds are tiny and fast and seen particularly on palms where they would tend to sit in the heart of the tree heard but not seen. They are in winter plumage so not as striking as the summer but quite exotic nevertheless.

A scrubby area near the staff car park gave Eastern Bonellis Warbler but no photos as it just flitted in and out of the bushes. A female Blackcap did pose briefly and I found this is a rarity for the area!

Lesser Whitethroat and the more common (and lifer for me) Desert Whitethroat were also seen but too flitty for photos.

A walk just outside the hotel gave Indian Roller flying by, Tawny Pipit and the gorgeous Green Bee-Eater.

Pale Crag Martins (also lifer) were common first and last thing of the day. Sand Martins and a solitary Barn Swallow were also noted. Another bird only seen in half light at the beginning of the day was Arabian Babbler. Saw daily in the same distant place but the light was never great.

Towards the end of the resort was a dried up river bed which looked very birdy but was fenced off. I managed to find a gap in the fence on my last morning but added Black Redstart, Woodchat Shrike and Chukkar which were lightning fast across the rocks. One not great photo!

However, this foray was really worth it for a new lifer which I git excellent views. Two Striolated Bunting pecked and played for a full 5 minutes not more than 40 feet away.

A small area of Pampas type grass gave Indian Silverbill which are supposedly very common here but note elsewhere in Oman and UAE

Very quick and hard the photograph so just a record shot here.

One bird I had seen briefly on my last visit but was keen to see again was Hume's Wheatear - a real speciality of the area. However, I found out that they never come into the resort (one did last time otherwise I would not have seen it!). More commonly they were high up in the mountains.

Fortunately, the hotel had a restaurant high up in the hills (where I took my opening photo). I arranged for a car to take me up on the one day the restaurant was closed. It would leave me for an hour then come and pick me up.

It is just barren and rocky up here so hard to pick out birds.

50 minutes and not a single bird!

Then, glancing high on the top of a boulder I saw my target bird.

It did not seem to be phased by me though it was always a fair way off. However, I got a couple of half reasonable shots.

On my last fleeting visit, the massive beach through up a few waders but was mostly bird free.

A scope would have given me more birds as most were way off and not identifiable with binos. I did see Socotra Cormorant again but only a walk to a tiny marine gave me anything more.

However, this did give me Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Greenshank.

A single moored fishing boat had a solitary Western Reef Heron in white plumage and, although very distant, I did get it in dark plumage too.

However, there was one tiny area where a handful of Gulls and Terns congregated and ironically, all three species were lifers for me!

Most impressive were Sooty Gulls.

The other two species were Heuglins Gull and Lesser Crested Tern though the Terns always flew as soon as I got my camera to my eye!

Overall this trip was about quality over quantity.

Only 35 definite species but, with a scope I suspect it would have been over 40.

Nevertheless, 6 lifers and some great to see birds.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Day out with Jono

It was great to get a day off and arranged for Jono to pick me up at 7.30

We made out first point of call Lady Anne's Drive at Holkham where there were loads of Pink Footed Geese and Wigeon along with a Barn Owl on route to Thornham - our next stop.

We had hoped to find the reported Shore Lark but apart from one or two waders, did get a bonus in a flock of Twite - first year lister of the day.

Jono got a brief glimpse of a Black Redstart shortly after leaving but we could not locate so pressed on to Titchwell.

We had a quick glance at the feeders with the normal birds in view but no Brambling so headed straight for a sea watch. It was really chilly and coats and hats were a blessing.

Nothing much on the sea but added Knot to my year list on the beach. Jono took the opportunity to get some close up shots of a Black Headed Gull which befriended him. As you can see, the long lens was a bit of overkill!

A Turnstone also gave us confiding views

Off to the Parrinder Hide and a Snipe flew quickly which we managed to relocate. However, nearby was another year lister - Water Pipit.

Walking back gave large numbers of Godwit and Lapwings

Still no joy at the feeders so a quick coffee and a sausage roll for me before we headed to Cley via Choseley.

Both Partridge were seen but the highlight was a massive amount of Pink Foots which were disturbed by a tractor making a magnificent sight as they all flew off.

After making the most of the visitor centre facilities we decided to head for the East Bank.

The normal array of ducks and waders on Arnold's Marsh though Kingfishers flying past gave another year lister but decided to give a sea watch another go.

It was really busy with birds. Guillemot were quickly noted along with Black and Throated Divers (former being another year lister). Great Crested Grebes, Common Scoter, Gannets and Shelduck all flew by and an incoming flock of Snow Bunting were the first of the year too!

We had already decided that towards last light we would head to Warham Green for some roosting Raptors. A brilliant though distant view of a female Merlin gave yet another year lister, However, the sky was getting heavy and rain was moving in quickly. Though we decided to call it a day we did get wet on the walk back to the car.

A coffee at Wells Co Op did the job and as it was now getting clear we finished off back at Lady Anne's Drive.

The Pink Foots were slow coming in but the sunset was beautiful

A fabulous day with over 80 species seen!