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June 25, 2009 Birding in Morocco

Morocco gets plenty of visitors from Europe and the US, but not enough birdwatchers. This means that there’s pitifully little information available to birders in Morocco. One of the best resources is Bird Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, published by Harper Collins. It has a pro-Britain bias, so includes statements like “This bird is only a summer visitor here, but winters in Spain and Africa,” but even so, its maps – available for *every* bird in the book – include the entire Mediterranean rim, including all of North Africa.

That one pairs well with Birding in Morocco, which is not meant to be a field guide. It cuts Morocco into a few dozen regions and tells you what to look for in each region. There are a handful of maps to the more remote sites, but is mostly useful for the lists of birds you can expect to see in each area. Partnered with the Bird Guide mentioned above, you can actually figure out what you’re seeing.

That said, neither book is 100% accurate. It’s not really their fault; Morocco is a big country – the size of California – and has dozens or hundreds of different microclimates and micro-ecosystems. This means that we have birds that haven’t yet been noticed by the nice folks writing the books. So if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and has webbed feet, don’t worry if the map says that it’s never found south of France. :)

My dad is a devoted birder who has several hundred birds on his “life list”. I’m a tagalong birder; when I’m with him, I’ll do the field guide thing and have a fair eye for diagnostic details, but when I’m on my own, I tend not to pay too much attention to our flapping feathered friends.

But in just a few days with the family, I saw dozens of species of birds that I’ve either never seen before or just never noticed before.

Even the most bird-blind visitor to Morocco can’t help but notice the enormous storks (some say “cranes”) atop nearly every mosque in the country. These gigantic birds nest on the highest thing around and ride thermals on sunny afternoons, meaning that they’re nearly always visible, and always striking in their glossy black and radiantly white plumage.

But it turns out that they’re not the only black-and-white birds in my skies. There’s also a tuxedo-colored bird of prey, known in French as a beuze (spelled phonetically) or busard according to my French-English dictionary. Then there are the Eurasian Coots, which are all black except for a streak of white down their faces, and Black-winged Stilts, which look like skinny penguins teetering on stilts, just to name two more.

And colored birds? Ooooh, boy. There’s the blindingly yellow Golden Oriole, the radiant turquoise-and-rust Roller, the rust-bellied Moussier’s Redstart, and the multi-hued Eurasian Chaffinch (North African race) - not to be confused with the Blue Chaffinch, which is, yes, mostly blue.

In a day spent in the Ifrane National Park, visiting four lakes – Dayet Aoua, Dayet Hichlef, Dayet Ifrah, and Agoulmem Afenourir – we saw countless birds. Hundreds for sure. Probably thousands. The other species we’ve so far identified include…

(Eurasian) Common Kestrel

Lesser Kestrel (I spotted this one!)

Cattle Egret (these fill trees in Azrou, near the bus station, and are found *everywhere* up here)

Great Crested Grebe (a truly gorgeous duck-like creature)

Turtle Dove

Ruddy Shellduck (striking black and white wings while flying, but the wings vanish when it sits on a lake; then, you just notice the rusty neck)

Eagle (probably the Booted Eagle, but we’re not sure)

Alpine Swift

Coal Tit

Mistle Thrush

Willow Warbler

Black Kite

Red Kite

Little Grebe

Eurasian Coot

Red-knobbed Coot (incredibly rare – nests only in these lakes!!)

Black-eared Wheatear

Black-billed Magpie

Barbary Partridge

We saw more, but couldn’t ID them in the field. Dad snapped pictures, though, so we may work them out later. Stay tuned…

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Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps