Day 3 - February 10th 2008
After the usual 07:30 breakfast, we set off to explore the famous Tagdilt Track, a long track (now paralleled by a tarmac road) that runs across miles of open stony desert. Our main target birds were the larks that inhabit this region and we were not disappointed.
We soon found several large flocks of Lesser Short-toed Larks (photo) numbering about 300, but we couldn’t find any Short-toed Larks and were informed that these are summer visitors that will start to arrive at anytime now.
We saw at least 2 Thekla Larks, but these are not that easy to separate from the commoner North African race of Crested Lark without spending some time watching them, and we had other priorities, one of which was the Temminck’s Lark (or Temminck’s Horned Lark) and we soon located a small group of 5 birds (photos).
A difficult lark to find is Thick-billed and to increase our chances the thirteen of us spread out 30/40 metres or so apart, like game beaters, and slowly walked across the stony desert. We must have covered about half-a-mile when the totally unexpected happened, Martin, on the right hand end of the line, noticed movement someway off and as he walked towards this spot a very large owl took flight. Luckily, it didn’t fly directly away and out of sight as one would expect, rather it flew away for a short distance then turning left flew slowly along the line of people at about 50 metres range, staring at us with its large eyes as it passed. In doing so gave us all the very best views of an adult Pharaoh Eagle Owl, for Kay and me the bird of the trip! We followed to where it had disappeared over a low ridge and shortly after came upon a group of five deep, dark caves about 1.3 metres high and possibly dug for the removal of fossils - small chunks of crystalline rock formation are offered for sale to tourists. Maybe the owl was using one of these caves, but no one volunteered to go in and have a look!
Retracing our steps back to the mini-coach, we had only just moved slowly off when our trip-leader called out Thick-billed Lark as one flew up close by. As it flew off those sitting on that side managed reasonable flight views, but me and a few others on the opposite side were not so fortunate (damn!).
During several short walks this morning we came upon many burrows of the Fat Sand Rat and saw about 40 of these quite attractive, chubby looking mammals (photos).
These Fat Sand Rats are probably the main prey-item of the Long-legged Buzzard (photo) of which we saw eight different birds today.
They certainly seemed to be the commonest bird-of-prey in this part of the desert region.
We distantly heard Sandgrouse and four flew low but much too far away to identify, which was a pity as they were the only ones of the trip. However, we did have much better luck with another desert speciality, Red-rumped Wheatear (photos) and saw at least 20.
And thin, tin-whistle, piping like calls made us aware of a flock of about 40 busily feeding Trumpeter Finches (old digiscope photo).
Just as we were leaving this area, to head for lunch, another Thick-billed Lark flew up close to the vehicle and luckily I was in the right position (hoorah) and had good going-away flight views as it showed its dark, blackish flight feathers and wide, white trailing wing-bars, redshank fashion.
We then drove up into the nearby hills, en-route seeing this Little Owl (photo), some 80 Cattle Egrets and 6 White Storks. Our destination was the Vall’e Dades Gorge and we stopped for a picnic lunch alongside the tree-lined river just below the gorge. Here, we saw Green and Common Sandpiper, 2 Laughing Doves (photo), a Robin – one of only two seen on this trip, lots of Chiffchaffs, 2 Cetti’s Warblers, at least 20 Serins and 2 Firecrests.
After lunch we explored to the top of the gorge, seeing about 50 wild Rock Doves, 50+ Crag Martins, 5 Black Redstarts, 8 Black Wheatears, 3 Blue Rock Thrushes and 4 House Buntings. Kay (with her problem hip) and I left the others, who walked down from the top, and taking the mini-coach to half-way, slowly walked down from there. In doing so we missed out on a singing male Tristram’s Warbler, however we had good views of four small, guinea pig like mammals called a Gundi (photos), scrambling about on the steep cliff-face somewhat in the manner of a Rock Hyrax, which was a poor consolation! Then, somewhat reluctantly, it was time to head back to our hotel in Ouarzazate.