Moroccan Birds

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Moussier’s Redstarts nesting in lampshade: a novel nesting site

Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) is undoubtedly the jewel of the birds of North Africa (yes, this is what European birders say about it). 

The species breeds in a variety of habitats where the nests are placed on the ground, at the foot of grass tussock, under thorn scrub, at the base of a bush near the ground. The nests are also placed in holes in trees up to 2.5 m, river banks and among boulders (Thévenot et al. 2003 - Birds of Morocco).The species is not known to nest in human habitations, there was only one case of nesting in the traditional thatched roof (Thévenot et al. 2003, citing the classic work of Heim de Balsac & Mayaud “Les oiseaux du nord-ouest de l'Afrique” published in 1962).

This year, Mary & Miloud El Menyiy documented successful breeding of Moussier's Redstarts in a human habitation at Ait Mimoun, a rural village south of Agadir. There were two nests in their house, both built in lampshade, one in the balcony and the other on the ground floor terrace which is directly below the balcony. To our knowledge this is the first observation of Moussier's Redstart nesting in a man-made structure and so close to humans (comments are welcome if we missed something). Mary describes themselves as “novice at birding and photography” but we see them as good birders and we should congratulate them for this interesting observation. And Many thanks for sharing this with us. Please read below the full story (click on the images to enlarge them): 

Moussier’s Redstarts nesting in our home at Ait Mimoun
by Mary & Miloud El Menyiy

The proud father Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri)
The proud father Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri), Ait Mimoun (Mary El Menyiy)

Our first encounter with Moussier’s Redstarts was when our house was being built in 2011 in Ait Mimoun, a rural village between Sidi Bibi and Tifnit and approximately 6 km from the sea.

Builders had left an empty cement bag on top of the partially built barbecue in the perimeter wall. Miloud saw three eggs in the nest and spotted both male and female adults. On a later fleeting visit he discovered the nest had been disturbed and the chicks were dead on the ground. 

On our visits in 2012 and 2013 we found nests in the ground floor lampshade and the second floor balcony lampshade.

This year, 2014, our visits coincided with the nests being built, eggs being laid, and chicks developing as well as our increased interest in birding and photography.

In March 2014, we saw the female arriving at the balcony lampshade with nest building materials. Our visit ended before we could see any other activity.

On our return in May we found an empty nest in the same lampshade which we photographed before cleaning the shade out as we wanted to use the light.
Moussier’s Redstart nest in the balcony lampshade Balcony

In the same mouth, we saw a female arriving at the lampshade on the ground floor terrace which is directly below the balcony. We then saw the female arrive and stay in the nest in the lampshade. We continued to use the door to the terrace and this did not disturb the bird.

Female Moussier’s Redstart arriving  

A few days later I spotted the female leaving the nest and flying off so I took the opportunity to look inside. There were three eggs. The female returned, stayed on the nest and was brought food by the male.

Moussier's Redstart eggs in lampshadeMoussier's Redstart eggs in lampshade

The next time we noticed both male and female were arriving with food to feed the chicks.

When we were sure both adult birds had flown off, I again took a picture inside the nest. This was done quickly so as not to disturb the birds. I caught the light fitting as well as 2 of the young birds on the picture.

Moussier's Redstart chicks in lampshade Moussier's Redstart chicks in lampshade

We continued to observe the male and female Moussier’s Redstarts arriving to feed the chicks.

Unfortunately we then left for home in England so were unable to make any further observations. We shall return at the end of July.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Long-tailed Duck at Oualidia: first record for Morocco and Africa

A Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis - Harelde boréale) was found and photographed on the lagoons just northeast of Oualidia on 5-6 June 2014. The bird was found by Bart Brieffies that was in a Birdfinders trip that included eight birders from four European nations. This is the first Moroccan record of the Long-tailed Duck and “may well be the first record for Africa” as the tour leader Vaughan Ashby commented. 

Edit (12 June): This bird looks like a first record for the African continent. I checked “Oiseaux de Tunisie/Birds of Tunisia” (Isenmann et al. 2005) and found that the Long-tailed Duck was not listed. Denis Lepage (Avibase editor), commented on twitter that he "can't find a source of the Tunisia record in Avibase, and looks like an error/unconfirmed sighting".

Read more about this sea duck in the species fact sheet in BirdLife’s data zone, from where the following text in extracted:

Clangula hyemalis is circumpolar, breeding on the Arctic coasts of North America (Canada, Alaska, USA and Greenland), Europe (Iceland and Norway), and Asia (Russia). It winters at sea further south, as far as the United Kingdom, South Carolina and Washington in the United States, Korea on the Asian Pacific coast, and other areas including the Black Sea and Caspian Sea (del Hoyo et al. 1992)”.

Thanks to Vaughan Ashby for sending us this record and for permission to use his photograph.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), Oualidia lagoon, Morocco on 6 June 2014
Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), Oualidia lagoon, Morocco on 6 June 2014. (photo: Vaughan Ashby)

Harelde boréale (Clangula hyemalis) photographiée dans la lagune de Oualidia les 5-6 juin: une nouvelle espèce pour le Maroc et probablement pour l'ensemble de l'Afrique.

Friday, May 30, 2014

2 Rüppell's Vultures at Jbel Moussa, Strait of Gibraltar (29 May 2014)

Two Rüppell's Vultures (Gyps rueppellii) together with a group of 97 Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) at Jbel Moussa on 29 May 2014.

The group of vultures have not crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and spent the night locally. The plan for today is to check every vulture in the group to see if the African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) still with group. If Rachid sees the latter species, we will let you know as soon as possible. 

Note: there is no carcass at the place where the vultures were landed and roosted (picture 3).

Observation and photos: Rachid El Khamlichi

Gyps rueppellii, Jbel Moussa (29 May 2014)
Gyps fulvus, Jbel Moussa (29 May 2014)
Vultures waiting for good weather to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, Jbel Moussa, northern Morocco.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Gyps africanus: a new species for Morocco

Today, 25 May 2014, we saw a White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) near Tétouan, northern Morocco. The bird was in company of the Rüppell's Vultures and Griffon Vultures we saw yesterday and today at the same site.

This is the first record for Morocco and North Africa, and it is only the 4th or 5th record for the Western Palearctic. There were 3 records from southern Spain between 2008 and 2011There was also an earlier record (October 2006) from southern Portugal but it was classed in Category D at the time, but probably may be reviewed in light of the subsequent records from Spain and Morocco (thanks to Javier Elloriaga, Dominic Mitchell, Richard Klim and other birders who communicated these WP records). The White-backed Vulture breeds in sub-Saharan Africa and classified as Endangered by IUCN (Red List 2012). 

Vautour africain (Gyps africanus) : une nouvelle espèce pour le Maroc et l'Afrique du Nord. L'espèce se reproduit en Afrique sub-saharienne et classé En danger (EN)  par l'UICN (Liste Rouge 2012).

Rachid El Khamlichi, Karim El Haoua & Mohamed Amezian

photos by Rachid.

Update 26 MayWe went back to the site at lunchtime but we haven’t found a single vulture neither at the carcass nor in the surrounding area. Most likely they have moved to the direction of Jbel Moussa after we left the area yesterday at about 16:00. Good luck for the birders around the Strait of Gibraltar.

In summary, this May was a vultures' mouth by excellence: 10 Rüppell's Vultures and one White-backed Vulture in 4 days (10, 11, 24 and 25 May. see this link:

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus).
White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus).
White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), Rüppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) & Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
Three Gyps vultures together at Tétouan: White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), Rüppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) and Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

3 Rüppell’s Vultures at Tétouan (24-05-2014)

It seems like these Rüppell's Vultures (Gyps rueppellii) are following our footsteps.  This time, we didn't even go to see them. They came to us!

Early morning today, we went to Smir wetland for our usual birding and also to survey the local heronry to see the progression of the breeding season of the Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) and the Glossy Ibis (Pleagadis falcinillus). 

During the afternoon, we went to our preferred suburban forest that holds some interesting species of raptors (5 species in a relatively small area). It's located just some 5 Km north of Tétouan. While watching and photographing some birds, we spotted two Griffon Vultures very high above our heads. Soon, other birds joined and there are now some 20 vultures. We didn’t wait long to spot a Rüppell's Vulture (at 16:03), we also took a quick picture to ensure the identification and for the record (the birds still very high). The vultures, now numbering 35, were still circling high and after some minutes they moved to the south (towards Tétouan). We were pleased with our Rüppell's Vulture and returned to the car. But after some minutes later, we saw them losing altitude and wanted to land some 1 Km from us. Woww! What a chance! there must be a carcase nearby. We spent some 30 minutes searching for their location in the forested area and also in the open habitat surrounding the woodland. 

When finally found the vultures at a carcass, we counted 3 Rüppell's Vultures among 32 Griffon Vultures. We took photographs of the birds in different sittings (at the carcass, in the open field and on the trees...). It was difficult to record all three Rüppell's Vultures in one picture because the group were moving around, but we managed to take some photos showing all three together.

In late afternoon, the vultures split into 2 groups and some of them went to roost on the trees. A local Black-winged Kite (
Elanus caeruleus) seen mobbing some vultures that were roosting near his nest. 

Rachid & Mohamed

(As a rule, when you see these two names together, photographs always taken by Rachid El Khamlichi)

Edit: on 25 May, we went back to the vultures, where we found the 3 Rüppell's Vultures, 38 Griffon Vultures (6 more than yesterday). We also found a MEGA rarity: a White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus).

One of the Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii), Tetouan, 24-05-2014. (Rachid El Khamlichi) 
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) and Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) at the carcass 

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Spectacle: 7 Rüppell's Vultures in 2 days moving north to Europe

After the observation of 3 Rüppell's Vulture at Jbel Bouhachem Natural Park with 5 Griffon Vultures in the afternoon of 10 May. Next day (11 May) we went to Jbel Moussa on the Strait of Gibraltar to observe bird migration with the hope of seeing the Rüppell's Vultures again (we literally wanted to intercept them at the Strait, because we knew that they won’t cross during that same day). 

To our great pleasure, we spotted the first 2 Rüppell's Vultures (Gyps rueppellii) of the day at about 14:35 (Moroccan summer time) along with 6 Griffon Vultures. Afterwards, we observed small groups of Griffon Vultures moving above our heads. 

Between 14:05 and 14:25, we observed 2 other Rüppell's Vultures with 22 Griffon Vultures. In total, we counted  4 Rüppell's Vultures and 139 Griffon Vultures.

Also observed crossing the Strait: hundreds of Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus), tens of Black Kite (Milvus migrans), some Booted Eagles (Hieraaetus pennatus) and Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus).

Isn't this a wonderful Migration Spectacle?

When we compared the photographs of the 3 birds observed at Jbel Bouhachem on 10 May and the 4 birds observed at Jbel Moussa on 11 May, we found that the birds were not the same individuals. So, there was 7 Rüppell's Vulture moving north to Europe from Africa in 2 days. This must be a record, our colleagues at the northern shore of the Strait what do you think? Your comments are welcome and thanks in advance.

Rachid El Khamlichi & Mohamed Amezian with the company of Edith Meyer and her husband Théo. Photographs were taken by Rachid.

On 10 May, we were with the company of our great friend Mohamed Karim El Haoua.

Individual 1
Individual 2
Individual 3
Individual 4

Sunday, May 11, 2014

3 Rüppell’s Vultures at Jbel Bouhachem, south of Tétouan (10 May 2014)

Just a few days ago, we spoke about watching the spectacle of bird migration at Jbel Moussa, the Strait of Gibraltar. Yesterday, to celebrate the world migratory bird day, we went birding at the Jbel Bouhachem Natural Park situated some 40 Km south-west of Tétouan, northern Morocco.

At the entrance of the park, we witnessed the passage of some 950 Honey Buzzards (Pernis pivorus) in 30 minutes (from 9:17 am – 9:49 am). 

But the moment of the day (and of the year so far) started when we saw 8 vultures moving from the south but still far away. The first thing we did was finding a high rock outcrop in order to dominate the landscape and better see the birds. When these approached, we started to recognise the Griffon Vultures, but there were some unusual vultures among the griffons as well. After some minutes, we identified the first Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) in the group. Minutes later, one of us cried “there are 2, there are 2 of them!” (of course not in English, but you get the point). So, everyone get excited. 

When we got home and started to process the photographs, to our surprise we found a third bird: there were 3 Rüppell’s Vultures. Three Rüppell’s out of 8 Gyps vultures, that is a magical proportion of a vagrant bird travelling from sub-Saharan Africa. All three birds are identifiable by plumage pattern and moult. 

Edit 1: On the next day (11 May) we saw 4 more Rüppell’s Vultures at Jbel Moussa about to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Europe. That is 7 different Rüppell’s Vultures in 2 days. All photographed. 

Edit 2: On 24 and 25 May, we observed and photographed 3 more Rüppell’s Vultures and one African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) (found among the Rüppell’s and Griffon Vultures) near Tétouan. This is the first Moroccan record for this species.

3 Rüppell’s Vultures (Gyps rueppellii), Jbel Bouhachem
3 Rüppell’s Vultures 

Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii), Jbel Bouhachem
Rüppell’s Vulture 1
Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii), Jbel Bouhachem
Rüppell’s Vulture 2
Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii), Jbel Bouhachem
Rüppell’s Vulture 3
Rüppell’s Vulture + Griffon Vulture, Jbel Bouhachem
Rüppell’s Vulture + Griffon Vulture

Karim El Haoua has memorised the wonderful moments by the following pictures:

Vultures in the sky.
Rachid went to bring the telescope to the 'natural mirador'.
Excitement! Rachid left the telescope in its place and rushed to take the photographs.  The auto-focus and the image stabilizer were not working, so Mohamed can’t use the camera. 

Leaving the 'natural mirador'.
Some rest after a deserved snack.

This species is seen for the first time (a lifer) by one of us (Mohamed). Rachid has seen one at Jbel Moussa in August 2010, but the vultures in this observation were much nearer and the observation is much better. The bird is also new to Mohammed Karim El Haoua who started recently to be interested in birds. Karim enjoyed both the birds above him as well as taking the photographs of the other two birders while crying, shouting, observing and photographing the birds. Thanks Karim for memorising these wonderful moments and for the good company.