Moroccan Birds

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

65 White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) in one tree

About 65 White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) on an Araucaria tree in the garden of the Governor’s house at El Jadida.

Photos taken this morning (16 Sep 2015) at 9h20 by Ahmed Benmeryeme who works for the High Commission for Waters and Forests and the Fight against Desertification (HCEFLCD).

Quite an amazing sight, but has anyone wondering what they do in this tree?

Environ 65 Cigognes blanches sur un Araucaria dans le jardin de la maison du gouverneur à El Jadida 
Photos prises ce matin 16/09/2015 à 9h20 par Ahmed Benmeryeme qui travail pour Le Haut Commissariat aux Eaux et Forêts et à la Lutte Contre la Désertification (HCEFLCD).

White Storks (Ciconia ciconia), Governor's house, El Jadida, 16 September 2015 (Ahmed Benmeryeme)
White Storks (Ciconia ciconia), Governor's house, El Jadida, 16 September 2015 (Ahmed Benmeryeme)

Note that some birds have moved between the two pictures, so they are not plastic White Storks. Just a joke!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Seawatching off Bouznika, central Morocco

Two GOMAC members, Karim Laïdi and Benoit Maire, had a productive seawatching session off Bouznika at about 10 km off the coast (between Casablanca and Rabat) on 08 Sep 2015. They observed the following species:

  • Cory's Shearwater - Puffin cendré – Calonectris borealis: 19 birds
  • Sooty Shearwater - Puffin fuligineux – Puffinus griseus: 1
  • European Storm Petrel - Océanite tempête – Hydrobates pelagicus: 25
  • Wilson's Storm Petrel - Océanite de Wilson – Oceanites oceanicus: 1 
  • Northern Gannet - Fou de Bassan – Morus bassanus: 17 
  • Eleonora’s Falcon - Faucon d’Eléonore – Falco eleonorae: 1 bird trying to capture a European Storm Petrel at sea.
  • Common Tern - Sterne pierregarin – Sterna hirundo: 10 birds, mainly juveniles, of which one was ringed. 
  • Black Tern - Guifette noire – Chlidonias niger: 2 
  • Sandwich Tern - Sterne caugek – Thalasseus sandvicensis: 3 
  • Audouin's Gull - Goéland d’Audouin – Ichthyaetus audouinii: 3 
  • European Hoopoe - Huppe fasciée – Upupa epops: 11
  • Willow Warbler - Pouillot fitis – Phylloscopus trochilus: 1

Click on this link to see the photographs from the trip in the GOMAC website: Sortie en mer au large de Bouznika le 08/09/2015.

Sooty Shearwater - Puffin fuligineux - Puffinus griseus, off Bouznika, central Morocco
Sooty Shearwater - Puffin fuligineux - Puffinus griseus, off Bouznika, central Morocco, 08 Sep 2015 (photo: Benoit Maire)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

32 Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus) at Tangier

32 Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus) seen at Tangier by Carlos Naza Gonzalez Bocos a few days ago. While the species is relatively common in southern Morocco, it’s certainly a rare bird at this latitude, and with this number it's a good record.

Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus), Tangier, northern Morocco
Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus), Tangier, northern Morocco, September 2015 (photo: Carlos Naza Bocos)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hazards of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar: Griffon Vulture MA4 found dead at Tarifa island, Spain

MA4, the young Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) wing-tagged at Jbel Moussa on 24 May 2015 (photo 1) was found dead at Tarifa island, southern Spain on 14 August 2015. After it was wing-tagged, MA4 stayed locally 3 days at Jbel Moussa roosting with other Griffon Vultures. Javier Rivas Salvador found the dead vulture at Tarifa island in an advanced decomposition state (photos 2 & 3), so probably it was dead weeks before it was found. 

While we don’t know exactly the causes of the death, but it was most likely due to the bird was in poor condition and was unable to reach Spain safely (Griffons still crossing the Strait to Europe as late as July and some even in August). 

Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar (and other straits) is a difficult task for such large birds as Griffon Vultures which were not evolved to use flapping-powered flights. And crossing the straits in unfavourable wind direction is a risky decision. 

Similar cases were recorded of vultures reaching southern Iberia in very poor conditions or found dead at shores (for example, David Cuenca & Gonzalo Muñoz reported that 3 Griffon Vultures fell into the sea and died, others Griffons and a Rüppell's Vulture were forcibly landed by gulls at Tarifa island on 10 June 2016, see photos and the whole story at Rare Birds in Spain website).

Cases of vultures found dead along the Moroccan coast are rare only because of scarcity of observers. However, there was a recent case probably involved a bird just arriving from Europe and found dead at the shores of Fnideq (photo 4). 

Griffon Vulture MA4 and MA5 were wing-tagged by Rachid El Khamlichi at Jbel Moussa on 24 May 2015, with the help of José Antonio Sarrión Salado who was present at Jbel Moussa that day. 

MA4 found dead at Tarifa island, Spain on 14 August 2015 by Javier Rivas Salvador, a MSc student in 'Biodiversity and Conservation Biology'.

MA4 found dead at Tarifa island, Spain on 14 August 2015 by Javier Rivas Salvador, a MSc student in 'Biodiversity and Conservation Biology'.
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) found dead at the shores of Fnideq, northern Morocco, in autumn 2014. It was probably exhausted during sea crossing, although Fnidek is not on the Strait itself but it's not far (photo: Yasmina Fartakh)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Winter breeding by Cream-coloured Coursers is more common than previously reported

Until the end of the 20th century there were only limited numbers of autumn-winter breeding records of the Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor). With the exception of Cape Verde, all these mentions of winter breeding are outside the Western Palearctic (as defined in the BWP) and the Arabian Peninsula including Socotra Islands.

In this paper published in the last issue of the Wader Study Group Bulletin, we compiled several autumn-winter breeding observations obtained mainly by amateur birders (citizen scientists) and we show that this phenomenon is more common when local conditions (especially rainfall) are favourable. These observations are from several parts of the species’ range, as far apart as Socotra Island on the Indian Ocean and the Canary Islands on the Atlantic, across Oman and Senegal, although the majority are from the region of Oued ad-Dahab, southern Morocco.

In view of the observations gathered here from different regions (of which most occurred after a rainy summer/autumn), with the addition of the records cited in the literature, we can conclude that the phenomenon of autumn-winter breeding in Cream-coloured Coursers is more common than previously supposed, when local conditions, particularly high rainfall, are favourable.

The PDF of the paper:

Amezian, M., Bergier, P. & Qninba, A. 2014. Autumn-winter breeding by Cream-coloured Coursers Cursorius cursor is more common than previously reported. Wader Study Group Bull. 121: 177–180.

Adult Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor) feeding a small chick at Hadibo, Socotra Island, Yemen, 13 January 2006
Adult Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor) feeding a small chick at Hadibo, Socotra Island, Yemen, 13 January 2006 (photo: Hanne & Jens Eriksen)
Juvenile Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor) at Oum el Hajj, near Merzouga, SE Morocco, 14 December 2010
Juvenile Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursorat Oum el Hajj, near Merzouga, SE Morocco, 14 December 2010 (photo: Alexandre Beauquenne)

Overlooked observations/reports:

1) It seems that we overlooked one observation from the Socotra Island published by Porter & Suleiman (2014) in the spring 2014 issue of Sandgrouse:

  • Porter, R.F. & Suleiman, A.S. 2014. The populations and distribution of the breeding birds of the Socotra archipelago, Yemen: 2. Shearwaters to Terns. Sandgrouse 36(1): 8–33.

2) In a recent project, Alex Tavares Gonçalves confirmed previous observations that the endemic subspecies of the Cape Verde Cursorius cursor exsul is breeding after rains (from August until October in this study). Of source, the main objectives of the project were to study other aspects of the ecology of the species.

Read the report in the the African Bird Club website:

Recent observations: any recent records of autumn/winter breeding by this species are welcome, with many thanks in advance.

1) Two juveniles of about 10 days of age photographed with their parents (photos 3 and 4 bellow) in Fuerteventura (Canary Islands) on 15 February 2015 by Juan José Ramos of Birding Canarias. Taking into account of the period of incubation (19 days), the eggs must have been laid by mid-January. Gracias Juan José!

Chick of Cream-coloured Courser (about 10 days of age), Fuerteventura (Canary Islands), 15 February 2015 (photo: Juan José Ramos / Birding Canarias).
Adult Cream-coloured Coursers: parents of chick above, Fuerteventura (Canary Islands), 15 February 2015 (photo: Juan José Ramos / Birding Canarias).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Eleonora's Falcons keep or imprison their prey alive

Eleonora's Falcon (Falco eleonorae) is mainly insectivorous outside the breeding season. During the latter season, which is very late (from July to October) as an adaptation to coincide with autumnal bird migration, both adults and chicks consume migrating birds (mainly passerines but also small non-passerines like Hoopoe and swifts) that fly through Mediterranean islands and Atlantic coast.

During a fieldwork study in the framework of PIM-Initiative in 2014, Qninba et al. recorded an unusual predation behaviour by this falcon in the Mogador archipelago (Essaouira), off Moroccan Atlantic coast. The authors remarked that Eleonora's Falcons kept alive some of the captured prey. To do this, "the falcons keep or ‘imprison’ some preys in a relatively deep cavity or in a fissure of rocks from where they can’t escape as their flight feathers (both tail and wings feathers) were already pulled out (photo 1 of the Chiffchaff). Or by keeping them trapped in a tight and deep hole which makes them unable to move neither their wings nor their hanging legs (photo 2 of the Common Whitethroat)".

The authors reported also that this behaviour can occur even before the eggs hatch, and was already well known to a local fisherman who is staying in the archipelago in a more or less regular basis for decades.

The authors interpreted this hitherto unknown behaviour for this falcon or for any other raptor species as a form of food storage behaviour. They wrote: “Keeping prey alive, one or two days (the precise period not yet known), may allow the falcon to have a fresh food on the right moment, because the dead prey brought to the nest and untouched can no longer be consumed as it dries out too quickly”.

This unusual predation behaviour was described in this paper published in the last issue of Alauda:

Qninba, A., Benhoussa, A. Radi, M., El Idrissi, A., Bousadik, H., Badaoui B. & El Agbani, M.A. 2015. Mode de prédation très particulier du Faucon d’Éléonore Falco eleonorae sur l’Archipel d’Essaouira (Maroc Atlantique)Alauda 83(2): 149-150.

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) stored at the bottom of a crevice after it’s wing and tail feathers were pulled out, Mogador island, Morocco, September 2014 (Abdeljebbar Qninba).
Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) immobilised in a deep and very small hole, Mogador island, Morocco, September 2014 (Abdeljebbar Qninba).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

African vultures are heading towards extinction, a study warns

An international team of researchers from across Africa, Europe and North America have published the first estimates of decline rates in African vultures on the continent. Their findings suggest that African vultures are likely to qualify as ‘Critically Endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s global threat criteria. The study which was published recently in the scientific journal, Conservation Letters, also show that many national parks and game reserves appear to offer little effective protection to vulture species in Africa.

The article is open access:

Ogada D, Shaw P, Beyers RL, Buij R, Murn C, Thiollay JM, Beale CM, Holdo RM, Pomeroy D, Baker N, Krüger SC, Both A, Virani MZ, Monadjem A, Sinclair ARE. 2015. Another continental vulture crisis: Africa’s vultures collapsing toward cxtinction. Conservation Letters
doi: 10.1111/conl.12182

You can read more about this in the following links that reported about the study:

- Vulture populations plummet across Africa (Science mag news). By Erik Stokstad. 

- Africa’s vultures are collapsing to extinction (National Geographic voices). By Darcy Ogada of The Peregrine Fund (USA & Kenya).

- Increased poaching causes surge in African vulture deaths (Africa Geographic). By Andre Botha of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (South Africa).

- Why Africa's vultures are "collapsing toward extinction" (National Geographic news). By Matt McCall.

En français voir: Les vautours africains diminuent de façon critique

Lappet-faced and Cape Vultures at a carcass at Sable Dam, Kruger National Park, South Africa (photo: Andre Botha). These two species appear to be declining at a rate of 80%–92% over three generations (about 45–48 years).