Friday 20 March 2015

Scotland and Morocco bound

By the time you read this, I will very likely have just arrived in Scotland after an overnight flight from Toronto via Iceland. For the past three winters I have traveled across the pond to visit the beautiful Laura Bond, studying to become a  veterinarian in Edinburgh, Scotland. These late winter trips work out well for both of us. Laura has a few weeks off between exams and placements, while I am still in the slow season at work. Mid March can be a nice time to go away too, because although spring is imminent in southern Ontario, it still takes way too long to arrive! Last year I returned on April 7 - just when spring really began to get going. This year I will also be returning in early April, hoping that I don't miss too many of the migrants in southern Ontario in the meantime! Regardless, the temperatures should hopefully be more consistently above freezing when I arrive back home.

During each one of these visits Laura and I have planned a separate trip somewhere else in Europe. In 2012 we spent a weekend in Spain, staying at my uncle's rooftop apartment in the heart of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. In 2013 we enjoyed 5 days in central France, visiting Tours and Paris. Last year we explored Portugal for a full week, including 5 nights based out of Faro along the southern coast.

coastline near Sagres, Portugal

This year we are going just a little further afield, flying to Morocco for 7 nights. We will be arriving in Marrakesh, spending two night there, and then renting a car for a 5 day loop to the south and west. We will fly out again from Marrakesh, arriving back in Scotland on the Saturday evening.

Our first night after picking up the car, we will be staying in Agadir near the coast During the day we are looking forward to exploring the nearby Paradise Valley in the mountains. Near Agadir we will be on the lookout for Morocco's only endemic bird - the Northern Bald Ibis or Waldrapp, as they move between feeding and roosting areas. After declining significantly for years, the numbers of Waldrapp in Morocco has slowly increased to 443 birds by the end of 2013. Technically Waldrapp is not endemic to Morocco as there is still a tiny population holding on in Syria, discovered in 2002. However, only a single individual returned to the Syrian colony in 2013 and it seems likely that this colony may soon die out, the last of the known eastern population.

We will also be traveling south from Agadir to the edge of the Sahara Desert, a place I have always dreamed of visiting. The scenery will be great and the birding should be awesome! There are a number of potential new species for us to see in southern Morocco, including a large number of wheatears, larks, and even warblers. If we are lucky we may even see some sandgrouse! I'm really hoping for some cool reptiles while we are here too. Cerastes cerastes and C. vipera, two species of sidewinders, are in the area!

We will spend some time in the Atlas Mountains as well, home to stunning vistas and amazing wildlife. Some of my most wanted birds for the mountains include Tristram's Warbler, Atlas Pied Flycatcher and Crimson-winged Finch, all species limited to northwest Africa.

Laura is really hoping to see a European Bee-eater, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, European Roller and Common Chameleon - species that we missed in Portugal! The Morocco trip should be a lot of fun with some great highlights.

After arriving back in Edinburgh we are planning on renting a car and visiting the highlands of Scotland including Cairngorms National Park. In the past we have been limited to places accessible by public transit from Edinburgh, simply because we were too young to rent a car without paying exorbitant fees. While we have been able to check out some castles, coastal areas, local towns, foothills, we have been unable to property tour the highlands. My main target birds here include Eurasian Capercaillie (the world's most bad-ass grouse), Black Grouse, and Scottish Crossbill!

After hiking Arthur's Seat, in Edinburgh, U.K.

Anyways I will sign off for now. If I have any time I may post a few photos here and there.


The Furry Gnome said...

Hope you do get to enjoy the highlands for a few days. Wonderful landscape.

Nathan Miller said...

wow, that shot from Portugal is pretty incredible!