Monday 6 April 2015

Back from Scotland/Morocco

I'm currently on my way back to Canada from Glasgow, though a day later than planned. Sunday was just not my day. While stopping at Subway in Edinburgh to grab some food for my flight, the guy working there was extremely friendly, chatty and slow at making sandwiches. Combined with an influx of pedestrian traffic in the downtown area, Laura and I arrived at the bus station about 30 seconds after my bus left for Glasgow. Not to worry though – another bus was coming in 30 minutes and I should still make my flight. After loading my suitcase, I went to pay the driver the fare – turns out that it had increased from four pounds to seven pounds fifty for the month of April, and Laura and I did not have enough cash between us. Laura ran to the ATM while I waited by the bus, trying unsuccessfully to get the driver to open the side of the bus so I could retrieve my suitcase. We were a few seconds to late when Laura ran back with the cash and the bus took off with my suitcase in it. By the time I had taken the next bus, arrived in Glasgow, and finally found someone who could track down my suitcase, the clock was ticking and it wasn’t looking good for making my flight. I hopped on the airport shuttle and ran into the terminal as they were announcing the final boarding call for my flight. Unfortunately I was too late and they refused to check my bag or let me on the flight. 1100$ later I was re-booked on a flight leaving Monday morning. Needless to say the whole situation was a really terrible way of capping off what ended up being an otherwise awesome trip!

Anyways, enough with the negatives, as there were many more positives on the trip to outweigh them. I arrived in Edinburgh mid-day on Friday, March 27, and by the following morning Laura and I were off to Marrakech, located just north of the Atlas Mountains in central Morocco. We enjoyed two nights in the middle of the bustling Medina within Marrakesh, tasting the local cousine such as dates, cous-cous, olives, and mouth-watering tagines, and wandering through the winding streets and markets. I have to say though, it was a breath of fresh air when we left on Monday morning to pick up our rental car, with hopes of exploring places less crowded and less touristy further away from the cities. It is exhausting walking through the Medina where the shop-keepers and vendors are ruthless in hounding any tourist who pauses to look at something for even a second. Everything has to be bartered for, and the concept of “that’s ok, I’m just looking” doesn’t seem to pass as a suitable answer.

at the El Badi Palace - Marrakech, Morocco

Exploring the countryside with our rental car was a much better experience, and we visited habitats ranging from the dry, scrubby mountain foothills to the northern edge of the Sahara desert, ancient pine forests, the beautiful Atlantic coast, and snow-covered mountain tops. Laura and I both love the natural world and we had an absolute blast searching for the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis (of which only a few hundred remain), catching lizards in the Sahara, and marveling at the unrivaled beauty in the Atlas Mountains.

Atlas Mountains foothills - near Argana, Morocco

Atlas Mountains - near Oukaimeden, Morocco

Bird wise, we ended up doing quite well on the trip. Several species of birds are endemic to the Atlas Mountains or the Maghreb area of North Africa, including Moussier’s Redstart, African Blue Tit, Tristram’s Warbler, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Black-crowned Tchagra, Barbary Partridge, and Atlas Pied Flycatcher, along with certain subspecies that may be split in the future (“Seebohm’s” Northern Wheatear, “Moroccan” White Wagtail, “African” Crimson-winged Finch, “Atlas” Horned Lark, “Maghreb” Crested Lark). We ended up finding all these species except for the flycatcher (it’s the wrong time of year for them). Not only that  but we observed a flock of 21 Northern Bald Ibis feeding in the open plains along the edge of the Sahara against a backdrop of massive sand dunes disappearing into the Atlantic. Visiting the desert gave us views of some additional target species – Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Lanner Falcon (killing a Spanish Sparrow, no less), Scrub Warbler, and 6 species of wheatears including an out-of-range Isabelline, despite less than optimal weather conditions.

Black Wheatear - Lakhssas, Morocco

Without a doubt, however, the highlight of my trip was not bird related at all... I proposed to Laura on our own private beach along the Atlantic coast at the north edge of the Sahara on a beautiful sunny day after a morning of stalking lizards and wheatears.  And she said yes! :)

Upon our return to Scotland, we “hired” another car (got to use the proper lingo) and explored the highlands for a few days, something we have both wanted to do for a while. Scotland was a lot of fun, though after being spoiled with the warm weather, cheap accomodations, delicious food and diversity of wildlife in Morocco, Scotland just didn’t quite compare. Nonetheless we completed some great hikes, ate some excellent food, drank a few fine ales, and even found a couple of the target bird species (Black Grouse, Rock Ptarmigan, Crested Tit) while missing a few others (Eurasian Capercaillie, Scottish Crossbills if they actually are a species etc).

male Red Grouse (Willow Ptarmigan) - Cairn Gorm mountain, Scotland

I will have further posts detailing our adventures at some point in the future, though that may be several months from now as I still have quite a few Cuba, Panama, and Colombia posts to create.


Nathan Miller said...

Wow! Amazing shots, makes me want to visit Morocco!

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks Nate, yeah its a pretty awesome country and definitely worth exploring!

Josh Vandermeulen said...