On the Monday (9th March), we took our first trip out in the minibus, with several stops along the Atlantic coast, to the north of Agadir. The first stop was at Cap Rhir, mainly to look at vegetation, though we saw fauna of interest too…
I got the giggles at this. Philip, Don and Alison take photos of the lizard, a young shepherd boy on his donkey looks on in puzzlement, and his sheep follow.
And the ovines catch us up.
Believe it or not, these two plants are both from the euphorbia family. The cactusy-looking one is not a cactus!
This is a Moroccan Lizard-toed Gecko, or three-quarters of one. Philip had picked it up, but it escaped, leaving its tail behind to wriggle and distract the predator.
Philip was mortified, saying that this had never happened to him before.
We moved further north to Oued (River) Tamri, in search of the endangered Northern Bald Ibis. The total world population (in the wild) is only about 800, and near here was a known breeding site. When we stopped in the car park, alongside the vehicles of some surfers, we knew we would see some of the birds, as one of our number had spotted some high on a cliff to our right.
They flew around a bit.
A Marsh Harrier came to join the party. Well, not really, but it was good to see it.
After eating a very copious packed lunch provided by the lodge, we walked further along the dunes to the mouth of the oued.
We enjoyed walking along the sand, with its fresh breeze and wonderful surfing waves, and were reluctant to leave, but our next stop was explicitly for us to enjoy even more some sea action.
Our route back to the hotel took us into Agadir, and we climbed and climbed, to our puzzlement. It turned out we were being taken to the Kasbah (fort), which was very severely damaged in the 1960 earthquake, especially inside.
The views explained the setting.
Before our evening meal, we were invited into the salon of the Atlas Kasbah, which in a Moroccan home is a room near the entrance used only for entertaining guests. According to Moroccan tradition these can (and do) turn up completely unannounced, have the right to stay for up to three days, and it would be the height of bad manners to ask how long they were intending to stay. They sleep in the salon.
We stayed for about an hour, to be introduced by Hassan to the very elaborate traditional tea making ceremony. Ibrahim – or Hussein, I never did manage to tell them apart, as both were so charmingly smiley – assisted.
Sunday, 2nd June. The verdict as to what I should so on my final full day was unanimous: ‘Strathdearn’, they said, which is also known as the Findhorn Valley.
I made several stops along the valley As I got back in the car the first time, ‘Henry’ and ‘Clara’, out for a walk, asked me was I looking for waders. I replied I was looking for anything, in a very amateurish way. The waders were all over the fields they said.
I succeeded in seeing nothing for a while, except some colourful cows,
evidence that sheep had once inhabited this field,
some actual sheep,
and some oystercatchers too far away to get a decent picture. I liked the colours in this newish wall round a farmhouse.
And then it started raining. Many years ago, when I was working in Whitehall on public housing subsidies, it had been alleged to me that it rained sideways in Scotland. Here’s the proof.
It calmed down, and I came to a little layby. ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’ were there with telescopes and heavy rainwear. Of course I pulled in. Birdwatchers always compare notes, though I had nothing to offer. The hope was to see a golden eagle. I stayed just a short while, which they clearly did not think was very professional of me, but I was keen to reach the car park at the end of the road for lunchtime, and I was now only halfway along.
I had stopped at a broad bank and had been watching the first oystercatcher making desultory nest-building moves, before the second came along and appeared to tell her there was no point. ‘Marie’ and ‘Hamish’, who said they were keepers (self-appointed or not, I was not sure) came along in a Landrover, and said they were concerned that a pair of dippers had been disturbed ‘just under that bridge’ in their nest-building recently. They seemed satisfied that I was not guilty and after some pleasantries drove on in the direction I had come from.
I continued on my way, and just before the car parking area, I encountered this meadow pipit, with caterpillar.
This was my view as I sat in the car starting to eat my lunch. I was really, really hoping to see a golden eagle or some other raptor.
Then I stopped chewing, because I could see two tiny protuberances at the top of the mountain. With my binoculars I saw this.
I was spellbound.
In due course ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’ came along, and asked me if I had seen the ravens. (As it was ‘Jock’ who asked me, I had to ask three times what he was asking, his accent was so strong.) The ravens were way up on a hillside behind me. I had been so mesmerised by the red deer (and nice and warm in the car as I ate) that I had not yet turned round to see them, on a far horizon.
I learned that ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’ came up to the Highlands from Dunfermline and Airdrie as often as they could to look for birds.
All of a sudden ‘Jack’ got very excited. ‘I don’t believe it!’. He had just been idly looking through his telescope, and there was … a ring ouzel. I had never seen one in my life, and I had previously met people who had travelled many miles unsuccessfully to see one. It is a mountain relative of the blackbird, and has a white bib. I was invited to to look at it through their telescope. I then tried to find it with my camera, in vain. So I took some general pictures of the gully, hoping I might pick the bird out on screen later.
Here’s one of the photos.
And yes, the bird is there. Yes it is. Here is a tiny segment of the main photo, enormously enlarged.
And here’s a tiny segment of another photo.
Clearly there is a blackbird with a white bib.
I was chuffed! Thank you ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’. I’d never have seen either it or, probably, the ravens had you not been there. But that’s the birdwatching world (of which I do not count myself part). They love sharing their sightings.
Another car came along, but I was moving on. I had more plans. Again using the map and information provided by the hotel, I was making for RSPB reserve Loch Ruthven. But not before this common gull had greeted me beside my car.
And I had zoomed in on this ruin back along the Findhorn Valley.
There was what turned out to be a very narrow one-track road over some moorland to get to the reserve. The sun was coming out, and it made this ‘blasted heath’ a little more attractive.
The road was only 7 miles long, but it took a while to travel it. There was a delightful small loch at the end of it, Loch Farr. But I stopped only long enough to take a picture of it, as I had a few more miles more to do.
This was the view as I parked the car at RSPB Loch Ruthven.
And these a couple of views as I walked along the path to the hide.
THE bird to see there is the rare Slavonian grebe. Half the UK’s breeding population is found at this loch. (I know, there are countries called Slovakia and Slovenia, but no Slavonia. I don’t know why the grebe is so-called! … Ah, I do now. Spellcheck didn’t underline the word, so I thought I’d better look it up. Slavonia is a region in Croatia. So now I know. Well, I still don’t know how the bird got its name. In the US it’s called the Horned grebe.)
Anyway, I didn’t see any. Neither did ‘Janet’ and ‘John’, who were already in the hide, and didn’t say hello. They left after after ‘Janet’ said to ‘John’, ‘Shall we give up?’ I was happy just to sit there and see
and various other birds of which I didn’t get decent photos, and to enjoy this abstract.
As I left, ‘Nick’ came in. We exchanged shy smiles and as I made my way back along the pretty path I found my self thinking, ‘I’m sure I’ve met him before. Is he on the telly, or is he in in the Somerset Wildlife Trust?’ I didn’t work it out.
USA 2018 (13), Wolves? It was still dark – and minus 33ºC/minus 28ºF – when we set off at 7 a.m., to look seriously for wolves on this Tuesday morning, 20th February. After all, the name of the trip was ‘Yellowstone: Ultimate Wolf and Wildlife Safari’. We were essentially retracing the last part of our journey the day before, westwards from Cooke City, which is just outside the north-east corner of Yellowstone National Park, back along the Lamar valley, and then continuing parallel with the Yellowstone River westwards a little further. At our first stop, where we looked in vain for a wolf pack before the sun had even risen above the mountains, we saw water vapour rising from the creek, as if a hot sun were evaporating the water prior to a scorching hot day! But I was told it was case ofthermal inversion. Our next stop, for ‘comfort’ purposes, was in yet another beautiful spot. Then we pulled up again, when we saw a group of photographer tourists parked and looking upwards – at four sleeping coyotes, of which here are two.
Female bighorn sheep. Unusually, the female of this species has horns, but this one is lacking one of them.
Female bighorn sheep encounters bison, with no untoward outcome
We arrived at the furthest point intended for the day, where there was a good chance, we were told, of seeing a given pack of wolves. We met Lizzie, who spends much of her time tracking the animals. She passed round a collar which had been round a wolf’s neck, and that felt quite spooky to me. It was pretty heavy, and we were reminded that the wolf is a very large animal, though it’s difficult to realise when you see them from a distance – IF ever we should see them, from a distance or no. No luck this morning and we made our way back to Cooke City for lunch, quite slowly as we kept seeing interesting things and stopping.
The other two ‘sleeping’ coyotes
Icing sugar? Ice cream? Thick snow?
Male bighorn sheep
Pawing the snow aside to reach the vegetation. Despite appearances, it is the legs of the sheep which are vertical, not the camera crooked
Ravens eating carcase, antler and vertebrae visible
There is a tiny cream-coloured smudge in this photo, three-quarters of the way from the left and about a third down, below and to the right of the second big tree in from the right. It is at least two, perhaps three miles away, and is a mountain goat. Tim somehow spotted it for us.
Enlarging this photo further would just make the animal very blurry indeed.
The view from my room, not seen in the dark the night before or in the morning
Plans for the afternoon were to meet a wildlife cinematographer, and then to have an individual choice between: resting for a while, going snow-shoeing, or further wildlife searching. Most people seemed to be going to opt for the last, including me. But then all plans changed. Wolves had been seen, where we had been that morning. So we ‘rushed’ off there, as safely as we could, but even so it took about an hour. En route we saw…
Male Bighorn sheep, presumably the same we had seen before lunch
A red fox, the only one all week. (Just how do these animals survive?)
And more bison. So difficult not to take photos of them.
Arrived at the same spot as the morning, we met Rick McIntyre, who gave us a fascinating talk on the ecology of the animal. [PS, three weeks later. Rick is featured in a fascinating article on one of the Yellowstone wolves in the March edition of ‘BBC Wildlife Magazine’.] But the wolves had gone. ‘Hang on, there they are!’ the cry rang out from one of the leaders (now three as Tim from Nat Hab had joined us.). A very, very long way away. I was not the only one not to see them, whether through binoculars, cameras, or telescopes. Try, try and try, no, we just couldn’t. Moreover, it was said they were disturbing elk and bison, which would have been even more fascinating to see. But no, not many of us saw them. Not us amateurs anyway. I took several photos of where we were meant to be looking, hoping to blow them up and at least see them on my screen.
But here, on maximum zoom
No such luck. ‘They’ve gone now’. We left the scene, and made our way back towards Cooke City.
Golden eagle and American magpie on carcase
Fleeting glimpse of an elk which had not made its way to the refuge at Jackson Hole, 100 miles or so to the south
However, we stopped at Silver Gate, just a short distance from Cooke City (not a city but more a large village, by the way). Our stop there was to meet the very patient Don Hartman. But then wildlife photographers are used to being patient.
I was especially thrilled to meet him. In post (5) of these USA 2018 posts, I mentioned that there had been a second BBC series on Yellowstone just before I left for the trip. Don Hartman had taken its amazing footage on the Great Grey Owl family through the seasons. He show us some of this footage, some more which didn’t make the cut, and other work of his, then answered many questions. What a surprise and privilege to meet him, and here he is.
It was dark as we left for another good meal in Cooke City. But a little warmer (!) as we bade each other goodnight, minus 25ºC/minus 13ºF.
[My apologies for the changes of type, which I have no idea how to correct. Retyping has made no difference. Any advice from fellow WordPress bloggers would be gratefully received.]