CAPE BLANC, A QUEST FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN MONK SEAL

Mauritania is a unique although seldom visited country, with some stunning landscapes and interesting ancient towns that used to take part of the desert caravan route a long time ago.Their infrastructure is limited.There are not many hotels and just a few roads.Although the country was an unsafe destination a few years ago due to Al-Qaedda activity in its desert area, it’s currently a quite safe destination, with many checkpoints along its main roads.

Mauritania is mostly covered by vast desert and semidesert areas.The desert has been continuously expanding since the mid 60’s.The country is mainly a flat area interrupted by deep canyons, plateaus and isolated peaks.The Adrar Plateau is the highest plateau, with an altitude of 500 meters, see picture below.

Mauritania is a great destination for birdwatchers, with more than 570 species of birds.Banc D’Arguin is an area of  great importance for wintering and breeding seabirds and shorebirds.Other important birding areas are Diaouling  Nature Reserve and Diawling National Park in the southern part of the country. The endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal is one of its landmark mammals, with a population of 500 individuals located on the shores of Cape Blanc, also called Ras Nouadhibou.

To get to Mauritania it was an odyssey.Firstly i crossed Western Sahara from Tarfaya to Dakhla.We stopped for a while in El-Aaiun.This town was fully controlled by the army due to the Sahara conflict.Fortunately the bus stopped for a short time. While going by bus all i could see was desert and barely any single person.I understood why this area is known by being one of the lowest populated area in the world.After 12 hours by bus i arrived in Dakhla,where i slept for one night.

Next day i arranged a shared taxi with some other people to go to the border.After a 6 hours trip we arrived in the Moroccan checkpoint.They stamped my visa and we passed through a land mined area that doesn’t belong to anybody.The mines where the remains of the previous war between Mauritania and Morocco for the control of Western Sahara when the Spanish abandoned it.Fortunately there was a “road” to follow, although i heard that a tourist died a few years ago due to the wind changed the direction of the sandy “road” and his car blowed up.I have to say that it was pretty scary.The longest trip of my life in only a distance of 3 km.When i saw the Mauritanian post on the horizon i started to breath calmly.

Once in Mauritania border, i had to pay 120 euros for a visa.There were no tourists and things went very smoothly.Finally my taxi dropped me in Nouadibhou town.I felt like i was in the middle of nowhere.I got into a taxi and told him to bring me to a hotel.He barely understood me, but then a woman got into the car and helped me to find the place.I have to say that Mauritanians were very helpful and one of the most accommodating people i have ever seen in all my trips.

Once in the hotel, i talked to a guy to contact a taxi using my basic French.The taxi driver came and i could arrange my trip to Cape Blanc for about 40 euros.

Next morning he came to pick me up.After 40 minutes driving we entered into a rough road that crossed a dunes area.The road was very sandy and the car was sliding all time.The driver put a kind of weird arab music that seemed like a mixture of psychedelia, techno and traditional music.I have to say that i got a bit sick !! :-p

Finally we arrived to Cape Blanc one hour and a half later.This peninsular area was surrounded by steep cliffs.There was a lighthouse and a small house with a guard.The guard told me that there was only one individual of monk seal on the nearby and that the rest of the colony lived in a restricted farther area controlled by the army.Even though i felt a bit upset hearing that i persisted in my research.

I explored the surroundings looking for the monk seal.I waited patiently in front of the fences that are near the cliff.The guy told me that the seal had been near here the day before in the afternoon.He showed me the tracks of the seal.Notice them on the picture below.

Afterwards i went around but no sign of the solitaire creature.I spent almost 2 hours but my search was proven fruitless.I came back to Nouadibbou quite upset.When we arrived at the city i told the driver to come again in the afternoon and we negotiated the price.

About 2 o’clock we started our second trip.We arrived about 4:00 pm there.I excitedly scrutinised every single hole of the cliffs and the small beaches that lay on the bottom of the cliffs.

Finally,after 30 minutes i saw the seal.It was sleeping on a small sandy beach.From time to time it moved her fins or it slightly changed the position of its head.I was a bit far and my camera was a bit short of reach but i managed to take some decent shots.

I took many pictures as i could till it started to get dark.About 5 pm i came back.I felt fully satisfied and the surreal music even sounded like Mozart to me !!!

I was very happy to capture some pictures of one of the most endangered seals in the world !!!

Tomorrow i am going to China to see if possible pandas in the wild and some of its interesting birdlife !!

As soon as i come back i will continue posting reports about Senegal, Gambia, India, Singapore and China !!

On the meantime if you have any suggestion or question don’t hesitate to contact me.I can answer it while traveling.

See you soon my friends !!

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AFRICAN CHAFFINCH, A SUBSPECIES OF C. CHAFFINCH

The African Common Chaffinch is a lovely subspecies of Common Chaffinch that is commonly found in some parts of Morocco.

Common Chaffinch is a widespread passerine bird that lives in most of Europe, Asia and in northwest Africa.The species is resident, partially migratory and migratory, with populations in the north and northeast moving south and southwest between mid-September and the end of November.

This species inhabits lowland and lower montane deciduous, mixed and coniferous forests.It also uses forest edges and glades, copses, heaths, edges of tundra and agricultural areas, hedgerows, orchards, parks and gardens.It is found in laurel forest and areas of dense vegetation in the Canary Islands and in areas with Juniperus thurifera  in the Moroccan High Atlas.

It breeds from mid-March to mid-July. The nest is placed up to 35 m above ground on a branch, against a trunk or in the fork of a tree or bush. It is a deep cup made of plant fibres, grass, fine roots, lichens, moss, bark strips, animal hair and feathers.

This bird feeds mainly on small invertebrates,larvae, seeds and buds.

There are 3 subspecies of Common Chaffinch.The Moroccan Common Chaffinch belongs to the Fringilla coelebs spondiogenys subspecies, see the three pictures of the post.Notice the greyish head, green back and pinkish neck, chest and belly when compared with its other subspecies counterparts.

I took those pictures in the archeological site of Volubilis, situated 30 km from Meknes and 4 km from Moulay Idris.

Next stop Cape Blanc, Mauritania looking for the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal !!!

See you soon my friends !!

ROCK BUNTING VAR. AFRICANA

Rock Bunting is a common but beautiful bird found in many towns in Morocco.This passerine bird lives in northwestern Africa, southern Europe, east and central Asia and the Himalayas.It’s rare in Western Europe.It is partially migratory with northern populations wintering further south, mainly within the breeding range of the resident southern populations.

The species inhabits semi-arid, sparsely vegetated areas at lower and middle altitudes. It prefers sunny hill sides with rocky outcrops and scattered bushes or trees. Locally it also occurs in quarries, vineyards and other terrains with an alternation of bare soil or rocks and sparsely vegetated areas.

The breeding male has chestnut upperparts, unmarked deep buff underparts, and a pale grey head marked with black stripes.The female rock bunting is a washed-out version of the male, with paler underparts, a grey-brown back and a less contrasted head. The juvenile is similar to the female, but with a streaked head.

The breeding season starts in March and ends usually in August.This bird breeds in open dry rocky mountainous areas.The nest is placed on the ground and built by the female.The nest is protected by vegetation or at the base of a rock.The clutch, usually three to five eggs, is incubated by the female. The chicks are fed by both parents. They leave the nest after 9–13 days and become independent three weeks later.

The species feeds mostly on a wide variety of small invertebrates during the breeding season, although outside the breeding season its diet consists mainly of seeds of herbs or other plants.

There are four races differing mainly in the plumage shades.The Moroccan Rock Bunting belongs to the African variety Emberiza cia cia.

I took the pictures that you can see above and on top of the post in Skoura, a little town located between Ouarzazate and Kalaat M’Gouna.The bird was quite tame and i could approach enough to take these nice shots.

Next post i will talk about the northafrican subespecies  of Common Chaffinch !!

See you soon my friends !!!

IFRAN NP, RAMBLING WITH BARBARY MACAQUES

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Morocco is an interesting country to visit due to its rich culture and history, with superb ancient cities and little beautiful towns.Food is very delicious, accommodation is pretty good and prices are cheap.Travel is also easy, with good roads and public transportation: bus, train or shared taxis.The latter is the fastest and inexpensive way to go.

Even though Morocco is not a famous wildlife destination, it hosts some remarkable animals.One of its most iconic mammals is the Barbary Macaque, the only macaque that lives outside Asia.It is found in the forests of the Rift,the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas.Other mammals that can be seen, although not in large numbers, are gazelles, wild boar, mufflon, Fennec Fox, Sand Cat, Least Weasel, Egyptian Mongoose, Striped Hyena, Cape Hares, European Rabbit, Crested Porcupine and the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal.

The country is home of over 450 species of birds, which many of them are winter visitors.Northern Bald Ibis is the only endemic bird in Morocco.Some of its main highlights also include Moussier’s Redstart, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Tristram Warbler, White-headed Duck, Balearic Shearwater, Sociable Lapwing, Saker Falcon, Egyptian Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Ruppell’s and White-backed Vulture.

There are 11 national parks in Morocco, being the most remarkable Souss-Massa, Ifrane, Toubkal, Tazekka and Tallasemtane.Ifran NP is one of the best national parks to see Barbary Macaques and Souss-Massa is the only place where you can find Northern Bald Ibis.

I planned to go to Ifran to see Barbary Macaques. I went from Fez to Azhrou by bus.Azhrou is a nice and peaceful town located 89 km south of Fez.From there i arranged a taxi to bring me to see the macaques.The trip costed me about 30 euros.

We went in the afternoon and it took me about one hour to reach the Cedre Gourard Forest, area located between Azrou and Ifrane.I arrived there early afternoon.It was weekend and the place was a bit crowded with locals.The forest was an impressive and unique forest of cedars beautifully covered by patches of snow.

We walked for a while through the forest, near the left side of the road.After 15 minutes walking we saw the first group of them.While i was approaching, the macaques were a bit scared and run away.I had to keep a distance and sit on the floor to gain their trust.

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The macaques were active feeding on the ground.This animal mainly feeds on fruits, plants, seeds and insects.You can see them digging to look for seeds on the picture below.

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This type of macaque live in large groups, called troops, led by a dominant female.Females usually mate with different males and males, unlike other macaques, show a great care for their young.Males can be very protective with their infants and they use them to establish relations with other males.

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This species is endangered due principally to habitat loss.Intensive logging, overgrazing, firewood collecting, land clearance and charcoal burning are some of the main factors.Illegal live trade, pollution and inappropriate feeding by humans also pose a serious threat for the survival of the species.

I spend about half an hour with them.Afterwards i didn’t want to disturb them anymore and i left them.

I was glad to see these playful creatures and see one example of matriarchy in the wild !!

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Next stop, Oued Massa, looking for the endangered Northern Bald Ibis and other birds !!!

See you soon my friends !!