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Abundant passage of Isabelline Wheatear in eastern Morocco

Until recently, the Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina) used to be a rarity in Morocco. In fact, the species was only removed from the list of species that need to be submitted to the Moroccan Rare Birds at the end of 2017.

At the end of February, Marc Illa and his colleagues arrived in Morocco in order to start another bird ringing campaign at “Yasmina Lake”. The geographical location of Merzouga is well suited to study stopover ecology of migrant birds as they arrive after crossing the Sahara desert. By the way, they are looking for volunteers to help in bird ringing this spring as well. If you are interested in participating, please contact Marc through his website here.

Before they started the actual bird ringing on 5 March, they did a mini-tour in the Tafilalt region where they observed a staggering total of at least 25 Isabelline Wheatears. These include 2 individuals at Yasmina Lake and up to 8 at the (dry) Merzouga Lake (Dayet Srij). The bird photographed below was netted and ringed on 5 March (in this link, English text is below the Catalan one).

Isabelline Wheatear / Traquet isabelle (Oenanthe isabellina), Merzouga, Morocco, 5 March 2020 (Marc Illa)

For a species that was considered a rarity just a couple of years ago, seeing these numbers in a couple of days in a single region is quite remarkable.

For information, Tafilalt – historically known as Sijilmassa – is a cultural and natural region in eastern Sahara known for its oasis and dates (the fruits!).

2 thoughts on “Abundant passage of Isabelline Wheatear in eastern Morocco”

    1. Thanks John for your comment!

      I think that’s very possible, I will ask also the observer what they think. I saw an excellent report about the influx of the Saharan birds into the Canaries by Ricard Gutiérrez and colleagues that used recent NASA images of the phenomenon. When I shared this, I tried to find similar NASA images that also cover south-east Morocco, but I couldn’t find any (maybe I didn’t search enough!). In short, that’s why I didn’t mention the possible effect of the sandstorm.

      Today, I saw a Hooded Wheatear reported in Gran Canaria, and I thought maybe the sandstorm was brought by an easterly winds that started from far inland. Later, I found out it was a hoax.

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