Dunn’s Lark at Merzouga and other rare birds

By MaghrebOrnitho | 28 March 2019

Some rare birds observed recently in different regions of Morocco: Isabelline Shrike, Lesser Flamingo, African Dunn’s Lark, Golden Nightjar and Sudan Golden Sparrow.

African Dunn’s Lark (Eremalauda dunni)

Dunn’s Larks were discovered near Merzouga in 2010 and stayed there until 2012. After an absence of nearly 7 years, the species reappeared in the area again. Three birds were found north of Hotel Yasmina by Cristian Jensen / Audouin Birding Tours on 26 March 2019 (this will be referred below as ‘first site’). The birds were subsequently observed by several birders including a Dutch birding group who took the photo below (a much better photo was posted later at Dutch Birding).

On 30 March, Marc Illa found another bird at Merzouga Lake.

Also on the same day, Javi Elorriaga / Birding The Strait with a group of British birders (M. Frost, R. Frost, L. Frost, B. Abbott and S. Abbott) found a single bird near Tisserdmine, some 2-3 km from the first site.

African Dunn’s Lark / Alouette de Dunn (Eremalauda dunni), Merzouga, Morocco, 26 March 2019 (Jeroen De Bruijn).
African Dunn’s Lark / Alouette de Dunn (Eremalauda dunni), Merzouga, Morocco, 26 March 2019 (Jeroen De Bruijn).

On 2 April, local bird guide Lahcen Ouacha found the Dunn’s Lark at a new site located some 25 Km south of the first one. The single bird was enjoyed by a group of birders he was guiding with Arnoud van den Berg. Some photos can be seen at his website, and one is posted below. Here is Arnoud’s comment (exact quote) about this experience:

“Great find, Lahcen; at yet another site in the Merzouga area: SW of Dayet Srij. Well done, impressive perseverance!”.

All these observations most likely involved different birds. Movements of nomadic desert birds, like this species, are governed by rainfall and subsequent abundances of food resources. This might indicate that more Dunn’s Larks could be found in similar habitats all around Merzouga. This however does not necessarily mean they are easy to find (a few birders missed them already despite searching – e.g. see this comment in twitter). If you are unsure, you can always count on a local guide like Lahcen Ouacha (this is a bona fide advice, not just a publicity for the local guides).

African Dunn’s Lark (Eremalauda dunni), Merzouga, Morocco, 2 April 2019 (Lahcen Ouacha)
African Dunn’s Lark (Eremalauda dunni), Merzouga, Morocco, 2 April 2019 (Lahcen Ouacha)

Dunn’s Lark sensu lato consist of two taxa: the nominate taxon in Africa and eremodites in the Arabian Peninsula. The HBW Alive split the latter into a separate species, the Arabian Lark (Eremalauda eremodites). While the IOC Checklist, which generally accepts splits earlier than most other World Checklists, hasn’t yet split the species.

Isabelline Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)

A bird found by a group of Swiss birders at Tamri estuary on 29 December 2018 (R. Wüst, D. Henseler, K. Varga and S. Werner). Without a doubt it’s the same bird found four days later by Paul van der Poel. The bird stayed at the same site at least until 16 March (Martin Pitt).

Isabelline Shrike / Pie-grièche isabelle (Lanius isabellinus), Tamri estuary, Morocco, 29 Dec. 2018 (S. Werner).
Isabelline Shrike / Pie-grièche isabelle (Lanius isabellinus), Tamri estuary, Morocco, 29 Dec. 2018 (S. Werner).

Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)

An adult bird found at the estuary of Oued Souss on the 1st January 2019 by the same Swiss birders (K. Varga, D. Henseler, S. Werner & R. Wüst). This would be the 16th record for Morocco.

Lesser Flamingo / Flamant nain (Phoeniconaias minor), estuary of Oued Souss, Morocco, 1 Jan. 2019 (S. Werner).
Lesser Flamingo / Flamant nain (Phoeniconaias minor), estuary of Oued Souss, Morocco, 1 Jan. 2019 (S. Werner).

Sudan Golden Sparrow (Passer luteus)

A group of German birders found some birds with a big flock of Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex) on 19 March 2019 (Photos at club300.de). These are probably the first sightings of the species at Aousserd this season. The same birders found the breeding Golden Nightjar in the evening of the same day.

Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors)

A nice adult male is present at Dayet Dar Bouazza, near Casablanca, since 2 March 2019 (Benoît Maire and other observers).  Photo below was taken yesterday.

Blue-winged Teal / Sarcelle à ailes bleues (Spatula discors), Dayet Dar Bouazza, Morocco, 27 March 2019 (Benoît Maire).
Blue-winged Teal / Sarcelle à ailes bleues (Spatula discors), Dayet Dar Bouazza, Morocco, 27 March 2019 (Benoît Maire).

Many thanks to all birders for your emails, information and photos! Thanks to Marc Illa for the update concerning the Dunn’s Lark.

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