2006 – Strait Talk – Volume 7
So here I am again back in Morocco after a brief spell in England and an even shorter one in Gibraltar. I am actually sitting in an internet café en route to Al Hosima. I have been in Morocco for the past two weeks and have been given the opportunity to stay on another week to bird a new National Park. How could I refuse.
For the past two weeks I have had the additional company of Ricardo, a Portuguese researcher looking into the distribution and spread of Purple Gallinules. The idea was catch as many as we could while he was here and take DNA samples.
On the way here, one problem we encountered is the amount of equipment he had, mountains of it in his very large 4X4 plus a trailer. The Moroccan border crossing was rather interesting and eventful and we eventually had to “buy” several import licences in order to enter Morocco, but once through, things settled down OK.
It was good to be back in the marsh although the rate of incursion by the amount of work going on around is frightening. One can almost see the marsh getting smaller on a daily basis. Even since my last trip here which was only 15 days ago, there is now a motocross track on what was a beautiful wetland meadow just on the fringe of the marsh. It completely surrounds the only White Stork nest in the area and I have not yet seen them this trip. There were flags and placards advertising the “V1 M’diq Championships”.
We could not manage to avoid the reconstruction work in M’diq ourselves. We left the house at 0600 on the second morning only to find 5 men digging a very deep trench that had already passed in front of the garage where we had our cars. It was nearly one hour before we managed to get some planks in order to bridge the gap only to find that the road was completely blocked by a huge crane a little further along. There is nothing to do in Morocco but sit and wait. Nothing happens here in a hurry and sometimes you are lucky if anything happens at all. It took the best part of another two hours before we could leave the street in which we lived and things have not changed much since. It is impossible to get into the garage and sometimes we were lucky to get into our street. The whole place is like a bomb site, but life just goes on in all the dust, water and noise that is M’diq at the moment. Everyone just goes about their business and that’s exactly what we had to do too. So different from the UK. Everyone would be complaining and demanding some form of compensation. Here its just somewhere new for the children to play.
We were offered another garage just up the road which sounded ideal. The only problem was that because of the heavy rain we had during the first week, we had to drive along a raging river that was once a road, up a very steep narrow incline down which water literally cascaded covering huge holes in the ground and manoeuvre into the narrowest of garages. When we opened the doors there was already six inches of water, but we just donned wellies and drove in. You had to see it to believe it. I have experienced many things here but this will stick in the memory for many a year.
The only good thing about the rain was that the motocross was a complete washout. When we drove past at 1100, we saw that all the tents had been completely flattened by the rain and wind and they were abandoning the site. Mohamed commented that the stork must have prayed to Allah and He answered his prayers because watching all from the comfort of their nest on high were indeed the storks. Works for me! It’s a shame that the organisers never took all their rubbish away but you can’t have everything I suppose.
We did manage to spend a day with Ricardo chasing Purple Gallinules. The first thing I noticed was how clean and tidy everything was in his 15 year old Nissan Patrol. Its almost an obsession with him, a place for everything and everything in its place. A bit like me but much worse. He even sprayed the suspension and leaf springs every two days with WD40! Imagine how he must have fretted leaving it standing in six inches of water all night in that garage! I doubt if he slept. Anyway, this particular day we managed to catch 4 feisty and fearsome Gallinules. Man can they bite plus they have tiny claws on their wings which they know how to use when defending themselves. Extracting them from a net is NOT for the faint hearted. I left it to Ricardo. Only joking but I thought about it. Up close they really are strange birds with huge feet but worth all the effort. As it happened, they were the only ones he caught. They turned out to be much more elusive than he expected.
Sunday and it rained very heavily all night and all day. The neighbourhood was completely awash again and many people were bailing out in the morning. There is absolutely no drainage here because its never thought of when they are building. Many of the construction sites which are in their early stages and still digging very deep foundations were completely flooded. Huge holes were just filled with the water that ran down the roads along with all the rubbish and scaffold planks that were taken along with it. Quite a sight to see all these workmen looking at small lakes where very large holes should be. As for us, we just set off for Larache for a days birding and hoped that the weather would be better on the Atlantic coast, which is was.
Two days later the rains stopped. This allowed us to at least attempt to ring again. Our efforts were cut short again when we arrived on site to be greeted by another lake where fields and meadows should be. We drove on through he water only to get stuck solid in mud some 300 yards short. Nothing for it than to get out and call “International Rescue”, which comes in the form of the farmer and a very old tractor even for around these parts. Getting stuck in mud is becoming a regular event for me. This is the third time on three continents in three years!
We waded to the farm and had to have tea before anything was discussed. When we had agreed a plan, the tractor wouldn’t start. I just knew it was going to be one of those days. Off went his son on a push bike to the neighbouring farm for help some 2km away. About an hour later help returned in the form of another tractor. Would this one pull us out? Oh no! That would be far too easy. It was here solely to get the other tractor started.
Another hour and four glasses of tea later and we had exhaust fumes bellowing out of the exhaust pipe at last. A real puffing billy. Off the farmer went through the mud and water towards our car only to get there and stall. The other tractor followed, could not get it started so ended up pulling us both out. As I said, nothing is easy here. Maybe tomorrow we would have better luck with the ringing. In the mean time we thought we would go and help Ricardo on the other lagoon.
We met him at his site as he was just about to set off for a net round. I donned waders and joined him. We were walking side by side sloshing through the water as we approached the first net when I was suddenly alone! Ricardo had disappeared down an old well. He was completely submerged so I did no more than reach down to find something to grab and pull him up. We laugh about it now and what a sight he was. Mr Meticulous dripping wet and covered in weed and green slime not to mention the leeches! I think that he was very lucky because it could have so easily been me. We moved sites after that.
The rest of my stay here passed relatively uneventfully. Summer finally arrived and we baked in temperatures of 32’C. No shade to be had either. The ringing was slow as it has been all year but did manage another two ringing ticks. I managed a Little Bittern and a Cattle Egret, the former being a rarity in these parts. The rain followed by the heat did bring some unexpected and unwelcome company in the form of horse flies. Clouds of them the size of Spitfires constantly nipping away at every part of you. It was the most uncomfortable two days of my life. Give me mosquito’s any day!
So, as my two weeks ringing in Smir ends, here I am with two Gibraltarians and two Moroccans from the Scientific Institute with the prospect of another week in Morocco ahead of me. I am not sure exactly what to expect but time will tell.