7H near Azemmour: Pip Rowe’s five star report

When I booked a week’s holiday for birdwatching in Morocco the Kielder juvenile, Blue 7H, was still sending data from Azemmour. It then became apparent that no more data was being received but Joanna held out a glimmer of hope that it was a tracker problem. There was also the added interest of Ospreys having been reported on several rivers.

We left Gatwick on the morning of 23 February and after a 4 hour flight we checked in to our hotel in Agadir in time for lunch.

We spent a few days birding in the Agadir area and saw 4 different Ospreys along the Oud Souss and another on the Tamri Estuary. The weather was fairly warm but foggy until about midday every day. A steady stream of Swallows and Martins were seen passing overhead and even a few Swifts.

We left Agadir at 5.30am on the 27th February for the 400km drive to Azemmour. Easy and fast autoroute to Marrakesh and then N7 & N1 to Azemmour. These roads were a lot slower and shared with donkey carts, mopeds with 3 or 4 people on as well as lorries in a hurry to get somewhere!

We arrived at the Mazagan Beach Resort where Blue 7H spent some time in October 2014. She had expensive tastes! It is a huge hotel full of nobs, snobs and flunkies with very large grounds, it’s own golf course and Airport style security – Vic is a typical bloke and always carries a penknife much to the consternation of the military style guards!

Mazagan Beach Resort (c) Magazan Beach Resort

Mazagan Beach Resort
(c) Magazan Beach Resort

After a quick lunch we drove to the Pylon area.

Those pylons 7H likes so much (c) Vic Paine

Those pylons 7H likes so much
(c) Vic Paine

We were able to walk all around and I was able to talk to lots of people – in rusty French – and ask if they had seen an Osprey just like this one.

Have you seen...? (c) Vic Paine

Have you seen…?
(c) Vic Paine

Everyone was very helpful but hadn’t seen her. In fact, they were almost oblivious to the bird life around them except one farmer who said “but there she is up there on top of that pylon”. It was a beautiful Kestrel but not quite what I wanted.

We then drove towards the river roost area and eventually found our way to La Plage via a bumpy dirt track used by the lorries transporting the dredged sand. Every time we saw farmers, fishermen and shepherdesses I leapt out of the car brandishing the pictures and asking for help. Again, everyone was so nice and happy to talk to me that my fears of human interference were truly laid to rest..

We headed for the beach roost area.

Heading for the beach roost area (c) Vic Paine

Going towards the beach roost area
(c) Vic Paine

We panned the scope all around but nothing seen. There appeared to be a gypsy encampment here made of plastic sacks and sheets between thorny scrub. It was strewn with litter and didn’t smell very sweet but again, nobody was unpleasant and, quite honestly, didn’t even seem to notice 2 mad birders scanning the beach and jabbering away to each other “Did you get it Marty”

There were 2 dredgers anchored near the river mouth hoovering up the sand and gravel washed down the river during the rainy season.

Dredging (c) Vic Paine

Dredging area
(c) Vic Paine

It is then pumped onto large heaps ready for the lorries to cart away for use elsewhere. The dredging is a 24/7 floodlit operation and I imagine the lorry drivers are collecting their loads for at least 18 hours a day, if not more. We drove straight past the entrance to the depot and carried on up the river bank.

We then started searching for the Poplar roost trees until we realised that the row of 45′ tall Eucalyptus trees were what we were looking for. The area along the river bank is obviously prone to seasonal flooding and is full of low thorny scrub, Marsh Samphire and lots of wild flowers as well as the rather more unsightly plastic rubbish and other flotsam that has washed up here.

A favourite roost spot for 7H (c) Vic Paine

A favourite roost spot for 7H
(c) Vic Paine

Within an hour we had seen an Osprey fishing in the river and were frantically checking to see if we could see an aerial or a ring but eventually had to admit that no, it was not 7H. Even so, it was a thrill to see this elegant fisher go into full dive mode pull out a big fat fish. It then headed up off to the beach area to eat its supper.

The light was starting to go so we sadly had to leave but not before we saw 2 lovely male Hen Harriers hunting along the upper banks of the river as well as a Stone Curlew materialising out of the Marsh Samphire.

I tried to send a short text to Joanna just to tell her what we had and hadn’t seen and then back to the hotel for a bath, dinner and a good sleep to get us fit for the next morning.
After a lovely breakfast we checked out of the hotel at 7.30am 28th February and decided to drive to the Eucalyptus trees via the pylons. We stopped at the pond/lake where 7H fished last year and watched a Cormorant just about manage to swallow a huge fish.
Nothing seen on the pylons and no sign of an Osprey on the trees either.

The 'right' trees but no Osprey (c) Vic Paine

The ‘right’ trees but no Osprey again
(c) Vic Paine

After an hour or so I decided to try to walk right up close to the trees and look along underneath just in case I could find any evidence of a body. I was relieved not to find anything and started to head back towards Vic. On the way an elderly Arab gentleman came over to me, shook my hand and then kissed it! Rather unexpected but made me feel quite honoured really.

As I rounded the corner I could see a mad man jumping up and down and pointing to the very top of the trees – the Osprey was back!

I broke into a semi-gallop and got within bin viewing range. Vic always says he can’t use my scope but he had managed to this time and, like me, was sure he could see an aerial and a metal BTO type ring but we hardly dared to say it just in case. After a few minutes we had a really good view and there was no doubt it was a tracked bird but without a sight of a Darvic ring to confirm we couldn’t be 100% sure it was THE bird. Vic managed to get several photos showing the aerial though.

A tantalising glimpse (c) Vic Paine

One of the tantalising glimpses
(c) Vic Paine

Suddenly the familiar “chip, chip” alarm call was raised and the Osprey flew down off the top of the tree and landed in cover half way down. Even though I knew it was there it was almost impossible to see. It then took off and swooped up and then down towards another Osprey, alarm calling all the while. The tagged bird drove the other Osprey away towards the beach and then returned to land in the top of the trees. This time I was able to see a Blue Darvic ring – and the alphanumeric digits were in white!

There is a ring on the right leg, but... (c) Vic Paine

There is a Blue ring on the right leg, but what digits/letters…
(c) Vic Paine

By now I had forgotten to breathe and just kept concentrating on reading the ring. Finally I got two good scope views of it and YESSSSSSSSS it was Blue 7H. All the while I could hear Vic clicking away with the camera and swearing under his breath for that ****** bird to turn around and keep still!

She took off again and we watched her trying to catch breakfast for about 20 minutes but without success. She then disappeared away out over the beach area and we lost sight of her.

7H flies off, oblivious to the thrill she has given (c) Vic Paine

7H flies off, oblivious to the thrill she has given
(c) Vic Paine

I tried to ring Joanna to tell her but she was out of mobile range so I left a message “Joanna, it’s Pip, I have the best possible news for you”

Joanna called me back and left a message on my answerphone which I think I will keep for ever! She was laughing, crying and wittering all at the same time – I think she was pleased? By now it was getting on for midday so we had to pack the car and head back to Agadir in time for dinner.

I just can’t get over how unbelievably lucky we were to be able to prove that, just once in a blue moon, trackers do fail but the bird flies on! It gives a glimmer of hope for some of our birds where the signal has failed in “odd” circumstances.

This entry was posted in Blue 7H, guest blog, Migration, Osprey updates and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to 7H near Azemmour: Pip Rowe’s five star report

  1. Nan Kirk says:

    What a wonderful and exciting experience. Thank you so much for going looking for 7H. I was forgetting to breath as well reading your report. it does give hope for some of our other missing birds.

  2. Vivien Finn says:

    A great report, Pip and many thanks for looking for 7H. It has been the most welcome news for all at Kielder and also for all at Glaslyn too. To see the photos of 7H and the various locations in the area is an added bonus for us all. Thank you again.

  3. Marygk says:

    Fantastic report Pip, it had me welling up reading it. Thank you so much for finding 7H you have made so many Ospreyholics very happy people.

  4. Ann Lane says:

    Really great reading Pip – Thank you for sharing the experience. So pleased for you and Vic.

  5. Jackie Green says:

    Great report Pip, thank you

  6. Jillian says:

    Thank you so much for your efforts. It must have been fanatstic to see one of our ospreys at home and then in it’s holiday location in Africa.

  7. Sheila FE says:

    It was wonderful to hear that you and Vic had taken time out from you holiday to go on an expedition to find 7H, and then to succeed. Needle in a haystack comes to mind. And what an amazing blog too. Thank you so much Pip & Vic. 7H is a beautiful looking bird, and clearly very much in control of her site. It really bodes well for the future.

  8. Gill Pritchard says:

    Pip thank you so much – I’ve enjoyed reading every word – you’ve made a lot of people very, very happy.

  9. Greg Sanders says:

    OMG I even had a tear in my eye! fantastic news- thanks for being so dedicated and doing that for us all- hope lives on! Heres to 2015!

  10. B&B says:

    Pip fantastic report and amazing you found her. You and Vic, should be “Osprey Detectives” As you say hope for others lost in “odd” circumstances, there is hope. Joanna and the team and volunteers as your self are so dedicated. Thank you very much :)

  11. Tiger Mozone says:

    Such an incredible story and so beautifully written to capture the drama of it all. I cannot be sure about this but I think you may be able to claim the prize of being the first person to find and osprey with a dead tracker in Africa unless someone else knows different.

    A really worthwhile piece of research. Very well done.

  12. Reg & Lin Heath says:

    Really Enjoyed reading this Pip & Vic. Such a great adventure, thank you, and a reminder of our own visit to Morocco some years ago.

  13. Mohamed says:

    Great news to read indeed. The most important is that the story of this Osprey shows that trackers can fail but this doesn’t mean necessarily that something bad (like shooting or the like) had happened to the bird in question. Some people (including Moroccans) already started to say that maybe it was killed, but luckily this story proved that this was not the case. It’s true that bad guys are out there in every land (and Morocco is not an exception, you can see the label of ‘Hunting’ in the ‘Moroccan Birds Blog’ for a few stories about these bad hunters) but luckily they constitute a marginal group among the hunting community. Thanks to Pip Rowe and Vic Paine for their efforts in the field and for sharing their experiences.

    Best regards from Morocco,

    • joannadailey says:

      Thanks for your comment, Mohamed, and also to you/’Moroccan Birds’ (http://moroccanbirds.blogspot.com) for publishing our appeal for birdwatchers near Azemmour to search for 7H. Pip mentioned the kindness of people she and Vic met at Azemmour. As you say, there are ‘bad guys’ everywhere.

    • Vic Paine says:

      I can honestly say we never heard a single gunshot in the week we were there, unlike the UK.

  14. Fab-u-lous. And kudos and a gold medal for persistence!

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