18/05/2005
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How to get better views of Double-spurred Francolin

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Double-spurred Francolin occurs widely in many parts of western Africa but there is now only one area where it occurs in the Western Palearctic — the Forest of Mamora, east and south of Rabat, in Morocco. The Francolins could probably be found in many of the scrubby wooded areas in that region but one site has become widely known as a reliable place to see them — the Royal Hunting Lodge on the road between Sidi Yahya des Zaers and Sidi Bettache — and that's where almost every European birder goes to look for them.

I've been there several times myself and have always managed to find them but I've also been rather frustrated by the generally poor views that I've had. This year, though, I got the best views ever so here are some bits of advice to help others do the same.

Like many visiting birders I have always concentrated my attention on the area around 'the car park' (as described on page 12 of my book Finding Birds in Northern Morocco). I've now come to the conclusion that this is a mistake. True, the car park provides a vantage point over a large area that is suitable for francolins, but it has several drawbacks:

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  • The vegetation around the car park is getting taller every year so the view is getting more restricted
  • The bushes in which the francolins occur are so dense that there's little chance of seeing a bird on the ground.
  • The area lacks suitable tall trees for them to climb into when they are calling.
  • When I was there at dawn on 1st May this year, I didn't see or hear any francolins from the car park!

So, my advice is, forget the car park. A better bet is to park just north of the entrance to the Hunting Lodge (within sight of the 'no entry' sign to the drive) and wait and listen from there. At the very least you should hear francolins calling on the east side of the road, towards the scrubby valley below you. If you follow up those sounds you might be able to work out which tree they are calling from and spot the birds in the distance. But, better still, there's a reasonable chance that you'll get them on the west side of the road, between the road and the Hunting Lodge, in which case they'll be much closer, they might sit up in one of the trees that are quite close to the road and you may even see them on the ground either on boar tracks between the bushes or on broader open areas. I tried here just after dawn on 1st May, having abandoned the car park and soon located calling birds on both sides of the road. Conveniently, three of the birds on the 'Hunting Lodge-side' flew up into one of the trees close to the road where they were close enough to film, albeit in very dim light.

Habitat for Double-spurred Francolin. The area around the Royal Hunting Lodge, Sidi Yahya, Morocco. Not much chance of good views unless the birds display from the tall trees.

The following day I was there at dawn again, hoping for a repeat performance but this time there was very little calling. However, an hour or so after dawn, I did get a fantastic view of a bird as it started to cross one of the tracks in front of me but it saw me and scuttled back into the undergrowth. An hour later, having had no other activity I packed everything away but went back to the track to take a photo (the one you see here). I heard a noise in the bushes and, by moving my head from side to side, managed to see the heads of two francolins crouching in the scrub only a few feet from me. Again, they realised they'd been seen and crept away until they were out of sight again.

Same area but at the particular spot described in the text. In May 2005, Francolins were seen displaying in the central tree, walking on the track and crouching behind the bushes.

Obviously I can't guarantee that if you try this spot, you'll those same views yourself but at least it is possible to get terrific views there in a way that I'd never previously managed from the famous 'car park'.

Good luck.

Written by: Dave Gosney