Saturday, May 21, 2016

a big day

Last weekend Pedro and I drove to the Middle Atlas to see what we could see as far as birds were concerned; May 14th was this year's Global Big Day, in which bird lovers around the world attempt to see as many birds as possible within 24 hours. The data gathered about what was seen where is recorded on eBird, a wonderful online checklist program created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society in the United States. According to eBird, 15,953 people participated this year in 145 countries— astounding to think about, especially when you are tallying up your totals and realising that while you were freezing your ass off in a Moroccan cedar forest before sunrise, birders in Bhutan were looking through their binoculars too, hoping to catch the movement of feathers. In total, 6263 species were recorded— we saw 93 of them. Pretty good, considering we were exploring a part of the country we had never been to. Pedro did all the research ahead of time, and plotted out our adventure in a series of maps. I made sure the cameras were charged, and assembled a protein-packed lunch the day before, so we wouldn't have to stop.

The alarm rang at four— I think. Foggy-headed, I took the quickest lukewarm shower and got ready, piling on as many layers of clothing as I had brought, believing it would make it easier to adjust to the changing temperature throughout the day.

Our first stop was a dark forest of younger cedar trees (we later learned that cedars take on their distinctive horizontal tiers as they age), European Rollers squawked above, flashing their brilliant turquoise and cobalt through the lace of leaves. Beyond their calls, an opera— I closed my eyes to hear it all, my untrained ears unable to distinguish the singers by sound.

"Do you hear that— the meetsoo meetsoo meetsoo?" Pedro asked. "It's a Coal Tit."

Meetsoo meetsoo I whispered, trying to affix the sound to the little black, white and greyish fluffball in my head. Not long after, we saw the charming fellow flitting about and became distracted by the acrobatics of an endemic Atlas Flycatcher.

My plan to layer up proved to have little effect in the predawn chill, and I shivered my way up the trail with a burning sensation in my fingers. The first golden rays of sunlight felt like a gift; I stood in their warmth like some grateful ancient sun-worshiper.

The rest of the day would take us to coot-dotted lakes, vast grasslands streaked crimson with poppies, and rocky plateaus grazed by sheep. Stay tuned for more!

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