One of the great pleasures, for me at least, of looking for birds and plants in unfamiliar places is finding familiar species in contexts where you wouldn't find them so easily at home; seeing them better, in better light.
So the most exciting find of my first hike in Morocco this year was not seeing some exotic species for the first time, but getting great views of common snipe. I've seen snipe since childhood inn Ireland. But with few exceptions, the experience is a fleeting one: a sudden rush upwards from my feet as these beautiful waders launch from snipe-grass (what else?) into a rapid zig-zag flight, before towering high above and disappearing to somewhere any gun I might be carrying cannot reach them.
But here, in the unromantic but species-rich context of water treatment ponds near Diabat, where Jimi Hendrix is supposed to have composed his second album, I saw a dozen snipe out in the open on water, in brilliant sunlight. They kept feeding away with their oversized beaks, mostly ignoring me, though not letting me close enough to take good pictures. They gave me great pleasure, as did black-winged stilt, half a dozen other wader species, and a juvenile marsh harrier that caused a commotion every ten minutes or so by making a leisurely pass in search of unwary prey.
However, I have to admit that the biggest nature moment so far came a couple of days later, and did not involve a species I could have seen at home.
I was hiking in the blissfully silent, empty-full landscape of adjacent argan and juniper forests in the vast dune system around the Oued Ksob. A slight movement in a wolfberry bush caught my eye. Brilliant green, twisted round a twig, I thought it was a small tree snake of some sort. Then it began to move slowly down the branch, turning brown as it did so, and I realised it was a chameleon. It allowed me approach very close, and demonstrated its remarkably facility for turning its eye through 360 degrees...a moment to treasure.
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