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West Africa, we're here!

Morocco, car accidents and preparing the Immersive Experience.

Hey there! Things have been so exciting here, and hectic, and exciting again, a rollercoaster of emotions. We thought to make it easier for you to read, and we will split each update in three sections:

  • Trip Summary. We’ll tell you where we’ve been, what has happened, etc.

  • Wild Encounters. The migratory birds we’ve found on this part of the expedition.

  • Sponsor Shout-out. Without equipment and resources, we can’t work as professional photographers and sound recordists. We couldn’t be more proud to be sponsored by some of the finest manufacturers and developers.

  • Partner Support. We collaborate closely with various NGOs, associations and individuals to ensure we go to the right places and communities.

We hope it will be easier to scroll through the update in this way.


 

Trip Summary: A windy and bumpy start.

Jbel Moussa.

The mountain north of Morocco is the first point of contact for many migrating birds into African soil. We spent a few days around the area, sleeping on top of the highly windy mountain and going birding in the area.

Rachid EL KHAMLICHI is a well-known bird migration expert specialising in vultures, so he runs the Vulture Rehabilitation Centre in the mountains.

These mountains have many migration stories, also the human one, of course, it being a passage to Europe. We can only imagine how many people try to cross yearly, which gives another perspective of migration, one of fear, sadness and desperation. One day we will cover both migrations in the same documentary.

Merja Zerga.

On Sunday 24th of September, we headed to Merja Zerga, a natural lagoon and one of the most essential migration hotspots on the flyway. There we met Abdelilah Maknass who’s running a newly established ecotourism association. We spent 4 days there taking the boat with his colleague Khalid, looking for birds at different tides from inside the lagoon fed by the Atlantic Ocean. There was not much car driving those days but more boat rides, sardines for lunch, and fancy stuff. We’ve been advised not to wild camp around, so Abdelilah introduced us to Khalid where we stayed at his guest house for a couple of nights and then parked in his camping area under the avocado trees.

If you follow us on Instagram you may ask why Axel was hammering the rear bumper of Daphne, his Toyota Hilux. Unfortunately, two days before leaving Merja Zerga, while turning to go and see the African Marsh Owl, Axel braked and the car behind him got hit by the one behind, hitting Daphne’s rear bumper. Luckily, the bumper was the only damage, and as we read on many blogs/articles, these scenarios do not favour European cars. Even if we have insurance and were right, we let our fixer deal with the situation, including the 30 people who got around the cars, all the shouting involved and two random guys who almost started a fight for a reason we’re unsure about. No one got hurt, only Daphne, but a few hammer hits and she’s back on track.

Oualidia.

On Thursday 28th of September, we made the move and went further down south, a good 6-hour drive on paved roads to reach our last wetland before the Immersive Experience, Oualidia. Sidi Moussa-Oualidia Wetland Complex is a series of lagoon, salt marshes and salines squeezes between the Atlantic Ocean and farmland. We met Abdelhak Fahmi who is our local point of contact for GREPOM/Birdlife, an ornithological NGO working in the whole of Morocco, with a visitor centre here in Oualidia. People are super friendly here, there are a lot of fishermen on the coast where we camp every night. The village here is lovely also, a summery touristic spot for Moroccan beach goers, but things don’t stay calm with the Drioli brothers around. Axel was driving down a road in the village when he braked suddenly to avoid hitting a small cat which was passing the road, and a motorbike hit Daphne in the back, the guy drove away saying something Axel’s didn’t understand. We’ve been told these things could happen, and we’re cool with it for now also because they are small and we want to avoid trouble here. But let’s not focus on the negative things, we’ve been welcomed amazingly by everyone, literally, only those two moments were negative.





 

Wild Encounters: Many familiar faces (and sounds).


Let’s talk about the reason why we are doing this crazy journey: migratory birds. Jbel Moussa was a wonderful place as we could literally see the birds reaching Africa. We saw Honey Buzzards, Short-Toed Eagles and obviously the Griffon Vultures. The Strait is the only place where thermals can be found over the sea, which are used by these big birds, including Storks, Eagles and Buzzards, to soar over the sea. Rachid has explained how migration happens all year round here, with different peak times to see different species. One interesting story he explained was about the Ruppell’s Vulture. It’s not a migratory vulture, but it mixes in Senegal with others like Griffons, which are migratory. When the Griffons migrate up north, sometimes the Ruppels follow them, but when reaching the sea on the Strait they don’t really know how to deal with it, and either stop or follow the other vultures over the sea, many times to their tragic death. Bird migration is a harrowing story, all to find food.

Ario digiscoping with the Zeiss Gavia 85 with the Kowa phone adapter.


Moving on from the mountains we reached the Atlantic Coast, precisely Merja Zerga. It’s considered a crucial place for bird migration, with a history of birders coming from all over the world for a long time. Testimonial of this is the Birders book at Restaurant Milano, which we learned from the Sound Approach’s book “Morocco, sharing the Birds”. If you go to that restaurant, you can ask to read the bird log books dating back to the 90s, with bird observations from hundreds of people, also showing a specific bird which is now extinct, the Slender-Billed Curlew. It seems to be an unfortunate story that saw it disappearing from here, hunted down to extinction in Europe.



Merja Zerga was, as expected, full of birds. In a few hours of boat rides at low tide, we could see around 25 species, from Eurasian Curlews, Plovers, and Shanks to Eurasian Spoonbills. Ario got some great pics, and Axel got some sound recordings; capturing both required getting a bit dirty, but that’s the fun of our job. If you want to see which birds we spotted, here is our eBird list from the first day.




Ario getting wet taking pictures of Eurasian Curlews close-by.


Axel’s 2 hours recording session on his own on a little island, a lesson learnt: take your wellies, those plants were spikey.

After Merja Zerga we headed south to the Sidi Moussa-Oualidia Wetland Complex. We visited three different locations, Oualidia, Sidi Moussa and the wetlands in the middle, but we decided to stick to Oualidia where Abdelhak showed us where to find the birds. The location is excellent: when it’s high tide you can get so close to the Black-Winged Stilts, Common Ringed Plovers and Dunlin at the salines. Low tide is excellent for Eurasian Curlews and Whimbrels which go feeding near the bushes. Ario had a great time photographing and filming in the morning when the thick fog wasn’t around, which was more than we expected. The evenings were also really good, with Common Redshanks, Spotted Redshanks and Greenshanks showing well. Overall, these first locations have been fantastic: surprisingly we met almost only European migrants, no African migrants. This is a beautiful thought, as our initial plan was indeed to see as many birds we met already in Europe as possible, and it’s actually happening, plus more! It’s slightly strange to meet them here, on another continent, with complete landscapes and soundscape, the call of prayer every morning is an iconic sound from here. Do they remember it when coming to Europe? Are there birds taking the sound back to Europe? Interesting question to answer. We are super busy now preparing for the first installation of the African expedition, we’ll then share pictures, videos and recordings of what we have done. It is happening this week in Oualidia for 4 days, we are so looking forward to sharing it with the local community and schools! Here you have the poster we printed to pin around the village in Arabic.



 

Sponsors Shout-out: Reynolds Microphones.

Axel has been using Reynolds Microphones since the beginning of his sound career in 2017. Jack Reynolds, who’s the creator, manufacturer, designer and anything in between, and Axel met at a VR meetup somewhere in London. While walking back home, Jack showed to Axel the first 3D printing prototype of his ambisonics microphone, a special 360 microphone to capture all around a point.


2016 3D printed test by Jack.

2023 AType 8, second order Ambisonics microphone.


Time has passed, and many prototypes have been tested and taken all around the world, to recording studios, roads, rainforests, near the sea, on mountains, and in backpacks, and I can say the quality has always been improving massively. Axel owns many Reynolds mics now, they are his main rig for recording anything, and the quality, ease of use, and reliability are all top of the game, also compared to the majority of the other Ambisonics microphones available on the market. I have several hours of recordings of many locations; if you would like to listen please ask, and for more information contact Jack directly.





 

Partners Support: Migratory Birds for People.

The East Atlantic Flyway includes 30+ countries, many cultures, thousands of kilometres, and hundreds of species. How do we try and get all the people working in conservation together? This is the mission of the Migratory Birds for People initiative by Wetland Link International and WWT, managed by Connor Walsh, who’s been supporting our project since we met for the first time in 2022. We met Connor through Alys Laver, who’s the manager at WWT Steart Marshes in the UK and who has been introduced to us by our great friend and trusty mechanic Rob Finley from Finlandya Customs. The aim of our collaboration is to go to as many visitor centres as possible that are part of the MBP, share our Immersive Installation, understand what’s needed from each location and help come up with other ways to connect all the people together over time. We are also scouting around for new possible collaborators of the MBP, referring to Connor as much as we can. The MBP has been incredible, we met many inspiring people, who we can also call friends now, working to spread the love for migratory birds. Have a look at their websites, you can see a whole list of visitor centres, NGOs, guidebooks and documentation on how to engage people with migratory birds.



 

Help us to spread the love for migratory birds.


Would you like to take part of the expedition by supporting us and the local nature reserves? Easy peasy, we have an online shop made just for this! Our Interactive Postcards, Prints and Albums are available on our Ko-Fi page or Bandcamp. By purchasing our work you support our expedition, feeding us and helping us fill up our vehicles’ tanks to reach all the migration hotspots where we bring our Immersive Experience, but not only. 10% of the profit goes back to the location where the story has been captured. What you buy supports us and the local communities we visit, not as a one-off, but on the longer run. If you’ve got one Print or Postcard already, check your email inbox as you should have received the password a week ago. Please reply to this email if you haven’t.







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