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#15 SWExpedition Update

Leaving Morocco behind, many European migratory birds and reaching Mauritania.


Salamu Alykum from the Drioli brothers!


We’re well and sound, wrapped up our time in Morocco for the Wings Across Continents - West Africa expedition.


Let us tell you, Moroccans have been treating us so well from being hospitable and welcoming anywhere in any situation, feeding us some of the finest foods and teas, to showing us the best spots where to do birdwatching. And of course, an amazing collaboration to run the Immersive Experience, the first in the African continent for us.

 

Trip Summary: A windy and bumpy start.


Oualidia.


We spent two weeks near the city of Oualidia overlooking the entrance to the namesake lagoon. We slept most nights on the top of the cliff, falling asleep (sort of) with the roaring ocean and waves crashing against the rocks. For some, it may be close to a relaxing experience, like for us, but for others it may be a bit loud, either way it’s the best “white noise” sleeping sound you can get. Everyone in the area is really friendly, from the fisherman and shellfish collectors coming at the first lights of dawn on their motorbikes or donkeys to the farmers going to work with their trucks in the fields around the lagoon. We haven’t felt unsafe, only sometimes when things would happen during the night, but we quickly realised the activities weren’t happening because of us. One night in particular, Axel was sleeping close to the lagoon to keep an eye on his microphone placed in the middle of it as we didn’t have a long enough cable so we had to leave the mic rig on its own, just where birds like Eurasian Curlews would come to feed at low tide. Just before falling asleep at around 11 p.m., Axel noticed some light popping up in the middle of the lagoon, scanning the ground and surroundings. They were too far to picture what they were looking for, so tension rose pretty quickly, first obviously for the mic (PLEASE DON’T TAKE IT), but as soon as they moved over it, for Axel’s safety. It didn’t take long to realise what they were doing after he managed to see them closer: they were looking in the mud for shellfish. So much fear for nothing, he even had the GPS ready to send an alarm text to Ario who was not too far away. We didn’t move from the Oualidia surroundings, as our mission was to do the first Immersive Experience on African soil at the Centre d'Information Ecologique de Oualidia, run by GREPOM Birdlife, the NGO specialised in bird research in Morocco.


Immersive Experience.


The Immersive Experience was a success, with a slightly different audience from our usual one. This time we had many school visits, different from our usually more varied audience, but it’s been wonderful to have fun with so many teenagers. The story was framed like we usually do, with an explanation of what bird migration is, the East Atlantic Flyway, and the habitat surrounding the location where we are at that time. Then it’s birds time with Dunlins, Caspian Tern, Black-Winged Stilt, and Eurasian Curlew, of which we also did a slide about its call slowed down, as other birds would hear it. (to learn more about this check out our EVOA Experience, as we still have to publish the Morocco one). We finished the experience with a message about the environment, precisely about the plastic issue and how this can affect migratory birds, but we also like to give you a simple solution for the problem, which goes over the obvious “pick up your rubbish” message, but it’s our message about observing nature: looking, listening, feeling it is already such an important thing to do, as at that moment we are connecting to it, establishing an interest that goes over numbers, it affects us emotionally. This is what we want to do, inspire people to connect to nature because it’s just damn cool.

We want to thank the GREPOM group who visited us during the weekend from as far as Rabat and Casablanca, including President Mme. Rhimou El Hammoumi, M. Mohamed Amezian, M. Abdeslam Rihan and the rest of the team. A big thanks goes to Abdelhak Fahmi, the visitor centre manager, who facilitated our work so much with enthusiasm and experience. We can’t wait to collaborate with GREPOM again, we will miss you!


Moving south to Mauritania through Western Sahara.


After the Immersive Experience we took a day or two to tidy up our vehicles, said goodbye to Abdelhak and started driving down south, a good 1500km awaited us before reaching the border with Mauritania with a few stops in between, including one on the 20th of October for Axel’s birthday. Major stopovers were Khnifiss and Dakhla Natural Park, to relax for a few days and also do birdwatching (of course). After two days we arrived in Khnifiss, which is latitudinally at the same height as Gran Canaria (ciao Michael), where we found peace, more Curlews, quiet and lots of fish! Karim, of the guys working at the military station, had a few days off and Axel managed to join him to catch some fish, finally putting that fishing rod hanging around in the car for ages for good use. At Axel’s birthday we also decided to go a bit wild and get a lot of goat meat from the butcher at the previous village.


Crossing the border, what a joy!


It was then time to head down to the Moroccan/Mauritanian border, predicted crossing time: 5 hours. Actual time, 22 hours. The Moroccan side had some technical difficulties the whole day, meaning that upon our arrival at 3 pm we only moved by a few meters by 7 pm when they closed the border. We decided to sleep at the border and had dinner with another couple of overlanders we met on the way, it ended up being safer than we expected. The day after we started the customs process at 11 am, finishing around 3 pm on the other side, free to roam on Mauritanian land. First top Nouadhibou, the second largest city in Mauritania on the peninsula which encloses the Banc d’Arguin, our birding destination. There we met Nouma Watt, Executive Director of Nature Mauritania, an NGO with whom we are going to collaborate with here.

Let’s say just a few words about how wonderfully patched together are these Mercedes. They still manage to go even in these conditions, we’re amazed by our robust they are, and how clever these mechanics are to fix them with anything they have. If you ever drive in Mauritania remember traffic lights are optional to follow, and rules are a bit all over the place, so make sure to honk as much as you can.

We’re currently in Nouakchott, meeting Nouma again and representatives from the Parc National Banc d’Arguin, and also fixing a few issues with our vehicles. Ario’s Jota has some suspension issues, Axel had a flat tyre and it needs to be completely replaced. Dealing with money here is quite hectic, and we’ve been ripped off once, but we understood the game so no more games with us now.



One of the schools who joined us at the Immersive Experience in Oualidia, two weeks ago.



Axel and the fishes of Khnifiss National Park, Morocco.



An “easy” 22 hours border crossing at the Morocco-Mauritanian border.

 

Wild Encounters: Many familiar faces (and sounds).


During the two weeks building up towards the Immersive Experience in Oualidia we focused on mainly three habitats, the salines, the lagoon’s bushy areas and the entrance to the lagoon.


The salines were a great location with high tide, as the water level doesn’t change, where many smaller water birds and gulls would come to keep feeding or rest. Usually, these birds disperse when it’s low tide as they feed on small crustaceans and molluscs on the exposed sand and mud all over the coastline, but why stop feeding if you have more food available? It’s all about fattening up to keep migrating or sticking around for the milder winter. Salines were our main spot for Dunlins, Common Redshanks, Spotted Redshanks, Black-Winged Stilts, Sanderlings, Greenshanks, Common Ringed Plover, and Kentish Ringed Plover. All these are migratory birds coming from Europe, it almost looked and sounded like being in northern Germany if it was for the birds only. We managed to get some nice content from these, mostly from Dunlins, being active during low tide.


Dunlin (Calidris alpina) at Sidi-Moussa Oualidia, Morocco.


The lagoon’s bushy areas are good locations also for during high tide as they also the water level doesn’t change. Generally with a higher water level, they were the perfect habitat for Greater Flamingos, Grey and Purple Heron, Black-Winged Stilt, Ruff, all birds with longer legs.



Black-Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), early in the morning at Sidi-Moussa Oualidia, Morocco.


The third habitat was at the entrance of the lagoon, where short vegetation gets covered in water with high tide. This is the perfect habitat for Eurasian Curlew and Whimbrel, which use their curved and long beak to dig into the mud. It is great fun predicting the birds' movements based on the tide, it feels like investigative work in which you have to think and plan carefully where the animals would end up to get the best shot or recording. Ario is looking for a clear sky, with the best light being early morning or late afternoon. Axel is looking for less wind, possibly coming from the Ocean to reject the sound of the nearby road and more vocal activity, which is usually before and immediately after dawn, and at dusk.


This process called generally “fieldcraft” is possibly one of the most fun of the while wildlife photography and sound recording. It is similar to the one hunters use as it’s about behaviour prediction, hence why a lot of fieldcraft guides tend to be for hunting rather than observing as we do. Moving south we stopped at Khnifiss, another important migration hotspot where we managed to record many hours of human-noise-free soundscapes and Eurasian Curlew calls, a blessing after being so close to the city the weeks before. We still didn’t manage to go through all the recordings, luckily we have a few days of break before starting the fieldwork in Mauritania.


Greater Flamingos at Khnifiss National Park, Morocco.

 

Sponsors Shout-out: Soundly.


This is a big one, get ready. We are directly collaborating with Soundly!

Soundly clearly understands our wildlife photography and recording mission together with the aim of bringing public awareness locally wherever we go.


Their mission is to bring high-quality sound effects to creators in an intuitive way, with their extensive audio database and their own software (downloadable for free!). They keep pushing the boundaries of SFX creation, for example with their AI text-to-speech voice generation, which really gives creatives a new level of manipulation to their recordings.

We are so pleased to collaborate with them, bringing multichannel sounds from our “Wings Across Continents” straight into their Soundly database. Ambiences of many kinds, perspectives and formats await to be selected, edited, and manipulated to be used freely. We can’t wait to hear what creativity will come up with our sounds.


Click on the button below to read more about our collaboration on the Soundly blog.



 

Partners Support: EVOA.


We keep meeting incredible nature advocates on our journey, and we can’t mention the incredible work our friends at EVOA are doing in Lisbon.


While spending time in April 2023 at their wetland nature reserve and visitor centre at the Tagus Estuary (Lisbon, Portugal), we managed to get a glimpse into how, we believe, a wetland can be designed to create a wonderful wildlife heaven, leaving also enough freedom for people to visit it, creating a balanced situation where wildlife and human can share the same space.

We believe in what EVOA is doing, and we can’t wait to collaborate more to bring the migratory voices closer to the Portuguese people and all over the world.


 

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.


 

Much love from the brothers,

Axel & Ario

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