Oiseaux du Maroc / Birds of Morocco

2 mei 2022  ·  Diedert Koppenol  ·  4274 × bekeken

Birds of Morocco, 2022 (Patrick Bergier, Michel Thévenot, Abdeljebbar Qninba & Jean-Roch Houllier)

Patrick Bergier, Michel Thévenot, Abdeljebbar Qninba et Jean-Roch Houllier. Société d’Études Ornithologiques de France, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. ISBN 2-916802-06-1. Paperback, 648 pp. Price: €65 (€70 if outside Europe or the Maghreb). For details on ordering: see this link.

The last book I reviewed for Dutch Birding was the exquisite book from Arnoud about birds in Morocco and his stories about these species. Now, I find myself reviewing another book with Arnoud in it. However, he is not the author this time, but ‘merely’ the writer of the preface. One might wonder if we would need another book about Morocco, which already has quite some ‘Where to find..’ books dedicated to it and the aforementioned book from The Sound Approach. The answer would certainly be: “Yes!”, since there can never be enough, but more importantly, this is a book that has been missing for a long time.

Birds of Morocco by Patrick Bergier, Michel Thévenot, Abdeljebbar Qninba and Jean-Roch Houllier is not your typical bird guide or self-find-guide, but a very extensive and massive ‘avifauna’, as we Dutch birders would describe this. Think of the Avifauna Zeelandica, to get the idea. This book is the most current and complete overview of all birds species that have been recorded over time, since the start of ornithological work in Morocco.

This is also what the book starts with (after Arnoud’s preface): the history of Moroccan ornithology. Not much is known about the time period before the First World War and much of the country has been off-limits for a long time, especially for western scientists. It describes the rise of Moroccan ornithology and also the increased importance of ecotourism by birdwatchers to many of the discoveries in the country. After this it continues with a chapter on geography, explaining the different biomes present in Morocco. The enormous biodiversity of the Maghreb region, of which Morocco is a part, is very much explained by the large diversity in these biomes and these are explained by Morocco’s unique location.

Natural divisions in Morocco (Patrick Bergier, Michel Thévenot, Abdeljebbar Qninba & Jean-Roch Houllier)

Being located at the north-western end of the African continent with the large Algeria to the east and Mauritania to the south (and south-east), the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic to the west, Morocco covers an area of 711.000 km2, which is 1.1 times the size of France or 17.1 times the size of The Netherlands. In total, the book recognizes 14 different zones or ‘natural divisions’. There is the Tangier Peninsula and the Rif area in the north and it continues down south with ‘The North Atlantic’ area containing species like Marsh Owl and Double-spurred Francolin, ‘The Mid Atlantic’, the elevated areas of the ‘Central Plateau’, the mountainous ‘Middle Atlas’ from which the largest Moroccan rivers originate, the ‘High Altas’ with its largest peak at 4176 m, ‘Eastern Morocco’ which is the entire arid stretch of land from the Rif and Atlas to Algeria, the coastal, fertile ‘Souss’, the ‘Anti-Atlas which is also quite high reaching 3304 m, ‘The Eastern Sahara’ mostly known by birders from Merzouga and then we reach the last three which are politically part of Western Sahara, but are here included.
Apart from political issues, I’d say it's good to include it here to have all data relatively easy at hand. I also doubt there are any local ornithologists at work in WS who will create a separate book, thus inclusion here at least gives the area the attention it deserves. The two/three regions here are Lower Draa, Saquiat Al Hamra and Oued Ad Deheb, basically three subsets of WS from north to south (with LD at the northern tip). Now, all these regions are discussed, featuring nice tables with some information and a picture showing a general impression of the area. Understanding these areas shows you that Morocco is a great playground for unique speciation. It continues with chapters about the specific habitats these regions contain, such as ‘ergs’ (Saharan sand dunes), ‘loose steppic forest’, inland wetlands and artificial environments such as arable land. A short chapter about protected areas and nature reserves preludes my favourite chapter ‘Avifauna’.

It is 30 pages with information on the region’s avifauna, starting with an overview about when the record started and how many species are on the Moroccan list (503 to date). Eight have already gone extinct and 154 are confirmed accidentals/rarities. However, this section also features a lot of tables which are basically a list of the species mentioned. So, the eight extinct species have their own table, listing their scientific name, the last date of accepted record (e.g. 1998 for Slender-billed Curlew) and then their French and English name (see picture).

Example page Coal Tit (Patrick Bergier, Michel Thévenot, Abdeljebbar Qninba & Jean-Roch Houllier)

It continues with an explanation about species richness and then the fun starts with the section about ‘Biographical affinities, speciation and endemism of the breeding avifauna’. Here it discusses the particular speciation of Morocco (and the Maghreb area). It not only talks about species, but also subspecies (and their split potential!). It states the amount of (sub)species endemic to Morocco and also the amount of (sub)species endemic in the Maghreb. Currently, Morocco doesn’t hold any endemic species for the country, but eleven species occurring in Morocco are Maghreb endemics and six are near-endemic. There are however quite some species that are mainly found in Morocco, but just occur slightly to the north (Western Olivaceous Warbler), the west (African Blue Tit, Canary Islands), the east (Pharaoh Eagle-Owl) or the south (House Bunting). The status of nine potentially endemic species is still under discussion and are debated further in the chapter.
It gives short notes on each of these (near-)endemic species (omitting certain species like Red-necked Nightjar since they are too widespread in the Iberian Peninsula as well) with their status and why they are split from other similar species. The potential splits like Coal Tit and Streaked Scrub Warbler are favourite topics and get some explanation as to why they could/should be split. The speciation section is followed up by notes on migration and migration patterns, of which nomadism is very interesting in this region. A short note on the evolution (development would be a better word here, in my opinion) of this unique avifauna is very cool, giving two examples to explain the phenomenon and ends the chapter.
Summarizing, in stark contrast with the previous review I did for a book about Moroccan birds, the introduction is the most interesting part of the book, in my opinion.

After the introduction section, the main book starts. From here on out, the book discusses every species on the Moroccan species list and gives a species account for all 503 species on the record list, but at the end it also discusses the rejected records, so in total it presents 582 species. For each species there is a short note about its status, for example: ‘Very localized resident breeder, critically endangered (P. b. Ayesha endemic to Morocco).’ Then there is the chapter ‘Distribution’, which states the relevant information about (historic) presence in Morocco, followed by ‘Habitat’ which explains the favourite surroundings of the bird in question. It ends with ‘nesting data’ for sedentary birds, but otherwise also mentions ‘Movements and migration’ and sometimes also ‘winter distribution’ if relevant. The map of Morocco with the distribution detailed is always present, if relevant. Sadly, not all species have a picture attached, but care has been taken to find pictures made in Morocco, e.g. with White-throated Bee-eater, which I quite like. However, I’d think it would be nice to at least have all species have a picture. Perhaps widening the search to the Maghreb area would already have helped?

Example page Egyptian Vulture (Patrick Bergier, Michel Thévenot, Abdeljebbar Qninba & Jean-Roch Houllier)

This is the fundamental part of the book, but for me it doesn’t make for fun reading material. Granted, that is not this book’s purpose, and if you have a specific interest or query, you’ll probably find the answer here. It is very, very detailed and mentions ample sources to back up the records stated. The maps are a nice visualization and allow you to combine the habitat text to the ecozones discussed in the introduction, so it ties nicely back together.

Then, last but also least, this is a bilingual book. Its both in French and English, with the two texts running alongside each other. So, each page is divided with two lines, basically, with left the French text and right the English text. I only mention this as late as now, since it doesn’t feel so important to me. It’s fully usable in both languages and only opens it up to a broader public. The only point is that the index is a bit weirdly modulated and different from the rest of the book, with the first part being French-orientated and the last part for the English user. However, I must note that some pictures in the introduction have only French subtitles. For the birds showing/containing birds the Latin name is used and the tables all have French and English subtitles.

Worth a read

To summarize, this book is most definitely worthy of your reading time. The species details are somewhat bland, if you don’t have any specific interest, but the first 70 pages are already very informative. If you are interested in the current status of Morocco and its birds or have an overall interest in the WP-area, for example, read this!

Worth a buy

I would wholeheartedly recommend buying a copy of this extensive memorandum, but I would warn you that it could end up being just a nice addition to your library collection. It won’t be a book you’d pack in your field bag, but if you are planning a trip to Morocco this could definitely inform you on specific questions regarding the species present, because it is quite up-to-date! Especially having a nice, handy overview of the species’ preferred habitat could help you find them. This would be from a birders' perspective, but of course, the scientific value of such a work is greater than our wish to see (new) bird species. A complete overview of the Moroccan avifauna, in one book.

Now I would only hope we can get some of the species off the ‘extinct’ list in the near future and see the likes of Dark Chanting Goshawk and Arabian Bustard back on Moroccan grounds. Books like this will hopefully aid in showing the importance of this region and its protection. Quite some species are on the verge here, literally on the edge of Africa, and need all the support they can get. Let’s hope Marsh Owl and Andalusian Hemipode won’t be added to the list of ‘species extinct in the wild or not observed since the mid-2050's.

Diedert Koppenol


Bert de Bruin  ·  3 mei 2022  19:45, gewijzigd 3 mei 2022  19:47

Leuke recensie, Diedert en ik ga het boek zeker kopen. Overigens is er al een apart boek over de avifauna van de Westelijke Sahara, oiseaux de sahara antlantique marocain (uit 2017, als ik me goed herinner)...en ook een van Algerije en ook nog eens een van Libie (!)...

Lukasz Lawicki  ·  3 mei 2022  22:04

...and also for Tunisia and Mauritania. An interesting review Diedert! Thanks!

Gert Ottens  ·  4 mei 2022  11:17, gewijzigd 4 mei 2022  11:17

Indeed, thanks Diedert! And of course there is this, for those of us with a slightly longer attention span ;-) I wonder how that new book compares to the one from 2003.

Max Berlijn  ·  7 mei 2022  12:57

Opmerkelijk overigens geen enkel nieuws uit de Westelijke Sahara dit voorjaar terwijl Corona toch al weer een tijdje achter ons lijkt te liggen?? 

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