This was a Naturetrek tour, co-led by the pair of us. We looked
after a group of 14 excellent clients for 10 days in southern Morocco,
before enjoyng ourselves on our own for a few days in the High Atlas
moutains and in Marrakech.
From Marrakech to the south
We departed Marrakech early on the Saturday morning, and were soon
heading uphill into the Atlas Mountains. Brief stops turned up commoner
species such as Nightingale, Booted Eagle and Olivaceous
Warbler. Scarcer species such as Hawfinch, Bonelli's
Warbler and Barbary Partridge were also noted, and we
also had views of several distinctive Atlas forms of familiar species
- Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Crossbill and even Goshawk,
After an abortive coffee-stop attempt at Levaillant's Woodpecker,
we stopped at Taddert for lunch, where our first Moussier's Redstarts
showed up, as well as Spanish Sparrow, Rock Bunting
and Blue Rock Thrush. At the top of the Tizi-n-tichka pass
we found a small group of Shore Larks (again, of the endemic
form), and a big mixed party of Choughs - probably 20+ Red-billed
and certainly over 100 Alpine.
Descending into the foothills, we picked up good numbers of migrating
Bee-eaters and hirundines, plus Corn Bunting,
Black-eared Wheatear and Montagu's Harrier.
Despite a small thermostat problem one of the vans, we reached
El Kelaa shortly after dusk.
El Kelaa/Tagdilt/gorges area
We had two days around this area, spending each morning out on
the Tagdilt steppe just east of Boulmane des Dades. Here, we scored
with a plethora of top desert species - Thick-billed, Temminck's
Horned, Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed and Thekla
Larks, Red-rumped and Desert Wheatears, Cream-coloured
Courser, Trumpeter Finch and Crowned Sandgrouse.
Raptors included numerous Montagu's Harriers, including a
stunning jet-black morph bird. Even a migrant Quail added
to the species list here.
Up in the gorges of the Dades and Todra rivers, we found a good
selection of lower-altitude montane birds - Blue Rock Thrush,
Crag Martin, Bonelli's Eagle and Black Wheatear,
but the star bird here was a crippling male Tristram's Warbler
in song. Superb! A Black Stork migrating high overhead was
Next, it was onwards to the far south-east of Morocco - on the
drive to Erfoud, we scored with a party of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters
over a small village en route.
Erfoud and Merzouga
We arrived in bad sandstorm conditions, but luckily these cleared
up overnight, and we had a perfectly calm morning for our expedition
into the fringes of the Sahara desert. Dawn broke over the massive
Erg Chebbi sand dunes, revealing plenty of water in the lake by
Café Yasmina. We soon started scoring with a decent selection
of waders, plus Gull-billed Tern, Ruddy Shelduck and
Spotted Crake. Passerines included very tame White-crowned
Black Wheatears, plus Saharan Olivaceous Warbler (form
reiseri), Bluethroat and many warblers and
Redstarts. Brown-necked Raven was also very obvious.
Stars of the show, however, were seven Spotted Sandgrouse
which materialised by the lake to drink.
Nearby, we located not one but two pairs of the very localised
Desert Sparrow, and then headed out into the desert proper.
We soon fund both Bar-tailed Desert and Hoopoe Larks,
but sadly the wind got up once more, and only very brief views were
had (by one of us!) of a Desert Warbler. The hunt for a Houbara
Bustard was successful, however - we had distant views in incredible
sandstorm conditions, before the bird flew off and away into the
Merzouga lake was an almost complete write-off in the afternoon,
shrouded as it was in dust and haze, and we retreated rather earlier
than we would have liked!
Soon after leaving Erfoud next morning, we stopped at a traditional
cliff site near Rissani, and succeeded in finding not one but two
Pharaoh Eagle Owls - they were recently fledged juveniles,
lurking under boulders not far from the nest site. A big bonus not
far from here was a pair of Lanner Falcons feeding small
chicks - a real bonus.
The dust storms started once more, but not before we had added
Fulvous Babbler to the list, and later in the day we also
saw Rufous Bushchat by the Draa river bridge, and a few Desert
Larks in the mountains north of Agdz. But today was mostly travelling,
and we were pleased to reach Ouarzazate by dusk.
The following morning, we checked the Ouarzazate reservoir, seeing
a god many waterbirds, including Night and Purple Herons,
Spoonbill, Marbled Duck and Avocet. Other nice
birds here included both Ashy-headed and Moroccan Wagtails.
A great little stop by the Iriri river turned up a plethora of
migrants, including Orphean and Melodious Warblers,
another Rufous Bushchat, Ortolan Bunting, Whinchat
and Spotted Flycatcher.
Later in the afternoon, we dropped down into the Sous valley, with
its famous argan forests (and tree-climbing goats), seeing more
Bonelli's Eagles, Tawny Pipit and Spotted Crake,
before finishing the day near Taroudant with a pair of Black-shouldered
Agadir and the coast
After spending the night in Taroudant, we headed briskly west,
via a stunning pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse in roadside
fields, and hit the coast at Agadir. Heading north, we reached Tamri
mid-morning, and it was not long before we located a couple of Bald
Ibises in flight. This was one of our biggest target species
- a critically endangered bird, with perhaps fewer than 300 left
in the wild. The views were not great, so we searched by the estuary,
and it became clear than good numbers of Ibises were feeding on
the opposite side. Although we did not get close views, we were
incredibly privileged to see no fewer than 63 Bald Ibises
in total - over 20% of the entire world population.
Other good birds here included Zitting Cisticola, Moroccan
Cormorant, Audouin's Gull, Gannet and Raven.
After lunch (a tagine by the beach), we checked into our hotel in
Agadir, and headed down to the Sous estuary (in yet more high winds!)
for a look around - Flamingoes, Black Tern, Moroccan
Magpies, Spoonbill and Bonelli's Eagle were some
of the birds there to greet us, but the star was undoubtedly a Red-necked
Nightjar in flight and briefly perched on a sand pile, giving
quick telescope views. A lifer!
Next day, we headed for the Oued Massa, in lovely sunny weather,
and scored well and heavily - more Moussier's Redstarts,
a singing Black-headed Tchagra, three migrant Wood Warblers,
Squacco Heron, Cream-coloured Courser and yet another
Bonelli's Eagle. We also enjoyed plenty of Spanish Wagtails,
and a very few Brown-throated Sand Martins.
A 0500 next morning, we headed for Marrakech with the three clients
who had early flights, arriving in good time for their 1100 departures.
After meeting up with the rest for a farewell in town, we went our
separate ways, and set off to explore the Medina of Marrakech. We
enjoyed the souks, the Djemma el Fna square, the orange juice, the
dried fruits, the spices - everything in fact!
Rather overwhelmed, we spent the next day eating and doing some
sightseeing (palaces, museums, tombs, ruins), and picked up our
hire car from the airport in the afternoon.
Into the hills
Within two hours, we were at a little over 3000m in the High Atlas
mountains at Oukaimeden, ticking off special birds like Crimson-winged
Finch (30 of them), Alpine and Red-billed Choughs
and Seebohm's Wheatear.
After rather a chilly night in a not very good hotel, we had an
absolutely blinding morning amongst the alpine meadows and rocky
slopes - we added Shore Lark, Moussier's Redstart,
both "ordinary" Rock Thrush and Blue Rock Thrush,
Alpine Accentor, Mistle Thrush (of the subtle local
form), Dipper, Firecrest, Black Redstart and
Ring Ouzel - fantastic montane birding.
The descent started fabulously too - diligent checking of the walnut
groves around the village of Ait-lekak turned up the major target
bird for the trip - a fine male Levaillant's Woodpecker,
an Atlas endemic.
And that was it, birdwise, really, apart from a Roller on
some wires in the Atlas foothills We had almost cleared up, so we
headed back to Marrakech, and enjoyed another day of "ordinary
tourism". We had a great time back in the souks and around
the old town, eating probably a bit too much, but really enjoying
our last few hours in Morocco. Julia succeeded with some jewellery,
and rather improbably Simon came home with an antique astrolabe!
We made it to our flight on the Thursday morning with plenty of
time to spare, and finally got home at about 2100 at night. A great