In Association with:
DAY 1 Friday 19th March
With terrible British weather and blocked motorways it was amazing and lucky for a few that everyone met and checked in for our early evening flight to Casablanca, connecting to Marrakech, Morocco. On arrival we were met by my friend and co-leader for this tour Josele and our ground agent Moha. Once aboard our coach we drove to our hotel where a comfy bed was much appreciated.
DAY 2 Saturday 20th March
After a 7.30am breakfast we set off on the two hour drive to the Atlas Mountains. As we passed through the city both Pallid and Little Swifts were seen. We continued on driving through arable farmland until in the distance the snow covered peaks could be seen against a clear blue sky. Winding our way up towards the ski resort of Oukaimeden we spotted several Black Wheatears, Crested Larks and Red-rumped Swallows along the roadside. As we neared the top a couple of stunning Moussier's Redstarts were spotted posing on top of some rocks, while at the ski resort itself there were hundreds of Yellow-billed Choughs and a couple of Red-billed Choughs.
Parking near the ski lift we walked the track that edged the snow line. There were lots of Horned Larks including many in full breeding plumage with nice long horns. Rock Sparrows were present in quite large flocks and with careful searching our main target bird was found by Audrey, first one and then up to six Crimson-winged Finches. Superb! After enjoying these prized birds we went to a nearby café and ate our picnic lunches and enjoyed a local coffee. More choughs were watched and some nice sets of rocks and fossils purchased from the locals. Heading down the mountain a roadside stop in a rocky gorge found us a couple of Blue Rock Thrushes, and further down a Long-legged Buzzard being mobbed by an African Tit, recently split from Blue Tit and a much more intense blue! A small section of wood was investigated and a very obliging Rock Bunting was enjoyed by everyone while Mistle Thrush, Great, Coal and another African Tit were seen as well as a stunning Moussier's Redstart. Continuing down the mountain, stopping at suitable looking wooded areas, we saw more Long-legged Buzzards a Short-toed Eagle and finally our second targeted bird, a fine looking male Levaillant's Woodpecker, which gave excellent views sat on a tree just 30 yards away. Very happy with our finds we headed back towards Marrakech making a few short stops where we found additional species such as Sardinian Warbler, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a couple of obliging House Buntings, Woodchat Shrike, Red-rumped Swallows and a Common Bulbul.
DAY 3 Sunday 21st March
Today was basically going to be a day of travelling. After breakfast we packed our luggage onto the coach. A few Pallid and Little Swifts were seen flying around and a Striped Hawk Moth buzzed the flowers that edged the car park. We then set off through Marrakech and headed towards the Atlas Mountains. A brief roadside stop for a dark and light phase Booted Eagle also produced Thekla Larks, European Serin and a few distant European Bee-eaters which were perched on telegraph wires. Steve (M) then found a beautiful little male Spectacled Warbler sat on a small grassy bush. Everyone enjoyed excellent scope views for several minutes, while Corn Buntings sang from somewhere out of sight. After setting off again another short stop produced Long-legged Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle and Common Kestrel all flying over a rocky hill top. Continuing on we began to climb higher into the mountains and the roads got windier and windier. The next stop, to buy some water, found us in a rather cold and windy habitat at about 2,000 metres where a pale phase Booted Eagle showed well as it hung in the wind. Passing through rocky, barren hillsides we later took another short break. Here a female Black Redstart perched on a tree top, Grey Wagtail and a Eurasian Hoopoe flew past and one or two Common Kestrels were spotted. Eventually after another hour or so we arrived at Ouzazarte where Moha soon got to work organising some tables and lunch in a very busy and popular café. After lunch we passed through more barren stony habitat, and before long stopped beside a large lake and used our scopes to scan its near edges. Two Ospreys were soon spotted sat on the ground and nearby were Grey Heron and Little Egret. A couple of Ruddy Shelducks were then found along with Black-winged Stilt, some distant Little Ringed Plovers, and a few White Wagtails of the Moroccan race (subpersonata). Out on the lake itself were up to six Great Crested Grebes and a single Great Cormorant. A young boy thought wrongly that we might be interested in the spiny lizard he had caught. As ever we would have much prefered to see it not caught! A male Desert Wheatear showed well perched on a small tree before we moved on to our next stop, the famed Tagdilt Track. We had just over an hour to introduce ourselves to some of the special birds that inhabit this vast barren landscape. First there was another Desert Wheatear, shortly followed by a couple of initially elusive Temminck's Larks spotted by Nick. We worked around these birds and everyone eventually saw them well. A young lark caused a little head scratching until it was joined by another and was soon identified as Bar-tailed Lark. A Red-rumped Wheatear was next on the list and this male bird posed nicely for all to see. A distant Western Marsh Harrier only showed briefly, but some Thekla Larks and another Bar-tailed Lark were seen as we returned to the coach. A long day of travelling was finished when we arrived at our very plush hotel.
DAY 4 Monday 22nd March
With several difficult specialities to find we needed to be in the desert early, so after breakfast we boarded our three 4x4 landrovers and set off towards the Tagdilt Track, where we arrived just as the sun came up over hills. It was quite chilly to start with but this was soon forgotten when we started to find our first birds. Many of the larks were singing and it wasn't long before we had found and enjoyed excellent views of Bar-tailed, Temminck's, Greater Short-toed and several superb Hoopoe Larks, which were giving their amazing song flights. Both Red-rumped and Desert Wheatears were easily found, and one Black-eared Wheatear was well watched while a Long-legged Buzzard was seen to fly off. Ground Squirrels were common and would catch the eye as they scurried around, while the short flowering shrubs attracted hundreds of Striped Hawk Moths. As we followed the tracks across this seemingly barren wasteland, occasionally stopping and searching, we must have eventually seen at least ten Hoopoe Larks. A very distant Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew in front of the mountains giving its distinctive bubbly call, and this was shortly followed by two pairs which again were calling, but which this time flew past at a much closer range allowing everyone to get some decent views. Proving the point that some places you need to be at early, we continued our search adding just a few Thekla Larks to the days list. By late morning the birds had stopped singing so we set off and drove to the Gorge de Dades. A couple of roadside stops found Blue Rock Thrush and several Crag Martins, and at a small café where had our picnic lunch, two Desert Larks showed well to everyone. After a relaxed picnic we drove back down the gorge road and then out across a wonderful landscape where just a few locals reside in rock caves. Another Desert Lark was seen and a Short-toed Eagle and Montagu's Harrier flew past in the distance. It was time to return and search the desert areas of this morning, but this time we adopted a different strategy and sent all three landrovers off in different directions but still keeping within radio contact. It's great when a plan comes together and Josele soon called the other two vehicles when he found one of our main target species - two Thick-billed Larks!. Five minutes later we all arrived and enjoyed spectacular views of these star birds. Seeing the male in song flight in perfect light is one of those moments that will never be forgotten. After prolonged views we then targeted our last speciality. Heading off in different directions again it was Josele who came up trumps! With all the vehicles joining him we all got out and slowly walked together over the stony ground, and after just a few yards we got our first views of up to nine Crowned Sandgrouse. Gradually we got better and better views of them, until everyone was very happy, after which we left these beautiful birds alone and returned to the vehicles just as the sun was setting. After another great day we returned to our hotel triumphant!
DAY 5 Tuesday 23rd March
Having finished breakfast, and loaded our luggage and ourselves onto the coach, we drove for a few minutes only before entering the Gorge de Todru. As we wound our way through picturesque scenery and quaint little villages it became more rugged with higher and higher cliffs until eventually we reached a very steep sided narrow gorge with a river running through. This spot was very touristy but we got out of the coach for a very different reason as Noel had spotted a raptor flying overhead. It was an adult Bonelli's Eagle which gave excellent views as it flew in front of the cliff face. After circling a few times it drifted away down the gorge. Also here were several Crag Martins and amongst the swirling flocks of Pallid Swifts a few larger Alpine Swifts were seen. There wee also plenty of Rock Doves which appeared to be the genuine article. As we drove on the vegetation thinned out leaving rocky hillsides with scattered bushes, which was prime habitat for our next target bird. It didn't take long before we heard the scratchy call of a Tristram's Warbler coming from some tiny bushes just a short distance away. Once we had located the bird, telescopes were set up and wonderful views obtained as it sat in the bush and also hopped around the stones - just perfect! Driving out of the gorge we headed towards the desert and Erfoud. A stop for water supplies along the way produced the resident House Buntings plus a distant Brown-necked Raven perched on a pylon, its slender beak still obvious even at that distance. Onward into the desert it became more sandy with occasional palm groves looking like oases. As we approached one such area a couple of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were spotted so we got out and enjoyed very good views of four birds sat in a group of trees. A Subalpine Warbler was also seen, but only briefly by a few in the group. The next highlight was a flock of twelve White Storks circling low, and most certainly on their way to Europe. We arrived in Erfoud at lunchtime where a midday meal was quickly arranged and just as quickly eaten. From here we made a short excursion by coach to check an area we wished to visit the following day. With Josele and Moha on the case we carried on towards our hotel in the desert. The road eventually disappeared and gave way to numerous tyre tracks weaving their way across the flat open Hamada. Thirty minutes and we were there. Our French owned hotel with its trees stood out like a little oasis in the vast empty desert. Once settled into our rooms we had a relaxed drink or two and then met for a short walk. Nick had already found a Western Olivaceous Warbler, but unfortunately it eluded the rest of us. In a nearby wadi there were a few Willow Warblers, male Common Redstart and a very obliging Wryneck, and then as we walked back towards the hotel gate another Willow Warbler and Subalpine Warbler were spotted. The gardens were full of weeds, small bushes, trees and had an area where herbs and plants were grown. Here we found two Bluethroats, Sedge Warbler, Tree and Meadow Pipit, Common Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail including the (ashy-headed race). At dusk we got brief and poor views of one Egyptian Nightjar and also managed to hear it calling.
DAY 6 Wednesday 24th March
After an early breakfast we met our three drivers, who were all colourful characters. The three landrovers drove us across the dry barren and very flat Hamada. Our first stop was to look at a perched Lanner Falcon and nearby a male Western Marsh Harrier which was on the ground. We then drove through more fertile areas with wadis full of low green scrub. Hoopoe Larks and a Woodchat Shrike were found before we arrived at Urb Chebbi, the huge impressive dunes that are a photographer's dream. Here in the Tamarisk bushes and trees which surround one of the cafes there was Bluethroat, many Subalpine Warblers, Common Redstart, and Laughing Dove. Then Josele spotted our target bird. There were a pair of ghost like Desert Sparrows in the Tamarisk bushes. Half the group managed to see these birds before they flew off and over the café. Continuing our search we discovered many more Subalpine Warblers, a Nightingale and two Western Bonelli's Warblers. Moving on to another café a further pair Desert Sparrows were found, which this time showed very well to everyone. With White-crowned Wheatear also showing nicely we boarded our landrovers and headed back into the desert and an undisclosed site where we met our local expert guide, a man who works for the King on the few remaining Houbara Bustards. Following him for miles into the desert we made stops to look at Southern Grey Shrike and a rather elusive and flighty Fulvous Babbler. Eventually, in an area that looked just like many others, our guides found fresh footprints of an adult bustard and two chicks. They followed the tracks on foot for several kilometres but unfortunately no birds were found. A male Montagu's Harrier was seen by most of the group and there were more Southern Grey Shrikes, and Desert Wheatears. Lunch time arrived so we set off to the lake at Merzouga where we positioned ourselves by the shore and tucked into our picnic. There were hundreds of Ruddy Shelduck present along with Black-winged Stilts, including a flock of two hundred. Further scanning produced thirty or more White Storks, two Greater Flamingos a Common Redshank, three Kentish Plovers, Sedge Warbler and flocks of Yellow Wagtails that held four different sub-species. After some amusing antics trying to catch a Dirham note that had got blown away we set off to another special site. Stopping along the way for coffee and tea, we saw more Desert Sparrows, and a Wryneck which was found by Phil. Having arrived, it was only a short walk before all scopes were trained on a small cave on a rock face where a fantastic Pharaoh Eagle-owl stood looking at us.
This excellent bird was enjoyed by all while a nearby nest held a family of less impressive Brown-necked Ravens. Finally we drove back to our desert hotel and tried once more for Egyptian Nightjar. Unfortunately the night was colder and more cloudy than yesterday and there were no sightings. However we were cheered up by our evening meal of two whole lambs cooked in a special Moroccan style. It was a real feast and a great way to end our time spent in the desert.
DAY 7 Thursday 25th March
A walk before breakfast, searching a nearby wadi, gave us lots of Subalpine Warblers, a surprising number of Western Bonelli's Warblers, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Common Whitethroat. Also seen were one or two Wrynecks, Common Redstart, a flock of forty five European Bee-eaters and several Woodchat Shrikes. After a few hundred metres there were some larger trees. From here we all enjoyed much better views of a group of Fulvous Babblers, two birds showing particularly well before slowly returning for breakfast. We then loaded up and drove just few kilometres from the hotel. Leaving our coach parked in the desert we walked to a wadi with small scattered bushes and grasses. A call above us drew our attention to a Collared Pratincole flying over, and a pair of Hoopoe Larks were easily seen. As we continued our search through the dunes and scrub Black-eared Wheatear, Northern Wheatear including a male of the seebohm's race with an all dark throat were found. Another Hoopoe Lark was seen, as well as Woodchat Shrike, and Willow Warbler. Then after several hours we found our target, African Desert Warbler. We watched a pair of them for a long time and enjoyed superb views as they carried bits of grass to the start of a nest. My efforts in trying to get the coach driver to cross the desert and pick us up seemed to amuse everyone, but eventually it arrived and after a five minute run around I relocated one of the warblers so Josele, Anne and John got to see it. We then left for our long journey back to Ourzazate. Near our destination we stopped and thoroughly searched an area of desert. Black-eared, White-crowned and Desert Wheatears were seen, as well as Bar-tailed Lark, Wryneck, Subalpine Warbler, Common Nightingale and for some of the group a Scrub Warbler. It was almost dusk as we continued our last drive which had started with a mass of migrating locust filling the sky and splatting on our windscreen. A few raptors were on the move as well, and overhead we saw several Short-toed Snake Eagles, Western Marsh Harriers, Booted Eagle and Kestrel. Driving through a sunset we eventually arrived at our hotel.
DAY 8 Friday 26th March
An early start saw us on the road again towards our final destination of Agidir. Passing through ever changing landscapes our first stop was when Nick spotted a Mourning Wheatear beside the road. We got out of the coach and re-found the male bird, which promptly flew to the next ridge and then disappeared over the top. We walked over and after a thorough search Rod found it sat on a distant hill top. It stayed there for a short time before disappearing again, and this time it wasn't relocated. Back on the coach we continued our long journey. Several flocks of European Bee-eaters were seen and a migration of Black Kites. Anne spotted a Barbary Partridge which ran away into the rocky desert, and later the driver spotted another possible partridge on a rock. While Josele checked it out I spotted a Eurasian Griffon Vulture flying high overhead. We all jumped out of the coach and nearly everyone saw it. Continuing through the Sous valley the scenery changed to more fertile land with many trees and fields full of wild flowers. Flocks of White Storks were seen and good numbers of Southern Grey Shrikes, this time of the darker race (algeriensis). Our lunch today, taken at a small restaurant, caused the locals far too much trouble, and confusion reigned. Eventually the last section of our journey got us through the traffic of Agidir and on to the Oued Sous, a river estuary beside the King's Palace. Scanning across the water to several little muddy spits and islands we soon notched up a good list of birds. Lots of Eurasian Spoonbills and Grey Herons perched near to each
other, Gull-billed Terns and the occasional Sandwich Tern flew past and amongst the waders we found Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Dunlin, Little Stint, Sanderling, Curlew, Ringed and Grey Plover. A Stone-curlew was also seen. Moving on a little we found Sardinian Warblers in the roadside scrub, and then from a concrete platform we spotted Oystercatcher, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, and some distant Greater Flamingos. We then walked beside the estuary towards the mouth of the river. Little Ringed and good numbers of Kentish Plovers were seen as well as Collared Pratincole, and Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Anne spotted an Osprey sat on the mud. I don't mean Anne was sat on the mud the Osprey was!!! Excellent views were enjoyed and we continued to walk the last section to view the many roosting gulls. A flock of Greater Flamingos looked wonderful in flight, more Spoonbills went over, another Collared Pratincole was seen and going through the gulls we found a single Slender-billed, Lesser Black-backed, Yellow-legged and some very attractive Audouin's Gulls. Eventually up to forty Audouin's were seen before the cold got the better of us and we returned to the coach. A nesting Zitting Cisticola was seen well, and there were some reasonable views of the Moroccan race of Magpie with the blue around the eye. In a drainage ditch close to where we had parked Green and Wood Sandpiper, Ashy headed and White Wagtail (subpersonata) were all seen and then later, a short time before it got dark we got to see a Red-necked Nightjar sat on the open track. Amazingly after enjoying this we were walking back to the coach when an owl flew through the trees and appeared to land. It was soon located where its puffed out stance made it look a little unusual. Taking into account the plumage details the bird was subsequently identified as Long-eared Owl, ending another good day.
DAY 9 Saturday 27th March
After this morning's breakfast we set off north through the city and along the coast towards Tamri. Driving along we could see hundreds of gulls out at sea feeding behind several fishing boats. We had to avoid the temptation to stop as the species we were going to look for was a Moroccan speciality and best found around 9.00am. Many Pallid Swifts were spotted flying along the cliff tops, and then as we rounded our final corner at 9.00am precisely, would you believe! we were thrilled to see a flock of twenty nine Bald Ibis sat on the rocks beside the road. By the time we had got out of the coach they were flying to some nearby fields and here we enjoyed superb views of these critically endangered birds. Many of the group agreed that this strange bird was far more impressive than the book illustrations portrayed. We watched these birds for ages before they again flew to the mouth of the nearby estuary. Steve (M) then found an adult Mediterranean Gull in a distant flock of gulls. After looking at this we scanned the sea, seeing Northern Gannets, while closer in the scrub a Zitting Cisticola was found. Heading back towards Agadir we stopped to do a little seawatch and this produced two Cory's Shearwaters, lots more Northern Gannets and a single dark phase Arctic Skua. Our lunch today was a special affair as we visited the fishing harbour and its rows of small restaurants. An amazing selection of fresh fish, prawns and calamari was served up and it was absolutely delicious. Leaving the harbour and Agadir behind us we made the hour long drive to the Oued Massa, a fertile bird rich estuary and river valley. Driving slowly alongside the river we spotted a few Little Grebes amongst the hoards of Coots and then a Black-crowned Tchagra flew across in front of the coach. We all jumped out and soon relocated it before it disappeared for good. Other birds here included Turtle Doves, Chiffchaffs, Common and Moussier's Redstarts and a Western Olivaceous Warbler. Walking a little further there were Great Cormorants of the Moroccan race (maroccanus) and a very well marked Western Marsh Harrier. Our next target species was then found in the form of two distant Marbled Ducks. In scrub behind the dunes a Barbary Partridge was spotted. We then found Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrike, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. In the bushes were more Moussier's Redstarts, Common Redstart, Western Olivaceous Warbler and two very showy Black-crowned Tchagras. More Marbled Ducks were spotted along with Pintail, Pochard and a Greater Flamingo. Views from a deserted building on the water's edge produced a few waders including Ruff, Little Stints and Common Snipe while the walk back found us Serins, Linnets and Corn Buntings, plus two very obliging Magpies of the Moroccan race (mauritanica). To end the day we decided to check an area of high stony fields. Here as the sun started to sink in the sky we saw four Montagu's Harrier's and several Lesser Short-toed Larks. Beaten by the setting sun we returned to the coach and headed back to Agidir and an end to our birding in Morocco.
DAY 10 Sunday 28th March
This morning we made our way to Agadir airport for our return journey back to Britain via Casablanca. A relaxed flight eventually saw us arrive at Heathrow where this successful, speciality finding tour of Morroco concluded. On behalf of Josele and myself, I would like to thank everyone who took part in this tour for making it such a success, finding so many special birds whilst having so much fun.!